Save journalism, not newspapers

We’re seeing a lot of talk lately about taking newspapers nonprofit.

I’ve been saying for a year now that all media organizations need to separate creation from distribution. Newpspaper are a good place to start because their distribution model is so broken, the industry is so troubled, the savings potential is huge, and the opportunity is vast.

Creation, especially of quality journalism, is a very small part of the total budget of the newspaper business. Once you take out presses, trucks, paper, rewriting wire copy, rewriting press releases, soft features, laying out pages, and overhead, the actual cost of gathering, writing and editing the news that matters to the continuing function of our democracy is a pretty small part of the total cost of journalism. And it’s the part that is most worth preserving.

Modern national and international news organizations already are beginning to look more like wire services than newspapers. It may be time to move that model down to the regional and metropolitan level, as well as up from the ultralocal level to neighborhoods and communities.

By separating creation from distribution, we can create newsgathering organizations that are efficient, worth preserving, and very cheap compared to the cost of supporting them. Matt Yglesias gets this, although I’m not certain I’d endow all the organizations he’s considering. I’d prefer to endow entirely new newsgathering operations whose primary purpose is informing the public.

The bigger news is the implications for all media properties of separating content from distribution.

Cross-posted from my Forrester blog for Consumer Product Strategy professionals.

Everyone wants to look good on Facebook

It’s easy to forget as we watch penetration numbers rise for social services, what these numbers look like when they hit small communities of connected people. I was reminded of this last night.

Every year, my wife takes photos of the kids in the Half Moon Bay High School musical. The pictures are used in the play program, become headshots for the handful who act in other venues, and are shared with friends and family. She takes a lot of care to produce great-looking shots and it shows.

This year is the first time anyone asked her for a copy to put on Facebook, and everybody asked for her to email them a copy for Facebook.

Cross-posted from my Forrester blog for Consumer Product Strategy professionals.

Learning the wrong lessons from a century of advertising

Shortly after ranting that media properties to start thinking bigger and stranger if they’re going to succeed, I came across Jeff Jarvis’s spot-on analysis of why print advertising was never the right model for online success and the variety of opportunities that exist for media properties to improve their top and bottom lines.

Jeff says that print advertising worked as a business because there was a limited supply of space. But it also worked as a business because it was staggeringly inefficient. A Realtor had to buy access to a million readers to reach to two dozen who were looking for a neighborhood open house. That model has been broken for at least five years.

He has some great suggestions for new kinds of businesses for media companies. You should read his whole list, but here are my takes on some of them:

  • Empowering new advertisers and partners: Google and eBay have empowered genuinely new businesses. Look beyond your traditional customers for new business opportunities. One reason that Google and eBay have succeeded at this is that they’ve made it possible for their customers to serve themselves, and consquently they’ve driven the price lower by orders of magnitude.
  • Offering new services to marketers: The Houston Chronicle is doing this today. Their goal is to be the digital agency for their community.
  • Creating content and advertising networks to reduce costs and increase revenues: I’ve been writing about this for more than a year and I don’t believe we’ve scratched surface of the opportunities and threats created by networked media.
  • Getting into new lines of business: Should local media get into the real estate business? Now is exactly the right time to get into a business that has been dominated by a cartel. Even if newspapers survive the coming storm, do they really think that their real estate advertisers will return? Really?

The bad news is that nearly all initiatives will fail and only a few will prosper. And you can’t wait around until it becomes obvious what’s going to work. Once you notice someone having success, he’s going to be difficult to unseat in the market he created. To succeed in the current chaosm, you must experiment, keep costs low, watch what others are doing, and take a portfolio approach to innovation management. has a strategy problem, not an inventory problem

I agree with my colleague David Card that the New York Times must cut costs and raise the price of the print edition. David also agrees with Henry Blodget that Times should start charging for its online product. But Blodget’s analysis rests on some on a comparison with the Wall Street Journal, which I don’t think is useful:

  • The Times cannot gather anywhere near the number of online subscribers that the Wall Street Journal enjoys. Journal readers often expense their subscriptions and the Journal’s reporting is far more valuable to its readers than the Times’s reporting is to its readers.
  • The Journal should have gone free more than a year ago. As the Journal goes through its own inevitable cost-cutting, it’s going to be less competitive with free products, such as Bloomberg, Reuters, its own Marketwatch site, Henry Blodget, and the rest of the Internet. They will have to deal with this eventually and it’s going to be more difficult the longer they wait. Finally, the Journal’s readers will always be more valuable to advertisers than those of the Times and the Journal would have a lot less difficulty selling its free inventory than the Times is having.
  • The Times’s problem is not that it has too much inventory. The problem there is not enough demand among advertisers for its readers’ attention. Cutting their numbers will not make them any more desirable. This is where Blodget makes his most questionable assertion: “ would be able to charge more for ads served against known, paying subscribers (the company would have some demographic info).” That reasoning passed its expire date ten years ago.

If’s problem is that it has too much advertising inventory, nothing can save it.

Traditionally, subscribers barely covered the cost of printing and distributing newspapers and magazines. Michael Kinsley did a great job of laying this out way back in 2001. The genius of William Randolph Hearst, among others, was to pretty much give away the product to sell the ads.

The solution to this problem is not as simple as putting a price on your Web site and treating it like a streetcorner vending machine. The eventual winners in Twenty-First Century “paper” wars will succeed by thinking a lot bigger, and lot stranger. No one knows the answer to this problem, but many folks now see the direction in which it lies.

I have a report coming out soon that will address media strategy in the networked era, but my Best Practices in Networked Media report is a good place to start. Bloomberg and Reuters are on their way to becoming networked media giants, and trying to charge for access will only slow the Times’s progress to its own transformation.

A better way to embed Keynote slides on the Web

You can export Keynote slides to a Quicktime file in the appropriate dimensions and embed the Quicktime of your Keynote deck in your blog. Just select File/Export, and follow the prompts. You can use hyperlink controls to allow users to navigate the deck inside of Quicktime. I discovered this technique last night when I was writing an analysis of the 2008 elections for Coastsider.

This is easier, faster, cleaner, and offers more control than exporting to PDF and embedding via Scribd or Docstoc. I especially like Scribd for embedding PDF’s, but this is a better format slide shows than PDF.

It’s cheaper and easier than creating the slides in 280 Slides. 280 Slides is really cool, but this you can do this on your desktop, own an archival copy of your deck, and don’t have to pay for it.

It’s better than using Flash, Scribd, Google or whatever to embed PowerPoint, because you don’t have to use PowerPoint.

And it’s a faster and more space efficient than taking screen grabs and embedding them as JPEG’s, which has been my fallback for embedding Keynote graphics.

Kicking television, sort of

2008 was a watershed year in my media habits.

In video, things came to a head when Comcast mistakenly cancelled by cable television service, instead of merely canceling my “high speed” (sic) Internet service. This echoed the scene six months earlier when, after weeks of trying to get someone to install Internet service, a Comcast guy showed up on my doorstep declared, “I’m here to disconnect your Internet service.”

We no longer have cable television and in Montara we’re beyond the reach of broadcast television.

My family discovered we don’t need regular TV any more. Between Netflix DVD’s and instant play for movies and HBO series; iTunes for Madmen and The Office; Hulu for John Stewart, Steven Colbert, and 30 Rock; MSNBC for streaming coverage of election night; YouTube for kittens and poisonous snakes; our own DVD’s for kids’ movies and The Simpsons; and the blogs for news highlights — we have more video on tap than we can possibly watch. Meanwhile, we’re more thoughtful about what we watch. And we still don’t have a Tivo, Roku, AppleTV, MediaCenter PC, or any other box on top of our TV.

I stopped listening to commercial radio a while ago, but missed the sense of discovering new music. In 2008, just as I was beginning to get bored of putting my music collection on shuffle, I found a host of new ways to get music. Streaming music from iTunes to my living room stereo was never appealing until Apple release its iPhone Remote software. Now it’s indispensible. I’ve been relying heavily on listening to KCRW and KKJZ, both of of them 400 miles away in LA, via iTunes. And now I can stream them over the cellular network to my iPhone with any of several radio applications. I’ve discovered more new music this year than in the last five thanks to Pandora (and KCRW) on my desktop and on my iPhone. Between that and Apple’s new Genius playlists I don’t have any time to listen to all those podcasts I’ve downloaded, except for Le Show and Ted Talks video.

The best part is that none of this is revolutionary. It has been coming for a long time. And now it’s part of everyday life for millions of consumers. Happy new year!

Let's make TV local again

It’s no surprise that local television stations are under pressure, with increased competition for local audiences from cable and the current economic…um…opportunity.

Without actually citing a source, WSJ reporter Martin Peers declares that the problem is overcapacity and the solution is to let top stations in the local market merge to “reduce overcapacity”:

That means shuttering weaker stations and consolidating ownership of others in individual markets to allow for greater cost-cutting. One of the biggest costs is local news operations, which can account for between 25% and 33% of net revenues. Allowing one top station to buy another top station would spread such costs across a bigger revenue base. Regulators might consider relaxing ownership limits given the industry’s parlous state.

I can understand why this serves the purposes of the licensees, but it does not serve the interests of the communities they’ve been licensed to serve.

Consider this radical alternative: insist that to hold a local broadcast license you have to produce local programming. Can’t make money doing that? Sell the license to someone who can. Enforce the conditions of the license and let the market do its magic. Keep or even reduce the limits on the number of stations a single owner can hold to lower the price even further and to keep ownership in the community.

Reducing the price of a local broadcast license would encourage innovation in programming and particularly in journalism at a time when the entire value chain of video production is under attack from smart suppliers.

Keeping the price of licenses high — particularly at the cost of reducing the amount of journalism created in the local community — only serves the current licensees, who’ve already had their payday. Maybe we can encourage them to cut their losses and put local stations back in the hand of local entrepreneurs.

Blogging done right

Like millions of Americans, I followed the presidential elections in my favorite blogs, but one source deserves special recognition.
Nate Silver’s published a running summary and projection of the myriad of national and state polls that was astonishing for its breadth and depth, but his projections based on the polls and their trends turned out to be uncannily correct.
Silver first emerged when he called both the direction and degree of the Indiana and North Carolina Democratic primaries — a narrow win for Clinton in Indiana and a whupping in North Carolina.
When everyone else, including the mainstream media, were touting the latest numbers from whoever in whatever state, Nate Silver’s site was one of the few places you could get a clear, concise consensus forecast that didn’t vary wildly from one day to the next.
Silver’s not exactly an amateur. He’s a professional baseball forecaster. But he delivered intelligent and prescient forecasts of surpassing quality for free on his blog.
Now that’s mainstream media we can believe in, my friends.
You betcha.
Originally published on my blog at JupiterResearch.

I'm not a PC…

…nor am I a Mac.
Microsoft’s new “I’m a PC” ads are very postmodern, as they deal with the subtext of Apple’s advertising (PC users are nerds*) but not the explicit message (Macs are easier to use, Macs are easier to set up, Macs are easier to interface, Macs are less likely to get a virus, Macs come with a lot of great software that you know you want, Macs are less likely to need a reboot, it’s easier to move your stuff to a Mac than to a new PC, Vista is making life difficult for millions of Windows customers…).
The audience seems to be wavering PC users with self-esteem issues**. But why isn’t Microsoft pitching the benefits of Vista vs. Mac?
I keep wondering if the real audience for these ads isn’t internal.
* This is demonstrably false. The real nerds are all using Macs and Linux.
** Guys like Milhouse Van Houten, who said, “I’m not a nerd. Nerds are smart.”
Originally published on my blog at JupiterResearch.