May 31, 2013
Digital advertising is all about technology in 2013, and you’ll see lots of talk of the ad-tech stack, and who owns it. Google, of course, owns much of it, through its successive AdWords/Doubleclick/AdMob and more creations, acquisitions and integrations. Its stack is so efficient that many publishers feel compelled to use it, though they are wary of getting their businesses tied ever more directly to Google — or the Google “Death Star,” as some critics call it.
For most publishers, Google is the classic frenemy. They work with it when they think the advantages outweigh the hazards, even as top publishers build their own programs. In fact, expect to soon see U.S. news publishers transition their Newspaper Consortium partnership with Yahoo into something intended to be broader, something that allows publishers to opt into and out of the ad programs of multiple portals — not just Yahoo — harnessing the ad tech of the day.
Six-month-old Smart Match is one of the FT’s latest innovations to stay “premium.” In brief, the content of an advertisement is matched, dynamically, to that of an article. The technology: semantic targeting of both article content and the FT’s current “ad library” for the best matches on the fly, as compared to standard keyword targeting.Read More »
May 24, 2013
Welcome to the emerging world of value exchange. It’s not a new idea; value exchange has been used in the gaming world for a long time. As the Zyngas have figured out, only a small percentage of people will pay to play games. So they’ve long used interactive ads, quizzes, surveys, and more as ways to wring some revenue out of those non-payers.
It’s a variation on the an old saw that says much of life boils down to two things: money and time. It also brings to mind the classic Jack Benny radio routine, “Your Money or Your Life.” If people won’t pay for media with currency, many are willing to trade their time.
Now the idea is arriving at publishers’ doorsteps. It is being tested mainly, but not exclusively, as a paywall alternative. Yet, as we’ll see it, there may be many other innovative uses of time-based payment.Read More »
May 16, 2013
Renamed NewsRight, it was an industry consortium, and here a truism applies: It’s tougher for a consortium — as much aimed at defense than offense — to innovate and adjust quickly. Or, to put it in vaudevillian terms: Dying is easy — making decisions among 29 newspaper companies can be torture.
It formally launched just more than a year ago, in January 2012 (“NewsRight’s potential: New content packages, niche audiences, and revenue”), and the issues surfaced immediately. Let’s count the top three:
1) Its strategy was muddled. Was it primarily a content-protection play, bent on challenging piracy and misuse? Or was it a way to license one of the largest collections of categorized news content? Which way did it want to go? Instead of deciding between the two, it straddled both.
2) In May 2011, seven months before the launch, the board had picked TV veteran David Westin as its first CEO. Formerly head of ABC News, he seemed an odd fit from the beginning. A TV guy in a text world. An analog guy in a digital world.
3) Publishers’ own interests were too tough to balance with the common good.
May 10, 2013
Among these four newer products, we can see the emerging new rules of publishing creation. Among them:
Critical mass enables growth. Niche product creation that builds on existing company infrastructure, knowledge and marketplace learnings is the cost-effective way to go. Each of these companies adapted what they learned to these new launches. Politico’s seven Pro products illustrate this most clearly; Atlantic Media’s cousin-by-cousin launches put a parallel spin on the notion. (Intriguing side note: Politico owner Robert Allbritton put his once-core TV station holdings on the market last week, saying he wanted to further invest in and around Politico. The “around” could include replicating the Politico business model in a new coverage niche.) This is a new power of incumbency. It’s not the ownership of a printing press, as it was for newspaper publishers in the old days.
Analytics leads the way; in-person follow-up seal the deal. You may have an intuition about a new market, but checking it out — doubly — is essential.
Help your audience deal with future and present shock. Covering a sector is one thing; covering in a way that embraces — and tries bring a bit of order to — the multiple change issues of any audience is another. That’s an aspirational and competitive editorial positioning, but we can see ongoing examples of it in the work that Mint, Quartz, and Politico already produce.
Events are emerging as both a vital new revenue source and an almost counterintuitive high-touch part of the mostly digital business mix. HuffPost Live, Google Hangouts, and assorted other ways to assemble online community are great experiments and promising tools, but old-fashioned in-person events are gaining strength as we all go more digital. That’s an important learning about the value of relationship, and how to reinforce it, even in the age of MOOCs.
It’s not print or digital. It’s digital and print, suited to audience reading habits — which of course are a moving target. Influentials, like all of us, toggle between the two.
May 3, 2013
Design is an important part of these acquisitive moves. One reason these companies have value on the market is that they stand out. It must be said: For the most part, news companies have once again missed a chance to innovate, to make something new of a new platform. Flipboard, Pulse, and Zite each saw the potential of tablet news and magazine feature reading early and set to work to present it harnessing the glowing touchscreen. Now Flipboard 2.0 (build your own magazine) and Zite 2.0 are moving to a next generation. The best newspaper sites have mastered the utilitarian basics, but they hardly break new presentation ground. They also emphasize a single brand, where plainly many readers relish cross-title variety and a bit of serendipity. Innovation on tablet news design has been minimal, and it’s outsiders who largely deserve the credit for it.
One noteworthy exception: AP Mobile. While it lacks the finesse of Flipboard, it delivers a national and local experience, bringing in hundreds of local news feeds into its tablet and smartphone products, and is one of the top news apps downloaded in Apple’s App Store. AP Mobile is a rare case of newspaper cooperation, building a single customer experience; now it’s up to AP to deliver the next-generation mobile experiences.Read More »
Apr 13, 2013
All-access circulation revenue is spinning upward, leading to a 5 percent gain in overall circulation revenue in 2012. Print advertising is whirling downward — 9 percent last year — in a seeming death spiral. Digital advertising is growing tepidly at 5 percent. Put those circulation and ad trends together and you end fairly flat on your back. So NAA’s number is that dailies lost 2 percent of revenue overall; I’ve made the point that their big goal, as nothingburger as it may sound, is to get back to zero revenue growth (“The Newsonomics of Zero, and the New York Times”).
Which brings us back to that non-ad, non-circ number. If local news organizations are going to regain growth — and hire — they must find new revenue. They have plumbed marketing services, events, and print-insourcing. Now some are putting a new category on the board: content marketing.
No, not content marketing, you say! It’s already a hackneyed phrase, seemingly identical to “native advertising” and “sponsored content,” both now much-recognized and already much-maligned techniques that bigger brands are using to break through the digital clutter and get to potential customers. Yes, content marketing (and we’ll narrow some definitions below). As news companies rediscover the power of their own content, there is new revenue to be gained. How much, not whether to seek it, will be the major question.Read More »
Apr 7, 2013
It’s incredibly sobering to remember that three of 10 readers have abandoned news outlets. That’s a reflection both of those newsroom reductions, which have removed three of 10 journalists, and how newspapers still spend way too much money in ways that don’t improve the product. Newspapers spend 10-20% of their overall budgets on content creation. It’s not enough; readers are voting with their feet. In a time when reader revenue is what’s working — that number one bright spot — publishers have got to figure out how to spend more on the single source of growth, readers.
As new NAA CEO Caroline Little puts it, “America’s newspaper media are transforming themselves.” “In virtually every community they serve, newspapers have the biggest newsrooms, the best-known brands and significant audience market share. Now they are building on those to find new ways to serve audiences and local businesses.” All true. That said, this profound and long-required transformation has been profoundly slow. In 2013, we finally see more innovators and innovation, but the overall numbers in the NAA survey point to relatively glacial change.Read More »
Apr 4, 2013
It’s the membership program — one that’s not unique in the industry — that will catch the headlines.The Register wants to go big. It approached the Angels, located 10 minutes away, with the idea of better using the empty seats the Angels couldn’t sell. The Angels found themselves sitting on almost 600,000 empty seats last year over 81 games. Put another 7,000 butts in those seats each night, even without getting paid for the ticket, and the club is pulling in another 10 bucks or so on Chronic Tacos, garlic fries, and overpriced Corona.
The perk is available on a first-signed-up, first-served basis to the Register’s 124,000 seven-day subscribers, beginning 72 hours before each game. Forty-eight hours before the game, the Angels, through Ticketmaster, release available seats. Register Connect buyers can nab four tickets, for a service charge of $5. Within a year — subject to going to the end of the electronic queue after landing some tickets — fans can claim as many as 96 tickets a season.
“We’re looking to execute at scale,” Spitz explains, noting that lots of membership perks are good, but few are likely to move the needle of buying and retention. The Angels’ ticket program is that touch of likely brilliance.Read More »
Mar 15, 2013
At a time when so much of the news industry seems in flux, the FT has managed a steady-as-she-goes transition into the digital age arguably better than anyone else. While it occupies an enviable global business news niche, the ingredients of its relative success are ones that can be mixed and matched into all kinds of recipes — metro, regional, or local; daily or weekly; newspaper or magazine. It’s not otherworldly magic that’s happening at the FT. It’s just ahead-of-the-pack thinking that has given it a headstart — and now gives it the ability to build second and third generations of its digital business. It is now where fast followers will be in two to five years.
Make no mistake: The FT hasn’t quite cracked the code yet. It’s profitable, but not by that much. In 2012, the FT Group, which includes the FT, Mergermarket, and 50 percent of The Economist, registered an 11 percent profit margin or £49 million. It is reducing and re-skilling its staff. Further, it’s been subject to new “for sale” rumors, though John Fallon, the new CEO of parent company Pearson, has recently denied that likelihood. Fallon’s recent take on how 2013 will turn is painfully familiar to all in the business: “We expect the FT Group to benefit from continued growth in digital and subscription revenues in 2013, but advertising to remain weak and volatile with profits reflecting further actions to accelerate the shift from print to digital.”
All that said, given its digital transition, I believe it is far more likely to successfully cross over to the new age than other publishers.Read More »
Mar 8, 2013
Why paywalls now? Why weren’t paywalls put into place in 2007, or 2002, or 1997?
Might such paywalls have prevented the massive loss of reporting that local papers — and local readers — have suffered? Would they have saved a good number of the more than 15,000 newsroom jobs (a 28 percent decline since 2001) that have evaporated? Might the global bureaus of the big metros been spared? Would regional business news coverage be as robust as it was in the 1990s? Would investigative units be off the endangered species list?Read More »