Category Archives: money-making media

Comic slights blog to flog restaurant empire!

tn_dilbert-cat.jpg (photo from Contra Costa Times)

Is Dilbert creator Scott Adams under evil influence of office cat?

Last week I wrote about two prominent online publishers (twins separated at birth) who had throttled back their new media their activities because they were money-losers.  One of these was Dilbert cartoon strip creator Scott Adams* who had written in own blog posting titled, “Going Forward:”

“It’s hard to tell the family I can’t spend time with them because I need to create free content on the Internet that will lower our income.”

After writing that post, however, I found a newspaper article in which reporter Susan Young reveals that Adams has his hands full running two restaurants. She writes:

“A decade ago . . . Adams was flush with Dilbert dough and looking to invest. A waitress at his favorite eatery had a dream of opening her own restaurant, and Stacey’s in Pleasanton was born . . . in July. His restaurant partner Stacey Belkin was overwhelmed with running two restaurants so she handed over management of the Waterford location to Adams.”

Finally the truth! Adams sacrificed the free amusement that thousands derived from his blog not to feed suburbanites who probably need to miss a meal or two.

This newspaper article reveals Scott Adams as a man who would rather spend time with his new family (if you click on the link in the above photo, it will lead to a slide show of him and his brood) or overseeing his restaurant empire than continue the uncompensated humor on which his blog readers had come to depend. (Here’s a thought: is there an equivalent concept in intellectual property law to “adverse possession” in real property law; adverse possession is squatters law; if you squat long enough on a property owned by someome else, you can lay legal claim to it; is there a legal theory under which browsers who have become accustomed to free entertainment through Adams’ blog might compel him to continue being funny on the Web?)

While legal minds wrestle with that I look for some rational explanation for Adams’ abandonment of his blog fans and in the photo above I see it. Note the black cat. Now think about what we know of his comic strip. It has human characters. It has dog characters. It has rat characters. But it has no cat characters!

Put it all together and it’s obvious: the cat in control! Scott Adams is in thrall to a black cat who has long directed both his cartoonist’s pen and now his blogger’s keypad. Now this feline intellect has ordered Adams to focus on his restaurant. Why? It probably has something to do with dust, as will no doubt become clear to millions of Americans later this week with the opening of the movie, Golden Compass.

 But never you mind. As one of the last free bloggers I plan to remain alert — because, as we all know, the blogosphere needs more lerts.

* * *

* The other publisher, Steve Outing, who had shut down several outdoor sports Enthusiast sites, thought it “odd” that I considered his entrepreneurial undertaking comparable to Adams’ blog – which is the kindest possible way to have characterized such a remark.

Niche sites striking content deals with portals?

Paid Content’s David Kaplan says specialized bloggers and aggregators are creating syndication deals with content-starved portals like MSN, AOL and Yahoo (but not Google?). It’s an interesting piece. Here’s a snip:

“Not too long ago, small time content sites would have been happy for just brief attention from major portals. But now, the drive to deliver more varied content has led to syndication and ad-sharing deals that rarely demand exclusivity on the part of largely unknown providers.”

Kaplan summarizes a Nov. 12 article by WSJ reporter Emily Steel titled, “Portals think small for latest news. (Here is a link; the article was in the clear when I read it this morning but I’m not sure it stays visible.)

Here are a few thoughts from the WSJ article: the “poster child” for the niche site with portal deals is ” Minyanville.com . . . an obscure provider of financial news.” The Journal said other content providers with similar deals includes, “financial sites such as Seeking Alpha and the Simple Dollar, real-estate site Zillow and celebrity photo site X17online.”

The Journal says:

“Big Internet companies such as MSN and Yahoo have small teams whose job it is to “discover” these smaller sites before their competition does. They scan the Web, attend industry conferences and hobnob with start-ups to get names of talented but obscure content providers.”

The Journal names some of these content-buyers: Marty Moe, vice president and general manager for AOL Money & Finance and Mark Interrante, general manager of Yahoo Finance. One other encouraging note for niche publishers looking for a syndication deal. The Journal says:

“In the past, the big Internet companies traditionally demanded some window of exclusivity with smaller content providers. Today, the big sites will often not only give the smaller sites a portion of the ad revenue but also allow them to work with other companies. “The notion of exclusivity is gone,” says David Liu, a senior vice president at Time Warner’s AOL unit.”

Why content is the tin cup of the professions

 On the Internet, no one knows you’re a professional, nor cares enough to pay 

Internet analyst Henry Blodgett wrote an op-ed piece that was courageously printed by the New York Times in August. In that article, Blodgett assumed that the Times converted entirely to digital distribution, losing most of the 90 percent of revenues it currrently earns from print. He reduced expenses to a lesser extent, then boosted online income but not by much because content on the Net is plentifully cheap. His conclusion was summed up in his title, “Running the Numbers: Why Newspapers Are Screwed.”

More recently, Henry Copeland, founder of the Blogads network, made two utterances that were noted by reporter David Kaplan in an article published by the industry e-zine Paid Content:

 ”only “dozens” of the 1,500 sites he (Copeland) works with can can sustain their sites solely with ad revenues. Then, he said that the only blogs that attract significant brand advertising are those that can keep the ads separate from comments, which tend to make marketers uneasy with their unpredictability.” (emphasis added)

So big content and little content are both screwed by the Web. It is so easy to publish and aggregate content that few brands, not even those as powerful as the New York Times, can command a premium on the Web as evidenced by the Times’ decision to quit charging for access.

Last May the BBC summarized a global study of attitudes about news sources that said in part:

“The most trusted media outlets around the world were large global news organisations such as the BBC or CNN.  Internationally, 48% said they trusted the BBC, while 44% backed CNN. Younger web brands were also shown to have won significant public trust: Google (30%), Yahoo! (28%) and Microsoft/MSN (27%). “

Google, which employs no journalists, has become in a little over a decade the world’s third most trusted brand for news! McLuhan said the medium is the message and when it comes to content the message of the Web is clear: you can find it all here; it’s all the same and it’s all worth about what you paid for it,  which is nothing, so feel free to heed or disdain this item before you click to whatever strikes your fancy next.

So not only are newspapers screwed but content in general is screwed. This is remarkable considering that most of the time people spend online revolves around content. Or so says Pam Horan, president of the Online Publishers Association, in summarizing the most recent in a series of surveys conducted by Nielsen//NetRatings of the time-per-month spent on the Web’s four key activities, Content, Communications, Commerce and Search.  In a MediaPost article Horan writes:

“In the last four years, the share of time devoted to viewing Content online has experienced the greatest growth, increasing from 34% to 47% of time spent, outpacing all other activities. ”

So why doesn’t content feel the love?

Oct. 15 deadline for $5 million for local media

 Knight 21st Century News Challenge (info)

There’s nothing like a deadline to focus the mind and as I sit down this Saturday morning to put in my bid for a piece of this pie, let me pass on one last reminder from  Knight Foundation communications director Marc Fest:

“The Knight News Challenge contest awards $5 million for innovative media ideas, however the October 15 application deadline is quickly approaching. The streamlined application takes less than 20 minutes. Anybody worldwide has a chance to win. For more information and to apply visit www.newschallenge.org.”

Be sure to read the rules. This opportunuty is wide open to individuals, non-profits and even startups that one day hope to make profit. The catch: when these guys say they want to fund local media innovations they mean it. So think locally, act digitally.

Good luck to us all!

Big media accelerate big mergers, especially online

Paid Content summarizes a report from media bankhaus Jordan, Edmiston Group that puts (press release) the dollar value of mergers at $95 billion during Q3 2007, more than double the $45 billion total during the same period a year ago. This report includes recent mega-deals, such as “Thomson’s (NYSE: TOC) $18 billion acquisition of Reuters (NSDQ: RTRSY)” and “News Corp.’s (NYSE: NWS) $5.6 billion planned buyout of Dow Jones (NYSE: DJ)”.

Deal activity remains bullish in sectors, notably online, bearish in others, notably business-to-business and newspapers. Says Paid Content:  ”Private equity weakness contributed to the slowdown in traditional media deals that will likely persist if credit market conditions remain weak.”

 

A business model for newspaper journalism?

A friend sent me ”Can the Washington Post Survive?” a Fortune article by Marc Gunther. In it he describes Donald Graham’s mission to save his family’s legacy. It’s a well worth reading at least by newspaper aficionados (here is part one and part two.) Gunther flatters his subject, saying:

“If Graham and his people can’t build a business model for journalism in the digital world, nobody can  . . . Since the mid-1990s, the Post has plowed many millions of dollars into its interactive unit . . . Graham has made the paper’s digital business his uppermost priority. “If Internet advertising revenues don’t continue to grow fast,” he says, “I think the future of the newspaper business will be very challenging. The Web site simply has to come through.”

But Gunther reveals the challenge facing the Post and, by extension, other print papers:

“Advertisers paid about $573 million last year to reach readers of the company’s newspapers, predominantly the 673,900 daily and 937,700 Sunday subscribers to the Post. Advertisers paid only about $103 million to reach the eight million unique visitors to the Post‘s Web sites each month.”

Regarding the finances of the Washington Post corporation, Gunther said:

“Graham’s singular accomplishment as CEO has been to reduce the company’s exposure to print. In 1990 the Post Co.’s newspaper division contributed 48 percent of revenues and 51 percent of operating income; last year newspapers accounted for 25 percent of revenues and 14 percent of operating income  . . . Graham’s best move has been to invest in the sprawling array of education businesses – a test-prep firm, colleges, an online university and professional training businesses – that make up the Kaplan unit. It contributed 43 percent of the Post Co.’s $3.9 billion in revenues in 2006.”

So the smartest guy in online news is buttering his bread in the college preparation business.

Meanwhile journalists should pay attention to the Post, which seems to be tranforming itself as rapidly as possible from a newspaper into a newsgathering operation. The article describes how Post reporters regularly produce versions of the same story for different media, print still being their first but not only storytelling tool.

This last point rings true because a few weeks ago I heard much the same from Post editor Rob Curley, one of the new gurus of newspaper interactivity. Curley gave a talk at the SF Chronicle, where I work, and said: The Post is the most converged newsroom I’ve ever seen, or words to that effect. Even if you discount for the fact that they pay him to say stuff like that, he had some great stories to tell and some great examples to show. I blogged about his editorial thinking as MiniMediaGuy and his hyperlocal startup for the Chronicle Tech Blog.

One of the Washington Post multimedia experiments that Curley showed off, a slice of life video series called On Being, just won a Knight-Batten award for journalism innovation.

CityTools: phenomenal promise . . . but of what?

tn_cauthorn.jpg  ”To peel back newspapers to their essential core , , , creating marketplaces”

Bob Cauthorn is a guy with a history in newspapering, opinionated and abrasive (here’s a taste) – and I say this having worked with Bob and indeed having sparred with Bob, only to come away impressed by his passion, intelligence and committment to what was once called interactive journalism but is now social media or citizen journalism depending on the context.

Online Journalism Review recenty interviewed Cauthorn about his newly launched  CityTools, which OJR editor Robert Niles described as “a social media framework for publishing news articles, lists and classified advertisements,” adding that ”Cauthorn demo’d . . .  a platform that serves both newspapers as well as independent and individual publishers.”

I smiled as I heard Bob’s voice behind words like these:

“After I left The [San Francisco] Chronicle, I went backpacking along the Pacific Crest Trail and did a lot of thinking about the state of journalism and online newspapers . . .  I decided, on a very cold night in the Sierras, to peel back newspapers to their essential core. You know? And part of that essential core has been creating marketplaces.”

Exactly how? Well, it takes OJR’s Niles more than three paragraphs to distill the site’s promised activities, including simultaneous support for multiple languages. “Speak English, Spanish… and Swedish?,” Niles writes, “CityTools will let you read, create, order and distribute content in all three, at once.”

I visited the CityTools site to get a sense of how it presented and, sadly, I came away confused. I am not sure who is supposed to do what. From a long menu on the left I clicked on the entry for how-to and landed on another page with far too many choices starting with, ”The detailed 15-minute HowTo.”

I’m sorry, but in our Attention Economy time is in short supply. New habits and even new tools must be intuitive and viral. We have to know what it’s going to do for us before we pick it up. That puts a premium on simplicty and punishes complexity. CityTools, which is awfully powerful but powerfully intimidating, is on the wrong side of that trend.

And despite Bob’s professed and no doubt sincere desire to create a marketplace of ideas, I am fascinated that neither he nor Niles used the words “money” or “cash” or “revenues” in their discussion. What kind of market can exist without them?

I say this as a sympathetic, if critical observer, because I sense an incredible power in CityTools. I registered with the system and was impressed by the smoothness of the process. I felt like I’d put my hand on a purring race car. Trouble is, now I don’t know how to drive it.

So let me pose a few suggestions or questions that might be helpful in focusing the sales message for what I sense could be an important tool – a breakthrough tool perhaps. Here goes:

 – Less vision and more substance about who should buy CityTools and get what payback how soon.

– Are there case studies of the tool in use?

– Is this a system that can be adopted by the freelancer or a startup or is this a big-outfit system?  And if both, how does an organization deal with those vastly different customer needs?

– Is this a proprietary or open source toolkit? I am guessing proprietary. If so that is a strike against CityTools. Open systems can innovate and improve faster and at less cost; open systems can proliferate faster by giving buyers options; even if the core toolkit must be held close, there should be some open source element to encourage experimentation and adoption; 

– Finally, why would the news consumer adopt this? What is the viral uptake method to show the next person why they should use this, and to train them or to hold their hand as they acquire whatever skill or habit is necessary to realize the benefit?

Questions, questions, questions, but I hope taken in the spirit asked — fascination and interest, and a belief that Bob may have come up with a powerful something here . . .  if he takes another deep breath and explains how this will help media producers make money, get famous or attain power, which are the prime motivations for doing anything in media.