Thursday, May 14, 2015

Why publishers had to partner with Facebook

The natural order of the universe was disrupted yesterday when BuzzFeed, NBC News, the New York Times and a number of other prominent media companies shockingly ceded to Facebook the marketing and monetization of portions of their valuable content. 

The move, which represents a further step in the transfer of power from the media tribe to the technology tribe, means that some of the biggest names in media have conceded that they are neither large enough nor strong enough to thrive as independent digital publishers without the help of at least one of their fearsome frenemies in Silicon Valley. 

In addition to Facebook, the other frenemy, of course, is Google. Although the media companies like to think that the quality of their work speaks for itself, Facebook and Google referrals steer the preponderance of the traffic to almost every news site. 

The Facebook deal institutionalizes as never before this long-running dependency. In addition to the trio mentioned above, the other media companies who will be funneling content to Facebook are The Atlantic, BBC News, Bild, The Guardian, National Geographic and Spiegel Online. Fearful of being left behind, it is fair to assume additional media names in the not-too-distant future will feel obliged to join, too.  

Here’s how the deal works: 

The media companies will give full articles and videos to Facebook, so the social network can distribute them among its more than 1.4 billion usersPublishers can keep all the revenue from any ads they sell to accompany the content they allow Facebook to post. When Facebook sells ads against the content contributed by the media companies, both sides will split the proceeds equally. 

The choice to throw in with Facebook could not have been easy for the proud media companies. Historically, the last thing they wanted was to give their expensively produced content to another brand competing for the same eyeballs and ad dollars. But that was then and this is now. The media swallowed their pride because they know they lack the sort of massive global reach that only Facebook can provide.  

Difficult as the decision may have been, it was inevitable, given the several critical capabilities that Facebook has developed. These are its not-so-secret superpowers:

Superior mobile prowess. In addition to the sheer size of its audience, Facebook has mastered the art and science of mobile publishing better than almost anyone. In the first quarter of this year, the company reported, 65% of its traffic and 73% of its ad revenues came from such highly optimized mobile sites as its Paper app. 

Superior audience engagement. Based on the amount of time people spend on Facebook, it is fair to say its users are considerably more passionate about the service than the visitors to a typical news site. According to Alexa.Com, the average user spends 18.4 minutes per day on Facebook, as compared with 9.5 minutes at the New York Times, 6.4 minutes at NBC News and 5.4 minutes at BuzzFeed.  

Superior customer data. Because enthusiastic users frequently and liberally update the site with a plethora of personal data, Facebook knows more intimate and accurate details about more people than any company in the world. The information is updated dynamically in real time, as people report everything from their favorite new song to the jeans they want to buy to the fact they will have a baby in six months.  

Superior ad intelligence. Facebook enables advertisers to target messages with heretofore unprecedented precision, thanks not only to the rich information supplied by users but also by analyzing information captured from the friends in their networks.  The ad-intel is supplemented with location data acquired from Facebook’s popular mobile services. 

Superior content targeting. In the same way data is used to target commercial messages, Facebook has the capability to match the right content with the right user by monitoring her searches and media consumption. If Facebook sees that someone likes cooking Italian food, it can slip relevant recipes from the NYT food page into her news feed, paired conveniently with an ad for a pasta maker. When Facebook recognizes that a bride is planning a honeymoon in Florida, it can send her travel videos embedded with customized hotel offers. 

With everything Facebook brings to the party, the partnership ought to be a plus for the participating media brands. But some media partners are experiencing pangs of buyer’s remorse, because they fear Facebook may trim their split after they get hooked on this welcome new stream of  incremental revenue.  

It seems fair to conclude that the media companies who took the leap felt they were damned if they did and damned if they didn’t. In the end, however, this was an offer they couldn’t refuse.  

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The LAT and U-T merger: Double trouble?

The pending purchase of the San Diego U-T by the Los Angeles Times represents a synergy not of strength but of tsoris.  

Tsoris, for the uninitiated, is the Yiddish word for trouble. And woe – unlike readership and revenues – has been plentiful at both of these newspapers in the last decade.  

As illustrated in the graphic below, the upcoming merger combines a faltering pair of former publishing powerlifters whose businesses are sagging as much today as the pecs of Arnold Schwarzenegger, the only governor in the history of California unable to correctly pronounce the name of the state (video). Here are the sobering metrics for the SoCal publishers:

Both newspapers lost more than half of their weekday print circulation between 2004 and 2014, dropping their respective market penetrations to 15.6% of the households in Los Angeles County and 17.8% of the homes in San Diego County. Circulation data comes from the Alliance for Audited Media, an industry-funded group. 

In the same period, Sunday print circulation – which typically delivers half of the revenue and more than half of the profits at a newspaper – fell by 48.1% in Los Angeles and 45.6% in San Diego. 

While the financial performance of the two publications is not publicly available, it is possible to gauge the general health of the newspaper business by comparing the 10-year financial performance of Tribune Publishing Co., the parent of the LAT, with the publishing division of its predecessor company.  

The annual reports issued by the companies show that Tribune publishing revenues tumbled by 58.5% to $1.7 billion in 2014 from $4.1 billion in 2004.  In the same period, earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) fell 63.6% to $260 million in 2014 from $730 million in 2004.

It must be emphasized that Tribune’s holdings were not identical over the 10 years, so this is not a strict apples-to-apples comparison.  The predecessor company, which was roiled by the Zellistsas and an epic bankruptcy before it jettisoned its newspapers, divested Newsday in 2008. The new standalone publishing spinoff has started making fill-in acquisitions in the Baltimore and Chicago markets. 

Notwithstanding the imprecision of the available financial data, it is fair to conclude that both of the once enviable SoCal publishing franchises have seen better days. Hence, the question: “Why would anyone want to put these two struggling companies together?” Here’s a plausible answer: 

Tribune announced last week that it will pay $85 million to buy the U-T with an eye to consolidating operations as much as possible between the two newspapers. Normally, this means moving to a single production facility, a single administrative infrastructure, a combined advertising staff and a streamlined newsroom that can share content across the various titles.   

In other words, Tribune instantly can cut expenses by cutting staff in a way that is not readily visible to readers and advertisers.  At the same time, there theoretically is a chance to boost revenue for the consolidated operation because the ad staff efficiently can offer both wider and more targeted regional coverage. 

Interestingly, the San Diego purchase could turn out to be only the first step in a multi-phase plan to consolidate all the major dailies from the Tehachapi Mountains at the north end of the Los Angeles basin to the Mexican border.  

After struggling under the erratic management of Aaron Kushner, it is entirely possible the Orange Country Register soon could be up for sale.  If LAT bought the Register, it would own the only major paper separating it from San Diego. 

In the meantime, a group of smaller dailies in markets like Long Beach, Van Nuys and Whittier are immediately up for grabs as part of the auction of Digital First Media, a coast-to-coast publishing company that is being dumped by the disenchanted private investors who own it.  
While bigger may be better in many things in life, this seldom is the case when it comes to compounding woes. And that’s what the LAT is doing in buying the U-T. 

Even when two businesses are humming along smoothly, a merger takes months – if not years – to complete.  A merger profoundly distracts the managers and employees in both companies, taking their eyes off the ball of their day-to-day jobs because each is wondering whether she will survive the inevitable game of musical chairs.

The challenge is compounded when the business is troubled, because the mechanics of the merger necessarily have to take a back seat to the immediate problem of shoring up sales and meeting demanding profit targets.  This is all happening, remember, amid recurring rounds of musical chairs. 

The challenge is most formidable of all when the reason the business is weak is because there is shrinking demand for your product in the marketplace. And this is precisely the problem that every newspaper faces. 

Without question, an ever-growing number of readers are shifting their attention to the digital media and an ever-growing number of brands are shifting their advertising budgets to pursue them.  That’s why newspaper circulation, sales and profits have dived precipitously in the last decade.  

A roll-up strategy would make sense if Tribune had a plan to pivot its troubled newspapers to viable business models that would flourish in the digital era. But no such plan is evident.  

While the digital traffic reported by the LAT and U-T in the accompanying table looks impressively large, a quick check of census data raises questions. The 35 million unique monthly visitors claimed by the LAT is fully three times greater than the population of its home county. That is a hefty number, even if you credit the paper with a certain degree of national and global appeal.  Similarly, the 3.4 million uniques reported at the U-T suggest that everyone in the county visits its digital sites at least once a month. That would be nice, if true.  

The nose-counting problem is common throughout the entire digital publishing industry and newspaper companies can’t be blamed for the limitations of the technology. But it’s important to keep these vagaries in perspective.    

There is no doubt, however, that Tribune, whose eroding top-line revenues faltered another 5.7% as recently as the first three months of this year, is underperforming its peers when it comes to digital revenue production. 

While the U.S. newspaper industry in 2013 generated an average of 16.5% of its ad revenues through the sale of digital advertising, digital media produced only 12% of Tribune’s sales in the first quarter of this year.  The industry-wide figure for 2013 is the latest information available from the Newspaper Association of America.  The Tribune’s performance is called out in its quarterly earnings statement, where the company promises little more than to do a better job of selling ads.  

So, there you have it: Falling readership, tumbling sales, shrinking profits and a questionable digital strategy.  It makes you wonder why Tribune wants to double its troubles.  

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

4 new media platforms demanding attention

As if the web, mobile and social media were not enough to worry about, four new digital platforms are emerging to challenge the legacy publishers and broadcasters struggling to preserve the audiences and ad dollars that made them mighty. 

To dispense with any further suspense, the emerging technologies are Next-Gen Messaging Platforms, Wearable Technology, the Internet of Things and Automated Automobiles.  

A case can be made for developing new content and advertising formats for each of these broad categories, which represent hundreds of products and endless permutations. I will make a qualified case for doing so in a minute. First, a reality check:  

How can broadcasters and publishers focused on tending their legacy businesses afford the time and resources to research, develop and market products for the new platforms?  The answer, of course is that they can’t.   

The good news is that, with one notable exception, they have time to observe the ways consumers interact with the still-maturing technologies. But make no mistake: These platforms are direct competitors for the time and attention that consumers spend with periodicals, television and radio. Meet the competition: 

Next-Gen Messaging Platforms 

The exceptions to the wait-and-see approach mentioned above are the new messaging apps that compete with the likes of Facebook, Twitter and the other platforms people used in  the Paleozoic era of social media. The next-gen social sites, which deserve the immediate attention of legacy media companies, include Instagram, WhatsApp, Vine, Snapchat and others likely to turn up after I hit the send button on this article. (It should be noted that Facebook and Twitter, who are decidedly hip to the caprice of their audiences, have purchased all but Snapchat.) To see how some legacy media companies already have adapted to Snapchat, look at the Discover section of its app (which can be accessed by a button on the upper right-hand corner of the screen). 

Wearable Technology

While the makers of Fitbit, Pebble and Google Glass have been pursuing widespread consumer acceptance over the years, the introduction of the Apple Watch in April is bound to rivet new attention on interactive wearable devices, thanks to the free publicity the media showered on the Apple launch. After attracting a fair share of ink in its own right, Google Glass faltered for want of technical polish and, even worse, for want of widespread consumer enthusiasm. While the Apple Watch also could prove to be a dud, the increasing appeal of intimate of personal technology – like undies that monitor your pecs, your posture and your perspiration – seems to suggest that selfies alone will not suffice to sate the narcissism of our species. 

Internet of Things

The Internet of Things seems like a joke when you can buy a wi-fi piggybank called a Porkfolio that counts quarters on a dedicated app. But Google’s eye-popping purchase of the Nest smart thermostat company for $3 billion got the attention of both the tech community and plenty of consumer product manufacturers. As a consequence, a serious race is well under way for leadership in a market that, according to Fortune Magazine, could generate between $7 trillion and $19 trillion in sales in a few short years. You may not be captivated by a $17 smart tray that knows you are running low on eggs, but think about the potential of a home-monitoring system that provides surveillance, conserves energy, starts your car on a cold morning, tracks neighborhood crime alerts and remembers the stuff you need at the hardware store. 

Automated Automobiles

The secret Apple car project should have come as no surprise to anyone when it was revealed earlier this year, because vehicles are the perfect environment for a company – like Apple – that sells gizmos and services enabling communications, entertainment, navigation, search and commerce.  The owners of automated autos will appreciate being relieved from the tedium of commuting and long road trips, but here's why advertisers will be enthralled: Whether individuals are sitting behind the wheel or being chauffeured by an autonomous system from Google, motorists represent highly captive and highly targetable audiences.  Knowing who and where motorists are, marketers will have unprecedented influence over what they might be persuaded to buy next. 

Where Does This Leave Legacy Media? 

As different as the four emerging platforms are, there are common denominators: 

:: They can come out of nowhere and gain popularity surprisingly fast. 

:: They are mobile, location-aware and visual, relying on minimal (if any) text to communicate.

:: They represent immediate opportunities to conduct transactions, incentivizing marketers to intercept consumers early and often in the interests of closing in-the-moment deals. 

In short, the four new platforms will be prized venues for media companies and advertisers who want to connect with not only Millennials but also with people of all ages who consume media in increasingly frenetic and purposeful bursts. If legacy companies want a share of the new value chains being created by these new platforms, they need to start paying attention.

© 2015, Editor & Publisher

Monday, May 11, 2015

Made in NYC: New business models for new media

Tattoos, tight jeans and three-day beards are “in,” while meaningless page clicks, paywalls and backfill banner ads are “out.” 
That's the state of the art among the hustling, bustling start-up companies who are innovating the new business models for digital publishing in New York. 
In a two-day tour that I organized last week for 50 senior global media executives on behalf of the International News Media Association, we visited with the leaders of B2C start-ups as varied as Vice and Food52, as well up-and-coming B2B ventures like Business Insider and Skift. We also met with the founders of five ventures aiming to put serious journalism, writing and ideas on the web: Atavist, Gothamist, Longform, Upworthy and Roads and Kingdoms. We also stopped by Complex Media, which has built a network of more than 100 owned and affiliated sites targeting twenty-something males.  
The offices of each of these young companies was literally hot as they are, as an early taste of summer settled over New York. That's because they operate in tight, B-grade spaces with generally minimal access to such amenities as air conditioning or enough chairs to accommodate four-dozen visitors. But tight, spartan quarters evidently are the ideal environment to incubate fresh ideas that can be rapidly prototyped, launched, analyzed and refined – and then fed or killed, as the marketplace dictates. 
Each of the companies is pursuing a different audience and a different business model. Although Vice has raised more than $500 million and has stated it will achieve close to $1 billion in sales this year, the rest of the ventures are small to middling at this point.  
Not all of them necessarily will cross the chasm, but each is helping to write the new rules for new media, which are distinctly different from the rules followed by most of the old media companies.  Old media companies would be well advised to pay attention to the newcomers. So, dudes, listen up: 
Rule 1.  Chose a large, well-defined and underserved vertical, whether it is the travel industry (Skift), sharing recipes among home cooks (Food 52) or the Millennial generation (Vice and Complex Media). 
Rule 2. Develop quality content with an authentic voice. You may not like everything you see on Vice, but you have to admit it is authentic. And here are three words of advice as to the content you should endeavor to generate: Video, video and video. 
Rule 3. Create community through active inter-activity.  Upworthy was founded to find emotionally and intellectually compelling material and then make it as viral as possible through the use of clever headlines, clever copy and extra emphasis – you may have heard this one before – on video. Longform does roughly the same thing by curating and sharing links to well reported, well written and, yes, long articles. Taking community-building to another level, Food 52 actually was started to crowdsource recipes for a cookbook. After the book was published, the community kept growing organically and its founders  –  two women who head a staff composed almost entirely of fellow female foodies – wisely decided to go along for the ride. 
Rule 4. Build quality traffic. As important as growing traffic is to proving the strength and viability of a nascent site, several entrepreneurs stressed that they are more concerned with the quality than the quantity of the page views they attract. To measure quality traffic, they monitor the types of stories their users select, the time they spend on site and the ways that they share content with others. Several publishers explicitly avoid running stories that could be construed as clickbait in favor of articles appealing to the readers they aim to attract.  “This doesn't mean we won't run stories about Mark Zuckerberg's dog,” said Henry Blodgett, the founder and chief executive of Business Insider. “It turns out that people who are interested in his dog are interested in serious business stories, too.”      
Rule 5. Diversify your revenue streams, as follows: 
Sponsored content. Most of the sites are doing sponsored content, paid advertising or whatever you want to call it.  Roads and Kingdoms, a site that melds travel tips and serious  journalism, is hired by brands to produce what they call “off-site” sponsored content that doesn’t usually run on its own site. 
Technology tools.  Atavist built a content-management system to create the great-looking longform articles it wanted to feature in its eMagazine. Now, platform licenses are a major revenue stream for the company.  
Content syndication. Vice has a video deal with HBO and is about to launch a new 24-hour cable channel with the Arts and Entertainment Network.  Meanwhile, Atavist in some months generates the largest proportion of its revenues by selling the movie rights to the original stories it runs. 
Memberships.  Because most sites are intent on growing traffic, they tend to avoid the paywalls so popular among legacy publishers. The start-ups see paywalls not as revenue opportunities but, instead, as barriers to acquiring new subscribers. However, they implement paid services when they feel they can deliver sufficient value to make them desirable. Skift is generating a third of its sales by selling access to specially produced monthly reports that provide deep insights to industry leaders. Other publishers are thinking about ways to create premium access opportunities but aren't in a hurry to do anything that might constrain their growth.  
Merchandising.  This opportunity runs the gamut from generating commissions on the sale of iTunes playlists to merchandise orders placed at Amazon.Com. A third of revenues at Food 52 comes from the sale of kitchen gear, including products like the handmade, wooden biscuit cutters that are available exclusively on its site.
Physical media.  A subset of merchandising is the sale of books, videos and other media produced by the digital site. The cookbook published by Food 52 is an example of this. Vice Magazine, the cornerstone of the global hip-hop empire, continues to be available in print, too. 
Events.  Companies like Skift and Business Insider conduct annual events to not only build revenues and community but also to position themselves as thought leaders in the verticals they hope to dominate.  “It is better to do one big event well than to try to do a lot of small ones,” advises Rafat Ali, the founder and CEO of Skift.   
Advertising.  Although some sites depend on advertising more than others, most of the new media entrepreneurs agree that banner advertising supplied by networks represents what one called “a race to the bottom” in terms of quality and yields.  The most successful sites – like Business Insider and Vice – sell most of their advertising directly at respectable, double-digit CPMs, as opposed to filling their inventory with network-generated advertising that yields low rates while often delivering spots that detract from the editorial environment they are seeking to maintain.  When sites do use network advertising, they exercise close controls on the quality of the ads and often insist on guaranteed minimums from network partners. 
Taken together, the diversity of the start-ups in this sampling demonstrates that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to levitating a new digital publishing venture. All of the entrepreneurs will tell you that it takes a lot of trial and error to find what works. But first and foremost, they say, you have to be willing to try.   

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

‘No-hands’ ad sales challenge legacy media

Ever since legacy publishers and broadcasters got serious about selling interactive advertising, they have struggled with how to do it. 

Should veteran ad representatives be cross-trained to sell portfolios of traditional and digital advertising? This came to be known as the two-leg sales call.

Should specially trained digital ad specialists accompany legacy reps on four-leg sales calls?  

Should digital marketing strategists accompany digital ad specialists and legacy reps on six-leg sales calls?  

Now, some of the biggest names in digital publishing are going in a decidedly different direction than flooding the zone with sales power: They are moving to zero-leg sales calls that eliminate human beings altogether.  

As the new year dawned, Microsoft and AOL jettisoned hundreds (but not all) of their ad sales people in favor of turning their digital inventories over to powerful computers that auction individual page impressions in 0.0000002 of a second – or less. The phenomenon, which aims to maximize the value of an ad by matching the right offer to the right person at the right time, is called programmatic ad buying or real-time bidding. (See video explainer below.)
The shift is being propelled by the growing adoption among marketers of systems that slice and dice Big Data about existing and prospective customers to target expenditures as efficiently as possible. The most ambitious implementations not only send ads to carefully targeted prospects but also dynamically tune product offerings, sales messages and even pricing to boost in-store and online sales. 

The reason three-martini Mad Men are being replaced by triple-latte Math Men is simple, says McKinsey & Co. in a white paper celebrating what it calls the “New Golden Age of Marketing” (here). “Long gone is spending guided mostly by intuition,” writes McKinsey. “Instead, organizations are seeking greater precision by measuring and managing the consumer decision points where well-timed outlays can make the biggest difference.” 

Prominent consumer brands are jumping in. As reported last year in Advertising Age, Proctor & Gamble elected to shift some three-quarters of its interactive ad spend to programmatic buying systems, while American Express tasked computers with disbursing 100% of its digital ad dollars.  

More than half of the estimated $11 billion in digital display ads purchased in the United States in 2014 were bought via programmatic systems, according to a survey by Magna Global, the international ad agency. Magna predicts that 82% of digital display ads will be bought and sold by computers by the end of 2018, driving more than $25 billion in volume.  

The rapid and enthusiastic adoption of programmatic advertising by major national and international brands is great news for major national and international digital publishers like Microsoft and AOL. 

Because they serve hundreds of millions of page views per month, Microsoft and AOL – which consistently rank among the 10 largest digital properties – attract enough visitors to serve the needs of marketers seeking everyone from vegetarian Scrabble players in Scotland to burger-munching baseball fans in Muncie. 

Given the operating scale, financial heft and technical prowess at these digital behemoths, they (and their peers) have invested in the technology necessary to track and categorize users so they can efficiently provide access to marketers arriving via the increasingly sophisticated ad-buying networks operated by Google/DoubleClick, Facebook and others.  

In other words, the digital heavyweights essentially are abandoning the ancient practice of selling banners by the bushel, encouraged by the realization that the ever-growing inventory of web and mobile inventory will continue to commoditize, and thus depress, the pricing for untargeted ads.  

While the efficiency inherent in programmatic selling encouraged Microsoft and AOL to trim their sales staffs, they did not axe all their ad folk. The companies retained representatives to make big, strategic deals that involve not only advertising, but also promotions ranging from content development to product placement to native advertising. 

The shift to no-hands selling by the digital biggies puts legacy publishers and broadcasters at a competitive disadvantage. Because they don’t operate at the breadth and scale of the major digital brands, the legacy media lack the traffic and, quite often, the detailed data necessary to extract full value for their inventories in the RTB marketplace. 

While local publishers and broadcasters can improve ad yields by partnering with third-party data firms to optimize their RTB performance, they likely will be forced to continue to rely on person-to-person selling for the foreseeable future. 

To amortize the high costs of high-touch selling by actual humans, the legacy media must become indispensable marketing partners to local businesses by providing a host of holistic, premium and recurring services, such as: digital site development and hosting, content production, native advertising, search optimization, reputation management and social media marketing. 

Local presence is the key advantage that legacy media have over their digital competitors. If they don’t use it, they will lose it. But they have to do so efficiently. 

© 2015 Editor & Publisher

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

How to capture fly-by digital visitors

Now that most newspapers have been in the digital publishing business for the better part of two decades, it’s time for editors and publishers to pay attention to where their wired readers actually come from. And it’s not the front pages that editors lovingly tend on their websites and mobile apps.  

While research over the years consistently shows that about a third of the visitors at the typical digital site are individuals navigating directly to NameBrandNewspaperSite.Com, the preponderance of the traffic is from people referred to individual articles via search sites or the social media. 

Even though the Newspaper Association of America boasts that the industry’s digital media attract something north of 160 million unique users a month, the reality is that most of the these unique “readers” stop by once a week, once a month or once in a blue moon and typically linger for less than a minute. Then, they are off. 

That’s why many analysts call these incidental readers “fly-bys.”   

With fly-bys representing two-thirds of digital readership, it behooves editors and publishers to learn as much about these individuals as they can. In many cases, however, they don’t know nearly enough. In still more cases, the interactive departments at newspapers fall short of doing the things necessary to capture the enduring interest of digital visitors whose eight-second attention spans are said by some researchers to be no greater than the concentration of a goldfish.  

The significance of third-party referrals was demonstrated emphatically last fall when Axel Springer, a major European publisher, blocked Google from linking to its articles because it objected to Google’s long-standing practice of not paying publishers for referring to their content. When traffic at the Springer sites slumped by some 40%, the publisher quickly invited the search giant to start crawling its sites again.  

To understand where digital traffic comes from, I gathered data from friends at newspapers of various sizes in various parts of the country, who participated on the condition that their publications would remain anonymous. 

The first thing I discovered is that there is no uniformity in the way newspapers count their digital traffic, making it difficult to benchmark performance or identify best practices. But, as discussed above, it was clear that two-thirds – or more – of the traffic at newspaper sites did not come through the front page. On average, about half of the third-party referrals came from search engines, about a quarter came from social media like Facebook or Twitter, and the balance came from “other” referrals like blogs, websites or emails from one friend to another. 

Thus, it is safe to say that fly-bys represent a rich opportunity for publishers to build a larger and more loyal readership in the digital realm than they enjoy today. Here’s how they can do so: 

:: Be nice. Treat every page you serve as though it were a reader’s first entry point, because, statistically speaking, it is. Instead of warning a non-subscriber that she has only 10 views left on a paper’s paywall-protected website, offer her a free month of unlimited access in exchange for providing her email address. Make sure the terms of the email registration enable you to send further marketing communications.   

:: Strut your stuff. To build click-through and dwell time, leverage your newspaper’s vast archives by promoting relevant content on every page. The invitation to stick around only works, of course, if you turn off the paywall alert, so the reader isn’t threatened with being banished from the site every time she clicks on a new article.  

:: Encourage sharing. People referred to your site by friends and social media are highly likely to be willing to refer others to you. Prominently post tools on every page to make it easy to share links to your content via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, text and email. A great example of optimized sharing is at the Los Angeles Times website, which embeds pre-written Twitter messages into every story so readers can point, click and tweet. 

:: Start conversations. Because the digital media are two-way forms of communication, invite visitors to join the conversation by enhancing the visibility of comments and streamlining the process of adding to them. Going to the next level, consider soliciting user-generated photos, videos and other content wherever it makes sense to do so. Nothing will get visitors to promote your site to their friends faster than having a picture of them posted on it.  

:: Market, market, market.  Once you have an email address, you can begin to build relationships through email newsletters, deals, coupons, contests, sweepstakes and other incentives that will engage visitors, keep them engaged and encourage them to provide the information you need to enhance your marketing activities.  

Remember, though, this only works if you start by being nice.  

© 2015 Editor & Publisher 

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

So long again, Chicago Daily News

On March 4, 1978, the presses fell silent for the last time at the Chicago Daily News, an iconic and crusading newspaper that was unable to adapt to changing times. The following article, which originally appeared here in 2005, is reprinted as a reminder of what happens when a paper runs out of readers, revenues and ideas.

"It's fun being the publisher when things are going well," squeaked the young man who stumbled awkwardly to the top of a battered desk in the unusually silent newsroom of the Chicago Daily News. "But it's no fun today."

Swallowing a nervous giggle, Marshall Field V cleared his throat and read the assembled staff the short, typewritten death warrant of one of the most distinguished newspapers in American history.

An agonizing month later, on March 4, 1978, the Daily News signed off with the jaunty banner, "So long, Chicago."

The line was written by the late nightside copy desk chief, Tom Gavagan, a chain-smoking, working-class Irishman who seemed to own only two shirts -- one in burnt orange, the other in avocado green. The tears in Gav's eyes weren't from the smoke.

Although it happened 37 years ago, the story is worth telling today, because many of the zany, brainy people who made that paper sing aren't here to talk about it any more. They were my mentors, comrades and friends, and I cherish their memories.

But this isn't just ancient history. It is a valuable reminder to today's media companies of what happens when you run out of readers, revenues and ideas all at the same time.

The Daily News, like most afternoon newspapers, succumbed at the age of 102 to a declining audience and rising expenses.

Its readers had moved on. On to the suburbs, where delivery trucks couldn't reach them with a paper that didn't come off the press until afternoon. On to the sofa, where they favored Three's Company on television.

There were no home computers, no Internet, no iPods and no cellphones to get between our readers and us in 1978. Still, circulation dropped. The management was changed. Circulation dropped. We redesigned the paper. Circulation dropped. We tinkered with the product. Circulation dropped.

In the end, there was nothing left to do. Some 300 people lost their jobs, and Chicago lost a great newspaper.

The Daily News, in its best days, was a cutting-edge conscience in conservative Chicago, a husky, brawling town that wasn't always ready for reform. The paper stood fast against official incompetence and government corruption and stood tall for civil rights and the little guy. For years, the Daily News stubbornly held its price to a penny, so as to be affordable to laborers heading home from work.

It was one of the first newspapers to have foreign correspondents, to print photographs or to cover that new-fangled medium, radio. Its widely syndicated coverage won 13 Pulitzer Prizes, including three for meritorious public service.

The Daily News cultivated a limitless array of talent over a century, including Eugene Field, George Ade, Ben Hecht, Finley Peter Dunne, Carl Sandburg, Peter Lisagor, M.W. Newman, Lu Palmer, Lois Wille and our latter-day franchise player, Mike Royko.

The list is too long to print here. But the Daily News, in its classy way, printed the name of everyone working on the staff on the day the paper folded.

My name was on that list. It remains one of the proudest, and saddest, moments of my life.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

We’ll miss David Carr more than we know

With the rules of journalism and the media business evolving at Internet speed, David Carr was a savvy, centered and sensitive commentator who teased the facts from the frenzy with warmth, wit and faultless prose. 

He departed the madcap media beat prematurely when he died tonight at the tender age of 58, collapsing in the newsroom of New York Times. I am sure he was in no hurry to leave his beloved wife and daughters, but you can bet he was proud to die with his boots on.  

David was a generous friend and colleague, who readily carved time out of his blistering schedule to dope out a story or shoot the breeze over a stack of lemon-curd pancakes. For a skinny guy, he could eat an amazing amount.  

Last year, I persuaded him to fly across the country for the weekend to give the commencement speech at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley.

“I am David Carr and I am an alcoholic,” he said in opening a humorously serious and seriously humorous talk (video below) that delighted and inspired the graduates, my colleagues and the assembled families. He even dropped the f-bomb a couple of times, a word that normally doesnt come up at graduation ceremonies.

But that’s who he was. Silly, smart, sincere, self-effacing and selfless. And he knew how to tell a story. 

With journalism imperiled these days at home and abroad, we need the likes of David on the beat more than ever.  

Now, we have lost him. Without David on the job, it is hard to know what we won’t know. But I am sure it will be a lot. What the f-bomb are we going to do? 

Welcome to ‘Everyware’ computing

Our imaginative friends in the technology industry intend to make computing simpler and arguably more satisfying by making it more intuitive than ever. Here’s how: 

They will saturate our environment with vast arrays of computers and Internet-enabled sensors that will put all but the most technologically isolated individuals in a crossfire of constant monitoring, constant profiling, constant push notifications and constant behavioral analysis – so the process can be fine-tuned and repeated over and over again. 

The phenomenon is known variously as Ambient Computing, Pervasive Computing, Ubiquitous Computing or – my personal favorite – Everyware. So, let’s go with that. 

Everyware indeed may simplify our relationship with technology. Or it might snarl the wires of our wired lives even further. There are too many moving parts (as discussed in a moment) to predict exactly how Everyware will affect our personal lives and business. 

But ubiquitous computing seems likely to have major impact on the media business, because it will all but eliminate the intermediary relationship that media companies require to build the audiences they traditionally have sold to advertisers. 

Assuming Everyware materializes as envisioned by Silicon Valley’s savants, it spontaneously will deliver targeted information and entertainment, while at the same time enabling marketers to maintain persistent, direct and dynamic one-to-one relationships with individual consumers. 

In that event, what roles will be left to gate-keeping editors and the media companies that employ them? Publishers and broadcasters need to start focusing on this, so here are the trends to watch: 

:: Mobile Computing. From headlines to selfies to shopping, smartphones and tablets have become indispensible vehicles for delivering intimate and individualized computing experiences. And people love them. The average American spends just under three hours a day consuming mobile media, according to eMarketer.Com. Back in 2010, mobile use was 24 minutes a day. 

:: Wearable Devices. Although the Google Glass project seems to have lost some of its gloss, companies like Apple, Lumo Body Tech and Ralph Lauren are working on a variety of wearable, sensor-rich products that respectively pinpoint your location, check your posture and monitor your heart rate. Although no one is certain how wearables will be used and which will emerge as winners, various industry forecasters reckon that sales in this emerging market will grow from near insignificance today to between $20 billion and $50 billion by 2018 (see slide 8 here).  

:: Internet of Things. The Nest thermostat is perhaps the best-known example of an Internet-connected device that matches your environment to your behavior to ensure comfort and energy efficiency. But a host of increasingly sophisticated in-home utilities are being rushed to market, as exemplified by Echo, a voice-activated ambient device from Amazon that searches the web, plays music and, naturally, helps you shop. Forrester Research predicts that the number of smart sensors in homes, businesses and vehicles will leap eightfold to 25 billion units by 2020. That’s a lot of smart Crock-Pots

:: Cloud Computing. Thanks to intense competition among Amazon, Microsoft, Google and other heavy hitters seeking to outsource computing for clients of every size, the costs of storing and crunching data will continue diving for the foreseeable future. The frenetic growth of cloud computing will lead to a fourfold increase to 6.5 zetabytes of the amount of data stored around the world by 2018, according to Cisco Systems. Read on to see how it will be used: 

:: Hyper-Personalization. The Big Data archived in the cloud contains all the bits and pieces of information captured about you through the above means, including but not limited to age, gender, residence, income, credit rating, family status, reading habits, commuting routines, social networks and shopping patterns. Depending how generously you share information on the web and how avidly you participate in frequent-shopper programs, the enduring and growing volume of information about you can be quite personal and granular, ranging from your preferred toothpaste to your demonstrated driving efficiency to your inferred sexual proclivities. 

:: Digital Advertising. To put the right offer in front of the right person in the right place at the right time, marketers aggressively are shifting their expenditures to the digital media, because you can’t achieve the same precision, efficiency and immediacy with print or broadcast advertising. By 2019, the sums spent on digital marketing will double to more than $100 billion from today’s level, according to Gartner Research. Digital ad spending surged 17% in 2013 to a record $42.8 billion, topping the sums spent on television for the first time, according to the Internet Advertising Bureau. The trade group said digital ad spending grew another 15% in the first half of 2014, so this looks like a durable trend. 

Although the ambient-computing environment is fluid and complex, the mounting array of evidence suggests that Everyware could change Everything for the media and advertising businesses. Now is the time to start paying attention.  

© 2015 Editor & Publisher

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Historic mobile ad surge threatens print

If you compare the modest amount of time that consumers read newspapers with the billions in advertising dollars spent on the medium, you will see that newspapers long have captured far more than their fair share of the advertising pie. But this could begin unraveling with a vengeance in 2015, as mobile advertising surges to record levels. 

As discussed in a moment, mobile advertising expenditures exploded by 76% in the first half of 2014 to $5.3 billion, surpassing even the sum spent on banners. Meanwhile, a chilling survey of advertising executives shows that 41% of them plan to fund their expanding mobile advertising budgets in 2015 by reducing print expenditures. 

In other words, mobile’s gain could prove to be a further setback to publishers who already have seen their advertising revenues decline by more than half since peaking at $49.4 billion in 2005. Here’s why publishers should be worried:

The disproportionate share of dollars spent on newspaper advertising is illustrated in a simple analysis put together recently by eMarketer, an independent analytics firm. By dividing the amount of advertising dollars spent on print by the number of minutes the average American spends with the medium, eMarketer found that advertisers in 2014 spent 83 cents per minute to reach print readers and only 7 cents a minute pursuing mobile users. 

Inasmuch as markets abhor this sort of inefficiency, it is axiomatic to conclude that advertisers will begin to vector ever more of their dollars from print, where the average American adult spends a combined 26 minutes a day with newspapers and magazines, to smartphones and tablets, where the average use is 2 hours and 51 minutes a day. Over the years, it should be noted, mobile use has increased at a break-neck pace, rising to the current level from less than half an hour daily in 2009. In the same period, combined newspaper and magazine readership slipped from 50 minutes a day to 26, according to eMarketer.

With consumers spending ever more of their time on mobile devices, it makes sense that advertisers are spending more of their money on mobile media. In the first half of 2014, mobile ad expenditures increased 76% over the prior year to $5.3 billion, according to the Internet Advertising Bureau, a trade group. The IAB reported that the mobile growth rate was five times greater than the 15% gain in advertising across all digital categories.  

Digital ad statistics for all of 2014 will not be available until later this year, but here is what we know now: If the digital advertising market expanded as rapidly in the second half of 2014 as it did in the first, then full-year mobile sales for the year would be $12.5 billion. Assuming the over-all digital advertising market grew as much in the second half of 2014 as it did in the first half, then mobile would have represented fully a quarter of the $49.3 billion in ad sales the industry was on track to produce in 2014. 

To put this in perspective, mobile advertising has rocketed from insignificance in 2010 to being second only today to desktop search advertising, which represents about 38% of total digital ad volume.    

As for the future, PricewaterhouseCoopers projects that worldwide mobile advertising will increase by some 25% in 2015, while Magna Global forecasts a 64% gain. Either way, it is a lot. 

Thanks in equal parts to inertia on the part of marketers and to able salesmanship on the part of the newspapers and magazines, publishers long have garnered more than their fair share of advertising dollars.  After all, it is easier for advertisers to buy tens of thousands of dollars in print advertising than to place, monitor and analyze the performance of tens of thousands of digital ads.  And it certainly is more fun attending a basketball game with a congenial ad rep than crunching numbers on a Google Ads spreadsheet.  

But the powerful shift to mobile advertising could change things precipitously. Here’s why:

After interviewing some 300 senior managers at consumer brands and advertising agencies, a consulting group called Advertiser Perceptions found that 41% of the respondents plan to boost their mobile ad budgets in 2015 by reducing the sums they spend on print. In addition to trimming print, 34% of the marketers said they would cut television spending and 32% said they would reduce traditional digital display advertising.  

The study found that 83% of the marketers plan to shift to mobile because they believe the intimacy and immediacy of handheld devices will enable them to have more individualized and instantaneous relationships with their customers than ever before.  

With “more and more people using mobile,” said one marketer quoted anonymously in the report, “we are moving our ad spend…so we can reach users via the devices they currently are using to access content.”    
It’s axiomatic. 

© 2015 Editor & Publisher

Wednesday, January 07, 2015


There are no words...

Monday, December 15, 2014

UC-Berkeley seeks international journalists

Applications are being accepted through Jan. 5 for a unique program providing mid-career journalists from outside the U.S. with an opportunity to pursue advanced professional training and academic study at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley.

In the non-degree Visiting Scholar program, participants can audit courses offered at the journalism school and in other disciplines, drawing upon the extensive resources and community life of a major research university. Disclosure: I am the director of the program.

A former visiting scholar was recruited after completing the program by one of the Europe's biggest publishers to be editor in chief of a successful print magazine as it transitions to the digital era. "I feel I am in the middle of a change in the media industry and that I'm actually in charge now," she wrote after assuming her new position. "The information and new ideas 
I got [at Berkeley] have been absolutely priceless." 

Another former visiting scholar started her own long-form online magazine after returning home, which already has begun winning journalism prizes and generating revenues through subscriptions and eBooks. "I really never before had been forced to think about how to make a profit with journalism," she said. "Your program was the reason I was brave enough to think of something new."  

Journalists accepted to the program can participate for either the entire 2014-2015 academic year or for a single semester of their choice. Information about the program, including fees and application requirements, is here. The deadline for applications is Jan. 5, 2015.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

How newspapers lost the Millennials

American publishers and editors have only themselves to blame for failing to connect with the Millennial generation that they – and most of their advertisers – covet the most. 

The inability of newspapers to resonate with digital natives has left them with a daunting demographic challenge. Two-thirds of the audience at the typical newspaper is composed of people over the age of 55, according to Greg Harmon of Borrell Associates. “The newspaper audience ages another year every year,” he adds. “Everyone’s hair ought to be on fire.” 

As the newspaper audience grays, the readers that newspapers – and most of their advertisers – would like to have are, instead, busily racking up page views at places like BuzzFeed, Circa, Mic, Upworthy, Vice, Vocativ and Vox. 
To delve into the demographic disparity, I pulled the audience data on Mic.Com, which comScore calls the favorite news destination for individuals from the ages of 18 to 34. Although many publishers and editors never may have heard of Mic, comScore says it is visited by a thumping 60% of Millenials. 

To make things interesting, I compared Mic’s audience with the aggregate data for the 28 geographically dispersed markets served by McClatchy Co., the largest newspaper company furnishing user data to Quantcast.Com, which requires publishers to opt in to its data service. 

Quantcast indexes audiences against the national population to make it possible to compare the demographics of one website against another. This means a site whose audience perfectly mirrors the national age distribution would index at 100. Now, here’s how Mic compares with McClatchy, according to Quantcast’s data:

At Mic, users from 18 to 24 index at 156, meaning that the site has 1½ times more readers in this age group than the national average.  The index climbs to 171 for the 25-34 crowd.

The story is quite the opposite at McClatchy, where the under-34 age groups come in at less than 100 but where the incidence of older readers is above the norm, indexing at 108 for 35-44, 117 for 45-54, 126 for 55-64 and 125 for 65-plus. 

Assuming McClatchy is representative of the industry  – and I see no reason why it wouldn’t be – the big question is how so many highly intelligent and highly motivated newspaper executives failed to connect with this massive and influential market.  Here’s a not-so-subtle clue: 

In a recent study, researchers at the University of Missouri reported that only 29% of newspaper publishers conducted focus groups prior to putting paywalls around the digital products that most profess to be the future of their franchises.  

Instead of talking with their intended consumers, fully 85% of respondents to the survey said they asked other publishers what they thought about erecting barriers around the content that they had been freely providing for the better part of two decades.  

While paywalls boosted revenues at most newspapers because they were accompanied by stiff increases in print subscription rates, the tactic gave the growing population of digital natives – and non-readers of every other age – the best reason yet for not engaging with newspapers. 

Of course, newspapers were losing Millenials well before they started feverishly erecting paywalls in the last few years. But what if publishers and editors had begun studying the needs and attitudes of the emerging generation from the early days of the Millenium? Could the outcomes have been more positive?  

In the interests of tuning into the thinking of those elusive twenty- and thirty-somethings, a newspaper client recently brought a panel of them to a strategy session. Here is what we learned: 

:: The Millenials said the only media that matter to them are the social media, where they get current news about their friends, as well as cues to other interesting or relevant content. 

:: They put a great deal of trust in recommendations from their friends but are not motivated by loyalty to media brands. 

:: They will click on whatever content interests or amuses them, and they make no distinction among news, entertainment and advertising. 

:: They prefer graphic content – images, videos, GIFs, infographics, etc. – over text.

:: They will buy a book, vinyl record or other physical artifact that they view as a collectible, but see no value in paying for access to ephemeral headlines that are freely available everywhere. 

:: They are turned off by the dispassionate voice that characterizes conventional media, preferring treatments that evoke an emotional response. 

:: They are smart, engaged and want juicy articles that take stands on important topics. 

:: They will exercise the full power of choice made possible by their always-on mobile devices. 

:: They are decisive. If they don’t like the content they are getting, they will make their own. 

Given the above, it is easy to see that publishers and editors have a higher regard for their products than the next-gen consumers they need to attract. Now, the only question remaining is whether newspaper folk have the gumption – and time – to turn things around. 

© Copyright 2014, Editor & Publisher

Friday, December 05, 2014

USA Weekend shuts as costs spike and ads tumble

USA Weekend, the second-largest Sunday newspaper magazine in the United States, will print its final edition on Dec. 28, succumbing to soaring distribution costs and plunging advertising.  

The circulation of the Sunday supplement, which was stuffed into newspapers delivered to as many as 70 million homes a few years back, has fallen today to about 18 million, according to a knowledgeable source at Gannett Inc., the parent of the publication.  

With advertising sales collapsing by nearly half in the last few years, USA Weekend was expected to produce about $40 million in revenue in 2014, yielding losses in excess of $10 million in each of the last two years, according to the source, who declined to be identified because s/he is not authorized to speak with the press. 

Some 30 advertising and editorial staffers will lose their jobs in the shutdown.   

The demise of USA Weekend will leave the contracting Sunday supplement market to Parade Magazine, whose distribution is about 32 million copies.  A few years back, its circulation was double that size, according to industry sources. 

Financial information is not available for Parade because it is privately held.  However, industry sources say revenues today are in the neighborhood of $60 million, as compared with $100 million in the last two or three years.  

Parade was sold in the fall to Athlon Media by Advance Publications, which had owned the title since 1976. 

The once-robust Sunday supplement business unraveled as the result of the declining economics of newspaper publishing and the changing demands of advertisers. 

In the heyday of newspapers – when industry-wide revenues and profits were approximately twice as large as they are today – the publishers of USA Weekend and Parade were able to charge local publishers for the right to distribute the magazines in their Sunday papers.  

When newspaper advertising began the slide that has taken it today to less than half of the record $49 billion achieved in 2005, the Sunday supplement publishers found themselves first absorbing the costs of shipping the product to local newspapers and eventually paying local publishers to distribute their magazines. 

The flip in the distribution model not only eliminated tens of millions of dollars of annual revenues for the Sunday supplements but also burdened them with tens of millions in new costs. 

“The cost structure got crazy, said an executive who tried to turn around the decline at USA Weekend. “You could afford to pay people to take the magazine if you had enough advertising but this doesn’t work if you don’t.”

The demand for advertising in Sunday supplements collapsed because most national advertisers are not willing to purchase space in publications that require copy to be submitted weeks in advance. “Advertising in print is soft, anyway,” said the executive.  “When you can sell it, you get the copy days before the paper is printed. It is almost impossible to get people to commit a month ahead.” 

The demise of USA Weekend will punch a hole in the budgets of publishers who were being paid to distribute the supplement.  Because the payments are based on the circulation of the participating publisher, metro papers that formerly carried USA Weekend instantly will lose as much as hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual revenues.

With the losses at USA Weekend soon to be stanched, Gannett plans to step up the distribution of content and advertising in the USA Today-branded sections it has been supplying to its network of more than 80 daily papers.  

The modular sections, which are edited by a small team of editors at USA Today near the nation’s capital, are being credited internally at Gannett with producing $20 million in additional circulation revenues for the company’s dailies. 

This has been made possible, said a corporate source, because the daily USA Today supplements have cut churn and enabled local publishers to increase circulation fees. Building on the momentum the daily sections have achieved, Gannett plans a major ad-sales push in 2015. 

While the USA Today supplements to date have been available only to Gannett-owned papers, the company has begun a pilot program to offer USA Today pages to non-affiliated papers. 

The executive said s/he believes the real-time delivery of daily USA Today supplements will please both cost-conscious publishers and modern readers.  

The delivery of fresh daily content “can produce a more relevant product that can succeed without even selling more advertising,” said the executive. “The months-old articles we used to put in the Sunday supplement don’t have the same value for readers any more.”