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Epilogue: The Miranda Proposal, Future and Facts

Posted on Jan 4, 2013 in Future of eBooks | 3 comments

My posts on the future of eBooks, describing a vision of tomorrow’s eBook platform (the Miranda Proposal), is a futurist’s view based on years of immersion in the evolution of digital media. But in this closing post of the series I want to calm those who worry about a world of “dancing, singing, and shamelessly social eBooks,” while also presenting some very recent data about paper books, eBooks, and eReaders. Read the series: “The Miranda Proposal: Tomorrow’s eBook Platform”: Prologue  part 1   part 2   part 3   part 4   part 5   part 6   part 7   Epilogue First, despite these essays, I do not believe that there is going to be a single, inevitable path to describe the future of books. The eBook will evolve in many ways, and we will see different, concurrent, unexpected, and not always complementary adaptations. Just as there will always be those who love quietly paper books, so will there be those who embrace the social reading, interactivity, and creative new applications of tomorrow’s eBook platform. The Miranda Proposal describes an overarching eBook platform and a set of features that will transform books into rich, social, digital multimedia. But several have told me that their reading experience is one of private transportation, with the print book being the perfect vehicle. I share that love of print books as well. And if my ten-year-old daughter and her friends are any indication, that love of print could well survive for generations. (If you haven’t seen it yet, you’ll enjoy this YouTube video from Pearson, which dates from 2010 but is particularly relevant now.) There are, however, compelling reading scenarios that call out for rich media today. Consider how advances in eLearning are converging upon the humble textbook, changing the way students interact with knowledge. Imagine a student clicking through an eBook to a video mini lecture, an interactive illustration, or complementary research. Or reaching out to a live network in realtime for assistance with complex concepts. Imagine members of that network getting “points” for serving as teachers, leading to “mentor badges” that they might even list on their CVs. Unlike a novel, a textbook doesn’t typically transport you; it is a...

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Paywalls: The Wrong Solution for News

Posted on Apr 2, 2012 in Newspaper Revenue | 2 comments

I’ll go out on a limb and say it flat out: paywalls are a clear sign that the news publisher doesn’t yet understand digital news revenue and where the industry needs to turn for online profits. And no, “online profits” is not an oxymoron (see my previous posts about John Paton and what you can do to drive plenty of online revenue). Yes, banner network advertising pays out next to nothing. Dumping cheap banner ads is the first thing a publisher should do. But going to paywalls is a mistake. Publishers have rarely derived significant revenue from news consumers; most revenue has been from advertising, and will continue to be. And there is plenty of money to be made in digital advertising, if you are willing to look at how businesses are spending their (growing!) advertising budgets. Let’s think about the paywall model a bit. Pundits (and desperate publishers) like to cite The Wall Street Journal as an example of a paywall that works. Well, unless you are publishing a financial journal, forget about the comparison. Subscribers themselves rarely foot the bill for their WSJ subscriptions: the subscription fees are subsidized. How? Because you can take WSJ as a corporate expense. Heck, you can take it off on your taxes as a business or professional expense (in the US, it’s a legitimate “unreimbursed employee expense” for many people). But who is going to let you put your hometown newspaper (or the New York Times for that matter) on an expense report? It just isn’t a business periodical. Some of us read with interest the story about Piano Media, the initiative where content from all nine news publishers in Slovakia are delivered under one national paywall. (Here is one article about it from Columbia Journalism Review: Is this a model for the free world? Consider this: if you want news content in your native language, and someone holds a monopoly on all news in your language, then yes, perhaps under these artificial circumstances, a paywall will work: “With all the major newspaper publishers (and one broadcaster) involved and little Slovak-language competition from outside the nation’s borders, readers would seem...

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SEO and SEM for News

Posted on Feb 12, 2012 in More Visitors: SEO & SEM | 0 comments

In Blogging Writes thus far I have discussed the state of the newspaper industry, and started to present some of the innate strengths that the industry can leverage in order to survive. But I also want to dedicate a good few postings to very practical matters, balancing between those that drive news revenue and those that drive visitor traffic and reader engagement. Search Engine Optimization (SEO), and its paid counterpart, Search Engine Marketing (SEM), are critical for the success of a news site. They are one of the primary drivers of online traffic (circulation). No matter how good the editorial product, word-of-mouth viral growth will always need a boost from SEO. There are many web sites that discuss SEO, and there are many especially bad how-to sites (based more on myths and just plain voodoo than on fact). As an SEO expert it’s tempting to write about SEO generically and try to dispel some of the common misconceptions, but that’s likely to drive some controversy and confuse the point of this blog. Instead, I’m going to focus on the art and science of SEO as it relates specifically to the news industry. This will be a multi-part series, covering the following topics: Why optimize for search? What is SEO? How to SEO The Art of Tagging Photos, Video, and Google Juice Paying for Clicks: Search Engine Marketing Part 1: Why optimize for search? Search, the act of looking something up on a search engine like Google or Bing, ranks second to email use as the most popular activity online. Over 50% of Internet users perform a search on a typical day. In fact, search is well ahead of other popular internet activities, such as checking the news, which 39% of internet users do on a typical day, or checking the weather, which 30% do on a typical day. (source: Jim Jansen, Pew Research/Internet and American Life Project, 2010, based on original research by Deborah Fallows, PhD. ) Why is this relevant to news? Search has become increasingly important as the starting point for news consumption. As early as 2010 the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism reported:  “Younger generations especially begin their...

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Where Did Newspapers Go Wrong?

Posted on Feb 1, 2012 in Future of News | 0 comments

About a decade ago, newspaper agencies began to lose sight of what advertisers were asking for, and at the same time they failed to monetize valuable online content, focusing almost wholly on one of the worst forms of online advertising: banner ads. They also ceded revenue from areas like classifieds and job postings to Internet competitors, and missed new online opportunities in areas like coupons, business directories, video infomercials, and email direct marketing. It’s little wonder then that newspaper revenues are shrinking. The question persists, how is it that Silicon Valley 20-somethings found it so easy to eat the newspaper industry’s lunch? Why was the industry so slow to adapt? This blog is about forward-thinking solutions, so I am not eager to dwell on what has already happened. The lunch has been eaten; it’s time to get a new one. Hindsight, as Malcolm Gladwell suggests in his essay “Connecting the Dots,” is subject to “’creeping determinism’–the sense that grows on us, in retrospect, that what has happened was actually inevitable.” (Although, dear reader, I do look forward to your comments in this regard.) Let’s just say for now that newspapers were neither staffed nor prepared to embrace digital innovation. But that time has passed, and digital opportunity is readily available, and comparatively inexpensive, to whose who reach for it. It’s instructive to look at the habits of advertisers, since advertising represents 50% to 75% of a newspaper’s overall revenue. While newspaper sales departments are still trying to sell print ads, local business advertisers have moved on to new and better ways to connect with their customers: Facebook business pages, YouTube branded channels, mobile business apps, email campaigns, online coupons, and much more, almost all of it online. Advertisers are spending money; record amounts of it. In fact, online ad spending has finally surpassed print ad spending. Just not at the newspaper. This has to change. It’s not an inevitable trend, it’s a blind spot that must be addressed. The 2012 projections are now in, following a substantial rise in 2011: “US online ad spending will post growth well above 20% again this year to reach nearly $40 billion, eMarketer estimates, as the...

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The Fall of the Newspaper

Posted on Jan 31, 2012 in Future of News | 0 comments

For generations, local businesses relied on newspapers as the mainstay of their advertising budgets. In fact, until 1992, when TV and cable overtook them, newspapers were by far the largest source for overall US advertising spending, representing 37% in 1949 and dropping steadily to under 15% in 2008. And with that, the pundits began sounding the death knell for newspapers. Advertising Media Share chart by Martin C. Langeveld But for small and mid-size businesses, who cater to a more geographically local market, local newspapers continued to linger on as a critical source for advertising. After all, local news readers are well-qualified, targeted local business customers. The person reading the news is more likely to clip a coupon, read about your business, and walk into your store. Today, the local paper is itself no longer the primary focus of local business advertising spend. Newspaper agencies have seen their profits eroded as advertisers move away from traditional print advertising in favor of online, mobile, and social media. (In upcoming posts I’ll discuss where that ad spending has headed, and what newspapers can do to survive and even flourish in the digital age.) According to a 2010 report from Pew Research and the American Society of News Editors: “…the leaders of America’s newsrooms are nonetheless worried about the future. Fewer than half of all those surveyed are confident their operations will survive another 10 years—not without significant new sources of revenue. Nearly a third believe their operations are at risk in just five years or less. And many blame the problems not on the inevitable effect of technology but on their industry’s missed opportunities.” Newspaper Association of America print and online ad revenue chart 2010 With print revenue dropping, and online revenues almost flat, newspapers indeed seem to be headed for extinction. Hundreds of fine papers, large and small, have vanished in the past few years. The search for profitable models continues. Millions of dollars worth of “news experiments” have been funded by the likes of the Knight Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and others. A 2010 Pew Research report states: “Jan Schaffer of J-Lab  estimated that since 2006, more than $141 million in...

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