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29 posts from November 2006

The Hyper-Local Newspaper Solution

Want to see how a newspaper can successfully leverage the web?  Read this article about Rob Curley and The Naples Daily News in Fast Company.  Newspapers don't need to partner with Yahoo or sell out to other new media giants.  All it takes is three types of coverage to generate buzz and interest: local, local and local.

Check out this list of microsites that Curley developed and see for yourself why they're not only wildly popular but also huge advertising opportunities.  I wish my local paper would learn a thing or two from Curley and The Naples Daily News.


Sponsorships, Subsidies and “Free” Content

Although this article on FT.com is from earlier in the year, it’s as relevant today as it was then.  I missed it when it was originally published so I’m grateful to the folks on the O’Reilly Radar blog for pointing to it again this week.

I totally agree that the subsidy model described in this article will become even more common in the years ahead.  I also think it has a lot of relevance in the book publishing world.  Outside of reference material, very little online book reading is taking place today.  As I’ve said before, one of the key reasons why we haven’t seen e-books take off is because there’s no killer device available…yet.

Once that device arrives it will change the fundamentals of this business.  I’m not talking about some simple gadget that lets you read print books on a screen; the killer device will be a much more powerful tool that offers wireless connectivity to news, subscriptions, etc., anywhere, anytime.  Just like the cell phone model, that sort of a product could be free to consumers who are willing to sign up for a minimum content subscription/purchase plan.  The hardware vendor therefore makes their money through a cut of the content fees; it might also feature advertisements, creating yet another income stream.

In today’s world you Google your phrase and sift through the results for free.  Many of the resulting links are either irrelevant or not a direct answer to the question you have in mind.  In tomorrow’s world you’ll subscribe to one or more search/content services and get highly relevant answers.  Those services will feature some of the most well-known branded content around.  Your subscription might cost you money or it might be subsidized by a corporate advertiser.

There could be two (or more) options to the service plan.  Think of a generic e-content device.  It probably has the look and feel of the Sony Reader, but with full color and wireless capabilities.  Now split the display into two regions.  The region at the top is an inch or so high, all the way across the screen.  That’s the advertising area.  The rest of the screen below the ad space is for content.  Under the “free” plan, you receive the device at no charge and agree to a minimum content subscription/service plan.  You might have to commit to buying 10 e-books per year, 5 magazines, etc.  That plan also includes relevant banner ads across the top, for the full term of the agreement.  If you’d rather avoid the ads, you pay the vendor a flat fee up front for the device and it’s no longer free.

Like many consumers, I’d probably opt for the free plan with ads, especially if it’s the difference between free and a couple of hundred dollars.  This opens up a whole new channel for advertisers.  You typically don’t see ads in books today but this model could feature them in a reasonably unobtrusive way.

Who is well-positioned to implement something like this?  The usual suspects: Amazon and Google, for example.  You need someone who can aggregate all the publishers and other content providers because consumers will want variety.

Content owners will also have to rethink their IP strategies to participate in this sort of model.  Selling complete e-books is fine, but that’s only part of the opportunity.  The smart move is to not only offer full e-books, but also access to your entire content library, one small piece at a time or through a subscription; that also means all the content must be stored and tagged in a manner that allows this sort of piecemeal retrieval.


Gary Varvel, Newspaper Hero

I attended the annual Shepherd Community banquet last week and got to see one of our local newspaper icons win an award.  Gary Varvel, editorial cartoonist with the Indianapolis Star, was given the H. Dean Evans Legacy Award for his ongoing community service efforts.  I’ve always enjoyed Gary’s cartoons in the local paper and I truly appreciate his perspective.

Gary is also a blogger and I encourage you to take a look at what he has to say.  You’ll find it’s a great resource for anyone interested in current events as well as aspiring illustrators.

Also, if you’re an Indianapolis resident and you’re looking for a great service organization to get involved with, I highly recommend you hook up with the folks at the Shepherd Community Center.  Take a look at the list of services they provide inner-city families.  There are plenty of ways you can help them accomplish their goals, whether it’s volunteering your time or sending them a donation.  I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some of their staff over the past couple of years and I’ve found it to be an awesome organization.


Yahoo’s “Peanut Butter” Mess

A Yahoo senior vice president's (Brad Garlinghouse) internal memo managed to find its way all around the Internet today.  He describes Yahoo's problem as the equivalent of spreading peanut butter too thin across a piece of bread.  Here's a link to the entire document on The Wall Street Journal's site.

As I read through this I kept asking myself, "what does the name 'Yahoo!' mean anymore?"  I used to consider them a leader (if not the leader) in the portal world.  Heck, I still dedicate one tab in Firefox to MyYahoo, although that feels more old-fashioned every day.  Yahoo seems to have drifted away from being a leader in one or two areas and now tries to participate in every online sector.  The result: brand dilution. One could argue Google is heading in the same direction, but they're far from that stage today; I'd be willing to bet that most people still think "search" when asked what the name "Google" means.

The most alarming piece of this memo is where Garlinghouse says "we have lost our passion to win."  Ouch.  I don't care what sort of reorganization they go through, what sort of new deals they cut, etc., if the passion is truly gone within that organization it's time for something much more dramatic.  New leadership, all the way to the top, would have to be considered to fix this problem.

Garlinghouse also suggests Yahoo reorient its focus and sell some non-core businesses.  He doesn't elaborate on which ones to consider, but I'll bet there are a few old media outfits that would just love to pick and choose from Yahoo's existing assets, especially if they feel it will help them become more relevant and increase their "hip factor."  This is a great example of where it might be necessary to get smaller before the organization and brand can get bigger.


iWoz, by Steve Wozniak and Gina Smith

I've never been one to drink the Apple Kool-Aid.  I use a Windows PC and I've never owned an iPod.  I almost headed down this path in 1984 though, when I was one of the first people to buy an original Macintosh.  The only reason I made the $2,500(!) investment (plus an additional $500 for an ImageWriter printer) was because I was writing a book about that revolutionary computer.

Despite my limited Apple history, I've always been interested in the two icons behind the company: Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.  Jobs gets a lot more visibility and I think the typical person knows more about him than Woz, which is why I quickly snagged a copy of iWoz: From Computer Geek to Cult Icon when I saw it was available.

The book gets off to a rather painfully slow start.  In fact, I almost put it down after about 40 or 50 pages of reading.  Once he gets past his childhood and into college it starts to get more interesting.  Woz obviously loves playing practical jokes and his carefree attitude comes through in the writing.  The guy is also nothing short of a genius, and when you read about how he used to design computers with nothing more than paper and pencil you'll quickly agree.

The most interesting aspect of the story has to do with Woz's days as an engineer at HP, prior to the launch of Apple.  Here's a guy who had designed the Apple I in his free time and was pleading with HP management to let him get involved in their plans to make a personal computer.  They not only turned him down, they went so far as to reject his design, giving him the freedom to develop the Apple I on his own.  Oops!  The rest is history, of course, but this has to go down as one of the biggest corporate screw-ups in American history.

Once you get past the first 50 pages this is very much an engaging read.  It was also interesting to watch as the Apple II becomes a blockbuster, but the first corporately-designed model, the Apple III, becomes a classic case study of "too many cooks in the kitchen."