J's Notes

Media Holdouts In The Digital Age

Jul
22

The Economist writes about media’s analogue holdouts and how they may be missing out on some awesome digital benefits:

They have some good reasons. Online advertising is worth much less than television or print advertising. It is hard to persuade people to pay much (if anything) for digital content. Technology firms such as Amazon and Apple can often set retail prices. Digital products can be less beautiful than physical ones.

But such gripes are widespread in the media industry. They must be set against the fact that digital distribution is a low-cost way of reaching huge audiences. What is more, refusing to go online is a sure way to alienate many potential customers. So why do the analogue holdouts hold out?

It comes down to different strokes for different folks.

While an online presence may be “low-cost” in the overall scheme of things, cheaper than print, cheaper than smoke signals, etc, it still is a cost. You have to pay for the site and someone to maintain it, not just posting new content but policing any interactive areas. When ad revenue from websites is so much less than print, a firm has to decide if it can at the very least pay for itself but that comes after an initial investment that may not be worth the effort.

Beyond that, if you’re providing a product that is dependent upon sales in order to remain in operation, why are you doing to give it away online? This mainly applies to specialty products, niche targeted items that don’t provide services easily found elsewhere. Washington Post can’t afford to fall behind New York Times online in regards to its national coverage, but a women’s weekly magazine with a solid subscriber base can keep itself merely focused on print as long as it provides quality content unavailable elsewhere. Giving it away online in the hopes that someone will then decide to subscribe to the print (as the article suggests) is a frightening prospect when most companies would fear losing a number of already existing subscriptions to their now free online service.

Beyond news, the article suggests the Beatles could really benefit from a digital catalog and that whoever convinces them to do it will make a boatload of money. While true, the Beatles aren’t hurting for money or sales of the physical copies of their music. Here you’re talking about a brand that is so hugely popular that it has no need to go digital in order to reach masses it might not otherwise. Every music store carries the Beatles catalog and any number of “best of” compilations to saturate the market. If someone wakes up at 2 a.m. in a cold sweat because they just HAVE to hear Come Together or they’ll never sleep again, Walmart is right around the corner with three different CDs to choose from.

The internet is hardly one size fits all and not all people absolutely have to be in a rush to get online and digitize their content that they’d otherwise charge for. There’s a reason newspapers are flipping out over how to make money. In their rush to be ahead of the digital curve they completely removed their at one time profit base and helped breed a society now used to getting the news for free. To suggest others need to rush to do the same is drinking the digital Kool Aid without first having it pass the sniff test.

A post about a Washington Post column that mentions Lady Gaga but not Justin Beiber found via Kottke.org

Jul
19

Interesting column from Gene Weingarten about how the new newsroom is different than the old and, in particular, the impact it has on headlines:

The only really creative opportunity copy editors had was writing headlines, and they took it seriously. This gave the American press some brilliant and memorable moments, including this one, when the Senate failed to convict President Clinton: CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR; and this one, when a meteor missed Earth: KISS YOUR ASTEROID GOODBYE. There were also memorably wonderful flops, like the famous one on a food story about home canning: YOU CAN PUT PICKLES UP YOURSELF.

Newspapers still have headlines, of course, but they don’t seem to strive for greatness or to risk flopping anymore, because editors know that when the stories arrive on the Web, even the best headlines will be changed to something dull but utilitarian. That’s because, on the Web, headlines aren’t designed to catch readers’ eyes. They are designed for “search engine optimization,” meaning that readers who are looking for information about something will find the story, giving the newspaper a coveted “eyeball.” Putting well-known names in headlines is considered shrewd, even if creativity suffers.

Headlines now have to not only boost SEO but summarize the article well enough to capture the reader. Creative titles that don’t practically tell the whole story are passed over. For some this is a challenge to get even more creative with headlines (see Skywalkers In Korea Cross Han Solo), but 9 times out of 10 it just leads to laziness. (via Kottke)

Twitter Users More Likely To Be Active Offline

Jul
16

According to a survey by MRI, Twitter users are not only more active online than average adults but are more than twice as likely to be active in their communities offline:

The survey finds that Twitter users score high on all dimensions of public activity. They are 209% more likely to have written something that’s been published than the average American, 142% more likely to participate in political or environmental causes, 141% more likely to be part of a lobbyist group or similar organization, and 103% more likely to have attended a political rally or even in the past twelve months.

The idea isn’t that far fetched. People who use social media services like Twitter or maintain a blog usually have an opinion they’re trying to express relevant to whatever community they fit themselves into. Whether politics, technology, social justice, or PTA, clearly these people have a dog in whatever race they’re advocating. But it does also lead to a chicken and egg consideration: did Twitter or social media lead to them becoming more socially active or did the activity lead them to Twitter?

New New Media Replaces Old New Media But Nothing Is Dying

Jul
13

Cory Doctorow says that reports of blogging’s death are greatly exaggerated.Content’s just finding more appropriate mediums.

When all we had was the stage, every performance was a play. When we got films, a great lot of these stories moved to the screen, where they’d always belonged (they’d been squeezed onto a stage because there was no alternative). When TV came along, those stories that were better suited to the small screen were peeled away from the cinema and relocated to the telly. When YouTube came along, it liberated all those stories that wanted to be 3-8 minutes long, not a 22-minute sitcom or a 48-minute drama. And so on.

What’s left behind at each turn isn’t less, but more: the stories we tell on the stage today are there not because they must be, but because they’re better suited to the stage than they are to any other platform we know about. This is wonderful for all concerned – the audience numbers might be smaller, but the form is much, much better.

Blogging didn’t kill traditional websites, it just provided a new and easier way to push content quickly for those who wanted to. As Facebook and Twitter came along, some found that these services filled the need that blogging had to in the past since that was the best choice available at the time. Future services won’t kill Twitter or FB but will peel away users as these services better fit what users want for their content. Those left behind are those who find the tools best suited to what they need, and those are the people who will use them best.

Newspapers And The Hulu Model

Jul
13

Wesley Donehue over at TechRepublican wonders what if newspapers explored the Hulu advertising model?

Let’s look at South Carolina as an example. The State’s John O’Connor and Gina Smith pumped out “must read” material for the nation during the Mark Sanford scandal. Unfortunately the only money they got from the increased readership was a hopeful increased click-through rate on the banner ads that polluted the page.

What if those banner ads weren’t there? What if, instead, a 30 second commercial popped up and you couldn’t move on to the story until you sat through the video? Sure, it’s a little annoying, just like on Hulu. But people will sit through 30 seconds of a commercial to get to solid content

Some news sites already do this, a splash coming up showing an advertisement with a small “click here to go to the article” link in the corner. It’d be interesting to see how that has impacted ad revenue compared to readership rates and whether this model works. But to date most of these ads have been standard flash advertisements and the opt through link at the top has made them not so mandatory.

The problem with forcing a 30 second or even 15 second commitment from a reader is a difference in how the medium is consumed. We are already used to commercials when watching television or video so three 30 second ads during a 30 minute Hulu broadcast doesn’t bother us.. Websites based on text content fall into a newspaper style of advertising in that it’s a matter of placement around the content, not interrupting the flow of it with something on a completely different level of interaction.

Could this use a change? Sure. But text is usually skimmed more than read andarticles of 1200 words may only keep eyes on the site for an average of around 75 seconds. Tacking a 15 second hurdle on top of something before they’ve committed to it risks losing that reader. Interrupting their skimming after a few paragraphs with the same style of ad risks the same.

Promoting The Right Online And The Negative Value Of My Thoughts

Jul
10

NOTE: I have no idea why this post is suddenly current. It was originally drafted in August, 2007. Why it’s here now, I dunno. But as it’s out there, no point in pulling it down. But do keep in mind all thoughts are in the context of 2007. Then again, how much has really changed in almost three years?

James Durbin at TechRepublican laments on the lack of any real organizationlike MoveOn or DailyKos on the conservative side of the web:

The sad thing is it wouldn’t take that much to build a solid organization. There are probably 5,000 blogs nationwide that could be organized into a conservative community and propped up with a Conservative Advertisers Network where politicians could buy geo-targeted ads and in-text ad links. For say, $500,000 total, we could work with one of the existing communities and grow it into a conservative powerhouse.

Any conservative George Soros out there want to pitch in some cheddar? Think of it this way – you’ll make more in a business-friendly environment then you will under a socialist one. I’m willing to give the set of plans to the right people, if anyone is interested.

And right there we see the problem with many people trying to play catch-up on the political side of Web 2.0.

It’s all about the money.

But it shouldn’t be. As I say in the comments:

Are we really just a bunch of mercenaries willing to go out of our way to advance the Conservative cause on the internet only if it pays well? Creating the “next big thing” or even utilizing what’s already there for the cause doesn’t take a lot of money, it simply takes time and a willingness to make it happen. Yet too many people are thinking in terms of dollars and seeing this as a money making opportunity. We’ve got to get past that if we can even hope to begin to compete on the web. Once you build something, once you have a model that works, then you can ask people to invest in it.

The reader generated value of my comment? -1 points. So is the comment of Brian Edwards who uses a comment to hype GOPHub which is an actual effort to create a Digg for right of center blog content.

So a comment that talks about what is being done (and without a half a million dollar investment) and another that points out that money should not be the issue aren’t worth noting. They’re worth less than that. Good to know.

The problem is that the right is trying to create the “next big thing” right away. And while that might not come cheap, it’s a flawed approach at the issue. MoveOn had some big backing, sure, but DailyKos, ActBlue, these sites started as activist driven, grassroots organizations that have grown through the years. If DailyKos and ActBlue have made their organizers money, I’m pretty sure that wasn’t their intention and has become a delightful perk. It’s also ignoring the existance of sites like RedState which act as hubs of conservative thought without large financial backing.

Let’s look locally. Virginia Political Blogs and Richmond Sunlight are two projects from Waldo Jaquith that show what one can do if they simply have the desire and the time. While money might have been nice, Waldo didn’t need a big chunk of cash to provide a great political service. Either of these projects could have been made to target one political side or another if Waldo were so inclined, and at the same low cost and great service.

So the question becomes, are folks on the right really seeking the next big thing that will drive conservative activism or the next big thing that will make money?

Ultimately it comes down to the line that still holds true: if you build it they will come. You can’t just ask for a chunk of change upfront and promise to deliver some amazing product that will be the answer to everyone’s prayers. You have to have a product that’s already doing something, a working model that shows potential that only needs a little boost to dominate. GOPHub is a good service in its infancy. If it just had a bit more backing, not just financially but among the blogs, it could go a long way to act as a clearing house for the national conservative blogosphere. That they have a working model shows that it can be capable of and that’s a better thing to look to than so far empty promises and hype that smacks more of panhandling than actual substance.