The Next Media Company

May 25, 2009

The title of this blog is the same as one appearing today on Chris Brogan’s thoughtful blog.

After a brief intro he offers the following:

The Next Media Company Manifesto

Here’s what I believe might (emphasis mine) need to be true about the next media company:

  • Stories are points in time, but won’t end at publication. (Edits, updates, extensions are next.) (10)
  • Curators and editors rule, and creators aren’t necessarily on staff. (10)
  • Media cannot stick to one form. Text, photos, video, music, audio, animation, etc are a flow. (10)
  • Everything must be portable and mobile-ready. (Mobile devices need to evolve here, too). (10)
  • Everything must have collaborative opportunities. If I write about a restaurant, you should have wikified access to add to the article directly. (5)
  • Advertising cannot be the primary method of revenue. (8)
  • In-line content marketing, clearly delineated/disclosed/explained is one revenue stream. One of many. (8)
  • Contributors come in many shapes: onstaff, partner (how pros like TechCrunch link to Washington Post), guest (for love and glory only), and conversational come right to mind. Who else? (7)
  • Value-add services are another revenue stream. Why not book hotels and flights from my travel magazine directly? Why not buy how-to information on marketing from AdAge or FastCompany? (6)
  • Collaboration rules. Why should I pick the next cover? Why should my picture of the car crash be the best? (5)
  • Everything is modular and linkable. Everything is fluid. Meaning, if I want the publication to be a business periodical, then I don’t want to have to read a piece about sports. (10)
  • Paper isn’t dead: it’s on demand. (9)
  • Do-it-yourself publishing is next for us all. At first. (10)
  • We will all audition for mass physical distribution. (10)
  • It won’t matter (mass physical distribution) to us, lots of the time. (8)

I rated each item in the Manifesto from 1-10 (10 being the strongest agreement), and you’ll see that I support many of Mr. Brogan’s intriguing suggestions. But not all.

First a comment on his lead sentence. A manifesto is generally defined as a “a public declaration of principles and intentions” and a call to action. I don’t think that the word “might” has any place in introducing a manifesto. With it, the more appropriate title would be, “Some Thoughts Towards the Next Media Company.”

That aside, I see the major conflict between Brogan’s second point, “Curators and editors rule,” and his tenth point, “Collaboration rules.” Are these not contradictory? One of the key debating points about the media these days is exactly who rules. While we all welcome that the Internet has opened up so many opportunities for new voices to be heard, there’s a growing recognition that no one can possibly follow all the voices available, hence the need for curators and editors to guide us and catch errors of fact or omission.

So here too I stumble on his fifth point: “Everything must have collaborative opportunities. If I write about a restaurant, you should have wikified access to add to the article directly.” The use of the new verb “wikified” implies to me that Brogan is suggesting that I should have access to his restaurant review and be able to anonymously change or augment his content. I’m all for separate authored comments, but if I want to forge a reputation as a restaurant reviewer, I don’t want to write anonymously and give others the freedom to change what I’ve written. Takes us back to the curators and editors. They must rule.

In last week’s The Economist there’s an excellent analysis of the changes in the media business, specifically the news side of the business. The article focuses on the value of aggregators, such as the Huffington Post. Surely aggregation and curration can be used interchangeably?

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More Data on the Number of On-demand Titles in 2008

May 23, 2009

To find out the inside scoop on stories like that reported in my previous blog entry, I’m now subscribing to Publishers Lunch Deluxe newsletter, which I receive as part of a $20/month membership to Publishers Marketplace. Thus far I’m finding it to be of excellent value for my research and understanding of what’s happening in the world of trade publishing.

Today’s issue features a long article that goes into considerable detail on “the headline that rocked the book industry” a few days back, namely “Number of On-demand Titles Topped Traditional Books in 2008″. Of course the real story is quite different than that lurid headline implied.

It”s not appropriate to quote the article in full, but I’ll extract a few facts. The unnamed author of the story states that his or her source was Bowker executive Kelly Gallagher (he is General Manager of Bowker’s Business Intelligence Segment).

1. The distinction that Bowker made between on-demand and traditional books refers solely to the manufacturing method: traditional offset printing, versus much more recent digital print-on-demand technologies. So the number can’t be interpreted as equal to the number of self-published titles. It refers only to books printed digitally, and assigned a new ISBN number. Traditional book publishing companies are increasingly turning to this newer technology to publish books in short runs where offset would be too expensive (although Bowker has not yet done the analysis to determine what percentage of the books derived from what type of company).

2. The whole self-publishing industry is, statistically speaking, a mess. For example, according to Lulu.com’s Corporate Profile page, in 2008 “Lulu alone published over 400,000 titles.” Blurb.com claims it published 300,000 titles in 2008. That’s 700,000 from just two companies! But as Publishers Lunch points out, “a lot of the output from outfits like Lulu.com…and Blurb.com never get ISBN numbers at all (it’s an optional service at many such companies).”

3. Further compounding the muted value of Bowker’s numbers is that no eBooks are included, whether from Amazon or elsewhere.

4. I had heard just last month from my colleague George Alexander that there is a new class of publisher that is just grabbing as many out of print books as it can, scanning them, and tossing the whole lot onto Amazon to be printed on demand when the occasional order is placed. Kessinger Publishing, for example, has over 33,000 titles listed on Amazon, all of these with new ISBNs. I feel that adding these titles to Bowker’s annual new title output just misleads the industry about what’s really happening in publishing in America. Searching for Kessinger titles on Amazon, the first on the list is Ernest Holmes’ (1887-1960) Your Invisible Power. The book appears to be a combination of Christian reflection and mystic meanderings. Its 52 pages retail for $13.22 and its Amazon.com sales rank is #802,616 in books. Another firm, BiblioBazaar has over 37,000 listings on Amazon.

The Well-Designed Cover of "Your Invisible Power"

The well-designed cover of "Your Invisible Power"

So stay tuned, as the industry associations and analysts burn the midnight oil trying to get a handle on statistics that reveal, rather than conceal.

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Number of On-demand Titles Topped Traditional Books in 2008

May 20, 2009

How’s that for a headline! Pulled directly from Publishers Weekly, the word is that “The number of new and revised titles produced by traditional production methods fell 3% in 2008, to 275,232, but the number of on-demand and short run titles soared 132%, to 285,394….Taken together, total output rose 38%, to 560,626 titles….Since 2002, production of on-demand titles has soared 774% compared to a 126% increase in traditional titles. Gallagher said the improvement in on-demand printing technology was a major contributor to the growth.”

Keep in mind that last year on-demand added over 120,000 titles, so this number is less impressive than it sounds; the two-year jump would be astronomical.

I’ll have more on this shortly. But for now, read ‘em and….think.

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A Refreshing Viewpoint on the Future of Newspapers

Rather than belaboring the usual arguments about newspapers and democracy, what will become of our youth, what will I read at breakfast and so on, Beth Teitell in The Boston Globe offers a fun article called Save the Presses! OK Internet, Just Try Replacing Newspapers in these Situations (tip courtesy of The Future of Print blog).

save_the_presses

(Uncredited in the original, but presumably copyright 2009 The Boston Globe)

Ms. Teitell offers a total of 11 situations where we’ll miss our newsprint copy of the daily paper. My favorites include:

2. You can shed a tear right now for the iconic ransom note, with letters clipped from newspaper headlines. What’s a kidnapper to do? Print out letters at home using different fonts and point sizes?

ransomnote

(Also uncredited)

3. How are concerned neighbors supposed to figure out that the little old lady who lives alone is sick if the papers aren’t piling up on her doorstep? And how will burglars know which houses to target?

6. You know all that money you’re saving by not shelling out for a subscription? Well, put it aside for a good umbrella. You’ll need it the next time it rains without warning. Holding an iPhone over your head won’t exactly cut it.

Read ‘em all.

A little comic relief is a wonderful thing in these grim times!

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Pundits and the Future of Publishing

May 15, 2009

As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, there are no shortage of pundits on the future of publishing, in all its forms. It is a cluttered field, and unless you can devote all day, every day, to their utterances, you’re going to miss some great blogs entries, and a ton of dross. Most focus on more limited aspects of publishing than I do, which is not a bad thing, but it makes it very challenging for folks who want to try and get a handle on the whole picture of where publishing is heading. That’s my intention with The Future of Publishing. O’Reilly does a great job here, and remains a favorite.

Seth Godin has been a fascinating long-time writer and blogger on many or most of the commercial aspects of web publishing. His May 8th blog is a gem. It’s short, so I’ll quote in full:

Too much free

If you want to know who’s a newbie on a film set, just watch what happens at lunch. Major films have huge buffets laid out for cast and crew, and the newcomers can’t resist. It’s FREE! Over time, of course, the old-timers come to the conclusion that it’s just lunch, and the crew gets a bit more jaded and learns some self-restraint as well.

The first time a previously expensive good or service is made free, we’re drawn to it precisely because of the freeness. The fifth time or tenth time, not so much.

Free online has two distinct elements, then. Breakthrough free, like the first free ebook or the first free email service, and sample-this free, which decreases the cost of trial and lowers boundaries of the spread of an idea.

But they shouldn’t be confused. As the market for free gets more crowded, we’ll see more and more people promoting their free products, stuff that people used to have pay for. A complete shift from ‘you will pay’ to ‘it is free’ to  ‘I will pay for ads to alert you it’s free’ to ultimately, ‘I will pay you to try it’.

Free by itself is no longer enough to guarantee much of anything.

Isn’t this the tremendous frustration of the pace of change in publishing? When most of us are just trying to get our minds around “free,” Seth is a step ahead. I think he’s onto to something ahead of everyone else I’ve read: all publishers please take note.

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