Saturday, March 13, 2010

Week in Review

Short reads on a Saturday morning:

•  Well, it might not be here yet, but pre-orders have begun: Apple yesterday started taking orders for its iPad; and no, I didn't cough up the $500+ needed to be the first person at my local Starbucks to sport a tablet.  But it IS coming, and it looks like the offerings from publishers will be substantial enough to declare tablet publishing a reality. Here was my take on the subject of business models and strategy yesterday.

•  In trade publishing, the big news, especially here in the Chicago area, was the return of Stagnito in a major way. Backed by private capital firm Cardinal Growth, Stagnito Media picked up the food group from Nielsen Business Media. The group includes Progressive Grocer, Convenience Store News and The Gourmet Retailer. "Our goal is to introduce a new business model to the food market to take advantage of the trend towards targeted and measurable integrated media,” said Harry Stagnito, President/CEO.  We'll see what this means in the coming months.

In the meantime, Penton Media is officially out of bankruptcy, having cut its debt load. With some magazines experiencing modest increases in ad pages, we'll see if Penton can make it in an industry where many of the major players -- Reed and Nielsen, for instance -- are getting out.

•  Joe Strupp, former Editor & Publisher editor, has found gainful employment with Media Matters and now has his own blog there -- appropriately titled Strupp. Congratulations.  This week he points to a new blog on the Sacramento Bee's web site: Weed Wars, overseen by reporter Peter Hecht who covers the "pot beat".  I visited the blog and report that it does not give the reader the munchies.

•  Finally, rather than do yet another round-up of layoffs in the newspaper and magazine industry, I'll leave it to Roger Ebert of the Sun-Times to review the decision by Variety to layoff two of its veteran critics, film critic Todd McCarthy and chief theater critic David Rooney.  Let's just say that it not a rave. In fact, the only artwork included in the piece is a giant thumb's down.

"What I'm saying is that Todd McCarthy is not a man Variety should have lightly dismissed. He is the longest-serving and best-known member of the paper's staff, and if they made such a drastic decision, we are invited to wonder if Variety itself will long survive," Ebert concludes.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Photoblogging Friday - 10

It's Friday and this week Dean Brierly, who helps me with Photoblogging Friday, has brought a little sixties to the site.
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"This is the French pressbook cover for the 1966 eurospy film "Special Mission Lady Chaplin," starring Ken Clark and Daniela Bianchi — the Bond girl in From Russia With Love," writes Dean.

"If Roger Moore and Peter Graves had somehow trumped the laws of nature and produced a love child, it probably would have looked a lot like Clark. Tall and muscular, he radiated manly mojo and looked like he could have kicked Sean Connery’s ass if the occasion ever arose. Even his chest hair looked tough. The athletic actor performed all of his often-dangerous stunts and, perhaps more important, was the undisputed master of the action man stance. With feet planted shoulder-width apart and torso angled slightly forward, his entire body radiated lethal prowess as he dispensed brutal punches and stylish karate chops. Clark looked equally convincing handling a wide variety of firearms and females, projected an engaging cockiness and, topping it off, looked pretty damn suave in a tuxedo."

"This promotional image, and many more like it, can be found at the Facebook page for Dorado Films, a cult DVD label."

(Dean also would like to disclose that he did a little work for Dorado. Dean's own site is Photographers Speak.)

I haven't seen this film but the actor, Ken Clark, starred in a trilogy of spy films playing Secret Agent 077 -- really. His career was a long one, most of it in television. But Clark did appear in the film version of South Pacific playing Stewpot and appearing in the "There is Nothing Like a Dame" scene (where he was dubbed apparently). But the film that I really want to see is his starring role in Attack of the Giant Leeches, which boasts a 2.9 rating on the  IMDB site (ouch).

Mobile commerce is still in its infancy; location based advertising could spur growth

According to a report from TBI Research, mobile commerce is growing quickly, but growth is from a small base.

TBI Research quotes a Nielsen report that 90 percent of Americans may own a cell phone, but only seven percent have conducted a transaction from the device. Since, I assume, many of these phones are not smart phones, mobile commerce is still a relatively new phenomenon. Nonetheless, growth in mobile commerce is impressive.

☜  Chart courtesy of TBI Research

TBI Research attributes the gains to the growth in smart phone usage, retailer awareness and industry buzz, pointing to Apple's significant iPhone marketing.  The company also states that they see smaller retailers entering the mobile commerce market.

I think this trend will obviously only increase and all phone become "smart" and as younger users begin to drive mobile sales.

An additional spur to mobile commerce may also come from location-based-advertising, something that will be become more common during the coming years.

The iPad and Tablet Publishing: the key to success is experimenting with revenue models right at launch

Today you can go to the Apple web site and place your order, pre-order really, for an iPad. The first iPads, the WiFi model that lacks 3G, will be delivered on April 3rd and you may start see them showing up at your local Starbucks that day -- the start of tablet envy.

For newspapers and magazines, this is potentially the start of a new medium. For now, its just another way for readers to access online content.

The business model of the iPad is simple: the iPad is an app deliver system, the same way a cigarette is a nicotine delivery system. The iPad does not make phone calls, and because it is not always online -- since you need a WiFi connection, or when the 3G model is available, a data contract with a carrier -- the main utility of the iPad is running application written specifically for the device. The New York Times, for instance, should have their app available from Day One, as will some Condé Nast magazines.

For those publishers waiting to see what happens with readers like the iPad, the only way readers will be able to access their publications will be via the Safari browser. For them, the iPad will simply be another online device that takes readers to their web sites. The business model, therefore, is not different than regular online publishing: sell banners and models, and whatever other monetization the site offers.

For the tablet publishing pioneers, the real challenge is grappling with the new medium that is being created: tablet publishing.  Tablet publishing is not publishing on tablets -- after all, since tablets will have browsers this is simply online publishing -- but application tablets: applications written specifically for an e-reader, whether that is an iPad, the Kindle or any other reader that enters the market.

I don't think the New York Times gets enough credit for their commitment to the form. In most cases, major media companies come late to the party, entering after the some early adapters have proven the merits of the form.  In the case of the Times, publisher Arthur Sulzberger has been right out front in stating that the Times will be among the first to offer an app specifically written for the device.

Just yesterday Sulzberger laid out the philosophy the Times will embrace. The iPad is also going to be a critical part just the way the Kindle's a critical part. At the end of the day we can't define ourselves by our method of distribution. What we care about at the end of day is our journalism, our quality journalism," Sulzberger said at the Bloomberg BusinessWeek Media Summit.

☜ Starting today, Apple is accepting pre-orders for the iPad.

For the Times, the future is the paywall -- or at least until they shift directions again -- and although I disagree with the merits of the paywall, I don't think the Times is crazy for trying.  The metered paywall model is a reaction to the realities of web publishing: costs may be lower than print, but so is revenue due to the lack of subscriptions and the limits of current web advertising methods.

So what about the iPad? Will the Times create a reader like their iPhone app -- no, we already know that won't occur because the screenshots we've seen already show that the Times sees the iPad as being more  like web publishing than mobile publishing. The two biggest questions will be "will the Times charge for their iPad app"? and "will the Times look different from what we already see in print or online?"

This is where it is important to look at other publishers.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The State of Trade Publishing: additional thoughts on the market, magazine ad pages, and diversification

I was going to add these thoughts as an addendum to this morning's post about B2B, but thought a new post would work just as well.

This morning I mentioned that a few B2B magazines are showing signs of recovery but that for many magazines not enjoying a dominate market share of the business times will continue to be rough. An important caveat to that would be this: this assumes that the magazine continues to be the largest share of the revenue brought in by the unit.

☜ Magazines supported by trade shows or association, such as Specialty Food which enjoys both, are better positioned to thrive in today's B2B environment.

A magazine supported by a trade show, or with association backing, lives in a different environment than the stand alone book. A magazine such as Specialty Food, owned by the industry's trade association, not only gets financial support from the organization should times get rough, but can ride the coat tails of the trade show (also owned by the association).

The State of Trade Publishing: print can still be profitable, but only expect the leaders to survive

Yesterday's news that Stagnito Media had acquired Nielsen's food group was as good a time as any to look deep into my stack of B2Bs to see how some of the leading magazines were doing. For some of the leaders in their industries, the issues looked healthy, with some seemingly on the way back from the brink. For others, especially those magazines that rank third or fourth (or worse) in their industries, not much have changed since last year's debt declines in ad pages.

This is usually the lesson with media fragmentation: new products generally don't kill off other mediums completely, they simply make it harder for those struggling to continue -- the industry gets a hair cut, if you will.
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☜  Grocery Headquarters: a strong March issue, up from 2009.

Several issues of a leading magazines surprised me. Last year one wondered why they even bothered printing some of the issues. This year hasn't looked much different except that several special issues looked very healthy indeed.

Many people have underestimated the effect the recession has had on B2B publishing. Across the board whole categories of books dropped 15 to 25 percent. The Internet was not responsible for that, it was the recession. Now that some money is slowly being released into the market, the leading trade pubs are experiencing a bit of a recovery. I expect that when first quarter numbers are released there will be a sprinkling of good news mixed in with the bad.

When reading some of the dire headlines proclaiming the end of print newspapers or magazines it is always good to understand that things are magnified in a recession. Trends that effect everyone are often interpreted to mean that the entire industry is without hope, when it sometimes just means that the economy is tanking.

For publishers the question today to consider is this: can my print publication survive in an environment where only the leading publications will get ad schedules, where the rest the budget will get increasingly sliced and diced to sprinkle schedules to web, mobile and other mediums? In a B2B world where only print magazines could promise an advertiser serious penetration of their markets, a specific industry could have a stack of magazines serving it. In the future, a crowded B2B field may look like a city with two competing dailies -- rare.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Now official: Penton emerges from bankruptcy

With a short statement, Penton Media announced that their pre-packaged reorganization plan, approved by the courts last Friday, had become effective today. The plan eliminates $270 million in long-term debt from the company's books.

Penton Media is attempting to swim against the tide as other major B2B publishers such as Nielsen Business Media and Reed Business Information are divesting properties.

In an encouraging sign, Penton was able to announce last week that one of its premiere trade shows, Natural Products Expo West was able to sign its 3013th booth for its show that starts tomorrow (March 11th), an increase over last year's show. A companion show, Natural Products Expo East, takes place in the Fall in Boston.

Stagnito buys food group from Nielsen; Convenience Store News, Progressive Grocer, The Gourmet Retailer

They're back.

Stagnito, Inc. announced yesterday that they will be creating a new subsidiary, Food Media Group LLC, after the acquisition of the Retail Food Group from Nielsen Business Media.  These Nielsen sales follow a string of divestitures that have included the sale of Nielsen's media properties including the Hollywood Reporter and Billboard.

For Harry Stagnito and sons, it is a return to the industries they have been associated with for years. Harry Stagnito formed his first company in 1990, Stagnito Publishing Company, with two food magazines.  In 1997 Stagnito sold off his magazines, included Beverage Industry and Refrigerated & Frozen Foods, to Medical World Communications. In 1995 the properties were sold as part of the Ascend Media acquisition. After functioning as a separate unit within Ascend, the Stagnito properties were again sold, this time to BNP Media in 2007 where the Stagnito name was stripped from the properties.

Now Stagnito is back, funded by Cardinal Growth, LP, a private capital company out of Chicago (Stagnito Media is headquartered in Deerfield, IL.)

“We’re excited about re-entering the food industry with the acquisition of such highly recognized and respected food media brands, and related products. Our goal is to introduce a new business model to the food market to take advantage of the trend towards targeted and measurable integrated media,” said Harry Stagnito, President and CEO.
“Our goal is to introduce a new business model to the food market to take advantage of the trend towards targeted and measurable integrated media,” said Harry Stagnito
The new food group will contain some very powerful brands that have seen better times: Progressive Grocer used to lead the market but has fallen badly behind Grocery Headquarters; The Gourmet Retailer was also a magazine thick with ads, but it faces stiff competition from Specialty Food, an association owned publication who also manages the industries premier trade show, the Fancy Food Show; and Convenience Store News, a magazine that was able to take advantage of the growth of stores within gas stations, as well as the general growth of the 7/11, also faces competition from the industries trade association that has its own magazine and trade show.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Learn to sell local advertising again: take a lesson from Google; why free can be very, very profitable.

Free. It's very hard to compete with free.

I thought about this when I took a quick glance at this morning's Chicago Tribune sports section. One paid ad. That's it. One. And for a hair replacement center at that. No auto advertising. No tires, no auto parts, no events, nada. Just one ad . . . a tenth of a page, at best.

Things were a little better online as the sports section had some medium rectangle ads, a leaderboard. But over at the local news sections, under Chicago Breaking News Center, nothing but Google ads (were these all coming from Outside.In, or is the medium rectangle ad outside the local news window the responsibility of the Trib? See my interview with here.)

It is almost as if the art of ad sales, and local ad sales in particular has been lost. Ad prices in a metro daily are so high that many reps and their managers wonder if it is worth the effort anymore.  So what can you do when you have priced yourself out of the market? Create cheaper products? Sell online only?

One way to look at the problem is to see it from Google's perspective. Want to introduce (or in the case of newspapers, reintroduce) the concept of local advertising? Then start with free.

ESPN interviews Ride BMX editor about the future of print and tablet publishing -- and does a great job, really

This interview with Keith Mulligan, editor of Ride BMX is well worth checking out. One reason this interests me is that the magazine is owned by Bonnier, the folks behind Mag+ (the still below is from the Mag+ demo video found on YouTube).

So what does Mulligan think of Mag+?
"I think it's awesome."

OK, he actually had a lot more to say on the subject, as well as print, Internet publishing, and the like. Here is a brief excerpt:
Mulligan: Making a Web page look like a book page that turns over isn't exciting. And there are probably too many people out there with BMX Web sites trying to do the same things with them, but they fail in a number of ways. Just because you have a Web site, a digital camera, and know how to send and receive e-mails and/or copy and paste doesn't necessarily make you good at producing quality material, or make you important. I'm not sure where to go with this one, but I feel it's important for online sites to have some common sense and ethics along with a variety of skills that show, especially when claiming to be legit media.
The entire piece by Mark Nobel can be found on the ESPN site here.

Morning short takes: Reed Elsevier sells off German business unit to EPPG; ogling Google Goggles

Dow Jones is reporting that Reed Elsevier has sold off its German trade publishing arm to European Professional Publishing Group.

Buchreport also reports that the two former managing directors Hans Jürgen Kuntze and André Weijden will remain on board.

RBI-US continues to make news, even as it continues to sell off or close parts of its US operations. Yesterday, Variety, one of the few properties new CEO Erik Engstrom said the company is committed to, announced it had fired long time film critic Todd McCarthy.

Is AT&T crippling their new Android phones as a way at getting back at Google for their stance on net neutrality? It would be an incredibly self-defeating act, if true -- and wouldn't exactly improve AT&T's already dismal customer satisfaction position (worst among US carriers).

Speaking of Google . . . I want this on my iPhone: Google Goggles (linked story is actually about Google Translate, but it refers and links to a Google blog post about Goggles). Unfortunately, it looks like this handy tool that allows users to take pictures of printed text and have instant translations, or take a picture of a landmark and get additional information, will be an Android-only product.  Here is a video that demonstrates the product:

Texterity launches their first magazine-branded native iPhone app for Premiere Guitar

Texterity announced today that they had launched their first magazine-branded native iPhone app for Premiere Guitar.
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The iPhone app refreshes the content when the reader launches the app, and allows the reader to search past issues and post comments from within the app.

“When we launched the first web-based digital magazines for the iPhone and iPod touch in 2007, it was an immediate hit. Our non-Flash solution worked great with only some minor changes for the small screen," said Texterity COO Carl Scholz. "But this new, magazine-branded native iPhone app takes things one step further by giving publishers a highly visible, dynamic mobile solution that drives readers back to their digital edition between publishing cycles.”

Texterity claims that its browser based, non-Flash mobile solution will easily work for Apple's soon to be available iPad, as well as the iPhone and iPod Touch.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The push back begins: Apple looks to limit the proliferation of cookie-cutter iPhone apps within iTunes app store

If it's free there must be a catch, right? For publishers trying to go mobile on the cheap, the catch when working with discounted or free application developers is often a loss of branding, or ending up with an app that is pretty much worthless.

Because of the proliferation of identical looking, feature-less iPhone applications, Apple is reportedly looking to hold back approval on new applications for the iTunes store that lack basic features, or are identical to other apps.

There has been an explosion of third party vendors that have arisen to feed off the lack of electronic publishing prowess found at most newspaper and magazine companies. From flip books to rudimentary iPhone apps, these vendors have provided the services publishers have needed because of the lack of in-house expertise.
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☜  Some iPhone apps are little more than business cards such as this one, iSusan, for a South Bend realtor.

Some, like developer Appmakr, have created app generators that allow small and individual publishers to quickly create a new iPhone app for just a few bucks. Appmakr then gets the app through Apple's approval process and onto the iTunes store.

As I wrote back January, those that go this route are doing more to extend Appmakr's brand than their own (all low-cost apps have the Appmakr name attached to the app -- for instance, The College Reports Mobile Built by Further, all these apps must be free since Apple only allows those who are registered developers to make paid applications (the process is fairly easy but does include a fee).

Now, according to TechCrunch, Apple may be making a move to scale back the number of me-too apps being created. Many publication apps on the iTunes store are little more than RSS readers, and according to Jason Kincaid's story, Apple would prefer that apps do more than just serve as an alternative to a basic web app.

Apple rolls out first iPad commercial

OK, they're not targeting the Miles Davis crowd. But beyond that what do you think?

Aggregating and monetizing local news pages; a talk with Outside.In's head of business development, Camilla Cho

It really caught my attention: a help-wanted ad for an advertising sales rep with local media experience . . . not from a newspaper company, but from news aggregating company Outside.In.

Outside.In is looking to hire their first advertising representative to call on interactive agencies in order to sell the millions of impressions they have available on their local news pages -- pages found not only on their own web site, but on the sites of newspapers and broadcasters that use their services to create hyperlocal news pages through their Outside.In for Publishers platform.
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The company, backed by Union Square Ventures and other venture firms, as well as CNN, works with newspapers and local broadcasters by creating aggregated local news pages drawn from media outlets as well as bloggers and social media networks.  I spoke with Camilla Cho, VP, Business Development, about her company and her experiences working with the media industry to create these new local news pages.

"We realize that everyone is working on a million things, we realize budgets are not super high," Cho said about her company's media partners.

"When it comes to local, when it comes to hyperlocal, there are a few key areas that they (publishers) are always looking for. That is aggregation, and the capability to really define their neighborhood," said Cho. "And then they want to create hyperlocal, quality pages for monetization for better revenue."
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A local news page from NBC4 in Columbus OH.

By having hyperlocal news aggregated by a company such as Outside.In, publishers do not need to assign individual editors to each neighborhood or zip code news page created. But for Cho, the key to creating a valuable local news page is still good editing -- or curation, to use the proper term.

"We provide a curation tool through Outside.In for Publishers, and the curation platform makes it as easy as literally clicking a button to suppress any feeds you don't want, you could suppress at the story level or at the feed level."

"Aggregation is great, automation is great, but there has to be some level of curation, some human curation that's layered on top of the automation and aggregation to make a meaningful set of content for the users to consume," said Cho.

The aggregated content originates from some 40,000 RSS feeds, according to the company, as well as content from bloggers writing local news content. Bloggers can sign up on the Outside.In to have their content considered for inclusion, then geo-tagged so it can be properly fed onto the proper local news pages.  The obvious advantage for bloggers to join Outside.In for Bloggers is having traffic driven to their sites.

But what does Cho tell prospective clients, publishers and broadcasters, about the reasons they should include this content?

Why is Google News so bad? Hyperlocal and entrepreneurial journalists at a disadvantage

A quick thought: after using Google News for a couple of months to seek out relevant news stories to consider for this site one thing is clear: Google News is God-awful.

I suppose many won't find this a surprise, but I'm actually shocked at how bad it is. News stories stay at the top of the search list despite being old and never of value anyway; stories that are actually just links to other stories are featured because they come from traditional media sites, not the source; and finally, Google's idea of news is positively 20th century -- news from old, giant media outlets get top billing, real news is hidden, and "news" sites need to be approved by Google, otherwise Google News doesn't consider content provided by the site as "news".  In other words, if you are a New Media outlet you do not produce news, if you are old media you are part of the club.

Part of the problem lies in how Google defines "news" -- generated by an organization with a team of writers and editors. Clearly the Google folk have never worked at a newspaper. While a newspaper may employ teams of reporters and editors, stories are created by individuals, and most beats are handled by an individual writer. What happens when the newspaper lays off their architectural reporter? The way Google sees the world, if the reporter goes out on their own and creates a new web site and writes stories none of these stories can be considered news. But if one of the stories is picked up and reproduced by their old newspapers then suddenly the content is elevated to Google News status. How quaint.

Clearly this site can never get content to show up on Google News, and that will be a huge disadvantage. But the real issue is not who is a news producer and who is not, but what is news, and what is not. Google News loves press releases that are reproduced by old media outlets, for instance, but not news produced by individual journalists. Because of this, hyperlocal sites are handicapped from the day they launch. To compensate they will have to drive traffic through other aggregators and eventually get picked up by Google News only when their content shows up on a competitors site. Something is terribly wrong about that.