The notion of a tipping point is cliché, but something is going on. Only the other day I saw a banner on a used car showroom saying “Follow us on Twitter”. What was once the domain of the tech wonks is now mainstream. Social media will become the key growth component of traffic marketing and developing user engagement. Watch all those SEO agencies transform themselves into social media marketing experts!
Of course the problem with social media is that it’s not a business – not even for Twitter – so for media companies learning how to do social media, it is a culling issue. Fail to do it and you will die. Get into it, and you are still in the game. Social media is not a panacea for anything, but its use has become an essential part of the marketing mix. There will be a gradual change in approach though. The current fashion for collecting as many followers as possible (look at @piersmorgan trying to get 100,000 followers in as short a time as possible) will be slowly replaced by ultra-niche targeting – perhaps not for consumers tracking celebrities, but certainly for serious business users.
Nobody gets very excited about print advertising these days. There is a growing realisation amongst those I talk to, that it is not the Internet ad model which has disappointed, but that rather it has shown up how overpriced and over-rated print advertising always was. In the Internet world, if I spend £2000 on ad words I might expect to reach half a million contextually relevant users and know that my ad has appeared on a page those people were looking at. In print I could spend that on an ad in a magazine with 50 other ads all trying to get the attention of a few tens of thousands of readers. I know that many will argue that the print and online ad experience is not really comparable (where is the brand building in online/ the difference between a lean back and lean forward experience etc) but the pricing difference is too big to be explained away by such nebulus concepts) .
Of course the Internet doesn’t have to pay the costs to cut down trees and put ink on them, but advertisers don’t care. They just want ROI. In 2011 the notion of advertising will go back to its roots. It will be about the means by which a vendor can get their message in front of a relevant person at a relevant time in an engaging way. Just as television is about to allow product placement in the UK, marketers will use ever more ingenious ways of influencing engaged users through content.
We are only at the beginning of this story. Calling something a paywall is like calling every kind of shot in football a kick. There are as many ways to charge for content as there are ways to kick a ball. In 2011 the industry will move on from arguing about pay or free and start thinking about what the best way to engage and monetise an audience might be. The key metric will be ARPU. The answer to that question will certainly have a content debate at the heart of it. What kind of content can be charged for? Does pretty packaging (IPad) mean you can charge less or more? Why should content cost more than an app? Is an app content? What is the value price for my content, and is that sufficient to cover my costs? So in 2011 the debate (perhaps starting at our Paywalls Strategies conference on February 24th) will grow up.
Traditional Media Companies
Most have had a better year in 2010, not least because 2009 was so awful the comparisons are easy to beat. Most of the industry leaders we have met and interviewed in the last few months seem to have a good handle on where their businesses need to go, but not enough of them are moving fast enough and some are still fearful of taking any action which may destabilise the legacy business.
In 2011 we will see an acceleration in development spend and action from the traditional media companies. Yes, there will be more sell offs and closures, but the direction of travel will become clear. What is uncertain is whether they all move fast enough down the road before they are overtaken by new players.
The New New Thing
If we have learned anything about the Internet economy it is that it moves faster than most organisations ability to adapt. Our internal view at Briefing Media, is that the coming thing is curation. It is a topic that has been bubbling under for a year or two and has begun to be more mainstream in 2010, with a couple of conference events and some interesting online debate from many quarters on both sides of the Atlantic. The premise of curation (it is not aggregation), is that some kinds of content are more valuable and useful if they are organised and contextualised. The very essence of curation is that although technology plays a part, human editing is vital. That’s why we spend a lot of time improving our taxonomy, making it unique to our community needs.
Why does curation matter? In a world where the quantity of information only ever expands the need for specialist content sets, sophisticated disambiguation and taxonomy grows. The more specialist the topic, the more important some human expertise becomes. There seems little doubt that users will be drawn to well executed curation solutions to enhance the relevancy of their content consumption. Where users go media companies will surely follow. In 2011 we expect Briefing Media to launch in more verticals (that’s inside knowledge for you!) but we also expect other media companies to experiment with content curation tools and deployments too.
“We are all journalists now,” say the enthusers of the world of citizen journalism. That must mean there is an oversupply of content. And that means the price falls. Try writing for Demand Media and you will quickly learn the harsh economics of content oversupply. If for the first time in history, everyone can write something and publish it themselves, without pay, what is the future for the professional journalist? Now, let’s not get sentimental about the Sunday Times Insight team or Bernstein and Woodward, as if the demise of investigative journalism is the issue. Most journalists are working hacks, and I mean that as a complement. It’s not about world changing scoops (although we would all love one), its about covering your beat with vigour for the truth, balance and integrity. It is about building a suite of content that keeps readers coming back to you over and over again. The future for journalism has never been brighter. Journalists have more tools at their disposal than ever before, blogs, video, audio, social media. Research has never been easier to do badly (over reliance on Wikipaedia!) but by the same argument it has never been easier to do it well.
In 2011 the edges around the definition of what distinguishes a journalist from other content creators will become sharper. He or she will be a curator of their beat with all that entails.
Happy New Year to you all.
This time last year I made a number of predictions for 2010 so its time time to review those and make some new ones for 2011.
My first prediction last year was;
“Print advertising revenues will continue to decline but at a slower rate than last year. Some management teams will call this as signs of the green shoots of recovery. It won’t be. The downturn in print advertising will turn out to be L shaped.”
Well it seems the jury is out about this. If you look at the stories about print revenues there is a mixed bag of news. Some say that is recovery, some not. 2009 was so awful it is perhaps with hindsight not surprising that some media companies saw an improvement. Across the board though, with the recession behind them, publishers are reporting smaller declines in print revenue. But they haven’t seen the kind of rebound that would make up for steep declines in 2009. Watching short term trends is a mugs game, so we have to keep a long view – and in that I haven’t changed my broadly pessimistic mind.
My second prediction was
“The current craze for putting content behind a pay wall will deliver some returns but they will turn out ot be much smaller than the continuing decline in print advertising.”
This has been the year of the paywall experiment. The most extreme version has been The Times total lockdown. The results aren’t yet clear, but most of the analysis seems to conclude that the scale of uptake is not yet big enough to make a business. There is no shortage of experimentation as we have curated here and judging by the response we have had to our Paywalls Strategies Conference, no shortage of interest. For 2010 the prediction was right, but the paywall game is not over. There is a growing realisation that there are many models to try (an analysis of all them is in our Paywall Strategy Report – £895.00 or free when you register for the conference) and these models will mature in time.
My third prediction for 2010 was;
” More magazines are going to close. They don’t need to, but unless publishers take an entirely new approach to the problem there will be little chance of survival for even some of the biggest magazine brands.”
Sadly I was on the money here. There have been hundreds of closures both here and in the US, although there is some evidence that the rate of closure is slowing. What might otherwise have been closed has been sold with a most notably a plethora of sales from IPC Magazines during the year.
Prediction number 4 was
“The rush to exploitation of network marketing will continue and there will be an explosion in marketing services companies offering advice to b 2 b marketeers.”
Social media marketing has been the buzz of 2010. Twitter has come of age as a powerful tool for media owners. We are only on the low slopes of this revolution however. As media companies start to come to terms with how the tools are used we can expect a growing level of sophistication in social media strategies. There are two dangers for media companies however. The first is that the clients, the advertisers, have the same access to social mediaand are learning too, often without the intermediary help of media owners, and second, the pace of change means that it is quite possible that by the time the media industry has worked out how to use the current band of social media tools, the users will have moved on to the next generation.
Prediction number 5 was alomost entirely wrong. I said that
“Fear, panic and shareholder pressure will lead to wholesale changes in the senior management teams of some business media companies.” For the most part the leaders of national newspapers, regional newspapers and magazine businesses have stayed the same but there have been big changes in the middle management of most. The interviews we have conducted with leaders suggest that most leaders have now got a good analysis of the problem. The 2011 test will be how they lead their organisations to a growth solution.
My final prediction of last year?
“A new disruptive business media company with no legacy will make a noticeable impact on the market.”
Well, I confess that was a bit naughty. This time last year we were in the early planning stages for the launch of Briefing Media Ltd. It took us a little longer to get ready for launch than we thought, eventually releasing our first product on September 28th. We hope to have our second vertical service released by the end of the first quarter of 2011. It is early days yet, but what is already clear is that our solution is getting great traction with readers and commercial partners. Rory wrote a good summary of our first ten weeks. We have exciting plans for 2011 and we look forward to working with you all.
Later in the week I shall be posting my predictions for 2011. In the meantime, thanks to all our expert contributors, to all of you who retweeted The Media Briefing, to the thousands who have registered for newsletters or to access our personalisation tools, to the fine folk at Abacus e Media, Atypon, Forrester and others who are working with us on our first conference, the clever folk at Idio whose technical brilliance has constantly impressed us – thank you all and a Happy New Year.
John Battelle who founded Federated Media, wrote the definitive book on how Google evolved , founded The Industry Standard and was on the launch edit team of Wired is one of the key thought leaders in understanding how the the digital world is evolving. Without wishing to “blow smoke”, it is fair to say that when Battelle writes something, he has been thinking about it for while and has probably got an insight thats worth thinking about.
A recent piece on his own blog postulates that the future for information discovery is in curation. It won’t surprise you to learn that we at Briefing Media have some sympathy with that view. Battelle rehearses how the early web was organised by simple directory search engines. As the scale of the Web grew, these became decreasingly useful and were superceded by the Google Page rank approach (he notes that this was named after Page the Google co-founder and does not refer to a web page). With the advent of social media and the continued growth in the size of the web, the problem has now recurred. How can you find what you are really looking for? Interestingly he thinks that some of the answer lies in curation – the same thought that occurred to us when we were devising Briefing Media.
The web is so large that there is no one algorithm that can capture it all, and capture every nuance of every search. Take a simple example. A user who is interested in “Android” will want to discover different documents and different related topics depending on the true search intent. A telecoms exec may want to know about the technical aspects of the mobile operating system; a media owner may be more interested in the content applications that use Android, whilst a Sci Fi enthusiast is looking for something else entirely. The implications of this are profound. Not only is the content set for each of these three users discrete, but so is the taxonomy.
We can see this working amongst sophisticated social media users behaviuours. As Battelle points out, a Twitter feed can quickly get overrun with unfocussed Tweets and too many of them. The more people we follow the less useful the Twitter experience becomes. Smart Tweeters have disciplined accounts and self curate. I only follow people who Tweet about the media industry and I only Tweet about media industry issues. You wont find out what I had for breakfast by folllowing me on Twitter. Our own Patrick Smith who is something of an uber Tweeter has multiple accounts with different topics for each and different communities following him in each.
Whilst smart Twitter users are trying to self curate we think there is a role for the media company in facilitating this process. There is little prospect that technology can provide all the answers, but it sure helps. In the past few weeks we have indexed more than 40000 articles – a task tiny in comparison to Google’s but far too big to managed by humans – but whilst the technology is a necessary condition for successful curation, it is not sufficient. So, in deciding what sources to monitor and in collecting interesting documents about Android, requires some human knowledge. The sources we would use for this concept would differ between the media sector and say the Telecoms sector – even though we were essentially discovering information about the same topic.
We also have to build unique taxonomies for each area of vertical interest. At the heart of successful search and successful curation is the concept of disambiguation of terms. This is the essential challenge that discovery now faces. The technology never catches up with the growth in the scale and complexity of the problem – hence the need for some human input.
One of the great challenges facing on-line publishers is how to develop better engagement with users. Bounce rates are often 70% or higher and that is a powerful signal that general search is often failing users. One of our key success metrics is that we expect our approach to curation (discrete taxonomy and content set, indexed automatically and supervised and moderated by real people) should deliver a better result. So far our bounce rate has consistently been around 30% – much better than we hoped for.
We all know that organic search is struggling with the disambiguation problem. We also know that relevance and how to measure it is highly problematic. Just because a Tweeter has a lot of followers doesn’t mean that the Tweets are useful or relevant to a specialist enquiry. Page rank is useful, but does not test the quality of the content or the voracity of its provenance. Some of the best content we have found for The Media Briefing has been on specialist blogs – often with low page rank – but highly relevant to our target audience.
Popularity measures, page rank, likes, follower numbers, user reviews (Trip Advisor) all risk being gamed. Indeed a whole industry has grown up around helping organisations game the system. The beauty of the curation approach that uses technology and the the skills and insights of real people, is that it can’t be gamed and the only test of relevance is the bespoke taxonomy and content sets for each area of vertical interest – and the wisdom of the curators.
The PPA has launched a new intiative to explore the future of magazines. You can see their suite of video cameos of views from the great and good of the magazine industry here.
According to the PPA, they want to engage in a debate about this. Our audience stretches from the publishers to the agencies so lets see if we can help to get the debate started.
It is perhaps not surprising that those working in magazines want to argue that magazines are an important part of the media mix. As Alex Read of Conde Nast argues in his video cameo, the magazine has a place between the ephemeral enagagement that readers have with web sites and the deep engagement readers get from a book.
Peter Phippen says that the concept of a magazine is not restricted to a particular platform. The web, the tablet and the dead tree are all legitimate means through which to articulate the concept of a magazine.
My own view is that the notion of a magazine as a singularity – a printed singularity is unlikely to be a growth model. FIPP reported last week that there are 319 fewer magazines in the UK than there were a year ago. My guess is that this trend will continue. Between the business sector and the consumer sector there are still around 8000 or more titles in production today. That is too many to be sustainable.
“All publishers have to be brave. If you just defend what you are currently doing you will fail” says PC Pro Editor Nick Denton in his interview for the PPA.
Of course it is possible to make an intellectual argument that magazines are ” a lean back expereince”, that magazines can be a powerful call to purchase and effective for advertisers in branding. It is possible to argue that some magazine brands engender trust in readers in a way that web content can’t. In the US publishers have started to market magazines with just that message. It is not uncontroversial. One commentator calls this approach “Sneering at the Internet”
But all clever people can make an intellectual argument. Machiavelli said “might is right” whilst “the greatest good for the greatest number” was the Mill mantra. Both can’t be true, but each was argued by two of the greatest human minds. Sometimes being able to make an argument is not enough. The empirical truth is, that for most titles magazine circulations have been falling for a long time. The biggest media company in the world is Google, the fastest growth in media usage is social, the biggest growth in format consumption is mobile.
Clever people can argue there is a great future for printed magazines and other clever people can argue the opposite – but both can’t be true can they?
If we really want a debate about the future of magazines we might need to define our terms – or possible redefine from first principles. My dicitionary (on paper, on a bookshelf with a hard cover) says that a magazine is “a periodic paperback publication containing articles,fiction,photographs etc”. That doesn’t seem very useful in the 21st Century.
David Rowan, editor of Wired is on the right track when he says, ““I see Wired not so much as a magazine, but as a community of people who want smart information and design led thinking. It is about the brand.” I think he is right when he says it is about community, but whilst the brand helps, it is not, in my view, “about” the brand.
So if we are really are going to debate the future of magazines with the PPA lets ask some ourselves some preliminary questions so we can agree what we are talking about,
1) What is the definition of “magazine”? Do readers, advertisers and publishers agree it is the same thing?
2) Is the future of magazines about content or is it about community?
3) If there is a future for printed magazines; given the explosion of media choice, how must they change in the future?
4) The PPA in its piece about publishing in 2050 says,
” The future might be hard to predict but there’s a growing consensus that no matter how plugged in we are to technology we will still find time to switch off and curl up with a sheaf of exquisitely printed paper”
Is that true?
We would love to hear your answers to these questions What other questions should be posed about the future of magazines? So if you are a publisher, or an advertiser or just a media wonk with a view, log in and join the conversation here on Twitter or our LinkedIn group.