Ken Doctor at Neiman’s “Newsonomics” points out that the “self-asphyxiation” cycle is nearing endgame I cross-posted a response to this on Facebook, so if you’ve already seen it there from me, my apologies. But I’ve been watching the gradual descent of local news for most of the past 20 years, and the latest round-up by […] [...more]
Ken Doctor at Neiman’s “Newsonomics” points out that the “self-asphyxiation” cycle is nearing endgame
I cross-posted a response to this on Facebook, so if you’ve already seen it there from me, my apologies.
Fahrenheit 451 should not have been a documentary of what the future was going to be like.
But I’ve been watching the gradual descent of local news for most of the past 20 years, and the latest round-up by Doctor basically sums up everything that I’ve been fearing. A sampling:
While national/global news companies have cut their newsrooms, they have still maintained sufficient capacity to make their news brands valuable in the digital age. It’s not just the numbers of journalists: It’s a good mix of veteran experienced journalists who know their beats deeply and younger journalists, still early in their careers but natively more digitally inclined.
At the local press, it’s a different picture. As newsrooms have halved, older, experienced journalists have been disproportionately made to feel redundant, and then made sent off. The main reason: money. Older journalists earn more of it, and their cutting makes short-term financial sense.
The result: a disaster whose death spiral seems to be accelerating. When I’ve given talks, I’ve gotten a lot of nods from people in the industry when I show one single slide: A two-liter bottle of Coke selling for $1 next to a one-liter bottle priced at $2. That’s essentially what local publishers have done in product and pricing of print over the last five years, doubled the price and halved the product, a halving that, of course, carries through to their digital offerings.
Any company that disrespects its own products, and those who produce them, probably deserves its eventual fate.
Yes, money matters, but it’s that beating heart of the business — creating news that local citizens need to run their governments and better their lives — that still has to be an antidote to the single-minded financial view of local news. (If “the market” won’t support local news, many have said to me, than maybe it isn’t needed. I ask them: If the same were true of education, the arts, or even roads, where would our struggling democracy be?) [Ed. note: emphasis mine.]
Where is the moral center of the local news industry — a moral center that long rested, if sometimes uncomfortably, alongside the demands of running a successful business?
While I agree with all the points Ken makes, there is one bit that jumped out: his equating of the news with schools, roads, bridges, etc. Yes, we all agree that we need a group societal effort to build & maintain these things, and that as a result, we all benefit from their existence. Thing is: the average citizen can SEE the roads/schools decaying, and is motivated to action. Lack of local news coverage only becomes a crisis when suddenly we wake up to lead in our water. The news industry, if it is going to transition from ad-supported to a more direct “charge the readers” model, is going to have to get on the stick and market itself better; make a case to the readers that they NEED local news coverage as a form of insurance policy.
Unfortunately, investigative reporting is threatened in many cities, said Robinson. Although the Globe has partnered with Participant Media and other funders to offer a new investigative reporting fellowship, many local newspapers will no longer invest the time and resources required for stories that can take months of reporting, said Robinson.
“The prevailing view among editors is ‘investigative reporting is a luxury we can no longer afford’…The fact is, investigative reporting is a necessity that we cannot afford to do without.” Robinson said that in the face of declining revenue in the past decade, cutting investigative reporting was a “fundamental mistake.” Readers “almost always” rank investigative reporting highly in surveys, said Robinson.
“The amount of investigative reporting being done now in most cities is a small fraction of what it was in the year 2000,” he said. “In many communities even city hall doesn’t get covered. So the whistleblower who knows about official corruption in city hall has no one to go to…that’s a really serious problem for our democracy right now.”
So here’s my thought: what would be the best way for journalists and news organizations to start making a case for themselves? We’ve seen how well fear-mongering via news outlets works for moving the public to devote spectacular amounts of time, money and energy into heading off perceived threats. The Iraq war, Ebola, the wall at the border with Mexico, the gold standard, handgun seizures … all “crises” driven by media coverage that spurred Americans to either demand the government spend billions (trillion?) to kieep them safe, or got them to reach into their pockets, pull out their wallets, and spend a sizable percentage of their disposable income on something that would Keep Them Safe.
I don’t think we should get as crude and manipulative as many of these campaigns have been. But could there – should there – be a reminder in the middle of each news broadcast/article/infographic, making it explicit that this coverage just saved ordinary Americans from “X” and that to continue to do so, we need you the viewers/listeners/readers to support us in this manner.
And then lay out what might happen if the audience does not. Make it explicit, in the way that a collapsed bridge, or gradeschool on fire, or highway full of potholes does for the average, distracted American, who only has time to respond to direct threats to his/her existence.
Our audience is starved for time, and thousands (millions?) of new digital experiences are screaming for their attention (and money). News is too often marketed as “cod-liver oil” – it tastes like shit, but it’s good for you. I think we need to revisit that paradigm, and start figuring out better ways to make people appreciate what the news, and aggressive, honest local news coverage, does for them.
Mediapart in France is profitable because it gives readers what they are willing to pay for. Imagine that. Quick hit here for my students, who are increasingly upset about their job prospects after graduation. I shared an article from Neiman about the upheaval in the newspaper business in France. Apparently, the same problems that plague […] [...more]
Mediapart in France is profitable because it gives readers what they are willing to pay for.
The Mediapart organization makes its living by doing hard-hitting investigative journalism that its audience is willing to support. They also make a point of including lots of video on their pages.
Quick hit here for my students, who are increasingly upset about their job prospects after graduation.
I shared an article from Neiman about the upheaval in the newspaper business in France. Apparently, the same problems that plague the French economy at large are at work, writ small & exceedingly acerbic, at the major newspapers. They are tech-phobic, rely on business models that no longer fully function, and react angrily to anyone threatening the promise of a cushy work situation with guaranteed employment and 1/4 of the year spent on vacation.
But about 2/3 of the way down the article, there appeared these grafs, which I am going to excerpt here, although I do urge you to go to the Neiman site & give them some traffic-love, ’cause @petergumbel did a damn good job with this write-up:
Edwy Plenel, for one, is incensed by the conflicts of interest inherent in the French press. But then that’s not entirely surprising, since outrage is Plenel’s mojo.
He has come a long way since his revolutionary youth, which he wrote about in a 2001 memoir. He made his mark as an investigative journalist at Le Monde; one of his most celebrated scoops was uncovering the role of French intelligence in the 1985 sinking in New Zealand of the Greenpeace boat Rainbow Warrior. He made the Elysée so nervous that it illegally bugged his phone during the presidency of François Mitterrand. He spent a total of 25 years at Le Monde, including a stint as editor in chief, but he left in 2005 during one of its sporadic crises, after attacks on his management style.
He launched Mediapart as a subscription site in December 2007. Three years later it was at break-even. Today, it’s racing toward 100,000 subscribers, each paying the equivalent of about $12 per month. This year he expects the site to make about $2 million net proﬁt on just over $10 million in revenue. It has a staff of 50, 33 of whom are journalists. It now outsells Libération, which has almost six times as many staff members. [Emphasis mine – dlf]
The secret: a laser focus on exclusive news, especially revelations of high-level political and ﬁnancial skullduggery. Mediapart’s subscriptions soared in 2010, the year it broke the story about a convoluted political and ﬁnancial scandal involving France’s richest woman, Liliane Bettencourt. They leaped again in 2013, after it revealed that the then-budget minister Jérôme Cahuzac, whose job included ﬁghting tax evasion, himself had an undeclared Swiss bank account and had transferred funds to Singapore. After denying the allegations for months, Cahuzac eventually resigned, acknowledging that he had lied to parliament and to President François Hollande.
Work the numbers, folks. $10 mill in revenue-$2M profil = $8M in expenses. $8M/50 employees = $160K/yr per employee. Figure about 40% of that per-employee allocation is insurance, pension, and building/maintaining the site & gathering news costs, and you still get a salary of $64K/yr on average. For a journalist, that ain’t bad. Plus you’ve got a warchest of $2M that you can throw at a big story, should one come up, and to use to build out the site & extend its reach.
So. There’s a lot going on here. I’ve written in the past about how I disagree with the authors of The Death and Life of American Journalism, who called for exactly the kinds of government subsidies for newspapers that are allowing them to continue to try to deny reality, and live in a fantasy-bubble. At the time, I was reacting to what I’ve seen in Latin America, Georgia, Kazakhstan and other places where allowing the government to get its hands on the revenue stream is akin to letting criminals loop a choke-chain around your throat. They can lead you around by it, and if you start getting out of line, all they need to do is give it a quick, sharp yank, and you fall back in line, suitably docile.
I’ve seen that happen. First-hand. In Venezuela, when I was a very young editor.
Government subsidies are kinda like this. Nothing really sticks until you try to do something that the person holding the leash doesn’t like.
The solution that Mediapart has come up with here may not last. It may not work everywhere. But it’s something that makes a lot more sense to me than journalism that exists as a kind of state-supported performance art piece. Because I’ve seen that as well: journalists who are completely disconnected from the concerns of their audience, sporting paternalistic, condescending attitudes, producing self-indulgent “investigations” that nobody really reads, and that don’t really threaten the people who give them checks each month.
Look, I am not hooting and hanging on the rim here, delighting in the travails of people still stuck in jobs at tottering media empires, hanging on for dear life through ownership changes, strategy changes, and promises that melt away like morning dew.
Long-term, market forces are going to prevail. If journalists produce a product that people want, and give them a means by which to support/purchase/share it, then that audience will fight to ensure that this important part of their lives is still there. The very first case study I ever did was centered around that fact. It makes me sad to see so many journalists, who base their entire journalistic ethos on pushing people and institutions to change, to adapt to the times, to leave behind (even if painful) the habits & traditions of the past … ignoring their own best advice.
Liberation may not be a cafe. But it may also not be an outlet for journalism much longer either.
Web-native companies strive to eliminate “transactional friction.” Newspapers? Not so much. I’ve been a subscriber to the LA Times for as long as I’ve lived in Los Angeles, and I’ve watched as the big beast evolved from a gray morass of 100-inch stories to the biggest (and most profitable) paper in the U.S. in the late 90s. […] [...more]
Web-native companies strive to eliminate “transactional friction.” Newspapers? Not so much.
I’ve been a subscriber to the LA Times for as long as I’ve lived in Los Angeles, and I’ve watched as the big beast evolved from a gray morass of 100-inch stories to the biggest (and most profitable) paper in the U.S. in the late 90s. Which has made the last decade and a half so very hard to watch. Still, I’ve stuck by Gray Lady West through some very tough times, and I have many friends who either work there now, or have in the recent past.
“Frictionless commerce” is what makes iTunes, Amazon, Google AdSense, Craigslist and so many other web titans so successful. It means that you make it as easy as possible for customers to actually buy something from you. (Image credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons)
First: a lesson in what “failure of the last mile” means: consider what goes into making a successful restaurant. You have to have a prime location. Decorate the exterior. Decorate the interior. Hire a great chef. Hire great kitchen assistant chefs. Come up with an innovative menu, with food that appeals to your core demographic. Procure the freshest ingredients. Ensure that the food prep space is clean and gets an “A” from the city inspectors. Advertise. Market. Give out coupons. Sweet-talk reviewers into coming and writing reviews. Have valet parking. And so much, much more that all leads up to the “last mile” – what the experience is like at the “touch point” where the customer actually engages with the product.
In a nutshell: all this effort in preparation to make a great restaurant counts for nothing if the waiter is snotty to the diners.
I’ve seen this in action again and again with the startups I’ve been involved with. Early on, we faced epic levels of “cart abandonment” when trying to coerce people into making a purchase, because (at the time) people were really, really reticent to type their credit card numbers, expiration dates and security codes into a browser window. Since then, we’ve obviously learned that data theft can pretty much happen anywhere. However, this hurdle was gradually overcome via the efforts of eBay, Amazon, iTunes and PayPal. All of which add layers of security, and money-back guarantees if your card gets hijacked and used to buy pallets of AK-47s in Cote d’Ivoire.
So here’s what trying to buy a subscription from the LA Times looks like. You dial a number. There’s a choppy, slow voicemail hell, with choices that really don’t seem to apply to what you want to do. There is no dedicated 800 number for renewing subscriptions – you just get dumped into the bin with people who want to report their paper getting stolen, or who want to turn it off while they go visit the grandkids. So that’s turnoff #1. Even as a dedicated subscriber, I wanted to hang up and just try the website to see if I could get a better experience. Still, I hung in there to see whether things would improve.
It took 3 steps and 2 minutes to get to a place where I could finally start to accomplish what I came for. Unfortunately, rather than talking with a human – I had to manually enter a credit card number over touch-tone. That’s Strike Two, folks. If you’re going to be giving up that kind of info, consumers kinda want to get rewarded with a human voice, particularly if they have any queries about what they’re buying and how much it costs. Which I did.
So I grimly stuck to it, even after entering my financial information, hoping to get someone on the phone to explain the rather complex choices on payment amounts and term of subscription that came on the paper bill I was mailed. Pressing the “0” button just kicked me back into the main menu. Somewhere along the line, as the frustration increased, I heard that I had to “Press 9 to Speak to a Representative.” Only, that kicked me back to the main menu as well.
Sure enough, there was a silent blip as the call was transferred to a call center. Not in India – the costs for call centers have gone up there. No, this one was to the new lowest-cost call center hub – in the Phillippines. The operator was friendly enough, but the problem started when I asked about the payment terms. Under the subscription plan they now offer, the LA Times gives me unlimited web access (which is mostly how I engage with their news product these days no surprise), and charges me about $12 every two months. But looking at the rate card I was mailed, it seemed as though they were trying to incentivize me to subscribe for 6 months or an entire year by offering price breaks for these longer-term commitments.
So sure. Maybe if you let me shave a few bucks off the bill, I’ll pay you the whole amount upfront and let you make some money off the “float” of having my entire wad of subscription money that you can earn interest on. It’s one of the ways that smart companies entice consumers into locking themselves into making a yearlong commitment.
Unfortunately, the call center operator had no earthly idea of the pricing structure for the product she was trying to sell.
After having to verify (for the 3rd time on this now 15-minute call) my phone number, address, name, credit card number, etc., just asking how much I was going to pay flummoxed this person. I was quoted three different prices for the subscription I now have. I corrected the operator a couple of times, and finally after teaching her about the product she was trying to sell, got to the bottom line.
I can pay $12 every two months for the next year. Or I can pay $83 up front to “lock in” the subscription price.
Let’s do the math here.
If I pay every two months, that’s six payments a year, right? Simple math: 6 payments x $12 = $72 a year.
And you want me to pay $83 upfront in one lump sum? How does that make financial sense? I’d be paying MORE for a yearlong subscription rather than saving a few bucks.
The operator stammered and then went back to the script of “locking in the subscription price.” Well, is the price going to go up then? No. I don’t know. Maybe.
By how much? I don’t know. When? I don’t know. But it might. Is there anyone else I can talk to about this? Not right now.
OK, at this point, I hung up. Deconstructing this entire experience, from a webconomics point of view, this is an absolute disaster. The LA Times has made it difficult and frustrating for existing subscribers to attempt to continue to be subscribers. They’ve cut costs in their circ department by outsourcing all the call center jobs to places where ill-trained people stumble over what should be easy points. And finally, their pricing structure makes no sense once you drill down and work the numbers for yourself. And the numbers are completely different on the web, in the mailers, according to the people on the phone. The price just keeps changing!
This makes it impossible for the end-user (i.e. subscriber) to trust the prices that we’re being given. Yeah, it’s only a few bucks, but come on, now. You guys know – or SHOULD KNOW – how consumers react when they start to suspect that someone else is getting a better deal.
I’ve written at length over the years about the migration from an ad-supported revenue model to a subscription-based model (AKA “paywalls”). The jury’s still out on how well this is going to work out for the newspaper industry; yes, the New York Times, Financial Times and Wall Street Journal are often cited as success stories (although detractors point to weaknesses in their underlying dynamics). News organizations across the board are looking to ways that they can support themselves by charging subscriptions to access their material.
This only works when that transaction is quick, easy and painless.
Unemployment over 50% – banking system collapse – political instability – newspapers run out of options When asked what are the enduring lessons of the last five years for newspapers, various pundits have opined “Don’t enter an economic recession massively over-leveraged and dependent on fragile business models.” In Spain, the problems that we are experiencing […] [...more]
Unemployment over 50% – banking system collapse – political instability – newspapers run out of options
When asked what are the enduring lessons of the last five years for newspapers, various pundits have opined “Don’t enter an economic recession massively over-leveraged and dependent on fragile business models.”
One by one, newspapers are falling behind.
In Spain, the problems that we are experiencing in the U.S. are even more severe. The advertising base was even more reliant on crazy real-estate bubble advertising than it was here. Anyone who has flown into, say, Barcelona, and seen 20 MILES of empty housing developments, half-built apartment blocks, and gradually eroding graded hillsides, can quite easily judge what kind of devastation was left behind when that bubble burst.
There is some disagreement over just how many digital news outlets have sprung up in the past couple years:
Ahora desde la AEEPP (Asociación Española de Editoriales de Publicaciones Periódicas) reconocen que tienen 763 publicaciones digitales asociadas aunque, Carlos Astiz, secretario general de la Asociación, estima que puede haber 3.000 medios digitales.
…and exactly what constitutes a regular news publication (such as when its edition are funded via crowdfunding:
En medio de la crisis que afecta a los medios tradicionales, han surgido en los últimos meses un gran número de medios digitales con fórmulas diferentes para conseguir la rentabilidad. Desde la existencia de socios que por un módico precio acceden antes a los contenidos como en diario.es o infolibre.es a proyectos financiados por crowdfunding como la revista FronteraD.
But the trend seems to be that digital-only publications have been designed from the ground-up to be profitable on this new platform. The publishers, operating on a shoestring, find an audience, find ways to monetize that audience, and then start to methodically try to scale up.
The opposite is in action with the traditional media. They have their audience – but it is shrinking.
They have their revenue streams – but they are evaporating.
Soon to run back behind the paywall. Maybe it will work this time. Then again, with so much new competition in the digital marketplace, and with the brand discredited & distrusted by younger readers … maybe it won’t.
Meanwhile, over in the digital-only world, site owners are waking up to the trend of “native advertising” – i.e. putting posts into the middle of the flow that look a lot LIKE the news stories that readers are there to check out … but that contain sponsored content, written in a way that doesn’t conflict with the rest of the content on the site.
The reason native works is because the advertising is treated as a unit of content on the platform where it lives. That may seem obvious, but it’s an important observation. When a brands’s content competes on equal footing alongside a publisher’s content, everyone wins. Those search ads – they win if they are contextually relevant and add value to the consumer’s search results. Those promoted tweets only get promoted if people respond to them – a signal of relevance and value. The same is true for all truly “native” ad products. If the native ad content is good, it will get engagement. The industry is evolving toward rewarding advertising that doesn’t interrupt and is relevant and value additive. That’s a good thing.
The eulogies for the newspaper industry are starting to become almost commonplace, as the generation that matured and worked during the Salad Days of the 70s and 80s totters off into the sunset. Mark Heisler, the NBA beat writer at the LA Times, has weighed in with a long piece at TruthDig about what the […] [...more]
If that seems a little stomach-churning to you, then you won’t want to read Heisler’s account of how the past two decades have gone at what used to be one of the world’s great newspapers. The waves of clueless management that have run the place into the ground have made the few newsroom survivors pretty much inured to whatever comes next. There used to be outrage, dire warnings of what the future would hold … that because fewer people were out there trying to report The Truth, society would start to disintegrate.
Heisler’s take is a little less sanguine, and benefits from his decades of experience, watching the entire industry implode:
It shouldn’t be a surprise that bad things
happen when an industry has been under the gun year after year, decade
after decade, century after century.
At 67, one NBA season from retirement (I
thought), the rising tide of BS was enough to prompt me (and, I’m sure,
half of the building, including bosses) to muse about throwing the job
in their faces.
One of the things that Heisler manages to do is to separate out the death of American newspapers from the growth of the internet, which is commendable and rare. Heisler has the perspective of 40-some-odd years in the industry, so he’s seen that things were not exactly going swimmingly, even before we all started installing second phone lines back in the late 90s, to hear the “SQUEEE-chirr-[white noise]” as we connected to AOL/CompuServe/NetZero.
I guess what struck me most was the tone of resignation. Every quarter, newsrooms will be cut. Valuable people will have their lives destroyed. Society will get worse. Dog bites man. What else ya got…?
The point is that the problems with the news business bear surprising resemblance to the problems of society as a whole. We've tied our fate to the unfettered free-market economic forces, without really taking notice of the fact that there are a few industries, at least, that are not prepackaged Cheetos. Where diluting quality and streamlining production schedules and all the other tricks of modern corporate management may work in the short term ... but in the long term are not only killing the industry, but harming ... well, basically Western Civilization. [...more]
The good folks at CNN asked me to appear on Backstory” to talk about the News of the World’s phone-hacking scandal.
I tried to oblige them with some insights onto why this kind of scandal keeps happening, and why. You can see the results of the interview in the segment below:
More on why the news business keeps getting hit with privacy scandals like this, and why it won’t stop after the jump…
Signs were there that DVD sales were about to implode; industry ignored all warnings To anyone in the newspaper industry, the parallels are eerie. The disruptive technology is introduced, and people with the ability to look beyond this quarter’s P&L statement say, “Oh-oh. Something’s in the wind. We gotta take a look at this, maybe […] [...more]
Signs were there that DVD sales were about to implode; industry ignored all warnings
To anyone in the newspaper industry, the parallels are eerie. The disruptive technology is introduced, and people with the ability to look beyond this quarter’s P&L statement say, “Oh-oh. Something’s in the wind. We gotta take a look at this, maybe start shifting some resources into R&D, or we could blow up in a couple years.”
The need for a viable post-DVD digital strategy has been blindingly obvious for most of the past decade. But instead of focusing on that existential challenge, the industry wasted four years on Blu-ray, an absurd format that addressed no identifiable consumer demand that could not have been met years earlier, more cheaply and with less consumer confusion with readily available alternatives, like HD DVD or even red-laser DVDs.
The industry is still wasting time and resources trying to invent uses for Blu-ray to justify the time and cost sunk into it.
Hitting the snooze button when the alarm goes off doesn’t mean that what happens in the meantime is beyond your control. It means you’re asleep.
If I can extrapolate from the behavior I’ve witnessed in my friends, some of whom are the greatest TV & movie aficionados I’ve ever met; the type of people who can go one for an hour about how David Duchovny’s characterization of Fox Mulder owed more to John Wayne in The Searchers than, as is commonly (and erroneously) thought, the seminal Darren McGavin in Kolchak: The Night Stalker.
When DVDs came out, they were such an improvement over the jittery, fragile VHS tapes that we loaded up on them. All the extras – the audio tracks, the Easter Eggs – oh, they were sah-weet. We’d have parties where we’d go through our favorite movies and break it all down – because now, when we freeze-framed, it was a perfect picture, not that damned bent image with static bars at the top & bottom, the way VHS shafted us.
And then something happened. We had a whole shelf – maybe a coupla shelves. Maybe even a whole room – full of DVDs. Alphabetized, categorized.
And we didn’t watch them anymore.
Why should be drag out a DVD, fire up the player, switch the Video1 to Video2 – just to sit through something we’ve already seen … when the TiVo has something fresh & new? There has to be a real dearth of new material that’s any good before we’ll go to the archives for some nostalgia.
The success of the studios & networks in setting up all these TV channels & alternative means of distribution of content has also been its undoing. If I don’t have to shell out $24 for a movie – when I can just stream it over Netflix, or better yet, see something new on my DVR – then why would I spend my increasingly scarce hard-earneds?
Technology alone didn’t change consumer behavior. It wasn’t the internet’s fault. It’s just that when alternatives opened up – when true competition arrived on the market – all of a sudden, the old Walled Gardens, with their high price to enter and their restrictive DRM – those places became not so fun to hang out it. So we all left. Gradually, but in increasing numbers.
The crisis that newspapers have faced for the last 5-10 years — the TV and movie industry is about to fall into that same Black Hole, for the same reasons, and apparently is determined to attempt the same half-measures to turn the clock back to where it used to be. Look for a lot of appeals to Congress for restrictive legislation, blaming “piracy” and “content thieves,” and then resorting to a death spiral of cutting costs and putting out shoddier products.
This is a strategy that is also being pursued in New York by NY Daily News publisher Mort Zuckerman, who has invested more than he would like to admit to (millions? hundreds of millions?) into high-tech printing presses, capable of churning out massive print runs with razor-sharp color. The 15-tower, triple-width ultra-compact Commander CT press looks a lot like the last-generation Nikon F6 film camera. It was the apex of film technology, what many analysts recognized at the time as "the perfect camera" -- but that alas, was rolled out just as every working professional made the move to use digital. [...more]
Print die-hards claimed that all that was needed to reverse the audience migration to the internet was to make newspapers more “lively” in appearance. Early verdict: looks pretty, but the advertising still isn’t there, and that sound you heard was Mort Zuckerman puking and weeping over in the corner.
I’ve been in the Bay Area for a convention of “[fill in blank] for Dummies” authors and various business meetings, and I’ve taken the opportunity to scope out what the San Francisco Chronicle has been doing with its much-ballyhooed investment in glossy magazine-style paper for the front pages of its sections, and the use of high-quality color images.
This week's debate is not as acrimonious as in the past (although there are exceptions to that, of course), and in the wake of the biz models released by the Aspen conference, some people are taking building new revenue streams seriously. At least, they say they are. It turns out that a lot of what has been reported in this paid content debate is a little like Microsoft software releases: trial balloon "vaporware." [...more]
This week’s debate is not as acrimonious as in the past (although there are exceptions to that, of course), and in the wake of the biz models released by the Aspen conference, some people are taking building new revenue streams seriously. At least, they say they are. It turns out that a lot of what has been reported in this paid content debate is a little like Microsoft software releases: trial balloon “vaporware.”
Page design at Rue89.com looks a little like what splatters on the side of the carny Tilt-a-Whirl after you load it up with a buncha 10-years olds who've spent the day eating cotton candy and mystery meat hotdogs. I think the boxes up & down the sides are supposed to be clickable ads, but they were inert when I tried them... (click for larger)
The illustration here is of a new French news site that is apparently taking off at Rue89; I can’t decide whether the chaotic design is totally off-putting, or intriguing because it basically violates every rule of page design. Also, I can’t hear the word “Rue” in a title without flashing to “Murders in the Rue Morgue.” Or some B-movie villain twirling a moustache and chortling, “You’ll rue the day, Rex Manly!”
As a bonus, this week I’ve broadened the focus a bit to include some big-picture thinking from some of the unusual suspects; Doc Searls has a post wherein it is posited that what we think of right now as the internet is just a finger pointing in the direction of what this thing is actually going to grow into. Which should fuel a couple of late-night dorm-room debates, if nothing else…
In which I get very "Meta" and write a blog post that aggregates other blog posts that were written about aggregation. The discussion in all cases gets heated very quickly. Insults are thrown around, fisking takes place in the comment threads, but a few actual new ideas & fact-based analyses sneak in here and there. The fact that some very smart entrepreneurs are actually interested enough to toss in some innovative thinking is rather heartening, actually. [...more]
In which I get very “Meta” and write a blog post that aggregates other blog posts that were written about aggregation.
I am also posting this over on the AIM Group blog, as part of what I think might become a regular feature, “This week in the paid content debate.” The best of the bunch is the back-and-forth between billionaire Mark Cuban, and the bete noire of many print publishers, Michael Wolff, who runs the Newser.com content-aggregation site. Cuban actually suggests something that shows that he’s put more thinking into the issue than the kneejerk “Up with the paywalls!” bunch. I note below the flaw in his plans – my ex-roommate used to describe for me in detail how impossible it was at Time-Warner-AOL to get the jealous VPs of Home Video, say, to play nice with the guys from HBO and pay-per-view. Why make someone else’s P&L sheets look good? That just means they are going to get the Exec VP slot faster than you…
This is an example of a newspaper that has developed multiple, reliable, alternative revenue streams. UOL in Brazil is doing quite well, thank you. They planned ahead, unlike so many complacent U.S. papers.(Click for larger)
Anyway, the discussion in all cases gets heated very quickly. Insults are thrown around, fisking takes place in the comment threads, but a few actual new ideas & fact-based analyses sneak in here and there. The fact that some very smart entrepreneurs are actually interested enough to toss in some innovative thinking is rather heartening, actually.
Mark Cuban gives some free advice to fellow billionaire media mogul Rupert Murdoch: http://blogmaverick.com/2009/08/08/my-advice-to-fox-myspace-on-selling-content-yes-you-can/ Basically, he advances the idea that to get consumers to pay for news, you have to bundle it up with other goods, services and content that exist within giant organizations such as Fox or Time-Warner. A “Newsjunkie” subscription would come with access to special sections of Fox News, a couple of books from HarperCollins, magazine subscriptions and DVDs of 20th Century Fox movies. Commenters point out that such “synergies” remain elusive in these big media conglomerates, as each of the divisions is still in its own silo, with its own P&L, jealously guarding its own turf. Cuban paid special attention to aggregators, suggesting that newspapers ban links from aggregators such as Michael Wolff’s Newser.com.
…leading to Mark Cuban responding with a schoolyard-taunt opus: I’m Rubber, You’re Glue http://blogmaverick.com/2009/08/12/to-michael-wolf-im-rubber-youre-glue/ Not sure what it means when the discussion over paywalls degenerates so quickly, even amongst intelligent and successful publishers. Apparently, Cuban takes umbrage to Wolff calling him a “big fat idiot,” and in turn, taunts Wolff by criticizing his “outdated model” of a site.
The fallacy of the Link economy: http://paidcontent.org/article/419-the-fallacy-of-the-link-economy/ This is another assault on the value of inbound links from Google and other news aggregation sites. Arnon Mishkin says that even sites that publish a headline and short description of a news story appearing on another site are destructive, because readers mostly skim stories, and therefore get the news content they need without having to click through. No word from him on what he thinks newspapers should do on newsstands – perhaps they should be like old-school porn magazines, in plain brown wrappers.
Ken Ellis responds on NP-Harder: http://npharder.wordpress.com/2009/08/14/the-fallacies-of-arnon-mishkin/He picks apart some of the assumptions as to what constitutes value from links, and concludes, “All that being said, I still agree in principle with his final three points. However reclaiming value from aggregators isn’t going to help publishers much. They need subscribers and a pay wall. Not an iron curtain, but a permeable pay wall along the lines of the Wall Street Journal. There’s no save-my-business-model pot of gold out there in the hands of aggregators to help you pay for all that good journalism.”
TechCrunch proclaims “The Media Bundle is Dead,” http://www.techcrunch.com/2009/08/16/the-media-bundle-is-dead-long-live-the-news-aggregators/ Erick Schonfeld addresses paid content by claiming that back when newspapers still enjoyed local monopolies on news, “80 percent of the stories in the paper sucked,” but that the audience was still forced to buy the paper because there was no alternative. Kind of like the argument that the music industry has failed because people are no longer willing to pay $15 for a CD that contains one song they like, and 9 others that are crummy.
A post drawing an interesting parallel between Microsoft’s dilemma on how to compete with Google’s free Open Office product, while still maintaining its huge profits from its own MS Office suite http://www.pbs.org/idealab/2009/08/future-of-local-news-about-more-than-paid-content225.html
From “Scooping the News” a post entitled: Newspaper Access Fees Destined for Failure: http://www.scoopingthenews.com/2009/08/newspaper-access-fees-destined-for.html He compares the paywall solutions to pop-up ads. He lists five points that he claims explain why access fees will not generate that much revenue. Basically, the argument against boils down to the “internet readers are used to getting information for free, and they have lots of alternatives, so they’ll never pony up when newspapers start slamming down the paywalls.”