Category Archives: Publishing

Guess again

Another YouTube Revenue Guess: $1 Billion in 2011:

Since Google releases almost no information about YouTube’s financial performance, the best we can do is make educated guesses. Here’s another one: The word’s biggest video site will be generating more than $1.1 billion in revenue by 2011, and Google will keep about $700 million of that.That estimate comes from Citigroup’s C Mark Mahaney, who notes that the site continues to grow, and that it’s placing more ads on more videos. No news there.Mahaney is good enough to explain the logic behind his estimate, and it’s a fairly simple one: He takes MySpace’s revenue-to-page view ratio and applies to YouTube.

So he makes a guess about MySpace’s CPM (he notes it’s “estimated”), applies a guess that this *might* be similar for YouTube (ignoring the fact that a video site is not the same as a social network site), guesses that the mix between CPM and CPC ads is the same on both sites, and then guesses that comScore’s figures are correct. He then throws into the mix a complete guess on YouTube’s costs ($300 million sounds massively low)… and publishes this as “analysis”?

How much are CItigroup’s clients paying for this, exactly?

Sometimes, “think like a startup” isn’t the best option

In an interesting piece on the problems at MySpace under Murdoch, Om Malik mentions this:

Kevin also mentioned that Murdoch, and every large media company, need to think like startups.

Good advice – but only to a point. The fact is that News Corp (like all major media companies) can currently make more money online creating products which leverage other assets they own than standalone digital-only properties.

One simple example: a site tying into Avatar will have an instant audience and massive opportunity for cross-promotion and cross-sell, as long as it doesn’t suck. It won’t take years to build audience, won’t have large ongoing costs, and won’t need to have much in the way of work done on visual identity. It’s an instant money-spinner.

So if News Inc was developing digital-only properties from scratch, as I’m sure it will do in the future, “think like a startup” is good advice. But most of the time, it needs to “think like a corporate” – creating digital properties based on other media, linking them all together, and using the power of old media to create instant brand identity in the digital space.

(Picture via World Economic Forum)

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Guardian CEO says charging for specialist content an option

The Guardian may still be considering a paywall, at least for specialist content:

[Chief Executive of Guardian Media Group Carolyn] McCall added that the Guardian, like the New York Times, had looked at six different pay models including a complete a complete “pay wall”. She said that introducing pay barriers would restrict the Guardian’s journalism.

I’m sure she didn’t quite mean it this way, but thinking about whether to implement a paywall from the perspective of it “restricting journalism” – which I take to mean “restricting the reach of the audience for journalism” – is a bit of a case of putting the cart before the horse.

Without a viable revenue stream, without a viable business model, there is no journalism. Everything else has to be secondary. If it isn’t, you don’t have real journalism – you have some kind of charity.

If introducing pay barriers “restricts journalism” but makes what you can do profitable, that’s a better option than trying to sustain a business which is consistently losing money. With the newspaper loses running at £100,000 per day, The Guardian is not in a position to reject business models on the basis of them “restricting journalism”.

(Image by Gigijin)

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Amazon caves in to Macmillan, pouts and sulks

Macmillan E-books – kindle Discussion Forum:

We want you to know that ultimately, however, we will have to capitulate and accept Macmillan’s terms because Macmillan has a monopoly over their own titles, and we will want to offer them to you even at prices we believe are needlessly high for e-books.

Someone should tell them that companies which have a monopoly over their own ebook-reading hardware and use DRM to tie books to that platform really don’t have a lot of a ground to be pouting over “monopolies”.

Good to see Grey London continue the fine tradition of originality in ads

Update: In what I’d describe as “a result”, Grey London’s MD has been in touch with Meg – see her blog for details!

Advertising. It’s all about creativity, originality, possibly bean bags, yeah?

So let’s compare this image, taken by my chum Meg Pickard in 2006, to this scene from Grey London‘s new ad for Horlicks:

Grey Holicks ad
Oh dear.

Sure, everyone creative takes inspiration from other people’s work. I know I do, all the time. But Grey could have taken the idea of a book in front of a face and done something interesting and creative with it. Instead, they did a shot-perfect copy of the entire thing, even down to the on-a-train location.

And yes, it’s only a single, tiny scene in the ad. But given that the shot is pretty much the only one in the entire thing which has any spark or originality (ha!) about it, it’s the one thing that lifts the ad above yet another mundane “lots of shots of kettles from odd angles” 30 second clip. It’s slap-bang in the middle of the ad, which means it’s the conceit around which the whole thing turns.

Pinching ideas isn’t a bad thing per-se. But if the only truly original element in your work is a shot-perfect recreation of something you found on Flickr, you ought to take a serious look at yourself and consider a career which doesn’t depend on creativity.

UPDATE: Meg’s response is on her blog.

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The future of journalism? It’s astronomy

There’s nothing more that journalists like than the opportunity to talk about themselves, thinly disguised as a treatise on the future of journalism This is probably why the “debate” (which it isn’t – not enough listening) on “citizen journalism” (which it isn’t) keeps rumbling on and on.

Martin Belam sums up the latest in the discussion, which was apparently all the rage at journalism.co.uk’s news:rewired event too. Like Martin, I wasn’t there, but I can imagine the scene all too well having seen it play out often.

I think the biggest problem starts with the phraseology. The phrase “citizen journalist” is a loaded one, and VERY US-centric. It’s loaded with all that “citizen militia, defending your rights blah blah blah” stuff, and that helps prevent a meaningful debate actually happening. Manning the pitchforks, burning the barricades, beheading the king. All that goes over very well with a certain kind of techno-geek, but it’s really just a provocative mischaracterisation of what’s actually happening.

I’ve long argued that we should look at “journalism” as what it actually is: a craft. As a craft, it’s something everyone can learn – and you learn best by doing. And like every craft, some people will be professionals and do it all the time for money, while some will be amateurs and do it for other reasons – love, fun, or because they feel like they should.

Once you phrase it like this – with “amateur journalists” and “professional journalists” – a lot of the conflict that the “citizen journalism” debate engenders just goes away. You don’t get debates about whether the existence of amateur astronomers endangers the livelihoods of professional ones.

And in the future, the same pattern will emerge with journalism. Some people will make a living at it; some people will do it because they enjoy it.

My gut feeling is that the model of journalism as a craft will end up more like astronomy, where amateur astronomers are a vital part of the progress of the subject as a whole. Amateur astronomers produce vital data that the professionals use and build upon, as well as creating the odd “exclusive” themselves.

Of course, this idea – professional and amateur journalists working together to improve the quality of news and reporting – doesn’t make quite such a good headline. So I expect this tedious and counterproductive debate to continue for a while.

After all, what journalist – pro or amateur – can resist a good, conflict-based headline?

(Image used under Creative Commons license from Zen)

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Google finds out retailing is harder than it looks

It looks like Google is finding out that being a retailer selling hardware is a bit harder than it looks:

“Google is being inundated with complaints about its Nexus One phone. The touchscreen smartphone was launched on 5 January and can be bought direct from Google and used on almost any phone network. But confusion over who should answer customer queries has led many to file complaints on support forums. Many people are unhappy with Google only responding to questions by e-mail and are calling for it to set up phone-based support.”

Of course, that’s even if customers are sure who they’re supposed to be calling:

“If you buy a Nexus One manufactured by HTC, directly from Google’s Web site, and use it with T-Mobile’s wireless network–who do you call when you have a problem? Google is only accepting support requests via e-mail, and users are getting bounced between T-Mobile and HTC as neither seems equipped to answer complaints, or willing to accept responsibility for supporting the Nexus One.”

One of the reasons that I was convinced that Google wouldn’t be stupid enough to try going into the business of selling its own-branded phone was exactly this: it has no support infrastructure, and no real experience of customer service:

“Google doesn’t have the infrastructure or experience to support a sizeable consumer hardware project. It has no support system, no outlets, no distribution – in short, none of the things that what would be a major hardware launch actually requires. Neither does it have any experience in consumer hardware products.”

The bit that I got wrong was underestimating Google’s hubris – it was, in fact, stupid enough to try selling its own-branded phone via its own website, supported by itself.

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2009: The year tech blogging died

Most years are full of idiocy. But I think I can make a decent case for this year being the worst on record, at least from the perspective of writing about technology.

This was the year when tech writing plumbed new depths of stupidity, repetition, and sheer unadulterated circle jerking. It was the year when blogs picked up each other’s stuff, no matter how ridiculous, and strove to take it to the next level of dumb. You get what you pay for – and with tech writing, nothing could be more true.

There were three perfect examples of the tech blog world’s increasing descent into infantilism and irrelevancy. These were, in no particular order, the CrunchPad; the Apple Tablet; and pretty much everything written about the iPhone and market share.

Example One: The CrunchPad
TechCrunch – which almost defines awful tech blogging on a daily basis – was guilty of probably the worst example of narcissistic stupidity with its foray into actually trying to make a product.

Now making products is hard. Very hard. I have nothing but admiration for people who get up off their behinds and ship a product, because it’s a tough thing to do. Even the shittiest products usually take thousands of man-hours and thought to bring to market. In fifteen years of writing about tech, I’ve been privileged to know hundreds of people at companies all over the world who have managed to ship stuff. It’s tough.

So when Mike Arrington – the blowhard’s blowhard – decided he was going to create a product – the CrunchPad –  ship it at an absurd price point, and all within the space of a year I was prepared to applaud. Then I remembered this was Arrington we were talking about, and knew without a moment’s uncertainty that it was going to implode at some point.

Lo and behold, it imploded. Why? Because making stuff is hard and writing about it is easy, and Arrington confused being a big wonk in the tiny world of tech media with actually being a serious businessman capable of harnessing the energy to ship a product.

What the CrunchPad demonstrated perfectly was the tech blog world’s hubris and utter lack of perspective. Just because you can bang out 200 words about what some drunk coder from Company X said at a party doesn’t make you capable of defining, designing and building a product – nor of harnessing other people to do so. And, more importantly, making a product which you and your tech blogging friends think is cool is an almost guaranteed method of creating something that no one else in the world will want.

Example two: The Apple “Tablet”
More words were probably written about this nonexistent product in 2009 than about all the great hardware that every company not called Apple actually shipped. Google now lists 1.8 million documents referencing “Apple tablet”. That compares to 20,700 documents referencing “Acer Tablet PC”. One of these companies has actually shipped tablet hardware. The other has not. Can you guess from those Google figures which one is which?

“Nonexistent?” you say. “But I’ve read all the details on TechBlogDailyShit, it’s launching in March with an OLED screen and will kick Amazon’s butt/save the publishing world/cure cancer!”

No. No. No.

What you have read is a load of stuff that bloggers in desperate search for page views have made up on the basis of bar-room rumours, anonymous emails, stuff some random guy posted on Twitter, and just general shit. No one, outside of probably a hundred people in and around Cupertino, have a solid line on what Apple is doing – if, in fact, it is doing anything.

Almost everything you have read about an Apple tablet is geek wish fulfilment, from people who stared at a lot of Star Trek merchandise when they were young and really, truly wanted a tricorder. This is standard practice with a lot of sites that cover Apple: they assume Apple is designing products not for ordinary people, but for them, the tech blogging elite. Well guess what: they’re wrong! Apple wants its products to sell outside Silicon Valley, so it does not take Robert Scoble as its typical customer.

Outside of possibly the Wall Street Journal, almost no media sources are doing any serious investigative reporting to actually find out what Apple is doing either. Why? Simple: Doing real investigative tech reporting takes time, effort and balls. What’s more, if you’re a tech blogger you don’t have to do it because you can write some second-hand speculative bullshit about the “Apple Tablet” and it will get you lots of page views. This will lead to some “blog network” owner like Arrington or Nick Denton paying you more, because you are paid on page views. And all without you having to make a single call or talk to a single real person. Result!

Seriously, the standard of investigative tech reporting now is so low that it makes me long for the days of MacOSRumors. Those guys had standards compared to what we have at the moment.

Example three: The iPhone and market share
Here’s a strange thing about the world of tech writing: there is an obsession with market share winners and losers which isn’t seen in any other product area. Of course, companies talk about their market share in all realms, whether they make cars or sell groceries. But what they don’t do is imagine that they will DIE AS A COMPANY unless they have what amounts to a legal monopoly.

In tech, though, we do this all the time. Nokia is DYING because its market share is falling compared to Apple. Apple is DYING because its market share isn’t as big as Microsoft. Microsoft is DYING because twelve and a half customers have stopped using Office in favour of Google Docs. Google is never dying, for reasons I have yet to fathom – I suspect they are either the golden child, or they simply give out better freebies than anyone else.

Is Mercedes dying because its share of the luxury car market isn’t over 80%? No. Is Samsung dying because it doesn’t dominate TVs? No. Is Bosch dying because it doesn’t sell the majority of drills in the world? No. Only in tech do we play this bullshit game.

Tech bloggers constantly play the zero sum game. For Apple to win, Microsoft must lose. For Microsoft to win, Google must lose. For Google to win, Apple must lose. And nowhere is this more obviously seen at the moment than in the world of the mobile phone.

The funny thing is that prior to the launch of the iPhone, you really didn’t see much writing about the mobile phone market that worked this way. No one wrote screaming headlines about Sony Ericsson dying because Nokia took a few points of market share that month. People didn’t talk about the impending end of Nokia when Motorola was sweeping all before it with the original StarTac.

Only with the influx of “tech geek bloggers” post-iPhone did you suddenly get the same kinds of breathless bullshit that characterised the computer media applied to mobiles. All of a sudden, these guys became experts in the dynamics of the mobile phone market and brought the same depth of analysis to it that they’d brought to things like the question of whether Duke Nukem Forever would ever get released.

The fact that they called the iPhone “the Jesus phone” tells you all you need to know about their lack of perspective and ego. Mobile phones were dull and stupid and now the computer guys were coming along to SAVE YOU ALL.

Earth calling tech bloggers: shut up, you don’t know what you’re talking about.

Where next Columbus?
I’d like to end this post on a high note, but I’m actually not in the mood for happy endings. There are some really sharp writers in the world of tech, but the problem is that they struggle to be heard over all the bullshit. Old hands like Kara Swisher and Mary Jo Foley do real reporting. Newer guys like CK Sample at least know how to write stuff which is entertaining, fun and (mostly!) accurate. John Gruber is always good value, even if he’s wrong rather more often than his biggest fans would admit.

But most of the best tech writing at the moment comes from people who don’t actually do it for a living. Odd posts, here and there, that shine light on to some small part of the tech world that they deal with on a daily basis. I’ll leave you to find them, but here’s a clue: they usually aren’t linked to from any of the big blogging networks.

(Photo by Vicki’s Pics, under a Creative Commons license)

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TechCrunch hypes the Google Phone, contradicts itself repeatedly

TechCrunch‘s coverage of the so-called “Google Phone” really is turning into something of a joke. Today, it’s probably reached a new low.

First up, Erick Schonfeld claims that current “reports” confirm their own original excitable post, quoting this bit:

“There won’t be any negotiation or compromise over the phone’s design of features – Google is dictating every last piece of it. No splintering of the Android OS that makes some applications unusable. Like the iPhone for Apple, this phone will be Google’s pure vision of what a phone should be.” [My emphasis]

Leaving aside whether Google’s post actually “confirms” what TechCrunch is saying (my take: No), there’s an obvious issue here. Far from Google “dictating every last bit of it”, now it’s rather a different phone. Erick writes:

“The phone itself is being built by HTC, with a lot of input from Google. It seems to be a tailored version of the HTC Passion or the related HD2 (Unlocker scored some leaked pictures back in October which are of the same phone).”

So which is it? Because, unless I have completely lost my ability to read, “[Google] dictating every last piece of it” is not the same as “with a lot of input from Google”.

And it wouldn’t even be the first time that HTC has tailored a phone to another company’s specifications. It’s common practice for HTC – witness the T-Mobile G1 as just one example of many.

(As an aside, the photos that TechCrunch are using under all its stories headlined about “The Google Phone” are the Unlocker ones which John mentions. In other words, TechCrunch has no pictures of the “real” Google phone running Google’s tailored software, despite the implication of putting the months-old pics next on the new stories.)

“It changes everything! Well, no, maybe something else did!”

Erick’s colleague John Biggs is even more breathless about the “Google Phone”. It’s “going to change everything”, he claims, with the caveat “mostly” because even he can’t go with a headline that implies Google is going to solve global warming with a mobile phone.

But why does John think it’s a big deal? Simple:

“But what if Google starts to sell this thing? This is “a big deal” on the level of Neo learning Kung Fu in The Matrix. This means Google is making hardware.”

Of course, Google has been “making hardware” – as in rebadging other people’s hardware with its own custom software – since 2002, when it first launched the Google Search Appliance. But let’s not let facts get in the way of page views. Let’s be kind, and assume that John means “Google is making consumer hardware.

John’s main point is that this represents part of a wave of service providers making hardware, and it’s actually this wave that changes everything:

“But suddenly service providers are doing hardware. Amazon has the Kindle, Barnes&Noble has a lumpen Nook, and now Google has a phone. What’s next? The Credit Suisse Fondue Set?”

Ummm… but wait a minute. So in fact, the Google phone – unreleased, it should be remembered – is what changes everything, yet in the same article he’s naming examples of other things which already exist that are in the same category? Can anyone else see what might be wrong with this picture?

Even assuming he was right, surely it would be the Kindle which “changes everything” given that it was the first of the named products to get to market – and arguably, given that it really was designed and built to Amazon’s specs is a far better example of the breed than the unreleased Google phone?

Contradictions, schmicktions!

Two stories, both of which contradict the points that they’re trying to make within a few words of making them. I don’t want to draw any wider conclusions about the “State of Tech Reporting” on the basis of this, primarily because I think that anyone who relies on TechCrunch for tech reporting is, at best, obviously unfamiliar with the site’s record.

But what both Erick and John display is a classic case of what happens when reporting collides with enthusiasm. In the rush to get the exciting post up and out, they simply haven’t thought about what they were writing.

They’ve put on the blinkers of enthusiasm when writing, and have ended up with stories that add up to little more than the sound of two men fapping. But hey – it gets the page views. And we get the media we’re prepared to pay for.

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If people don’t want journalism, we have no right to make them have it

I’ve been partially watching, partially taking part in a debate on Twitter over the future of news (what else?). It began with a tweet from John Robinson:

Tired of the media obsession with Tiger? Me too. Yet people are fascinated with it. Serve the audience or ignore ‘em & move on?”

I’m bored of Tiger too, so amen to that. Then it got interesting, as my blogging friend Mathew Ingram added his perspective:

that’s the eternal debate — give people what they want to read about, or give them what you think is important?”

Jordan Furlong added this:

It’s not a debate: you give people what they need. That’s journalism. Giving them what they want is entertainment.”

Mathew responded:

so giving people what they need is journalism — how do we know what they need?”

From my perspective, deciding what people need is simple: They tell you what they need through the merry actions of the free market. There are other ways of deciding of course, but the only other valid one is “one person, one vote” – otherwise known as democracy. And that tends not to work well for deciding what should be lead story on page six.

Mathew’s response was to differentiate between “need” and “want”:

I disagree when it comes to news – I think more people would pay for news they want (gossip) than news they need (reporting)”

And that, I think, is where the real problems start. Once you start to divide things into “what people want”  and “what people need”, you end up in a kind of paternalism, where you decide as a journalist what people should be reading. Jordan actually summed up this perspective on what journalism should be in another of his tweets:

Journalism is exercise of judgment on deliverables for civic literacy. Not a market need; it’s an enabler of effective citizenship”

If ever there was a description of how to suck the life, soul and fun out of journalism, that is it. It moves journalism out of the real world and makes it into something like a branch of the civil service, spooning out “the truth” into ears that don’t really want to listen. It basically says “people don’t want to buy it, so we’ll give it to them whether they want it or not. They’ll be grateful!”

Would you read a newspaper that was all about “civil literacy”? I’m interested in politics and society, but even I would avoid something like that like the plague. This is a form of puritan reductionism for publishing, dividing the world neatly into “things people want” and “things people don’t want but need to hear, so by God we’ll sit them in Church on Sundays and read it all out to them. They need it.” It treats readers as children, who need to be spoonfed their medicine because it’s good for them, but don’t understand why they need it.

The fact is that the best journalism has always been about entertainment as much as information, because entertainment is story telling, and story telling is about provoking an emotional response – and that’s the first, best way to help people understand and engage with the world. John Pilger’s reports from Cambodia were incredibly good journalism not only because of the facts he uncovered, but because of the tools that he used to provoke emotional engagement. He told the story.

Yes, sometimes people don’t know what they want until they hear it. If your idea of deciding what should be in newspapers is just “whatever the readers say they want in a focus group”, you’re in the wrong business.

But if you treat journalism as some kind of “enabler of effective citizenship” you will never produce stories which are compelling, interesting, provoke real emotion – and yes, which entertain too.

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