Sunday, December 30, 2007

Free vs Free

Time Magazine's Justin Fox brings up the elephant in the room regarding the "stop making news free" argument:

News was already pretty close to free long before the Internet came along. It was free on TV, free on the radio, and effectively free in newspapers when you consider all the valuable stuff that came packaged with it for 25 or 50 cents, from comics to crosswords to classifieds to supermarket ads. And unlike, say, a song--which was free on the radio but worth spending money on to be able to play again and again whenever you wanted to hear it--a day-old newspaper was usually less than worthless.

It's an argument I've seen being made more and more recently, and one I believe holds true: Newspapers were never making their payrolls on issue sales. They were significantly undercharging in order to up the eyeballs on every page, so they could then turn around the and show advertisers huge numbers.

The problem today isn't that people don't want to pay for news--they barely payed for it to begin with. The problem now is one of advertising. Advertisers don't see the need to pay massive amounts anymore, when full-page ads and premium placements are a thing of the past. But even more than that, Newspapers and other media companies have ceded control of online advertising to Google, getting pennies where they used to get dollars. That is where the true crisis lies.

PS. Back from a break. Good to see you again

Sunday, December 16, 2007

"Please keep this note within the family"

Looks like someone didn't heed the request in the first line, when a private memo from the CEO of alt-weekly chain Creative Loafing (ugh) got sent to journalism columnist Jim Romenesko. Whoops.

The memo addresses the New York Times story about the Reader layoffs (would he have written it had the firings not gotten national play?), but is also a good look into the mindset of a media-mogul wannabe in 2007, the worst possible year to try and become a player:

It also has the single worst and most confusing definition of "the long tail" theory I've ever read:
The online game is tied to the theory of the long tail where large internet based media companies (Google, Yahoo, MSN, AOL) form the head of the tail and the end of the tail is the lonely blogger sitting in his or her underwear.

Exactly what is this the tail of?

And this is the guy that's going to save alternative weeklies, thanks to his understanding of the Internet?

"There is a chance that historians will examine this period in American history and wonder if journalism left the field."

The New York Times this week published a captivating essay that manages to hit on:

1) The layoffs at the Chicago Reader and how...

2) They have grave implications for the future of investigative reporting and how...

3) That's a bad thing for us as a democracy but how...

4) All is not lost.

Your milage may vary on that last point, especially when he trots out Rupert Murdoch as his proof, but the rest of it is pretty awesome and includes a nice hook into the continuing Chicago police torture cases and how the Reader's the only paper that truly cared--that is until they laid off the lead reporter on the story last week. A truly haunting line:

Google and Digg never made a phone call, never asked hard questions of public officials, never got an innocent man out of jail

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Thursday, December 6, 2007

It's all zombie bites these days

So Facebook has finally admitted that spying on its users as they travel the web--and then reporting back to all their friends--was not perhaps the best move they could have made. Of course, it's not the first time Facebook has made a decision that flies in the face of what its users want. The last time however, the introduction of the site's now-popular news feed and mini-feed, at least it seemed the company was trying to introduce something useful to is users. With Beacon, their "you rented Ice Castles on DVD and I'm telling everyone" application, users only factored into the equation as something to exploit, not something to help.

That's the problem with the kind of fantasy money that's being bandied about with Facebook--when you're supposedly worth $15 billion, the pressure is on to prove you can earn the title (if not the money). As a result, you've got to try and wring every last cent out of your users. The problem is that on a social networking site like Facebook, your users are all you've got. If you start treating them as little more than grist for the money mill, are they really going to keep coming back?

It's something to remember as every publication and media company tries to incorporate some aspect of social networking into their websites: are you doing this for the users, or are you doing this for you?

Let's give the last word to Fake Steve Jobs:

Thing is, nobody ever doubted that Facebook can do better. What's scary is the fact that they won't do better until people start to scream at them. It's the fact that it doesn't really seem to be in their nature to do the right thing. Their instinct, in fact, seems to be to do the wrong thing, and to keep doing it until they get caught. Even after they get caught, their instinct is to spin and fudge and brazen it out. No wonder the Borg has partnered with them. It's a match made in heaven. These guys are like Google, only their slogan isn't "Don't be evil" -- it's "Don't get caught."

Either that or they truly are a bunch of spoiled and scarily fucking clueless kids who honestly have no idea why people are upset about this, because they truly have no moral compass and they view this whole thing as just another pain in the ass hurdle to get over on the way to becoming rich. In which case, yeah, I'm, like, rilly rilly super glad that they're, like, gathering information on me?

Karp on the future of print publishing

Publishing 2.0's Scott Karp returns from a lengthy hiatus with a great look at the changing landscape of print publishing but in a different way than you usually hear:
Most of the discussion about the future of print publishing and paid content centers on the content, which makes sense, but the content hasn’t really changed that much (despite the emergence of some new forms) — nor do I think the value of content has changed in the minds of content consumers, e.g. people who value journalism still value it — their numbers haven’t diminished as so many fear.

What’s changed radically is the value of DISTRIBUTION.

The whole thing's a good read, including the wonderful example of Fray, a literary quarterly that's returned to print.