'Brain Dumps Float All Boats'

My friend and mentor Vin Crosbie, a digital media consultant, writes those amusing words over at his blog explaining why he is bothering to do a "brain dump" and tell the world what he thinks even though he's a consultant and could presumably charge for the knowledge. And his knowledge on this day goes to how newspapers can double their digital revenue percentage from 5% to 10%: by cutting their print intake in half. Ouch.

Vin's preparing an essay that's turned into a 20,000 word "treatise" on the state of the newspaper industry. Notwistanding my previous post, I think he'll say something that's a little bit more glum than the E&P article saying print isn't dead.

OK, Print's Not Dead -- But What're the Financials

E&P does a looooong piece expounding on the multiple launches of free print dailies. It's true, there are lots. I'm sure I'm not the only one who's wondered why average folk (as opposed to media junkies) would buy a tabloid when they're handed one or two of them for free as they board the Metro or subway or El or underground.

So, yes, it's a time of foment and ferment and it's kind of exciting to watch the dailies sprout and the big newspapers try to eat their own lunch with free dailies before it's eaten for them.

But the Editor and Publisher story doesn't address the economics in any meaningful way. What timelines are these papers on? What are their metrics for financial success? How many ads do they need to sustain their operations? Can an individual daily hope to compete with a multi-city player like Metro? Can Metro compete with more localized publications like Newsday's AM-NY? (Can Newsday continue to sustain AM-NY without the Newsday infrastructure behind it?)

And what of the Web? The economics there are just as stark as for paid pubs. Ads just don't command the same rates, and the push to heavier apps -- video, Flash, etc. -- is costing more money per user. E&P, if you get this, would like a little more info from the "P" side of your name.

Future of Business Media Conference

I'll be helping Rafat Ali and Staci Kramer of ContentNext, parent of PaidContent.org and other blog dynamos, program the Future of Business Media conference Oct. 30 in New York. It's all about the turmoil and change in business-oriented media (Dow Jones, Rupert Murdoch, Fox's new business channel, business blogs, Yahoo Finance and Google Finance, etc, etc), the ventures and deals, the ad models, tech business media, and more. Consumer and B2B. Some big names lined up already (it's on the conference site), and we'll try to get the best info we can from everyone.

I'd expect there'll also be a fair amount of interesting info and conversation coming not just from the stages and the sessions, but also in hallways at the Waldorf Astoria hotel, where it's being held.

Congdon Mainstreams Herself (to Oblivion?)

Amanda Congdon's "schtick" at RocketBoom was fun and offbeat and made you feel like you'd "discovered" her even if you were the 275,000th person to have viewed her video. Moving to ABC News, and then becoming a spokesperson for DuPont and American Express she's becoming, to my eye, just another "talent." She may do well. But what's different or original? Does she have a sustainable "brand"? How long can she last as someone doing the typical loud-voiced, mic-in-hand schilling for paying customers with no real personality or verve or anything that's uniquely her?

And this doesn't even confront the ethical issues Jeff Jarvis and Radar have explored, of being a journalist and a schill at the same time.

Twitter Is, Isn't, Funding. Spam

The real power of Twitter, it seems, is not that it lets us tell everyone when we're going to pick up the groceries or what happens to be on our minds at some random moment, but rather that it's an application that easily, and mobile-ly, hooks up to everything else. Many of the Twitter applications touted as top ones are mashups that either let us Twitter ourselves with useful info -- say inform our Calendar or iGoogle page of something we dont want to forget -- or have us sent things we want on the go, such as BBC headlines. I suppose the application possibilities are the reason they just got money from Union Square Ventures, even if Union Square says they don't see what the business model is, yet.

One other possibility I see when we get fancier about mapping and remapping and re-configuring data, in multiple dimensions and with overlays and semantic parsing: We'll see not just the most popular "twits" but also get a real cloud-formed look at what our zeitgeist is, where our consciousness is going that may be richer than any Yahoo "buzz index". (It's kind of a 21st-Century Megatrends that's a more real read of society than indexing newspaper headlines can ever be, because it indexes real-time data from lots and lots of people -- even if the sample is skewed toward whatever demographic or type would use the technology and share on it.)

This is all predicated, of course, on the assumption that those trying to Twitter with automated twits, and so on, will not end up killing the system by overloading it with spam.

Search Changes Will Rock the Content World

At the iBreakfast this morning in New York focused on search – where it's going and what's different. Stephen Arnold a researching consultant and analyst who seems to spend a lot of this time following Google, especially its patents and technologies, said that Google will change the way it indexes over the next 18 months and those who don't follow what it demands will be left in the cold.

Gone, he said, will be the days of typical search engine optimization via not only key words but also headlines, image tags and so on, and instead will be a requirement that you feed .xml into the Google algorithm in a way it demands. Wil Reynolds of ThinkSEER seemed more firmly rooted in the present but said something we should know: If you do what you're supposed to, make your page as relevant as possible to your core audience, you'll get better results. It's spoofing and faking and all that that will get you into trouble. Whatever hold you find in the search engine capability will eventually get plugged, and you'll be bumped waaaay to the bottom of results.

Was also an intriguing presentation from a company called Hakia doing "semantic search" -- which they claim is much more intelligent and natural than the indexing methods of Google, Yahoo, Ask and others. More on them next week.

Heavy, Medium and Light Users

Comscore will be measuring "heavy, medium, and light" users separately, which means we'll get a better read of data than an average where one or the other extreme of user can skew the average.

Hard to see how this can be a bad thing. Not sure that's true of Nielsen's move to go to "time spent on site" though objections over people keeping browsers open for hours without viewing will be taken care of. For example, they can stop counting (and already do) if a page has been open for more than an hour, and say they'll also soon only count whatever page is on top. So if you hide something, or minimize it, it's not counted as being consumed.

Joost Hits 1 Million. "Big Whoop"?

Henry Blodget's new AlleyInsider (in Beta!) hits it just right on Joost. I'd been quietly ashamed of having downloaded the application on few computers, watched the captivating videos a few times, then moving on to other things without revisiting very much. I, and most people, end up watching a lot more video that doesn't take over my screen, and does allow me to do other things, share it, comment, etc. I don't -- unless I'm watching a Sopranos DVD or an episode from iTunes of Studio 60 like video that takes over my screen (and even then, I can shrink the video to do something else if I'd like).

AlleyInsider, which Rafat Ali of PaidContent (for whom I'm helping put together an October conference) turned me on to yesterday, questions what the 1 million user number really means (what DOES it mean in a world where rapid scaling brings usership to 10 times that in no time?) and whether anything that's really more of a marketing want than a user desire will be popular.

This is the classic dilemma for publishers and content producers: balancing the desire for control vs. the need to have uptake. Either you've got to produce content that's SO great that people will forge through a lot to get it – pay for a movie ticket, buy a DVD, put up with difficult technology – OR make it easy to see and share it in multiple ways in multiple places, let the users be your distributors and PR mouthpieces.

Most content falls in between. It's good stuff a lot of people want to see, but not so much that they'll pay a lot or fight through barriers. At the same time, publishers don't want to give up complete control of something that has value. I recommend giving up some control. But that's another story.

What If Cable Followed Satellite (Radio) Pricing Plan?

Imagine if cable TV followed the new plan by satellite radio to allow a la carte pricing? How much would that shake things up?

Shelly Palmer Comes to His Senses

I wrote a couple weeks ago about the iPhone, giving NY Emmy chief Shelly Palmer a ribbing for being so in love with his iPhone. I noted that my old HP device is more functional on multiple levels. Shelly today acknowledges that the device isn't all that great for biz: poor network, no search, bad speakerphone, no email threading, and on and on. It is, he writes,, an ancestor of what he hopes will be the best thing out there.

I'm still waiting for my Sony Jogman Mini-Microwave Thermonuclear Reactor. (The very few of you who may have read my op eds in The Stanford Daily 1,000 years ago will remember that joke.) Or at least a device that does lots of great stuff without tons of limitations.

From Digital News to Tabletop Printout

Grabbed a cup of coffee today at a Manhattan supermarket. This printout of Yahoo's news page was under the table's glass. How's that for new media to old? ('Course, would be even more interesting to have the tabletop be an interactive, live version…). Sorry about the photo. Cameraphone, y'know.

mediabistro.com Sold to Jupiter Media

And a hearty congratulations to Laurel Touby (my former boss) on the news of selling mediabistro.com for $20 million cash plus another possible $3 million over the next couple years, to Jupiter Media.

Barriers to Entry

Barriers to entry in the new media 'verse:

- Inability to type
- Inability to use a camera (video cam)
- Lack of access to technology

though, on that last one, I was quite happily surprised today when my daughter told me that all the kids in her theater class of about 40 kids ages 10-11, many of whom seem to be poverty level (it's a full scholarship program), have Internet access at home. Teacher assigned them all to watch tap dancing videos on YouTube. They all are able, daughter said.

Content and Distribution: A Royal Couple

David Carr in the NY Times today sardonically points out the panel at Sun Valley titled "Content is King," and writes "Oh, really?" But content alone is not king. You also need distribution, along with the ability to get the word out (call it marketing, communication, PR, what-have-you). The ability to distribute is much more favorable than it's ever been for the small-time content producer. Jason Calacanis a little while back said someone who blogs a few hours a day for three-four years and doesn't make it has something wrong with their content. In other words, distribution will take care of itself.

Today Rafat Ali on PaidContent.org (disclosure: I'm working with him on his Oct. 30 conference on the Future of Business Media) reveals results of a survey of his users. One stat (other than that eight percent are from the Middle East) jumped out: a plurality of PaidContent consumers, 42 percent, get their fix via email. Next is the website at 34 percent and RSS at 19 percent. Email, to a controlled list. That's about as controlled distribution as there is. And that's the kind of audience an advertiser will love, especially if the emails get opened – in other words, the content is good enough. Content and distribution: A powerful royal couple.

Says Pogue (sorry meant "Carr" -- had Pogue on the brain after watching his hilarious iPhone videos on NYTimes.com), Sony's Howard Stringer "seemed resigned to the notion that the hierarchy of the media could be turned on its head" and that the new media structure with enabling devices like Slingbox pose "a threat on all fronts to the people who own the pipes and what goes through them." Sure, but that doesn't mean a shift to consumers, necessarily. It just shifts power to the new distributors. And government, of course -- they can regulate anything into or out of existence.

Radio Disrupted

Amid all the media disrupted by digital technology, radio seems to get the least notice. But a panel yesterday morning for Bill Sobel's New York Media Information Exchange Group showed the upheaval. Already under assault from consolidation, radio broadcasters find their bread & butter-- news, information, traffic and weather -- nibbled away by an on-demand digital universe of Web, mobile and even phone reports.

The smart radio folks realize the Internet is simply an extension, and a way to solidify the communities they've created. Joel Smernoff of Paltalk told of video chat rooms that let Opie & Anthony fans not only interact with and see each other, but that have also led to meat-space meetups. How's that for creating 'brand loyalty'?

Meanwhile, moderator and radio personality Paul Harris of St. Louis station KMOX lamented the competition and fragmentation the Internet brings. NPR's Ira Flatow said he was looking for sponsors for his Science Friday podcasts.

And consultant Denise Oliver sounded the death knell for radio by noting that young people no longer need to "listen to radio to find out what's popular," as they did when she was in her teens more than 20 years ago.

Shelly Palmer, in his column today for Jack Myers Media Business Report (where I also write), writes about the panel and says radio will be profitable "as long as they keep putting AM/FM radios in cars and as long as people have to drive to and from work."

But then he points out that the day when it's wireless Internet connection that goes into cars (connected perhaps to WiMax) isn't too far off. "The propagation of RF signals in the AM and FM bands will die. What will replace it? Nothing. Consumers will have alternative means of consuming the very same content on, what they perceive to be, very similar devices," he writes. I agree.

It also will bring a change in programming as niches get deepened and broadened, and every program gains national and international reach.

Addendum: The whole discussion struck me as oddly "old media," in many ways. I have trouble thinking in one medium. To have panels about "radio" or "TV" or "newspapers" seems archaic, perhaps arcane in a world when a simple blog has all three. OK, a "blog", this blog, is a medium. But it's got text, video, audio, links, photos, widgets, ads, and more. I have created video, Podcasts & Flash applications. To compete today, you need to be conversant in all of it, I believe.

Revenue from Widgets

Yesterday, at WidgetCon , there wasn't agreement on what a widget is (Must it be a distributed application, or can it reside on a desktop? Must it be fully interactive, and forwardable?). But a common strain was that publishers are struggling to find revenue models that work even as marketers struggle to figure out the new technology.

There was lots of talk about how typical reach and frequency measures don't work.

"With traditional media, whether you're buying a piece of print or a homepage takeover on MySpace or whatever it is, it's very static, it's somewhat linear, it's got a beginning, and you buy an audience you buy impressions," said Chad Stoller, Executive Director, Emerging Platforms, for Organic.

"I don't envy the position of a sort of junior media buyer who has to figure out how to force fit [a widget] into a flow chart or into an I/O," he said. "It doesn't have an explicit end to it, it doesn't have a specific beginning to it. It just grows like a weed, and marketers aren't used to having things that are undefined and that are very blurry and aren't entirely accountable."

Some, though, are trying to fit widgets into typical ad models. Widgetbox CEO Ed Anuff proudly showed off a suite of Forbes.com widgets with ads embedded that both partners announced Tuesday. Anuff said the ads were not only dynamically generated, but also tracked through ad servers.

And along with the ads, there was discussion about tracking. As the prominence of the pageview is lessened in favor of "user engagement," Web traffic trackers like Nielsen/NetRatings and comScore have been looking for other means to take applications like widgets into account. ComScore, which was at the conference, began compiling widget data this spring, and today privately shared information that showed widgets are exploding, growing from 170 million views in April to 220 million in May. In May, comScore says, there were 80.8 million widget viewers in the U.S., and widgets they reached 45.5 percent of Web users.

Making Widgets Work

Attended WidgetCon today, said to be the first-ever conference devoted solely to Web widgets. Was fun to see Steve Rubel (above) show a picture of a T-shirt that said "Every time you say Web 3.0 a startup dies :( ", and also fun to ask him what he thought about whether PC mag should have widgets. (He graciously laughed, and then said they do well with that kind of technology but need to be more open, more of a vertical portal, showing others' relevant content, too.) He also gave tips for what widgets, or distributed content, has to be in this day and age, including open, shared, fitting into any platform or device users want, and so on. Pretty standard. More guidance here, and on widgets for the Nokia cellphone. Also on new Web page-making WYSIWIG technology from Freewebs, which hosted WidgetCon.

I asked Chris Cunningham, head of sales for Freewebs, why the heck we even need a conference for widgets, which he, himself, noted are far from well-known in a joking video of himself on the streets of New York asking confused people about the Web apps while supposedly trying to find his way to the conference. (Widgets, if you need to know, are generally little applications you can use to paste into your Web page that sort of form a Web page within your page. They can display videos, or calendars, or voting applications, or thousands of other things. Very big on Facebook right now, as well as iGoogle and being experimented with on Yahoo.) Chris talked about how all the excitement last year at this time was about video, especially YouTube, but that media buyers are still wondering how to buy ads on YouTube. So, he wanted to be "ahead of the curve" for widgets, and work now to get revenue models and sales ideas in place.

There was lots of talk about whether and how widgets can make money. (Forbes.com yesterday announced widgets with ads. They were created by Widgetbox, which was at the conferene.) There will probably be more on this for Jack Myers Media Business report on MediaVillage.com, and perhaps on PaidContent.org.

Media Buyers, the Pageview and Video Scheming.

A few weeks ago, I noted for Jack Myers Media Business Report that Nielsen was doing away with the pageview as a leading metric but replacing it with another imperfect scheme. On PaidContent (which I'll be helping on an event in October and have contributed to in the past), executive editor Staci Kramer asks an excellent question: How are Nielsen, comScore and IAB going to solve the autoplay issue, "where sites jack up streaming numbers by delivering video whether or not a user wants it?"

Ultimately, media buyers are going to have to do something they may not be comfortable with: Using their intelligence, instead of straight metrics. For example, 20 minutes per page may make little sense for a video site, when users tend to like videos of less than 3-4 minutes, but may make big sense for a gaming site, and the people there are very engaged. Then, again, do those gamers want to interrupt their engagement to view or absorb an ad? Or a video site may make sense for a video site if it's showing feature films.

Like I said, media buyers need to have thinking caps on. Maybe this can't be relegated to the most junior person, anymore.

Disney's Indian Ethics

Disney (which used to pay my rent, when I was at ABC News) cares enough about having the right labor practices in India to be looking for a "compliance manager" on Ethical Corporation's web site.

Job description here.

An Eye for an iPhone

To: Shelly Palmer and everyone else who's in love with the iPhone.


OK, you love your iPhone. But my old, clunky HP iPaq:

  • is quad band, so I can use it in Europe & Asia, and I can install a SIM card (it's not locked) that will let me tap into other networks at lower rates
  • Can send, receive and edit Word, Excel & PowerPoint docs, as well as view PDFs and other stuff.
  • Has a slot for an SD Card, on which I can put whatever -- including MP3s. Current SD cards are good up to about 4 gigs, though I only use 1 gig at the moment.
  • Shoots video
  • Has an attachable thumb keyboard.
  • Could be used on T mobile or AT&T networks
  • Allows text entry in a few ways: punch keys on a screen, writing style, straight drawing …
  • Does 3-way call conferencing
  • Can send MMS messages with video,audio or photos attached

And it does most of the stuff iPhone does (Calendar, WiFi, movie viewing, taking photos, screen keyboard, folders, etc.)

Granted, it's not sexy or the new new thing (it's hard to even get service anymore), and it freezes 1-to-3 times a day, sometimes at infuriating moments, requiring me to reboot. But why all the excitement over an iPhone that has less functionality? (Is it like the iPod -- an MP3 that is simply easier and more graceful than what came before?)

I, too, am an Apple and PC guy, and may become Apple, only. But I'm not going to buy an iPhone just yet.

Widget Advertising

The latest in viral ads. What's an "Impression" worth if a million people spread your ad relentlessly? Then again, what's it worth if the code doesn't work (as it's having trouble with right now).

Mirror Awards Lite

Sports, speeches, events, they should all come in an edited, easy to view version as this one is by MPA's Howard Polskin of the Mirror Awards ceremony in New York last month.

90 minutes awards ceremony boiled down to 4. No muss, no fuss, no chicken or salmon.

A Social Network Networker's Network

I don't know that I can say it any better than this on Om Malik's Web Worker Daily:

We've written before (and had a lively debate about) the benefits of outsourcing the nonessential activities in your life - housekeeping, lawn care, project management, bookkeeping, and so on. Now comes the news, via a BBC reporter, that some people are actually making real money blogging and networking on behalf of others. Actively social web workers know that it can take a tremendous amount of time and energy to maintain a compelling blog as well as a presence on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Pownce, and whatever the other network-of-the-week is. But would you consider paying someone else to take this load off your shoulders?
And would you consider taking the load off someone else's? Is there a margin in it? Could we have a social network (or is there perhaps a Facebook group?) of people who are others' social networkers?

How to Fund Journalism

It's not exactly a competition, but there is intense interest if not raging debate in the academic community about how to get journalism financed. Discussions at a lot of the major journalism and communication schools – Columbia, USC's Annenberg, Northwestern's Medill, City University of New York's new J-school -- are centered on a model that's considered broken.

Not the editorial model. No one I've spoken to at the schools doubts the need for double sourcing, disclosure, transparency, identification of sources, the role of journalism in a democratic society — even where they might disagree on the nuances of how to accomplish all these aims in a disrupted age.

What is broken is the financial model. With Craigslist and others destroying the ad revenue of newspapers, with people migrating away from broadcast TV news, with margins thinning on cable TV, with the Web picking up steam but in no way matching the revenues of print, with all these dynamics in play people are debating how to pay for journalism, which can be very costly to produce.

Last week, Jeff Jarvis of City University of New York said he'd received a MacArthur Foundation grant to explore citizen journalism, or what he calls "networked journalism." Columbia University, Annenberg, Medill, Berkeley and to a lesser extent Harvard are participating in the foundation-funded News 21 initiative. Jay Rosen at NYU is exploring his own networked journalism through NewAssignment.net, with support from Wired.com, as well as grant money (I've participated). Meanwhile, multiple solo journalists are doing sites, putting up their own material, getting funding, trying ads and products.

NewAssignment.net's David Cohn, who has been a student at Columbia's J-School is now going to work for Jarvis' project, too.

All these initiatives indicate the start of a wave in a direction that often happens in business, where the flow goes from academic experimentation to research then to business.

For CNN, Multiple Media, but Not on One Page

The new CNN.com design claims to show all of a story's media on one page. That's not quite true. It's showing all the media in multiple tabs on one page. But if I want to watch a video relevant to the moment's stop story, U.K. doctor-terrorists, I have to click off the text page and watch the video separately.

Maybe from a code perspective, this is all one page. But users aren't interested in code. They're interested in being able to watch a video while reading the story and maybe clicking on a map or even voting as they go. They're also interested – and this is missing from the CNN story page – in leaving comments. The more sophisticated ones are interested in tags, customizable RSS, submitting their own videos, and more. There are a few blogs shown, at least.

I wonder, too, if the linear, top down, approach will serve CNN well, instead of a wider screen approach. Do their stats not show, as most others' do these days, that people are on 1200+ pixels-wide and above screens, rather than 800?

PC vs. Mac -- and a point about DRM

You may have already seen this video of Mac vs. PC, which is a fun little romp by guys named PantlessKnights, who have only a nascent website. It's sill (and painful for a guy like me who saw it on his Mac, but fears he's really more of a tie-wearing PC nerd.)

Meanwhile, this video says that it's only since the initiation of digital rights management, since 2003, that the maker of the music decides what devices we can (or rather can't) play it on.