Sips from the Firehose
A blog that seeks to filter the internet into a refreshing, easily-gulped beverage


Nov 23

Training Ukraining Professors and Journalists in Kiev

Posted: under Digital Migration.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Technological advances, more sophisticated and accomplished reporters – but troubling long-term trends

This year, I took the lovely and learned Janine Warner along to the University of Mohyla’s institute for the Digital Future of Journalism (and yes, I am contractually obligated to describe my partner in all things analog and digital in the most glowing terms possible. Fortunately, it is not difficult. And yes, she did insist that I add that last sentence). It was the first time we had team-taught since we traveled all over Colombia five years ago, to work with 16 different newspapers and press organizations.

This photo was taken as part of my class’ project: “Kiev – City of Contrasts”.

Over the years, our role has changed significantly: it used to be that we were the digital equivalent of Paul Revere … basically, we were in newsrooms full of skeptical reporters, at very successful traditional media outlets, yelling “The Internet is coming! The Internet is coming!”

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Oct 17

Where is the media heading?

Posted: under advertising, Denial of Reality, Digital Migration, New Media Strategery, newspaper crisis, Newspaper Deathwatch, Online (Multi)Media, Online Video.
Tags: , , , ,

First in a series of videos taken during a panel discussion for PR Newswire at the LA Times building. 

 

On the panel with me, the delightfully funny and plainspoken Serena Ehrlich, who knows more about how to handle media in the digital age than the last three Presidential Press Secretaries put together. Although there is a marked resemblance there to C.J Craig of the late, lamented Bartlett administration. 

Anyway, this is a bit of an intro to what the conditions are like for the media, and what the big forces shaping the future are going to look like. 

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Nov 30

This Week in Paid Content: Thanksgiving Week

Posted: under This week in paid content.
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In the spirit of the season, I hereby give thanks that there is such an open and vivid discussion about the core issue of monetizing online content.  If we’d had this kind of focus on actually taking the utopian dreams of “all content, everywhere, all the time” and making it work back when I was in my Web 1.0/dot-bomb startup days, we might not have cratered so spectacularly.

So this week, we’ve got a rising level of chatter about Murdoch’s media properties banning Google links in favor of getting paid by Microsoft’s Bing search engine, the BBC throws a wrench into paid content in England (and perhaps everywhere else), the idea of sprinkling porn onto newspaper websites to see what happens is floated, and what orcs and dwarves can teach newspapers.

Murdoch’s bluffing about Google to try to extract money from Microsoft’s deep pockets

This somewhat NSFW (lots of cussing) take on Murdoch is by someone familiar with the way that Murdoch papers like The Sun always seem to pick the winner of an electoral campaign.  Not because they’re so influential that the person they anoint goes on to win – but because Murdoch is canny at figuring out who the top dog in any fight is, and busies himself sucking up to them as soon as possible to maximize his profits. http://www.techcrunch.com/2009/11/28/rupert-murdoch-google-nsfw/

By convincing Bing that there’s a chance he might drop Google – for the right price – Murdoch suddenly has a new partner falling over itself to give him prominence in their search results, on his terms. Sure enough, Microsoft has just agreed to help fund the next-generation search crawling protocol, ACAP, which gives content owners like News Corp more control over how their news is indexed.

(snip) And that’s where we see Murdoch’s real genius: he has managed to use his illusion of influence to get all of these benefits without having to commit himself to anything, or expose himself in any way. There is no way in hell that News Corp content will vanish from Google and yet with every headline asking whether Google should be worried or suggesting that other companies might follow Murdoch’s lead, his image as a kingmaker is strengthened.

McClatchy starts sending out notices, but still claims paywalls are not imminent

Talk about mixed signals. The terms of services for its websites are all being changed, but that change doesn’t actually mean anything is changing. Except, of course, if it does. If they eventually decided to charge for content, they will clearly notify the readers, but in the meantime, please make coming to the site a habit and would it kill ya to click on the ads now & again? http://www.editorandpublisher.com/eandp/news/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1004041770

A Perpetual Recession for Newspapers

Rick Edmonds, who writes The Biz Blog for Poynter, says that news organizations have lost $1.6 billion that was used to cover news, and that even when the economy recovers, newspapers won’t: http://www.forbes.com/2009/11/18/newspapers-advertising-rick-edmonds-poynter-business-media-edmonds.html So maybe we should all just learn from the porn industry – or maybe even start putting porn on our sites, to see if maybe that will get people to pay for our content.

The building of micropayment systems, like the one being developed by Steve Brill, is a hotly debated issue. Wouldn’t it be helpful for this kind of system to be established first with Web content that really drives users–say, pornography?

Sure, but that’s not an option for newspapers. There have been experiments with these kinds of systems in Denmark, where several companies tried it at the same time. The problem was that they couldn’t answer peoples’ security concerns. The experiments turned out to be a dud.

“Knock yourselves out,” Google yawns.

The head of newspaper industry bête noir Google News says in an interview that publishers are free to do whatever they want with their content.  Google is apparently willing to work with publishers to do whatever the publishers demand with their content – list it, ignore it, work with it to implement a paywall, whatever. http://searchengineland.com/josh-cohen-of-google-news-on-paywalls-partnerships-working-with-publishers-29881 The easy confidence that is displayed here is the result of Google’s near-monopoly position in the market

Removing News Would Have Negligible Effect on Google

This study by German research company TRG shows that even if all news was taken off Google, that would still leave about 95% of Google traffic intact for them to monetize. http://paidcontent.co.uk/article/419-research-removing-news-would-have-negligible-effect-on-google/

Financially, then, Google doesn’t depend on the publishers’ content. “In comparison, if you detracted Wikipedia from the results, 13 percent of the number-one results would be gone,” said Christoph Burseg, the CEO of TRG, the research company that ran the survey.

BBC: We won’t charge for online news

Now this has got to be raising Mr. Murdoch’s blood pressure a bit. Online news paywalls only work when the competition plays along too (see the case study I did on the disastrous experiment of El Tiempo in Spain, & how they lost their market share to a formerly laughable upstart).

http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2009/nov/24/bbc-wont-charge-online-news A more interesting discussion is brewing, about what to do about content that is not just re-purposed BBC news, but that is specifically produced for the online editions. Viz:

However, Lyons also questioned the future of content created for online that is not directly related to specific BBC programmes, asking, “where should the boundary be drawn” between this and “the online expression or extension of BBC programming”?

Wall St. Journal’s price to go Bing-only: $15 million

There’s been an increasing amout of space devoted to what Murdoch is going to do to start moving all his content behind paywalls, and away from the hated Google “parasites.” Business Insider backwards-engineers the numbers that de-listing from Google would cost the WSJ, and comes up with $10-15 mill. http://www.businessinsider.com/microsoft-should-pay-up-for-exclusive-access-to-the-journal-2009-11

If Microsoft really wanted to induce Murdoch to ditch Google, it would therefore only cost $10 – $15 million. Maybe more if Murdoch wanted a premium. Considering Steve Ballmer said he’d spend $5.5 billion to $11 billion over the next five years on Bing, this is nothing.

More on the Murdoch-Google fight – seems the Denver Post and Dallas Morning News may follow in his footsteps

Interesting that Dean Singleton has come out and said that readers in Pennsylvania and California will get hit with paywalls starting next year, and the DMN is upgrading itself to a “definitely maybe” status. http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601109&sid=aRVlZEzbmNu0 A further article from the Independent about what publishers in the UK are thinking on this issue http://www.independent.co.uk/news/media/press/british-press-split-in-two-by-wappingrsquos-great-gamble-1825806.html and http://paidcontent.co.uk/article/419-has-the-times-got-it-right-with-its-online-charging-plan/

And finally, a meditation on whether Murdoch’s plan for paywalls will run afoul of anti-trust laws http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2009/nov/05/murdoch-pay-wall-anti-trust

“Not a cat’s chance in hell” of successfully charging for online content

The CEO of the Future Publishing Group said that there is no hope for paywalls for general news because of the ubiquity of free models, particularly in the UK market. http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2009/nov/26/charging-mainstream-news-future-chief However, Future are experimenting with specialized and niche content to see what the market will bear.

The group has taken a bullish approach to pricing its print magazine titles, with an average cover price of £5, up from £4.70 this time last year.

She cited a promotion of the new album from former Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash, which is being exclusively attached to a special edition of Classic Rock magazine for £14.99.

Americans less willing to pay for online news

The New York Times finds that less than half the people in the U.S. are willing to pay for online news, and even at that, they will only shell out $3. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/16/business/media/16paywall.html?_r=2&ref=media Apparently, there’s some kind of fundamental disconnect going on at the NY Times, between top management hell-bent on charging for content, and the weary soldiers in the trenches, protesting that this will not work, has not worked, will never work, and producing article after article that seemingly is not read by their own bosses.

“Consumer willingness and intent to pay is related to the availability of a rich amount of free content,” said John Rose, a senior partner and head of the group’s global media practice. “There is more, better, richer free in the United States than anywhere else.”

If readers are willing to pay – they prefer micropayments and only pennies

The analysts at Continental Research found that 63% will not pay for news, leaving only 37% who will – and at that, only willing to pay about 10 cents per article. http://www.continentalresearch.com/media_centre/press_releases/?ID=149 More about this at http://paidcontent.co.uk/article/419-research-readers-favour-news-micropayments-but-theyll-only-pay-pennies/

James Myring, Head of Media at Continental Research says “The amounts may sound small, but it is better to get a lot of people making small one off payments, than virtually no-one paying a higher subscription. For a comparison, think of the mobile industry, profiting from lots of small payments for text messages.

London Times Editor says online paywalls are “fight of our lives”

There’s the by-now predictable bashing of Google and the other supposed “parasites,” but the one actual realization is buried at the end of the article. http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=1&storycode=44649&c=1

Harding said the Times wanted to improve its relationship with its loyal customers through home delivery and through its recently launched Times+ membership programme.

He said: “Historically, newspapers have treated their best customers worst and their worst customers best.

“We give the paper away to people who could not care less and we pay little or no attention to people who love it and read it every day.”

What newspapers can learn from orcs and dwarves

This is actually something that I’ve felt for the last year or so – if we’re going to try to get young people to try & buy, then we’re going to have to emulate the things that they are already comfortable doing so with. http://paidcontent.co.uk/article/419-the-wow-paywall-what-newspapers-can-learn-from-orcs-and-dwarves/#comment_63034 Basically, the World of Warcraft guys are minting about a billion a year from online content – and there are a bunch of key points to their service that newspapers should study, if they actually want to make money, as opposed to just slamming down paywalls and pretending that the rest of the world will care (or even notice).

News as gaming: Could newspapers similarly harness the human need for interaction and stimulation and sell not just boring text news but access to a shared experience? Sure, there’s MySun, MyTelegraph and “tell us what you think in the comments below”, but that’s a marketing ploy to drive page impressions and encourage more content consumption. The lesson from gaming is that people won’t pay for content they can’t help shape themselves—or project their own personal narrative onto.

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Nov 19

Wallflowers at the New Media Dance: Newspapers Can’t Decide On Paid Content

Posted: under This week in paid content.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Due to some intense consulting projects, multimedia presentations at national conferences, and BizDev meetings with like-minded New Media entrepreneurs, there has been quite a gap in my updates on the whole “Will they or won’t they” kerfuffle over paid content. This should get us up to about last Friday; tomorrow, I will post this week’s follies – and there have been a lot of them.

The overriding theme these days seems to be borrowed from the debate over the war in Afghanistan: dithering. Waffling. Hemming and hawing.

The newspaper industry is shifting from foot to foot, licking its lips, and generally acting like a 14-year-old boy at his first school dance, afraid to take the Big Leap.

This is the screen that pops up on Newsday.com, bugging you to subscribe.

This is the screen that pops up on Newsday.com, bugging you to subscribe.

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Mar 18

Audience Planbook: A Step-by-Step Plan to Transform Newspapers

Posted: under Digital Migration, New Marketing, new media, Newspapers, Uncategorized, Webconomics.
Tags: , , , , , , ,

The Big Scary Project that I’ve been yammering about for the last five months is finally live & open for business.

The way out of the maze just got a little easier (click for larger image).

The way out of the maze just got a little easier (click for larger image).

The Audience Planbook was designed to guide newspaper execs through the process of transforming their familiar (but no longer safe) businesses into popular & profitable New Media information centers.  Here’s what the front page looks like:

This Planbook is an answer to one of the most persistent and trenchant objections to all this “New Media Strategery” — that is, that previous case studies and industry analyses have been long on strategy, and short on tactics.  There are hard drives bursting with essays, webinars and podcasts calling for “disintermediated information flows” and “leveraging Web 2.0 to enhance user experience,” but the practical means by which to transmute these philosophies into concrete policies & procedures has been lacking.

No longer.

I’d like to publicly thank & brag about my writers:

Chapter 1: Stacy Lynch writes about how to assess your current situation to spot where opportunities exist – even in this down economy & print-hostile environment.

Chapter 2: Heather Schlegel (aka Heathervescent) shows how to construct User Personas to start focusing in on audience groups that you want to turn into readers/users/contributors/evangelists.

Chapter 3: Chris Willis takes on one of the toughest problems in media organizations: the change-resistant culture, and shows how to start the internal change that will then manifest itself as an external renaissance.

Chapter 4: Francis Pisani brings a breath of fresh air to the product launch process – his experience as an “Alpha Blogger” in France & Spain brought him into contact with tech teams that are doing spectacular things.

Chapter 5: Sean McDonnell uses his experience of working to build communities for the banking and financial sector to show off the newest viral marketing tools.

Chapter 6: Erik Johnson shows how to push, pull, coax and haul our audiences up the engagement ladder; because an engaged user is far more valuable than a drive-by browser.

Chapter 7: Janine Warner dissects the business and organizational structures that New Media companies are using to produce this kind of content.

Chapter 8: Kevin Featherly takes the results of all this labor, and shows how to make an informed decision to “hold ‘em or fold ‘em.”

I am tremendously proud of the work that they all have done.  We are all trying to peer into cloudy crystal balls here, and they have uncovered some real gems.

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