The Future of Publishing: Doom

December 12, 2008

Well, I must give kudos to Steve Rubel, “a marketing strategist and blogger …and senior VP in Edelmean’s Me2Revolution practice.” (What would a junior VP do there?) Mr. Rubel, has by my estimate, broken the 100,000 barrier on the number of essentially self-proclaimed experts who have grabbed at some superficial data points and decided that the sky is falling for all media.

He wants to make a bet with each of us (he doesn’t specify the amount or where we can send our bucks). The bet: “By January 2014 almost all forms of tangible media will be either in sharp decline or extinct in the U.S.” I guess he may not have offered his bookie’s address because this is what you might call a hedged bet. First we’ve got “almost all forms of tangible media.” Very difficult to parse definitionally. “Almost all” we could note leaves a pretty broad margin of error. Clearly it means “more than 50%,” but does it mean 70%, 80% or 99.9%? I can’t tell you. Perhaps Mr. Rubel can. But he’s got further squirm space with the statement: “in sharp decline or extinct.” The word “extinct” has an unequivocal meaning. “In sharp decline” is significantly more vague. I’m not certain that it even means “more than 50%,” and definitely unsure if it means 70%, 80% or 99.9%?

Mr. Rubel then trots out the usual selective data to try to bolster his argument. I won’t repeat them all (check the link), as they’ve been repeated too often and really weren’t mentioning the first time.

Rubel does note that he hasn’t bought a CD since 2003. He doesn’t note whether he has been pirating music since that time. Apple announced the iPod in October 2001. Perhaps that’s where he makes his purchases. I bought two CDs yesterday from Amazon. Call me old-fashioned. While the dollar value in retail shipments of recorded music has declined by 35% in the last decade, it still represents an $8 billion market in the U.S. This trend line will certainly shrink the market further in 5 years, but won’t make it disappear.

I’ll take your bet, Mr. Rubel. Do you take PayPal?

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Pulitzer Prizes to Accept More Online Work

December 10, 2008

Once again I’m including this snippet in my “Good News Report.”

According to a December 8th press release from the Pulitzer Prize website, “The Pulitzer Prizes in journalism, which honor the work of American newspapers appearing in print, have been expanded to include many text-based newspapers and news organizations that publish only on the Internet, the Pulitzer Prize Board announced today.

“The Board also has decided to allow entries made up entirely of online content to be submitted in all 14 Pulitzer journalism categories.”

There’s a kind of wacky proviso, as follows: “While broadening the competition, the Board stressed that all entered material — whether online or in print — should come from United States newspapers or news organizations that publish at least weekly, that are ‘primarily dedicated to original news reporting and coverage of ongoing stories,’ and that ‘adhere to the highest journalistic principles.'” OK. Whatever.

But despite that verbiage, there follows: “”This is an important step forward, reflecting our continued commitment to American newspapers as well as our willingness to adapt to the remarkable growth of online journalism,’ said Sig Gissler, administrator of the Prizes. ‘The new rules enlarge the Pulitzer tent and recognize more fully the role of the Web, while underscoring the enduring value of words and of serious reporting.'”

Yep, a good step forward. Good news for all journalists and for all readers of serious journalism.

The New York Times coverage is available, as is a report plus Q&A in Editor & Publisher.

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Ad Spending Growth in 2009

December 9, 2008

Well, let’s start with the pundits’ top projection: ad spending in Brazil will increase by 30% in 2009!

Apparently ZenithOptimedia’s analyst doesn’t read The Economist, which noted on November 6, 2008 that “a few months ago, Brazil’s economy was growing at its fastest pace since the mid-1990s, driven by record commodity prices and record credit growth. The country’s president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, declared confidently that “Bush’s crisis” in the United States would not affect Brazil. It all looks very different now. Credit is becoming scarcer and banks more suspicious of each other….” Or perhaps advertisers will ignore these problems.

In my years following the crisis in the future of publishing I’ve never met optimists like the advertising prognosticators. There could be a giant meteor heading for Manhattan on January 1, 2009 and they’d still forecast only a modest decline in ad revenue for the year.

In AdAge’s December 8th article, “Forecast for 2009: It Could Have Been Worse,” we’re treated to the relatively upbeat projections not only from ZenithOpti(mistic)media, but also from Group M (I kept thinking I saw Robert Coen’s name in there somewhere, but I can find it now).

Of course the challenge with these forecasts is that they’re global ad spend forecasts, and most U.S. publishers are not particularly interested that Russia is projected to have 5% ad growth next year.

What about the U.S.?

ZenithOptimedia expects a 6.2% drop in the U.S., while Group M is placing its chips on a 3.2% drop.

Interestingly, while both project significant growth is Internet ad spending, both have ratcheted their projections down by 50% or more.

And as a final note to those who expect all old media to kneel to the Kindle tomorrow, “Despite all the talk about newspapers (23.8%) and TV (38.3%) losing their appeal as ad media, ZenithOptimedia expects both to still garner the lion’s share of ad dollars in 2009.”

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Good News for Digital Magazines

December 3, 2008

The last full-time job I had was in the late 1980s at a Toronto-based company called McCutcheon Graphics. It’s where I gained the knowledge that allowed me to later set out on my own as a consultant and publishing industry analyst.

The president of the company, John McCutcheon, was a one-of-a-kind businessman (now retired). I learned a great deal from him. One of his adages was: “Don’t approach me with a problem unless you’ve already got a suggested solution.” The solution wasn’t necessarily the one eventually put into place, but it changed the whole corporate culture of the company from a place where you could just rag about co-workers, policies, and everything else. You had to be thinking of solutions that could move things forward.

Every Monday morning when John showed up for work he’d rub his hands together and ask his secretary, “Where’s the Good News Report?” The company had numerous regional offices, and the Good News Report gave John a summary of the previous week’s business: sales, expenses, returns, and unusual items.

I loved it that John had dubbed this weekly summary The Good News Report. It set a tone for the business…things were always moving forward, and the news was all good (even when it wasn’t).

I can’t think of writing another blog that could only be called The Bad News Report. We’re all reading or viewing those reports daily in just about every medium there is.

I want to read a Good News Report!

Here it goes. Go to the site of issuu.

What a breath of fresh air! Digital publishing done right. I’ve covered the concept of new digital magazine formats in my article on magazines. They’re fast gaining in popularity, but it’s my impression that these services are too expensive for the average small publisher.

issuu solves the problem in a manner that does credit to what the Web does best. First of all it’s free. Lots of sites offer “free” but usually free comes with so many strings attached that you need to subscribe to the paid service to actually get what you want; what you need. Not on issuu. Upload your publication, whether it’s a magazine, a book, or a single sheet, and it’s immediately available for all to see. OK, there are some ads (and will probably be more soon), but they’re not obtrusive; they don’t ruin the user experience. Here are my uploads thus far on issuu (you’ll need to register). Click on one of them, and you’ll find some excellent Flash-enabled technology that makes it simple and pleasurable to peruse the content. Try it yourself: the process couldn’t be easier.

Just as exciting is the range of content available on the site. Check out the catalog of publications. What a refreshingly eclectic mix, rather than the same old stuff you find everywhere else. The top publications attract hundreds of thousands of views, but don’t go by popularity alone. You can delve into a range of subjects, and I guarantee you’ll be pleasantly surprised by some of the unusual publications you’ll uncover.

Of course there’s a paid version of the service available for those who want to access the technology but keep their publications on their own Websites. I’d say that the pricing is very reasonable.

So there you have today’s Good New Report. Enjoy!

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Update on the Future of Magazines

November 17, 2008

I’ve just posted an update to the article in Industries: Magazines.

This was a tough one. Just as I’d finish a new version, and before I could post it, new data would emerge forcing a further revision.

The main changes in this version are:

1. I’ve tried to expand my definition of “magazines” to include the broader range of periodicals. People magazine doesn’t represent the whole state of magazine publishing any more than does the Communications of the Association of Computing Machinery. While the site is mainly concerned with the link between magazine publishing and advertising, I’m fast realizing that this link extends well beyond consumer magazines.

2. For this reason I’ve also included a section on Small and Literary Magazines/Journals, which escape the radar of most analysts. Later I’ll also examine in more depth controlled-circulation “lifestyle magazines” and scholarly journals.

3. My major task was to update the section on New Digital Formats for Magazines. This subject has blossomed in the last several years and was overdue for an update.

Please have a look at the article, and as always, let me know or any errors or omissions (or even send along a kind word or two!).

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