Category Archives: Publishing

Finally, someone gets it

Murdoch to Google: Search This:

“No, what Murdoch has realized is that a newspaper is not just valuable for the individual stories or tidbits that can be culled, piecemeal, from a generic list. A newspaper provides context. It tells a story through its selection of articles for a given day, their juxtaposition, and even their flow over time.

By opening themselves up to immediate vivisection-by-search, news organizations invite the disconnection of their articles from their context and their source. And the more they encourage their content to be parsed in this way, the more they encourage readers to look at the work of their journalists as mere datapoints, isolated from a greater perspective. Like what ringtones are to music.”

Finally, someone gets it.

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Mark Cuban sums up why Rupert Murdoch doesn’t care about Google

In the comments to his points on why ““Rupert Murdoch to Block Google = Smart = Twitter has changed it all“, Mark Cuban gives the best summary about why all the traffic that Google brings to News Corp isn’t worth diddly:

“[News Corp] have tons of unsold inventory of ads right now. They dont need new traffic. BAck in the day search engines were a great way to discover new websites as sources of information. Today, that is no longer the case. Fox wants you to come to them as your destination. Just like they do for Fox News on TV. If you cant get to them through Google, you have to make a choice. Go to them directly, which they hope will become a habit, or ignore them. While they know they might lose some people, losing some visitors wont cost them money because they have excess inventory. On the flipside, they know that viewers that go directly to foxnews.com and other newscorp sites will be visitors that are far more engaged and committed to their site. That is more attractive to advertisers.” (My emphasis)

People who haven’t worked in publishing, or who have been the kind of journalists who divorce themselves from the business of publishing, very rarely get this. More traffic does not equal more revenue. A niche where you can demonstrate you are getting a particular target market and engaging them deeply is much, much more valuable.

And he’s right about Twitter, too. The percentage of links that I click on which crop up on Twitter is very, very high. My friends are my filter, which means that when a link crops up I already know it’s likely to be interesting and relevant to me. The human “editors” in my friends list perform far better filtering than any machine algorithm does – which is why Twitter outperforms Google News easily.

(Picture of Rupert Murdoch from World Economic Forum.)

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The rise of the super-middlemen

Image representing Rupert Murdoch as depicted ...
Image via CrunchBase

Ken Doctor on Rupert’s attempt to get people to pay for news:

“When you hear Murdoch and other publishers justifiably scream about Jeff Bezos’ hard bargain — he keeps customer relationships and 70% of the revenue — you understand that they see the multi-platform future becoming real and want to be in the center of it.”

I find it incredibly ironic that the Internet, the medium which was supposed to lead to a wave of disintermediation where artists/writers/content owners would no longer need distributors to take a cut, has instead led to a massive new wave of middle men.

Apple’s iTunes Store, Amazon, eBay – all super-middlemen. And even Google, which should let you find anything you want, can’t break that up.

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Mark Cuban on the non-value of aggregator traffic

Mark Cuban on why traffic from aggregation sites is worth diddly-squat to publishers:

The value of the traffic sent by most sites is minimal at best. Lets look at your best friend Michael Wolf’s site Newser.com.  According to Quantcast he gets about 24k unique users every day.  If  1 pct  of those users went to a Fox Site, say the NY Post, and each looked at 5 pages, that would be a total gain of 1.2k Page Views. If you were able to sell 1oopct of those at $15 CPM, which you can’t. You would make $18  per day. About $ 6.5k  per year. Best case.

More likely, in this economy,  you are not selling 90pct of the inventory he sends you. Heck, you aren’t selling a big chuck of the inventory that you get on your sites anyway, so the marginal value of the traffic sent by Newser.com might be about zero.

And I’d be willing to bet that for a lot of publishers, Google News traffic doesn’t add up to much, either.

(From my own experience, traffic from aggregation sites and links from other blogs increase ad revenue by virtually nothing – I mean, literally, many thousands of impressions but pennies in click through/CPM. Search traffic on a few buying-focused keywords, on the other hand, basically pays the hosting bills. If I wanted to make money from this blog, everything would be about products.)

Why “process journalism” is neither journalism, nor process

Jeremy Toeman, talking about the truly absurd “Twittergate”, sums up why process journalism fails:

“But this is par for the course if your job is breaking news as fast as possible, as there is no reward for being late nor is there a penalty for being inaccurate.”

With process journalism, there is no penalty for being inaccurate. If something is wrong, just go back and rewrite it. There’s no pressure to ensure the facts are right when you hit the publish button.

How anyone with half a brain can think that this is a better method than dull, old-fashioned fact-checking and multiple sourcing I don’t know. Of course, doing proper, in-depth reporting takes time and money and effort – it’s hard, and it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get the story right.

But it does mean you have a better chance of getting the story right than any other method.

Journalism as beta isn’t journalism. Saying that there’s such a thing as “beta journalism” makes as little sense as saying there’s such a thing as “beta car making”. If your car broke down, would you be happy if the car maker turned around and said “oh, sorry, we’re trying out a new system called ‘process manufacture’. We’ll fix it for you, but sorry you got stranded out in the woods. We got a new set of parts and took a chance on them fitting right without bothering to check the measurements.”

Or to put it another way: next time Jeff Jarvis is flying across the Atlantic to tell newspaper people how to fix their industry, I bet he’d be pretty unhappy if Boeing had used “process plane making” to construct the 747 he’s on.

Of course, news writing isn’t in the same league of importance as the safe manufacture of products which we trust with thousands of lives. But businesses can be hurt and lives can be lost because of news stories. When you have the kind of influence that major news vendors have, you bear a massive responsibility to get it right first time.

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Why Nick Denton is smarter than almost anyone in new media

While I think that Mike Arrington is a blowhard – and is gradually being found out as such – it’s fairly obvious that Nick Denton is this generation’s Rupert Murdoch. Especially when he comes out with smart comments like this:

“When Gawker started, there was a surfeit of information and not nearly enough context — so we provided that, in the form of links and occasionally snarky commentary. But now the balance has shifted. There are pointers to articles on the blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Digg. And all these intermediaries are looking for something to link to. If a good exclusive used to provide 10 times the traffic of a standard regurgitated blog post, now it garners a hundred times as much. That should be reassuring to people. The content market is finding its new balance. Original reporting will be rewarded.”

And then there’s this:

“During the panel’s Q&A, Gawker Media’s Nick Denton sarcastically thanked the American newspaper industry for being so unaggressive, making it possible for ‘thugs’ like him to succeed.

Conversely, Denton said he’d never set up shop in England. ‘Every single day, those editors get up and try to kill each other,’ said Denton. Not so in the U.S.”

Actually, Denton doesn’t so much remind me of Rupert Murdoch, but of Felix Dennis. And yes, that’s a compliment. Sort-of.

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Amazon seems keen to try out new models for books

Amazon appears to be applying for a patent on inserting adverts into ebooks, and predictably some people aren’t particularly keen on the idea. But it seems to me that Amazon wants to do is explore different ways to get people to buy books.

Imagine this: when buying an ebook at Amazon, you get two options. First, you can buy it at the usual price. Or, optionally, you can get it for free – with ads distributed all the way through it. These ads could change over time, so you would get fresh ads on re-reading the book.

That sounds like an interesting model to me. Not one that I’d go for, but it certainly might appeal to some.

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Will someone do to Photoshop what InDesign did to Quark?

Back in the days when I did proper print publishing instead of all this new-fangled online nonsense, everyone used QuarkXPress – and everyone hated Quark with a passion. The price of the product always seemed to go up, never down, and it cost a fortune. You could never get a decent discount, even if you were buying hundreds of copies. And support was (ahem) “somewhat hit and miss”.

Unsurprisingly, when InDesign came along, everyone jumped ship as quickly as they could. Quark went from dominating the industry to losing its leading role, because everyone hated them and was looking for an excuse to dump them.

You’d think, having been the beneficiary of this, that Adobe would have learned the simply lesson that ripping your customers off and treating them poorly just makes them hate you – and that if any credible competitor comes along, they’ll be off like a shot. But, it seems, they haven’t. Adobe has just used the excuse of exchange rates to hit British customers hard, again – and, as Charles Arthur elegantly points out, this is complete bunk.

Of course, the difference between Adobe’s situation and Quark’s is that it’s difficult to see where competition for Creative Suite might come from. Adobe bought Macromedia, which was its brightest competitor, and Quark isn’t in that part of the business. I’d be happy for Apple to pick up the ball and kick Adobe hard, but placing even more power in the hands of Apple isn’t something that appeals.

But sooner or later, someone is going to come along and create something that kills Photoshop, just as InDesign killed XPress. And Adobe will deserve it.

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Some quick thoughts about Google versus the newspapers

Image representing Rupert Murdoch as depicted ...
Image via CrunchBase

Rupert Murdoch has really put the cat amongst the pigeons with his comments about Google:

Rupert Murdoch threw down the gauntlet to Google Thursday, accusing the search giant of poaching content it doesn’t own and urging media outlets to fight back. “Should we be allowing Google to steal all our copyrights?” asked the News Corp. chief at a cable industry confab in Washington, D.C., Thursday. The answer, said Murdoch, should be, ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’ “

Some people will paint this as an old-media dinosaur not understanding new media, but I’m not so sure. If you’ve read Michael Wolff’s biography of Murdoch, you’d realise that he rarely says something like this without thinking it through, and without having an agenda.

There’s a few points of context which should be considered:

Google is a competitor to newspapers

The pool of advertising money online is finite. At the moment, Google takes a very large chunk of that money. If content isn’t paid for, then that makes Google a competitor to newspapers as well as something which delivers traffic.

Traffic is a double-edged sword

You need readers to make money from content, but even online every reader has an incremental cost. If companies aren’t making enough money from the additional readers they get from Google, then Google represents a cost to newspapers, rather than additional revenue. In other words, if the ad revenue isn’t there, every page view costs money. So why should newspapers care about the loss of page views from blocking Google?

Search feeds off content, just as content feeds off search

If a user can’t find the content that’s most relevant to them from a search engine, that search engine is useless. Relevance is everything – and that works both ways. Taking their content out of Google would hurt a newspaper (unless they’re making nothing from the page view), but it would hurt Google too.

What I think is clear is publishers are starting to think that the present position is unsustainable, as it offers the worst of all possible worlds for them. They don’t get paid by readers. A large chunk of the advertising revenue goes to Google, rather than them, in a world where ad revenue is hurting overall.

Interesting times, and lots of open questions. If someone says that the status quo can be maintained, I’d take that with a pinch of salt.

UPDATE: Just to add fuel to the fire, Alan Patrick has done some back-of-the-envelope calculations to work out how much Google makes from a typical site, in this case, TechCrunch.

“In other words, if all hits to TC are via Google, then Google is making 10x more money than TC is. Or, put it another way, if Google has only 10% of the traffic going to TC via its site, it makes the same amount of money.”

While Google obviously adds a lot of value to the customer, does it really add as much value as the content that the customer is actually interested in – let alone more value?

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The passion of publishing, or why some bloggers are journalists

There’s a very simple joke that sums up the difference between a blogger and a professional journalist, and it goes like this.

Q: What’s the difference between a blogger and a reporter?

A: About £25,000 per year.

Employing people as “bloggers” for a professional outfit is often a great way of making sure you pay the absolute minimum. But, in the world of small-scale specialised publications, it was ever thus.

One of the great mistakes of the “mainstream media versus new media” debate is to treat print media as monolithic, when in fact there have always been lots of different kinds of print publishing. The ethos, values and workflow of something like MacUser, for example, aren’t really anything like that of The New York Times. We never had vast salaries, legions of fact checkers, or mistrust of online (I was MacUser’s first dedicated online editor in 1997 or 98, and the magazine had been online for a couple of years before that).

In fact, the ethos of a magazine like MacUser was almost exactly the same as that of one of today’s high-end blogs. We recruited not from the ranks of professionally-trained journalists but from the massive pool of Mac enthusiasts, people who were passionate about what they were going to be working on.

When then-editor Stuart Price recruited me, I had no journalistic experience and absolutely no desire to be a journalist. What I had was a passion for the Mac, and plenty of personality – and if you’re looking for exclusives and stories, having the kind of personality which lets you relate to people matters a lot.

And that was how we recruited. During my time there, I think I was involved in recruiting maybe five or six people at entry-level positions. The vast majority – great people like Kenny Hemphill and Chris Phin – had no journalistic training. What they had, in spades, was passion for the Mac.

The craft of putting together a story, a feature, a review or even a whole magazine can all be taught on the job. I learned vast amounts on MacUser about writing and publishing, and I’m still learning from people now – Juliet Warkentin, my former editorial director at Redwood, taught me a lot about the black art of flatplanning.

But what you can’t teach is enthusiasm, and that comes from being engaged with the subject you’re writing about. A good reporter can write about anything, but the best people are passionate about the thing they’re writing about. Being passionate about writing itself isn’t enough to make you really good.

And that’s what our kind of publishing has in common with the world of blogging. Arnold Kim, who founded MacRumors.com and made enough of a go of it to be able to give up his medical career and go full time, puts it thus:

“I think a site like MacRumors succeeded because it was started by someone who was a genuine enthusiast of the topic and not just going for a paycheck.”

Arnold is right: MacRumors’ success happened because of the passion he had for the Mac, because it wasn’t just a job for him. However, I don’t really think he’s got this bit right:

“Especially then, there was no incentive for a traditional journalist to stay up late at night to report on the latest news and rumors. Those stories, if deemed news-worthy, would be published the following day.”

That’s something I don’t recognise – I’ve never met a “traditional” journalist who hadn’t spent a lot of late nights working on getting the story done. Back when I was news editor on MacUser, I worked every other weekend because the deadline for news was Monday 10am, and I wanted to ensure it was as fresh as possible – if I’d have completed it Friday afternoon, instead of (often very late) Sunday night, I’d have missed some stories.

Publishing, in any medium, is at its best when it combines the craft of reporting (researching, digging, writing) with passion about the subject. If you’re passionate about writing, be a writer: if you’re passionate about a topic now, you don’t have to wait for a magazine like MacUser to have a vacancy – start a blog, and have fun!

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