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 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.”
At the risk of having some tort-toting barrister slithering under my office door, here’s a link to a NY Times story about the latest salvo in the growing war between Traditional Media and online news aggregators/commenters. The Associated Press said Thursday that it would add software to each article that shows what limits apply to [...] [...more]
At the risk of having some tort-toting barrister slithering under my office door, here’s a link to a NY Times story about the latest salvo in the growing war between Traditional Media and online news aggregators/commenters.
The Associated Press said Thursday that it would add software to each article that shows what limits apply to the rights to use it, and that notifies The A.P. about how the article is used.
Tom Curley, The A.P.’s president and chief executive, said the company’s position was that even minimal use of a news article online required a licensing agreement with the news organization that produced it.
I hardly know where to begin here. If you’ve been following the war between Online & Traditional, as it’s reached the screeching desperate frenzy this year, the most-repeated shibboleth is that the news industry committed the “Original Sin” of making its content available online for free, and that everything would go back to the fat profit-margin salad days if only we could roll back the clock and stop the distribution of news & information via that damn intertubes thingy. If we can just track and control who uses what we produce, maybe we can choke off all the “freeloaders and leeches” who are competing for ad dollars without actually doing any work themselves.
So the newspapers, watching the traditional paper iceberg slowly melt around them, put the vise on the AP to Do Something. Anything. The problem is, we’re still short of solutions. I’ve been working in New Media for more than 12 years now, and I’ve done as much original research and case studies on the Economics of News, and I’m not sure. We’re fumbling towards something, though, and the last few months have actually made me cautiously optimistic that we’re going to be able to reinvent how news & information flows in our societies, in ways that actually benefit the average citizen. That is, the citizens are informed of stories about, say, how the subprime mortgage market is not such a good long-term idea, or that the aftermath of conquering Iraq might be messier than the bespectacled Secretary of Defense claims.
Yeah, I know, those stories did appear in the media and on the boob tube. But what’s attracted the biggest, heaviest coverage these last few weeks, as we’ve sought to retool our health care system, turn around a losing war in Afghanistan, and fact-check how trillions of bailout money was spent?
That’s right. Michael Jackson.
The Original Sin of journalism & newspapers was not to make its content available on the web. The Original Sin was when we looked the other way as our media outlets were snarfed up and transmogrified into revenue-producing subsidiaries. The consequences of that have had far greater import and impact than our little measly stunted careers (although on a personal level, I’m obviously less than thrilled & have taken quite a hit myself).
If I’m running a growing network of web-based local news producers, I’m ordering Dom Perignon by the Methuselah today. Why?
1. Every conference I’ve been at for the past two years, the big advertisers say that they’re shifting their budgets to digital/online 2. The AP and newspapers are walling themselves off, and will presumably soon be implementing a RIAA-type model of suing people who infringe on their content 3. The bloggers & aggregators will quickly link to whatever competition provides the same information without all the hassle (or just use the freshman book-report strategy of paraphrasing without linking) 4. Traffic will flow to the competition. Ad dollars will follow. 5. Oh yeah – and the one type of content that is original & can’t be remixed is video… where even if a blogger/aggregator embeds or downloads/transcodes, your logos and your advertiser’s messages will still appear…
I thought that the news and the music business were at about the same point on the evolutionary timescale. It appears that the news business is bound and determined to take a step backward.
Man, I didn’t think there was anyone left at the Chronicle to fire – and here I read that they just canned 151 more people? Delfin Vigil, a reporter at the Chron, took out an ad in the Examiner to decry the sorry state of the paper after all the cutbacks, layoffs, contractions, consolidations, downsizings [...] [...more]
Delfin Vigil, a reporter at the Chron, took out an ad in the Examiner to decry the sorry state of the paper after all the cutbacks, layoffs, contractions, consolidations, downsizings & general slow self-asphyxiation. Surprise! He just got canned in the latest round of layoffs, and has written an impassioned letter questioning what’s left of journalism these days.
In his letter, Vigil does raise a valid point, about how journalists are encouraged to criticize every other leader besides the guys in charge of the media companies that they work for.
Here’s my stupid question: Why is it that journalists are allowed (and even encouraged) to publicly challenge, question and criticize everyone else’s boss — except for their own?
If we as newspaper journalists aren’t allowed to place the same kind of public pressure on our own authorities, who will? Does anyone truly believe that the leaders of The Chronicle and other dying newspapers across the country don’t deserve the same level of scrutiny?
It’s long been a truism in the industry that the story that the press covers the least (and the worst) is themselves. The fruits of that neglect are now becoming clear to all of us.
What would have happened if, back in the 80s, the industry had really done an in-depth investigation of what was plainly obvious to anyone working in & around papers that were being snapped up by chains like Gannett? Every journalist I knew then talked about how being bought by Gannett meant that the paper was stripped of everything that made it distinct, and the best talent was shipped off to toil at the USA Today, while the newly installed publishers were under tremendous pressure to “make their numbers,” and sought to do so by widening circulation by any means necessary. This model was quickly copied by other large & rapacious chains, who took advantage of the relaxation of media ownership rules to start a feeding frenzy on small papers and TV & radio stations.
Which meant that smaller staffs were whipped like dogs to produce copy that could be wrapped around the ads. That fat colorful graphic packages were produced to “engage” the readers and give them the sense that they were actually learning something from the paper, while longer investigative projects – and particularly those troublesome community-defending “crusades” were quietly taken out back and shot.
Yeah, I know, there are always exceptions to these broad generalizations. I am quite certain that a lot of the smaller papers that get consumed by the big chains continued to do the best they could with what they had. But the problems only accelerated in the 90s, and I recall very little mention of it at the time. Perhaps we had become inured to it by that point. It was the inexorable trend, so we might as well figure out how to exist under it.
What would have happened if, sometime in the 90s, reporters and editors had started making it as much of a priority to report about what was happening to the news business … maybe some fraction of the news hole that was allocated to oh, say, the O.J. Simpson case?
Again – I know – long analysis stories about the consolidation of news outlets hardly grabs the same numbers as the White Bronco freeway chase.
The prestigious stock-rating firm of Morningstar says that two big newspaper chains, McClatchy and Lee Enterprises, may be worth zero. “McClatchy stock could be worth nothing,” says Morningstar, adding that Lee Enterprises “shares could lose their entire value.” Fair value of each is listed at $0.00. Both are deep in debt.
And for the editors and reporters who fear that switching over to a reader-driven basis for content is going to lead to endless pages of bikini shots and [fill in the anatomical blank] slips ... well there are plenty of sites dedicated to that kind of content already.
The users have the power, you see, to go to wherever it is that we want to go to, to find the kind of pictures/video/stories that we want.
If all there were on the web was imitations of Maxim-meets-Ogrish, that would be unbelievably boring after a while. [...more]
Well, there are two schools of thought to this. The first is the one that was espoused there:
What exactly do these people think that newspaper execs will do with
data showing exactly how profitable every single article is? Just sit
on that information? Or will they use it to make business decisions
about which departments, types of articles and individual journalists
are delivering the most ROI? “Sorry, Woodward, we know you won the
Pulitzer last year, but your articles only generated $97.85 in revenue,
so we’re going to have to let you go.” Of course, it wouldn’t just
influence the executives. Journalists themselves would start shading
their stories to what sells, and the most successful would be the ones
who were the best salespeople (or who knew the most tricks). Get ready
for a lot less zoning-board recaps and a lot more “Top 10 Sexual
You can see one example of this over at the Santiago, Chile daily Las Ultimas Noticias, where the publisher started to let the tail wag the dog — that is, the stories that garnered the most clicks on the website would be the ones given the biggest play in the paper edition the next day.
Also, the stories that got lots of attention would lead to follow-ups. The upshot of this was that the coverage did start to resemble a deranged issue of Maxim magazine.
Business news? “Picture of Women Executives Working Out & Getting Sweaty”
Political news? “Vote on Whether Japanese Women Have Cute Butts.”
But before everyone starts jumping on the already-crowded “I Told You So” train, LUN was always a bit of a downmarket paper. They were #8 out of 8 daily newspapers in Santiago, Chile. So their core, and the people they attracted with their marketing blitz, were readers that were not already dedicated to the bigger papers, such as El Mercurio and La Tercera.
And yes, LUN did vault from last to first, and a big part of this was the aggressive strategy.
But since then, LUN has been branching out in its coverage; they no longer have T&A on every page. They have the core audience of what the British call “Lager Louts” or “Yobbos,” but they are branching out to include more technical content that appeals to the same young webheads that come for the biscuit shots.
And for the editors and reporters who fear that switching over to a reader-driven basis for content is going to lead to endless pages of bikini shots and [fill in the anatomical blank] slips … well there are plenty of sites dedicated to that kind of content already.
The users have the power, you see, to go to wherever it is that we want to go to, to find the kind of pictures/video/stories that we want.
If all there were on the web was imitations of Maxim-meets-Ogrish, that would be unbelievably boring after a while.
And as we’ve seen with OhMyNews, even when users are allowed to pick their perfect, tailored mix of stories and information, after a while, we kinda want someone (read: an editor/blogger/”curator”) to surprise us.
We want to see things from outside the bubble. Well, most of us do. Some people will gleefully sustain themselves on a steady diet of mental Twinkies, and never get tired of them. Never mind them. They were never your readers anyway.
I think that the recent political campaign and the economic meltdown have hammered home to a generation of news consumers that it’s kind of a good idea to pull our heads away from whatever dingbat thing Paris & Britney did this week, to see what it is that our elected officials are doing with our money … and how they’re funneling it to the equally dingbat financiers and bankers that bribe them.
So yeah, maybe there will be a bit of a blip when the micropayment model is implemented. But it will shake itself out.
If you believe that all your audience wants is cheezcake … well, aren’t you saying then that your audience is a bunch of pervert dimwits?
In terms of charging for content, both Jarvis and Edwards are wholly in agreement. Jarvis is of the opinion that it is now more valuable to build audience – “I think the odds of success in charging now are slim to none”. Edwards echoes his sentiments, with his belief that “if we charged for content on the internet our traffic would go down significantly… It’s abandoning the trust in the advertising as a financial model.”
Well, that trust has been strained recently, and it is only going to get worse, unfortunately. The continued soft economy is going to put some severe downward pressure on ad revenues, at least for the next nine months. The best news that I’ve seen today came out of the LA Times – a small article about how the bottom-feeders are out snarfing up low-priced houses in the Phoenix area (which was pretty much the most overinflated area in the U.S. when it came to the housing bubble). If this holds up over the next couple of months, that would mean that a lot of the “frustrated money” that’s been sitting on the sidelines is going to start getting back into the game.
Again: I do think that there is a place for charging for content online. But that model necessitates a radical change in how the news business does/would operate, one that makes shutting off the presses and moving only to web distribution look positively timid by comparison. I’ve worked at magazines that were almost all circulation supported. The key to survival is that you have to have something that the consumers can get nowhere else.
Another quick hit, because I’m swamped with assignments right now. Many newspaper/media analysts have eagerly seized upon the micro-commerce capabilities of mobile phones and devices like the Kindle as possible ways to get readers to pony up for their content. Steve Smith, the self-deprecating mobile industry analyst, has an insightful take on this issue over [...] [...more]
Another quick hit, because I’m swamped with assignments right now.
I think it is a mistake for media companie [sic] to think that putting the same old content into our pockets or “at our fingertips” is enough to merit a fee. They need to reimagine content as a service. That is a tremendous challenge/opportunity. It means that publishers have to think beyond the media and imagine how people put information to work (or to fun) in their everyday lives.
If a publisher can turn media into a utility, not just more data, then the rest of the argument about pay-to-play models on mobile make more sense. If there is something of value to buy on the mobile platform, then the built-in payment system, the always-there convenience, and the pay-to-play habits of mobile usage make a fee-based model workable for some. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful by-product of the mobile media evolution if it forced publishers to revisit and reimagine how and why their product makes our everyday lives better, easier, healthier, or more enjoyable? Content could have functionality. Media would be a service — not just, well, media.
The thinking on this is pretty terrifying to anyone hoping that the news business will be able to just point their CMS outputs at .mobi or m.[whatever] sites and go on their merry ways. If what Smith says is true, the news business is going to have to get a lot more disciplined about packaging up the information and presenting it to the average time-starved reader in a way that is immeidately, recognizably useful.
This means that big, exhaustive, Pulitzer-bait investigative pieces that curmudgeons point at as the core business that can’t be replicated … are not going to be in the lifeboats that make it to Digital Refuge Island. Well, at least, not in the way that we’ve all come to expect.
I’ve been thinking a lot about investigations lately, and I think they represent the best of traditional media … and the worst. Yes, they are responsible for great, sweeping changes and for holding corrupt politicians, abusive bureaucracies and ugly social trends up into public view.
If an investigation is published and nobody really pays attention, was it really worthwhile? I can already hear the outraged screams in response to that question.
How about this: wouldn’t it be better to accomplish what a big investigation sets out to do – that is, to identify problems, focus in on miscreants and victims to breathe life into the story, suggest solutions, AND FOLLOW UP IN AN OLD-SCHOOL CRUSADE – in a way that readers actually pay attention to?
One of the “ah-ha!” moments I’ve seen in the trainings we’ve done is when we talk to the ad/biz side, and ask them whether they think advertisers are buying column inches of ads – or if what they want is more customers walking into their stores.
This (buzzword alert) paradigm shift in the mission of newspapers has to have its own parallel epiphany over on the editorial side.