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.
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.
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.
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.
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.