Sunday, January 31, 2010

News agencies content leaks

Associated Press Chairman of the Board
William Dean Singleton

It's the craziest thing. Why would any reader pay for a magazine or newspaper when he can get his news for free?

Currently, news agencies, like AP, AFP and Reuters, still charge for the rights to republish —while... they give away their news content to readers for free!

It's easy to see how this is directly related and hurts the dwingling circulation of magazines and newspapers.

Of course, some of you might argue that broadcasts from television and radio have always aired for free. But, there's a huge and priceless difference: the web allows us to get what we want instantly, with the razor sharp granularity of a search or a link.

With the advent of the web, news agencies saw an opportunity to add a new advertising revenue stream by publishing directly to readers. In doing so, they foolishly sabotaged their wholesale business model, by undermining their traditional newspaper and magazine customers.

To simplify, I will only continue reviewing AP.

Few visit AP to browse for their daily news, mostly, their visits are search and link originated. News aggregators, —like  Google News, Yahoo News, Newser, Digg, Stumblr and others—, provide AP with a publisher shell, feeding visits to AP and other news agencies.

Has AP arrived at the final decision to go retail, with publishing shells from Google, Yahoo and others?

The recent layoffs at AP show that it's not doing too well. Apparently, their publishing venture is not working for them. Or, they're destroying more revenue from their wholesale business, than what they've been able to realize by building their retail publishing ad supported venture.

Dean Singleton, MediaNews Group vice-chairman and Associated Press' chairman, made the following remarks four years ago:
The big challenge, he says, is figuring out how to make money from the Web, where most news is free and ads are cheap. "If we don't start getting paid for news, we can't continue to afford to produce it," he said.

Mr. Singleton wants to help steer the industry collectively toward a solution; no one paper, he says, can do it alone.
Apparently, –either getting a consensus hasn't been easy, or AP hasn't been trying that hard.

AP made public in 2009 its efforts (April, July, September) to police and enforce their content copyrights, meeting much ridicule from the IT community, whom stated that there was no technical teeth in the enforcement method.

But incredibly, no word from AP on keeping their content behind a pay-wall.

I'm surprised. Why aren't Mr. Singleton and the newspaper members of AP, watching over their interests?

Is "Fair Use" law testing in court holding them back? No, a healthy fair use of content in other publications should send readers back to content originators for more.

Is it the search engines' almighty control of the ad networks, making originators yield their content to them? Yes, –if it quacks like a duck... it must be a duck. The evidence is in the contracts between Google and publishers, –the search engine's commission is nowhere to be found. Google determines on its own, the 70 to 75% commission it charges, and mails an arbitrary check to the publisher at the end of each month.

It's also noticeable in a few other publishers' mistakes, –not worth mentioning.

Publishers are leaving at least an alarming 65% of their advertising revenue on the table. If we take something from this discussion, it should be that if publishers can agree to something, it must be to have their own ad placement platform, by building or buying an existing system, their take could increase to 95% of the price of an ad (5% would cover the expense of running a client order entry system).

Under these improved conditions, I'd still consider necessary to charge an agreeable monthly subscription to further improve online and print advertising revenue: under $3 for newspapers, more for magazines. It would compensate the inevitable thinning of advertising revenue throughout the ever growing number of publishing venues.

Will publishers ever agree to these two improvements?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Ipad launch

Kara Swisher from the WSJ, checks out the action at the launch of Apple's latest device, the iPad, at an event in San Francisco —I loved it, made me feel like I was there. Thank you Kara.

Some were disappointed at the lack of Flash and multitasking... others thought it lacked a camera. Was this a compromise to get a lower $499 price?

I do know that a reporter can write his article and mail it, though. I guess we'll have to wait to see what the public's final reaction is.

BTW, I just read that Bernanke was confirmed for a second term on a 70-30 vote —phew!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Search Engine Optimization and the news

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Brent Payne interview
Brent Payne, director of search engine optimization for Tribune Interactive, explains Google Trends, a great source of news, on this You decide, we report npr interview.

Google trends shows the most popular searches at any given point in time, alerting news sites on potential leads, and also giving a general feel of the topics people are interested in.

Barely a tweet.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Tweaking subscription prices

Rupert Murdoch with his wife, Wendi Deng.

Tweaking for the right price for an online subscription is a lot harder than I thought.

After visiting a few sites that carry a plethora of ideas, I recommend you listen to this fantastic onpoint radio discussion with Jeff Jarvis, Michael Wolff and Steve Brill —with comments from Rupert Murdoch and Eric Schmidt. Undoubtedly, radio adds a fabulous human dimension to the issues in focus.

The other sites worth visiting are NiemanJournalismLab, Reuters, Journalism Online and News Innovation.

To add insult to injury, Seth Godin states that it's time we let go, get over the idea, relinquish the opportunity to make money...

In his own words:
So, if the radio is already there, and music is free-er than ever, it's not clear that music is valueless. There's more music being listened to (not just played, but being listened to) than ever before in history, and that listening is proof that people value it. At least they value it enough to spend their time.

Get over the idea that your success is equated with selling the right to listen, or selling control over when people listen. Relinquish the opportunity to make money by controlling who can listen and when. That's gone. It's over. It would be like a bakery selling the right to sniff the fresh bread or a wine maker selling the right to look at the cool label. It's now a public good, something you see as you walk by.

What you can sell, what you better be able to sell, is intimacy. It's interactions in public. Souvenirs. Limited things of value. Experiences. Memories. People will pay for those things, IF: your art is actually great and if you make it possible for them to buy them.

If it's great, let it go. You'll do fine. If it's not great, figure out what great is and do that.

I think I have a feeling of what Seth wants to achieve, but, on the other hand, I know he feels it's not for everyone...

—Any way you look at it, somebody has to pay for content.

A recent survey from The Boston Consulting Group shows that 48% of US consumers are willing to pay an average of $3 —current subscribers, a couple of dollars more— for a monthly newspaper online subscription. Which follows my hunch that a few readers are willing to chip in a tiny amount to alleviate their guilty feelings —they're getting a free ri-eade.

In my last post, I mentioned that "full" articles need to be protected. If not, they will be viralized to eternity, spreading and thinning advertising through all sites —copycats or not.

Giving away front pages and widgets with titles and a couple of lines would be a good way of viralizing these teasers, for a successful marketing ploy.

Copyrighting content and its enforcement is paramount. In association, Murdoch's leadership is needed to make all news providers pull together to offer these abridged editions. It makes perfect sense to follow this lead —they're all suffering, including CNN and FOX news.

Which should dramatically reduce the size or number of online news providers, diminishing the offer of ad space,  —and, increasing CPM, CPC and... print ad revenue.

Compared to the The NY Times proposition, I'd stay away from offering free articles to avoid opening the copyright Pandora box. Instead, I'd shoot for a larger audience, tweaking the $3 or less average pricing that readers are willing to pay,  —definitely a lot less than the NY Times $15 monthly subscription, which would likely reduce its readership to a measly 2%.

The math goes something like this:   144 = 48 x $3 is a lot better than  30 = 2 x $15.

And, of course, with more readers, 48% versus 2%, advertising revenue is significantly better, too.

Bottom line: Newspapers must lead readers to recognize that quality journalism depends on this contribution.

Do you see any alternatives?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Where is my paid content?

Whilst she lay there, dreaming of all sorts of pleasant things, the three Bears came home from their walk very hungry and quite ready for their dinners.

But, oh! dear me! how cross the Great Big Bear looked when he saw his spoon had been used and thrown under the table.

"WHO HAS BEEN TASTING MY SOUP?" he cried, in a Great Big Voice.
Grimm brothers: "Goldilocks and the Three Bears."

Newspapers are feeling papa bear's bewilderment on returning home. Monetizing news content is their business —what brings food to the table.

But, they're finding that monetizing content by intertwining ads with news is a dwindling proposition on print... and surprisingly tenuous on the web. The cracks in the old model may be best explained by understanding that nowadays online readers "search" for most of their content, or get it in laser-search-self-publications. In a close second place, readers are further distracted from the traditional media by —or attracted to— the overwhelming variety of glittering toys, —Iphones and the like.

Notwithstanding, readers will always be attracted to well established news providers, whom they "trust" to suitably inform them on what's going on in the world —with a particular interest in the community that surrounds them.

We must recognize that news organizations are part of the problem. They have been too willing to give away their content. It's quite different to give away titles and leads, a few articles... even, non categorized articles... than the whole shebang.

Radio and TV are broadcast freely, but their audience has always suffered from not being able to pick a specific category, —which is Cable TV's edge over TV. Although, movies have helped by being a powerful attraction to audiences by themselves, i.e. Avatar.

Studies show that online readers prefer short stories —readers are in a hurry to find what they're looking for. Then, shorten them a bit... providing free news "teasers", headlines with a couple of lines, a la Google, which would also take advantage of the web's marketing viralization in a non-destructive way.
It's been a huge mistake to give away complete articles, viralization is killing news "originators" by thinning advertising on the multiplying content copy sites. Viralization should help bring readers into publication sites that originate and carry exclusive-original-good-articles, not disperse advertising into copy sites.
Monetizing content is achieved through subscriptions and selling ads. But, as we've seen, tweaking subscriptions is basic and has a profound effect on the second variable. A process which needs to be repeated for each of the new media outlets.

Tweaking to be followed.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Online distractions

Profiles of Generation M(2)
Kaiser Foundation

It used to be that our parents would limit our TV viewing, shepherding us into a natural and healthy balance of work and play.

According to a new study from the Kaiser Family Foundation, with an excellent followup article in the NYT, kids, ages 8 to 18, are more wired to their phones and computers than ever before:
"And because they spend so much of that time 'media multitasking' (using more than one medium at a time), they actually manage to pack a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes (10:45) worth of media content into those 7½ hours."
This can't be healthy.

Parents are still needed to make a difference. Kids are better off when their parents limit their amount of media exposure and exercise a no-gadget-in-room policy, —kids with less distractions, have more time to work on their education.

News organizations can also help parents and schools make a difference, by also quickly recognizing that they have to play, parcel, phone, or video their presence for this new audience.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Apple Tollgate

Steve Jobs

As I read the WSJ piece and take on next week's Apple ISlate launching, I can't avoid wondering if it's really going to be an earth-shattering event.

Let's not forget that Steve Jobs is a genius in his ability to deliver products in the consumer falls in love category. It's the same ability that allowed the girl that would order shoes for the Vogue cover, to build a worldwide franchise of stores that sell them for thousands of dollars each, under the Chu brand.

There's plenty of cell phones and mp3 players, nothing as attractive as the Iphone and Ipod, though.

There's quite a few e-readers, cell phones and mp3 players. Will the Islate draw the attention of the Iphone and Ipod?

Apple has been in contact with the major media players, not only from newspapers, but also, from TV and movie studios.

Will the Islate become the toll-gate equivalent of the Ipod for the music industry for news, TV and movies?

It might. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Content creation opportunities

You might want to check Mike Shatzkin's presentation at the BEA, or his Publishing Points series of lunchtime talks to get a feel of what's coming from a book publishers' perspective.

My feeling is that what book publishers are experiencing today with technology, newspaper publishers may very well experience in the near future. On Kindles and e-readers, book format reproduction has been a child's play.

He highlights the obvious dominance of specialized-vertical over general-horizontal publishing in the new search publication environment.

I strongly feel that he falls short in his appreciation of the consequences of the laser focused search pushed publishing. I don't feel there's room for the publisher to guide the book author any longer.

Why would an author approach a publisher, when a healthy search engine optimization of his work should suffice?

As Mike mentions, the usual publisher's marketing wares, —book clubs, newspaper reviews, magazine and newspaper ads, and others—, are too expensive or rapidly disappearing.

Nevertheless, his presentations touch on what I think are a few crucial and far reaching points, which we need to appreciate on the newspaper publishers side of the fence:
  • Building or maintaining communities is at the core of it all. Well-known places will always occupy a space in our minds. People will always visit the New York Times, as well as, their local newspaper's print, online, or phone presence, to look for what's happened in their community. As a consequence, newspaper brands are relevant, and must be nourished —with likable presences in any new format, like: Facebook, YouTube, MySpace, Twitter and others.

    Mike's take:
    We are all in the conteNt business, and we are going to have to move into the conteXt business. The ownership in the future of eyeballs will be more important than the ownership of IP, because value moves to scarcity. This is immutable, you cannot change this. Content creation and distribution are no longer scarce. Anybody can do them. Distribution is not an issue. I can type something on my computer today, I can flip it to my website, it is distributed. Any body in the world, on the web, can get it. The problem is, will they know about it? That’s the problem. Marketing is the problem. Distribution is no longer the problem. And you’re going to do your marketing niche by niche, and nugget by nugget, and it does require scale. If you don’t have enough content, or clout in a community, you won’t be heard. If you don’t pay enough attention or put enough labor into a community, you won’t be able to command the attention of that community.
  • Content creation, on the other hand, opens new doors of opportunity. Publishers must take advantage of the fact that it's been their business to know all the intricacies of how to better connect the creator to his audience. They should offer this service to those countless companies needing to show a pretty face to the world —which is better known as publishing.

    Mike's take:
    Publishers also recognize creative possibilities and ideas that aren’t fully developed. As a matter of fact, publishers usually buy projects based on ideas that are not fully developed, and participate in the development of ideas. That is a very important skillset. That doesn’t go away. And the publisher is coordinating the whole range of disparate activities that are necessary to connect the creator to an audience. You know what that is, it’s putting the art in the book, it’s deciding what typeface, it’s deciding what price, it’s deciding how to market, but sometimes it’s finding a co-author for the book, or sometimes it’s finding an illustrator. So sometimes you’re actually connecting the creators with each other, as well as providing the detailed management that the creator needs. Actually, I believe, is the most important skill set of publishers is that they manage a massive amount of detail. Which the authors would very rapidly table themselves up in knots if they managed for themselves. That is the scale opportunity that publishers present, and that is not going to change. It’s actually going to be even more necessary in the web.
We've already seen a good example that takes advantage of the laser focused search publication environment in a previous post, The new news habitat: content that works.

So, it's time you guys get out there to offer your creation and presentation wares...

Good luck.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The power of praying

Gregg Braden explains the power of prayer

I'm always curious and surprised at how I run into certain subjects.

In this video, Gregg Braden tells his amazing experiences with what our feelings are capable of. It's fascinating to learn that a gathering of people can feel their way into making a person's tumor disappear. Or, that an online gathering of hundreds of thousands can effect positive results by praying for world peace.

Prayer, is a way of eliciting our feelings —which, would empower us to change the world around us.

Eliciting our feelings empowers us to change the world!

Which is in agreement with Losada's positivity. Although, Gregg's praying would have a broader scope, since it can also alter physical (water, tumors) structures.

I don't want to sound too preachy, but, shouldn't we be trying to be nicer, or at least, more positive?

For those pragmatically inclined: it pays.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Be nice: it pays

I have a tendency to be very demanding with my personal relations, maybe, because I'm very exacting on myself. Or maybe, it's because I like to live on the edge, and after a while, this life style takes its toll by making me grumpy.

Not long ago, I realized that showing my love to my wife had the (unexpected) consequence of having her love me back a lot more.

So, it's quite simple: give more to receive more in return.

Dr. Marcial Losada
Founder and executive director of Meta Learning

Interestingly enough, I recently ran into an eye-opening interview with Marcial Losada (In Spanish: part I and part II), where he explains his Meta Learning Model (same stuff, in English).

Marcial was initially interested in understanding how to improve the effectiveness of a group of people within an organization. Flourishing teams would be those that would show high performance across three indicators: profitability, customer satisfaction, and good evaluations by superiors, peers and customers.

Like a flower, a group or a couple, may flourish or languish!

It was discovered that 95% of what goes on is explained by the emotions involved, and only 5% by knowing the process. In other words, people may know what to do, but this has a minute weight in the effectiveness of a group, —it's the positive affect involved in the interactions of a group that sustain its high performance.

Positive affect, or pleasant expressions (feeling grateful, upbeat, expressing appreciation, liking) predict well-being; whilst, unpleasant expressions (feeling contemptuous, irritable, disdain, disliking) predict an opposite outcome.

Other studies have shown that inducing positive affect carries multiple benefits:
  • Good feelings alter people's mindsets, widening attention, broadening behavioral repertoires, increasing intuition and creativity.
  • Good feelings alter people's bodily systems, improving cardiovascular aftereffects, alter frontal brain asymmetry and increases immune function.
  • Good feeling predict good mental and physical outcomes: (a) resilience to adversity, (b) increased happiness, (c) psychological growth, (d) lower levels of cortisol, (e) reduced inflammatory responses to stress, (f) reductions in subsequent-day physical pain, (g) resistance to rhino-viruses, and (h) reductions in stroke.
  • And, perhaps reflecting these effects in combination, good feelings predict how long people live. Several well-controlled longitudinal studies document a clear link between frequent positive affect and longevity.

To make a long story short:
(for the long version check the Positive Affect and the Complex Dynamics of Human Flourishing study)

Observe a group's behavior, counting positive (P) and negative (N) acts, as mentioned earlier, and use the following formula to determine the connectivity (c), or the strong lasting social connections between the members of the group, which determines the long term effectiveness of a group.

c = 15 + 2.67 P/N

c = 18 represents a low performance,
c = 22 a medium performance, and
c = 32 represents a high performance team.

Due to some Lorenz systems behavior, from where this formula is derived, there is an important breakpoint, which delimits the performance of a group: it will be pulled (permanently) either to the flourishing or languishing attractor.

This value is found for c = 22.74 or P/N = 2.9.

And this sums it up: we must get 3 positives, or better, for every negative in the interactions, in order to flourish. If not, languishing and low performance is a given.

Long lasting relations is the secret —and it might improve your news writing too...

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Are e-readers the holy grail?

As I try to unclutter my garage, —a consequence of procrastinating the decision of what to do with this and that, typewriters definitely have to go this time around—, I'll try to see if e-readers really have the magic for news delivery as its been touted long before the current San Francisco Las Vegas CES show.

CNETting the CES comments on e-readers and the like, the Intel LG smartphone and Nvidia Tegra II tablet although pricey, knock me off my feet. You must watch the videos to get a feel of their navigation, images won't do.

Here's the thing. I've always thought and I've tried to make the point that we humans —our readers— are a lot more complex than what meets the eye. If you don't believe me, check Levin's apologies here, or how he lost trillions believing that online news was going to be the hole in the donuts, going forward with the Time Warner - AOL merger.

Levin concurs that the consumer "experience" is driving online traffic.

Aha! I think it'll be safer to keep the stuff I don't understand while my wife is away on vacation, —better safe than sorry, don't you agree?

Bottom line: the devil is in the details. All the dah-dah and doo-doo has to be weighed against this fact. As a good example, videos (even laptop screens) hinder the tranquil zen-like environment of news-paper reading, which is so helpful to its advertising.

I'm sure designers will agree that typeface, font size, leadings —which, seem to be minute issues— are precisely what makes reading effortless and transparent. But, by moving news into an immense and totally different media, like the Internet, people tend to forget these basic axioms.

E-ink and touch-screen (operating systems) adoption in e-readers are enormous strides towards making these machines less objectionable to magazine and newspaper reading —dramatically improving reading eye stress and navigation.

As a matter of fact, the tablet should reign as the new laptop hardware standard. It's easy to foresee that touch-screens will also serve as keyboards when needed, making manufacturers drop keyboards altogether.

Or, double up, as in the case of Microsoft's Courier project.

When that time comes, pricing will not be an issue. I'm curious of why manufacturers are not following this path, is it the Newton's legacy of fear?

How far away in the future is the $500 all encompassing computer-tablet?

How is it that some of us keep garages so nicely organized?

Love to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Spot.US: a silver bullet?

David Cohn,
a candid interview

I wasn't expecting to find such an interesting news model —but David Cohn's Spot.Us is something else.

Spot.Us is a nonprofit project of the Center for Media Change funded by various groups like the Knight Foundation.

When asked, David Cohn sees his organization's mission as that of a provider of local investigative reporting, funded by the community.

The process is initiated with news "tips" that the community feels are stories worth covering. Reporters propose news "pitches" based on these tips, while editors from Spot.Us provide an estimate of the cost, and screen both pitches and reporters. Finally, the community or news organizations finance through their donations each approved pitch.

And it doesn't end there, if a news organization finances 50% of the cost, it gets the exclusive. If not, it will get published at no cost at any organization willing to publish it — blogs, New York Times... Of course, we're talking of a 100% financed story. If not, it gets scrapped —well, not really... the reporter involved could also donate part of his time too.

Finally, this is an Open Source project. I read that there's already a site in Japan using the same piece of software.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Why News-in-papers?

Why should publishers use paper?

If you really want to get a deeper look into this problem, I suggest you read (the 75 pages of) Hamlet's Blackberry: Why Paper is Eternal, by William Powers, or you can check the excerpts in italics down below.

W srednim wieku by Wiewslaw Walkuski
Courtesy of Polish Posters

This question brings me back to Heidegger's assertion, the great philosopher of the 20th century, that we are truly very complex creatures. So complex, according to Dreyfus, that we may never be copied by computers.

The following cloud of concepts gives us a good overall feeling of how media outlets differ:

in the flow
settled down
search and destroy
thinking & planning
quick read
closed and finite
easier editing
difficult editing
no editing
light reflecting
light emitting
light emitting
easy on the eyes
toll on eyes and brain
easy navigation
tolling navigation
minimum navigation

Like the hinged door, paper magazines have thrived deep into the electronic age because the way they convey information remains, for some purposes, more useful and satisfying, in ways that can be hard to describe except anecdotally.

Paper not only conveys tranquility by being immutable, but there are times, when we need to think with our hands. I still prefer to get my bank statements in paper. I also jot down telephone numbers and ideas, as well as, do some note taking and planning on paper.

And although digital servers have made paper storage obsolete, or libraries cannot compete with digital database sorting and others, paper is still an excellent communication device. I print my digital travel itineraries, kids’ homework and copies of important presentations. And, I would only send condolences in a hand written note —no e-mail here.

Which brings us to recognize maybe the most notable property of paper: it adds a distinct "value" to its message.

Paper has intrinsic qualities that: 1)make it easy and enjoyable to work with, 2)help us make sense of information and 3)are conducive to certain kinds of reading and thinking, —properties that new media, for all their wonders, have not yet been able to match.

Lazy Sunday morning, late breakfast in bed,
reading our favorite section of the newspaper.

It's amazing to realize that magazines and newspapers have clear advantages over online and TV advertising, precisely, because of its lack of hoopla. The magazine and newspaper experience is a quite one, —readers view their ads when they please and within a peaceful Zen attitude. In contrast, readers tend to avoid ads in Online's speed reading and TV's entrancement environments. In the former, readers are too focused in their urgent search; and in the latter, they react annoyed by skipping channels, —TV ads interrupt their entrancement.

And this is why news-in-paper alongside ads-in-paper persist in making a golden couple, —it's good company. By the way, the market cap increase for newspapers for 2009 was spectacular.

Wish you well.

My Blackberry abridged edition:

Sellen and Harper found that paper has four affordances that specifically assist reading:

(1) Tangibility. This refers to the way that we navigate a paper document or book using our eyes and hands together. “When a document is on paper, we can see how long it is, we can flick through the pages . . . we can bend over a corner while searching for a section elsewhere. In other words, paper helps us work our way through documents.”

(2) Spatial Flexibility. When working with multiple paper texts, they can be spread out around a large area or reduced to fit a smaller space, depending on our needs.

(3) Tailorability. With paper it’s easy to underline, scribble in the margins and otherwise annotate a text we are reading.

(4) Manipulability. Because paper can be moved around, one can shuffle effectively among different paper sources, for example putting one page aside in order to concentrate on another.

The first of these, tangibility, isn’t available at all on a two-dimensional screen. The others are more difficult to achieve with computers and other electronic media, as anyone who has “written” in the margins of a digital document can attest. As the authors put it, “It is as if people need to use their hands and eyes to fully grasp the meaning of the text in question. People really do understand what a document conveys by physically getting to grips with it.

“[T]he physical feel of the paper meant that little attention (and especially visual attention) had to be given over to the task of page turning. Much of the information needed to navigate was both implicit and tactile. Similarly, physical cues such as thickness of the document provided important tacit information about where in the document the reader was. All of this . . . meant that readers were not distracted from the main visual task.”

In contrast, one of their subjects had this to say about online reading: “I was getting very annoyed and clicking on those things and shouting at it . . . . I just found that it took ages and ages. I was losing interest – it was distracting me from the point.”

Thirty-six consumers were interviewed, half of them frequent magazine readers. The other half were people who watched at least two hours of commercial television a day and also read at least one magazine a month. The study found that the way consumers react to ads in hard-copy magazines is in fact very different from how they respond to commercials on television.

The distinction came down to a matter of control. Because viewers cannot control when TV commercials are shown or how long they will last, they tend to feel trapped by the ads, which those in the study spoke of as disruptive, distracting and annoying.

Meanwhile, the subjects had largely positive views of ads in magazines, and the main reason seemed to be the sense of control that paper inherently affords: The reader turns the pages at will, deciding what to look at and for how long. One subject said: “A magazine ad is like a glass of wine because I have the time to sniff it and appreciate it . . . It’s there, I can take it or leave it . . . . Because I have control, I can take the time to make particular decisions [about] which ads I will savor and absorb.”

In the last decade, digital reading has become a part of everyday life, yet it hasn’t replaced reading on paper. McDonald says that at the moment screens are not used predominantly for flow-style reading – settling in and losing one’s bearings – but for a kind of high-intensity foraging. “When one is reading on the screen, it’s sort of like speed reading, information-retrieval mode. ‘I’m looking for something. Now I’m looking for something else.’ It’s very purposeful, it’s very utilitarian. . . . There’s something about it being on the screen that signals to people to hurry. It’s pushing the page-down button, just having your finger on the clicker and scrolling. It’s a higher speed, more nervous kind of thing.” Screen-based reading, he says, is “very much about ‘search and destroy.’”

The paper news should provide long-form, in-depth coverage, while the Internet should be interactive, immediate, provide an open dialog with the audience and throw in all those nifty doo-dads and videos people love to play with.” This distinction is not so much generational as operational.

The digital medium serves up content differently from paper, and we go to it for different kinds of reading experiences – “search and destroy” versus “settle down.”

It has little to do with age and everything to do with the human mind, which does not evolve so quickly that those born after 1980 read and think in a fundamentally different way from everyone who came before them. In effect, the content that works best on the Web, for readers of all ages, has migrated there, while the “long-form, in-depth” stuff clings tenaciously to paper (even when it’s on the Web, people are less likely to read it there).

Thus the public exodus from newspapers is not a rejection of paper, but an objection to using it for hard news and other utilitarian, quick-read content (including, not incidentally, classified ads) that gains little or nothing from arriving in that format. It’s because this content has always been the core mission of newspapers – they’re called newspapers, not “essaypapers” – that the industry finds itself in the tough spot it’s in. The two sides of its culture have been pulled apart, and the side that drives the franchise wound up in a not-so-profitable medium.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

The new News habitat

Before you start reading, you might want to check out these two excellent posts: from Dan Conover here, and from Clay Shirky here.

I'm watching History Channel's "Monster Dinosaurs". A change in habitat is bad for the prevailing or perfectly adapted animals; extinctions are akin to throwing the dice in evolution, it may or may not give forth better species in the new environment.

The Internet's world wide web

Let's analize the new environment.

The Internet extends its reach quite a bit, to the www, or worldwide, to the far reaches of the web's network. As a consequence, optimal content should have universal appeal (i.e. Google search, Facebook, Wikipedia).

Publication is immediate and storage —or hosting— costs are close to nil. Breaking news and large archives can take good advantage of the immediacy and database features of sorting, retrieval and linking (i.e. Wikipedia, Google books, Facebook).

Articles, fields within a database, may include text, sound, images and videos. Since more senses are involved, videos should be the preferred communication media (i.e. YouTube).

It's a two-way street, communication can go both ways. The more content from users, the better —it's cheaper. (i.e. Facebook, Wikipedia, MySpace).

Let's try to propose a publication model that takes advantage of these features.

But before we go on, we have to grasp a major Internet limitation —it's computer based. To put it bluntly, it's like pinching a mirror, not much satisfaction in the smell and touch sensory areas; and worse, reading stresses our eyes, quite a bit more than print on paper.

A good example is worth a thousand words...

I found content that works a near perfect example. It develops web page content from thin slices of news: Bridal's Guide, Your Garden, Body & More, Home Style, Car Guide... It extends its reach to readers from a variety of publications through syndicating their service. It's not perfect... it lacks user content derived advantages, and no feed into print.

Beetles are incredible... Far more interesting than dinosaurs.

Love to hear from you.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Adapting to the new tools of the trade

I've already flatly stated that it's disheartening to see how traditional news outlets still fail to comprehend current technology.

The fact that online editions leave very little money on the table has been a major source of confusion for publishers, hindering online, as well as, in my opinion, print growth.

While I watch an old favorite "Dr. Who's: The End of Times", let's review some of the weaknesses that I feel require an urgent change of course:

It's alarming to see the great number of publications that hold back breaking news from their online edition to protect their print counterpart.

Isn't it obvious that the market is going to exploit this blatant weakness? Why not rethink the online edition as a service to the community with associated benefits. It has the potential side effect to draw readers into both editions, online and print. Greater online traffic not only means greater online ad revenue, but, also should attract subscribers to the associated print editions —if and only if, the contents of these editions are quality topic reader centered articles, with follow-up calls feeding into each other.

This immediately brings us to the major issue of repeatability.

It's quite obvious that these editions must carry different, although, often complementary content. They can deepen their online articles with opinion in the print edition, and broaden their print articles into the inexpensive online edition —with related archive database background.

Content from Wire, TV, radio, and online, needs to be chopped away; carrying brief, or excluding completely, repeat articles in the print edition, to strike an appropriate balance between accomplished news and non-repetitiveness.

And, yes, yes, of course! I'm watching Henry Evans being interviewed by Bloomberg, where he stresses the importance of quality journalism, or in a few more words: the value of honest, unbiased and brave investigative reporting, —which unfortunately we don't see as often as we should.

If you stop to think about it, a bias knocks out the "other" readers from the get go —not a very smart move, if you want good circulation numbers. Honesty, on the other hand, builds the best brand possible for any publication by attracting an extremely loyal following. Further, brave and heroic feats are not only rare, but, admirable, which we also know to attract reader attention by the plain etymology of the word. Did I mention that they're also the right thing to do?

Technology has significantly altered the branding of a publication.

In a technologically dialogue rich world it's very rude not to allow the other person to comment. Further, a publication's persona becomes transparent. Dishonest behavior is spotted from a distance.

If it's not interesting, it's not worth reading...

Journalists must also use and take advantage of the new tools at their disposal to quickly grasp an article's impact, to enable them to quickly morph their publishing topics closer to readers' interests. Again, if you don't, they will.

I'm sure there's a lot more. I'd love to hear from you.