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37 posts from July 2006

Where Do You Get Your News?

This AP report on MSNBC.com (thanks Juliana) summarizes a Pew report and indicates the number of people shifting to online resources for news is leveling off. Is that really something for the newspaper industry to celebrate? I’d be less concerned about finding the bottom of the market than I would be focused on how to become relevant again.

What do the statistics say? 31% of adults regularly log in for news. Interestingly, people in their 40’s were more likely to go online for news than those under 40. But as the article goes on to say, “young adults are more likely to not follow the news at all.”

Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center also noted “online editions of newspapers are providing a bit of a life raft for newspapers…but it’s a pretty small life raft.” As I’ve mentioned before about the book publishing industry, nobody is going to get too excited about a direct port of the print product to a website. Sure, it’s a fine way to repurpose the content, pick up some traffic and make a few bucks on ads, but the competition is fierce. My local newspaper options are pretty limited, but if I want to go online for news the options are seemingly endless.

The most significant item in the article is this statement:

Local and community news are the big attraction for newspapers.

Yes, that’s what distinguishes your local paper from USAToday, Google News, etc. The local papers need to not only acknowledge this fact, but also embrace it and make it a core part of their strategy going forward. Community involvement, blogs and other tools need to be part of their online arsenal. It doesn’t all have to be online, btw. There’s room for great editorial coverage of the blogosphere, both local and national, for a print newspaper. This is an excellent opportunity for the editorial staff at your local paper to totally immerse themselves into the local/national blog scene and add value, both in print and online; what used to be the editorial page could grow significantly and become the central focus of what they have to offer.

Yahoo, Google, etc., are threatening your very existence. Take advantage of their weakness (no local “feet on the street”) and couple it with your strength (plenty of “local feet on the street”, in the form of reporters/editorial) and leverage the heck out of it…before they develop enough local community involvement in their own model, further crushing your brand and relevance.


One Newspaper’s View of the Future

Dennis Ryerson, editor of The Indianapolis Star, offered this perspective on the future of newspapers in today’s edition. Btw, as I’ve mentioned before, I love reading the Star every morning…but I worry that a lot of local papers are going to implode if they don’t develop a sense of urgency and get creative with their business model.

Here are a few excerpts from Mr. Ryerson’s column, along with my thoughts on each:

The Star installed a new $72 million printing press four years ago, an indication of our confidence in print.

Yikes. I would think now is the time to focus on your core competencies, not lay claim to the previous or next stage in the production process. If I’m running a newspaper I figure out what our brand stands for and put all my energy into leveraging that brand with new and exciting business models, not investing in a printing press. Granted, this investment occurred four years ago, but the future for newspapers had to look dicey back then too.

We will focus more on local news, and on stories that provide context and perspective rather than “breaking” news. After all, why should we tell you something you already may know?

Kudos to Mr. Ryerson for acknowledging the fact that even a daily paper can’t be as timely with the news as the Internet. Also, it’s often the perspective and the expertise the reporters bring to the table that make a paper interesting. I can get the news from a variety of free sources, but I’ll always be willing to pay for insightful commentary.

We know we must provide more “local, local” news, what’s happening in your neighborhoods and home communities. We must provide more niche publications that serve narrower segments of our readership.

Hmmm…sounds like a series of blogs might be a better solution.

If we don’t do that (exercise a “watchdog” role over government), who will? Bloggers who often don’t do deep research, but rather re-post what the mainstream media report with a twist that supports their personal views?

Ouch. Dennis, I think there’s room for both your services and those provided by bloggers. Readers will ultimately vote their preference with eyeballs/subscriptions, but the final result might be that they support both.

Speaking of blogs, The Star has a family of them and they’re all accessible from their home page. That’s the good news. The bad news is that they all appear to be an afterthought at best. Looking at the first few, I can see one hasn’t been posted to since 6/23 (Colts Insider – Jeez, what about all the news surrounding training camp, etc.?!), the next hasn’t been touched for over a week and only had five posts for the entire month of July (Hoosier Insider – btw, as a Purdue grad, I’ve got to ask why isn’t there a Boiler Insider?!), etc. If you’re going to feature blogs you need to make a commitment to them. My guess is the traffic to The Star’s blogs is weak. That’s a shame since their website is the ideal place to host a lot of great blogs with a strong local focus.

Mr. Ryerson, if you wind up reading this post, I encourage you to consider some other thoughts I offered on the newspaper business in this previous post.


Competition Demystified (getAbstract Summary)

Here’s another great example of why I love getAbstract summaries: I was able to read the summary of what turned out to be a rather weak book, Competition Demystified in about 10 minutes. Under normal circumstances I would have bought the book and fought my way through the first few chapters before deciding it’s not right for me.

Why the low rating on this one? Two reasons: Oversimplification and “master of the obvious.” The authors talk about commodity vs. dynamic markets, saying that in the former, you can’t out-think your competition, you must operate as efficiently and inexpensively as possible and therefore strategy fades in importance. Huh? How about efficiency strategies?! WalMart, which ironically is cited in other examples in this book, is the king of efficiency, so I don’t think I’d be so quick to dismiss it as a viable strategy.

They go on to say that for an entrenched leader in the market, high barriers to entry are a good thing since they’ll keep out new players. That’s rather obvious, isn’t it?

After covering the challenges involved in competing solely on price, the authors note the lasting consequences of other strategies. They mention that Lowe’s made a major commitment to build new stores in strong markets for Home Depot, and with a commitment like that, Lowe’s can’t simply walk away when Home Depot proves to be a stout competitor. Actually, yes, I think they could walk away at some point, when it becomes clear that they (Lowe’s) are losing a boatload of money on that store, year in and year out. There’s a point at which you just have to acknowledge a bad decision and limit your losses.

I don’t generally give a thumbs-down in a book review, but I didn’t get anything out of this one, so I’d have a hard time recommending it.


SEO for Authors

Stacey Miller points out that SEO is a very important promotional tool for authors. In fact, it should rank right up there (no pun intended) with excerpts, bookstore signings, reviews, etc. If someone has heard you’re an author of a book and they Google your name, what are they going to find? What are the key words and phrases people are likely to type into Google if they’re looking for topics covered in your book? If the book information isn’t towards the top of that first screen of Google results you need SEO help.

There are loads of free SEO resources available online, as a quick Googling illustrates. Or, head over to your favorite online bookstore and buy one of the many good SEO titles currently available. (I’m still working through our own Search Engine Optimization: An Hour a Day and will post a review when I’m finished.)


M.J. Rose on the Publishing Industry

My Wiley colleague Jason Marcuson was kind enough to send me a link to M.J. Rose’s blog, Buzz, Balls & Hype. M.J. is a talented writer and an outspoken critic of the publishing industry. We need more passionate authors like M.J. to help get publishing out of the rut and develop new and exciting products and promotional activities.

Here’s the heart of M.J.’s point:

When we, as an industry, continue to rely on the old ways of doing business and refuse to make any real marketing and advertising breakthroughs as to how we publicize books and incentivize readers - things aren't going to change for more than a tiny handful of books each year.

Absolutely. But I believe we also need to quit trying to live in the old blockbuster world. All too often a publicity budget is disproportionately tilted towards a very small number of what are hoped to become breakout titles. When some number of those titles flop, and they will, it only magnifies the lack of spending on the rest of the list. You don’t need to spend a fortune on each title to give it a chance. Just look at the impact Amazon’s “buy-x-get-y” program can have on a book.

I also strongly believe publicity is a shared responsibility between author and publisher, hence the desire to only hire authors with solid platforms. I can think of several books my own group published where the author’s platform delivered considerably more sales than any P.R. activity we could have initiated from the publisher side.


Ozzie Says Services to Complement, Not Replace Existing Software

According to this article on cnet, Microsoft’s Ray Ozzie is confident that Microsoft’s existing software business will remain secure, despite the services threat. I tend to think this is true in the short term, but not in the long run.

It’s important to separate this discussion into the platform and the applications. On the platform side, regardless of how many security holes and other problems exist in Windows, Microsoft isn’t about to lose platform dominance anytime soon. There are far too many great Windows applications for the typical IT shop to abandon Windows for Mac OS X or Linux. Although Linux has made great strides on the server side, it’s never been able to make a dent on the desktop. I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

The applications side of the industry is where Microsoft is most vulnerable. Everyone knows that most users only take advantage of a very small percentage of the features in Office. So why be forced to pay a fortune for this bloatware when cheaper alternatives are all around? Because it’s easier for an IT shop to keep doing the same old thing (upgrading Office) than it is to switch to a different product. That, and the FUD that surrounds jumping off the Office bandwagon are probably the two biggest reasons why Microsoft continues to dominate in this area.

The little applications Google offers (Spreadsheets, Writely, etc.) are not a serious competitor to Office…yet…but they very easily could become a viable Office replacement down the road. But I’m not on the Google-is-the-next-Microsoft-and-will-dominate-the-world-on-every-front bandwagon some folks are on. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Microsoft Office knocked off by someone other than Google, maybe someone we’ve never heard of.

Isn’t that part of the beauty of the promise of Web 2.0, though? The fact that a complete unknown could come from out of nowhere and become a market leader…that’s what must keep Ray Ozzie and his colleagues up at night.


Is Ma Bell Killing America’s Technology Leadership Position?

Better stated, “Are all the various telecom and cable companies so focused on protecting their own interests that they’re killing off true innovation?” I think so. Read this article, The Phone Companies Still Don’t Get It, by Mark Gimein, and see if you don’t agree.

We not only see core attributes of Clayton Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma here, but also what I would call the related problem of The Incumbent’s Monopoly. I’m starting to get a better appreciation for why I don’t have a telecom-based alternative to my overpriced cable TV subscription. These guys have an army of lobbyists and other weapons at their disposal to make sure no technology will ever get widespread support/approval without them getting a cut of the resulting revenue.

Here are a few excerpts from Gimein’s article that really turned my stomach:

One of the ways in which these companies (Verizon, AT&T, etc.) are very different from the old phone monopoly is that while the original AT&T had a world-class research operation, its successors don’t.

Isn’t it a little odd, for example, to hear the CEO of a company the size of AT&T talk about needing to get bigger to have the resources to innovate?

And increasingly their approach has put the telcos on the wrong side of technological innovation, leaving them in the position of protecting their investments in their networks from the encroachment of new ideas.

No wonder other countries have better and more widespread access to faster broadband. As long as we let these fat cats call the shots we jeopardize America’s longstanding position as a leader in the technology space. Here’s to hoping enough of the little guys will continue plugging away on this front and change the playing field.


The Long Tale?

In this article in The Wall Street Journal, Lee Gomes kicks the tires on Chris Anderson’s claims in the recently published The Long Tail. It’s a bit disappointing that Anderson is backing off the “98 percent rule”, but what’s particularly surprising is the fact that he doesn’t have any examples of his suggestion that “misses outsell hits”. In short, it looks like the old 80/20 rule still applies in more cases than Anderson’s book might suggest.

FWIW, I tend to think the truth is somewhere in the middle. There clearly are numerous cases of the long tail in different business segments today, and I’d be willing to bet that the number will continue to rise. But, it’s not a universal law that can be applied to every situation.


Mark Cuban Wrestles with the Movie Business Model

Mark Cuban has a job waiting for you…all you have to do is solve the movie business model that seems to be haunting him. He poses the following question:

How do you get people out of the house to see your movie without spending a fortune?

He goes on to talk about the outrageous amount of money that must be spent to manufacture a blockbuster movie.

I think he’s going about this all wrong. The problem is in the phrase “out of the house.” Let’s face it.  Movie theater attendance is down, mostly because most people don’t want to leave their house. They’ve found great ways to entertain themselves without ever leaving home. Look at all the money that’s been and is being spent on home theater systems, high-end televisions, etc.

Cuban needs to get out of the model that worked in the past and focus instead on the future. Or, another way to look at it is by saying that he’s still trying to apply the blockbuster mentality in a long tail world. I know because I often face the same challenges in the book publishing business, especially when working with brick-and-mortar accounts vs. online ones.

Sure, there will be more blockbuster movies later this year, next year and in the years after that. But they’ll come at a price, and Cuban has correctly noted that the price is ridiculously high. So rather than fighting within the parameters of the existing model, break through and completely changing the playing field.

Build a new model that’s centered on the home entertainment experience, not the theater. Cuban has stated before that he wants to break the system and not force customers to go to a theater to watch a new release. Great. Now make that an irresistible proposition. He talks about an affiliate program for theaters. Forget about that and build one for home rentals/viewing. Figure out how to fold in some sort of snack component so that people can really “stick it to the man” by not having to pay an arm and a leg for stale popcorn and a bucket-o-Coke. The solution here is right under his own roof, not at the movie theater.