Something to Dwell on

April 30, 2009 § Leave a comment

Media Post reported on the new Dwell Partner Network today, a collection of more than 30 design and architectural web sites “to bring together Web sites featuring the people, the experts, the products, the innovative ideas and the ongoing conversations taking place around design.”

Please put aside the fact that the Dwell Partner Network will be powered by Burst Media’s adConductor platform, which is mentioned as part of today’s announcement. The network model that Dwell brings to market is the right one for a distributed, fragmented media economy such as we have today. It marries the need to preserve the relevancy of media to audiences with the need for media to have scale - both good things.

What would Dwell’s alternatives be in a traditional media environment? Buy more architectural and design magazines, or start them from scratch. Perhaps do nothing. Each option is risky and expensive and hard to scale if you want to grow. As a result, the temptation – not at Dwell, but certainly in other places over the years – has been to add content (or programming) tangential to the core editorial proposition and/or to simply make the content more accessible to larger, non-endemic audiences that will be less willing to pay.

Now (long before now, actually) comes the Internet and the chance to scale without compromising media brand promises. Build a network. Imbue it with the power of a dominant brand. Invite dedicated content producers to join your table. Enjoy the reach you need to be efficient for advertisers with the intimacy you need to be effective for them. Add value to audiences by the addition of appropriate advertising messages. 

High reach + high composition. It’s a beautiful thing and something to dwell on.

Follow the newspapers

April 29, 2009 § Leave a comment

Newspapers have been getting a lot of attention in this blog because the arc of their business has traced a path to guide companies in a new media world. The path leads to this: remain relevant at the expense of size. More audience for the sake of audience (for the sake of selling more advertising) eventually undermines the structural integrity of the proposition. Never mind that more audience is expensive.

Newspapers are not guilty of being old. In the brief history of the Internet plenty of new media turks have collapsed under the weight of their own audience ambitions. “Portals” dotted the landscape until most of them keeled over. The ones that remain do not make the living look easy. Now it’s social networks. Also overstuffed. Also red in the face from exertion. The irony of new media is the extent to which it tries to become like old media – simply big - which is a bad plan.

With all this in mind, a colleague refers us to this piece in the Wall Street Journal today: “Investors Bet on Small-Market Papers.” It’s probably not true of this story that investors have had an Ah-Ha! moment and are making bets based on strategic, new media kinds of reasons. It’s simply a flight of capital away from the troubled big-market newspapers that offer very few (none?) investor prospects near-term. But, markets can be perfect even when they are running away, and the rationale for investing in small, relevant media is a good one for the long-term. Of course, the Internet doesn’t feel that kind of fear yet. It’s too young. Big Internet media propositions wobble and fail and people organize to erect new ones.

In the meantime, the Internet is saturated with small, relevant publishers. Which is why it’s hoped that spending time thinking about newspapers can lead us to view the New Media forest amongst the trees.

Is mainstream media turning the web into a couch potato?

April 28, 2009 § Leave a comment

Any time I want to be reminded of what the Internet space was like when we launched our Company back in 1995 I visit Terry Heaton. With a background in television news and local media, Terry has been a pilgrim of new media at the community level, doggedly preaching the tenets of citizen journalism and distributed media to station Managers and Dealer marketing groups one DMA at a time. I’ve been to Shreveport, Louisiana thanks to Terry, who invited me to participate in a new media day there a couple of years ago that had been organized for area businesses. The place was packed with eager minds that wanted, first, to know what a banner was and, second, the importance of counting clicks (“Not important,” I said).  They don’t serve as much shrimp on the local Internet ad circuit as they do on the national tour, but the Shreveport experience (as well as a visit to Nashville, also courtesy of Terry) told me back then that the Internet rubber had not quite met the advertising road yet. You see, until any new media life form takes-off locally it’s just another nice marketing concept brought to you by the fine people at corporate. Ask the Cable TV industry.

Anyway, this is apropos of an interesting piece titled, “Is the Mainstream winning?”, published by Terry Heaton this week in his blog. It looks at the steady advancement of traditional media companies online, which have figured out how to leverage their considerable offline reach into building reach online. But does the result constitute new media success? I have a couple of hundred Facebook friends and I know all of them. National TV personalities use their broadcasts now to roll-up thousands of Facebooks friends and Twitter followers, and they don’t know any of them – nor do they ever plan to. Is that new media?

It’s a good question. The hoped for advantage of new media - the cure after decades of mass marketing - was better connections with prospects and customers. I suppose broadcasters and other mainstream media types are figuring out how to harvest Facebook friends and Twitter followers to some added-value advantage, but with what amount of nuance? Trust me, I’m not a big believer in one-to-one marketing arguments. The powdery base of so much Internet Kool-Aid over the years has been “one-to-one marketing.” As a consumer with abiding brand loyalties I have no desire to carry them to a more personal, here’s-my-number-let’s-talk-later, level. But, still, does having countless Twitter followers you don’t know make you institutionally different from long-standing media institution?

If mass media moves to the web and remains mass media, nothing is gained. The web becomes a couch potato. Not active, not truly engaged, awash in artificial program ingredients and dispensing audience from a carton that’s cheap but lacks flavor. This is fine if the status quo is fine. But, we keep hearing it’s not.

Read Terry’s piece.

Correction: technology makes it easy to buy display ads across multiple web sites

April 24, 2009 § Leave a comment

Carol Bartz’s comments regarding APT during Yahoo’s earnings call this week got Wall Street Journal reporter Jessica Vascellaro’s attention. She opined in her blog that it remains  “a big pain for advertisers to buy display advertising across multiple sites”. That’s just not true, technically. There are numerous platforms out there – including ours, adConductor, I am eager to point out – that do the job of managing display inventory across multiple web sites. If you happen to use adConductor, the capability enables deeply sophisticated targeting, easy sales and campaign management and to the advertiser we can provide site-by-site reporting of campaign statisics.

This complexity was the first “network” problem that had to get solved at the commercial dawn of the Internet. And, while it may remain (very) difficult to navigate the planning choices and standards available online, if the final requirement is running ads across multiple web sites, the capability has been there for at least 14 years, with one order and one bill.

Pathfinder Redux

April 23, 2009 § Leave a comment

Time Inc.’s  new ad network, Time Annex, sounds a lot like the old Pathfinder. Pathfinder, of course, was a “portal.” Annex is a “network”. One could argue that Pathfinder was for online users and Annex is for online advertisers. 

Time still won’t let its titles stray far from the Company reservation.

For newspapers to survive there needs to be more of them, not less. That’s called living in a new media world.

April 23, 2009 § Leave a comment

Jason Klein, CEO of the Newspaper National Network, was in Ad Age yesterday with a thoughtful piece about the torments of the newspaper business today. Jason has a great vantage point from which to comment, given the NNN’s close working relationship with virtually every newspaper in the country.

I agree with almost all of his points - including, most importantly, the enduring value and ability of newspapers to survive as print properties. But, I don’t agree that the path to survival is fewer newspapers, and/or that the economics of the business favors one large newspaper per city.

To the contrary, the economics of the media business today favors the small. The Internet is only the most recent and obvious example of how the business of producing and distributing content has fundamentally been fragmenting into smaller and smaller units for decades, beginning with Cable TV. Nevermind how fragmentation has perplexed advertisers and media buyers. They will catch-up on their own to the new, narrower nature of things. The business of providing content that audiences find valuable, and for which they may even be willing to pay, favors the discreet. It favors the targeted.

Accordingly, the economics of newspapers going forward favor a return to multi-paper cities. Not one newspaper per city, but more-than-one, smaller newspaper per city probably divided along unique demographic, social or political interests. One-section newspapers, easily distributed, with carrying costs subsidized largely by subscriptions.

There may be a place for the consolidation of distribution and content at a national or broadcast kind of level, but it will be a battle to perpetuate: Ask any company trying to sustain those sort of franchises today, such as Yahoo! or even the New York Times.

Again, we should pay careful attention to the plight of newspapers (and traditional media, generally) lest history repeat itself in too short a time. As Jason Klein says, the bell is tolling for newspapers. But, it tolls for all of us.

Think small.

20,000,000 bloggers can’t be all bad for you

April 21, 2009 § Leave a comment

There are almost as many people making a living from blogging these days as there are lawyers, according to a report by E. Kinney Zalesne in the Wall Street Journal today. If your first reaction to that is “Oh my gosh that’s a lot of lawyers,” you probably work in new media. If, instead, you’re surprised and/or somewhat horrified to know there are that many bloggers you may be a columnist for a newspaper (although Ms. Zalesne is more notably a researcher and co-author of the book “Microtrends: Small Forces behind Tomorrow’s Big Changes”).

It’s the surprise and incredulity that always pops off the page at me whenever stories get written about citizen journalists, long tail publishers, or whatever you want to call them. Who are these people and what do they know is the back beat in these stories written by the grown-ups. Here’s an example of what I mean from the article today in the Journal:

“All this fits with the trend toward Opinion TV. Less and less of our information flow is devoted to gathering facts, and more and more is going toward popularizing opinion. Twenty-four-hour news channels have been replaced by 24-hour opinion channels. The chatter is the story.”

I dispute the notion that there are less facts floating about these days than there were before the Internet empowered a new chattering class. Intuitively we must accept that there are many more facts and many more fact-checkers in the world thanks to web publishers and bloggers, even compared to when the Wall Street Journal or New York Times had all their foreign bureaus. No doubt there is proportionally more spurious information as well. But, it’s a small price to pay for access.

Likewise, I’d argue that 24-hour news channels long ago replaced themselves as 24-hour opinion channels without ever leaving the comfort of their studios. And that’s fine. No complaints. The pretense of impartiality within the traditional news media deserved to be exploded, and it was, thanks largely to an incessant and democratic Internet. 

Interestingly enough at the end of her column today Ms. Zalensne wonders what competitive advantage the high incidence of bloggers in the United States will give the country in the global economy. She concludes:

“And with millions of human-hours now going into writing and recording opinion, we have to wonder whether being the blogging capital of the world will help America compete in the global economy. Maybe all this self-criticism will propel us forward by putting us on the right track and helping us choose the right products. Maybe it will create a resurgence in the art of writing and writing courses. Or serve as a safety net for out of work professionals in the crisis. But for how long can nearly 500,000 people who are gradually replacing whole swaths of journalists survive with no worker protections, no enforced ethics codes, limited standards, and, for most , no formal training? Even the “Wild West” eventually became just the “West.”

My answer would be that in an Information Economy, it helps to have a lot of information producers. After all, when it was an Agrarian Economy we had a lot of farmers. When it was an Industrial Economy we had a lot of factories. Now we have a lot of bloggers. And formal training and standards aside, 20,000,000 bloggers can’t be all bad for you under the circumstances.

Is the Internet really in chaos?

April 20, 2009 § Leave a comment

I copied and pasted to Microsoft Word Chris Nolter’s article in the Deal.com last Friday about ad networks. It was five pages and 2700 words.  I was exhausted at the end, as I think Chris must have been trying to throw a rope around the ad network space and the assortment of sales strategies crowding the online advertising marketplace for attention.

The article suggests that the Internet offers tantalizing hope to marketers, but that chaos exists online. I’m not so sure about the chaos part. If I assembled the five pages of Mr. Nolter’s article on the table in front of me in the form of some visual collage I might be inclined to see the fitful process of evolution at work, not chaos. A head is forming over here. A heart is beating over here. A foot, a hand, a mouth, etc. I see things taking shape, not coming apart, in the cauldron of his report, as well as in the refrain of others.

As I think about it, I’m reminded of a couple of sound bites we stuck into the business plan for Burst Media in 1995 in order to characterize for readers - most of whom still knew nothing about the Internet – the nature of the new media economy, which easily predicted a market tempest:

“One of the fastest growing commercial centers in the world, the World Wide Web is transforming the Internet community into a crushing, pushing and shoving virtual bazaar of goods [and] services…in a boom town of electronic commerce. If you could build a city overnight – population in the millions and no zoning – the web is what you’d likely get.” (Datamation, 1/15/95);

“The Net is neither hostile of friendly, as much as it changes the rules. All of a sudden, little companies can behave like big ones. Being large has less commercial advantage than it did before. Intellectual property changes meaning. Out of print no longer exists. And so on.” (Nicholas Negroponte, Director of MIT Media Laboratory.)

And so on, indeed. Arguably the Internet is only becoming a more diversified, go-ahead-and-call-it chaotic-if-you-want environment because we’re finally starting to grow into the place and open and shut all the doors. Hence, Frank Addante, CEO of Rubicon Project, is right to push back on Nolter in the article, asking “Why do you think 400 [ad networks] is too many?”

We won’t make more of the Internet by making less of it. It does seem large and disparate and confusing right now. But that’s us. The Internet itself – its many places and features, and many, many users - is humming smoothly.

Saving newspapers: Less is more, part 2

April 17, 2009 § Leave a comment

More about how to save newspapers today in Jon Freidman’s Marketwatch column. Pundits Larry Kramer, Laura Rich Fine and Nathan Richardson, all credentialed new media-types, argue collectively that newspapers need to have the gumption to charge readers for their products. Historically, they have not had that gumption. This is true. But, what should they charge? Today it is a token. If it is to be financially relevant to the business it means the cost of a newspaper will skyrocket. And/or, the newspaper product will shrink to fit a cost that is perhaps only modestly more than what people pay now. I paid $2.00 for the Wall Street Journal yesterday in the Boston airport. The New York Times, delivered free to my hotel room do0r this morning, has a cover price of $1.50. It is four sections and 90 pages deep, which just has to be (ridicuously) expensive. What could we expect if these properties assigned a more realistic price to their daily products, one that covered all the costs of ink and paper and distribution, for instance? $4.00? $5.00? $10?

One thing that would drop as a result of a price increase is the free hotel distribution, which can add up to a substantial portion of a newspaper’s daily circulation. But the fear – and reality – has always been, of course, that raising newstand prices on newspapers would cause the circulation to crumble, which would starve the advertising side. Okay, but so what? Newspapers need to act very quickly to find their core audience – that constituency that will pay almost any price for the product. A pack of cigarettes today, I am informed, costs over $10. Plenty of people still smoke. It’s helps that cigarettes are addicting, but so are newspapers to some. A small, deeply dedicated audience is a marketers dream – or ought to be. If they want to charge more, newspapers need to retreat to within those dedicated audience boundaries and make a big deal to advertisers of the fact that people are willing to pay a lot for the privilege of receiving their newspaper.

Or not. Michael Kinsley, writing a couple of weeks ago in the Washington Post, talked about life after newspapers arguing that, sad as it may be, their time may have come and gone. Quoting Joseph Shumpeter he wrote, “Capitalism is a ‘perennial gale of creative destruction.’ Industries come and go.” Newspapers, he suggests - not unreasonably - are in the “go” part of the cycle.

Yes, but there are vital lessons in the plight of newspapers for all media, including online. The conditions of newspapers, after all, have been wrought by the same media intelligentsia that has dominated online. Their thoughts and actions online have been driven by the sames thoughts and actions that drove newspapers (and magazines and television) for years: a desire for too much audience.

Which leads us back to comments made in this space earlier this week: less is more.

The YouTube Orchestra debuts at Carnegie Hall tonight

April 15, 2009 § Leave a comment

The YouTube Orchestra debuts tonight at Carnegie Hall. This is a group of musicians from around the world that met and auditioned online, and have had exactly three days to rehearse together since convening in New York City on Sunday.  Immediately, questioners were asking can the quality of this orchestra be as good in comparison to the world’s great philharmonics? In essence, the same question that gets asked about the quality of journalism or content produced online by myriads of independent web publishes in comparison to mainstream media. The question always misses the point, which is that enrichment – musical or otherwise – derives from freedom and desire as much as excellence. The YouTube orchestra is another example of freedom and desire at work online.

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