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.
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.
27 Print Dollars for $1 Digital; Social News; Papers in Trouble; Kodak v. Fuji I posted this picture via Twitpic earlier today, and my digital brethren quickly chimed in on how much they felt like this in their daily lives. And I get it. Working in the media industry these days is far, far different […] [...more]
27 Print Dollars for $1 Digital; Social News; Papers in Trouble; Kodak v. Fuji
I posted this picture via Twitpic earlier today, and my digital brethren quickly chimed in on how much they felt like this in their daily lives. And I get it. Working in the media industry these days is far, far different from the way it was when the journalists of my generation got into the biz. Looking back at recordings from the early 90s, I am struck by how much free time we all seem to have had back then – these days, you feel like you can’t take your eyes off your Twitter feed for even a second, lest you miss the Next Big Meme and are thus branded as a digital troglodyte who “just doesn’t get it.”
Strung out and exhausted, journalists are wondering when this migration ends, or even when they might run across a handy signpost telling them which way to go. (click to embiggen)
So yeah, if you feel like you’re lost in the desert and that the only future involves your bones bleaching in the sun next to a steer skull … well, maybe it’s because most newsrooms these days evoke the feeling you get when wandering through any of the weathered ghost towns that dot the arid landscape in Arizona and Nevada, left behind when the seams of gold and silver petered out.
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…
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 […] [...more]
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.
The Knight-Ridder chain of newspapers used to represent the sinewy, beating heart of American journalism. Then they got run into the ground, bought up by Tribune dorks who were more interested in playing out their boyhood “I wanna play right field for the Cubs!” fantasies, and then sold to the “grave dancer,” Sam Zell. Zell’s […] [...more]
Now that the Tribune creditors seem to have grown a pair, and are starting to openly murmur about where all their money might have gone – in stark contrast to so many investors who have complacently plodded through the zigzagging pens of modern American Capitalism towards where the Bernie Madoffs, Angelo Mozilos & Magnetars of this world wield their blood-soaked financial sledgehammers – the word is out that Zell has reached the end of the plank.
So now what?
The villagers gathered around the moat look at each other blankly, their torches sputtering, pitchforks starting to droop. There is muttering in the ranks, a strange sense of deflation. What to do now that the monster has abandoned them?
Perhaps some new savior will arise. One who can lead them out of the bottomless cycle of self-asphyxiation and learned helplessness. A man who has “vision,” and who (with just the right sort of spinelessboot-lickingunderstanding board of directors) can restore the kingdom to its past glory. Maybe … maybe … yes. Yes! That’s it!
This shall be the image of serious news-gathering and investigative reporting in America.
The situation bears a strong resemblance to the newspaper industry, and the reason papers are in the same place as the auto industry. Let's take a look at the places where the news industry and the auto industry screwed the pooch: [...more]
GM’s NUMMI plant in Fremont was the solution to their crisis. So why did they ignore its lessons?
They don't make 'em like this any more. Even so, the rear bumper had to be reattached.
It’s about how the U.S. auto industry could have saved itself by actually paying attention to the way its business was eroding, and listening to the people who came back from Japan and transformed the Fremont plant from a place that was “like a prison … with sex, drugs and alcohol freely indulged in during the working day … where the workers maliciously sabotaged cars, and the managers didn’t care, as long as they got their bonuses for churning out pure numbers…”
The situation bears a strong resemblance to the newspaper industry, and the reason papers are in the same place as the auto industry. Let’s take a look at the places where the news industry and the auto industry screwed the pooch:
1. Starting in the 80s and going through the 90s, sales declined, as customers were turned off by the shoddy quality of the product
In the auto industry: anyone who drove a U.S.-made car in the 80s knows what I’m talking about. Everything about the cars sucked. The seats were uncomfortable to sit in, the controls made no sense and were hard to deal with. I drove a lot of rental cars in that era, and I can’t tell you how many times the A/C control knob came off in my hand. Or the windshield wiper knob was installed upside-down. In one case, the bolt holding the steering column up on a Chevy Cavalier came loose and the steering wheel dropped into my lap. Which is minor, compared to the engines seizing and misfiring, the electrical system shorting out, the windows not rolling up (or down), the doors sagging on their hinges…
In the newspaper industry: the buyouts and mergers started by the relaxation of the cross-ownership rule, caused many papers to skeletonize their staffs, and run big colorful graphics in the papers. And lots more wire copy. I worked at the Arizona Republic during this era, and I saw what they were doing on “Zone Editions.” We had the same cruddy stories for Mesa, as we did Tempe, as we did Scottsdale. They were feature stories about things like a guy with a trained parrot that would whistle and dance. We’d run it one week in the Mesa zone, and then the next week, I’d see it in the queue again for Scottsdale. Mostly, the Zone Editions were there to snarf up the advertisers in those areas, and make sure that no competition sprang up to challenge the big paper. “It doesn’t pay NOT to advertise,” was the slogan, and it was true, because of the package deals the Republic was able to offer, sucking the oxygen out of the local markets. Most papers had a monopoly position in their markets, and could pretty much be assured of making a profit, no matter what they did. Meanwhile, the readers were starting to notice that their newspapers were lacking … how shall we say this … news.
2. The workers felt ignored and belittled, so they began to act out, and a “give a shit” attitude took over
In the auto industry: the line workers had no power to offer suggestions, and indeed, were punished for speaking up. All that mattered was churning out enough cars to meet the quotas, no matter how shitty the quality. Resentfulness led to workers intentionally sabotaging cars, which led to even greater expense down the line, when the shitty cars had to be fixed by workers who really didn’t understand what was wrong with them, and just used the “bigger hammer” method to make cross-threaded bolts hold, or quarterpanels stick onto the chassis.
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.”