Dumbing down the definition of paid

For years, the newspaper industry has excused falling circulation numbers, saying that it is getting rid of junk circulation. That was long overdue. It took a scandal that sent some newspaper executives to jail before the industry got serious about quality circulation, but it looked like they were ready to go cold turkey.
In the words of Homer Simpson, going cold turkey isn’t as delicious as it sounds.
The Audit Bureau of Circulations (which is owned by the publishers it audits) has decided to dumb down the definition of paid circulation from 25% of cover price to “a flexible pricing model where newspapers will be considered “paid” by ABC regardless of the price for which a copy is sold.”
It is now officially time for the newspaper industry and its enablers to stop whinging about having to give away their valuable product on the Internet.
Originally published on my blog at JupiterResearch.

Now I know why they're called broadcasters

It’s not yet clear who will dominate the social media sphere in the local market, but local broadcasters seem like a long shot.
In my home town you can’t get TV without cable. Comcast, meanwhile, provides an unbelievably poor signal for many local TV stations. Finally fed up with the mind-addling humming in the background of The Office every week, I decided that the most expedient solution would be to ring up my friends at the local NBC affiliate and have them bust Comcast’s chops.
I’m not sure what I expected, but I didn’t expect this.
Their “Contact us” page provides a phone number with an answer-bot. The only option for theoretically speaking to a live person is ad sales. Otherwise, you’d better know the name of the person you want to talk to.
Or you can use an email form (ick) to send a message to Newstips, Programming, Weather, or Web staff. I tried it, but apparently they forgot to hire an intern to actually read their mail.
Anyway, I’ve now sent an email to ad sales. They’re the only ones with published names or email addresses, and they might even be opening their mail.
Originally published on my blog at JupiterResearch.

Facebook wants to join your professional network

Facebook’s announcement that you will be able to separate your personal and professional networks is a major threat to LinkedIn.
Facebook’s strategic advantages are formidable.

  • More people you know are likely to be on Facebook, which has ten times the unique visitors of LinkedIn. In August, they added as many users as visited Linked In that month, according to Compete.com
  • Facebook is optimized for communication, increasing users’ interaction with the service, time online, and likelihood of discovering one another.
  • Facebook’s opening up to developers has been a huge hit with developers and users.
  • Facebook’s popularity with college students means that likely networkers entering the workforce already have the networks there.
  • How many social networks do you want to belong to? In 2008, everybody’s going to be introducing social networking features in their sites. Users will limit the number of networks they cultivate.

LinkedIn is not without resources. The site is clearly optimized for exploiting professional networks and for making contact with friends of friends and searching for contacts by employer. Its large and loyal customer base will be reluctant to switch. Facebook’s collegiate roots still show, and many of their applications are so silly and trivial that it sometimes seems like a MySpace for anal retentives. Many people I know aren’t ready to move their professional networks to MySpace.
Inertia gives LinkedIn a small window in which to respond to Facebook’s strategic threat. I hope they use it wisely.
Originally published on my blog at JupiterResearch.

Waiting for the other shoe to drop in paid online news

Everyone is asking about the impact on the Wall Street Journal of the New York Times decision to release all its news and most of its archives from the bondage of paid access.
For those of you who may not have seen a copy, The New York Times is a newspaper that is popular with the elites in a couple of cities on the east coast of the United States. It is published by the same company that publishes NYTimes.com, one of the best and most-read news websites in the world.
The Journal’s decision is more complex. It has printing plants all over the world, so that it can deliver its print product first thing in the morning. Most of its readers are not buying the paper with their own money, so it’s not clear how elastic their demand really is. Or whether they’re actually reading it, I suppose.
The Journal is able to get absolutely premium rates for its print advertising because it has an absolutely premium audience who can buy and sell the kind of nerds who read the New York Times. Especially the Times’s Sunday readers — losers who like crossword puzzles, long magazine articles, and the latest news about Richard Wagner. The dynamic money-makers who read the Journal don’t have time for that nonsense. On Sunday mornings, they’re reading their Blackberries, shopping for summer homes, and waiting for markets to open somewhere.
Does the Journal really want to reach the kind of riff-raff who want to read the news for free? Those people don’t even aspire to owning a fine Swiss timekeeping instrument, let alone have half a dozen sitting in an automatic winder in their walk-in closet waiting for an appropriate occasion.
The answer, of course, is that the print edition of the Journal will fade away soon enough. Newsprint is getting more expensive. Printing plants are very expensive. And by the time you get it, the news in the paper is already beginning to rot on the page. And if Rupert Murdoch moves the paper to shorter, punchier stories, he’ll have created a made-for-online product.
If the Journal doesn’t come up with plan for a gentle transition to a free online service, that day may not come gently and it will be hastened by the likes of Bloomberg, Reuters, Conde Nast, a few hundred bloggers, and (yes!) The New York Times.
Originally published on my blog at JupiterResearch.

If you love your information, set it free

The New York Times has finally put Times Select out of our misery. But wait, there’s more!
The Times is also releasing its archives from bondage. At least, all stories after 1987 or before 1923. Stories published between 1923 and 1986 are still for sale.
This is tremendously good news for everyone:
Times Digital stands to benefit the most. I’ve been convinced for a long time that the only role for Time Select was to protect the printed newspaper from cannibalization. The Web is now free to compete with print to be the main platform for the Times’s news.
Maureen Dowd, Tom Friedman, Paul Krugman, and plenty of other columnists whose work should be some of the most-linked-to material on the Web will find a new and enthusiastic audience. As well as millions of people who don’t like their stuff, but can’t bear not to link to it.
Bloggers will be able to freely and permanent link to important news stories and columns, as well as past stories that place today’s news into meaningful context.
Web users will be more likely to read Times’s archives from links in blogs than from the paper’s database interface. The Times will become the most authoritative source for background information on a wide variety of topics. Not only will take some of that traffic from Wikipedia, it will certainly become an important source for Wikipedia. This is definitely not a zero-sum game.
And all these links will create a rich context of metadata that will add value to the the Times’s content.
Other news organizations — from community weeklies to national dailies — should take this as a signal that it is now officially insane to keep past stories off the grid. It’s not just selfish, it’s bad business.
I’m excited about the role of intermediaries in the news business. In my research, I have found that the Times is missing out on a great deal of traffic from intermediaries ranging from Google News to the Drudge Report. Not only will the Times be able to make up for lost time, they have positioned themselves to take advantage of one of the most important strategic trends in online media.
Originally published on my blog at JupiterResearch.

Being an intermediary is not as easy as it looks

Netscape.com was always the biggest wasted opportunity on the Internet. Somewhere in its history, it was a site for small an medium-sized businesses. At some point after AOL merged with Time Warner, its reason for being was to shill Time Warner media properties.
Still, according to Compete.com, five million people visit Netscape.com every month.
Last year, AOL launched a relatively bold experiment by turning Netscape into what some have called a “Digg clone” but always felt like somebody spilled a test tube full of Digg’s DNA and never really cleaned it up properly.
Netscape.com is now a place where right-wingers and left-wingers taunt one another by voting up partisan diatribes: “Candidate Thompson Praised for Global Warming Views” or “Bush’s Bogus Bailout” or “Upcoming Changes at Netscape”. Actually, that last one was designed to taunt everyone who invested their time and energy at Netscape.com.
Meanwhile, news.aol.com (to continue the genetic engineering metaphor) is another weird hybrid. It doesn’t really have an editorial voice, so it reads like an AP wire feed with comments enabled. Though I’ve grown to appreciate the core concept of a newsfeed that is optimized for interaction — every story has a quiz, poll, in-page gallery, or wacky picture — it’s impossible to take seriously as a news source. No one is going to feel taunted or challenged by any story there.
In a world where intermediaries are becoming dominant sources of news and information, one of the world’s biggest media companies still has no strategy for two of the best-known portals on the net.
Originally published on my blog at JupiterResearch.

Google gives newspapers the gift of focus

Google’s shift to hosting its own wire service stories is a notice to laggards that you can’t succeed by providing the same information that everyone else is giving away.
It’s one of my major themes that intermediaries (including Google) are increasing their role in connecting audiences with news (or all content for that matter). In an intermediated world, your particular copy of a wire service story adds little value to the mix. And at some point, adding yet another copy decreases the value of the whole mess.
In a world of networked media, news organizations need to focus on what they do best. For all but a handful of newspapers, that’s local news. They should have been doing it anyway, but Google is making it a survival skill. They may want to aggregate some national and international news for their unique audience, but editors really have to reconsider the time and energy they’re devoting generic wire stories. Expecially now that their readers can get them from Google.
Originally published on my blog at JupiterResearch.

NYT understands how to be a good host

The NY Times has posted a reader Q&A with Digital News Editor Jim Roberts [via CyberJournalist] that contains a lot of interesting information about the operation of the digital side of the paper.
I was struck by the following list of guidelines for readers posting comments on the site so they could avoid having their comments bounced by a moderator. You can see the full version over at the Times, but here’s the shortened version:

  • No profanity. No obscenity.
  • No name calling or insults.
  • Stay on point.
  • Donít bother sending press releases.
  • Donít rage and donít SHOUT.
  • Please use your real name.

These are pretty much the rules that I have adopted in forums I moderate after a few years of painful experience.
Every failure that I’m aware of involving reader generated content on a media site appears to involve a failure of moderation. I’ve come to believe that the biggest mistake that print media make when hosting comments is thinking there is no middle ground between their tightly-edited professional product and anarchy.
However, I also believe there’s more than right way to do this, and it’s a good time for everyone to share information on how to do it. One of my goals for the second half of the year is to come up with some best practices for hosting social media.
Originally published on my blog at JupiterResearch.

Recovering value destroyed by "synergy"

McClatchy is thinking about selling its share in the online job site CareerBuilder. That’s an idea worth considering.
I’ve come to believe that more value has been destroyed in the pursuit of false synergies than any other boardroom fad of the last 20 years. Imagine for a moment that (1) McClatchy could bank the value of its stake in CareerBuilder, and (2) McClatchy’s newspapers were free to negotiate the best possible deal for employment classifieds. Monster and HotJobs are now eagerly negotiating deals with the newspapers. What would it be worth to CareerBuilder to keep McClatchy on board? How much value would that create?
It’s enough to make you wonder how much value was created by CareerBuilder and how much was simply transfered from McClatchy’s (and Gannett’s and Tribune’s) newspapers to CareerBuilder in the first place.
Intermediaries on the Web are going to be increasing their clout, and it’s time for everyone to reexamine all their cozy corporate distribution deals to see if they’re creating or destroying value.
Originally published on my blog at JupiterResearch.

There is no RSS market

Someone asked me the other day about how Google’s purchase of Feedburner would affect their share of the “RSS market”. There is no RSS market, any more than there is an HTML or an XML market. Or a TXT market, for that matter.
RSS is a file format. FeedBurner’s principal competition is the RSS support that is built into publishers’ content management sytems, whether they’re using WordPress or some monster custom job. FeedBurner competes with these perfectly fine, free features by tracking who’s using the feed and (if you wish) adding advertising.
For these reasons, Feedburner should integrate well with Google’s existing publishing tools, analytics and advertising network business.
FeedBurner is a small piece of a very big trend. Syndication is already an important part of any content producer’s toolkit. But it’s just one element of the new wave of intermediation that’s about to sweep the business. I’ve just released my report on syndication, and in a few weeks will release an in-depth report on how to thrive in the coming era of intermediation in the media business.
Originally published on my blog at JupiterResearch.