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Posts Tagged ‘newspapers’

Though the argument between Gladwell and Anderson is fun to read and stimulating it completely misses the point of why Anderson is wrong about Free and why the newspaper industry is having trouble.

“Information wants to be free” doesn’t mean free as in beer… it is free as in freedom.  Even putting it in that context that line has nothing to do with what’s going on in media.

The ad model has crumbled for broadcast TV and newspapers and magazines.  It doesn’t mean that advertising globally is over or that charging for content or supporting content via advertising has crumbled.  It is the failure of the cost structures of the troubled media.  Ads simply don’t make the money they used to for these organizations.  Why?  Well, as we’ve discussed many times on this blog and elsewhere, because advertisers really know how to count eyeballs and transactions now.  That puts pricing pressure on campaigns (especially long term deals and premium upfronts).

Why can’t Youtube make money?  Plenty of advertisers put ads on youtube.  No users click or respond to them.  Not enough to cover the $360 million a year bandwidth bill.   It would be pretty easy to actually turn a profit with Youtube.  It would just have to stop being so Youtube-ish – i.e. get rid of the fluff content, make more ambitious ads, etc. etc.  I’m sure that will happen once Google feels like Youtube can’t be significantly touched from easy competition.  I’m sure this will happen soon.

This whole thing about making everything free or whatever.  It’s hogwash.  People pay for stuff they value.  They click on ads that don’t suck and are relevant.  The newspaper industry, as its old model stands, needs to change.  Big deal.  It will.  yes there will be micro publishing and competition from bloggers and all that.  Big deal.

I never really believed in the long tail either.  Every company I’ve seen financials for that bet on the long tail hasn’t made a dime.  If you look on itunes and amazon and shopping sites and news sites it’s still the hits that make the money.  And hits cost money to make. and people value them, so they buy them.  This applies to music, movies, articles, books, celebrities, products…. i’m not saying you can’t make money from the long tail… you can… but that’s like comparing making money from hotdog carts (the long tail of lunch) to running a multi-national chain like mcdonald’s (hits!).  or maybe not. but hopefully you get my point.

I do agree with Gladwell on one point – there are no iron clad laws… except maybe one.. there are no iron clad laws.

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It’s a safe assumption that every newspaper and publisher has access to the basic data created and shared by the world.  Newspapers and publishers can use Freebase or Wikipedia or some other aggregator/syndication service to fill their websites and their papers full of content.  The race for coverage and exclusives is over – every outlet can cover everything simply by mashing it all up.

This availability of all data by all outlets has ruined the differentiation between local papers, category specific publications and most hobbyist content providers.  It used to matter who the editor in chief knew, which city a publisher was in, how fast the vans could get to the scene or whether the product makers liked a publisher’s reviewers.  The ability to get and cover content competitors couldn’t drove audience.  Now, search engine optimizations, clever traffic arbitrage schemes and integration with portals are the drivers of audience for most traditional publishers.  This is a short lived game though – for a variety of reasons.  The main reason is that it’s too hard to compete – everyone is competing for the top spot in Google for the most important searches.  The portals can only feature a small set of links every day. The arbitrage schemes are played out by a great many players, and money talks more than anything else.

The winning strategy involves Synthesis.   “Just the facts, mam” doesn’t cut it.  Interpretation, analysis, synthesis of the causal webs, related ideas, the context, the history.  All of that done via interactive visuals like timelines, charts, trends, projections, simulations.  Every which way to expose fresh takes.

Synthesis still takes unique perspective and skilled people.  Synthesis is what creates shared understanding – i.e. knowledge.  Publishers need to get out of the data business and into the knowledge business.   Knowledge is defensible, data is not.  Knowledge is worth paying for, data is not.  Advertising tangled with knowledge performs, advertising with data distracts.

Are there examples of good synthesis?

It’s rare.

I don’t think cable TV does a great job of synthesis.  Most talking heads are just creating noisy data.  Good synthesis provides insight, demands more questions, finds connections.  Yahoo News doesn’t. Google News doesn’t.

Edge.org does alright.  The Economist usually.  WSJ still does a good job with synthesizing.  CNN, occasionally.  Go to these websites, they aren’t just the data regurgitated. And they are rewarded with traffic.

This isn’t limited to news. Science information, entertainment, business intelligence, weather, and more all need synthesis.   Consider the spread of Compete.com and Quantcast.com versus Alexa.  Alexa didn’t really synthesize the numbers into useful trends, audience slices or any more useful view.

You get the point.  Enough of the “information age”, let’s bring about the synthesis age.  Therein lies the value publishers can bring to consumers.

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