Posted on November 30th, 2007 No comments
Network World is reporting that there are now 3.3 billion mobile phone accounts: one for every 2 people on earth. Yowza!
Stats like that really make me wonder where media is heading, and if a lot of us are barking up the wrong tree. I wouldn’t be surprised if the vast majority of media consumption happened in the palm in another 5 or 10 years.
There are still some barriers to mobile media consumption, including the size of most phones, and their screens, internet experience, and whether the phone has internet service turned on (since that requires a separate fee). But based on my extremely non-scientific methods, more and more people around me seem to be reading stuff on their phones every year. I used to get strange stares when I’d read news stories and check stock quotes at the bus or Metro stop, and now it’s much more commonplace.
The good news is that as more online media is stored in databases (like MySQL for much of our content at The Bakersfield Californian) it becomes easier to make mobile-friendly content without a lot of additional work. And regardless of that, cell phone Web browsers increasingly display full web pages in a way that’s usable, the best example being on the iPhone.
I also don’t think that the fact that people “graze” mobile media means they will stop other media consumption (TV for example). But it does signal a lot of untapped potential.
I don’t think we can blame the cell phone completely for these changes in media consumption, either. Last week Time reported that 40% of Americans are on the move during rush hour — which includes carpooling, buses, taxis and trains — and 107 million drive alone. This creates more idle time to consume media, and at least for those who aren’t driving (we can only hope!) the cell phone Web browser is the perfect way to stay in touch with what’s going on. I have to admit though — lately I’ve spent much more phone time reading friend updates on Facebook Mobile than reading news stories.
Technorati Tags: mobile
Posted on November 29th, 2007 No comments
It certainly took them long enough, but Denver International Airport finally offers free wifi, according to The Denver Post. So now when you get miss a connection or have to wait out a delay, you can do something more fun, like watch Onion videos about how much it sucks to be stuck in an airport.
Posted on November 28th, 2007 No comments
I’ve been amazed this week as my mailbox exploded with e-mails from the Poynter Institute’s Online-News discussion group about Amazon’s Kindle electronic book reader. And this is right after a holiday when a lot of people are still on vacation. Usually that quiets lists down. Not this time!
What started the discussion was someone posing the question of whether the Kindle can save newspapers. Pretty much everyone on that list responded with “no” (a position which I completely agree with), but I’ve been surprised to see how many list members are downright bashing the Kindle before even trying it out. And this is from a group of mostly online newspaper people who you would think would at least consider some of the new opportunities Amazon is unleashing. I recall similar myopic thinking among that group about Second Life.
Without naming names, some of the criticism includes:
- The Kindle is big, bulky, not sexy and dull (translation: low rating on the techno-porn meter).
- Good grief, not another e-reader. Didn’t those die back in 1998?
- Why would I spend $400 to read books electronically on top of buying the books? How many books could that buy?
- A better device would do X, Y, Z.
- It doesn’t let me read books in places and situations where I normally wouldn’t or couldn’t read them.
Those are all good points, but in my opinion they’re missing two other points that trump them all.
First, the real value of what Amazon is doing is that it’s tying its warehouse, digital delivery infrastructure and commerce engine to consumer electronics.
I suspect that the Kindle device itself is simply a way for Amazon to seed the market and test out on-demand delivery of paid “print” content. When it cracks the code, it will open that infrastructure up to other devices (and who knows, maybe even reader-friendly phones like the iPhone and Treo). This is based on what they’ve done with Amazon Unbox videos, which uses the same infrastructure as Kindle books. I can buy Unbox content on my TiVo, which I love since I seem to be the last person on the planet to not use Netflix.
Second, there appears to be a strong “citizen publishing” aspect to the Kindle. According to this Motley Fool story, anyone can make their books available for sale and download on the Kindle — and I suspect any other device that Amazon integrates with. Amazon will take 65% of the sale price. That may sound like a lot, but given that most self-publishers currently pay to print books and often end up spending more than they make (if they make anything at all), a 35% margin on sweat equity is pretty compelling.
I don’t think we’ll see an explosion of self-publishers on the Kindle overnight, or even on the Kindle at all. But as always, the concept has longer legs than the actual product. I think Amazon is starting something that will evolve, catch on and fundamentally change how we think about printed media.
And just the fact that so many people are sharing opinions about the Kindle after a holiday week says a lot. There’s something there.
Posted on November 26th, 2007 No comments
Please excuse me while I try to re-claim my blog with Technorati, which is broken. It hasn’t been able to find my blog for a year now, despite lots of tags. If anyone knows how to get Technorati to actually work again, let me know! They told me to add this link to my page:
LATER: I’ve looked into this further and see that many, many bloggers have problems with Technorati missing their blogs. This thread on their support forums shows people who claim that their blogs haven”t been pinged for 100+ days.
Also, I’ve posted several support tickets over the last couple months only to be told that they have a support backlog and that someone will contact me as soon as they get through the list. What is this, Soviet-style support? I’m stuck in the bread line and it will be three more months before I get a response. Stalin, help us!
EVEN LATER (12/5): I finally heard back from someone named Zoe McLaughlin at Technorati, and the problem is fixed! For the record, it was not technically Technorati’s fault. The web hosting provider I used had set up something called mod_security which automatically blocks known malicious spiders, blog comment spammers and the like. If it doesn’t recognize a spider, it assumes it’s malicious.
If this ever happens to you, there is a solution. Log into your Web server, edit the .htaccess file, and add these two lines at the bottom:
Posted on November 26th, 2007 No comments
I’ve been an early proponent of both citizen media and social networking for newspapers. For that reason, I have very unintentionally ended up with the label of “expert” on these topics.
While that’s flattering, the truth is that everyone in the social media space is playing a game of intelligent darts, and we all have a litany of success and failures that can more accurately be referred to as “knowledge” and “wisdom” — often with associated scars. There are no silver bullets when you’re working on the edge, and nobody — not even Google — knows the future. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying.
I have a lot of respect for anyone who has the guts to try to do things in new ways, so I was personally saddened this year when two separate individuals with newspaper backgrounds were forced to shut down their social media businesses: Mark Potts‘ Backfence.com, and Steve Outing’s Enthusiast Group. The demise of the Enthusiasts hits home especially hard, as I know Outing, who lives about 15 miles west of me in Boulder, Colorado. You can read his insights about his experience via his personal blog, and most recently his column in Editor and Publisher.
A lot of people have been asking me for my thoughts about these events. Implicit in that is whether it changes how I feel about what we’re doing in Bakersfield, and I’m sure some of them want to know if we’re next (that whole “celebrity death watch” journalist’s mentality).
The answer to that is an emphatic “no.” Our social media initiatives in Bakersfield continue to do well, and next year we plan to add more interest-focused brands to our current repertoire of nine. And we also continue to bring what we learn with the new brands into our core newspaper brand. The most recent example of that is Snap! high school football photos, which quickly paid for itself for the season through lucrative local sponsorships.
While it’s an uphill climb (always the case when building something from scratch), audience and revenue continue to increase for most of our initiatives. And for those that aren’t, dedicated people continue to try new things until they find what works. We have a multiple-brand, audience-based strategy, and what works for one audience doesn’t automatically work for another. From a network level, all indications point to continued growth, engagement and advertising.
I don’t know if this explains everything, but there is one major difference between our approach, and that of the Enthusiasts and Backfence. We don’t have a pure-play Internet-only strategy, and print is still a big part of what we do. That’s especially true on the revenue side.
The vast majority of revenue for our social networking brands comes from associated print publications that roll up the best user-contributed content, augmented by some top-notch staff content. The content isn’t just “shoveled” into print, either. It’s edited by a real person who often goes back and forth with the contributor, helping him or her get ideas across more succinctly. While there’s a lot of activity on the Web sites, core contributors cherish that interaction with the editor and they get a kick out of seeing their story on the cover in print. That “psychic income” has a lot to do with why they contribute a second, third or fourth time or get all giddy when Matt Munoz posts something on their guestbook.
But that kind of back-and-forth could happen even without print (and maybe it did with Enthusiast and Backfence sites — I don’t know), so let’s talk brass tacks about the business side.
Last Spring, Bakotopia — which began as a free Classifieds provider and evolved into a local music social networking hub — started producing a magazine (download a few in PDF form here). It comes out every two weeks, and they’re now on to Issue #15. The magazine debuted more than two years after Bakotopia started, partly in response to the site’s hip users, who have been craving a downtown-scene magazine for years. But more importantly, it was at the request of advertisers.
In an irony that I will never fully understand, even the clubs that used Bakotopia profiles on a daily basis to promote gigs and interact with customers said they really wanted a printed magazine. You could talk to them until they were blue in the face about buying an ad on the home page, and some of them did, but once a magazine was available the dynamics changed and they all had to be in it. They’d see their competitor down the street in there and they couldn’t resist.
What is it about print that makes local advertisers salivate? And what does this mean for the supposedly missing business model for social media? What does it mean about how we meet the needs of niche audiences and communities?
I have thought about this a lot, and here are my conclusions so far. I reserve the right to change my mind over time, because that’s the nature of innovation.
First, I think so much emphasis has been placed on the mechanics of social media — for example, using social networking and web forms and comments to solicit stories — that people have forgotten about what we’re trying to accomplish. The whole reason we started developing and deploying social networking tools was to engage audiences that weren’t gravitating toward the newspaper brand, and in a way that is scalable. At a high level, The Northwest Voice isn’t about so-called “citizen journalism.” It’s about listening to readers of a specific geographical part of town and giving them a voice. Bakotopia was about turning control over to a distrusting community and finally giving them the spotlight they deserved.
All of our separate brands have their unique value propositions. Because their brand identities were established so early, the brands have legs and can move between mediums and form factors. Bakotopia is the most recent example of that. And I’m not saying that we should have just created a magazine instead of a Web site, either. It’s the interactive nature of the Web site that created a brand that could extend into print in the first place. If you took the Web site away, Bakotopia as a brand would falter. If you stopped the magazine, its revenue would falter. The two are married at the hip.
Second, we have a tendency in the newspaper industry to read too much into the troubles of our core products. Print circulation is falling at most daily newspapers around the world, and I think a lot of industry people assume that this means print is disappearing. But if you look at things from a higher level, even in your own life, this isn’t necessarily true.
More and more stuff is crammed into my U.S. Postal Service mailbox every day, and I see more little magazines and newsletters and flyers around town than I did in the past (and increasingly, also in my mailbox!) Most of that content is full of paid ads, but it differs from newspaper advertising in significant ways. It’s more targeted, and thus less expensive for the advertiser (although more expensive per target reader, which shows they’re willing to pay more for targeting). And it’s more focused and relevant to specific interests or needs — for example, buying a house, finding a car or getting deals at nearby establishments.
Sometimes I think those of us in the “new media” realm tend to get caught up in our own manifes
tos about what people want, and in the process of doing that we miss the bigger picture. Our experience in Bakersfield suggests that people don’t necessarily want more web and less print. They want more relevance, convenience and control in every aspect of media, which includes both print, online, mobile and who knows what else in the future.
With small local advertisers there is a bit of a disconnect. Right now, they primarily want to see their messages out on the street where they do business, and print is still the best vehicle for that. Do they also want online? Some of them do, but they also seem to be hesitant for reasons that I’m not sure are fully grounded in reality. If an online ad fits their budget and it reaches the right people, they buy, but they expect immediate results that aren’t as easy to track as when someone walks in the door with a clipped coupon. So maybe we have some work to do around online ad trackability. I also think there are some opportunities to make local self-serve easier and more effective at reaching local audiences than Google AdWords (let’s face it — a donut shop is never going to sell 100 more donuts to locals by placing an AdWord).
Would Backfence and The Enthusiast Group have succeeded with print publications? I don’t know for sure, but I think it would have helped. It also would have cost a heck of a lot more, which is difficult for any startup.
So my final thought is that there are still some significant advantages that existing media companies have over startups. They have more resources and capacity and — assuming their publishers are as forward-looking as ours is — time than a typical venture-backed company. The question is whether they focus those resources more on innovation, especially as the economy appears to be on the verge of recession.
I have faith in the Californian to do that, but I’m not convinced about the rest of the industry. I’m really looking forward to having others prove me wrong there.
LATER: Steve Outing responded to this post. You can read his response here. And Mark Potts has some comments below this post.
I can appreciate the concerns around cost. Even for an exsiting media company like the Californian that has its own presses, the startup costs for printing and distributing a new printed product — even one with 10,000 – 20,000 copies that comes out every two weeks — is daunting. Those costs require a longer “runway” than most small startups probably have. Don’t assume that you need your own printing presses to do this, though. Many of the niche publications I mention that are managed by Mercado Nuevo are now printed outside of the Californian because it’s cheaper for them, based on the number of copies and type of print stock that they require.
I have thought for some time that there must be a way to let anyone publish a printed publication using online content, starting with PDFs and then moving to home printers, Kinko’s and — for the right type of content — a larger press run. We submitted a concept to the Knight News Challenge for this, and have been invited to gointo the next round. If we win (a longshot given the number of entries), maybe the next citizen media startup will have more options when it comes to print. And if we don’t, I think this idea is so compelling that we’ll keep looking for a way to make it happen. I think the only reason it hasn’t happened yet at a local level is that nobody has tried. All of the technology to create instant print publications exists, muchof it open source.
Posted on November 19th, 2007 No comments
Amazon’s new Kindle e-book reader sounds really interesting, and definitely applicable to newspapers or any print-based content business.
E-book readers have been around since the late 1990s, with the most recent buzz being around Sony’s Reader, which uses E-Ink technology that’s easier on the eyes and works in varying light conditions. Amazon’s reader uses the same electronic ink technology, but adds in a couple more improvements that I think significantly change the game for electronic readers.
First, it lets you browse and purchase 88,000 books, and some of the top U.S. and international newspapers, directly from Amazon.com. And you don’t need a computer to do it. You simply pick up the reader, browse the Amazon store, wait a few minutes for a title to download, then read it. Among the available titles are most of the New York Times bestsellers. They say it holds up to 200 books at a time, or more if you add a bigger Flash card.
Second, you can do all of this wirelessly from anywhere — not through 802.11x wifi, but through a cellular connection that costs you nothing. And on top of all that, they throw in access to Wikipedia from anywhere for free (take that, you-must-have-ATT-service iPhone and wifi-required iPod Touch!)
Unlike the iPhone, the device won’t browse Web sites other than Wikipedia. I have to wonder though — given that it does bring up Wikipedia, perhaps they plan to make it available for more open Web browsing if people agree to pay a monthly fee, or buy a more expensive device in the future that will work with wifi.
Like the iPhone, it costs $400. I think that’s a little more than most people want to pay to read books, but it’s a good starting point.
Here’s more on the Kindle from The New York Times.
Posted on November 5th, 2007 No comments
I’m a big fan of Facebook’s API since it started my Scrabulous addiction, but I’ve always found it a little frustrating that I could only use Facebook Apps with other Facebook members. Contrary to popular opinion, not everyone is in Facebook yet and some never will be.
Google’s API is different from Facebook’s in that it lets people create widgets that share data between a large group of social networks (and soon, according to its FAQ, any web site). I think this is more true to the spirit and promise of the Internet. Assuming the API is everything it’s chalked up to be, I predict wild popularity. Who knows? Eventually even Facebook may support it. We still need to delve into the details about OpenSocial ourselves, but I’m happy to see that it uses the same basic methods of Google Gadgets, which we’re also experimenting with.
A lot of people will initially be creating OpenSocial apps for large, international social networks such as MySpace, LinkedIn — and OK, I admit it, even Google’s “we’re big in Brazil” Orkut (more on that below). But since I work for a company that has its own locally-focused social networks, I’m seeing some other opportunities which may or may not be supported (so if anyone from Google is reading this, take this as a focus group of one!)
It seems like there are some obvious opportunities for us to knit users’ various profiles, data and contributions together, both internally and with other participating networks. Perhaps we could even create local social aggregators that pull people and content of local importance into one page that exists on potentially hundreds or thousands of different social networking sites.
We’re a little strange in Bakersfield in that we have 9 social networks and more on the way. We know that users of those sites also use Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace and others. They go through the trouble of setting up local profiles because they meet people who live where they do, and they feel an affinity with one or more local brands. We even observe them signing into more than one of our own social networks and posting the same content in an effort to reach more local people. Bloggers do this more than anyone. We’ve never measured how many people “double dip” in this way but if I had to guess I’d say it was around 5 percent of the most active participants.
We’re guilty of this ourselves, as we even go so far as to set up profiles for each brand in MySpace (here’s one for Bakotopia, and another for Newtobakersfield), and include links of interest back to our local brands. Local MySpace users thus start by becoming friends of a local MySpace page, then click a content link to find themselves in a more focused site based in Bakersfield which they then also join. They don’t leave MySpace, but they remain engaged in the Bakersfield-based community they joined. And we’re fine with that.
Knowing that people move between social nets in this way, it just makes sense to “open the borders” and create a more streamlined experience. A few years ago it would have been seen as counter-intuitive to make it easy for another site to “steal” information from your user’s database. Now, I think more people may say the opposite. If you don’t make it convenient for users to move their own information that they shared with each other to the universe of other social sites that are part of their lives, they will gravitate toward those that do and forget about those that don’t.
If Google makes it easier to do this, we’re in. I’ll look forward to when Google opens the OpenSocial API to any site, versus only the hallowed few international players. They promise to do this on their FAQ.
(Side note: I also have to wonder if Google went this route because Orkut never took off in the U.S. and is biggest in Brazil, which is pressuring it to crack down on certain content. What better way to launch a more relevant social network than to create a standard for open sharing that they control, then aggregate everything? OK, I’ll take off my Conspiracy Brother hat now