Interesting paywall views from David Cushman

Neither Dave Cushman or The Media Briefing (for which I occasionally write) need much help in the way of the promotion, but as always, Cush has some interesting views on the media and paywalls which are worth checking out. We’ve both got some form in that area, given that we worked together at Emap/Bauer Media for many years – in fact it was Dave who gave me the job of looking after the forums and live chat room for the MCN site in addition to my writing duties, which was a hugely valuable community management experience.

It reminds me of what a great team we had working together for a while -Dave is obviously the MD of 90:10, Angus is a top video producer at Which (who needs to blog more), Tim is an expert on pretty much everything involving digital businesses, but has chosen to focus on multivariate testing, and Matt is able to serve ads and great music with equal talent.

And I’ve somehow managed to fall upwards into providing digital content and marketing for a range of UK and global clients, co-founding a funky design and development shop which is growing too quickly to let us finish our own website, and launching my own niche digital media efforts with OnlineRaceDriver and FPSPrestige. (I almost forgot about Digital People in Peterborough as well!)

 

Print publishing continues to bemuse me…

The Association of Online Publishers 2010 summit opened today, with experimentation and innovation as key items mentioned by chairman Tim Faircliff. I wasn’t in attendance, but I completely agree – both were key when I started my career back in 2001, and both were key since the dawn of business. The worrying thing is that we’re still reiterating that need in 2010.

And when it comes to print? Even more bemusing. Ignoring paywalls and iPad apps for the moment (They still count as experimentation, but neither is innovative anymore), there’s news that Bauer Media (former employers of mine for a long time) is about to trial ‘Gazetta’ – a Grazia for men featuring a strong news and fashion agenda and will also feature food, travel and automotive content. It’s being bundled with Grazia and given away free to test it without spending millions on launching first.

At the same time, The Independent is rumoured to be launching a new 20p newspaper targeting 20-somethings.

Why I’m so bemused…

Firstly, if you want to test something cheaply, £50 will do it and about 30 minutes will do it – just go and buy a domain and some hosting from somewhere like www.GoDaddy.com (aff link), and put some content up. You’ll have insights by the end of the first week.

Secondly, targetting men and 20-somethings? Ignoring the 20%+ year-on-year decreases for Bauer men’s titles FHM and Zoo, here are some interesting stats from research published back in February:

  • 99% of young males go online every day or nearly every day, with 80% saying they’d be lost without it.
  • 57% of young men have their closest technology attachment to the internet, followed by 49% for their mobile phone.
  • 25% of young men admitted to checking their email and 18% to looking at social networking sites on their mobile phone before they get out of bed in the morning. Some 94% use email at least once per day, compared with 60% that use a social network such as Facebook.
  • More than 25% of young males living with their partners watch TV on a computer in the living room while their other half uses the main TV set.

Now, this research was carried out on behalf of Microsoft Advertising, so feel free to draw your own conclusion from that, but if you’re targeting young men, would you be using print as your priority? Bauer have lined up some big name advertisers for the trial, as you’d expect, but do you think they’ll be retained long term?

And already in a similar market you’ve got the free to consumer Shortlist, radio companies such as my former employers at Absolute Radio, and numerous television offerings – the big difference between the male-targeted strategy for radio and print is that one compliments multi-tasking, the other fights against it.

And why ‘Gazetta’? A hangover from Italian football on UK TV and the rise of Starbucks a few years ago?

I’m interested to know what other people might think? Any guesses whether either new title will be successful or otherwise? Is digital too crowded?

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Open Software – from watches to newspapers

One of the most interesting trends of recent years has been the way that increasing openness has been embraced by a growing number of proprietary business who realise that they probably can’t come up with all the great ideas for a product.

For example, the wristwatch has been coming under attack from the fact so many people use their mobile phone for checking the time (and a lot more). And past ideas to include digital information in a watch have generally been a bit, well, rubbish, as they’ve tended to look like a reject from the 1980s vision of the future.

But Fossil seem to have a cool idea, as reported by ReadWriteWeb. Make something that looks really good, allow the type of notifications which are short, actionable and time-sensitive. And then open-source it to developers to come up with amazing ideas for what could be displayed there, rather than trying to think of them all.

Meanwhile, the Journal Register company has been experimenting with producing online and print editions of their newspapers using only free tools. Dubbed the Ben Franklin project, it’s involved using a variety of tools – for instance, WordPress as a publishing platform, or GIMP for image editing.

And they’re honest about the fact that this experiment is about finding the best ways to publish print and digital products for the future, using more cost-effective ways to exist in a challenging market. Their blog about the experience is well worth reading, and already alerted me to an interesting open source Desktop Publishing System called Scribus which I haven’t had the good fortune to try yet. (H/T Tim Windsor)

Free and open isn’t the only solution you should look at – there are sometimes very good reasons for going the proprietary route. And open comes with certain commitments it could be easy for companies to overlook (Such as the commitment to contribute back to the codebase – easy to forget if it comes after all your business-critical tasks). But with those caveats in place, proprietary software now has to work so much harder to earn its keep.

Newspapers, Magazines, and the Apple iPad

While newspaper and magazine publishers have seen some good opportunities and success with the iPhone, the larger form factor of the iPad has definitely seen a huge leap in interest and the number of dedicated newspaper and magazine applications being produced, with figures already being shared by various publications about their success.

The Time sold 5,000 iPad apps in 3 days at £9.99, the Wall Street Journal has 10,000 customers paying $17.29 a month (free to print/web subscribers), The Financial Times has had 130,000 downloads of it’s free application. The Australian has had 4,500 downloads at $4.99 a month, the Guardian Eyewitness free app has had 90,000 downloads. And Wired is apparently selling more copies on the iPad than in print (print sales were quoted at 79,000).

(Figures from conferences I’ve attended, Paidcontent, New York Observer, Venturebeat)

All very impressive…but…

1) Friend and former magazine colleague Dave Cushman makes a point which quite a few other people have also discussed – is this an illusion of a long term future for publishers? He picks up on the open/closed, silo/network challenge, and that many publishers seem to see print sales dropping just because we can’t buy a lovely digital version of a print product. (Ignoring the fact that I carry 2-3 digital devices past at least 2 news stands every morning, with print products which already look good, are eminently portable and mobile already, and don’t require any net connection/investment in a new device).

2) The first month of figures are pretty much meaningless. Talk to me in six months about the number of app downloads, subscriber figures, and revenue. Then it’ll be clear whether the approach you’ve taken to the iPad is actually a solution, or just a very temporary bump.

Most applications will see good figures for the first month or two. They’re new in iTunes and get a little bit of promotion purely for that. And in this case, they’re also getting the bonus of a huge amount of hype around the iPad, and large amount of cross-promotion from the existing print and digital products. Here’s a question – How much revenue was given up in house ads to get the revenue the iPad app has generated?

The iPad is still hugely important:

I’m not denying the impact and value of the Apple iPad. It’s been extremely successful so far ( 2 million already sold), and is definitely driving a new way of accessing digital content (the web as well as apps).

But it’s far to early to say with certainty that the future of digital publishing lies in applications, and particularly in products which haven’t adapted to any benefits of digital distribution other than an easy paywall via iTunes. The larger iPad screen and speedy browser means a great way to surf the web for content without cost in many, many cases. And allows me to see all the peer-created and recommended content that is filtered for value to me in a more effective way than news organisations currently manage.

It’s only when excited new iPad owners have overcome their initial app-downloading frenzy and we can analyse repeat usage we’ll see whether this new distribution channel works for magazines – and whether anyone gets away with packaging the same product.

Not sure how to monetise your eyeballs?

While newspaper and magazine owners are still trying to decide whether or not they should aim for eyeballs or paywalls, there are several other companies who are happy to take up the challenge.

For instance, online social media publisher Mashable has signed a deal to syndicate content to Thursday editions of Metro in the U.S. Mashable founder Pete Cashmore is already a regular on CNN in the U.S, and Mashable and CNN. Plus Mashable has partnered with CNN for the Mashable Media Summit 2010.

It’s interesting to see that mainstream publications and online publications are increasingly merging, but the ‘digital natives’ seem less worried and more sure that they’ve already got the monetisation aspect under control.

One reason is that by the time the likes of Mashable and Techcrunch have reached their current scale, they have already had to answer the questions of how to fund an online business. But as they grew from relatively humble beginnings, they’ve tackled it as they’ve grown without having to worry about legacy systems and overheads.

And by the same token, if you look at the staffing levels – Mashable lists 20 staff, and Techcrunch lists 21.

Compare that to the epic lists of staff at most magazines, for example, and you can see a big contrast.  There are print magazines run by smaller teams, but none that have the scale of the leading blogs (Or at least what started out as blogs).

So how do you produce so much content with a small team across all our properties? Simple, count the guest posts and the open offers to submit work to the likes of Mashable and Techcrunch.

Then consider a quote from the 2010 PPA Conference from the Chief Executive of Future Publishing, Stevie Spring:

“Advertisers are scared of the prospect of seeing their ads next to user-generated content. This won’t change. All it takes is one bad example to put brands off.”

That’s why sites which benefit from user-generated content are filtering and curating that content to get value out of it. There’s a reason why there are successful businesses based around user-generated content, but 4Chan isn’t one of them.

How much to launch a new title online?

I’ve often wondered, and indeed directly questioned, why traditional publishers pondering new markets haven’t tested the water by launching an incredibly cost effective online trial for a new idea?

I suggested it quite a lot in the past – especially using external hosting and services to launch something for a total cost that’s less than a day’s pay for the lowliest of staff writers. And don’t claim that your market doesn’t use the internet – there are more than enough people from any demographic to give you a better idea of what they’ll do than a lot of panel-based research surveys of what people might claim they’d do.

How much would it cost?

Well some web hosting would cost around $60 for a year from a mainstream hosting provider.

A domain from the same place bought at the same time would be as low as $1.99 at the moment.

And having removed the potential roadblock of an uncooperative IT department, you might come up against problems getting design help?

Well, you could install WordPress and use a free theme.

Or, if you’re not happy and want something that comes with a more ‘professional’ look and guaranteed support, you can get a Premium, or Paid WordPress Theme for a good price.

For instance, for Online Race Driver, I went with the great Metro Theme from Studiopress (disc – aff links). The cost for that theme is $59.95 – or you can buy access to all their themes for $199.95. My experience with them has been good enough I’m looking to upgrade my membership shortly.  One benefit is that although many free themes are supported by their developers and support forums etc, the paid option tends to provide a slightly better guarantee of service levels etc.

But anyway, the cost to test your next idea with a website that can be set up in about an hour or so?

About $121.

Add in free website analytics from Google, and even include your own advertising, or bung in some Adsense ads.

And that’s what I’d have suggested for anyone – there are cheaper options, such as hosted blogs, but they tend to lack a little flexibility, or the chance to test advertisers etc.

But then I found out about the Secret London Facebook Group. As reported on Techcrunch, it’s reached 182,010 members in a handful of weeks.

Started by a university graduate competing for an internship, it’s now becoming a startup with not only 180,000+ members, but already 5000 photos uploaded.

Total cost? $0.

I’m not saying that it will necessarily translate into business success, but it’s a pretty effective way of tracking interest – and Facebook Connect would allow most of those interested to also interact with any new website.

Whenever someone has an idea for a new publication, it might be worth pausing before you dismiss it – and instead investing some time and a tiny amount of cash to see if it might fly…

Hi Newspapers – can I join the party?

Having spent a long time looking at, reading about, and experiencing firsthand the changes happening to print and digital mainstream media publishing, it’s a bit of a shock to find out I’ve gone down completely the wrong path.

Until now, I was siding with the view that complaining about Google ‘stealing’ the news and sending worthless visitors was more a sign of ineptitude and fear on the part of a traditional business model and industry which hasn’t radically changed in 100 years.

But then it struck me.

I write and publish content on two blogs.

That content is indexed by Google, even if I’m not a major contributor to Google News quite yet.

Google also supplies a lot of the advertising that appears on both my blogs.

Plus most of my blogging time is spent in Google Reader and Googlemail.

So that means if the newspapers can look for concessions from the Government, Google, Microsoft, and anywhere else they can think of, then so can I!

I can’t wait for the campaigning newspaper companies to get in touch and offer to help me as well. I might even get a call from Mr Murdoch himself.

And if cash isn’t forthcoming, I wouldn’t say no to a few links sending some more visitors my way… I don’t mind trying to make money from a much bigger pool of people…

The two digital publishing models of the near future

Two approaches to digital content creation and publishing are taking hold – and sadly neither of them are equivalent to the way most traditional publishers are set up.

The first is the ‘battery farm’ approach – as seen by aol. and several companies targeting content creation for primarily SEO purposes. Gather as many writers and journalists as you can keep in a warehouse, and get them to churn out as much content as possible for as many places as possible. And in the case of some companies, develop and use tools to see what people are actively searching for at the time to create the right content to capitalise on that interest (e.g. Yahoo).

The second is the ‘blogger’s niche’ approach. Start projects with just one or two people trialling an idea, see if it works, and if sustainable, built into a network model which can mean virtual offices and teams spread out wherever someone has an idea for niche content which could work. This is where you’re more likely to find great writing and insight in terms of longer, more thoughtful articles by people who can wax lyrically about their subject. See the likes of b5media, Techcrunch, Mashable, etc, etc.

The problem for traditional media companies is that they’re not geared up for either of these plans. They might have large numbers of content creators, but these people are grouped around specific products in the magazine industry, for example. The groups are too small to churn out content – and aren’t geared up yet for producing content for anyone else. Meanwhile they’re too large to use the network model – only the very smallest print magazine editorial teams are anything near compact enough, and even then the infrastructure and processes already in place mean it would be easier to scrap it all and start again.

This is all assuming a business model predominantly based on advertising revenue, which requires increasingly low costs in order to drive any profits. Other production method will exist hand-in-hand with different business models. But they will need to be created around the new business model, rather than vice-versa.

Which newspaper mentions Twitter the most? (UK)

Although Ashton Kutcher has people following him on Twitter than the entire UK news industry, in terms of online readership, the UK news industry has pretty good reach, with The Telegraph, The Guardian and The Daily Mail all attracting over 30 million unique users in September 2009.

So I thought it would be interesting to see exactly which ones were mentioning Twitter the most – and to keep it simple and relevant for everyone, I decided to only use their search functionality to work it out:

So which newspapers have mentioned Twitter the most?

Key thoughts from this simple experiment:

  • Most people would probably have put The Guardian top if asked.
  • The fact Twitter search returns and ABCe results are closely linked suggests the effectiveness of site structure and search functionality, rather than Twitter mentions being integral to driving readers! (I’m sure Martin has much more in-depth information on this as part of the team at The Guardian).
  • At least a couple of sites have seriously wonky search functionality, despite being two of many with search powered or ‘enhanced by’ Google.
  • It’s definitely skewed towards the ‘middle-class’ broadsheets regardless of political leaning, which is what most people would expect.
  • There’s a power law in full effect, with two/three sites providing most of the coverage.

Track Twitter followers for UK newspapers

Twitter followers for UK national newspapers have been tracked for a while now by Malcolm Coles over at the Online Journalism Blog.

And there are some really interesting insights emerging – besides the fact that at 1,665,202 followers in total, the entire UK news industry has serious competition from the likes of Ashton Kutcher (3,777,896 followers )and Stephen Fry (794,146 followers).

Take out the @guardiantech account, which contributes 1.2 million followers, and things really don’t look brilliant in terms of scale for most accounts – it might look better if you aggregated all Times accounts, for example, but you’d still be in the low tens of thousands, and you’d still be part of a 400,000 (approx) total.

And although there’s reasonable growth, it’s again all skewed towards the Guardian Tech account, which is benefitting heavily from being included in the Suggested User List for new users.

The question is why news sources – which are proving to be pretty popular judging by their homepage statistics – are so much less attractive on Twitter?

I don’t think it’s the wrong location for finding news and information – in fact the opposite is true.

I do think there are potentially two reasons:

1. Perhaps the strength of major media news sources – which has been written about by many people – is in aggregating and providing context and insight into what’s going on, rather than attempting to ‘beat the crowd’ to the first tweet?

But I suspect it’s more likely to be:

2. If you simply plug in an RSS feed and then bugger off, you’ll never get anywhere.