A Polemic on Cheap and Free Content

July 12, 2010

If you find it distressing that those low-paying organizations like Demand Media that distribute written content for practically nothing, Ad Age points out that free content can pull in high paying advertisers just as well. It is interesting to note that the article uses as an example of the new form of writer, i.e., one who is willing to do it for nothing, a young man who started writing sports articles while he was waiting for his bar exam results, and is still doing it for nothing many hundreds of articles later.  This young man, meanwhile, having failed the bar 3 times, is being supported by his parents as he hones his craft. I wonder how long they are going to allow this practice to continue.  The article also points out that the Huffington Post is perhaps the mother lode of all free content.  It is, and most of the content in it which has any value at all is either written by one of the 53 editors that HuffPo pays, or taken from some other source that pays its writers, like the NY Times.  What this says about the future of journalism is more than distressing.  There is a place for journalism of the people, by the people and for the people, and it can even work in concert with the more elite kind. Yet, I find it hard to believe that there will not always be a need for writers who can actually write, for investigative journalism, and for content that is meaningful.

To make this point, perhaps, Nick Bilton’s Bits Blog notes that the content products for digital devices, like the iPad, are really being thought out, as publishers try to find a mix of content, design and community that make them stand out from their free web content.  Many of the magazine apps are rejecting the commentary and social aspect of their web counterparts.  On the Wired iPad app, for instance, readers cannot copy and paste links or text, comment or share on Twitter, or “like” an article on Facebook. Time Magazine’s app does not allow for sharing or linking. Another Condé Nast product, Gourmet (which shuttered its print version last fall), will be reborn in the fourth quarter as an app, which will have social aspects built into it.  This suggests, as some analysts have pointed out, that the lack of social connection on apps is because the mags haven’t quite figured out how to do it yet.  It really behooves publishers to make these apps as striking as possible, since they are behind a pay wall.  Time , meanwhile, is moving the current content of most of its magazines behind that app paywall. Their policy will be to “… use the web for breaking news and ‘commodity’ type of news; (news events of any type, stock prices, sports scores) and keep (most of) the features and longer analysis for the print publication and iPad versions.”

And speaking of magazines, you know those little subscription cards that fall out every time you open one up?  Turns out, they are, or soon will be, a complete waste, as Folio reports that 24 per cent of subscriptions that are sold by publishers come from the web.

The Internet is Either Bad or Good, Depending on Whether You’re Prince or the Rest of the World

July 12, 2010

The artist currently known as Prince shocked and amazed the world when he said that the “Internet is over” and that computers and digital gadgets ”fill your head with numbers and that can’t be good for you.” The upshot was that he is not releasing any music digitally, only in CD format.  He has banned his music from iTunes, YouTube and even what was formerly known as his web site – there will be no downloads, anywhere, ever, from him.  I’m sure the music industry is overjoyed, and wish that Prince could start a movement, unlikely as that is to happen. He does have a point, as far as payment is concerned, because how artists will make money in the inter web world is still  in question.

Meanwhile, back at Pew’s Internet and American Life Project, the world of the Internet is a good and happy place, bringing joy and fulfillment to all who go there. Almost.  Specifically, a large majority of respondents (85%) agreed that, “In 2020, when I look at the big picture and consider my personal friendships, marriage and other relationships, I see that the Internet has mostly been a positive force on my social world. And this will only grow more true in the future.” As a point of ethics, though, I have to divulge that the respondents to this survey were tech experts and “the highly engaged Internet public.”  I think that rosily colors their point of view somewhat.  Still it’s hard to disagree with the positives that they saw (from the report):

They said humans’ use of the Internet’s capabilities for communication – for creating, cultivating, and continuing social relationships – is undeniable. …

Many of the people who said the Internet is a positive force noted that … it costs less in time spent, allowing them to cultivate many more relationships, including those with both strong and weak ties. They said “geography” is no longer an obstacle to making and maintaining connections; some noted that Internet-based communications removes previously perceived constraints of “space” and not just “place.”

Some respondents observed that as use of the Internet for social networks evolves there is a companion evolution in language and meaning as we redefine social constructs such as “privacy” and “friendship.” Other respondents suggested there will be new “categories of relationships,” a new “art of politics,” the development of some new psychological and medical syndromes that will be “variations of depression caused by the lack of meaningful quality relationships,” and a “new world society.”

The visual difference between editorial content and advertising designed to look like editorial content is miniscule.  Given that it’s difficult to define the spot where news and entertainment separate, this has become a bone of contention.  The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors sent an open letter to the Tribune Company asking them to cease and desist, following a four page wrap ad for the King Kong attraction at Universal Studios which was made to look like the front page of the Times’ breaking news section, describing damage done to the city by a giant ape.

The Fall of Kin and the Rise of Everything Else

July 12, 2010

You may have heard the news, quiet though it was, that Microsoft’s foray into the world of “social media phones” has bitten the dust – prices were cut dramatically after only a little over a month on the market.  It’s hard to say how much of this was the fault of Verizon’s steep data plan price (with no other major data plan features than combined feeds from social networking sites), and how much of this was the fact that people aren’t willing to pay for social networking on a phone.  The marketing was great, but it’s maybe the other stuff, like apps, that sell phones.

For other smartphones, with more features, and other portable devices, the picture is a lot rosier.  Pew Internet and American Life Project’s report of the Mobile Internet came out recently and as you can imagine, the graph goes up, up and up.  Close to 60% of adults access the internet wirelessly with either a laptop or phone (as opposed to 41% last year).  More of them are using mobile devices to do more things – take pictures (76%, up from 66%),  send/receive text messages (72% vs. 65%), access the internet (38% vs. 25%) and play music (31% vs. 33%) among other things. The numbers for people between 18 and 29 years old, do not require an explanation at all – they use their phones for every kind of service they can get.  Interesting factoid: African-Americans and English-speaking Latinos continue to be among the most active users of the mobile web. Cell phone ownership is higher among African-Americans and Latinos than among whites (87% vs. 80%) and minority cell phone owners take advantage of a much greater range of their phones’ features compared with white mobile phone users. Why this is interesting: for people who cannot afford a computer, the cell phone is a substitute for web access.  Many years ago, when I was in library school, we were concerned with the distinction between the digital haves (those who could afford a computer) and have-nots; libraries, of course represented a savior for the have-nots.  But now they can take that access with them, without having to go to the library (what that means for libraries is another question altogether).

Is It Me, Or Is This Story Really Sick?

June 25, 2010

Utah’s Attorney General has 7000 followers on Twitter.  They were treated, last Friday, to the news that he had given the “go ahead” to execute a condemned murderer by firing squad (to Utah’s credit – hmm – the victim chose the firing squad as his death method of choice, before the state outlawed it).   Ok, it’s news, there is a reason for the AG to send out this item.  But what followed was this tweet: We will be streaming live my press conference as soon as I’m told Gardner is dead. Watch it at www.attorneygeneral.Utah.gov/live.html.  Does that smack of self-promotion to you?  And was this an appropriate place to use it?  I will say that it’s more interesting , and possibly more valuable, than finding out that somebody is out walking their dog, but I don’t know…. Is this government transparency in action?

The Next Chapter in the LimeWire Story

June 25, 2010

When we last saw LimeWire, it had just been found liable for copyright infringement, that its very existence had fostered infringement, and the RIAA was calling for it to be silenced forever. That’s pretty bad, but wait, there’s more.  Now music publishers want their piece of the carrion, saying that LimeWire should be liable for damages (paid to them) of up to $150K per infringement.  The P2P site, meanwhile, trying desperately to find a way to stay afloat, says that it wants to develop a new music service that will “compensate the entire industry”.  And, it issued a statement that “publishers are part of the solution”, and welcomed their presence at any negotiating table, reports the Media Decoder. Whether the publishers will agree to negotiation is another question altogether, although probably a better solution than trying to recover damages worth more money than LimeWire could ever possibly have made. But one statement in their complaint says “Although still a haven for piracy, the Internet now features a substantial number of legitimate avenues for the sale and digital distribution of music.”  Among those legitimate avenues is Napster, now owned by Best Buy, the P2P that started it all.

Of E-Readers and What’s Up With Next Issue Media

June 25, 2010

Do you remember Next issue Media, the joint venture between several magazines that was supposed to revolutionize digital content and platforms for the magazine industry, and become the “Hulu of Magazines”?  John Squires, late of Time Magazine, was named the interim Managing Director while the board looked for a CEO.  Which they ultimately found in Morgan Guenther, who had been CEO of a wireless entertainment services company, AirPlay, and formerly with TiVo.  In the meantime though, points out PaidContent, lots of platforms have come upon the market, with no digital content from Next Issue.  So the magazines themselves have had to work out the logistics there.

Now, who needs a third-party company, and for what? Analytics, maybe, but that’s really where Apple and other platform/device companies are the gatekeepers. One of the stated goals of the company: develop a common digital storefront. Well, while that idea sounds grand, again, it isn’t their decision; in iPad’s case it is Apple’s decision to not let any third party sell content outside of their system, and unlikely that will change soon.

Oh, and by the way, PaidContent’s piece, which was written before the CEO decision was made,  has a fairly grueling tale of the interview process through which candidates for the position had to go.

And speaking of e-readers, you may recall that at the beginning of the year, Hearst showcased its own e-reader, the Skiff.  This was a large format e-reader meant for the digital perusal of periodicals, and was supposed to launch around now.  But it won’t.  Last week,  News Corp. said that it had purchased Skiff from Hearst–but only the publisher’s e-reader software platform. Hearst still owns the actual device, but Peter Kafka in MediaMemo reports that the company is looking to unload it.  News Corp and Hearst had been talking about a deal for some time, and the whole idea behind the Skiff was to create a digital platform for  the production, distribution and sale of periodicals on a variety of platforms.  Actually this was exactly what Next Issue Media was supposed to do, as well (Hearst is also a member of that joint venture).

Meanwhile, News Corp, says Kafka,

… now has several different ways to play digital media e-commerce: In addition to Skiff, it has a stake in whatever Next Issue Media builds, as well as the digital commerce platform that News Corp.’s Wall Street Journal has built (it’s possible these latter two will be combined).

And News Corp. has purchased yet another option, by buying a stake in Journalism Online, the Gordon Crovitz/Steve Brill online subscription platform.

That’s a whole lot of choices for a market that doesn’t really exist yet, and I assume those will consolidate over time. Keep watching…

And then there are the e-reader price wars.  Nook lowered its price to $199.  The next day Amazon lowered the price of the Kindle to $189. Dennis Kneale of CNBC suggests that Amazon abandon the price war altogether and just give the Kindle away for free with a book club subscription, “or  team up with print-media companies that would subsidize the cost of making Kindles and give ’em away free as the new distribution platform for their newspapers and magazines. Another ally: big brands that could hand out the Kindle as part of their customer service—banks, retailers, bookstore chains,   Wal-Mart”. As reasoning, he notes that amazon has sold 2.5 million Kindles in teh close to 3 years since its introduction.  The iPad, he says, has sold 2 million since April.  Actually Apple announced on Wednesday that it has so far sold 3 million iPads.  No wonder nobody wants to buy the Skiff.

Why Mainstream Media Is Not Dead – Except for the London Times

June 4, 2010

You know how many news blogs there are?  No, neither do I, but there are probably millions, including this one.  But don’t start thinking that the mainstream media are doomed, because 80% of all of links on blogs came from only four mainstream media sources, that’s right only four – the BBC, CNN, The New York Times and the Washington Post. This,  according to another study by the venerable Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. And, they say, 99% of links in blog posts have legacy news outlets as their original source.  Yet, the way that I looked at the study, it seems that there is plenty of room for both, we don’t really use social media in place of main stream news.  Because, here’s what the study showed:

  • Social media and the mainstream press clearly embrace different agendas. Blogs shared the same lead story with traditional media in just 13 of the 49 weeks studied. Twitter was even less likely to share the traditional media agenda – the lead story matched that of the mainstream press in just four weeks of the 29 weeks studied. On YouTube, the top stories overlapped with traditional media eight out of 49 weeks.
  • The stories that gain traction in social media do so quickly, often within hours of initial reports, and leave quickly as well. Just 5% of the top five stories on Twitter remained among the top stories the following week. …
  • Politics, so much a focus of cable and radio talk programming, has found a place in blogs and on YouTube. On blogs, 17% of the top five linked-to stories in a given week were about U.S. government or politics, often accompanied by emphatic personal analysis or evaluations… On Twitter, however, technology stories were linked to far more than anything else, accounting for 43% of the top five stories in a given week and 41% of the lead items. By contrast, technology filled 1% of the newshole in the mainstream press during the same period….
  • Twitter, by contrast, was less tied to traditional media. Here half (50%) of the links were to legacy outlets; 40% went to web-only news sources such as Mashable and CNET. The remaining 10% went to wire stories or non-news sources on the Web such as a blog known as “Green Briefs,” which summarized daily developments during the June protests in Iran.
  • The most popular news videos on YouTube, meanwhile, stood out for having a broader international mix. A quarter, 26%, of the top watched news videos were of non-U.S. events, primarily those with a strong visual appeal such as raw footage of Pope Benedict XVI getting knocked over during Mass on Christmas Eve or a clip of a veteran Brazilian news anchor getting caught insulting some janitors without realizing his microphone was still live. Celebrity and media-focused videos were also given significant prominence.

So, mainstream media is important to the news media to give them stories; just so, new media are essential to mainstream media, because the links draw people back to the source.  So it was with incredulity that I read in paidContentUK that The Times and the Sunday Times of the UK, now two separate entities in the online world, both of which are about to re-launch as paid sites, will not allow their articles to appear in search engines.  On one hand, this makes a weird kind of sense.  If the papers are asking subscribers to pay for articles, then they should have exclusive access to those articles. On the other hand, limiting readership to people who pay for print, which is essentially what the Times is doing, is disregarding the way most people find articles, it would disregard the whole link culture as defined by Pew, above, and in the end, limiting the audience that it could have. Thank you, Rupert Murdoch.

And here’s what the Times is ignoring.  Recent figures released by comScore from the Newspaper National Network show online newspaper sites in the top 25 media markets garnered 2 billion page views, “reaching 83.7 million unique visitors in April — up 10% from March, 12% from February, and 15% from January , 2010”. And newspaper sites beat out CNN, AOL News and the Huffington Post as sources.

Meanwhile, commenting on news stories has become an ingrained habit, as social media consumption grows.  minOnline reported on a survey by Gather.com which showed how different demographics consume and send out news.  Different age groups may use different media, e-mail, Facebook,. Twitter as a way of relaying interesting pieces of news, but it’s something that every age group does. Gather.com’s survey found that more than a third of their respondents  go to search engines to find “multiple perspectives on a story”.  Furthermore, the study “confirm publishers fears” that readers are more interested in the story than the source.  “80% say they click on news stories from sources they don’t recognize. The search-driven information economy has effectively leveled the brand playing field and challenged the brand equity many publishers spent decades building.”

People Will Never Pay for Content — But They Already Are

June 4, 2010

We said at the beginning of the year that 2010 would be the year of the paywall.   It certainly is turning out that way, with magazines commanding a regal price for their iPad editions, Hulu is going to try to push a subscription piece, and the Times coming up with a metered model next year.  The big question is, and will remain, whether people will be willing to pay for it.  Dave Morgan, CEO of Simulmedia said, in his Online Spin column that unequivocably, they won’t.  Here’s, according to him, is why these efforts are doomed to failure:

  1. Consumers say in focus groups that they will pay for what they are now getting for nothing, but that doesn’t tend to translate into actual purchases
  2. Companies like Hulu, without a lot of direct marketing experience, will have a very steeAp learning curve.
  3. All of the high-profile companies that are going to be required to see results fast forget that this is a long process – it took the Wall Street Journal 10 years to build.
  4. The economy is still pretty awful, and people are being very cautious about what they shell out for.

A Forrester analyst, though, feels that people are already paying for content, for instance in high speed access and Netflix accounts.  But really, what they are willing to pay for is the access to content, not the content itself. And, says James McQuivey,

They will pay even more for that in the future as 4G becomes a reality. …That’s why when I’m advising a publisher or programmer, I encourage them to focus on access. Make more content available, on more devices, in the most convenient ways possible. Today, that might mean developing a beautiful iPad app for a magazine, but tomorrow that means developing a new content experience altogether, with personal clippings, recommended stories, all of it socially enhanced to reflect not just what I want to read but what my community is reading and discussing. That is a type of access, too, and it’s one that goes beyond what Google can return as a search result.

They Really Do Take Care of Their Online Lives

June 4, 2010

A new report by the Pew Internet and American Life Project refuted some people’s (including Mark Zuckerberg) notion that young people do not care about maintaining privacy on Internet sites.  Reputation Management and Social Media found that young adults, those aged 19-29, are in fact the most active managers of their online lives. For example, more than two-thirds (71%) those young adults who use social networking sites have changed the privacy settings on their profile to limit what they share with others online. In addition, 44% of young adult internet users say that they “take steps to limit the amount of personal information available about them online”, 47% of them delete unwanted comments about themselves that are made on their profiles, and 41% have removed their tagging from photos.  These numbers are considerably higher than those for older social networkers, but then again, they probably have a lot more information to manage.

Still, the Internet is where people go to find out about you, and that includes potential employers, as well, as potential dates, so there are benefits to having an online presence.  Many of those social networkers who are employed work for a company that has very strict policies about how their employees present themselves online, thereby limiting what they can put in a profile or a blog post.  This can prove interesting as it blurs the line, which used to be very distinct, between one’s working life and one’s private life.  40% of users say that they have been contacted by someone from their past because of their online profile – of course that can be seen as a negative, depending on who from your past finds you. I’m sure that we’ve all found  that there’s a reason that those people are in our past.

Nonprofit News Organizations in Ascendancy

May 21, 2010

We’ve been talking a lot over the past year about nonprofit centers for news.  Columbia Journalism Review posits that these nonprofits are moving into a core role in investigative journalism.  ProPublica’s winning of a Pulitzer last month may have been the first indication that the tide is shifting. As newspapers cut back staff, and continue to watch their spending, conducting a six-month long project is not always feasible.  Nick Penniman, executive director and co-founder of The Huffington Post Investigative Fund thinks that while the public acknowledge that primacy of the newspaper as a “watchdog”, “it’s very difficult from a profit perspective to see the value of sinking millions into investigative reporting.” And the deputy managing editor for projects at the LA Times, Marc Duvoisin thinks that up to 40% of investigative reporting will be done by donor-sustained organizations. Still, it’s a pretty new phenomenon on a widespread level, and the news business continues to be in business model upheaval, so it’s pretty hard to envision how it will all shake out. It’s a pretty good bet that at least some of this work will be taken over by nonprofits, but the main question is, how will they manage to sustain themselves? And another question is, of course, how beholden will these nonprofits be to their donors – and can that influence the objective stance of their journalism?  Different nonprofits have different operating models, distribution platforms, and plans for revenue, and if nothing else, this deserves to be watched pretty closely as time goes on.


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