Project Lead

My earlier post on media consumption fragmentation also made me think of the other side – the creation perspective. Despite the hubbub of “integrated campaigns”, some platform, more often than not, plays the lead. In earlier eras, choices were easier – until televisions came into the picture, it was limited to newspapers, events, radio; even after TV made its inroads, things like objectives, costs, geographical reach of the brand etc could be used to make decisions. In general, I’ve seen TV trumping print more and more as time passes, taking on the role of project lead.

After the advent of social, and despite the low internet penetration, the above parameters have increasingly started working in favour of social ‘media’. Of course, there’s always the beginning of the curve when everyone wants in because of the shiny new object syndrome, but I do believe we are crossing that stage now. I still see “let’s do this on social media too” (after the entire campaign has been conceived and produced) or the single slide on social rampant, but that’s also part of the learning curve. As always, some brands are moving faster than others.

We already have brands, internationally, that are experimenting (and successfully) with ideas that are inherently social, and using traditional media for say, additional reach. Just as TV took over from newspapers, it is possible that social will take the seat at the head of the table at some point. It is also possible that it would go the way of digital – relegated to performance campaigns, and belying its potential. That is even more so if social is measured in the same ways as the media before it. However, I think this time the story would be played out differently. But then again, I also think there will be a fragmentation of the brand story, understanding each platform’s nuances, using its inherent strengths, making frameworks that have tailored measurement indices, and in the process, providing a cohesive perspective to the consumer, and cohesive metrics for the brand.

until next time, leaderboards 😉

The clique friendly web

In spite of the last post, I’m a bit ambivalent about Vir Sanghvi’s column.

On one hand, I am in complete agreement with the rebuttals that I have read – Lekhni, Amit, Rohit. Rational and well articulated.

And yet, over the years, that’s almost 7 of them, I can confidently say that blogger cliques have always been around. They may not have been formed with that intention, but over a time frame, many have developed that way, and this is a phenomenon I see on twitter too, where ‘followers’ tends to be taken literally. Will I name any? No, simply because they are cliques, and these days, cliques to mobs is a single click conversion. Heh.

Simplistically put, many news channels and newspapers started out as a means of expression. Those who produced good content realised that many were paying attention to what they had to say. They looked around and noticed that there were others of their kind too. Mutual acknowledgment was a bit difficult because of business considerations, but they still stuck together, broadly, in terms of stances towards issues. The adoption of the medium rose, bringing new audiences. Somewhere, the quality of content became iffy. Sometimes because it had become a business, and sometimes because the content creators lost objectivity and started dictating norms, because they believed their audience was THE only audience that mattered. Of course they had measurement tools. Heh. (Just a small detour to say that even media planners trash the TAM and IRS/NRS methodology, yes, go on, take a poll)

And then the web happened, and became a force to be reckoned with. It brought with it, blogs, which took less than 5 minutes to create. Some of the creators spent exactly that much of time. But others stuck on. Time and effort brought them recognition, and even some fame. They looked around, saw others of their kind. There were hardly any business consideration, linking to each other became the norm. The audience was being built all this while, and unacknowledged, a herd mentality too. Personal branding crept in. In many cases, the quality of content might have dropped with time – rehashed content using previously successful templates, link-baits, these are just online manifestations of things we see in newspapers and television. But though the posts were not as funny as they used to be or not well thought out, the audience stuck on, it was after all, a cool community to be in. There’s nothing wrong with it, its human nature to seek out kindred souls. The unfortunate part is the increasing intolerance for contra-views among many bloggers. You can see enough comment wars if you look around. At some point, perspectives became dogmas.

And then came twitter, and microbloggers. It became all the more easier – from the simple RT to #followfriday and lists, there are multiple tools available, to build audiences, and cliques. And as I’ve written before, we on Twitter are famous for mobs. :)

So,  my point is Mr. Sanghvi, relax. We’ve seen it all before, its only the medium that has changed. The people remain. This too shall give way to something else. If all goes according to the way it has before, in a few years, you can chuckle over post like yours by some blogger, who thinks someone in what is then the new media has been judgmental to a senior blogger. Heh.

Meanwhile, the good part is, the web makes content production and distribution very easy, so you can ignore people if you personally think they’ve ‘lost it’. You will always find a contra-voice, it might be brow beaten sometimes, but it exists.

until next time, sanguine 😉


Its ironic that I have to start the post this way, but

Disclosure: I work with The Times Group :)

There was some amount of Twitter buzz a couple of days ago on the article carried in the (city edition) Times about Arindam C’s new book selling a lakh of copies in 10 days. This also appeared in a post at “Don’t trust the Indian media”, in the context of ‘paid-for news’. The post dealt with the TV medium primarily, but also noted that in the coming years, consumption will be not be medium specific.

Like I’ve written before in the context of content marketing, the key factor, irrespective of platform, amidst the changing nature of advertisers, publishers and consumers and the relationships between  them is trust.  In a sense regular advertising is also paid-for news, but its form is such that one immediately knows its paid for. With the influx of advertorials and paid-for news, the lines began to blur fast, with  credibility beginning to suffer.

In an increasingly user generated environment (almost all of social media is just that) advertisers (brands) now have a way to source positive content without paying obscene amounts for it. They can find relevant spokespersons who have their niche, but contextually relevant fan following. Of course, on the flip side, finding them is still a task. But they already have a name for it – ‘social influencer relationship management’ 😀 The other point is that even the nature of sharing – blogs/microblogs/statuses are in a constant state of flux. Meanwhile, like Shefaly pointed out in the comments, it is still relatively easy to get away with non-disclosure on the web.

But despite all that, and the fact that I believe in the loop of objective-> idea/strategy-> medium, I’d say that the web is more advanced than other media in terms of content marketing, primarily because user generated content, and discontent, has been an integral part of its evolution. Users, potential users, all talk to each other, and trust evolves. A crowd is involved, conversations happen. Also, with more and more lives being lived with an audience in mind, and people becoming conscious of how they’re perceived online, hopefully it will ‘become too costly to be evil’ (non disclosure)

And that’s why its erm, refreshing, when I see brands making a strategic commitment to the digital space. Pepsi recently junked Super Bowl for the first time in 23 years and has included $20 million in grants for the Pepsi Refresh Project. Some say, its a risk, but to me its about as risky as putting a 30 sec ad that might get trashed. Moreover, its not an isolated thing. I recently read about Pepsi using Foursquare to fund a youth mentoring program called Camp Interactive, which helps youth explore technology and environment. Consistent efforts like this will get them unpaid editorial space and buzz at least in the online space.

Closer home, Nokia is using a digital dominated strategy for N97, in its first 4 months of launch. I liked it because of the reasons stated – “Digital media blends very well with the product features of N97 Mini. Also, the audience to be targeted is all available online.” That sounds like its reasoned out well, though I’d also like to see a similar approach to execution too. There are a couple of things I am hoping for in addition to the obligatory display advertising – that Nokia not make this a short term venture, because though this product might become non priority for them in a few months, the poor sod who bought it will still want to connect with them online. The second hope is that they experiment with content marketing, and go a little beyond the ‘over-the-counter’ blogger outreach stuff.

In the case of Pepsi, its a concept, an idea. In the case of Nokia, they have a product based strategy. In both cases, there is a potential for natural buzz, which to me is the way it should be. Buzz should be a result of a good product/strategy, too many time it IS the strategy, and that is what has caused things like ‘paid-for content’. The bigger hope in all this, of course,  is that an increasing commitment to the evolving digital space will force advertisers and brands to be on the ball, and in that, a better mindset will evolve, one that believes in a two way communication approach, as opposed to blind advertising and paid-for content.

Its interesting that on one hand, networks, brands and individuals are trying to carve out a niche based on trust, using digital media for reach, and on the other hand, we have the news media, the original custodians of trust,  despite guilt , oops,  guild feelings, using their massive reach to push one way communication.

until next time, news making

PS: See you in a fortnight :)

The next content aggregator

There was a good ‘debate’ at the McKinsey debate zone on whether people will pay for content, in the context of newspapers. An old debate by now, and one whose conclusion is being seen around, with very few exceptions (the reasons for the relative success of the Big 3 of fee-for-content services—the FT, the Economist, and the WSJ are also dealt with), but made interesting because of its succinctness. Clay Shirky writes about the ‘high price of charging for content’, and starts with a very interesting line – “People will pay for content if it is necessary, irreplaceable, and unshareable.”

[Before we go further, I have to share this amazing read (or listen) with you – Clay Shirky, at the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy. (also read the first 3 links to the commentaries on the web, the fourth is a twitter feed)]

I’ll attempt a summary because the context is needed for the post. He talks about the temporary arrangement that had allowed accountable journalism to create an advertising based business model, and how in the internet era, specialist information sources have disrupted that model and allowed advertisers many more, and better options. He talks about how the newspapers’ way of bundling content, where readers and advertisers subsidised the content they didn’t want, doesn’t work now, and the aggregation has now moved from the ‘server-side’ to the ‘client-side’. He sees “the newspapers’ ability to produce accountability journalism shrinking”, and is convinced that “those changes are secular, monotonic, and irreversible, rather than being merely cyclic and waiting for the next go around.”  He also points out a major and adverse side effect of this disruption – the absence of newspapers as a bulwark against civic corruption. (While there are other media and their ‘sting ops’, I’d still say that the role of newspapers in this regard is still important). This is something I remember debating a few months back over at Iq’s blog, when he wrote on this issue.

He believes that newspapers are irreplaceable in accountability journalism, and sees three kinds of experiments happening in the new media landscape – market based (commercial, the traditional advertising model of publishers), public (funded by income other than revenue – like non-profit models) and social (crowdsourced models). The internet makes the first difficult to sustain, the second easier, and the third, easiest.

In a recent post, Umair Haque writes about the open ‘mediaconomy’, which offers tons of soda, but good wine too, and that’s the reason why most old media companies are in trouble now – ‘they’ve been for long producing generic soda, instead of distinctive kinds of wine.’ And in an economy where supply of soda far exceeds demand, how long will people continue to pay for it? As Umair points out, its not just about media, but any industry that’s doing the same.

Now, a few days back, when I was searching for some information for a holiday, I went to my list of regular suspects – a  few Indian hotel/destination review portals and a few travel portals. I did find information, but was given a choice of hotels that I wasnt too happy with. I had opened another tab for the traveler advice on WikiTravel, and happened to come across options in the ‘Stay’ section which I hadn’t seen anywhere else. In fact it gave me more options than I’d have liked and I was forced to choose from two equally good places, whose websites had all the information I wanted.

WikiTravel is free, created and curated by users, who take the time out to update and add information. They will obviously incur costs when doing this, and spend some time. They obviously are supported by a revenue model (personal) that allows this, a revenue model that most likely is part of the old economy (commercial, unlike public or social) And that’s what makes me worried about the transition period, the part when the old economy is too weak to support the new, and the new doesn’t have a way to support itself.

The other point is that the content is out there, but the soda and wine are all mixed, and I’m yet to figure a model where I’m sure I’m not missing something. Yes, there is Reader, Twitter and perhaps a couple of other places, but these do have a tendency to evolve into an echo chamber every now and then. Serendipity does lose out a lot when I put systems and processes in place. Newspapers were aggregators in their time. I can customise tools to give me the news on only those categories I’m interested in. (Rarely) Sometimes people add the serendipity. In many cases, when I’m searching for specific information, the tools (search) and the humans (crowdsourcing) have failed me. I have ended up ‘discovering’ new resources – sites/tools/people and then sharing it. Its not as organised a way as I’d like, but I guess we’re still evolving.

There is quite some work happening though. Google Reader recently added some ‘Magic’ which helps users discover interesting content faster. The new ‘Explore’ section has a generic popular items as well as recommended sources suggested basis the reader trends and web history (if opted in). Feeds can also now be sorted by ‘magic’, again basis the history of ‘like’ and ‘share’.  Twitter lists will add a new dimension to discovering users and content, and with the deals with Bing and Google, search is going to be more real time, and more importantly, involve a human filter – using the lists layer to deliver better, more relevant search results. The impact on SEO should be fun. TweetMixx is a site I came upon recently, and looks interesting in this context.

Where will it land up? Is it possible to create an aggregator whose context is subjective preferences, but that will still bring in serendipity? (people who liked this also liked?) What kind of content aggregator will evolve that can either sustain itself without revenue, or convince me to pay for it? Or perhaps that single-entity era is over. It does make me wonder if at some point in time, everyone will be Hiro Protagonist like characters, paid for each piece of information they add into the overall system. :)

until next time, infobesity

Bonus Read: A very good read on ‘Why the great Indian media companies will fail on the internet

Update: Set up Lets see what it delivers. :)

Flipping news models

Google’s Fast Flip has been receiving quite a lot of attention these days. Based on the Google News model of aggregation and categorisation, Google has partnered with quite  few sources including BBC, BusinessWeek, Washington Post, New York time, to name a few, which shows previews of their pages on Fast Flip, but looks exactly like they would on the source site, almost. We’ll come to that in a bit. The stories can be accessed basis sources, sections and the other parameters we are used to – recent, most viewed, recommended etc. Oh, yes, much of it is the user interface, that lets you ‘flip’ through the content, ‘like’ stories, and you can click through to the source site, if you want to read the full story. It has its rough edges, and is far from being any sort of killer to anyone, but its a damn good start, much better than any interface that any publication has brought out so far. On the revenue front, there are contextual ads on Fast Flip itself, and Google will be sharing revenue with newspapers. It is interesting to note that the previews of the source sites do not include ads. So if I am able to read a story completely in the preview, (which in many cases I am), I wouldn’t go to the source site, nor would I see/click the ads there. This is potentially an area of conflict, since the (shared) revenue from the one ad that’s displayed on Fast Flip cannot compare with the revenue from the source site. Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to a time when perhaps, Google Reader will have a similar interface. 😉

In the last few weeks, this is the second instance of Google engaging with publications and ‘helping’ them create a revenue stream. The first instance was Google sending a proposal for micropayments, in response to a request for paid content proposals from the Newspaper Association of America. As per an NYTimes blog, this would be an extension of Google Checkout. Google is only one of the companies that have sent a proposal, and the list includes Oracle, IBM, and Microsoft. The system is of course in its early planning stages, and the business model has a 30-70 split (Google-publisher). Though Google still doesn’t believe that paying for content will be the remedy for newspapers’ woes, it  still has a vision of a premium content ecosystem, which includes five key features that combine the Google’s e-commerce, search, and advertising platforms.

While Google is described by many as the single largest threat to newspapers, its definitely not the only one. From new hyperlocal community sites (eg. Patch) to remnants of old giants (AOL’s Digital City, Yahoo Local) and from new age media entities like Huffington Post to new and varied kinds of aggregators (, OurSignal, MeeHive, Thoora) different services are catering to the different needs that newspapers used to satisfy. The important aspect is that the new entities are well versed in leveraging the latest tools and collaborating with those who can add to their utility value. A good example would be the tie up between Huffington Post and Facebook for HuffPost Social News. Social sharing, real time are changing the way news is being consumed. I recently read about The Twitter Times, which creates a customised ‘newspaper’ by checking the links from people you follow, and the popularity of those links. Even while massive changes are happening online, and affecting the lifestyle of individuals and society at large, newspapers are still grappling with how to evolve new business models. (a good, albeit dated read on battle plans)

There was a short but interesting discussion on Twitter a few days back, where Surekha brought up the example of PressDisplay’s business model (aggregation of various newspapers and consumers pay for access) to ask whether a DTH kind of model would work for newspapers. I didn’t think it would. The only other distribution network for television content is the local cable guy (ignoring the web for now). But ‘news’ and even the ‘features’ content can find its way to the consumer through multiple sources and media – TV, web, mobile, and multiple sources within that.  The entry barriers have fallen drastically. Scarcity model vs Abundance model. Keeping in mind the cost that newspapers incur in creating the content and the incremental value that they give the consumer, how much would a consumer pay a newspaper aggregator, and how much would the newspapers get out of that. Yes, Press Display will make money, but ask newspapers to survive only on that revenue or even that plus web advertising, and it would be a tough task. This is why newspapers are finding it hard to negotiate this transition stage (discussed earlier) because its not one answer and its definitely not a common answer. Again, as I’ve discussed here earlier, there are inherent differences between news gathering processes in the print and online space – batch processing vs real time processing. It calls for a (albeit cliched) leaner meaner structure, not just for operations’ sake, but also perhaps from a profitability perspective.

The more I think about it, the more I realise that its not just processes, there is a cultural angle to this. As Terry Heaton points out in “The Web’s widening stream“, the knack of creating and facing disruptive innovations. We’ve discussed David and Goliath before, David becomes version 1.0, 2.0, 3.0 faster and faster, each version better than the other (because he fixes the bugs in 1.1, 2.5 etc) while Goliath reels because it can’t even figure out the answer to 1.0.  His strength has become his weakness – scale, and he doesn’t have a culture that encourages moving fast, learning from mistakes, being open to changes amongst other things. In fact, newspapers have been lazy and guilty of doing the exact thing that Seth Godin warns about in “Flipping abundance and scarcity” – putting free on top of a business model, and now rapidly trying to change it.

I don’t think India is impervious to these changes, the time frame will vary because of several factors – technology adoption delays, vernacular content to name a couple, but as I keep repeating, its no time to be complacent. From Rediff and Instablogs which have evolved their own news collection systems to hyperlocal players of different kinds – governance based like Praja, Citizen Matters, local businesses review based like Burrp, and several other niches, the different domains of newspapers are being challenged. More importantly we’re increasingly getting used to ‘streams’ – FB, Twitter etc. The principal revenue model of newspapers has been advertising (as opposed to circulation), they have been the medium to reach audiences, with the most basic of audience filtering. The radical change (as Heaton points out) is that advertisers can be part of the stream themselves, with such filtration techniques that they can target an individual if necessary. So, for newspapers, if the advertiser won’t pay, the reader has to. The reader , meanwhile has figured out that on the web, he has an abundance of choices.

until next time, stop press?

Paper Capers

Almost 2 months since we last discussed newspapers, so I thought its a good time to update. Rumour is that Murdoch plans to sue Google and Yahoo over news services. Fact is that he’s going to charge for news, something he’s been doing for a while with WSJ, and the ‘experiment’ is going to start with The Sunday Times. Others are set to follow his example.  “Quality journalism is not cheap,” said Murdoch. “The digital revolution has opened many new and inexpensive distribution channels but it has not made content free. We intend to charge for all our news websites.

I, for one, am happy, because the keywords for me are ‘quality journalism’. Its perhaps a prelude to a shakedown, and the survival of only those who can adapt to a world with internet. With the width and depth of content available, the debate of ‘free vs paid’ has been going on for a while now. But perhaps the time has come to end it. Build the wall, and let’s see if people want to pay to enter. (that link is an excellent read, detailed and thought through, check it out) Opinions are bound to vary – and to be in extremes. Most people feel that it is flawed. Chris Anderson feels that at some point in the future, “maybe media will be a hobby rather than a job“,  Vivian Schiller, former senior vice president and general manager of the, believes that “people will not in large numbers pay for news content online“, but there’s still space for an NYT to cut expenses and survive. Murdoch obviously believes he can get the audience to pay.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press is planning to charge $2.50 per word if 5 words or more are quoted from its articles, with the help of a microformat. Not surprisingly, it has been widely criticised in several tones all over the web. Jeff Jarvis even has a post on ‘How (and why) to replace the AP‘, and illustrates the interesting concept of ‘reverse syndication’. Chris Ahearn, at Thomson Reuters, implores entities that are declaring war on the link economy to stop whining, and stands ready to help those who wish for an alternative to AP.

Interestingly, Google had recently quadrupled its newspaper archives. (Locally, Dainik Jagran is now part of Google’s News Archive Partner Programme, and has a strategic deal with Google to help the group archive its bilingual daily, Inext) The average newspaper’s stance on Google is understandably ambivalent. On one hand, it is happy to get the traffic from Google, but its not happy that its only one among the websites shown, and the amount of content that Google shows. (that might prevent a reader from visiting the site) Sometime back, Google had posted its views and how, any publication can block search engines with a slight change in code.

The reactions to this obvious ‘transition stage‘ for the newspaper industry has been taking many forms. Paywalls are boycotts are only one kind. Alternate methods of news collection like crowdsourcing+crowdfunding, public collaboration, (an interesting case, for more than this reason), nichepapers and ways in which journalists can use tools like Facebook and Twitter, are being discussed, as well as radical ideas like making the newspaper a gateway for particpative experiences, even as technological developments – touch screen ‘intelligent plastic’ roll up reader, and experiments from NYT (‘What we are reading‘) continue.

While it would be easy to say that these are trends in the West, that are not very relevant to India at this stage, I’d still say that these are trends that media in India, especially newspapers, should be closely watching and learning from. A good read from Pradyuman Maheshwari at e4m on the same subject. While the Nielsen Online Global Survey on trust, value and engagement in advertising shows that newspapers are the most trusted form of paid advertising (in india), the TCS study on Indian urban school children show that they are extremely technology savvy and totally at ease with the web and social media.

As stated in the TCS study “This societal trend has important implications for parents, educators, policy makers, as future employers as well as companies and brands that want to sell to tomorrow’s generation.” Some understand this, and have started experimenting with new forms of distribution. I just got  a mail asking me to check out Star Player!! The point is that one can never be sure whether the trends in the US will be replicated in India, though I’d say its more a ‘when’ question than an ‘if’, even though India’s version of the trends would be mutated, thanks to its own socio-cultural and economic pecularities. But it helps to be prepared. I read at Medianama, a few days back that the Hindu is taking Ergo, its 5 day a week publication aimed at young professionals in Chennai, online. Though the motive might have been cost saving, I’m sure it will be a great learning in understanding consumption patterns and figuring out revenue streams. I quite liked the site, powered by WordPress, with a very casual ‘About’ page, and covering some interesting stuff. It looks like an online news site, not the website of a newspaper.

On hindsight, the collision was bound to happen. Newspapers, which subsidised news to the reading audience by making advertising pay for it. Google, which aggregated content, and served ads in context. They had to meet somewhere, and disagree on who makes how much. The concern areas for newspapers are manifold – news consumption has changed – quantitatively and qualitatively, modes of creation and distribution have changed, and Google has developed a much better advertising model. In essence, all entities in the publishing business have changed – producers, consumers, advertisers. Isn’t it inevitable that the publisher has to find a new business model? Newspapers in India still have some time on their hands, and some good tools too. With most publishing houses having multiple products that cater to specific audiences, they can actually experiment in different directions. It does cost money to create good content, the trick obviously is to figure out ways to minimise the cost and work out how much each stakeholder – reader and advertiser, is willing to pay for it. Now would definitely be a good time to start, unless you want to sound like the (as usual) hilarious Onion story – “Why did no one inform us of the imminent death of the American Newspaper industry:)

until next time, think about the link economy

Broken News models

The Iran crisis once again brought the present day tools of news gathering into the limelight, even while highlighting the inadequacies of traditional media. From real time tools like PicBrk to spoof ads and stories, the tools became the focal point of the protests. It was as much about changes in news gathering as it was about the ability to share, both in real time, a skill that traditional is yet to pick up, in spite of ‘breaking news’ on television. The significance of Twitter’s contribution can be gauged from the fact that the US government asked Twitter to postpone its scheduled maintenance so as not to disrupt the flow of news from Iran. The inability of traditional news gathering and distribution systems to come to terms with real time media consumption, and their usage of social media as yet another broadcast medium was highlighted at the 140 Characters Conference (#140conf). All this makes me consider, yet again, the future of traditional media systems and conglomerates, especially newspapers.

A few days back, I read about the Associated Press issuing social media guidelines to its staff – not to show political affiliations, or post views on contentious issues among other things. The ‘best’ part is that they also have to monitor their profile to ensure that comments by others do not violate AP standards!! Ahmadinejad Press? Here’s the policy in its awesome entirety.

It’s been quite a fun week, with a speech by Dow Jones Chief Executive Les Hinton – also the publisher of the WSJ, adding to the amazing show of perspective. He described Google as a giant vampire that was sucking the blood of the newspaper industry. Now, I have reasons enough of my own to be cross with the omnipotent Google, but  even assuming that it is a vampire, who showed them the “X – blood here” sign in the first place? While Google states that its mission is to give readers more perspective by aggregating news from different sources, and even directs clicks to the newspaper sites. Newspapers argue that these clicks are nowhere near to the visits (and revenue) that they’d have gained if people came directly to their websites. They also have a problem with ads appearing on the side when people search for news. (Source) I have actually not come across those, and Google News definitely doesnt have them anyway.

That is context enough for an interesting article I saw on Adage – ” Why ‘Going Galt’ isn’t the solution for newspapers”. The article is in light of the digital startegy of The Newport Daily News in Rhode Island, that’s closing its ad supported site and selling digital subscription only. John Galt, meanwhile, doesn’t need introduction for Ayn Rand readers, but if you are asking “Who is John Galt”, catch up here. In this context, it means that newspapers stop creating content for aggregators to pick up and make money. As the article points out, its chances of success is only when it deals with news that’s not commodity – could be specific locality/genre where there aren’t competitors. Its quite easy for newspapers to stop Google from taking its content – a 2 line code, as has been pointed out regularly.

Cody Brown has an excellent article which shows the inherent differences between print and online, in terms of how news is processed. To summarise, print uses batch processing, where news and rumours are sifted through, verified and reverified and the crux is the final output and the credibility of the publication. The web, uses real time processing, it works like a gigantic wiki, everyone contributes, the crowd corrects, and the final output is of relatively less importance. The flaws of one become the benefits of the other. Batch processing finds few takers in the age of real time, and as this article points out so correctly, Twitter is the fastest way to get informed, or misinformed. This explains why I see stuff on my networks, and immediately move to a rediff/Google News to immediately verify from a trusted source.

So newspapers face a double whammy. On one hand, its news creation is facing obsolescence in the face of changing media consumption habits, and on the other hand, it cannot find ways to make enough revenue out of the content that it ‘painstakingly’ produces. There are of course, traditional players who are bucking this, but as this article makes a case for, there can only be one Apple, who is an un-Google. I am still trying to fit in this understanding with the David – Goliath model. Apple operates so differently from Google, that it would be easy to summarily dismiss them as non-competitors, but there’s more to it. That’s for later, but the idea seems to be not to be a better Goliath, but to be the best David and play by rules that would take Goliath enough time to figure out, for David to finish the game.

A small note on the Indian scene.  We are perhaps a few years away from the mess that US newspapers are in,   But consider, a Galt stance would’ve been possible a few years back, but with players as diverse as Rediff and Instablogs having a mechanism of reporting, it would be a folly to even try now. Rediff has built services and business models that doesn’t leave them to the mercy of making money out of news. Instablogs is also figuring out revenue models, at obviously lesser costs. Technology and faster news delivery platforms will appear, its inevitable. Newspapers in india  need to replicate their real world credibility online very fast, understand ‘real time’ game rules, and evolve radically new business models if they don’t want to repeat the US scenario. For ““News doesn’t break, it tweets”, the TC article credits Paul Saffo as saying.

until next time, notice how many newspapers have ‘Times’ in their name? Real time? 😉

Google noose?

The A.P. will work with portals and other partners who legally license our content and will seek legal and legislative remedies against those who don’t. We can no longer stand by and watch others walk off with our work under misguided legal theories.”

That’s what Associated Press Chairman William Dean Singleton said, in what is obviously a salvo against news aggregating services like Google. The ‘misguided legal theories’ here refer to the ‘fair use’  legal doctrine that news aggregators and search services have been using to use snippets of articles. AP’s concern is that many of these services have been making revenues out of packaging these stories. Also, while AP does have deals with Google and several other engines for some of their content, apparently search throws up material not covered by these agreements.

Interesting to note that AP had sued MoreOver (Verisign) for snippeting and linking to its news, and Google had signed a deal with AP 2 weeks prior to that. That case was settled, though I have not yet been able to get details. AP now has plans to launch own news site – a “new search pages that point users to the latest and most authoritative sources of breaking news”.  It suggests a system to track content – one that would create, in effect, “fingerprints” of content that could track usage and links. Journalism Online is another entity that wants to help newspapers and magazines charge for their content online.You can read the interview with Steven Brill, who has started it with two others, here.

Google’s contention is that they’re directing a lot of traffic to the news sites, and any newspaper that doesn’t want to be part of Google News can do just that. Scott Karp says at Publishing 2.0, Google has played to its strength and wrested control of the distribution of news. Interesting comments too. Google allowed users to find content that they wanted, and became the start page when people wanted to find something on the web. That’s something media companies still aren’t doing right, and in between, Google managed to push in the ads, and make a few dollars. Erick Schonfeld, at TechCrunch has an interesting take on this – he points out that (in the US) Google News is behind Yahoo News as well as the sites of the NYT, and Google is actually exposing news, and helping other sites make money too. He argues that while Google does play a part in getting traffic to sites, ultimately it is the content that gets readers and sets the price. Jackie Hai explains how the “The AP syndication model works in an economy of information scarcity, whereas the web represents an economy of abundance.” I recently read about Google Web Elements, which allows Google products to be added to any website. That includes Google News and takes distribution to a whole new level.

Though the AP issue is mostly an American one, there are similar sentiments being echoed in Europe too. According to NYT, Belgian Danish and British newspapers want Google to reach agreements with them before using their content. Though each country will have its own dynamics as far as news distribution and maturity of media platform goes, these cases are sure to set precedents.

The media landscape is changing. Its not just that old media is changing rules to figure out revenue models. Its about an airline becoming a content ‘publisher‘, individuals becoming advertising mediums, services like TwitterGrep popping up to utilise the instancy of Twitter… and so on. As Jackie Hai mentioned in his article, the participatory web has blurred the lines between content producer, distributor and consumer. We play all three at different times.

The measures that newspapers have or are making to earn revenues on the web seem to be insufficient. That includes online advertising, micro payments etc. I increasingly feel that a repair might not be enough. Perhaps a complete overhaul is the ask. The fingerprinting does spark a thought about the role of individual journalists, and the importance they should have in the new system. The web is increasingly becoming a relationship based medium where personal equity and trust are currencies. Perhaps the corporate newspaper needs to be replaced with a more human and humane network, perhaps it should create a core competency on the web in specific news sections – these could be geography based, maybe there is an opportunity for an aggregator in the challenges of hyperlocal news.  Perhaps it can even be category or genre based. Traditional concepts, but built with a social web perspective. Perhaps they should build a legion of citizen reporters who are paid according to the quality of their contributions . After all there is always a need for quality driven and trustworthy news and analysis. The need remains, but the readers’ wants of delivery platform, timing etc have changed.

The recent (and sometimes) drastic measures taken by Indian newspapers shows that its not as impervious as it was considered. That gives more reason to prepare for a changing landscape. To start figuring out consumption patterns ,  multimedia possibilities, cost implications, distribution dynamics and revenue streams on digital platforms. Maybe they’re all waiting for PTI to fight Google, or is it Yahoo Buzz 😐

until next time, a new sprint

The new media owners

A few days back, I read a very interesting piece by Jeff Jarvis on ‘The Great Restructuring’, in which he talked about fundamental changes happening in the economy and society. He also talked of an economy (at least in part) built on the abundance of knowledge, which then led to the subject of replanting business models.

It took me back to a discussion I once had with a friend on the role of newspapers, and the new forms of media. The role of newspapers, and ‘tangible media’ in general was a hot topic of discussion then. Steve Rubel had the “The End of Tangible Media is Clearly in Sight” post which put 2014 as the year of demise (in the US), and got quite a few responses, including some folk who disagreed with it, and some who agreed a bit but disagreed mostly. There wasn’t much of disagreement on the subject of newspapers, and it was generally agreed that Digital was indeed a great disrupter. Newspapers have  been accused of trying to replant their offline model on their web. Perhaps rightly so, since it clearly doesn’t seem to be working.

In that conversation, we’d used ‘new media’ a little differently from the platform based (internet and mobile) approach. We discussed three forms of ‘new media’ –

  • some entities about whom the media writes about – people and  organisations . The net population already shares a lot of the content they produce on the web platform – via blogs, social networks, platforms like YouTube, Flickr etc, and lots of organisations are using the web as a broadcast medium – Marketing as media
  • social networks and other services which consolidate a lot of the content generated above in one location, and web only news sites (anything from Rediff to Instablogs and niche news sites)
  • some entities who’re already in the communication/network business – these could be companies like Nokia (handset manufacturers who are an access point to the web), telecom operators like Vodafone (who also act as an access point), or even companies like Cisco, who I think will go further than just provide media solutions

While there’ve been a few setbacks – Nokia shutting down Mosh, its content sharing service as a result of dubious content posted, Vodafone playing bully to opt-in-SMS service MyToday and various lawsuits against Google (YouTube) on copyrighted content, I’m hoping these are nothing more than teething problems of a radical overhaul.

Depending on various factors, like socio economic conditions, technology penetration, to name a few, ‘The  Great Restructuring’ would happen differently in different places. Like other restructurings before, some parts of the population would remain unaffected.

Meanwhile, as mentioned in the post, it indeed is a time of opportunity, and definitely for newspapers too, at least in this part of the world. It only depends on how much they’re willing to shed their old ways of doing business (especially when it isn’t making the revenue it used to be) and how willing they are to listen to the collective consciousness. Even with the ‘new media’ and the proliferation of content producers, newspapers could still find ways of delivering value. (excellent debate happening here)

Earlier, everyone read a newspaper and therefore it was the place for a product to be seen by its potential consumers. Since the first part changed, the second has too. If increasing media fragmentation is the future, then what newspapers could be doing wrong is seeing their product/s as the only media/destination. Instead, they should perhaps (at least) listen to the Chaos Scenarioexplore a few options, utilise their resources to be preferred content choices in as many fragments as possible, irrespective of the platform, and fight battles in each fragment separately. This would also mean that basis the dynamics of each fragment, different revenue models might evolve for each fragment.

until next time, for now its Calvinball rules :)

PS. Must Read – IBM’s study – Beyond Advertising