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 As the scale of the Web grew, these became decreasingly useful and were superceded by the Google Page rank approach (he notes that this was named after Page the Google co-founder and does not refer to a web page).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.
I didn’t sleep well last night. I had a nightmare. I think it was about the future of media and media organisations in the digital world. It was sparked by something I said at a recent conference. I have been turning up on Internet related conference panels since the mid nineties, and what is odd is that, although some of the vocabulary has changed, the theme is always the same. How do we, media companies, make money from the online opportunity. More than fifteen years since I was first asked that question, I am still being asked it today. It was as this thought was being processed in my brain that I had my nightmare.
I am the leader of primitive tribe. Every day we go hunting for dinosaurs (I know this makes no sense, but it was a dream!). We follow their spoor and when we find a dinosaur, we throw spears at it and then bring the carcass back to camp to feed ourselves and our families. One morning we go hunting and find no spoor. We look all over the forest for signs of the dinosaurs, but we can find none. We return to camp, puzzled and bewildered. After some discussion we make a new plan. Instead of spears we take bows and arrows on our hunt. The next morning we return from the forest empty handed still having found no sign of the dinosaurs. A more radical reinvention of our approach is required. Instead of all going out together, we travel and hunt in small groups. We add more equipment to our armoury: knifes, catapults, lit torches, batons. We teach ourselves all the new skills we need to use these new tools. Still no success and no sign of the dinsosaurs. Before long members of the tribe fall ill with hunger. Some die. We sacrifice some others in the hope this cleansing of our population will somehow help us in our hunting.
A few moments before I awake trembling I have a moment of realisation. We are wasting our time. We can’t find the dinosaurs, because they no longer exist in our territory. They have moved on to another country, a place we don’t know or understand. A place that is not on any of our maps. For tribes like us, there is no point in hunting for dinosaurs. They have gone to another place and they are not coming back.
In the light of the day, I thought about what the tribe should do. Keep on going out every morning with increasingly desperate strategies or should we break up our camp, move on, learn how to feed ourselves in new ways? Or is it possible that for tribes like ours, the only future is slow starvation.
The traditional media industry has been chasing the digital dollar for more than a decade. In STM there have been some notable successes, but in mainstream content publishing there has been rather less. Is it possible, that despite continuous strategic reinventions, there will never be any money for traditional content plays online? Unless you change almost everything about what you do it is likely you will face the same fate as my tribe in the dinosaur jungle.
Here are five things the media tribe can do to stand a chance to feed itself.
1) Make a planning assumption that even if you succeed in online monetisation the revenues will be smaller than there were on the offline world. Set your cost base planning accordingly. Do it now – in one big step. Sacrificing one member of the tribe at a time will destroy your morale and sap your management energy.
2) Put users at the centre of your planning, not your media brand. Your brand may be an aid to what you do, but it is not the reason that readers find you useful.
3) The old weapons you used to generate revenue are impotent. Throw them away. The old revenue models, like my dinosaurs are no longer available to you.
4) There has never been more media than there is today, all competing for finite users and money. Make sure you can describe succinctly, preferably in one sentence, what it is that makes your offering truly distinctive. Unless your name is Google, if your sentence talks about your brand, cross it out and do it again.
5) If deep down in your heart you think there is much truth in my nightmare and that is an analogy for a horrible truth – that for traditonal media companies, the money has gone for ever – change careers now – before it is too late.
I want to share with you some quotes. Bear with me, if I don’t tell you the provenance of all of them yet.
“As in other industries, the attraction of large scale operation has inevitably meant the demise of the small independent weekly newspaper, in the same way that it has meant the demise of the small corner shop which has given way to the supermarket. In the latter the customer loses the individual service and attention of the shopkeeper. In the former the opinions representing the least powerful social groups are progressively excluded by the process of ownership concentration.”
“Communications media should be accessible to all modes of expression and all social groups with something to communicate.”
“We have arrived at a shameful state of affairs where provincial newspapers often seem to hold no views at all”
“All too often a reporter relies on council handouts, press releases and council minutes which can only provide a very shallow insight into local politics.”
“Local newspapers have been forced to keep the numbers of expensive senior journalists as low as possible and to dilute their ranks with younger less experienced reporters.”
“The economic climate is an inevitable handicap in the pursuit of a varied and heterogeneous press.”
In short, the economics of local media puts pressure on costs. Competition drifts away. The media owners get lazy. The readers drift away, and then so do the advertisers.
All this was written in 1981. The evidence that local media was disenfranchising its readers existed long before the Internet. We can see it in this commentary written nearly thirty years ago. The local press was destroying itself thirty years ago. The Internet is not the cause of the problems local media faces, it is the solution. As the 1981 paper said,
“The most effective answer is to extend the breadth of local media and to allow new developments to grow naturally and apart from the ownership and control of the large media organisations.”
“The future of participation at a local level in media lies not in the entrenched system of regional radio, television and newspapers but rather in the fresh and new developments in media that have yet to fall into the traps that have ensnared traditional formats.”
“The combination of the printed word, television, telecommunications and computer technology give rise to both opportunity and fundamental philosophical questions about the nature of media and its engagement with its audience”.
Where can you find this paper? In a filing cabinet in my garage. It is some 40 pages of analysis of the demise of local media called, “Some Consequences of Trends in Ownership and Control in the Local Media”. I found it yesterday covered in dust. The Author? Me. As a young man I may have needed to get out more.
Roy Greenslade stoked some debate last week about the relationship between journalists and advertising sales. In todays media world there is often a cry for journalists to become more entrepreneurial. Journalists worry that this pressure will compromise their editorial integrity. If they sully their hands with the grubby business of generating money then they might find that they can no longer be critical of those with whom they also have a commercial relationship. Well quite. But this objection is to miss the point about the “church and state” debate.
Back in the eighties, when I was at Reed, we took down the office walls that separated the ad sales teams from the journalists. Nobody was very keen at first, but quickly the benefits became obvious. The two teams began to communicate and share ideas. They even began to respect one another’s different contribution to the business. Some ten years ago when we launched The Industry Standard we had the same debate. The Americans on the team were set on having a wall between the commercial team and the journalists. We compromised on a large pot plant. Soon even the sceptics began to recognise the benefits of everybody working together.
Keeping the church away from the state is no guarantee of ethical journalism. Editors of magazines and newspapers are hired and fired on their ability to drive readership and circulation. Online journalists must at least in part be measured by their ability to attract traffic and develop engagement with online readers. The journalism in national newspapers is almost entirely coloured by this commercial drive. Does every journalist at the Daily Mail, or the Telegraph share the right of centre politics of their employing papers? Or do they adapt their approach to the market their papers serve? And what about journalists who take their skills to the world of PR? Did Kelvin Mackenzie really believe that Freddie Starr ate a hamster, or was he trying to sell newspapers?
We can reasonably conclude that journalists have always at least nodded an acquiescence to the commercial realities of the profession. So what has changed in the digital post recession world? There is now a much greater awareness that for journalism to survive, it has to be funded – and that funding is harder and harder to come by – so the pressure to adapt what is written to the commercial realities is greater than ever. Of course that should be resisted. It is as wrong today as it was twenty years ago to trade advertising for favourable copy without making it clear to readers that this has happened; but it is not wrong for journalists to be integrally involved in the commercial stratagem. There may even be occasions when the best person to evangelise an idea to a commercial partner is someone with an editorial bent. And why not? Good journalists ask good questions, communicate well, can make a compelling argument – so lets use those skills. Will exposure to the revenue generating relationships of a media business fundamentally undermine the independence of a journalist? Not a good one. And it is the very good ones who are learning how to embrace the entrepreneurialism of the digital age.
This is a fascinating presentation from Mary Meeker packed full of statistics about the development of the Internet economy. The most striking conclusion she arrives at is that within five years more people will access the Internet via mobile devices than by a pc. If true this has fundamental implications for the development of strategies for engagement and distribution. Any media business that is still exclusively focussed on migration from print to digital needs to move the thinking on to mobile migration pretty quickly.
Related articles by Zemanta
A friend of mine was moving house and found an old copy of Media Week in his attic. He gave it to me because it contained an interview with a rather youthful me. I laughed, as you do when faced with an image of yourself from more than twenty years ago, and then I began to read, not the interview with me (which is toe curling) but everything else. The year was 1988.
On page three IPC were being roasted for a decline in their paid circulations. There was no Internet in 1988 – not even email. Back then we were fighting with the unions to introduce something called “New Technology” – which meant a computer on the desk. The unions were demanding more pay in return for co-operating with this initiative. We had no idea just how fundamental the technology was to become to the future of publishing.
In the period Jan to June 1988 the dreadful circulation results of which Media Week complained, were astonishing. I had forgotten how far we had fallen. Back then Woman had a circulation of 985903. Today the same title sells 318301. Womans Weekly has a circulation today of 338577. Back in 1988? You won’t believe it. 1240009!
Essentials? 815565 in 1988 but just 115432 today. Pratical Parenting – surely not a topic that has gone out of fashion, was selling 130000 in 1988. Today, no longer owned by IPC but by Magicalia, it sells just 23127.
It is not just the consumer titles where readers have fallen out of love with the magazine. The same issue of Media Week reported that The Grocer had a paid circulation of 54503. Today it sells 30124. Caterer & Hotelkeeper, which I published for many years, had a sale of 45632 a week in 1988. Today it sells just 11234.
So why am I telling you this? Well nostalgia is always fun but I guess I wanted to share the shock of reading something from more than 20 years ago. We talk about the changes happening to our industry in measured terms, but we often forget just how far we have come. The revenue impact of the fall in paid circulation revenue is huge. Caterer will have lost at least £2m in circulation revenue a year. Woman’s Weekly perhaps £15-20m. Add to that the impact on display advertising. Wow. I don’t have a wonderful insight to share with you about this – just wow!
Related articles by Zemanta
- Sale of three more IPC magazines (guardian.co.uk)
- Mystery as IPC negotiates to sell magazines to offshore owner (guardian.co.uk)
It has been a very busy few weeks, getting ready for the launch of our first Briefing Media product. Thanks to everyone who has been in touch and to the army of folk who have been helping with the technical build and those who have agreed to write expert commentary about the industry. What industry?
We plan to launch a series of Briefing Media sites in several vertical markets over the next few months, but our first is focussed on our own industry, the media business. Our approach is to combine the old and the new to present a compelling lens on the business of media. Original content contributed by experts combined with a search tool that enables users to explore topics of importance to them. Our semantic search technology looks for relationships between topics and organises stories into intuitive categories and channels.
In addition we have begun to commission a series of detailed, practical and expert reports about the key issues facing decision makers in media today. Or first report is almost complete and is available to order at a prepublication discount as soon as the site goes live.
We are also planning some new media events and commissioning a series of training programmes. Much of this is to come in the next few weeks. In the meantime take a look at the site, give us your feedback, sign up for one or more of our free weekly newsletters. If you spot something missing, or have an expert thought you want to share, or have thought of ways you would like to work with us, then do get in touch.
The Media Briefing updates 24 hours a day 7 days a week so we hope to see you often. If you want to be one of the first to see the live site visit now and register your interest. We will let you know just as soon as we are ready to go live.
Related articles by Zemanta
- Neil Thackray’s Business Media Blog: A Future for Business Media (neilthackray.wordpress.com)
There has never been a more exciting time to be involved in business to business media. Over the last couple of years this blog has tried to capture some of the issues and challenges that we face. But writing and commentating is easy. Now its time to put the money where the mouth is!
In the next few weeks we will be launching a new business media company trading as Briefing Media Ltd. We think it offers an exciting and new approach to serving business to business markets.
The co founders of Briefing Media are me and Rory Brown. Between us we have extensive of managing business to business media companies and we have co-operated over the last few months to build a new approach and a new kind of business media company.
The essence of business media is simple. Decision makers want information to help them make better business decisions and suppliers want effective ways to market to them.
Briefing Media takes that simple goal and uses the latest technology and good old fashioned market knowledge to create a suite of comprehensive information solutions for business to business markets.
This is the 21st century, so our principle means of distribution is by the Internet. The specialist information we present is a cultivated blend of aggregated, curated and original content. We are using an innovative semantic search algorithm to organise and navigate the content with each vertical site being supervised by an expert analyst who constantly updates and improves the taxonomy and the content.
How does it work? We start by identifying the best specialist sources of information, whether they be written by journalists, experts, bloggers or even industry suppliers. Our technology reads all the sources and looks for interesting relationships between concepts to determine what documents or information to point a reader to. That decision uses a semantic search tool that blends three different algorithms to establish the probability of an article or document being relevant. This semantic triangulation means that the results of a search will lead the user not to that which is most popular -but rather to that which is most relevant.
We believe that although original content commissioned by Briefing Media will be very valuable, there is much else published by others which is useful too. We are happy to point our users to third party content sources as well as our own.
We think a successful business media company is not only about reading words. In each vertical we operate in we will add services including, training, conferencing , networking, consultancy and research. We will publish our own white papers, act as a shop window for white papers and research published by third parties, help decision makers identify and be informed about the key topics in their industry.
You probably want to have a look at our first site – but you will have to be patient for a month or so. We expect to release our first vertical towards the end of September and have already identified six more to develop over the coming months. If you want to know more or think you might like to work with us do get in touch
A discussion on the linked in group Specialist Media Network argues that the future of business media is not content but audience. Hard not to agree. In the old model, where we earned our corn from the publishing of magazines, we used content created by professional journalism to attract an audience which we could then monetise with advertising. Although we were very interested in journalism it was not the purpose of what we did, it was simply the means we used to generate revenue.
The debate about the future is often muddled. Journalism does matter but it turns out that in the new business media world it doesn’t matter as much as it used to. Journalists in national papers, regional papers and the trade press reasonably complain that as costs are squeezed the quality of journalism falls and this weakens the papers on which they work. They cannot understand how their bosses can’t see the connection between the two.
The truth is that everyone recognises that papers and magazines are fundamentally altered by the squeeze on content costs. Most would agree that printed products are not as good as they used to be. The problem for journalists is that the media owners no longer think the impact matters all that much. It might matter in a philosophical concern about the state ofthe fourth estate, but it is not very relevant to the business we are in.
There are many ways to skin a cat, and in the digital world there are many ways to build an audience and to engage with them. Journalism is not only,no longer the only way to do it, it is in danger of becoming not even a very important way to do it.
However content can be a useful way to attract an audience. Just look at the traffic success of the free to air newspaper websites. But on its own, as evidenced by the low level of page views per visit on most sites, it won’t create real user engagement that can be monetised on a scale sufficient to fund the costs of content production.
The commercial solution is becoming clear. Business media companies are beginning to understand that providing network tools, research, training, work flow tools, data, events, lead generation and more will create a sustainable model.
The answer to the philosophical question about the future of journalism is much less clear. Journalists are going to have to work out how their skills can make a meaningful contribution to the development of audience engagement. To begin there needs to be an acknoeledgement that it is not only professional journalists who can create great content. For many journalists such a concept is anathema. Citizen journalists, bloggers, expert witnesses all have a role to play. Some a re good, many are not. The professional journalist has a role to play in sifting, organising, validating, editing, assessing, commenting, following up, verifying, linking, challenging all this content.
When a journalist writes for the web, what is his or her job? In print it was simply to persuade readers to read what was written. On the web every journalists mission must be to persuade their audience to read something else. A journalists job is not finished when the last full stop is placed at the end of the final sentence in the final paragraph; it has only just begun. By taking this approach it is possible that the owners of media companies will realise that if content is no longer king, it certainly deserves a place at court.
Related articles by Zemanta
- Rethinking the Role of the Journalist in the Participatory Age (pbs.org)
- Journalists say offline media will shrink in future (newstatesman.com)
- Digital journalism: More work, more pressure but more opportunity (guardian.co.uk)
- Michael Wolff: So the Publishing Business Didn’t Die, After All (huffingtonpost.com)