Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Thinking About Tomorrow
Wall Street Journal- Page R1
How will technology change the way we shop, learn and entertain ourselves? How will it change the way we get news, protect our privacy, connect with friends? We look ahead 10 years, and imagine a whole different world.
Let's get this out of the way first -- in the next 10 years, no one will travel to work by jet pack or have robot maids that serve dinner. But technology will continue to transform the rituals of everyday life -- sometimes in startling ways.
Imagine televisions that project 3-D images into the middle of the living room, for a theater-in-the-round experience. And while we won't get those robot maids, our appliances might start "talking" to us through email alerts, letting us know when a part is getting worn down and needs to be replaced.
Plenty of visionaries have ideas about what technology will look like in 10 years. But what do the people think? WSJ Digital Network's Stacey Delo reports.
Many other changes will be more subtle, as technology finds new ways into our daily routine. Commuters will still carry newspapers to work but will likely download them to a pocket-size computer that can also show TV news broadcasts. Shoppers will still be greeted at Wal-Mart, but a computer may be the one saying hello -- and reminding them of what they bought on their last visit. Friends will still send each other birth and wedding announcements, but the process will be virtually automated, thanks to alerts on social-networking sites.
Most of these changes will spring from a couple of rapidly improving technologies. Mobile devices will get smaller and more powerful, and will connect to the Internet through high-speed links. The result: People will be able to do anything on a hand-held that they can now do on a desktop computer.
In fact, they'll be able to do even more, as mobile gadgets increasingly come equipped with global-positioning-system gear that can track your every move. As you drive around, for instance, you might get reviews of nearby restaurants automatically delivered to a screen in your car -- maybe even projected onto the windshield.
The spread of GPS hints at another big change on the horizon. We're going to be under a lot more pressure to make our personal information public -- everything from where we surf online to where we're standing at a particular moment. Companies will offer us special deals and other incentives so that we'll let them track our activity. That information, in turn, will let the companies present us with a steady stream of intensely focused marketing whenever we go online, turn on our cellphone or even walk into a store. (Think of that computerized greeter at Wal-Mart.)
Privacy will come under further strain as social-networking sites and blogs become more pervasive. People will post ever more details of their lives online -- and let hosts of people know about them with automatic updates.
· How does a professional forecaster2 predict the future, and do young futurists have a different outlook from their older colleagues? Michael Totty talks with Ben Hourahine, futures editor at advertising firm Leo Burnett in London.Now, let's get one more thing out of the way: Making predictions is a hazardous business. There will, no doubt, be technologies emerging that none of us can even imagine right now. And how much any technology changes people's lives depends on the quirks of personal behavior. The usual early adopters will eagerly take up some innovations, and youngsters -- as ever -- may latch on to them before their parents. Some new inventions will slip into our routines almost without our knowledge.
With that huge caveat in mind, here's a best-guess look at some of the ways our common activities will be transformed in the coming decade.
HOW WE SHOP
Over the next decade, shopping will become much more personalized -- and promotional.
Some sites, like Google and Amazon, already show you targeted ads based on what you've bought before or where you surf. And companies already let you sign up for online sales alerts and other information.
But companies will take those practices to a new level of precision as they learn more about what their customers like. More businesses will offer people incentives to hand over detailed personal information, whether by filling in a form or allowing the companies to track their online activity. Companies may also make deals to collect user information from popular sites, perhaps e-commerce sites like Netflix or social networks like Facebook.
This will mean big changes in real-world shopping as well as online. Let's say you order some digital photos from an online service and go to the store to pick them up. The clerk may have access to your online profile and shopping history. So, he might mention that the store is having a special on a camera you looked at on a retail site. What's more, he'll mention that your friend Jerry bought it and recommends it.
Wireless technology will also change commerce. You'll get sales alerts sent to your mobile gadget, for one thing. But that device -- whether a cellphone, BlackBerry or digital-music player -- may also come with features that make shopping easier. For one thing, it might allow you to make purchases with the touch of a button instead of pulling out your wallet.
Currently, for instance, servers at baseball games can order food for spectators by using specialized hand-held gadgets. The order goes to the concession stand, and when it's done somebody brings the food to the person's seat. In a few years, spectators may be able to do the ordering themselves, using regular cellular phones, says Dan Wright, chief executive of mPoria Inc., a Seattle-based company that provides mobile-commerce technology.
Wireless communication will work its way into our life in other ways. A host of devices may be able to broadcast messages using radio-frequency identification and other tracking technologies. Printers running low on ink will be able to send messages to suppliers requesting refills. Household appliances will send alerts to their owners' computers if, say, a belt connecting the motor to the pump wears thin and needs a replacement.
Finally, we may see some smaller technical advances that make shopping easier. More computers and mobile devices will feature touch screens, similar to those on Apple Inc.'s iPhone. Instead of clicking links when you're shopping for clothes online, you actually reach out and touch 3-D pictures of the outfits you want, says David Fry, chief executive of Fry Inc., an Ann Arbor, Mich., company that helps retailers set up and manage Web sites.
HOW WE PLAY GAMES
Within a decade, videogames will greatly narrow the gap with movies, as consoles and PCs get more computing horsepower and let game companies conjure more-lifelike characters.
Right now, for instance, faces on game characters often look lifeless and unnatural. Companies like Mova LLC of San Francisco are coming up with ways to translate the facial expressions of human actors into photorealistic digital replicas. Mova's method involves covering the actors' faces in phosphorescent makeup and photographing them using specially designed lights and cameras.
Mr. Perlman predicts that some movies will have interactive elements in them so that users can switch out of the linear story to play against other characters. If you're watching a "Harry Potter" movie, for example, you might switch out of the story to play a Quidditch match between broom-riding wizards. Games already do something like this today, with cruder graphics, by interspersing cinematic scenes between game play.
The way people play games is likely to change as much as the look of the medium. Nintendo Co. has already abandoned traditional videogame controllers with its Wii console, which uses a motion-sensing wand instead of the familiar buttons and joysticks. But researchers and game companies want to go even further -- and possibly abandon hand-held controls altogether.
For instance, companies like Israel's 3DV Systems Inc. are developing video cameras to precisely measure the movement of players as they stand in front of their television sets. Combined with more-powerful game systems, this technology will soon allow users to control the on-screen action of athletes, superheroes and soldiers with body movements -- no need for a controller at all. Even better: Players may eventually be able to place realistic replicas of their own faces on the characters.
HOW WE WATCH MOVIES AND TV
The Internet has multiplied the ways we can watch movies and television. For instance, you can see "Lost" on anything from a three-inch iPod screen to a giant high-definition monitor, and you can stream the show whenever you want instead of waiting for it to show up on the air.
Next, the Web promises to change the kinds of shows we watch.
The Net is opening up new methods of distributing short, low-budget independent productions. In the next decade, viewers will be able to go online and see work by a much broader variety of filmmakers. Studios are also likely to get in on the act with low-budget online features of their own. These short movies will carry production budgets of $10 million or less, compared with an average of about $70 million for typical Hollywood fare, and many will go straight to the Web without showing in theaters first.
With studio backing, these films will be much better quality than typical Web programming, and they may offer variety that people can't get on regular television. For an idea of what these movies may look like, consider the latest installment in the "Jackass" franchise. "Jackass 2.5" isn't being released in theaters. Instead, Paramount Pictures is trying a smorgasbord of distribution strategies, from free online streaming supported by ads to paid downloads to DVDs. Relying heavily on leftover clips from previous "Jackass" movies, the film comes in at a total cost of less than $2 million.
Part of Hollywood's goal with such movies is to build a social network among fans. In essence, these networks would be official versions of the fan sites that populate the Internet -- online destinations where fans could meet up with other fans. The studios could then get valuable information about the audience, and reach them more easily with targeted marketing pitches.
Of course, studios are thinking much bigger than "Jackass." "Imagine the 'Star Wars' series or the 'Indiana Jones' series," says Todd Dagres, a partner who handles entertainment investments at venture-capital firm Spark Capital LLC. Over time, social networks devoted to such popular series "could be worth more than the film" if studios got involved from the start.
But don't expect the Internet to cause the extinction of the movie theater, or the disappearance of the blockbuster. In fact, "tentpole" movies, like the "Spider-Man" franchise, will become even more eye-popping because of advances in special effects, particularly 3-D technology. Consider "Avatar," a science-fiction movie coming out in 2009 from James Cameron, who directed "Titanic." He is filming the live-action parts entirely with new 3-D cameras that can deliver a much sharper picture than the old, blurry 3-D of B-movie fame.
Moviegoers also can expect digital projection of their movies in super-high resolution, exceeding anything they could get at home, either online or through high-definition DVDs.
Currently, the sharpest resolution starting to trickle into theaters is a technology called 4K, meaning about 4,000 lines of horizontal resolution on the screen. In Japan, engineers are already working on 8K, which promises twice the resolution (though some question whether it's really any better than 4K). The higher resolution means that screens can be bigger and still keep the image's sharpness, allowing for a much more immersive experience.
With the advances in picture quality, plus the evolving distribution methods and creative opportunities they offer, "we're going to look back in history and say this was as big a revolution as was [the invention of] television," says Jerry Pierce, a former studio executive and a technology consultant to the motion-picture industry.
Even bigger technology shifts are coming to television. Devices that can deliver Internet video directly to television sets have been promised for some time, but even with the latest gizmos, the experience is still somewhat clunky. Still, in a few years, one box will probably deliver programs seamlessly to most homes from either the local cable or satellite provider or the Net.
One technology, still in the laboratory, will take the viewing experience a step further: holographic images in our homes. (Think of the hologram of Princess Leia in "Star Wars.")
"Our TV may be a projection toward the center of the room," says Dan Silverberg, vice president for high-definition media development at Warner Bros. "Actors will be almost on a stage."
HOW WE MAKE AND KEEP FRIENDS
Technologies like text messaging and social networking have made it possible to keep track of a much larger group of people than ever before. With built-in alerts, you can get a constant stream of information about your friends and what they're doing. In the future, more information will end up in your social network -- and you'll be able to send that information automatically to your friends, wherever they are.
And not just big announcements like babies and weddings. When you buy an airline ticket, you'll have the option to send a text message to people in your network to let them know you're taking a trip -- in case any old friends will be in the area and want to meet up. Or you might let friends know you just bought a movie ticket, in case someone has a review to share or wants to join you.
"The opportunities to keep in touch with people are going to abound," says Fred Stutzman, a researcher at the University of North Carolina.
And as GPS hardware becomes more widespread, that information will follow wherever you go -- literally. You'll be able to keep track of the physical whereabouts of your friends, so if you're stuck on a layover in Dallas, your phone might tell you that you have a friend stuck in the same airport.
It will also get simpler to use all these services. Today, you have to sign up for MySpace to reach MySpace users, sign up for Facebook to reach Facebook users, and so on. Futurists predict that in 10 years, you'll be able to reach anyone using any service on your computer or cellphone.
HOW WE SEARCH ONLINE
Today, search involves looking for Web pages from your personal computer. Over the next decade, searching from mobile devices will take center stage, with new troves of information at your fingertips.
Along with that, search engines will do a better job of anticipating what users are looking for. In part, that's because the services will track people's Web activity more closely and then target their interests more precisely.
The engines might even analyze data from people's real-world movements if they agreed to it, speculates Google software engineer Matt Cutts. For instance, a search engine might tap into GPS devices in someone's car and match that information with the driver's surfing history to provide more-relevant results. So, when it's lunchtime, the service might provide a personalized list of places to stop for food, along with directions.
GPS technology will also let people interact more easily with resources such as Google Inc.'s Google Earth and Microsoft Corp.'s Live Search Maps. With these services, people overlay all sorts of data -- such as descriptions of buildings and environmental information -- onto detailed aerial maps. Let's say you're at a historic site and want to read or view travelogues by other visitors. The GPS in your phone might pinpoint your location automatically and let you access data about that location from a map site at the touch of a button.
Search will also change our lives in a less obvious way. Major Internet companies have been ramping up services that allow users to store personal data online, everything from word-processing documents to home movies. As the cost of storage keeps falling, users will be able to store more information with such services. And that may spur people to accumulate ever greater troves of information.
"There's no reason 10 years from now that you won't record every meeting you've been in, maybe record all of the audio or have a little video camera on your glasses," says Mr. Cutts.
How does search fit in? Taking advantage of the Internet companies' computing horsepower, people will be able to search through that stored data much more quickly and effectively. For instance, they might be able to search for the exact spots in their home-video collection where family members speak certain phrases. And they'll be able to do so from home, work or their mobile phone, since the data will be accessible over the Internet.
--Kevin J. Delaney
HOW WE GET NEWS
In the future, news may not be free -- but it will be untethered.
Technology forecasters and journalism researchers predict that over the next decade we won't use newspapers or television news programs to decide what stories we see each day. The big news organizations will probably still be around, but we won't, say, scan the front page of the local paper (or its Web site), looking for articles that catch our eye. We'll be more likely to find a news story through a link emailed from a friend, in a blog post or from a syndicated news feed.
In essence, people will become their own editors, with friends and bloggers helping them put together their own daily news menu. Already, about a quarter of the traffic to stories on newspaper Web sites comes from search engines alone, according to a report last year by Hitwise, an online-media research firm.
"The idea that someone has a primary news source they rely on is already vanishing," says Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, an industry research organization. "We all dine at the news smorgasbord every day, and that will continue to expand."
To some extent, technology will help automate the process. Personalization technology that now recommends books from Amazon.com Inc. will recommend news stories based on your past viewing. News could also be delivered based on where you live.
The upshot: Technology "will allow you to control the information you want, and to get it where you want it and when you want it," says Randy Bennett, responsible for electronic-media initiatives at the Newspaper Association of America, an industry trade group in Arlington, Va.
The next decade will also see the spread of powerful portable devices as easy to read and navigate as a print newspaper, making downloading an entire newspaper or news broadcast as easy as getting email alerts on a BlackBerry.
Two developments in the last year point the way: the iPhone and the Kindle e-book reader from Amazon.com. The Kindle uses a new "electronic ink" technology that is easier to read than text on a computer monitor. More important, the Kindle has an easy-to-use connection to the Net that makes it possible to easily download newspapers or blog posts for reading anywhere. It also lets papers charge for the downloads, something that's increasingly difficult to do on the Web.
The current Kindle still is limited: It can display only in black and white, and it can't show video -- features that will have to be improved before it becomes a fully functional news reader. (That's where the iPhone, which can display vivid color graphics and video, comes in.)
Once a gadget combines all those features, "billions of people will be carrying that device," says Peter Schwartz, co-founder and chairman of Global Business Network, a San Francisco consulting firm. "That will be the most significant source of news."
HOW WE PROTECT OUR PRIVACY
All of the innovations mentioned above come with one tremendous caveat: Untold amounts of our private information could become public.
"It is going to be a very bumpy decade," says Kevin Bankston, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based civil-liberties group.
As social-networking sites become a daily diary and blogging grows more popular, some people are likely to feel their privacy compromised by their own friends, who are constantly publishing casual information about them without their permission. Mr. Bankston calls the phenomenon "Little Brother surveillance."
Meanwhile, the spread of tracking tools like GPS will encroach on people's privacy by making their whereabouts instantly knowable. Users could potentially broadcast their location around the clock -- inadvertently letting observers know they went to the doctor's office or snuck off on a romantic getaway weekend.
Mobile advertising is another potential threat to individual privacy. While many consumers are accustomed to receiving targeted ads based on the Web sites they browse, mobile ads targeted to a user's physical location feel more invasive, particularly when consumers might be confused about which companies have access to the location information, says Dominique Bonte, principal analyst, telematics and navigation, at ABI Research. Consumers could face a steady stream of unwanted ads leveraging intimate details such as where they live or shop.
Even if you leave your mobile device at home, you may not be able to escape targeted ads. Jennifer Albornoz Mulligan, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc., says that within the next decade we are likely to see tracking chips embedded in consumer items like clothes. So you could walk into a store and be greeted by a computer that reads the chip in your shirt and tries to sell you matching items.
Of course, some consumers will see these potential privacy losses as an acceptable trade-off for using cool and useful new technologies. But others are likely to be hit with a heightened sense that their privacy is eroding. As concerns swell, legislatures are likely to allay some fears by drafting laws limiting how companies can use information about their customers. Technology companies are likely to design their products with detailed privacy settings so, for instance, consumers could have great control over who sees what part of their social-networking profile. Most services already include such protections, and they are likely to become more widespread. Encryption technology is also likely to improve, to ensure that private information stays safe.
But even if personal information is closely guarded, consumers who use these services will find it difficult to escape the sense that they're giving up their ability to move about the world anonymously.
Monday, January 28, 2008
Where Citizen Journalism Will Go in 2008? -- Predictions
If 2007 was the year citizen journalism proved its staying power, 2008 will be the year it evolves. The landscape now is promising, but homogeneous. From Newsvine and NowPublic to Orato and Digital Journal, one finds much of the same: proprietary content submission tools, community ratings, and some revenue share here and there. How these players break out of the pack in the coming year will determine everything.
Below, predictions on what to expect from citizen journalism in 2008, and the industry precedents behind them.
Disclosure: I founded citizen journalism platform GroundReport.com)
What citizen journalism can learn from Open Source: Get organized.
Open Source software development and citizen journalism have a lot in common: both rely on people working for free, motivated by a sense of collective accomplishment and personal recognition. In Open Source, the product is a little more fragile, the process more linear: make a mistake in code and you inconvenience thousands and potentially destroy a tool. The solution? Build in a hierarchical accountability system with focused groups, oversight and administration.
It's time for citizen journalism to do the same and stop relying on isolated reporters. It may not be easy to build a multilevel system of editorial and administrative controls, but the result will have greater value. NewAssignment has put a lot of thought into the concept already, dubbing it 'networked reporting', and GroundReport.com recently launched Groups, a collaborative publishing tool that lets people report news in a more dynamic, social format.
What citizen journalism can learn from traditional media: Look at developing markets.
At the Media & Money conference sponsored by Nielson and Dow Jones last year, investors and media leaders espoused the benefits of expanding their traditional media into emerging markets in Eastern Europe. Likewise, it's a massive mistake to assume citizen journalism's stronghold is the US & Europe. As I mentioned in my 2007 recap, it's much bigger than us. Case in point: India, quickly gaining in internet penetration, already has a citizen journalism-themed award competition and reality TV series.
Developing markets often have more controlled media-sometimes even state-controlled-and the internet offers a welcome bounty of freely flowing information and thought.
What citizen journalism can learn from Web 2.0: Video, video, video.
This is a no-brainer, but it's important not to oversimplify. Internet traffic in the US is rapidly turning to video-Hitwise states that media & news took a hit in 2006 as people flocked to video and multimedia content. As of yet, no one has emerged as the leader in citizen journalism video-this will change in 2008. Going with the semantic web theme, citizen journalism video can't be a big content dumping ground like YouTube. It will need to be focused, filtered and presented in a useful, accessible format if it's to have any value.
What citizen journalism can learn from the blogosphere: It's lonely at the top (in a good way).
New York magazine lit the blogosphere a flame in 2006 with the thesis that online there are just a handful of massively successful kingmaker-caliber blogs-see Gawker, DrudgeReport and Huffington Post. The remaining blogs grovel at the feet of these giants, scrounging for links that can make or break their numbers. The same bifurcation is happening in citizen journalism platforms, and will only become more intense. At the top of the heap are Newsvine and NowPublic, with respectable efforts by Orato, Digital Journal and Broowaha at the opposite end of the spectrum. Incidentally, the quality and consistency of content from these smaller outfits are much better-perhaps they can band together through a content share to take on the big guys.
What citizen journalism can learn from Google: separate the wheat from the chaff.
Citizen journalism helps information flow more freely-an exciting idea, but a useless one if that information isn't categorized, tagged, filtered, rated or organized in a way that makes it valuable and compelling. This challenge plagues all of the internet, not just Google, but the search behemoth has been the most successful in solving the problem. Citizen journalism knows that you can find great stuff when you help people share their stories, images and videos with an audience-now we need to find a better way to recognize the best work and present it front-and-center to the skeptical masses.
Let the evolution begin!
Thursday, January 24, 2008
Might Google Buy the New York Times?
By John Ellis
In the last five years, the New York Times has declined in value by an astonishing 70 percent. There is no indication that things will get better any time soon. Indeed, as the specter of recession looms, there is every reason to believe that things will get worse. At some point here in the near future, the market capitalization of the New York Times will fall below $2 billion. At that point, a psychological floor will have collapsed and the company will be in play.
The company that has the most to gain from buying the New York Times is Google. If it proffered a Murdoch-like, no-auction bid of $4 billion, wouldn't the Sulzberger family have to accept it? Every single class B shareholder would accept the offer. It's their only exit. It is also likely that Times employees and retirees would enthusiastically support the deal; it's their only exit as well. So it would all come down to whether the Sulzberger family (smaller in number and not as far-flung as the fractious Bancroft clan that owned Dow Jones) would accept the deal.
The choice for the family would be basically this: double your money or double down on "young Arthur," as the NYT's Chairman and CEO is sometimes called. In the back of their minds, the prospect of doubling down on "young Arthur" could only mean that the company's stock will continue its relentless decline. The prospect of doubling up with Google offers realized value, a global platform and thus a much clearer path to future growth. Everyone would be a lot richer than they are now. Assuming a cash/stock transaction, some might be a whole lot richer in the future.
I am told by smart people who know the business that the Sulzbergers will never sell; that their identity is the New York Times. It's also said that they take their role as stewards of journalistic "excellence" and "integrity" seriously. They're plenty rich as it is, if not as rich as they once were, so it's not about the money. It's about the Statue of Liberty and justice and righteousness, all of which they feel The New York Times embodies. And I believe that they believe all that.
But as everyone knows, and the Sulzbergers know better than most, the game has changed. Classified advertising has been gutted by Craig's List (and a thousand other web-sites). Department stores have consolidated and newspaper advertising budgets have consequently declined. The way people access information has fundamentally changed, thanks to the Internet. On and on it goes.
But perhaps the biggest change is that The New York Times is squarely in the cross-hairs of the aforementioned Rupert Murdoch. Mr. Murdoch recently acquired Dow Jones for $6 billion. He did not buy Dow Jones because of its growth potential. It's a mature business, to say the least. He did not buy Dow Jones because he sees limitless growth opportunities in financial news and business information. It's a crowded field. He bought Dow Jones so that he could own The Wall Street Journal. He intends to use The Wall Street Journal as a precision-targeted weapon. And the target he has locked onto is The New York Times.
The Sulzbergers understand this. The question they have to ask themselves, knowing that Mr. Murdoch intends to bleed them to death, is this: Can they afford to engage in this battle without a very deep-pocketed partner or do they sell the New England properties (The Boston Globe, NESN, The Boston Red Sox stake and the Worcester Star-Telegram) and use the proceeds to fund the counter-offensive? Given "young Arthur's" tenure as Chairman and CEO of the enterprise, is there any evidence that he would deploy the proceeds from the sale of the New England properties in a manner that would thwart Mr. Murdoch's siege.
If the answer to the latter question is "no," then the Sulzberger family's argument (that they are the keepers of the flame of journalistic "integrity" and "excellence") disintegrates. You can't keep the flame burning if you don't have any fuel. You can't be a national and international newspaper if you don't have the means to support it. And from a fiduciary point of view, the Sulzbergers have to accept the fact that Mr. Murdoch's platform (News Corp.) enables him to lose money on the Wall Street Journal without any debilitating consequence. He really can bleed them to death.
What's in it for Google? Well, for one thing, it's cheap. Sell off the New England properties and the real cost is $3 billion. That's not much money to buy one of the premier brands of the information age. It also comes with some excellent real estate, which further reduces the risk. And happily enough, it will probably get cheaper in the coming months. So the price is definitely right.
Second, Google is embarking on an ambitious mobile platform. It is buying wireless spectrum and will soon introduce Google Mobile. In so doing, it is entering into an arena where the established players have hired (almost) every lobbyist and (almost) every law firm with expertise in telecommunications in Washington, DC and in virtually every state capital. Owning the New York Times would level that playing field in one fell swoop. Owning major media outlets is a strategy that has worked very well for General Electric, Disney, News Corp., Time Warner and others in their dealing with the federal government and with state governments. There's every reason to believe it would be helpful to Google.
Third, there's all that content. Google is a company that could actually make money repurposing the cultural and culinary coverage, to pick just two categories, of the New York Times, across both its Internet and mobile platforms. An acquisition of The New York Times would greatly enhance the richness and reach of Google News. And should Google choose to invest in expanded news and cultural coverage, it could greatly enhance the richness and reach of The New York Times.
Finally, a Google acquisition of the New York Times would allow Kleiner Perkins (which would likely be assigned the task of finding new management for the paper) to attract people of great talent to a fascinating and challenging project: the reinvention of a great newspaper across multiple platforms and within a variety of applications. Even if the project failed, the knowledge gained from the undertaking would make Google a better, smarter, more deft information age company.
The alternative, which is what the Sulzberger family must keep in mind at all times, is a slow, steady slide with a relentless and ruthless competitor attacking at every turn. Whatever else he does, "young Arthur" is not going to lead The New York Times to greater glory. He's had more than enough time to turn things around and no turn around has been forthcoming. Taking the company private will not work, because then the mission becomes debt service. The only real hope for the paper is what it could call a "strategic sale," on mutually agreed upon terms that would enable the Family to say it held up the flame.
John Ellis is a contributing columnist to RealClearPolitics.
Thursday, January 17, 2008
BoSacks Speaks Out: Pages Vs. Revenue
Beneath this MPA review is the last quarter results of the PIB statement. I'm so tired of this reporting structure, that I just can't take it any more. It is cow pie like this that brings that question of accountability to question. Every quarter it's the same damn thing - pages are dropping but revenue is up.
"The difference between reality and unreality is that reality has so little to recommend it."
MPA: Mags Must Adapt Or Die
by Erik Sass
MAGAZINES ARE WELL-POSITIONED TO COMPETE in today's media landscape, but must adapt quickly or face losing ground to new types of content publishers--be it the Internet or elsewhere. That's according to John Griffin, the president of the National Geographic Group and the new chairman of the Magazine Publishers of America.
Speaking at the University Club in New York, Griffin said one of the keys to success in the Internet era is more precise measurement of the audience's size, characteristics, and engagement with specific magazines. This will help level the playing field with the Internet, where digital technology allows a variety of measurements seen as more precise by media planners.
Specifically, Griffin called for a reliable way to measure the accumulation of audience for each issue of a magazine over time. Some work has already been done by Mediamark Research and Intelligence, which last year introduced its issue-specific Readership Study, based on single-source surveys of its panel of about 200,000 magazine readers.
The data, collected as a supplement to MRI's "Survey of the American Consumer" through online questionnaires, documents the accumulation of audiences for specific issues of magazines over time, giving publishers and media buyers a view of issue-to-issue changes in magazine readership.
The Audit Bureau of Circulations has also introduced a new "Rapid Report" feature that allows magazine publishers to deliver circulation data to media planners and advertisers within weeks, rather than months, as previously.
The Internet itself is key to magazine strategy, with Griffin outlining a model for magazines as multi-platform content purveyors, delivering to desktops and mobile devices. However, he cautioned against any strategy based on online subscriptions, noting that the overall trend is toward free content. For example, in the newspaper industry, one of the last bastions of paid content--The Wall Street Journal Online--may lower the subscription barriers in the next year, according to its new owner Rupert Murdoch
Final 2007 Report: Magazine Ad Revenues Grow, Ad Pages Dip
Celebrity titles buoyed by Britney; newsweeklies continue to struggle.
By Dylan Stableford
Total magazine rate-card-reported advertising revenue for consumer magazines grew 6.1 percent in 2007 when compared to 2006, according to year-end Publishers Information Bureau figures released this morning. But total ad pages-considered the more telling statistic, given the unaccounted rate card discounts doled out by publishers-declined about a half a percent (-0.6) over the same period.
Nine of the 12 major advertising categories-comprising more than 85 percent of the $25.5 billion of total magazine ad spending-showed increases. Eight categories bought more ad pages in 2007 than in 2006. Drug companies spent the most on advertising in magazines, according to PIB.
"In the face of a weakened economy, lowered consumer confidence and tighter ad budgets, magazine spending held steady in 2007, and even posted a stronger finish in the fourth quarter," Magazine Publishers of America executive vice president and chief marketing officer Ellen Oppenheim said in a statement accompanying the PIB release.
Some magazines had markedly strong years, in both ad revenue and, to a lesser extent, page gains. Reader's Digest Association's Every Day with Rachael Ray took in $78.3 million in PIB advertising revenue in 2007-an increase of 283 percent over 2006-on 717 ad pages, a 59 percent increase over the previous year. (RDA's flagship title, Reader's Digest, fared closer to the industry average, up eight percent in revenue, down roughly one percent in pages.)
New York magazine had yet another good year, up 16.3 percent in ad revenue and 4.3 percent in ad pages, overtaking the New Yorker in total reported ad revenue ($227.3 million to $226.2 million) for the first time.
Britney and Brangelina made their presence felt, too, as celebrity magazines saw increases in spending. In Touch (up 31.6 percent in ad revenue, 20.2 percent in ad pages) Life and Style (up 67.6 percent in revenue, 39.8 percent in pages), OK! (up 110 percent and 44 percent, respectively) all had productive PIB years.
The newsweekly category did not fare so well. Newsweek (down 1.8 percent in ad pages, 6.7 percent in pages), Time (down 18 percent in ad revenue on 6.9 percent fewer ad pages), and U.S. News & World Report (up one percent in ad revenue, down 4.6 percent in ad pages) continued to struggle as news-and marketers' interests-continued to shift online. Only Felix Dennis' The Week-the magazine he left out of the sale of his U.S. magazines-registered significant growth, up 15.8 percent in ad revenue and 5.3 percent in ad pages.
Other notables: TV Guide-sold for $2.8 billion in December-saw solid PIB gains (up 33.5 percent in revenue, 23 percent in ad pages); Best Life continued to climb, up 61.1 percent in ad revenue (to $35.4 million) on 584 ad pages-a 37 percent increase; and Portfolio tallied $28 million on 656 ad pages in its first nine months in existence.
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
BoSacks Readers Speak Out: On Quebecor, Magazines, and Steve Florio
Re: How Many Magazines Debuted This Year?
Whoa! Prof. Husni says that 7,200 consumer magazines are a "sign of health"? Whose health? The paper and printing trades, maybe. His own, surely, if he makes a living teaching about and consulting with periodical publishers. But to take this bloat as a sign of the health of the magazine business in general is like pointing to a 400-pound man and saying, "Wow-imagine all the food he eats! Wonderful!"
Markets that were once legitimately served by a handful of magazines are now staggering under 20 or 30 or more titles (never mind what's on-line). More and more of our creativity and dollars have to go to fighting for market share instead of what we were good at originally. Competition is healthy, but when the pie has to be sliced this fine, where's the health? At some point too much choice becomes onerous and wasteful. Take our 400-pounder, put him on a diet and send him to the gym.
(Submitted by a Publisher, COO)
Re: BoSacks Speaks Out: Quebecor Financial Fortunes Dwindling
Whatever happens to Quebecor, the Merced facility is unlikely to close its doors. Industry trends combined with local environmental regulations and taxation levels in the People's Republic of California ensure that there will never be another large printing facility built in that state. RRD's Torrance and Quebecor's Merced provide cost effective access to the most populous state in the union and, as such, have tremendous value. In the future, the sign might say Cenveo or Donnelley or Quad but that sign will stand in front of a productive and profitable Merced printing plant.
(Submitted by a Printer)
Re: BoSacks Speaks Out: Quebecor Financial Fortunes Dwindling
Bo: You can forget RRD acquiring Quebecor, they still house too much junk for equipment that RRD does not want. They have their own problems getting rid of junk they took ownership of during the acquisitions of Banta and Perry Judd's.
Everybody seems to forget Pierre Peledeau who led Quebecor into the stupid proposition of paying 33% premium for World Color years ago. KKR, the investment group from New York, that put World Color together, owned 25=30% of the stock and were the main reason they were on the market as "all or nothing". Several printers tried to cherry pick the good pikes of World Color prior to the purchase by Peledeau. He wanted bragging rights to be named the "largest printer in the World". He achieved that goal, but all the junk he picked up with the buyout ultimately buried him, as we see today. Peledeau never cleaned up the inefficient plants, because he was afraid of the negative sales numbers he would have to give up as it related to Wall Street. Sad story, but let's put the blame on the right person.
(Submitted by a Senior Paper Person)
Re: BoSacks Speaks Out: Quebecor Financial Fortunes Dwindling
I too have had a great experience and history with the Merced plant. The people there over the years that provided more than just service, but critical saves on a regular basis, ensuring that our weekly mag hit the newsstands on time every time was quite an accomplishment.
The plant's nearness to Yosemite was always a nice travel addition, if mostly only in though as the best laid plans only materialized once for me.
I remember coming back after spending hot summer days there and not being able to look at Italian food or tomato sauce for the smell I couldn't get out of my head for the food processing plant that shares the valley.
I wish the good people of Merced the best in this new year and new age. As for Quebecor World, well . . .
Submitted by an Industry Supplier)
re: What the Reader Wants
"We must lead readers, not be led by them. Really great journalism must do more than merely give people what they want. There has to be room for the unexpected, for stories the public has no idea it wants until it sees them. . .The reader is a paradox. . .The reader, ladies and gentlemen, is not king; actually he is a nice hypocrite. . .Editors are an endangered species, but only a good and professional editorial team can decide what is news and what is humbug. "
These are the smartest things I heard from someone in our business in all of 2007, and these comments should be posted in editorial offices everywhere.
Readers have jobs and busy lives. So our job is to present them a panorama that they would otherwise never find and observe on their own.
If you give readers only what they think they want, they will soon go somewhere else. Those who are bewildered by that notion are not smart enough to be in this business.
Submitted by a Senior Editor)
RE: Publishers Investing Millions
Just wanted to wish you a happy holiday, and to let you know how much I enjoy reading the newsletter. Yesterday, I was reading an article in Folio about how online revenue for publishers is not yet at the mature stage where it is actually covering costs, and I wondered-are we making the same mistake some printers/publishers made a century ago?
If you were starting a print magazine now, you wouldn't go out and buy a press and all the software and staff to run it, and you probably wouldn't start your own distribution company either. So why do most publishers create their own web site platforms, investing millions in hardware, software, programmers and IT staff? Why do they want to own the printing press?
Shouldn't we be able to supply content-just as we give a PDF page to the printer-to a web vendor with the expertise, capital equipment, and staff to turn it into a great web site? That would allow us to concentrate on supplying information (and selling advertising), instead of re-inventing the wheel to figure out how to get it into the form our audience wants. The vendor would bear the cost of upgrading to new technology every few years, and in return the publisher would pay ongoing fees. This would also allow a publisher to shop around to get the best price and service, since it would be in the vendor's best interest to be able to use standardized content, whether it's PDF, HTML, XML, or whatever comes next.
I'm sure that this has been addressed by others in the industry, and it may be that the vendors aren't out there yet who can supply this service cost-efficiently and adequately. If not, I would have to guess that it will come sooner or later.
Submitted by a Vice President Manufacturing)
Re: Fast Forward: Up In Smoke
Your choice in articles has really sparked something for me of late - Thanks!
I love Chris Anderson's writing, and yes, text has become a way of life for me - personally and professionally. I can reach family at work, in school (hopefully not during class periods!) and we can update for critical day's activities. At work I can text my meeting Facilitator with important updates or insights without having to cross the room and whisper in his ear...
God love the effective use of technology - and so do I!
Submitted by an Industry Supplier)
Re: Fast Forward: Up In Smoke
Holy cow, I was thinking exactly the same thing about texting just this morning, as I have maintained a conversation over the past 2 weeks via text with my German-born friend who went home to Stuttgart for Christmas. It's good because the recipient can respond at his or her convenience, and it's much less expensive than calling too.
I used to hate texting because I figured I could simply call someone and exchange info in seconds as opposed to texting repeatedly. But besides having flexibility as to when we can respond to each other, my friends and I have developed a shorthand vocabulary, and it is amazing how much you can get across in three lines on a cell phone.
I still hate seeing kids who never look up in public because they are so busy texting, but it's not the communication channel's fault--it's how people use it.
Submitted by a Senior Editor)
Re: Magazine Executive Florio Dies
Hi Bob: Such sad news.
I served with Steve on the MPA BOD. He was always a presence: Fun, focused and a fervent believer in his products. Last time I spent some time with him was in FL after he had his first heart attack. I had just retired from Rodale and he was contemplating the same from Conde. "So how to you spend your day? Give me your schedule?" He was so concerned that he could ever (perish the thought) be bored.
Hope he finds his Rest.
PS: of the things I'm thankful for in 2007 is the magnificent job you do in keeping the connections connected.
(Submitted by a Senior Publisher)
Re: Magazine Executive Florio Dies
Steve Florio hired me 20 years ago to represent The New Yorker in Italy even though I had never sold advertising space anywhere let alone in Italy in Italian. Now everyone speaks English here but then the Italians did not. I think he hired me because I read The New Yorker but he never would say. He was the best sales person I have ever seen and in the early days of The New Yorker when things weren't really going so well he could convince the entire staff that it was. He had weekly meetings with the sales assistants to teach them about publishing and advertising and he did it with enthusiasm.
One day we were in the Galleria in Milano before going to a luncheon he was giving for the advertising community and he suggested going to see a Donatello sculpture which he liked in the Cathedral. I was the art major and not he so I was sure he was wrong but there it was. We were early and no matter how hard I tried to be earlier than Steve he was always there first and waiting. Promptness is the courtesy of kings and he definitely was. A perfect gentleman at all times.
Tina Brown was quoted today about how much fun he was. When he, Lynn Heiler and I would be in the elevator leaving a call in Milano that had gone well we would have to wait to get in the elevator where we could laugh. When he hired Tina Brown then we could really laugh as the Italians were thrilled. My job was never again as much fun as when he was there.
(Submitted by an Industry Representative)
Sunday, January 6, 2008
BoSacks Readers Speak Out: Circ Scandal, Reading
RE: F+W Shutters Multiple Magazines - Newsday Circ Scandal Settled
I have managed this type of account for many years for XXX XXX XXX
Private Equity is keeping a very tight reign on the cash flow.
Cutting out titles that are not profitable.
Paper prices sure are not helping. Publishers are very actively reducing page counts, culling circulation, reducing trim size, reducing basis weight, downgrading quality, tightening inventory turns etc.
The cycle of - costs (labor/fuel/environmental regulation, freight, pulp etc) to mills goes up - mills reduce supply to keep up margins - customers reduce demand (see above) - mills cut supply again to keep margins - begs the question . . . is there a price for paper that creates a supply/demand equilibrium that is profitable for all? Or are we seeing the unwinding of paper as a medium? Ultimately . . . is it efficient?
(Submitted by a Paper Person)
RE: Meat to Wrap the Mind Around
I read this article in the NY Times yesterday. How wonderful and subversive and SO NOT POLITICALLY CORRECT! The venture may even turn out to be profitable. I am sure the Beef industry is watching this carefully, if they are not already the main financing arm behind it. What a paradox, being cynical and optimistic at the same time. Maybe...just maybe we are beginning to crawl out of the dark ages of the last 10 years into a new enlightenment, or am I being too hopeful. What say ye, Sir Bo.
(Submitted by a Magazine Circulator)
Re: Rival, funds circling Quebecor World
Sure as hell would not want to be an unsecured paper peddler with these folks right now.
(Submitted by a Paper Person)
Re: 107 Magazine Predictions for 2008
Mr Husni will not concede to Bob Sacks, and other humorous predictions aside, magazine publishing will change. The subsidy of low cost paper and perhaps printing will end. It may take publication printers a couple of years to halt contract renewal concessions, but publication grade papermakers will extract a measure of profitability that publishers have blunted for years. Will marginal titles disappear? Sure. Will clever publishers and manufacturing professionals mitigate cost increases? Absolutely. Will the magazine world look different? seems likely.
(Submitted by a Paper Person)
Re: UPM removes significant magazine and newsprint capacity worldwide
The Finns miscalculated the North American graphic arts markets back in the early 90's when they came in here. They paid way too much for the North American assets including Stora Enso's $1 billion over bid of Mead for Consolidated Papers. They took a $1billion write off of good will 2 years after the purchase. In UPM's case they did not realize what would happen to the Canadian forest products markets if the Canadian dollar strengthened against the US dollar. When they bought in the split was 65 to 35. Small and inefficient mills in Canada could cut the price by $2.00/cwt and still walk away with a bunch of money, which they did. Once the Canadian dollar approached parity with the US the roof fell in on them. The first to go were all the small inefficient mills, followed by large mills like Mirmachi, which was built in the wrong place in the first place.
The Finns have lost billions in North America.
I was told by an insider at Stora Enso that when the Euro reaches $118 all kinds of bad things will happen to the Finns. Now it is in the high $140's and things are really bad.
(Submitted by a Paper Person)
RE: What will life be like if people stop reading?
Bob: What a fantastic article!
I, at any given time, am reading 2-3 books . . . one by the bed, one in the bath (oh come on . . . you too I bet!) and one by the fireplace.
Add to that I scan 6-10 websites daily for news and information and I Google habitually (and that BoSacks guys keeps sending me stuff!).
Did I read the entire article? No . . . I kind of did an "Evelyn Wood" . . . . I scanned the first and last sentences of each paragraph for the most part.
Essay writing, as I remember it, is "Intro-Explanation/Proof-Conclusion".
When I scan I check out the Intro & Conclusion. If I "get it" or "already know it", I move on . . . if I don't, I re-read in it's entirety . . . and usually learn something new.
One of my titles is "Information Manager" which kind of means I'm the "Shell Answer Man" in my company. The internet enables me to learn almost anything if I know how to use it. It's amazing to me how few people know how. Of course knowing how to apply knowledge is a whole other story. Gethe - Knowing is not enough; we must apply!
(Submitted by a Paper Person)
Re: What will life be like if people stop reading?
Oh god another "we're not reading enough" story. I have two answers 1, time 2, multimedia. I personally don't have a lot of extra time on my plate since I work two jobs just to get by. After that second job I come home . . . late . . . and want to watch a completely mindless movie and zone out. I don't want to get my nacho's or rum mixed in between the pages of a book. What were the stories back in the day I wonder? Here are some titles that may have been circulating. "What will life be like without stone tablets?" "Metal chisels don't run out of ink!" "What will life be like without your horse?". "Who will be left to interpret smoke signals?" This just seems to be the natural evolution of communication. I don't doubt that reading "books" is in decline but we're not going to stop reading because we all have too many emails that we get every day, text messages and instant messages. I think we should wonder what will life be like without speaking?? No one picks up the phone anymore unless they call you and ask "did you get my email?"
Sorry for my rant, just one of those days.
(Submitted by a Senior Paper Buyer)
Re: Americans' Reading Proficiency in 'Alarming' Decline
Below is the best argument for the novel that I have seen in a long, long, time- perhaps if I had read this in my formative years, I would have been more of a novel aficionado, instead of the non-fiction creature I've become... The perfect subject for a winter evening's drink debate . . .
It's a keeper for me . . .
thanks for being the stimulus for this kind of thought and writing!
(Submitted by Distributor)
Re: Americans' Reading Proficiency in 'Alarming' Decline
The article asks, What are the consequences if America becomes "a nation in which reading is a minority activity"?
I know the answer to this question.
Specifically, I know what happens when people stop reading novels. Now, this article was at pains to say real *reading*, serious, manly, commercial *reading* was more important to study than an earlier NEA effort that got, I guess, bogged down in literary reading which "led critics to downplay its implications."
Novels, then, are the least of our problems: they're frills and idle pleasures, and if women want to go on reading them that's OK, but men surely don't have to, and maybe we can rework school curricula so they begin to disappear. Novels are not important.
Excuse me, but they are. Staggeringly important if it comes right down to it. This is serious, so allow me to explain.
Reading a novel requires entering the interior life of its characters. It's not a place any other art form can take you quite as fully, because you arrive there with the opportunity to reflect on your own life. (Movies, operating in real time, have extremely
limited opportunities for reflection, but thanks for playing.) By reading a novel, you develop three extraordinary skills: empathy, because a character's choices will actually make sense; sympathy, because a reader can share a character's emotions; and self-knowledge, because the choices, circumstances, and behaviors the reader reflects on will doubtless extend his experiences, imaginary though they be, to include crucial decision about identity and self.
Let me put it another way. Could you invade Iraq if you'd read Moby- Dick and Middlemarch?
Not unless these books' insights into hubris and the nature of society's interdependence somehow eluded you. When reading a novel, I learn about myself and I learn about the world and I'm hard-pressed to think of any other thing that can teach so much, that can strengthen me so much.
I admit, reading is harder than video games. It's harder because reflection is involved. (And sometimes vocabulary, and a certain generosity toward cultural oddities of other times and places.) But reflection would be one of the last bits of baggage we'd want to discard. It is what makes society possible, tolerable, even hopeful. It is what makes death endurable, too.
So, if reading becomes a minority activity, we will have greed and useless levels of self-assurance and very little tolerance. The inner lives of others will become closed to us. That would leave us, I suppose, rather mystified by other people, and quicker still to see them as enemies. We will stop understanding each other.
Novels look like little pleasure craft floating along in society, not a causal force. But if we could dissect the fabric of thought and belief, we would surely discover that the cultivation of imagination had a great deal to do with the advances of science, and that the cultivation of empathy had a great deal to do with every bit of political, philosophical, and social progress mankind has made.
Literary reading is not a minor scrap of pleasure but the source of thinking that engages the self and world honestly and compassionately. Go ahead--try to think of something else that does.
(Submitted by an Industry Supplier)
Wednesday, January 2, 2008
Media X: Past As Prologue
by Jack Feuer,
ON CHRISTMAS EVE, A 77-YEAR-OLD man in Des Moines went outside to fix his clogged septic tank. He reached in headfirst, got stuck and screamed for help. After an hour, his wife passed by the window, saw legs waving wildly from the hole, and called the cops.
The geezer was rescued unharmed. For me, though, the image of someone wedged upside down in a crapper, legs kicking helplessly in the air, is the perfect metaphor for the state of the media business in 2007.
A new era dawned in television ratings after years of yelling--and delivered complete chaos. Media agencies continued to respond to the enormous changes in their business by renaming and combining things, while doing almost nothing that made a difference. Marketers continued to treat their shops like the Taliban treats women, then complained that they couldn't get good work from anybody.
Broadcast television finished eating its own liver and began lunching on its lungs. Cable was, well, cable. The print media proved that zombies can't really run fast after all. And the former dot-com wunderkinds found a new scam in social-network sites and resumed their enthusiastic plundering of corporate coffers.
Wal-Mart discovered that there is such a thing as a too-much-change agent. A disgruntled gaijin shed some light on why Japanese ad agencies are so successful. The business bid adieu to one icon, Brand Donaton, which finally broke into show business. But it welcomed a new one, Brand Kadlec, which icily denied the big agencies a coveted planning account and awarded it to a cheeky-but-brilliant young upstart, and skewered beloved traditions like the upfront. In the "oops, I did it again" department, Hyundai launched a global media review for no goddamn good reason.
Through it all, the two ad trades, Dumb and Dumber, covered the industry with a confident lack of insight and accuracy that makes working for or reading either of them such a rewarding experience.
The best moment of last year, in fact, was toasting its death. But the more things change, you know. And it wasn't long before I found what could be next year's metaphor.
My son and his girlfriend spent New Year's Eve in the Big Easy. After filling up on alligator gumbo and Rolling Rock in the Vieux Carre, they took a stroll down Bourbon Street. There they came upon a crowd cheering on two drunken revelers who were beating the crap out of each other.
Suddenly, the cavalry arrived--literally. Up rode a police officer on horseback, who reached down, grabbed the main brawler by his shirt collar, and galloped into the New Orleans night.
Let me tell you, chers, if 2008 is anything like 2007, the image of a fool struggling in the iron grip of a powerful force carrying him off into darkness will return to haunt me, like a David Verklin speech, when it's time to write the year-end column again.
With or without another septic tank crisis.