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March 5, 2014
This blog is eleven years old today.
But really, who cares on a day when:
- Mail Online took over Metro Online
- Flipboard bought Zite
- BBC Three heads to being an online-only channel
It's interesting tracking the relative ages of those things, though. BBC Three is less than a month older than this blog - it was launched on the 9th February 2003. While Metro newspaper dates back to 1999, the website appears to have launched in 2004 - making it younger than this blog. Flipboard and Zite are both whippersnappers, both around three years old.
So, I need to face it. This blog, while not even teenager, is old. But while it may be old, at least it has stamina...
Photo by Martin Snopek, and used under a Creative Commons licence
March 4, 2014
Two notable things from the FT's 2013 results:
The FT's total circulation grew 8% year-on-year to 652,000 across print and online, the highest paying readership in its 126-year history. FT.com digital subscriptions grew 31% to 415,000, more than offsetting planned reductions in print circulation. Digital subscribers now represent almost two-thirds of the FT's total paying audience and corporate users grew nearly 60% to more than 260,000.
And mobile usage:
Mobile is an increasingly important channel for the FT, driving 62% of subscriber consumption, 45% of total traffic and almost a quarter of new digital subscriptions
This is the digital transition and the mobile transition happening at the same time.
Is there actually a difference any more?
Full disclosure: the FT is a client of mine, through eConsultancy
I've not tried out embedding a Flipboard magazine on here yet:
And now I have. My life is richer, somehow.
March 3, 2014
So, I knew there would be at least one day in this idiotic project of mine when it would be really hard to get it done.
I wasn't expecting it to be day three.
For various reasons - that pretty much come down to a tube strike - I've just delivered a full day's training for a publisher client of eConsultancy, and then gone on to do two and a half hours with one cohort of students at City University. That, gentle reader, is one long and cognitively intense day.
So, I'm sat on a train rattling its way back to the coast, sat just across from a grumpy man watching video on his iPad, and trying to see if I can think of anything coherent to say this evening. Here's one thing:
I love niche journalists.
Loving the niche reporter
There's something in me that loves working with really good journalists who have drilled down into a reporting specialisation and can ride the wave of their readers' enthusiasm for a subject. It doesn't matter how dull some of these subjects might seem at first glance; if you really roll up your neuro-sleeves and get stuck in, you can find what's fascinating and exciting in any subject at all - and that's an incredibly valuable skill to have right now.
All of us who are connected to this here internet thing have one thing in common: we're suffering from information overload. There's a reflexive viewpoint that suggests that things would be better if we went back to just having a few selective gatekeepers publish for us, but that very clearly isn't going to happen. Genies have an almost pathological aversion to going back into the bottle, whatever fairy-tales tell you. The there's the Shirky position of "we need better filters". But I distrust constant algorithmic filtering of what I see - filter bubble ahoy! - and rather enjoy the idiosyncrasies of good old human selection.
Attention crisis journalism
The common response of people seems to be flight into speciality. When presented with overwhelming levels of information, you look for tools or processes to just narrow down to the subjects that are most important to you. For example: how many national or international news stories did you really car about today? The only one that's actively crossed my radar (on an admittedly busy day) has been the developing situation in the Ukraine, that tickles away in the back of my brain, making me feel nervous that, if we're not very careful this could turn into something bigger and nastier than we expected.
How many stories in the worlds of journalism, publishing and tech have a paid attention to? I've read about a dozen or so, and saved a similar number into my "read later" apps of choice.
The glut of national news
Here's the thing: I think the news business is the wrong way around. I think we have way too many people producing the general news and opinion that most people have only a snacking interest in, and way too few working in the real niches of information and interest that people have an almost unlimited appetite for. The disruption we're going through right now is that imbalance of supply and demand starting to work its way through the system.
National newspapers are getting ever more desperate in their search for sustainable business models now the bundling effect of the printed package has gone, while the under-supply in the niche sector has largely, in the consumer space at least, been met by the rise of the enthusiast blogger in the space. This is amateur in the true sense of the word - someone who does it for love, not money.
This is why consumer mags are having such a torrid time transitioning to the web - why pay to read slightly distant journalists writing about your passion, when you can read the words of passionate participants for free? I suspect the collapse of the consumer magazine will happen sector by sector - how many computer games mags are left on the shelf? - and will lead to the destruction of many well-know brands, simply because the publishers have left it too late to start answering the question of their role in this changed world.
The new consumer publishing ecosystem
But that's OK - as we've seen in the gaming sector, new professional entities hiring journalists have emerged, who explicitly exist in that diverse ecosystem of amateur and professional. They interact with - and recruit from - the passionate bloggers. That trend will only accelerate.
Right now, it feels like a great time to be a niche journalist - because as our existing institutions crumble, we can seen new ones rising. I'd feel a lot more uneasy if I was committed to generalist reporting - because we're not seeing similar new institutions launch in that space.
Learn to love the niche, my friends. It's where the hot publishing actions is in the attention crisis age.
This is the third in a series of one-a-day substantive posts I'm going to try to write through March.
February 28, 2014
You know that quote you always hear?
Information Wants To Be Free.
It's not the whole quote.
Here's the entirely of it:
Information Wants To Be Free. Information also wants to be expensive. ...That tension will not go away
The whole quote is so much more interesting than the shortened version. And people only quoting the shortened version tell you a lot about themselves…
February 11, 2014
Together we have defined online photo sharing. Currently, there are nearly 2 million groups sharing 1 million photos every day. We were the first significant online community where you could store, organize, tag, and share digital photos. Before Flickr, there was no widespread way to share your photos with friends, family and the wider public.
It's easy to forget that Flickr was one of the early pioneers of embedding - long before YouTube came along - and that many of the photos in the early years of this blog were Flickr embeds, to protect limited storage space and bandwidth on my server back then. Flickr introduced many of us to the power of metadata, as it made it so easy to lag, and then geotag photos.
It's certainly lost its way since then, it was far too slow to the mobile world, and is, in many ways, a shadow of its former self. Yet, I still search it regulalrly for Creative Commons images to use in my work, and am always suprised by the work I find in there. I suspect if I took just a little time to reinvestiagte it, I'd find a lot of life in the service. Maybe the anniversary will spur me to do so.
As far as I can see, this is the first photo I uploaded to Flickr (after my profile pic):
That wasn't until August, though, so I don't know if I was just unaware of Flickr, or if there was some reason it was hard to get an account in the early days. Either way, the evidence on this blog is that I didn't join until mid-August.
Still, more of my photography has been seen on Flickr than anywhere else. I've had 1,002,974 views in the life of my account. That's not anything to be sneezed at. I doubt all my physical photos have had more than a tiny fraction of that number of views in aggregate. This, rather bizarrely, is the most viewed photo, at 16,731 views:
It's one of a series of photos I shot on the day of the London bombings - which collectively make up most of my top 10 viewed photos.
Flickr really made photo-sharing viable for a mass of people, and has opened up more artistic work to more people than we give it credit for.
Flickr is still there, and still growing. It hasn't been "sunsetted" by Yahoo. Given how many other services from those days - and the days afterwards - are now gone, that's still quite an achievement.
Long live Flickr.
February 6, 2014
Just came across this explanation of why hobby magazines no longer have broad appeal, by a former editor of various outdoor magazine titles:
So why does someone with a long-term background in outdoor magazine publishing suddenly become bored with them? Probably for the same reason I haven't bought a newspaper in a couple of years. I now get all the information, news and inspiration I need, things that I used to get from papers and magazines, from the Internet.
Websites like this one, social media and a handful of blogs serve my purposes these days, and they are all free. You also don't need to chop down an Amazonian rain forest to provide the paper...
And that's the challenge to traditional consumer publishing, in a nutshell. The problem with publishing for enthusiasts is that, now that publishing tools are widely available, enthusiasts are more likely to publish. And free, expert material from people publishing for the love of it will trump paid, journalistic material published by people who are doing it for money.
This is a terrible time to be a non-expert journalist.
Ironically enough, I found that post through a really bad review of one magazine's attempt to go digital:
"The app is rubbish though. It's basically the world's simplest PDF viewer with no features to make use of technology - no links, no bookmarking, no navigation, no notes or annotation - just a bunch of pages you can only view linearly. Almost completely pointless."
5* for the mag, 1* for the app.
I can't help but wonder if some magazine are actually sabotaging their own futures by doing half-hearted shovelware tablet editions.
February 3, 2014
As I said in my last post, the disruptor can be disrupted...
Henry Taylor, writing for the MediaBriefing:
Design and business title Katachi magazine is an example of doing it yourself if the tools aren't available to you. Founder and editor, Ken Olling, spent 3 years creating Origami Engine - InDesign-inspired software built purely for touch experiences:
We started with the idea of a magazine but very quickly realised there wasn't anything out there built for touch. InDesign is a great product for print but it's the wrong tool for the mobile medium.
Adobe's Digital Publishing Suite, which sits atop InDesign to produce tablet editions is a clumsy process that creates clunky results. This, coupled with resistance from some customers to the shift to a software rental model though Creative Cloud, makes it feel like the chink in InDesign's armour...
Many of us of a, um, certain vintage will recall the days when Quark Xpress ruled the desktop publishing roost. Stephen Hackett charts its fall:
The application that once enjoyed upwards of 90% marketshare is now regulated to the sidelines. Looking back, the app's demise was long and slow, giving the company lots of time to change course.
It didn't, of course. And that allowed Adobe to get InDesign into pretty much every publisher out there.
Quark was a notoriously slow and uncommunicative company back then - but its software made publishing so easy it was hard not to love it - until they really fell behind. The disruptor can be disrupted...
January 21, 2014
Once upon a time, when the digital world was young and full of idealism, people would occasionally guest post on other people's blog, to comment on something they didn't normally write about, or to bring expertise into a different conversation.
Then, some people - let's call them "probloggers" - decided you could actually use this as a vast content pyramid scheme, by getting would-be bloggers to write posts for your blog. They hoped that they might get a trickle of your traffic, but you got free content to support your ads, so you didn't care much either way.
And then the SEO business noticed that these guest posts brought with them links, and links equal pagerank. And in that moment, guest posting contracted a terminal illness:
So stick a fork in it: guest blogging is done; it's just gotten too spammy. In general I wouldn't recommend accepting a guest blog post unless you are willing to vouch for someone personally or know them well. Likewise, I wouldn't recommend relying on guest posting, guest blogging sites, or guest blogging SEO as a linkbuilding strategy.
That's Matt Cutts of Google talking. But that sort of thing only carries weight if he gives a coded warning that an algorithm update is coming.
Oh, here it is...
So there you have it: the decay of a once-authentic way to reach people. Given how spammy it's become, I'd expect Google's webspam team to take a pretty dim view of guest blogging going forward.
I'm sure I've got a bottle of champagne around here somewhere...
Photo by Holly & Chris Melton and used under a Creative Commons licence
January 13, 2014
The B2B magazine industry still lags far behind consumer when it comes to developing and launching digital editions. The reasons for this are numerous: the issue of qualified readership, reduced production staffing levels, lack of investment in digital from many companies that are owned by PE firms, etc.
I think there's a far simpler reason - on this side of the pond at least. Most of our B2B publishers are pedalling as hard as they can away from anything that looks in any way like traditional publishing. UBM is pretty much an events business now, with the latest round of disposals, and RBI is a structured data business (and its journalism essentially marketing for the rest of the business). It's only through habit that we think of them as "publishers" at all - because in most cases, they aren't.
Investing in the future of "editions" of magazines which they've been assuming will die within the next decade just doesn't fall within their business plans. Given the performance of the short of shovelware editions we see coming out of Adobe's DPS and the like, that seems like a wise decision.
Now - should the tablet magazine form actually take off, they may yet live to regret this. The interplay between publication and event can be a very powerful one, if done right. And magazines tend to engender a loyalty that pure data services don't - data doesn't tend to generate the emotional response you get from a well put-together magazine.
In the meantime, though, this feels like a market opportunity for someone to start doing really good subcompact magazines (called mini magazines by some) for business. Hebbard's piece suggest that this could be trade associations - and it could - but could this also be a ripe field for journalistic startups?
The idea of the "edition" still has a value - it gives you something that the web never can: you can feel that you finished it. That sense of completion is a gateway to other feelings - like a sense of being informed - that give products an emotional resonance that makes repeat purchases more likely. Feeling informed in your work is a very valuable place to reach, and people will pay for that. Build a subcompact magazine that really works for a business reader in an attention-starved age, keep the costs really low, and you might have something that flies...
January 9, 2014
06/01/14 Future, the award-winning digital media business and one of the world's leading tablet publishers, today announces the formation of Design and Development Team, Mobile.
Led by Senior Editor and recent PPA Digital Native 2013 award winner Tom Dennis, the Design and Development Team will create new digital content types featuring Future's brands and content. Using Future's self-developed platforms along with leading third-party technology solutions, the apps created by this new team will complement Future's existing digital edition strategy for Apple and Android newsstands.
Future have been quick to recognise the potential of tablets - and now seem to be taking general mobile development seriously. This unit reports into Mike Goldsmith, who has headed up their Newsstand work for a while now. (He talked at news:rewired a couple of years ago, and was making a lot of sense then...)
Much of the negative feedback around performance of magazine brands on mobile has been the result of half-hearted or shovelware efforts. It will be very interesting to see what comes of a serious effort.