Results tagged “publishing”

Ben Huh

When Ben Huh founded his company - he bought a bunch of cat photos. Yes, he acquired I Can Has Cheezburger? He created the company, bought the website and closed funding in just 45 days. Since then they've launched and experimented endlessly. Their mission statement is to make people laugh for a few moments.

But how do you win the content game in the long term?

The medium is the message

-Marshall McLuhan

For Huh, the format is the message. The format is the kind of content that exists within your device. It's these formats - pioneered and owned by other companies often - that make things interesting. The reason your phone looks the way it does, is because a bunch of people got together in the 90s to create the widescreen TV format. Formats can have unexpected effects.

In the past, each vertical had its formats: print had books, magazine and newspapers. Those safe silos are gone. Now we have vertical competition - your Kindle isn't just about reading - it will read to you. That's audio.

Connections through content

Social media has made it easier for us to send content across the internet. The only way to connect with others online is with content - we are what we expose to others. The creation of beautiful and funny content has been driving media for the last five years.

We spend 112 hours awake a week. We spend 80 hours a week consuming media. How much of your visual space is filled with pixels? There are more and more screens in our lives. The longer we live the more pixels we will encounter.

Every time the content market fragments, as it does when new devices emerge, there's a new chance for a new company - or a new format - to grab market share. That's why media is so exciting right now.

Ben Huh too

Old formats do not go away - had a till receipt recently? That's a scroll. Old formats just end up in niches. New formats are born all the time. The people who created media for old formats are woefully bad at creating it for a new format. Yet, we need more than just gaming skills to make VR work - we need the storytelling skills of old media. How do we bring these together?

We are now entering a world where physical objects can be treated as media, thanks to 3D printing. Cats have evolved from bad ass ferocious animals, to cute, friendly meme vectors. It's not what you might expect from evolution…

The old stories are over

Old stories had beginnings, middles and ends. Online, we go straight to the punchline. How do we learn to tell these new stories. Creativity is not a blank canvas. Constraints and formats that force you to work within a box drives creativity, because you know the limits. Three window jokes aren't an internet format - they're the triptych of religious art. We derive new formats from old.

Cheeseburger wants to own short form humour. They want formats that are simple, that don't make you work too hard, because we are all what we share.

Vox Media's worth? $380m

Vox Media has just secured another funding round:

Vox Media, the company behind high-profile sites including The Verge, SB Nation and Vox, has raised $46.5 million in a round led by General Atlantic. The funding gives Vox a post-money valuation of about $380 million, according to people familiar with the transaction.

Vox publishes good, interesting sites, rethought for the digital age. They're one of the most interesting journalistic publishers out there right now.

Medium Logo

An e-mail arrives from Medium, outlining the changes to their Collections (collections of articles posted on Medium):

Collections will have now have three types of participants: Owner, editor, and writer.

  • The owner is the person who created the collection and has full editing power, the same as it is right now. The owner can also put any self-published story into their collection.
  • The editor role is also the same as it is right now. Editors can review submissions and accept or reject them from collections, as well as add their own stories to the collection.
  • This is where it gets different: Collections will have “writers.” Collection owners and editors can invite users to write for their collections, as part of their “staff.”

Medium just became a platform for building an online magazine. It makes perfect sense - it's "article rather than author"-centric model is more akin to traditional publishing models than the blogging model. It'll be interesting to see what people do with it.

But good luck making any money off it.

Comixology's new store-front free app

It's interesting to note that one type of publication was hugely assisted by the arrival of the iPad: comics.

Very few people bought comic books digitally before the iPad (probably more stole them). Remember how the iPad was going to save publications? This is probably the one place it’s actually made a measurable difference. As Gerry Conway and Mike Essl say, making it easy to buy comic books has worked out for comic book companies, consumers and Apple.

This is suddenly a topic of discussion because the thing that made comics on the iPad so compelling - the instant, impulse-buying of cheap and fast to download packets of entertainment via the App Store - has just been undermined by Amazon:

Leaving the quality of the technology aside (pro or con), the fact is that at least 80% (probably more depending on your source) of all mobile digital purchases occur on the iPad or iPhone platform. In other words, if you’re a publisher you want your books easily accessible on the Apple platform because that’s where the money is, that’s where your readers are. Comixology just made that more difficult. And there will be consequences.

And what did Amazon do? Get their latest acquisition, the market-leading Comixology, to drop in-app purchases, in favour of making users go to the web store, and then download their purchases into the viewer app (the same process you have to use for the Kindle app on iPad).

When there's a howl of protest from both publishers and from users, you know that a middle-man with a dominant position is a bad, bad thing for both sides.

As long-term comic writer Gerry Conway puts it:

There is no upside to this development, people. There are no positives. (Yes, yes, I know, now Apple can’t prevent Sex Criminals from appearing in the Comixology in-app storefront…because there is no in-app storefront; this is progress?) I’m outraged and deeply concerned for the future of digital comics. You should be too.

Craig Mod, interviewed at Nieman Journalism Lab:

But the iterative component of the writing process, and also the flow of using the smartphone, that was really just coming from “how do we treat this, and what part of writing feels indigenous to a smartphone?” Obviously, the longform part doesn’t feel super-indigenous to a smartphone. But looking at the capabilities of a smartphone, you’re out — especially as a traveller — exploring a new city, and you notice things. I use little notepads. I use Simplenote to take a lot of notes.

This is the other extreme from the magazine shovelware I was talking about last week. One is trying to cram yesterday's publishing into today's tech, the other is trying to create tomorrow's publishing from today's tech.

I know which I find more interesting.

The Magazine in book form

One of the few Kickstarters I've backed was the one for a hardback book of the best of The Magazine's first year. Something about a digital-only magazine spawning a hardback just appealed to me.

As you can see from the photo above, the book is with me. And it's quite lovely. But it's also on my iPad, as one of my backer rewards, and that's where the trouble started for editor and publisher Glenn Fleishman. Laying out a book: easy. Turning that layout into a PDF: easy. Going from there to the native eBook formats - mobi and ePub - was hard.

Fleishmann has chronicled the ebook creation process on The Economist's Babbage blog:

And that is where the trouble began. Accustomed to creating InDesign layouts for which the ultimate destination is either print or PDF, Babbage and his designers (under his direction; the e-buck stops with him) made myriad tiny choices that refined the presentation, but which made EPUB conversion tedious. Choices as simple as the width of a text container for a headline, repeated 28 times throughout the book, once per story, affected the flow of text that InDesign created. The opening spreads with overlays of photographs, illustrations and type work in a PDF, but had to be deconstructed and rendered into flat image files for EPUB.

What's interesting is that designers aren't yet geared up for producing ebooks - possibly because the "flow" format of them runs counter to the fixed design of the print age - and that the tools aren't there. The experts he eventually goes to are using Apple's Pages '09 for their work.

Given the burgeoning eBook market, the lack of both tools and specialists remains puzzling. But, as Fleishman concludes:

The production of a book has changed drastically in all the particulars of how words and images move from the mind through intermediaries onto a page. But in the larger scheme, a printed book remains an object of the 1500s, with all the advantages of a process perfected across the centuries. E-books will get there. Just not today.

Pages from The Magazine: The Book

Stunning photography in The Magazine: The Book

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.

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

newsstand-7.jpg

This piece tallies with what I'm hearing about magazine apps on tablets right now:

Publishers must break free of the Newsstand and InDesign/PDF trap and invest in their publications as stand-alone, real, honest-to-God apps - or find their titles even more neglected within a vestigial folder that will be inevitably reside inside yet another folder.

It's becoming increasingly apparent that treating magazine (or newspaper apps) as something "special" just isn't the right approach. You're in a competition for attention with everything else on that iPad (and we're still largely talking iPad in terms of consumption right now), and that includes the web, e-mail and Angry Birds. Once you choose to enter this environment, you have to compete with everything else in that environment, and not just myopically peer at what your former competitors in the print space are doing.

The real break-out hits on tablets will be those publishers that realise this - and a quasi-PDF versions of their print title will not be the solution.

Here's a guideline: is your experience at least as good as Flipboard? No? You lose.

18 novels in my Pocket

It's that time of the year when some of the social services you use start sending you stats. The one I got from Pocket - a "save and read it later" service - was actually quite eye-opening...

Pocket consumption stats852,713 words! That's a fair few books right there - and that's not counting the material I consumed staright away in my feed reader and never got as far as Pocket-ing. And, indeed, all the unread items that are still in my Pocket...

You can see the stats in full, if you wish, but there's not a lot more.

One of the reasons I've switched to Pocket from Instapaper is this stats element. They have a good stats service for publishers, for example, that gives you a sense of how often people are consuming your articles in their service. Here's how it's looking for me right now:

Pocket Publisher StatsAs people's reading tools diversify, I suspect being able to move easily through a range of analytics tools to get a complete picture of how and where your content is being consumed will become a core skill for publishers and editors. 

Interesting analysis of how Kindle Singles, and other short ebooks might be the future:

The greatest aspect of Kindle Singles is, of course, their short length. The first one I read was a Single about media and I remember thinking how a typical business book editor would have asked the author to turn this 30-page gem into a bloated 300-page mess. It happens all the time and it's a function of both physical shelf presence and perceived value. In the ebook world there's suddenly no physical bookshelf an individual title has to have a spine presence on. Now we just need to stop equating "shorter" with "cheaper"...more on that in a moment.

And, indeed there is. I'd actually be prepared to pay as much for a short book as a long one, as long as the density of information was right. Attention is at a premium, and books that respect that are valuable to me.

The way Future is launching its consumer magazines these days is pretty smart. They don't just launch a magazine, then try to develop a community around it - they launch the social media presence first:

"It creates a buzz and you also get people who want to contribute to you magazine. Once they realise that it's a brand, writers and photographers and bloggers will make contact. It's not only a consumer community but it's also people who will contribute to the product and advertisers as the Facebook page allows us to create a dialogue with potential commercial partners."

It's a clever, agile and iterative approach to both building a product, and having an audience ready at launch.

Interesting thing that happened while I was away: Facebook posts became embeddable by all.

For example:

That's one heck of a potential resource for reporters pulling together witness accounts and the like. I'm amazed it took them this long to do it.

Today's guessing game: who wrote this?

Despite the struggles of the traditional media, there remains an insatiable desire for great reporting, entertaining content, and powerful storytelling. Facebook, Twitter, and the other Silicon Valley-based social sites are amazing distribution platforms, but user generated content alone isn’t enough to fill the hole left by the ongoing decline of print newspapers and magazines. The world needs sustainable, profitable, vibrant content companies staffed by dedicated professionals; especially content for people that grew up on the web, whose entertainment and news interests are largely neglected by television and newspapers.

Publications on the shelf Why is the transition to digital going so badly for most journalism companies? There's plenty of knowledge out there about how to do good digital journalism, and growing bodies of evidence about how you can derive revenue from it. Yet, most companies are still struggling - or even exiting traditional journalism entirely as many of the B2B publishers seem to be doing.

The answer, of course, is that change is hard. Really hard.

Politics for Misery and Loss

As Kevin Charman-Anderson put it in a recent post:

The politics are fierce. Even when it is in an organisation’s best interest, even when it is an organisation’s stated interest to embrace digital, winning the political and cultural battles is hard, thankless work. I know people who stayed and fought these battles inside organisations, and I have deep respect for them and learn from them whenever possible. When I return to working for an organisation, hopefully soon, I will take lessons that I’ve learned from these friends.

The fundamental problem here is that people continually agitating for necessary change become irritants and eventually enemies of those who like things just as they are. And publishing seems to have attracted a lot of people who like that. Even if they're not just small "c" conservative in nature, they're unwilling to let digital champions ride the new wave to become promotion threats. If you become enough of an irritant, it becomes ever easier to edge you out in the latest round of redundancies. And that has happened again and again and again. The number of the people who were doing the key digital change training, implementation and thinking in the mid-2000s within traditional publishers who have been pushed out at some point over the last decade is staggering. I remember remarking to a friend a few months back that there was only one real survivor, and heard that they'd gone within a few weeks of that conversation.

Change is hard - and brutally hard on the people implementing it.

Losers in the change battle

This goes a long way to explaining Peter Kirwan's observation that it's the core implementers who are being made redundant - often repeatedly.

Arguably, the people you want to keep in a situation like this are the ones who really know – or stand a chance of understanding -- how to manage digital transition. People like this are mostly found below board level: they’re the managers who form a human connection between strategy and tactics. Managers like this know their markets. They should have a feeling for what readers and advertisers might pay for.

However, middle managers of this kind arguably find themselves living a life that’s more precarious than ever.

He's primarily talking about people at publisher level, which originally led me to view the article with some cynicism - I've met a very few publishers who really get the digital transition (but those I have met tend to be very good indeed). I suspect some of the people Kirwan is talking about have somewhat inflated ideas of their own digital savvy, leading to the rapid exit from the business as this is discovered. Indeed, I've seen this happen first hand.

The Natural Political Situation

There's plenty of politics at work here, though, giving Kirwan's piece more strength than I first credited it with. I've seen senior people work change through more disposable proxies, rather than put their own jobs on the line. I've seen more honest versions of the same, where senior people bring in consultants to say the things that they politically can't (and, indeed, I have profited from this…). I've seen people who fought change every step of the way step in and take over a project once it's proved successful, pushing the people who championed it out - and then go on to claim public credit for being a visionary. I've seen people talking at conferences making it appear that they were in charge of a project that I know for sure someone else led.

This is natural. People are fighting for survival in a shrinking business, and are looking for ways of preserving their livelihood and feeding their families. It's not nice, useful or healthy - but it's natural.

But it needs to stop, or this industry will be left entirely in the hands of insurgent pure-play digital businesses. The only organisations that will make this transition successfully will be those run by strong, insightful leadership that has the courage to give the change agents down in middle-management the freedom they need to get the job done, the awareness to be close to people that far down the hierarchy, and the skill to stop the fierce politics sidelining the genuinely skilled in favour of the politically ruthless.

Anyone know any companies like that?

Bobbie Johnson on the future of journalism's shiny new obsession Snowfall (and its ilk):

Yet almost every example of snowfalling that I’ve seen in action puts reading second to the razzle-dazzle. Can you even remember what happens in Snowfall? Do you remember who wrote it? What did the multimedia help you do? Snowfall was a good story, but it felt as if getting you to read it was the story’s secondary ambition.

Snowfall was an interesting experiment. But the journalism world's obsession with shiny new tech and finding a single saviour for our profession is leading people to lose sight of context and relevance.

Mobile Media Strategies logoTalking of mobile (as I just was…), I'm looking forward to this year's Mobile Media Strategies event in September (client work allowing). I had a teeny, tiny input into the meat of the content, through the organiser picking my brains some months back, and I really like what I see in the finalised agenda.

I last attended a couple of years ago, and found it a real mix of useful insight and ho-hum statements, including one that must be rather embarrassing to the person who made it. As I put it at the time:

I will confess to a degree of skepticism about Dominic Jacquesson's predictions about the shape of the mobile market in two years. It's possible Windows Phone 7 will displace iOS as the second platform behind Android - but I'm far from convinced that it's as likely as he painted it.

Two years on, I think we can safely say that was seriously off-base.

Still, a lot has changed in those two years, and there's a lot more practical experience to put up on a stage and debate where we're going next. This is no longer an academic exercise. Content consumption is shifting from the desktop and print to mobile devices at an astonishing rate - probably the fastest transition we've seen yet. Too many companies are still dragging their heels on this - possibly because they've been burnt by so many false dawns of mobile in the past. The less said about WAP, the better.

Having seen some cuts of analytics data from several clients in recent weeks, it looks like you have about six months - at best - to get your act sorted on mobile, or risk irrelevance.

Kevin Anderson refutes the "content quantity is king" blog post I wrote about earlier:

However, it’s important to remember that volume of content is not the same as commercial success. The figures are a couple of years out-of-date (2010 data), but Ken Doctor looked at the average revenue per user (ARPU) of the New York Times and the Huffington Post. In it, he found that each of the 48m global unique users at the New York Times was worth $3.54 versus 96 cents for each of the Huffington Post’s 31 m users. It would be very interesting to see the ARPU for the New York Times with its paid content strategy now firmly in place.

A Digiday post on volume of content per full-time staff member has been doing the rounds today:

Digiday looked at several publications — from stalwarts like the New York Times and Forbes to upstarts like Buzzfeed and The Awl — to see how much content they pump out on a daily basis compared to the size of their full-time editorial staffs. Here are the numbers:

New York Times: 1,100 newsroom: 350 pieces of content per day (per September 2010): 17.4 million pageviews per day.

Huffington Post: 532 full-time editorial staff: 1,200 pieces of editorial content per day. 28 full-time blog editors: 400 blog posts per day: 43.4 million pageviews per day.

Buzzfeed: 100 full-time editorial staff: 373 pieces of editorial content per day: 6.4 million pageviews per day.

It's an interesting piece of analysis undermined by a poor first paragraph that is just wrong:

Winning in digital media now boils down to a simple equation: figure out a way to produce the most content at as low a cost as possible.

And then reinforced by a later sentence:

The quality vs. quantity debate will never subside in certain media theory circles. But it’s clear quantity does matter; otherwise, brands wouldn’t waste their time spending precious dollars across the beefed-up traffic sites as well as the higher-brow sites, like the New York Times or Slate.

These statements are made without much supporting fact. Certainly there's no benefit to the sites that derive the majority of their income from paywalls or membership to just producing ever-greater volumes of content. It mainly works where there's a clear link between traffic volumes and revenues - and that's principally page impression-based generalist ad models. That's a brutal and competitive space, and one characterised by thin and thinning margins. I wish you the very best of luck if you want to compete there. You'll need it.

People love genre ebooks

Fantasy ebook in iBooks Talking of eBooks, it appears that some categories of books are booming in digital formats:

“Certain categories [of eBooks] have a much larger digital adoption than others,” Dobson said. “The genres were among the first where readers took to the digital format and the ratio of readers of digital, as opposed to physical, are much, much higher.” In the case of some genre titles, as much as 60 to 70 percent of the sales are digital. “I think there is an enormous audience in digital right now,” Dobson said. “It’s actually where the action is.”

Sci-fi, fantasy, romance - historical romance specifically - and mystery novels all seem to be big winners. Theories abound as to why, from the predictable "readers hide the sachem of reading genre" to the more interesting suggests that they make it easier to keep buying the next book in the series. Still, another piece of evidence that the transition to digital changes content priorities, as well as formats…