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April 9, 2014

One for my regulars: the Digital Publishing Irregular


If you're reading this, you're almost certainly a regular reader of my blog - because I'm going to do exactly no promotion whatsoever of this post. This is just something for my regulars, if you like, and those they choose to share it with.

I'm going to start doing a newsletter in the next few days, which will be called the Digital Publishing Irregular.

It will be, as the name suggests, about digital publishing, and it will be irregular. It will be more opinionated and broad than posts on this blog, and will represent, in many ways, the first draft of ideas that will eventually make their way here.

If you're interested in this, feel free to sign-up below:

powered by TinyLetter

Expect occasional missives thereafter…

March 22, 2014

Facebook: pay for eyeballs or get social

The Facebook game has changed, and anyone who is surprised hasn't been paying attention. Social@Ogilvy published research showing that the reach of posts from brand pages on Facebook has been plummeting, something borne out by the couple of pages I have a hand in running. Here's a graph they used to prove it:


Ewan Spence sums up the core message:

The research goes into more details, but the implication is clear. The free ride for brands on Facebook is coming to an end, and Mark Zuckerberg's network should now be moved into the 'paid channel' in the marketing budget. The end game here is that a message posted on a brand page will not be shown to anyone unless it gathers a notable number of likes from a user's friends. If their friends like a post, if there is a visible adoption of the post by the community, only then the post has earned the right to be shown organically.

Edged out of the algorithm

I am surprised that anyone is surprised by this. Two things suggested that this was the likely endgame:

  1. Facebook has been aggressively algorithmically managing your news feed to keep it relevant for a long time now. Switch from "Top Stories" to "Most Recent" in your settings, and you'll probably see quite a different news feed. Why do they do this? As the volume of content shared into Facebook goes up, the relevance to you tends to go down. It's the classic signal/noise ratio problem. Their solution is to try and filter out the noise for you.

Facebook preferences

  1. Facebook is an ad-funded service. It doesn't care how much time and money you've spent on a social media agency to build page Likes, because that's bringing it precisely zero revenue. Up until now, Facebook has been giving you free advertising, even if you've been paying someone else to access it. A commercial business giving away its core product for free is not a sustainable solution.

So, where does that leave you? Well, you have two choices. The first, and most obvious, is to pay. Hello, paid marketing That's OK - you're essentially just paying to have an advert for your content drop into people's news feeds. Advertising like any other.

Putting the Social in Social Media

Your other option is harder - but the one that's probably the most sustainable for journalism and content businesses. It's something you can't just throw money at, or hire somebody to do easily. It's about creating content that people want to share - and then making it easy for them to do so. The best way to get traffic right from Facebook right now isn't through brand pages - it's through getting people to Like and share you content - and that means creating things they want to Like and share. That's the hard bit. And you're up against people like Buzzfeed who are really good at that. Here're their traffic from search versus their traffic from Facebook:


So, in effect, we're in a situation that almost exactly parallels search. For something to rank in search, people have to "share" it by linking to it. Then a whole bunch of other factors come into play to determine whether it'll appear on your search result page. For you to get significant Facebook traffic, people will have to freely share your content into Facebook, and then a whole host of other factors (based on potential viewers' prior actions and how people react to that content) kick into play to determine how widely it's shared.

The Search/Social Divide

The difference is that people tend to search for answers to questions. Any published pages that's ore complex in its execution and ideas than that is probably going to be better served by social sharing - and Facebook is still the 800lb gorilla on that front.

If you weren't taking SMO (Social Media Optimisation) seriously already, you really have to be doing so now. That means sorting out technical stuff like Open Graph markup on your pages, but also the softer side of understanding how to write in way that are sharable. It also means understanding how to use your own staff to "seed" the process.

Ready for all that? If not, you better get the credit card out...

March 18, 2014

Chuck a fashion model off a mountain...

The one reason I keep doing what I do for a living (whatever the hell that is, as it seems to change every few months right now...) is that new technology is enabling such different forms of storytelling and, as a natural storyteller of sorts, how can you not get all excited and want to be involved with that?

Take this video, which has been doing the rounds over the last few days:

Sure - it's an advert for GoPro cameras - but that's just fine with me, because their kit has enabled this sort of storytelling. Or, at least, made the costs involved much, much lower.

I really should get myself one...

March 13, 2014

31-3.8 - Journalism will survive - but you might not recognise it

Journalism Startups

Don't you hate it when somebody leading a journalism business slips into jargon? Sarah Lacy of PandoDaily does exactly that when quoted in a Quartz piece on why funding is piling into new journalism ventures:

"Suddenly, the market for content just opened up," said Sarah Lacy, founder of PandoDaily, which has secured about $4 million in venture capital since 2012. "It's dramatically changed. I think a lot of it for me was Vice getting valued at $1 billion. No one had seen anything like that in the content space. And they're trying to speak to a very specific audience that's hard to reach in a deeply authentic way. It's certainly not something you're phoning in. It's not a pre-written press release. It's not a listicle."

As a commenter puts it:

Vice is deeply authentic?

This isn't actually about authenticity - which is one of those buzzwords that's in danger of following "engagement" into a semantic void - but about being web native. Too many of the ventures of the past have been of the "do what we used to do, but online" form - online magazines or newspapers that borrowed the tools of blogging to do much as they did before. If you were lucky you got some web thinking in there, but if you weren't they was just a straight replication of print formats. Think that doesn't still happen? Look at most tablet editions of magazines and how badly they sell.

Life amongst the web-natives

What we are seeing is the emergence of journalistic forms that are deeply web-native, and that use well the expanded toolbox digital gives us. Without the very high overheads that traditional publishing businesses carry, and using clever, light-weight tech, they're rapidly building towards sustainable models of online journalism - even if they don't look like the forms we know. That does two things: it makes them potentially sustainable, profitable web businesses - and that makes them attractive to VCs. But it also changes the context of the debate about the future of journalism.

Let's be honest here: I'm pretty much one of those grumpy old "these markets are conversations" Cluetrain Diehards, and I'm pretty proud of that. (And if you have no idea what I'm talking about that, follow the link and consider yourself SHAMED)

But there's one conversation I'm very deeply uninterested in having - and that's "does journalism have a future?"

That's a finished conversation, because the answer is very clearly "yes". The growing pool of profitable, online-fiesta and only business proves that. It just doesn't look like the business we had before.

The Journalism Conversation Concluded

The new forms of journalism emerging aren't just shovelware from print. They let go of the idea of the printed page and the press deadline, and experiment with new ways of storytelling, and new ways of creating package of material, that wouldn't have worked in print.

Startups like Vox and The Intercept don't look much like the papers that once sheltered their founders. Sustainable tablet editions aren't page-tuning PDF replicas of your print edition, they're titles like The Magazine, a sustainable iPad and web business, with a successful print Kickstarter behind it.

The only question left is "is there room for the existing businesses in this new future?" And that's a challenging question.

Adapt, Evolve or Die

To follow the paths of those start-ups, the existing businesses need to drive down their cost base ruthlessly, without cutting back on the content creators - which is what many of them are doing. They need to get over their obsession with big projects, and big buildings. They need to become - well, completely different businesses.

I don't see that happening. I'm not sure it's possible.

And so, we come to a hard conclusion: that the lessons learned from those agile startups can't be learned by the big publishing businesses - they'll have to forge their own path. And the clock is ticking - leave it too long, and those startups will take all the attention away from you. And where the attention goes, the money goes. You can't wait for someone to show you the way - that's why I was so hard on "best practice" a few days ago - you have to forge your own path.

Journalism does have a future. Paid journalism does have a future. Are you able to be part of it?

This is the eighth in a series of 31 substantive posts I'm going to try to write through March.

March 5, 2014

Now we are eleven...

Eleven in the sky

This blog is eleven years old today.

But really, who cares on a day when:

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...

(Can I just extend my sympathies to Kevin and John, both of whom are big Zite users, and both of whom are probably in mourning right now...)

Photo by Martin Snopek, and used under a Creative Commons licence

March 4, 2014

The Financial Times is a majority digital and mobile business

FT Weekend Sub advert

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. 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

Is curation the future of journalism? (Flipboard)

I've not tried out embedding a Flipboard magazine on here yet:

View my Flipboard Magazine.

And now I have. My life is richer, somehow.

March 3, 2014

31-3.3 Finding a journalistic niche to survive in

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

Information wants to be…

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

It was coined by Stewart Brand, who is an interesting man, and editor of the Whole Earth Catalogue

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

10 Flickring Years

Flickr is a decade old:

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

That shovelware tablet edition might be killing your mag

Country Walking on iPad

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

The decline and fall of InDesign?

Adobe Creative Cloud 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...


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