Books are Optimized for No Participation

November 16, 2011

Over at PressThink Jay Rosen observed that professional journalism has been optimized for low participation. He explains that “until a few years ago, the ‘job’ of the user was simply to receive the news and maybe send a letter to the editor.” This was a logical outcome of the available technology. “Journalists built their practices on top of a one-way, one-to-many, broadcasting system,” he noted. (more…)

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Martha Stewart Explains It All For You

April 28, 2011

While reading the latest financials from Martha Stewart I realized that her template could be applied to most long-time publishing organizations today. Revenue up, profit down. The only thing unusual about Ms. Stewart’s story is the “revenue up” portion. More often I read “revenue down, profit down.” Digital widgets generally sell for less than their analog predecessors.

Digital ad sales at MS rose 55% (print advertising squeezed out a 2% increase). Unique website visitors were up 42%. Pageviews up 29%. The result? A net operating loss of 5% of publishing revenues (admittedly an improvement from 8% last year).

I’ll take a two-page spread, please

Charles Koppelman, Executive Chairman and Principal Executive Officer of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, offers an excellent stock phrase: “We believe the transformation of the company is beginning to take hold as we seek to broaden our portfolio…We feel we’re positioned to deliver profitable growth as we execute on our business plan in 2011 and beyond.” Good, no?

Meanwhile Jeff Jarvis has an excellent post this week called “Hard economic lessons for news.” He’s got rules, reality checks and more rules. And then something called “Opportunities.” If you’re in the newspaper business. you might want to take a Valium before reading it – you wont feel encouraged. Jeff talks only about the squishy stuff: “engagement,” “networks,” “value added,” “other revenue streams worth exploring” and “collaboration.” OK, there’s one notation on good old “infrastructure.”

Jeez, Jeff. I thought you were going to tell us about opportunities.

But, keep in mind, today Microsoft announced that it had a $726 million loss from online operations in Q3, staying on track to losing $3.5b (yep, billion) in the full fiscal year. Only Apple makes online look easy.

(Can’t resist: Yahoo previously demonstrated how to lose $3.5 billion in a single acquisition, Geocities.)

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Journalists Should Sue Themselves

September 20, 2008

Wow!

Jeff Jarvis, whose BuzzMachine blog is one of the best there is, went to town in a September 17th entry sparked by the lawsuit of the journalists at the Los Angeles Times against their controversial new owner, Sam Zell.

I think you could say that he really let the journalists have it.

The second paragraph gives you a taste of his current state-of-mind: “Journalists are such a whiny bunch, always complaining, constantly blaming someone else for their problems. But friends, as the Rev. Wright would say, the chickens are coming home to roost.”

Later in the entry the attack resumes:

“When the paper failed even at covering its own hometown industry, did you jump in to fill the void? No.

“When the internet came, did you all – every one of you as responsible, smart journalists, on your own – leap to get training in audio and video? Did you immediately hatch new ways to work collaboratively with the vast public of bloggers able and willing to join in local journalism? Not that I saw.”

He finishes this scathing attack on journalists with “Want to see who’s to blame for the state of your paper? Get a mirror.”

At the same time he presents the most emphatically damning statement about the future of newspapers:

“Newspapers and newspaper companies are about to die (emphasis mine). The last remaining puddles of auto, home, job, and retail advertising are about to be sucked down the drain thanks to the economic crisis and credit is about to be crunched into dust. So any newspaper or news company that has been teetering will fall. If Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers, and AIG can fall, so can a puny newspaper empire — and there’ll be no taxpayer bailout for them.”

I wrote the 27th response to Jeff’s entry:

“That is the most refreshing and to-the-point article (OK, blog entry) I’ve read in the midst of these endless months of hand-wringing, tear-jerking and self-serving twaddle. It’s strong stuff, but exactly what needed to be said. Sure, some folks can take some small issue with parts of it. But they should read the entire indictment and respond to that. You’ve finally said what needed to be said. For this I thank you. I’m going to send my readers to it from my blog.”

Check it out.

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Print is not a Burden: Useless Drivel is the Burden

May 7, 2008

An article appeared on May 5th in the New York Times called “Publisher Tested the Waters Online, Then Dove In.” In glowing terms, it recounts the apparently amazing transformation of media giant IDG from primarily a print-based magazine publisher to an online publisher.

The article moved quickly onto the Times‘ most-read and most-blogged list (today it’s still #5 on the most-blogged list), and I figured that I’d just let that one go, particularly as my blog has been focusing quite a bit on magazines for the last week.

But I couldn’t resist getting a comment on the record, and so posted a remark on Jeff Jarvis’ excellent Buzz Machine blog. I wrote:

“I read this article with some incredulity. It reads more like a corporate brochure than a carefully-researched piece of journalism. First of all, IDG is privately held, so there’s no way to check into what’s been happening to the overall sales and profitability of the company in its transition to digital.

“Mr. McGovern states “The excellent thing, and good news, for publishers is that there is life after print, in fact, a better life after print,’ and the major evidence offered is that today, I.D.G. says, the InfoWorld web site is generating ad revenue of $1.6 million a month with operating profit margins of 37 percent. A year earlier, when it had both print and online versions, InfoWorld had a slight operating loss on monthly revenue of $1.5 million.’

OK on that, but what about before the dotcom bust? I’d be surprised if the profitability of the publication was not significantly higher.

I applaud IDG on its bold moves, but wonder if Mr. McGovern doesn’t sometimes wish for the good old days before the Web.

I’d have let it go at that if I’d not today stumbled upon an entry on Rex Hammock’s also excellent rexblog.com. The blog entry, titled, “Print is not a burden. Useless drivel is the burden.” So ignore this post, is for me the final word on the affair, although it’s really more about content than the IDG story, per se.

Just one quote:

“Unfortunately, saying ‘print is a burden’ implies that there are other options out there that are not burdens. Frankly, the web is a burden. Traveling to events IDG puts on is a burden. Trying to synch my phone and computer is a burden.If you publish a beautiful magazine with articles that really matter to me, that instruct, inform or celebrate something I feel strongly about, it is no burden on me. If you help me get to the information and insight I need to live a fuller life or conduct business in a more flexible and productive way, your blogging and tweeting and bookmarking does not burden me. Useless, redundant, meaningless, re-shuffled drivel is the burden. It can be delivered via print or on a weblog or a mobile device. Crap is a burden no matter what the medium used to deliver it.”

A powerful reminder that the medium is not necessarily the message.

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