Media Holdouts In The Digital Age

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.

Novel Editing: Week One

I’m finding my original edits from 2003/04 were more thorough than I remembered in some areas and missed some glaring errors in others. One week in and about half the book has been cleaned up. Surprisingly I haven’t needed a second red pen. I worry that is more a judgment of my editing abilities than my writing.

Admittedly it’s weird to read this because it flashes back to seven years ago, a different time in my life (as it was for everyone else, too). The book is fiction but uses loosely autobiographical elements: locations and settings, some individuals, some events blown out of proportion ten times over. So it’s natural to be dragged back.

What’s most interesting to me is how the style is so different. Second person, present tense. Themes across the story. I haven’t written like this in seven years. I’d be hard pressed to imitate or duplicate it now.

Maybe that’s reflected in the edits. Different word choices or maybe outright fear of my in ability to do major rewrites should they be needed. I dunno.

Halfway in and I’m having my doubts. But that’s to be expected so far removed from the story. We’ll see how the back half goes.

10. Torture your protagonist.
The writer is both a sadist and a masochist. We create people we love, and then we torture them. The more we love them, and the more cleverly we torture them along the lines of their greatest vulnerability and fear, the better the story. Sometimes we try to protect them from getting booboos that are too big. Don’t. This is your protagonist, not your kid.

Janet Fitch’s Ten Rules For Writers

10. Torture your protagonist.

The writer is both a sadist and a masochist. We create people we love, and then we torture them. The more we love them, and the more cleverly we torture them along the lines of their greatest vulnerability and fear, the better the story. Sometimes we try to protect them from getting booboos that are too big. Don’t. This is your protagonist, not your kid.

Janet Fitch’s Ten Rules For Writers

[M]aybe it would be cool to have conversations about this thing that I’m the most passionate about in my life with the person I’m most passionate about.

Jessi Arrington speaking of business partner and husband Creighton Mershon. cf. “Once you’re on the job, having a best friend at work is a strong predictor of success. People might define ‘best’ loosely (think of this as kindergarten where you can have more than one ‘best’ friend), but according to a Gallup Organization study of more than 5 million workers over 35, 56% of the people who say they have a best friend at work are engaged, productive, and successful while only 8% of the ones who don’t are.” —Why Friends Matter at Work and in Life (via bobulate)

Novel Editing

On the left is a printing of my finished 2003 Nanorwimo novel that was roughly edited in the months after it was written and then shelved. On the right is a current printing of the first draft with plenty of space for me to really go hardcore on the edited. Not pictured are the handful of other edits, notes, and the like not just made by myself but friends who have added their thoughts through the years.

I am going through the new printing with a fine tooth comb as well as combining all of these other edits into one final marked up mess that will then be used to fully clean up the manuscript.

This is the year I truly and completely finish this book and see where I can take it. Well, the “take it” part may be 2011. But the book will be clean by then.
It’s only taken 7 years.

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

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)

Handwritten non-sci-fi contest leads to no entries

Across the lake in Kent, England a H.G. Wells story competition ran into a bit of trouble:

Budding young writers were invited to send their short stories creating a picture of contemporary life in Kent, to Reg Turnill, a former BBC aerospace correspondent who as a young reporter interviewed Wells.

But due to what Mr Turnill now believes were over-strict rules, he has had to change the entry conditions.

Interesting to note, the over 25 years of age category pulled in entries no problem. Longhand is starting to become another lost art (like headline writing) but maybe the “no sci-fi” requirement was the biggest hurdle, especially since last year they were fine when sci-fi was allowed. How can you have a Wells writing contest and not allow sci-fi? Sure he wrote other stuff, but c’mon! (via Boing Boing)

Twitter Users More Likely To Be Active Offline

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

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.