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…
Do not count me - yet - amongst those who hope that, well, now that it's (allegedly) become clear that newspapers are fated to die, then let's just get this over with. I still think that they can turn things around - the recent LA Times excellent Mapping LA project is a great step towards building the kind of hyperlocal database and information exchange network that could take off and fulfill all those dreams about the possibilities of digital local coverage.
While I am all for the development of the new content & biz models touted in Xark!, I don't think they are ready - yet - to step into the line of fire and take over in collecting and distributing the information that we need to be able to function effectively as a society. Hell, as a civilization.
The anger in the screen on Xark! is palpable, and I will cop to feeling it on more than one occasion. But I am not yet ready to give in to it. to throw in the towel and just lean back and toast marshmallows over the flames. [...more]
We’ve reached the “Aw to hell with them, let it all burn” stage
Just a quick late-night hit while I prepare to shoot an interview tomorrow at KCET.
I’ve spent much of the last couple years of my life trying to come up with case studies, strategies, training programs, tools and mash-ups of all the aforementioned, all aimed at illuminating a clear pathway for the newspaper industry to follow to save itself from “The Crisis.” My last big project was the Audience Planbook for the NAA, which was supposed to lay out a step-by-step process to building new businesses that take advantage of the technological innovations that have changed the way we get news.
I’m not so delusional and narcissistic as to think that I have some revealed, holy wisdom that can turn around the momentum of a massive, multi-billion dollar industry by myself. But I had hoped that maybe my voice, along with the voices of those who I recruited (shanghaied? hoodwinked?) into writing chapters in the Planbook for me, would spur some kind of change. This hope has grown harder to sustain in the last couple of months.
What will these media executives do when that reality hits them?
When these debt-burdened chains, stripped of journalistic talent by a
decade of profiteering, their web traffic reduced by 60 percent by
their paid-content follies, their pockets emptied by the cost of the
proprietary paywall systems offered by Journalism Online LLC and other
opportunistic vendors, what will they do?
Will they buck up and
go back out into the fray with fresh ideas and leadership? Or will they
fold, casting bitter eulogies to their own imagined glories as they
exit the stage?
They don’t get it. They don’t want to get it. And in many cases, they’re literally paid not to get it.
journalism infrastructure – from corporate giants to non-profit
foundations like the American Press Institute and the Newspaper
Association of America – is funded by dying companies. So when you hear
about efforts to save newspapers (and, by extension, journalism),
understand that answers that don’t return the possibility of double-digit profits and perpetual top-down control aren’t even considered answers. They’re not even considered.
They’ll do anything to survive… so long as it doesn’t involve change.
Click on over and read the rest of the piece. And then go to the comments section – because the action is always in the comments – and check out the long, impassioned note from someone trapped in a sinking newsroom.
Do not count me – yet – amongst those who hope that, well, now that it’s (allegedly) become clear that newspapers are fated to die, then let’s just get this over with. I still think that they can turn things around – the recent LA Times excellent Mapping LA project is a great step towards building the kind of hyperlocal database and information exchange network that could take off and fulfill all those dreams about the possibilities of digital local coverage.
While I am all for the development of the new content & biz models touted in Xark!, I don’t think they are ready – yet – to step into the line of fire and take over in collecting and distributing the information that we need to be able to function effectively as a society. Hell, as a civilization.
The anger in the screen on Xark! is palpable, and I will cop to feeling it on more than one occasion. But I am not yet ready to give in to it. to throw in the towel and just lean back and toast marshmallows over the flames.
This is the first part of the rather incendiary keynote speech by Jason Calacanis, founder of Mahalo.com, at the OMMA Hollywood 2009 conference. The keynote's title is "Advertising, Riots, Twitter, Facebook and the Depression," and in it, Calacanis cheers the death of newspapers and "Old Media," and lauds paid search as the "most powerful advertising medium ever created." [...more]
Advertising, Riots, Twitter, Facebook and the Depression
Curmudgeons skip directly to 7:50 or so, for the juicy bits. If you are in a crowded place, please allow at least 10 feet of safety space in all directions for when your head explodes.
This is the first part of the rather incendiary keynote speech by Jason Calacanis, founder of Mahalo.com, at the OMMA Hollywood 2009 conference. The keynote’s title is “Advertising, Riots, Twitter, Facebook and the Depression,” and in it, Calacanis cheers the death of newspapers and “Old Media,” and lauds paid search as the “most powerful advertising medium ever created.”
Not coincidentally, Mahalo is a paid search company.
Along the way, Calacanis also trashes social media advertising, showing screenshots of drunken parties to “prove” that all advertising on this platform is unwelcome, intrusive and doomed to die.
“Gosh, newspapers didn’t see this coming, did they? I mean, the newspapers were reporting on their own demise for a decade. And they still couldn’t change it.
It’d be as if you’re the Titanic and you haven’t even left port yet. And they’re like, “By the way, there’s a lot of icebergs to the north.” And you’re like “OK, thanks.” A day later, it’s “Icebergs are still there.”
They’re like, “Full speed ahead! To the icebergs, as quick as possible!”
They did nothing. They deserve to die. Don’t cry for newspapers, it’s great that they go out of business, because new things can take their place that are better. Much better.
Don’t cry for journalism. Rejoice, because a new journalism is being built, today, as we speak. And it’s going to be better than the last one.
“They deserve to go away. Goodby, good riddance.”
The keynote was obviously designed to provoke a reaction (more than one conference attendee muttered “linkbait” after listening), and it certainly did that, as every other session after this opened with the panel trying to refute Calacanis’ claims. I’ll post John Battelle‘s rather more measured keynote tomorrow.
I have a few reactions to this, and I’ll post some more with the other three videos in this series. But to start with, the notion that newspapers did nothing at all about the internet is absolutely false. The industry has tried to engage with online since before there was an internet (you’ve probably all seen those videos from San Francisco, showing the early paper over video screen tech of the 80s). The problem is, that the battlefield on which newspaper have been trying to engage has shifted radically. First, it was the fight between portals – Prodigy vs. CompuServe vs. AOL. Then it was Netscape vs. Internet Explorer. Yahoo vs. Google. Facebook vs. MySpace.
Newspapers are a $50 billion a year industry, with tremendously expensive production and distribution infrastructure, grown up over centuries. If the Tribune chain had just splashed kerosene over the presses back in ’92, and declared in the flickering light that they were shifting every penny over into becoming a competitor to AOL … well, they probably still woulda wound up about where they are. But along the way, there would have been tremendous dislocation – millions of readers not getting information. Millions of readers turning to competitive print products that would have made billions.
So the newspaper industry has tried incremental solutions. Right up to this point, where, as we see in Seattle & Denver (despite what Jason sneers at, there are plenty of people who want to read what he dismisses as “boring” stories about local government, taxation, schools and crime) the papers are being forced to migrate to the web under conditions that are nothing short of brutal.
It’s all very well and good to talk about the exciting news products that are “being built today, as we speak.” But I know many of the people that work at these small, struggling web news outfits. They are up against the wall, just trying to keep the broadband bill paid. They are not going to be able to devote thousands of man-hours to digging through documents and making connections, and going out and doing original research (i.e. interviewing people to get things that are not archived on the magical, all-seeing web). Maybe this will be solved someday – but it ain’t the case today, and that’s when we need it. We need this kind of enterprise reporting, or this country is going to implode, because society is angry at the economic collapse, and nobody’s really been able to dig deep enough to explain it. At least, not in a way that holds up & makes sense for more than a month or so…
If I sound like a bit of a curmudgeon here, well, it’s hard to watch this and not get a bit grouchy. I agree with Jason on the broad points – that Big Media has sinned, and is paying the price; that ad dollars are shifting to where the consumer eyeballs are, and that this trend is only accelerating.
OK, it's a given that journalists have something of a Messiah Complex. You have to have something else going on psychologically to get into this low-pay high-stress field. But this is really crossing the line. And making an unfortunate conflation between the newspaper industry and good journalism - yes, it gets done at newspapers, and there are some magnificent examples of this. But the industry is asphyxiating itself, and dumping wads of cash on it will not solve the underlying problems.
Government intervention here would create more problems than it would solve. [...more]
While the concept of a bailout for newspapers (and allegedly for good journalism) seems attractive at first blush, I fear that in practice, the billions in bailout funds would suffer the same fate as the billions bestowed upon the banking industry.
That is, they would be swiftly pocketed in the form of “well-earned bonuses,” and only a few crumbs would make it down to the level where the money would actually do any good. While I’m not in the “burn baby, burn” camp the way many other digital triumphalists have been (and there’s at least a faint whiff of that hereabouts), I think that dumping fat stacks on media conglomerates will not solve the underlying problems of the crumbling of business models.
Now then – a Manhattan Project (of sorts) to build solid business models to support quality journalism? That would = the hoary “teaching a man to fish” paradigm.
I know faith in The Invisible Hand is in short supply these days (and where it can be found, it’s usually being in the stocks in the town square, being pelted by posters on Angryjournalist.com), but the fact is that there is a demand for something to perform the function of information dissemination that newspapers do/have done. If the Drug Wars have taught us anything, it is that where there is a demand, and money is attached to that demand, there will correspondingly be a supply.
This is all growing out an essay on the op-ed page of the NY Times and chittering in the Twiterverse, as the nervous journalists see the vultures staring downward, and big guy in the hood with the scythe striding through the newsroom.
By endowing our most valued sources of news we would free them from the strictures of an obsolete business model and offer them a permanent place in society, like that of America’s colleges and universities. Endowments would transform newspapers into unshakable fixtures of American life, with greater stability and enhanced independence that would allow them to serve the public good more effectively.
Well, allow me to respond to that one.
Not to get all Reagan on you, but that is complete and utter madness. Newspapers are so important, so crucial to our lives, that it is the duty & obligation of the government to preserve them?
OK, it’s a given that journalists have something of a Messiah Complex. You have to have something else going on psychologically to get into this low-pay high-stress field. But this is really crossing the line. And making an unfortunate conflation between the newspaper industry and good journalism – yes, it gets done at newspapers, and there are some magnificent examples of this. But the industry is asphyxiating itself, and dumping wads of cash on it will not solve the underlying problems.
Government intervention here would create more problems than it would solve. Allison Fine is onto this issue:
So, the fundamental premise of the need to endow newspapers and preserve them at public expense is that false information exists on the Internet? Of course it does, as it does on TV, on the radio (should we also consider endowing Rush?) in magazines, and in many, many newspapers. Which media would the authors like to choose as being least likely to contain false information? And which medium do they think did the best job of bringing the lies and corruption of the Bush Administration to light — hint, don’t look at newspapers, Josh Micah Marshall and his Talking Points Memo website would be a much better bet.
So, the fundamental premise that only newspapers can hold government accountable is specious. But that isn’t my biggest issue with the article. It is the naive assumption from those outside of the nonprofit sphere that 1) nonprofit status is intended for companies that don’t have a viable business model, and 2) raising billions of dollars in endowment funds is doable, particularly in today’s economy.
If anything, the effect of billions spent on preserving the newspaper format as it is, without any changes, will mean that we’ll all be getting print products dumped on our doors that are increasingly ad-free. Yeah, there will be a number of advertisers who will still be there because the eyeballs are there. But the trends of readership of mass print products are not heading up (niche and community newspapers are another story).
Worst of all, the preservation of a business model that is clearly no longer functional will suck the oxygen out of the room for the products that should (and are, in some cases) being developed to do the job that newspapers have done. Artificially propping up newspapers in their current form will stifle the innovation in the marketplace, and long-term, only make the inevitable collapse worse.
We’re kinda seeing that take place in the real estate and credit markets right now. The government artificially propped up the economy for eight years with crazy spending and stupid low interest rates. Instead of hard work & ingenuity to produce real growth, it was Free Money Day Every Day, as real-estate speculation in areas like Scottsdale, Las Vegas, Miami & L.A. led to the “$30,000-a-year millionaire” who made $10,000 in arcane mortgage kickbacks every time he/she signed his/her name to a loan document. The results of that are the global economic meltdown we see occurring right now.
ESPN sees the writing on the wall. In their industry they need strong stories to promote sports and strong sports to drive interest to their stories. A fan that is underserved by his newspaper is less interested in following his team on ESPN. Additionally, there is big advertising money for ESPN if it can become the resource for local sports.
This is a long term proposition, however. Even the mighty ESPN cannot yet afford to hire 30 beat writers to cover each NBA team. Instead it is working towards its goal by teaming with independend bloggers in a win/win/win proposition. The bloggers have a chance at monetizing their efforts, ESPN can become the central resource it wants to become and fans can get the information they want as a new, viable local sports media business model starts to thrive.
I hate like hell to keep doing quick, off-the-cuff bites at such big topics, but maybe I should just resign myself to accepting the web ethos of not trying to do all things at once. Yeah, yeah, I know – “Eat the elephant one bite at a time.”So here’s an interesting coinkydink: two items I [...] [...more]
I hate like hell to keep doing quick, off-the-cuff bites at such big topics, but maybe I should just resign myself to accepting the web ethos of not trying to do all things at once. Yeah, yeah, I know – “Eat the elephant one bite at a time.”So here’s an interesting coinkydink: two items I bookmarked to read later – and actually got around to reading (pause here for an astonished gasp) – struck me as having a stronger relationship than was initially apparent.
On LinkedIn, the market leader, members have been updating their profiles in record numbers in recent weeks, apparently to position themselves in case they lose their jobs. The two most popular sites, LinkedIn and Xing, have been growing at breakneck speed and boast 29m and 6.5m members respectively. And, in contrast to mass-market social networks such as Facebook and MySpace, both firms have worked out how to make money.
The article goes on to raise two interesting points 1) if Facebook can start becoming friendlier to business users it might start actually making money, and 2) professionals are shit-scared about the economy and looking at social networks as great “Career Insurance” places to schmooze people you met once at a conference, snarfed their biz card and never had a use for.old friends.
Next to this was a piece from BusinessWeek, another in the seemingly endless series of kidney punches from the biz community about how newspapers are doomed, done for, goners, forks stuck into them and vultures already descending.
So who would profit from a disappearing newspaper? Local TV and cable, for starters. The city daily is still the biggest single media entity in virtually any market. Its main pitch to advertisers is brutally simple: We have more craniums to dent with your message than anyone else.
Which brings me to a disquieting conclusion. The obvious venues for all this displaced journalistic energy are a gazillion new independent online endeavors, be they individual blogs or bigger efforts like MinnPost.com. They will make for fascinating media ecosystems within individual cities, and some will become hits. It is much less certain whether ad dollars will follow. Ultracheap classifieds site craigslist has simply “destroyed revenue,” [emph. mine - dlf]says Dave Morgan, a former newspaper executive who founded behavioral targeting firm Tacoda, and revenue that no longer exists won’t shift to new ventures. Others point out that key newspaper advertisers—local auto dealers and realtors, say—already have many outlets for ads online, not least of which are their own Web sites or national sites such as Cars.com that serve up targeted ads.
For those sensing untapped riches in ads from pizzerias and dry cleaners, well, good luck, says Borrell. “Local is a very unorganized and dirty business,” he says. “People look at local as this one-ton gorilla, but in fact it’s 2,000 one-pound monkeys.” And no publisher can afford to sit down with a city’s 2,000 small fry to sell each a $50 ad. The bitterest pill of all for newspaper denizens is that, while nature abhors a vacuum and all that, in this case there may not even be one left to fill.
Yowch. So newspapers will all just die, and by this point in time, they’ve become so irrelevant and useless that nobody will even really notice that they’re gone? Sheesh. Start passing out the pistols & hemlock in America’s newsrooms, eh?
I’m going to have to disagree with this nihilistic conclusion. Yeah, I know the local online niche ad market is impossibly fragmented, and it would cost a publisher more to pay an ad sales rep than that person would produce in revenue. Solution: don’t pay the ad rep. Do what El Tiempo in Bogota calls “auto-pauta,” or DIY ads. BTW, I really do recommend you click through on that link to El Tiempo. They are one of the smartest operations out there, they are making piles of cash off internet ads, and they are constantly (ruthlessly, relentlessly) refining their approach.
Moreover. When you look at what the social networking sites are really selling their users, you start to come to the conclusion that what a local newspaper – correction: what the local newspaper of the future – offers can be a lot more compelling.
Think about what the users really want from these social net sites. Chatting with friends, yeah sure. Blowing your own horn in a socially acceptable way, yessiree. Looking for the next step up on the ladder? Well, yeah … but the problem with a lot of the listings on the social net services is that they are from all over the place. Yeah, you can filter them. But we all know that most of the really good jobs are never spamadvertised like this. We find them through referrals – which is where recruiters/headhunters come in. And local friends & business acquaintances.
One of the fastest-growing areas on LinkedIn is the “Question” section, where pros reach out to other pros in their groups, and ask something that’s on their mind. They’re trying to have conversations.
That should be taking place at a newspaper site. Sooner or later, it will. Either the papers will replicate it and include it in their future selves, or they will do a Borg takeover. The paper is a much more logical place for this kind of activity – it includes access to the reference materials from the past, a panel of trained experts to step in and help moderate the discussions, or kick new discussions off with provocative questions, and a huge archive of relevants facts and materials that can be used to make the conversations that much more valuable.
Example: One of the questions I’m participating in on LinkedIn is where to put your money now that the market is tanking so badly. There are some very smart market analysts chiming in here. But it would be nice to be able to have a window/panel open on the screen showing the various stock tables, and perhaps links to content locally that makes the point that some foreign markets are going to be able to ride out this storm, while others just get crushed.
The fact that biz users, those who have education & disposable income, have had to range far afield in search of information that they need to use in their careers, is an indictment of the lack of creative thinking at newspapers. It will take time and effort to reverse the momentum … because the very users that papers covet most are abandoning papers.