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More on The Future of Print and Journalism

By - January 08, 2009


(This post will be part of a series I’ll be writing on print, publishing and journalism. I’m not sure where it’s going, but I really do want to Think Out Loud about this stuff.)

If you care about journalism, and I certainly fall into that category, then don’t feel bad if you’re confused. There’s been no shortage of contradictory reporting about the state of reporting. Take this piece, for instance, which come to us courtesy of I Want Media:

Deloitte report claims traditional media ‘more popular than online’

IWantMedia’s summary of the piece, which is pretty much what most folks read (unless they really want to learn more, and click through), reads this way:

Traditional media — print, television and radio — remains more popular than online, according to research from business advisory firm Deloitte. Some 73% of consumers say they prefer reading print magazines even though they know they can find the same information on the Internet.

But if you do click through, you find out this is an article in the UK edition of PrintWeek (where I am certain there is no bias toward, er, print), and the findings are solely for the UK market, which is a very different publishing economy than, say, the US or Asia. (Print distribution in the UK is far cheaper than in other markets due to the abundance of urban newsstands, the abundance of choice in UK newspapers, and the abundance in appetite of UK consumers in the reading of newspapers, in particular newspapers with a very sharp political point of view. Regardless, online is already in the process of doing to the UK’s print hegemony what its done to others like the US).

In other words, in no way should you form an opinion on the future of print based upon that summary in IWantMedia*. And while I do not blame IWantMedia for this, I do think is reflects an issue with how we consume news and information on the web – we depend on summaries, aggregations, and pointers, we create our own bricollage of comprehension on the fly. Every so often, we go deep into a source we’ve decided to trust, often one that is far more conversational (like this site is) than a traditional news outlet. The traditional print hegemony – editors, publishers, executives in the newspaper and magazine business – seem unwilling or unable to respond to this new reality in a way that can save their businesses. But I think they can.

Let’s take a spin through some recent print-related news as a thought exercise. I’ve already done a quick overview of the End of Times piece in The Atlantic. A similar piece in Fortune has gotten a lot of pick up (all of it online, of course): Google News: CEO Eric Schmidt wishes he could rescue newspapers. Wishes, but apparently, not willing. As I’ve argued a few times in the past, I do think Google has both the means and the model to help the news industry, but let’s set that aside and grok what Eric has to say.

In the introduction, the editors state that Schmidt and Google possess “a passionate desire to lend a hand” to the struggling industry. He mentions the various services Google has to drive traffic and revenue to online versions of newspapers, but admits those can’t solve the basic economic issue – it costs too much to print and distribute the product, and the product itself is one fewer and fewer people actually want. I think there’s a lesson there, but more on that in another post.

The question is then posted: What about Google buying newspapers? The answer is interesting: “The good news is we could purchase them. We have the cash. But I don’t think our purchasing a newspaper would solve the business problems. It would help solidify the ownership structure, but it doesn’t solve the underlying problem in the business. Until we can answer that question we’re in this uncomfortable conversation.” He goes on to state: “To me this presents a real tragedy in the sense that journalism is a central part of democracy. And if it can’t be funded because of these business problems, then that’s a real loss in terms of voices and diversity. And I don’t think bloggers make up the difference. The historic model of investigative journalists in any industry is something that is very fundamental. So the question is, what can you do about this? And a fair statement is, we’re still looking for the right answer.”

I don’t think we’re all that far from the right answer. I can tell you this,however: It won’t look much like the old answer. The problem that no one seems to want to admit is the way newspapers are organized, they way they leverage their most precious assets (journalists and readers), and the way they approach their businesses in general is simply a non starter in the online space. The newspaper as an institution does not graft to the web. It doesn’t. The sooner newspapers realize this, the sooner they’ll start to get healthy again. As I wrote before:

I can’t tell you where I heard this, but trust me, it’s from a good source: Up until recently, the Chronicle had 400 journalists working at the paper. FOUR HUNDRED! When I wrote for the LA Times, I often wrote two stories a day. Is the Chronicle pumping out 800 stories a day? Is it breaking all sorts of amazing stories and being a leader in the community with those 400 journalists? Hell no! 400 reporters and what is the paper DOING with them? Not much, I’m afraid. The paper should OWN the Valley Tech story. Does it? No. It should OWN the biotech story. Does it? No. It should OWN the real estate/development story. Does it? No. It should OWN the California political story. Does it? No!

Why? Well, maybe it has THE WRONG 400 journalists working for it?! And the wrong tone/approach/structure? Just maybe?

I hate to be the one calling bullshit on an industry I love, but really, honestly, how on earth can you want to save an industry that requires hundreds of journalists to fill a paper that has about 50-100 stories a day in it, half of them wire copy taken from AP or other syndicates? The newspaper industry has a GM problem, if you get my drift. Too many expensive workers doing too little work on products not enough people actually want to buy. And minor shifts in strategy – HORROR! selling ads on the front page – are not going to right the course. I concluded:

I agree that Google and others should be more engaged in helping shore up and – GASP – evolve the fourth estate. But assuming the way to do it is to support more of the same – the approach that gave us a bloated newsroom that puts out a product fewer and fewer people want to read each year – is to ask for tenure over evolution.

And evolution is already happening – at thousands of small and large media sites on the web. In short, I am convinced that journalism will not die if and when major print based journalism outlets die. I have to run to more CES meetings but I plan to write more – a lot more – about this in the coming days/weeks.

*I should note, PrintWeek is sourced in I WantMedia’s summary.

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How About A Forecast Scorecard?

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Jupiter PredBrian Morrisey scratches an itch for anyone who’s ever doubted industry forecasts:

The problem: these figures are used by companies to justify strategies to investors and the press. Yet nobody asks whether they’re valid. For fun, I decided to hunt down an Internet ad forecast from years ago to see how the gurus did. Sure enough, Jupiter projected in August 1999 robust Internet ad growth, enough to reach $11.5 billion in 2003. Guess where it ended up? $7.3 billion, according to the IAB.

Brian was smart enough to pick a time (1999) when, given the dot com collapse, it’s a pretty sure bet that five year forecasts would be wrong. I wonder, however, how wrong they’ve been over time? It’d be really interesting to see a scorecard of sorts, a spreadsheet of two columns, with forecasted and actual numbers over the past ten years. Anyone seen this?

If there isn’t one, shall we make it?

Danny to Bush: Fix the Bomb (The GoogleBomb, That Is)

By - January 07, 2009

Remember the miserable failure GoogleBomb? It’s back, in a way, or it will be back. Danny Sullivan explains it here, and asks the Bush administration to fix it.

…in an inept attempt to defuse the Googlebomb, someone in Bush’s White House moved his biography to the page used by the current US president. That means when Bush goes, the next US president (Obama) inherits the problem

..Aside from turning Bush’s search engine problem into a legacy issue for future presidents, the change is also misleading the US public and others. The redirection from the old bio page should lead to the new bio page, not require those using old bookmarks to guess at where the new location is at.

Hirschorn on the End of The Times

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Michael Hirschorn, who I have worked with on failed print endeavors (Inside, the magazine, back in 2000), writes a thoughtful piece on the end of print journalism, and in particular the New York Times, in – irony alert – the Feb. issue of the Atlantic, which – double irony alert – I read online and would never have seen otherwise, given I no longer subscribe to the print version.

The NYT Co. is an investor in my company. I wish them only well. But I do differ somewhat with Michael when he writes:

Regardless of what happens over the next few months, The Times is destined for significant and traumatic change. At some point soon—sooner than most of us think—the print edition, and with it The Times as we know it, will no longer exist. And it will likely have plenty of company.

I believe the print edition will continue, but in a very different form. Print, as I’ve been saying since the days of Wired, will continue in the digital age, but it will have to pass new tests of value before it can survive. Print has to justify the costs associated with print, now that there are options for information beyond print.

The key issue Michael raises is “how will great journalism get done without institutions like the New York Times?” He goes on to answer that the model of journalism itself is due for an overhaul, and I cannnot agree more. In fact I’d go way, way further than he’s gone. More on that in an upcoming post.

Display Boosts Search Performance

By - January 06, 2009


I’ve been saying this for quite sometime, that you cannot be half pregnant when it comes to marketing – if you do search, you must do branding, and vice versa. Here’s yet more proof:

Display and search are directly correlated, judging by a Specific Media study of comScore data. Brand- and segment-related searches (for cars, automakers and vehicle classes) jumped by more than 100% in several categories after consumers were exposed to display ads for those brands. …Search clickers exposed to display advertising were 22% more likely to produce a sale than those who were not exposed, according to a September 2008 study of Microsoft’s Engagement Mapping system by Atlas Solutions.

In these hard times, advertisers often focus on DR – direct response – the harvesting of demand. But if they don’t sow seeds, well, no more demand can grow.

Google's AdWords: A "Grey Surveillance"?

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Sent to me from Gary Price, a presentation on Adwords from the Berkman center: Google’s AdWords system serves ads alongside about a quarter of all web traffic. In the process of serving those ads, Google actively processes the user browsing data in order to target its advertising, making AdWords one of the world’s most extensive processors of personal data. Hal Roberts presents on how Google’s use of the AdWords data seeds a network of grey surveillance that may not have direct effects on the individual surveillance subjects but does have important effects on our modes of creating and consuming content online.


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A few (older) things I wanted to post before heading to CES:

The head of the IAB, Randall Rothenberg, on measurement (I am on the IAB board). In essence, he says we are measuring too many things. I am not sure I agree, but I see his point. At FM, we are measuring a lot of different things, including what we call amplification and engagement. I think these things are really, really important. Sure, they might all roll up into “reach and frequency” if you will, but not paying attention to them is nuts.


Three Tips For Discipline In A Nomad Life by Scott Belsky, writing on the Digital Nomads site (a site sponsored by Dell). I was struck by the calendar image. I almost wanted it to be reversed: THINK five days a week, DO two days. Unless writing, which I consider thinking, is actually doing…huh. Also like The Paradox of Face Time from Hugh. Creative work requires loneliness.

A not so cheery piece on the ad “depression” via All Things D.

I always read the Google Policy blog, find interesting things there. Google is doing a lot of work on policy, and this post, early last month, responding to the telcos’ claim that Google is “unfairly consuming bandwidth” was sharply worded and fun to read.

Biggest Day Ever

By - January 05, 2009

Digg Predict 09

Yesterday’s (well, technically, Sunday’s) predictions 2009 post drew the single largest crowd ever to Searchblog in its five-plus year history. More than 50,000 people came to visit it, thanks in large part to Twitter and Digg.

I’m honored and pleased as punch, and it really makes me want to write more. In fact, each of the predictions could be a long post, and perhaps they will be. Also, I have more to say that I could not get into the post I wrote Sunday before heading up to the top of Tam. Sometimes, fate gives you a nudge. Thanks for coming, all.

Predictions 2009

By - January 04, 2009



2008 Predictions

2008 How I Did

2007 Predictions

2007 How I Did

2006 Predictions

2006 How I Did

2005 Predictions

2005 How I Did

2004 Predictions

2004 How I Did

In each of the past five years I’ve written a predictions post – usually at year’s end or by the first of January. This one is late, and I’ll admit it’s because I found it hard to write. The world is showing itself to be predictable in only one way: bad news begets bad news. I’ve spent a lot of the past two weeks, where I was ostensibly “not working,” thinking about what this year will bring. And I’m not much further from where I started: this is going to be a very difficult year, for a lot of people. But I do have a fair amount of hope. I think times like this force all of us to make honest choices about what we do with our energy, our resources, and our lives. And in the end, that brings long term health to markets.

Last year I wrote my predictions as something of a narrative, and when I looked back to check how I did, I found it somewhat difficult to mark the scorecard. So this year, I’m going to try to be focused, brief, and calculable. Keep me honest, will you?

1. Macro economy: We’ll see an end to the recession, taken literally, by Q4 09. In other words, the economy will begin to grow again by the end of the year, but it won’t feel like we’re out of the woods till next year at the earliest. That’s because Q4 08 was so damn bad, Q4 09, rife as it will be with government stimulus, will look much better. But until we have another year or two to really find our footing, it’s going to feel like we’re treading water.

2. The online media space will be hit hard by the economic downturn in the first half, but by year’s end, will have chalked up moderate gains over last year in terms of gross spend. I think it’s possible that Q1 09 will be lower than Q1 08, marking the first time that has happened since 01, if I recall correctly. This will cause all sorts of consternation and hand wringing, but in the end, it won’t matter. The web is where people are spending their time, the web will be where marketers spend their money.

3. Google will see search share decline significantly for the first time ever. It will also struggle to find an answer to the question of how it diversifies its revenue in 2009. Search is the ultimate harvester of demand, and Google has become search’s Archer Daniels Midland – wherever a seed of demand might pop its head through the web’s soil, Google is there to harvest it. The media business is more than a demand fulfillment business, and Google must learn to create demand if it’s going to diversify. That means playing the brand game – a game that has long been owned by what we call “traditional media companies.” With these companies in a paralyzing economic death spiral (and their new media brethren, Microsoft, AOL, and Yahoo, in continued strategic sclerosis), Google has a unique opportunity to become a new kind of branded media company. It will fail to do so, mainly for cultural reasons.

4. Despite #3 above, Google stock will soar in by Q3-4 of 2009, mainly because demand will pick up, and when demand picks up, it’s like rain on a field of newly sown wheat. This after the stock tanks when the first half of #3, above, becomes apparent.

5. Tied to #3 above, Microsoft will gain at least five points of search share in 2009, perhaps as much as 10. This is a rather radical prediction, I know, but hear me out. I think Redmond is tired of losing in this game, and after trying nearly every trick in the book, Microsoft will start to spend real money to grow share (IE, buying distribution), while at the same time listening to the advice of thoughtful folks who want to help the company improve the product. However, search share is half the game, as we know. The second half is monetization, and Microsoft will continue to struggle here, unless it manages to buy Yahoo’s search business. Which it won’t, because….

6. Yahoo and AOL will merge.

7. However, in the second half of the year, Microsoft will buy its search monetization from the combined company.

8. Apple will see a significant reversal of recent fortunes. I sense this will happen for a number of reasons (yeah yeah), but I think the main one will be brand related – a brand based on being cooler than the other guy simply does not scale past a certain point. I sense Apple has hit that point.

9. Major brands will continue to struggle with the best way to interact with “social media.” They will take budget reserved for media spending (IE buying banners and building out branding campaigns) and start to become publishers in their own right. This is not a new tactic (many marketers, in particular technology companies, have published magazines, for example, and many consumer brands create or co-create television series), but given the plastic and social nature of online media, many marketers will see these efforts fail, in particular when the efforts are executed in partnership with major media companies. The reason has to do with putting the cart before the horse: in order to truly succeed in conversational media, the company must itself be fluent in that conversation. A partner with tons of traffic, but who is not fluent, will not be the “translator” major brands need.

10. Agencies will increasingly see their role as that of publishers. Publishers will increasingly see their role as that of agencies. Both can win at this, but only by understanding how to truly add value to real communities – not flash crowds driven by one time events. I don’t see a conflict here, long term. As opposed to simply being creators of media, media companies have realized (or will soon) that their job is to create platforms for communities to make media. Publishers are agents for communities, agencies are agents for brands. They need each other. It takes both agents to get good media made.

11. Twitter will continue its meteoric rise. This is a very hard prediction to make, because so much depends on the company’s ability to execute two crucial – and exceedingly difficult – new features: The integration of search into the service, and the monetization of that integration. I think Twitter’s management team (and its backers) will want to keep the service independent through 2009, both because prices are down but also because I think they want to prove something (this will not keep nearly every major web media company from trying to buy Twitter). The company has a tiger by the tail, and two really defensible assets: a passionate, committed, and growing community, on the one hand, and a valuable, growing, and meaningful database of realtime conversations on the other. Note I did *not* say they have algorithms. That will come. But the key is the community and the conversation that community is having. By the middle of 2009, the integration of Twitter’s community and content will become commonplace in well-executed marketing on third party sites.

12. Facebook will do something entirely shocking and unpredictable. I am not certain what, but it won’t have a “status quo” year. It might be a merger with a traditional media company, a major alliance with Google, hiring a head scratcher as CEO, or something else at that level of “WTF!?” As I think about it, it might be as simple as making Facebook Connect truly open, and changing its policies to make it drop dead easy to get data out of the service. Also, Facebook will build a Twitter competitor, but it will never leave beta and will ultimately be abandoned as not worth the time. Instead, Facebook will “friend” Twitter and the two companies will become strong partners.

13. Lucky #13 is reserved for my eternal mobile prediction: 2009 will see the year mobility becomes presumptive in every aspect of the web. By that I mean what I wrote back in 2007: “Mobile will finally be plugged into the web in a way that makes sense for the average user and a major mobile innovation – the kind that makes us all say – Jeez that was obvious – will occur. At the core of this innovation will be the concept of search”

14. Lastly, I promise, I will have sold my book and will be hard at work on it. And yes, still running FM too. I think I have a way to do both, given I wrote 15K words last year without even knowing it….

Happy New Year, Searchblog readers, and thanks for caring enough to read my musings. Here’s to hard work, smart choices, and learning from our mistakes….