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19 posts from October 2008

Newspapers and the A.P.

Newspaper stack I'm certainly not a newspaper industry expert, so maybe what I'm about to suggest is ridiculously naive.  I'll go out on a limb and do it anyway so that the real experts can correct me if I'm wrong...

After reading this article in yesterday's New York Times I couldn't help but scratch my head and ask "why?".  The Columbus Dispatch spends $800K per year on A.P. stories to round out their newspaper's content.  $800K.  Even though this syndicated content is a very important ingredient to any newspaper's formula, that's a large number, particularly in these troubling times (and in this struggling industry).  So while I understand why newspapers have paid these syndication fees in the past, I don't understand why they plan to do so in the future.

Why don't all the newspapers of the world unite and simply share their content with each other?  (OK, there's the radical and possibly naive suggestion.)  There would have to be rules in place so that one paper isn't simply constantly sponging from all the others, but reasonable policies could easily be developed.

It seems like the A.P. was a solution to yesterday's problem.  Before the advent of the Internet and all the ways to move e-content from point A to point B it was a very useful model.  But haven't we gotten to the stage where all the newspapers could form their own new federation and accomplish the same objectives?  The article talks about some local initiatives where several papers in Ohio formed a co-op to address this; why not take it up several notches and build a worldwide co-op?

Newspapers are apparently contractually obligated to give the A.P. two years' notice of cancellation.  Fine.  Use the next 24 months to hammer out a global co-op plan and move on!

Scoble Is Right: Start Iterating -- Fast!

Fast company cover I've often referred to the newspaper industry as the book publishing's canary in a coal mine.  Robert Scoble's latest Fast Company column focuses on the newspaper industry and what he believes it should do to survive.

His key message is to learn from the tech industry and to "start iterating -- fast."  I'm a big believer in making a lot of small bets rather than going "all in" on one.  This approach allows you to see what works, reinvest in the winners and let the others die if necessary.  As Salon's Scott Rosenberg is quoted in the article, "the most important thing to do right now is launch as many possible experiments in as many possible directions."  I'd add to that by suggesting you also keep a close eye on the experiments your competitors are launching; there's much to be learned from their efforts as well.

The Textbook Evolution

Books2 It's going to happen.  It's just a matter of time.  Far too many parents and students are up in arms over the cost.  I'm talking, of course, about the current state of the textbook industry.  Here's a related article I read earlier today from The Christian Science Monitor.

I'm always thrilled to see textbook publishers who are looking to innovate, so I was particularly delighted to see the efforts of my former employer, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., were noted in that article.  The free digital textbook program Wiley and the University of Texas have created could produce a great deal of useful information to help shape future initiatives; the article didn't say what sort of monitoring and measurement tools might be used, but I'd like to think the system will provide the metrics required to enable both publisher and university to quickly see what works and what doesn't.  It would be even more exciting if the results from this program and others like it were to be shared publicly, so that every publisher and school wouldn't have to work in isolation.

That's a nice segue to the various "open source" textbook model that I keep hearing more and more about.  The Christian Science Monitor article refers to one called Connexions, but there's another one called Flat World Knowledge that's been getting a lot of PR too.  Can the open source model work here?  It won't be easy given all the current textbook ecosystem stakeholders who are so well entrenched and have so much to lose.  This is also a sector that tends to move at a glacial pace, so sudden shifts are unlikely.  No matter how it plays out I definitely think the open source publishers are worth keeping an eye on and much can probably be learned from their efforts.

P.S. -- I have two kids in college, so I feel the pain on this front as much as anyone!

Guilted Back to Twitter

Twitter I had lunch yesterday with Steve Weiss, one of my new O'Reilly colleagues, and he totally guilted me into giving Twitter another shot.  A year or so ago I complained that Twitter's signal-to-noise ratio was awful, and while I suspect that's still the case, I figure I can help myself a bit there by only following a few key people to start.

One of the next steps is to add my Twitter feed to my blogs (since Twitter widget functionality is offered for both Typepad and Blogger) and we'll see how it goes...  If you care to follow my tweets, you'll find me here.

Thanks Steve!