Category Archives: money-making media

NYT settles it: ad-supported content wins

tn_megaphone.jpg If the nation’s newspaper of record can’t enforce charges, who can?

The New York Times has ended its two-year experiment in attempting to charge for some web content, explaining in an article  that the $10 million it earned in annual subscrition revenues paled alongside the potetential for advertising.  The article said:

“In addition to opening the entire site to all readers, The Times will also make available its archives from 1987 to the present without charge, as well as those from 1851 to 1922, which are in the public domain. There will be charges for some material from the period 1923 to 1986, and some will be free.”

I hope this act silences once and for all the King Canutes of Content who, like that ancient Danish king who failed to stop the tides, believe that it is somehow within the power of information media to charge for their wares. I am thinking in particular of my good but misguided friend David Lazarus, whose wrong-headedness in this regard I never publicly criticized whilst he was my colleague at the largest newspaper in Northern California. However insofar as David recently transferred his byline to Smog Town, I delight in reprising the March 14 column in which he writes:

“It’s time for newspapers to stop giving away the store. We as an industry need to start charging for — or at the very least controlling — use of our products online. “

 Of course it’s not time, not unless we forget how the mass audience newspaper was born about a century ago when the rapid offset press allowed the press barons of that era, notably Pulitzer and Hearst, to drop the price of the paper to the penny that the urban worker could afford. So nowadays information and entertainment increasingly flow through the web — the most efficient mechanism for price comparison yet invented – the price of mass consumption content must  reach zero.

So I hope the Times argument settles the “to charge or not to charge” debate so we can begin wondering if, in a winner take all world, will the serious news producers be limited to a big three situation, like steel, autos, computers or other mature market; and if so what this will portend for the breadth of coverage and the fate of the lesser news outlets.

Are these the good old days of communications?

tn_help-wanted.jpg Is the hiring sign lit at communications firms? Today I take a second look at a report from the market research firm Veronis Suhler Stevenson (VSS) that focuses on the growth expected within the industry’s four main segments: advertising, marketing, consumer (media) and institutional (media).

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about the same report but from a macroeconomic view that lamented its prediction that ”Communications will be the third fastest growing of the 15 economic sectors during period from 2007 through 2011, trailing only the agriculture, forestry & fishing and federal sectors.” I see this as evidence of a cheese whiz economy – lots of empty dollars that produce fewer jobs than manufacturing, professional services or better-paying employment sectors.

But today I want to look back at the Veronis Suhler Stevenson report solely from the jobs standpoint. I will be talking to college journalism students soon and I’d like some sense of their career options — separate from the pessimism that I feel as someone who has recently said goodbye to one out of every four of my colleagues at the San Francisco Chronicle.

Again, here is the free summary of what you must realize is a costly report that VSS sells to its media clients. Highlights include:

“For the first time since 1997, consumers spent less time with media in 2006 than they did the previous year, as media usage per person declined 0.5 percent”

Commentary: Makes sense. Time is now the limiting factor on how much media consumers can receive. I don’t have the ability to easily consider all the employment ramifications of this (if consumer media use flattens does this back up into movie and music industry employment). But the figure does presage more of the contraction we are already seeing in consumer media firms.  But if you are curious about the jobs outlook visit the Occupational Outlook Handbook produced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It gives outlooks and salaries for every occupation. I plugged in “reporters” and found:

“Employment of news analysts, reporters, and correspondents is expected to grow more slowly than average for all occupations through the year 2014.”

The BLS report also offers salaray projections and other tips for every profession including in this case advertising, marketing and public relations. According to the Bureau’s projections:

“Employment of advertising, marketing, promotions, public relations, and sales managers is expected to increase faster than the average for all occupations through 2014, spurred by intense domestic and global competition in products and services offered to consumers.”

Commentary: Makes sense. It may be disappointing to me but there you have it. Incidentally, the VSS report predicts that “Internet advertising is expected to become the largest ad segment in 2011, surpassing newspapers,” which should fuel all such spending and employment activities whatever happens to consumer media journalism.

Again none of this is surprising. But the report contained one novelty worth noting in this regard. For the first time VSS measured the media consumption time of what it called “institutional users” — which I take to be the corporarte folks so affectionately lampooned by the Dilbert cartoon strip. (I just read the bio of Dilbert creator Scott Adams in which he tells about his life as a corporate slug in his case for banks where he was “robbed twice at gunpoint.”)

First off VSS says this report provides its ”first-ever analysis of business and government media usage” which says from the start this is a trend so new these guys, who breath, eat, sleep and drink media only just noticed. The report says:

“While consumers spent less time with media in 2006, media usage by institutional end-users grew 3.2 percent to 260 hours per employee . . . Institutional media usage climbed at a CAGR of 3.3% in the 2001-2006 period, driven by the continued integration and increased use of online and digital platforms to enhance business performance and workflow. Institutional media usage will continue to grow from 2007 to 2011 . . .”

Commentary:  Of course! With the perfect benefit of hindsight this is so obvious. People now routinely go into work and fire up the old broadband news reader. Human relations folks are blasting the benefits booklets out onto the web. Training must proceed at a furious pace, and with globalization there must be attention to issues of cultural sensitivity, not to mention government mandates like sexual harassment policy. Think about the technical characteristics of markets like Internet engineering (but just before I was going to mention the magazines put out by Cisco Systems, I fortunately checked their website to find out that the magazines have been killed and their audience-service functions transferred to a series of web sites — a skills shift for info-workers but still I would think in keeping with the trend.)

 

Many thoughts forming around this new information but no time to think outloud now. By the way with the Labor Day weekend coming up I may flake out till Tuesday. See when I see you.

MediaPost editor’s lament on the metrics wars

tn_mandese.jpg Joe Mandese is editor-in-chief of MediaPost, a New York-based trade news outfit that covers the online content industry. The big argument in that field is how to measure the hits, unique visitors, click-through rates, time-spent per site — are you getting the idea that the dispute involves advertisers and publishers who are changing the formulas for who gets what share of the billions of dollars that are moving between media types.

Naturally this has roused media’s movers and shakers (aka ”Madison Avenue“) whose ox could get gored depending upon who counts what which way. In a humble yet humorous e-mail, Mandese explained how Madison Avenue, as the ad industry is often called, has grown annoyed with MediaPost articles that fail to grasp the enormity and complexity of the issues involved in audience measurement. (The e-mail was titled “Confessions of a Research Industry Journalist” and I’ll link to it if/when I can).

In that e-mail Mandese noted that his most articulate (or was that frequent?) critics included ”Tony Jarvis, the global head of research for Clear Channel Outdoor; and Gabe Samuels, the former research chief at the Advertising Research Foundation.” Mandese wrote:

“. . .  nary a research report goes by that I don’t receive some irate missive from Tony or Gabe about the shoddy nature of the industry press coverage – usually MediaPost’s . . .

Mandese also noted that:

“. . . online audience measurement, which theoretically should not be the subject of questionable practices, has become so. The Interactive Advertising Bureau has organized an industry task force to address that issue. The Advertising Research Foundation has formed one to take on the whole subject of online research methods. (engagement?)”

To find out more about Mandese, check out this brief video interview conducted by Max Kalehoff, who works for Nielsen BuzzMetrics by day and blogs at AttentionMax. The image above is taken from that video, which deals with the subject of engagement, which Mandese defines as teasing action out of a consumer as opposed to bombarding them with messages.

Say bye-bye to bylines for truth-in-advertising?

Surrender my byline? As a member of the working press I say, “Fat chance!”

But after reading ”Proposed: Death to Bylines“ by former Washington Post editor Craig Stoltz my inner cynic warmed to the idea that only “single-author blogs or opinion pieces” should be identified by name.

Think of it as a truth-in-advertising issue beginning with the definition of the news.

Mass media tend toward consensus. The bulk of the news is a stream of details and developments on familiar themes such as celebrity (Paris Hilton etcetera), disaster (coal mine, bridge collapse), crime or politics. To continue such a litany is no more authorship than offering play-by-play chatter during a football game. 

Mass media are corporate not merely in ownership but in production. Corporate means assembled from parts, in this case from wire copy, broadcast feeds, background research, phone/email comments, web searches, citizen media, etc. The person who assembles content in this scenario is no more an author than the fast food clerk is a chef. Mass media, especially newspapers, could maintain accountability by tagging stories with something like, “Inspected by number47,” to create a paper trail of who said what.

Besides, nowadays we have to wonder whether a particular piece of content is assembled by a person or team desirng recognition, or an egoless software filter.

Readers further the de-authorizing process by grazing rather than reading. There’s too much information. So we scan headlines the way the National Security Agency monitors calls and emails. It’s a form of signal intelligence that does not require deep knowledge of any topic, just a rough sense of the chatter.

Blogger Tom Foremski has a similar lament about the devaluation of writing: “One business story = $55 million.” 

OJR to editors: hug your in-house entrepreneurs

tn_robert-niles.jpg Robert Niles of Online Journalism Review has written another excellent article, this one aimed at corporate media managers ondering how to inject some Internet energy into print or broadcast newsrooms. In a piece titled, “Encourage Entreneurship,” he suggests five initiatives culled from various sources, my favorite being:

“Here’s where you encourage staffers to try something new: Reward ‘em if they deliver. And not just with a “good going!” in their job reviews. Track ad impressions by project (using your internal ad tracking or Google/Yahoo solution, above), and pay staffers a cut of the revenue that their online projects generate. (At least 50 percent, in my opinion.)”

Hey, a reporter can hope!

Bloggers’ dilemma: how to get health plan, pay?

tn_money_tree5.jpg Blogging is supposed to be a conversation, right? So perhaps I stumbled, mouth-first, into a topic that concerns all who write regularly for what. . .  the glory, the exposure, the mission, call it whatever so long as we agree that, for the time being, we don’t write for pay.

Of course that isn’t by choice since none of the bloggers I’ve ever encountered, on- or off-line, are indpendently wealthy. In fact whenever two or three of us gather in one place the conversation turns to getting paid, or getting a health plan (good luck if you’re self-employed!).

Health coverage was an issue that came up when I met search industry consultant Greg (Screenwerk) Sterling for coffee one morning at my favorite locally-owned watering hole. Greg subsequently sent me a link to a discussion on TechCrunch about efforts to unionize bloggers.

I referenced that article in a subsequent posting that advanced my own long-held belief that producer cooperatives, like those created by farmers a century ago, were the best economic unit for disaggregated freelancers – which is how corporate media and Internet starups view us when they talk about “user-generated content.”

One reference in that posting – that bloggers and freelancers could begin to increase their bargaining power simply by listing how much they get paid – elicted this comment from media blogger Howard Owens:

“If freelancers in the US started posting their pay rates, wouldn’t that run afoul of anti-trust laws?”

Poynter commentator Tish Grier wrote two lengthy and instructive comments that I want to excerpt and highlight here, lest her remarks be overlooked:

“One of the things that bloggers can do to help and support one another is to not give free content (as in blog posts or short articles) to mulit-million dollar publishing concerns. Recently, I’ve been approached by a number of outlets asking me to ‘contribute’ something to their online efforts in exchange for ‘traffic’–which is kind of like when old small presses would pay in copies. Often, these concerns also ask for all rights on the free content, that can also be re-published whenever they want . . .

“Actually, it’s easier to find info on freelancer rates than on problogger rates. The ASJA and several writers’ unions offer services that help track freelance rates, as a way of making sure all writers aren’t getting low-balled for their work . . . With bloggers, however, it’s difficult to figure out what the correct, or what a reasonable, rate should be. Problogger lists a number of blogging jobs, with varying rates. One I looked at offered $100 a month for 3 posts a week. Marshall Kirkpatrick blogged today about introducing bloggers he knows to businesses that are looking for bloggers. And suggested that probloggers be paid between $5K and $8K a month . . .”

There’s a bit more from Tish in the comments section of my Unite Differently post but I thought these the most generally useful nuggets. If you have more money-making tips or tricks, please do share and I’ll recirculate them as best I can.

Art Blossom says: minizines not easy money-makers

 

In the other part of my writing life, where I pound out words for pay (may this munificence never cease!) one of my coolest sources was Charlotte Yee who, until very recently was an economist with the Bureau of Labor Statistics who had helped me understand the unemployment rate, inflation and other statistics gathered by the BLS (which is dollar-for-dollar in my book one of the most useful agencies in the federal government and a great source for both data and  insight on the U.S. economy).

Not long ago, however, she traded spreadsheet for paint brush and the income security of civil service for the thrill of a startup – The Art Blossom, a web site through which she will explore how to turn those lovely drawings our children do in grade school into some sort of permanent keepsake, as both a memento and school fundraiser.

In any event, ArtBlossom, as I shall hereinafter call her, started looking through the MiniMediaGuy archives for production tips and found an entry in which I suggested that, rather than seek to extract all their from online advertising, grassroots media startups consider publishing some of their material in print and then seek ad support for this print manifestation of their online wares. I dubbed these “minizines” (other terms used in this regard include “reverse publishing.”)

ArtBlossom looked into the practicality of this technique in the San Francisco Bay Area, and after some initial excitement, sent me this more sanguine note in which she wrote:

“After doing some research into your idea about minizines, I’m going to have to take back my assessment that it’s an idea whose time has come.  I think one obstacle is print design and technology, another obstacle is motivation.  Most bloggers use prepackaged software like WordPress.  They’re not necessarily technically savvy, but have ideas and are willing to write about their passion.  Even among those who may be good with photo editing, they still aren’t skilled with the 4-color CMYK standard needed for sending copy to press.  Using professional print technology also requires expensive software – photo editing software only uses RGB additive color.  Graphic designers aren’t cheap, so that just adds another level of cost to publishing the magazine.

“Then, there’s the issue of control.  Bloggers and hobbyists blog because they enjoy the control.  They write what they want and don’t have editors looking over their shoulders.  It’s not work; it’s recreation.  Producing a magazine may give bloggers or hobbyists money, but strangely enough, they really don’t want to work hard to get it, nor do they want to cede creative control over to a graphics specialist.

“Finally, there’s the part about attracting advertisers.  Looking for businesses is also work.  The first few iterations of this minizine would be met with skepticism from advertisers.  Many, like me, would ask for steep discounts.  In addition, business owners are also not graphics specialists, and may need technical assistance.  This would have to be handled by the contracted design firm.”

First off, let me thank ArtBlossom for paying attention to this idea and for looking so deeply into the details to reveal the many problems of execution. That being said I think ArtBlossom has identified a series of market opportunities — some of which may have already been solved by vendors who understand that once millions of people create ephemera in cyberspace they are going to demand sharable memorabilia and easy tools to get them.

 So I’m putting this out there in the hopes that it will be seen by someone who has solved some  or all of these difficulties, and can offer some insights.