Find the best radio stations – online

Finding the best radio station is obviously a subjective experience. Are you looking for a particular band or genre? Do you want somewhere with variety? And how on earth do you find the station that’s right for you as an individual without going through every stop on the dial and noting down what they play for a whole day or more?

CompareMyRadio.com

CompareMyRadio.com is the newest project to launch from One Golden Square Labs (Disclosure: One Golden Square Labs is from the team behind Absolute Radio, where I’m Digital Marketing Manager)

And it’s an incredibly simple and effective way to find and compare radio stations (I can say that honestly as it wasn’t my idea, sadly). All you need to do is enter the name of your favourite artist, track or station, and you’ll be presented with which stations play the most of your favourite music, or which music your station plays the most.

It also gives you a guide to how many tracks a station plays over a set period of time, and how much variety there is.

And best of all, the results are completely down to you as an individual – so there can’t be any implied bias. In fact, picking three bands at random from my collection, Metallica, The Lemonheads, and The Charlatans, Absolute Radio wasn’t the top result for the three, although it was in the running every time.

As with the recent launch of  a user-controlled radio station, Dabbl, it’s currently in Beta and there are plenty of plans for the future, so give it a go and share your feedback…

Nice feedback on my ALPSP presentation…

Always good to get some nice feedback…

‘Dan Thornton provided a particularly insightful introduction to online
communities at a recent ALPSP seminar. The detailed analysis of the
available options for publishing in its varied forms provided an exciting
launch pad for the day itself and provided food for thought for the many
academic publishers attending the event.’

Nick Evans, Chief Operating Officer, Association of Learned and Professional
Society Publishers (www.alpsp.org)

The slides in question are ‘Building online communities to support successful media brands’.

New cloud-based BackupMy.Net includes Twitter

Backing-up your stuff is never a back idea, although there’s some debate over whether to choose the cloud or a local harddrive. But if the cloud’s your choice, then there’s a new company to add with BackupMy.Net.

You get to save emails, blogs, pictures, and most importantly here, Twitter.  It’s relatively fast, and you can download your tweets in HTML, JSON or XML format.

If you want to ask them a question directly, obviously they’re on Twitter as @backupmymail (not backupmytwitter?)

It’s free to back up your Tweets, no password is required, and their own counter is claiming close to 3 million Tweets are already protected.

The main concern that has been highlighted so far has been ReadWriteWeb pointing out that it auto-Tweets on your behalf.

Is any magazine company leading the way digitally?

Does any magazine company have a clear strategy for their digital business? Viewing it from the outside, there seems even less chance of picking who will be successful in the future.

Dennis Publishing seemed to be leading the way with online mags Monkey, iGizmo and iMotor, but has gone on to buy The First Post and  bit-tech.net. Now it’s buying Kontraband, which has been around for 10 years, and has seen unique users decline from 10 million to 3 million as online video has solidified around the likes of Youtube and the BBC iPlayer.

Integrating video from a Dennis-controlled site into the other properties might make sense – after all, the various outlets guarantee a certain number of views, and there won’t be a need to share revenue with Google/Youtube.

Future Publishing is adding an online album club costing £3 a month for Classic Rock to let people read online reviews and download advance copies of the accompanying albums.

Meanwhile Conde Nast is closing Men.Style.com to focus on a new GQ.com website, Businessweek is up for sale by McGraw-Hill, and my former home at Bauer Media has been pretty quiet on the digital front since relaunching Aloud.com and shuttering Ditto.net (which has now been removed entirely from the internet).

So what seems to be a wise move?

Dennis expanding their portfolio seems logical, especially as they can now experiment to see whether their own revenue from Kontraband makes more sense than the bigger marketing potential of Youtube, and whether they can entice their 3 million unique users with some text to accompany their videos.

Conde Nast aligning their online and offline titles is also a good move – too often companies have tried to build portal sites which incorporate a number of magazines – to hide costs and a lack of content and resource – and have ended up trying to establish new brands whilst confusing audiences.  And there are some really viable alternatives…

What don’t make sense?

I’m not entirely convinced by an online album club – granted the Classic Rock audience are more likely to be familiar with an album club than torrenting MP3s, but is there enough to justify £3 in the face of memberships for the increasingly familiar Spotify and Last.fm? Plus the music labels are making their own moves to become content providers, along with the artist themselves.

Having worked on Ditto, obviously I’m biased about it, but as it was pretty much quiet on the staff/development front, it seems strange to save some minimal server costs.

Oh, and I’m still not tempted by the print UK edition of Wired. Besides the obvious ‘geeks on the internet’ issue, I’d have rather seen a larger U.S. edition which included more UK coverage and content to boost awareness of UK companies, and to go further to justifying the cover price.

Any less confused?

Ads and Paywalls won’t save newspapers and magazines

Numerous newspapers and associations of publishers are discussing the topic of paywalls for specific content or entire sites in an attempt to ‘create value by beginning to charge for it’ in the words of the American Press Institute.

Sadly for that plan, it’s not 1998 or 1898, and I’m not sure how charging for something creates value. The value that should have been created was lost when sales teams bundled online advertising as a free or low cost ‘added value’ bonus to print advertising, at a time when online adverts were capable of getting a decent click-through rate – and then not investing in helping advertisers to utilise new opportunities to better connect with their prospective customers.

The end result is that display advertising is generally decreasing in direct effectiveness and value (although there can still be branding benefits), and attempts to offer more innovative solutions generally fail because advertisers find it too much of a leap from simply booking the biggest reach at the lowest price they can negotiate. Those advertisers that are more innovative, meanwhile, have already started learning that they can create their own content and interaction directly with customers.

And the paywall debate continues to ignore the problem.

Instead it’s simply gouging consumers instead of advertisers.

I already have a paywall around newspaper content – which is one reason why I don’t buy print content. Every day I walk past racks of printed content protected by a cover price, because I can quickly access a wealth of equivalent content online, tag it and save it, interact with it, and often interact with the authors of it – whether bloggers, or increasingly mainstream media employees.

Want an example of ways to monetise a piece of content effectively – this is probably my favourite example of making the most of it.

It means investing in the content creators in your company who can connect and leverage levels of interest – whether they’re a celebrity columnist or an editorial assistant. It’s easy to forget the passion people feel for their favourite title or writers when you’re stuck inside the bubble all day.

It means creating value worth paying for and then offering people the chance to invest in it. And people need to be able to judge and justify the value for themselves – not be forced. Think forcing people works? Bugmenot begs to differ.

And it means creating value for the businesses who are looking for new customers.
I’ve seen companies move advertising budgets because a commercial person switched companies after giving them great service and helping them learn better ways to connect and make sales. If that person was able to educate more businesses, the demand from competitors and other companies would follow.

The problem is that doing all this requires more work, which could reduce the profit margin – but I’d rather have a small profit that can grow, rather than heading for losses.

US print advertising sales

US print advertising sales

U.S print ad sales dropped 28.28% in the first quarter of 2009, losing more than $2.6 billion in ad revenue. There’s a lot more analysis on Alan Mutter’s Reflections of a Newsosaur, including breakdowns by category, but losing almost a third of the value suggests U.S. print ad sales are reaching terminal velocity, and the rest of the world isn’t going to be far behind.

Online sales also fell by a record 13.4%.

That doesn’t mean businesses don’t need to sell as many widgets and doohickies than ever.

It means they can’t see enough value in print or online newspaper advertising to use a recession-hit budget.

And those that survive the recession will have had a crash course in finding alternatives which are more cost-effective and justifiable. They won’t be rushing back.

The messy future for magazines

Two stories on the Mediaweek site today perfectly illustrate the complexity and confusion in the publishing world.

At 7.30am it was suggested that Bauer Media (Disclosure – I worked for Bauer Media/Emap until earlier this year) would be reviving The Face, with an all-digital proposition one of the possibilities. While I’m not alone in wondering why The Face would be picked, considering the recent closure of Arena, any re-launch is a rare occurrence. And particularly a digital one. Bauer Media, by the way, has officially denied any such plans.

Then at 4.10pm it was revealed that John Menzies Digital has folded. Which means the end of magazinesondemand.co.uk and white label versions for WHSmith and Asda. The service had allowed readers to download over 100 magazines in digital editions. Paid Content has some more context around the decision, which closes the business after just 14 months.

So we’ve gone from a possible digital relaunch of an iconic title to the loss of over 100 digital editions in the space of a day.

What this hopefully illustrates better than anything is that the future of publishing or broadcasting any content is full of uncertainty at the moment. And there is no ‘right answer’ to how best to transform for the future.

Actually that’s a lie.

The right answer is to try various ideas, keep optimising them, and count a reasonable time span in years rather than months.

More on business strategy in a networked world

Following on from my previous post on networked business strategy – which was itself a response to a post from Dave Cushman) – I thought it’s a topic worth expanding upon in light of the constant debate over online publishing revenue.

Flicking through Seth Godin’s ‘Tribes’ reminded me of the work of Ronald Coase, the Nobel laureate in Economics.

Back in 1937 he wrote the highly influential ‘The Nature of the Firm‘ which looks at the fact that “production could be carried on without any organization that is, firms at all”, he sets out the transaction costs ( which means the cost of obtaining something through the market is generally more than the actual price, plus search and information costs, bargaining costs, keeping trade secrets and policing and enforcement costs) which mean that ‘firms will arise when they can produce what they need internally and somehow avoid these costs’.

Or as Seth says, ‘we start formal organisations when it’s cheaper than leading a tribe instead’.

This is where the kernel of your business is located.

Or for the flipside:

As my former boss at Bauer Media, Carl Lyons, wrote today ‘people will pay for digital content – if it’s easy enough‘. (Now I’ve left, I can say his blog is well worth reading, without sucking up!)

The flipside is this:

‘Consumers (Customers/users/whatever terminology you like) will accept using a firm for their needs when it avoids the transactional costs of circumventing it.’

By that I mean that I’ll happily pay for a Pro account on Flickr simply because it was a lot easier and more convenient than finding an alternative when I needed it, despite the fact I know I could find a reasonable alternative. I’ll happily buy books from Amazon (My recommendations are all here) or sell via either Amazon or Ebay because although I could find alternative routes to the market, they involve a cost of time, effort, organisation etc I’m not happy about paying at the moment.

So the key seems to be:

1. Figure out what people want to achieve when they are in the area of the market you serve

2. Figure out what you might offer which allows them to achieve what they want in a way which reduces their transactional costs (Time, effort, cost, etc)

3. Figure out how you might offer that service in a way which allows your service to benefit from an internal reduction/removal of transaction costs over/above/with the network.

Does this seem to make sense?

Applying this to a content model:

If we accept that there will always be free content available from somewhere, the transactional cost for a consumer is finding it, judging reliability, going into more background, possibly acting upon it, sharing it, discussing it etc (Any I’ve missed?)

As a content producer, the cost of content creation in many circumstances has already been hugely disrupted by online publishing, digital audio, video etc. The cost of a live broadcast for a major television company over recording it on a mobile and broadcasting via Qik? And the difference in terms of the technology gap will only reduce in line with Moore’s Law.

But the content curation (rather than aggregation) aspect raises big transactional costs via the network – what relative percentage of trust do you place in Wikipedia? Digg? Reddit? Is it cheaper to organise a network, build a system, or use a specialist journalist? And they have contacts to relevant industries which could come under Trade Secrets in transactional costs etc.

And this is also why I despair when online publishers only talk about display advertising revenue (or now subscriptions), as if they’re the only possibilities for revenue. (If a blogger puts Google Ads on his site and then claims he can’t monetise he gets a lot of feedback very quickly!).

The transactional cost for me of finding a product to buy is either in terms of locating reviews and hoping a relevant display advert is close by. Googling it and finding what I’m looking for. Or posting a message on Twitter. And the subscription model has the flaw of inviting/inciting the network to either reproduce content outside, or finding ways to beat the pay wall.

Will Britain become a rural backwater online?

Although I already knew the difference in broadband speeds around the world, seeing the direct comparison in a BBC article on 100Mbps broadband really lept out at me.

‘The upcoming Digital Britain report is expected to outline plans to give the UK population universal broadband access at the modest speed of 2Mbps by 2012.

In South Korea, the government is aiming for speeds of 1Gbps by 2012, up from the current average speed of 15Mbps.’

Now I know that companies will be able to justify the additional cost for the faster speeds available, but in an online world where everyone is networked, what’s the cost for entrepreneurial individuals if they’re stuck on 2Mbps competing with someone on 1Gbps?

I’m thinking about people like my son, who will probably start using computers and games consoles around 2012.

And about businesses which will always aim for the majority market – globally in the case of the digital world. If you’re running a service in 2012, will you build it for those on 10Mbps? 20Mbps? Or the people on 2Mbps?

The other major problem doesn’t seem to have been mentioned anywhere – in the U.S. for example, there’s uproar about the introduction of data caps at 250Gb…in the UK I’m doing fairly well to have a data cap of 20Gb!

Competing with 1/12th of the information, data and capacity available seems like a bit of a handicap.

Newspapers continue to talk a bad game…

Lumping together so many disaprate businesses into one homogeneous ‘newspapers’ group is always going to result in a bit of schizophrenia, but when you’re attempting to discuss an industry, it’s a bit unavoidable.

Still, a few recent bits of information point to an industry that as a whole are still running around pointing fingers without working out their own gameplan.

There’s been a lot of discussion about the position Google occupies by providing the discovery and aggregation mechanism for news content – While I disagree with some of his points, Nick Carr compiles a lot of the views in an interesting post, which is immediately countered by Nieman Labs Matthew Ingram (Whose name seems to be coming up a lot in the Nieman posts I’m enjoying the most).

Meanwhile Trinity Mirror’s Sly Bailey has talked about “Superdominant players like Google and the death of journalism as we know it.”at the Digital Britain Summit.

“We’ve become dependent on pats on the back from new kids on the block who tell us what the rules are.” – lots more via PaidContent.

However:

I don’t know whether it was Nick Carr or Danny Sullivan who first pointed out that by editing the robots.txt file, newspapers can cut their search traffic off to spit their face.

Obviously the drop in traffic isn’t an option if you’re still selling display advertising based on scale, but there are options.

Besides picking an alternative search engine to work with (Hmmmm)…

How about using more social media to minimise search – after all, there are reports it’s driving more traffic than Google in some niche areas already.

Or instead of introducing Facebook and Twitter as middlemen, why not play around with open APIs (Hello, The Guardian) or install your own newspaper Laconi.ca?

But here’s where it gets really confused:

‘Newspaper publishers will no longer be required to supply newsagents with the newspapers they order under a shake-up of the regulations governing newspaper distribution. ‘ from Brand Republic.

Now this comes from Government Business Secretary Peter Mandelson, but I would allege that a rule change generally doesn’t happen without at least some consultation or consideration of the big players involved.

‘Small newspaper retailers are concerned that they risk becoming dependent on the larger retail wholesalers’

Hang on – small newspaper retailers are worried that they’ll be stuck with hugely dominant middlemen – doesn’t this ring a bell?

At a time when local is seen as a newspaper saviour, is it right that small newsagents are likely to suffer, and get the blame when people who might not be able to easily travel to a large supermarket on a daily basis can’t find their paper?

And incidentally, if local newsagents disappear, then newspapers and magazines (which I work on/with), are then left with large supermarkets as the dominant distributors. (I hear the sound of a bell ringing again)

And despite my questioning of it, the small percentage of online newspaper readers compared to print shown by both Martin Lengeveld and Ian Duncan, and now followed up with a great comparison by Rob Weir at the Columbia Missourian, does indicate that people migrating online can completely bypass the newspaper site they might read offline.

Is anyone else’s head hurting?

Some clarity:

There have been some well documented cases of newspaper businesses doing things rather than just talking about them.  The Guardian and the New York Times being about the biggest and best known examples.

Watch what they do, rather than just what people are suggesting. And please share other examples of innovation and change in all forms of journalism/digital publishing.

See what happens to those emerging from the wreckage.

And keep a close eye on the results, but also consider the other factors. A Finnish online-only daily might have suffered since losing the print edition, but is that down to the editorial proposition, staff cuts, tech adoption in the region, broadband access, alternative news sources, etc? Nobody knows yet.

Somehow we need to cut through the confusion.

Not writing about not comparing print and online audiences…

I had an amazing response to my previous post, ‘Why it’s dangerous to compare print figures to website stats‘, including a good follow up post by Martin Belam, the invitation to repost and start contributing to the Online Journalism Blog, great comments from Dave, Neil and Andrew, and most impressively, Martin Lengeveld updated his original post with a link and details of my post.

Inspired by all of this, I’ve decided to take the undoubtedly risky approach of not only poking holes in the arguments of others, but to try and maybe answer some of them – but that proved more difficult than expected, (partly due to the epic victory of Chelsea in the Champions League game vs Liverpool last night)

Initially I started brainstorming measures that could be broadly equivalent with some work – could the effort of walking to a shop and paying for a print copy be judged equivalent to reading a website? Commenting? Subscribing via RSS?

But then I got hit by a far more fundamental question.

Why are we trying to compare print readers and online readers in the first place?

And it’s a serious question.

Because if you run a publishing business, you’re going to make judgements about print and online on revenue. And scale in both mediums is a byproduct of an advertising model based on number of eyeballs, usually within a target location/demographic, or from being able to attract flat rate advertisers by being able to claim the largest readership.

The actual scale itself doesn’t matter once we’re in the same ballpark and seeing trends in readership over a reasonable period?

Or am I missing something?

Or are we trying to find figures to justify editorial or marketing resource? Or refocus online media commentary?

Only when the reason for the measurement is clear is it going to be possible to try and devise a method for comparing ‘domestic print apples and global multimedia organges’ (quoting Mr Belam).

I’m actually heading off to a Twitter-based event called Aperitweat tonight, organised by good friend @tojulius, so I’m hoping great food and conversation will fuel something closer to a conclusion rather than more questions! (Apparently you can watch the event live on Ustream– I’ll be the scruffy one…)

And I’m also hoping to keep the brilliant contributions coming from Dave, Neil, Andrew, Paul Bradshaw and maybe Martin himself to produce something from my hopefully constructive criticism – and if not, perhaps just an agreement to never compare print and online audiences directly again?