Friday, December 19, 2008
BoSacks Speaks Out: A Time for Reflection and Hope
As 2008 draws to a close and, to most publishers, the world's future seems somewhat dark or at the very least uncertain, we are all looking for shafts of hope and light in the current financial storm. That hope and that brightness are still here if we look in the right places. I actually think there is room for more optimism then may at first seem apparent to many other prognosticators.
Our industry may be a bit battered, but it is not defeated. It cannot be vanquished, because the distribution of information is the cornerstone of a free and democratic society. Writers will write and publishers will distribute that writing to a willing public. Our future is just as vibrant as it always was and I expect, as necessary changes occur, it will manifest itself in positive ways we can't yet imagine.
So, as we drift into 2009, it is a perfect and natural time for us to take a moment or two for reflection and review and for a reassessment. It is a perfect time for evaluating the current and future possibilities of our professional and our personal lives.
I first suggest that we look back with pride on what we and our fellow publishers have accomplished in the past before we look forward into an unknown future. We as a group and as a business are indispensable. As information providers we are the glue that holds society together. We provide the mortar known as knowledge and we make it available to all.
Technology has given us expanded markets of information distribution unheard of a decade ago. Though the outreach and growth is exponential, our profits haven't been able to keep up with the new technologies. We clearly need new business models. Fear not, we will invent them.
There are currently four billion mobile phone users and around one billion personal computer users around the world. That means that there are at least four billion potential readers for publishers to learn how to tap into and profit from. This technologic growth and apparently inexhaustible need to read is proof of our value and of our continued existence. The publishing nation has grown and will continue to grow, but most likely in directions that are unexpected. Our former sphere of influence is changing, and our business models must grow with the times and the ages before us. We will go through a complex series of transformations before we are who we are going to become - new age information distributors. This is not a might be, but rather a will be state of affairs.
I feel it very safe to say that as we go into the 6th year of on-going war, with continued industry-wide lay-offs still on the rise, and the general uncertainties of an industry and a country in transition, we have all had a moderate amount of reassessment forced upon. It is probable that many of us are challenging our own personal paths and calculations of who we are, where we are going and when we will get there. Let me suggest that I believe our industry can and will not only survive but thrive and prosper as never before.
A look at history proves that wars come and then they go; that economic down turns have happened before and will happen again. They appear when least expected and retreat with the same regularity. We know that the winter is cold only to be followed by the joy and beauty of a warm summer's day. But the most enduring cycle throughout history is the love of family and friends.
I send warm greetings to all with a big hug and the hope that you are surrounded by the love of your family and friends.
I found the following message from Fra Giovanni almost 12 years ago. It was first sent from one friend to another in 1513 A.D. It has become part of my traditional year-end expression of hope and reflection. In it I find a certain central peace and great depth. Every time I read it, I come away with a little more understanding.
Like the author, I hope that your paths are clear of shadows and that you have the time and sensibilities to take a few moments to really stop and look around you. Most of us work too hard and forget the reasons for our energetic professional pursuits. I learned years ago that I was "working to live, not living to work". I think sometimes we have a habit of forgetting that. Work is a means to keep a safe roof over our heads, food on the table, and to help facilitate the comfort and joy of our family and friends.
In the end, the truth is it is our ability to love and share that love that has any real or long-lasting meaning.
I SALUTE YOU!
There is nothing I can give you which you have not;
but there is much that, while I cannot give, you can take.
No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today.
No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present instant.
The gloom of the world is but a shadow; behind it, yet within our reach, is joy.
And so, at this holiday time, I greet you, with the prayer that for you, now and forever,
the day breaks and the shadows flee away.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
The following two articles are about Twitter. I have been experimenting with Twitter for a few weeks now and I am here to tell you that Twitter is a piece of our media future.
I can't tell you the what or the how of it quite yet, but I can firmly suggest it is part of a newly developing communications platform. Dell Computers claims to have made at least a million dollars using twitter. Imagine that? How much have you made off of Twitter? Communications and creativity is a very powerful mechanism as Dell has creatively just proven.
The only suggestion I am making to you is to look at it, so when your boss, or your boss's boss starts asking questions, you understand what the heck he is talking about.
For what it is worth you can find me in Twitter at: http://twitter.com/BoSacks
What Keeps Twitter Chirping Along
By David Miller
It's practically impossible to find a story that doesn't darkly point out that the microblogging service Twitter has no revenue model, yet despite that concern, all the complaints about unreliable service, the rants about the exceptionally high noise-to-signal ratio, the outright attacks that accuse the company of "top-to-bottom incompetence," Twitter keeps on tweeting and seems likely to continue doing so into the foreseeable future.
The question in Twitter's case is whether that's likely to happen due to a buyout, another round of funding or its owners finally finding a way to monetize a service, like it said it would do, that an increasing numbers of users (including InternetNews.com) are finding useful for more than just posting 140 character tweets (short blurbs) about what they happen to be doing at any given moment.
"We're using Twitter to get info out to the public and the media," said Claire Sale, an interactive media specialist with the Red Cross. "Twitter offers a single stream of information, and it's been most successful in disaster response, like the recent wildfires in California.
"I think people like to follow breaking news on Twitter because it's so instantaneous," Sale added. "And it's self-correcting. You might check a blog or an RSS feed once a day, but people tend to follow Twitter constantly." The Red Cross has 3,000+ "followers," people who have signed on to view their tweets.
Less altruistically, some businesses have discovered that Twitter is an effective way of communicating with consumers. Dell (NASDAQ: DELL) says Twitter has produced $1 million in revenue over the past year and a half through sale alerts. People who sign up to follow Dell on Twitter receive messages when discounted products are available the company's Home Outlet Store. They can click over to purchase the product or forward the information to others.
Dell started experimenting with Twitter in March of 2007 after the South by Southwest conference, an annual tech/music festival in Austin, Texas. Conference attendees could keep tabs on each other via a stream of Twitter messages on 60-inch plasma screens set up in the conference hallways. There are now 65 Twitter groups on Dell.com, with 2,475 followers for the Dell Home Outlet Store.
"A million dollars isn't a lot of money, but it shows that people want to sign up for feeds," says Bob Pearson, head of communities and conversation for Dell. Pearson is a big fan of Twhirl, a free desktop client for that lets users manage feeds from Twitter and other popular microblogging sites (laconi.ca, Friendfeed and seismic).
"It's a good quick way to see what's going on in the world," Pearson said about Twhirl.
Good for customer service
Discount airline Jet Blue also uses Twitter to offer real-time discounts, sometimes even offering tickets or adding flights when large numbers of people are Twittering sadly about the lack of transport options to a conference or festival. JetBlue also monitors Twitter for comments about the company, responding quickly to compliments and complaints, and following its customers.
"Asking when Twitter will end is like saying, 'When will the cell phone fad end'?" said David Spark, founder of Spark Media Solutions, a storytelling production company. "The value of cell phones can't end, it only can be replaced by something that provides the same value and more. Once we have a capability, we never want it taken away from us."
Spark, who recently documented "16 Great Twitter Moments," believes that all companies should be listening to what's happening on Twitter, blogs and elsewhere on the Internet, noting that "it's truly the cheapest and most accurate market research you can possibly have.'"
Tech evangelist and well-known blogger Robert Scoble suggests that Twitter can make money by offering a premium service.
"If they turned out a lot of cool features, I would pay," said Scoble. "Direct messaging where I could forward and sort messages, real e-mail messaging features, stuff like that. Or put pictures on my tweets, like FriendFeed has pictures and videos. It would have to be part of a suite of other features, like the 'pro version' of Twitter. I would pay for that."
He added that Twitter could turn to advertising as a revenue model, perhaps inserting ads between messages like Meebo does, but he thinks it's possible people might complain and also wonders if the advertising could be targeted enough to appeal to marketers.
Describing Twitter as the love child of IM and chat and blogging, Scoble said the big attraction for him is the interactivity.
'When I post a comment on my blog, it's usually 20 or 30 minutes before I get a comment. With Twitter, I get feedback in seconds," said Scoble. "And it's a worldwide community. You can talk to camera guy at the White House, a supply chain manager in China, a reporter in India. People find that fascinating and useful."
Of course not everyone is a fan. Google "I Hate Twitter" and you'll see plenty of gripes, mostly about the banality of tweets and peoples' increasing belief that everyone in the world is their very own '50s sitcom mother, endlessly fascinated by every single one of their thoughts and actions.
"I find Twitter incredibly annoying, both as a user and bystander," said Trisha Creekmore, interactive executive producer for Discovery.com. ''There's nothing more annoying than trying to enjoy an event with a bunch of Twitter geeks and having to stop every five seconds for them to tweet into their mobile device. If you're at an event, BE at the event. Or leave."
BY MG Siegler
Everyone loves talking about Twitter's business model - because there isn't one yet, and they'll keep talking about it until there is one. But it's becoming more clear that while a business model is of course important, Twitter is perhaps the perfect example of a company that can afford to take its time in finding the one that is perfect for it. That's because other businesses are building so much on top of the micro-messaging service and using it for their own services. If worst came to worst, and Twitter had to sell, there would probably be a bidding war of a magnitude that would make it seem like this country wasn't in the midst of a recession.
InternetNews has a good rundown of the Twitter/business phenomenon. Buried in it is this gem:
Less altruistically, some businesses have discovered that Twitter is an effective way of communicating with consumers. Dell (NASDAQ: DELL) says Twitter has produced $1 million in revenue over the past year and a half through sale alerts. People who sign up to follow Dell on Twitter receive messages when discounted products are available the company's Home Outlet Store. They can click over to purchase the product or forward the information to others.
If Twitter has made Dell $1 million in revenue, imagine how much it's making for all of the companies it helps promote. While a million dollars may not be much to a company like Dell, for some smaller companies that are also using Twitter as a sales/promotional tool, it is no doubt invaluable.
Twitter is expected to lay out its plan for how to monetize the service in 2009. It may involve creating premium, corporate accounts, which seems like a good idea given the numbers Dell is stating. But while everyone is busy getting in a tizzy over its business model, Twitter continues to gain popularity, including the all-important mainstream variety.
One way or another, Twitter will be fine - even if that still doesn't make sense to some people.
You can find me on Twitter here along with fellow VentureBeat writers Eric Eldon, Dean Takahashi, Anthony Ha, Chris Morrison and Dan Kaplan. Oh, and we have a VentureBeat account (for our posts) as well.
[via Fred Wilson, who is a Twitter investor]
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
BoSacks Speaks Out: It's a Digital World Now
by Bob Sacks
Insiders Bob Sacks and Samir Husni square off in the magazine industry's hottest debate: Will print magazines survive-or even thrive-in the next century? Here's what Bob Sacks had to say.
Intro: Bob Sacks, better known as "BoSacks," is a 38-year veteran of the publishing industry whose e-newsletter, "Heard on the Web: Media Intelligence," reaches nearly 12,000 readers daily. Samir Husni, nicknamed "Mr. Magazine," holds a doctorate in journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia and is the author of Launch Your Own Magazine: A Guide for Succeeding in Today's Marketplace. Sacks and Husni have lengthy publishing résumés. Both run private consulting firms primarily focused on magazines and media. Both are well-respected experts in the publishing world. And both have strong opinions on where the magazine industry is headed.
We asked BoSacks and Mr. Magazine to share their views and let you be the judge. Here are BoSacks thoughts on the future of magazines. . Click here (or the link at the end of the article) for Mr. Magazine's take.
A basic modern assumption is that things will be as they are, only more so-that is, that we'll still have the same needs, wants and desires as our forefathers, but we'll continually satisfy those needs faster and more efficiently.
Writer and publisher alert: The speed and efficiency of the future is here right now, and it's accelerating at an unprecedented and perhaps even uncomfortable rate. Because we're actually in it, sometimes we don't realize how far we've progressed into the future. But it's possible to recognize that change when we reflect on the past and look into our tedious recent and former methodologies.
Even if you went as far back as Johann Gutenberg, you couldn't find a more interesting and complex period in our industry than right now. Gutenberg created movable type and an industry was born-the rapid distribution of information as never before achieved, nor dreamed possible.
At the time, the growth of the printing press and the distribution of information were irresistible forces whose only combatants were ignorance and, to us, extremely limited technology. Of course, that limitation is only apparent with tremendous hindsight. The technology of those days was no less amazing than our reaching out to the stars or the World Wide Web. Remember, it took a single scribe more than a year to hand-copy a single book. And there were no "pre-flighting" and "spell checking" to make sure he got it right. But Gutenberg could turn out hundreds of books in a week, each one identical to the next. So, it's not hard to envision the exponential growth of ... well, everything. You no longer needed old wise men to learn from. You didn't even need to be an apprentice. You could learn anything and everything from a book. What Gutenberg actually achieved was the democratization of knowledge. Does that concept sound familiar?
From the time of Gutenberg 600 years ago, we've seen little change in our expertise except the speed with which we produce words, type them and print them on paper. But now the future portends to possibly eliminate the need for paper, and thus doom the otherwise noble process (and lucrative business model) of putting ink on paper. Is that important? Where does the importance really lie-in the creation of thoughts and words or the substrate on which they rest and are read?
In discussing the future of reading and publishing, electronic publishing is an unavoidable topic. I prefer to call the process Electronically Coordinated Information Distribution, or El-CID. It's clear that publishers must now consider themselves information distributors and be independent of a reliance on any single platform or substrate.
The reading of a book is the distribution of stored information, passed from one person to another. Could it be a book printed on dead trees? Yes. Could it be the same book delivered in electronic format? Yes. The point is that all the world's information is now available for immediate distribution in any format the reader requires.
Bernard Baruch once said, "A speculator is a man who observes the future and acts before it occurs." This seems like prudent advice for today's writers and publishers to ponder as we proceed into the future of publishing in the 21st century.
From a 20th-century perspective, one of the most wonderful things about magazines and books, apart from their content, is their amazing and convenient portability. You can read them anywhere, at any time, without a plug or an Internet connection. Simply put, magazines and books are easy to get and easy to read. With ink printed on paper you're usually provided with a crisp, high-contrast, highly reflective substrate. And because it reflects light evenly in all directions, you can read it at almost any angle. Not bad for 600-year-old technology.
On the other hand, a computer-be it a laptop or a desktop-is not so uncomplicated, not kind on the eyes and not nearly as convenient. But it can store as much information as the Library of Alexandria and can instantly summon text or images from deep within its memory or from the Web.
There's a new product called e-paper that combines the best of the new and the old media through the use of thin, lightweight and flexible displays that simulate traditional paper while providing the immediacy and versatility of a computer screen. A company called E Ink has already commercialized a large-scale version of its electronic paper technology for use in products such as the Amazon Kindle and the Sony Reader, and as screens in PDAs, cell phones and pagers.
These displays perform just as paper does and can be read under the same light conditions as paper. There's no backlight to e-paper like a traditional computer screen-it works on reflective light. You can read e-paper wherever you can read traditional paper, and it's serving as the substrate for electronic books, magazines and newspapers, the content of which can be stored, updated and changed wirelessly. The power requirements are meager, because the voltage only needs to be applied once to change an image. So, in the example of an electronic book or magazine, power would be needed only when downloading new text onto the plastic pages. Thereafter, the text could be carried around and read anywhere without using a power source until you change to the next page.
Many researchers and corporations are in hot pursuit of this new vision of El-CID, and they've already produced and sold millions of products. As this technology matures, the results of their efforts could conceivably and permanently change the face of publishing and reading.
Information distribution (formally known as publishing) is no longer just about the paper, and it's not about your computer browser, either. It's about getting all the information anywhere, anytime, on any substrate and any platform. Are we headed toward a totally paperless society? No, not quite yet and perhaps not completely in our lifetimes, but that doesn't mean we can rest on our laurels. It's a digital world now, and the digits aren't going to go away.
There is a revolution brewing and the change is us. The speed and accuracy of information distribution increases every day and we like that. The portability, costs and flexibility of the electronics improve everyday. What we want and what we will have is an easy-to-read, flexible device that that can go anywhere, be read anywhere, and have all the bells and whistles of a computer-driven web-connected cozy book or magazine. You want comfort and style. You shall have it. You want the joy of a cozy plush reading experience. You shall have it. You want to tap on that unknown word and pull up the dictionary, you shall have it. You want to check the author's references or see pictures of the settings in the book you are reading. You shall have it.
There is nothing wrong with paper, but there will come a time in the very near future when we will wonder what all the fuss was about.
Monday, December 1, 2008
BoSacks Speaks Out: The Mumbai Attack and Social Media
This article isn't so much about magazines as it is about modern journalism or a new form of modern journalism. It is a segment of the way that we will communicate. Twittering is just like text messaging except that instead of a one-to-one communication stream, you can be communicating to two or three or to 15,000 people at the same time. All the 15,000 have to do is ask to "follow" your twittered postings. I follow several twitting people and several twitters follow my postings.
Twitter is a very strange communication tool. If you have not used it yet, I suggest you give it a try, just so you understand the feel and flavor of it. Reporters all over the world are using it. Kids use it. Businessmen use it. And last but not least, some of my favorite entrepreneurs use it.
I agree with the author of this article that there is the potential for good and evil with its usage.
Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it. George Bernard Shaw (1856 - 1950)
Mumbai attack coverage demonstrates (good and bad) maturation point of social media
Posted by Jennifer Leggio
The devastation in Mumbai has been top-of-mind and top-of-the-news over the last few days - with good reason. It's also been the hottest trending topic on Twitter and covered widely as the latest disaster to be live broadcasted via tweet.
Sadly, the people writing about how cool it is that people are live tweeting the events in Mumbai are missing a huge point. What's happening now - and what is happening in Mumbai - is bigger than all of us. It's bigger than communicating via Twitter. It's bigger than just reading blogs. This is where social media grows up.
Social media is providing the ability to report and take in unfiltered news in a more direct way than ever before possible and we're doing it on a mass scale. It's no longer just a toy for early adopters and Internet nerds; it's taking its place as an influencer far beyond technology. There is, however, a downside: there's very little way to know what is true and what is rumor. As fellow ZDNet-er Michael Krigsman said to me the night, "we're trading off potential accuracy for immediacy."
He's right. On one hand, social media shows the wisdom of crowds while at the same time demonstrates the reactionary failures of the crowd.
One example: Do a Twitter Search for the hashtag #mumbai and you'll find thousands of tweets from folks near the site of the tragedy as well as folks in other countries who are offering support. People are sharing locations where blood is needed, police activity that they are witnessing, and the health status of their family and friends. This is good, minus one little point in there - the police activity. These updates have begotten seemingly urgent warnings from users reporting that the government of India is asking people to stop reporting on police movement (that includes Twitter users, bloggers and television stations) due to the fear of the terrorists using the tools to glean information. Those not tweeting for the omission of police details are calling it a hoax.
Is it so far-fetched to believe that terrorists could be tracking Twitter or social media sites as part of their overall intelligence efforts? The U.S. Army doesn't seem to think so. Last month it was broadly covered that the U.S. Army issued a report in which it claimed Twitter could be used as a terrorist tool. Many mocked this concept but I believe that mockery shows a bit of ignorance as to how any site or online communications tool could be effectively leveraged for evil - as demonstrated by cyber warfare. And look at how many articles and business decisions have stemmed from a 140-character thought over the last two years. It's not so shocking that this technology can be used for evil as well as good.
My point isn't to determine whether or not terrorists can use social media to get a leg up on their attacks. My point is that we have individuals running amok with information and we have no way of knowing if what is reported via user-generated social media is true. And in situations like the response to the Mumbai attacks, this presents bona fide danger. Remember the "roving gang" rumors that spread and created panic after Hurricane Katrina? This chaos was aided during a time when electronic communications were down. If social media had been as prevalent as it is now, it might've been worse.
Some cynics might say, "Jen, we've had this issue with mainstream news media for years. Yellow journalism?" To me, social media presents greater risks, as every single person with Internet access now has the power to report. And with such surges of information our filters for discerning truth from sensationalism are cluttered.
Beyond sensationalism, social media can be wrongfully leveraged as a fear tactic or a platform for hidden agendas. With most social networks there are no immediate content controls. An example of this is the Wikipedia page covering the Mumbai attacks. Impressive that the page was created so quickly, but it demonstrates the lack of controls I mentioned a minute ago. For a short time on Wednesday night, this is the only information that appeared on the page:
As social media grows to take on the issues of the world beyond the bubble of Silicon Valley, we early adopters need to consider how to balance the flood of information. This goes back to the age-old argument of the ethics of journalists vs. bloggers and their ethics, but it now extends to every person. We need to take what's happening during the Mumbai tragedy and create an example of what to do and what not to do. While some controls are needed, one of the biggest benefits of social media is its transparency and freestyle communication, so is it even possible to control it at this point? Perhaps the train has left the station. Social media is complementing traditional media, and while this is new and exciting now, it's going to boom in the next few years. As the communications increase so will the risks of fallacies. We owe it to ourselves to find the balance between excess communication and truth.
Thanks to Krigsman for the Wikipedia screen shot - and for lighting a fire under me to write this in the first place.
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
BoSacks Speaks Out: In the following article John Loughlin, executive vp, general manager, Hearst Magazines says: 'If the current trends continue, magazines could be facing a time when instead of 1,000 titles, 200 or fewer are on display in stores."
Well, everybody who reads my newsletter knows that I think in the near future the predominant way that people will read will be digitally. But that doesn't mean the end of print. No, not for a long time to come. I think perhaps Mr. Loughlin has forgotten what it is like to be a scrappy entrepreneur. The future will be filled with printed titles, but it won't be the same market that he is used to. Nor will the business models be the same. There will, by necessity, be short run, specialized and, most likely, expensive magazines. But they will be there. It is/will be cheaper to reach the world digitally, but printed products still have life and the entrepreneurs to help maintain their existence.
I have several friends who own magazine printing companies. Recently in conversation with one of them I was asked if I thought his children would be able to continue successfully in the magazine business. Yes, I replied. An efficiently run printing facility will be a good business, with shorter run titles and plenty of make-readies to profit by.
Entrepreneurs and their small enterprises are responsible for almost all the economic growth in the United States.
Ronald Reagan (1911 - 2004)
AMC Notebook: Hearst's Loughlin Calls the
Newsstand "Incredibly Fragile"
And so the conference kicked off, with presenters cataloguing the industry's worries that seemed even more dire than in recent years.
-By Lucia Moses
The American Magazine Conference taking place in San Francisco started its first full day Oct. 6 on an auspicious note, as attendees arose to find the stock market-and their portfolios' value--had plummeted another several hundred points that morning, compounding last week's tumultuous losses.
And so the conference kicked off, with presenters cataloguing the industry's worries that seemed even more dire than in recent years.
With the market crisis' anticipated impact on ad budgets, magazines will find it hard to offset further postal and paper costs coming next year.
At retail, the newsstand situation is uncertain, with stores cutting checkout and mainline display space for magazines and wholesalers, themselves in financial peril, pulling copies out of the system to cut costs.
And the Magazine Publishers of America is concerned that a revenue-hungry Congress will seek to wring more money out of businesses by removing tax deductions on advertising and reversing a cap on postal price increases in the year ahead. A clampdown on over-the-counter drug advertising also remains a worry.
Turnout at the annual conference, which has been following a long-term trend of declining attendance, was down 10 percent this year to 440, which was interpreted as a sign that with the state of the industry, many publishing executives felt they could do more good by skipping the confab and focusing on their businesses.
"It's a slugfest out there," acknowledged Ed Kelly, president and CEO, American Express Publishing Corp., speaking on a panel about future models for magazine companies. Later, Kelly told Mediaweek that he expected company revenue to finish down 4 percent in '08, the first such decline in several years.
The outlook also is dire at retail, where, John Loughlin, executive vp, general manager, Hearst Magazines, said that if the current trends continue, magazines could be facing a time when instead of 1,000 titles, 200 or fewer are on display in stores, depriving the industry of critical promotional opportunities. The situation, he said, speaking on a panel, "is unfortunately incredibly fragile."
Loughlin called on publishers to take a page from the consumer packaged goods industry and make use of coupons and in-store promotions to boost single-copy sales. He also urged the industry to adopt scan-based trading, which proponents say will reduce inefficiencies by eliminating double-counting of magazines and cut waste.
With questions swirling around print advertising's outlook, publishers are increasingly accepting that their future growth will come from non-print sources of revenue.
Kelly of AmEx said that the company is looking to develop more events and affinity clubs as it seeks to drive non-magazine revenue to 50 percent of the company, from 45 percent today.
Andy Sareyan, executive vp, Meredith Corp., said that 25 percent of his company's $1.3 billion in revenue in 2007 came from non-magazine sources like direct marketing and broadband TV, but that he'd like that figure to reach at least 50 percent over the next few years. "The only opportunity for us is to develop our brands across platforms," he said.
Monday, September 29, 2008
BoSacks Speaks Out: How to Benchmark the Top Magazine Printers
I was rummaging in the basement of my computer today, and stumbled upon an article that I wrote several years ago for PrintMedia Magazine now called Publishing Executive. I just finished re-reading it and liked enough to send out to you tonight. There is no need to change a single word of it, and I agree with it completely several years later. What do you think?
So much of what we call management consists in making it difficult for people to work.
Peter Drucker (1909 - 2005)
New Benchmark for the Top Magazine Printers
In the January/February issue of PrintMedia, there was an article listing the "Top 25 Magazine Printers." The criterion for determining who was at the top of the list was revenue. That is all fine and good, but what if the criteria we looked at was something else?
How about a common, secret concept that we all have and hold? Common, yet something that nobody really talks about. This thought process is as of yet an unregistered and untested new kind of industry criteria or benchmark. But, if we could identify it, I wonder who would be at the top? Using this benchmark, dollars do not count.
So what is this secret criterion we all keep buried? Our "favorite" printer. Not the one that makes the most money, but a real favorite. All industry people have a printer they love. And I'll bet the reasons for that love are very different.
What Woos You?
What makes a printer your favorite printer? Is it the print quality? The people in the customer service department? Or is it the ease and method of doing business with them? You know what I mean-do they run the shop like the Marines, with everything done exactly by the book, or more like the TV cartoon "South Park," where it's a little loosey-goosey, and you never know quite what to expect on a regular basis?
Perhaps it's the terrific contract you signed, or the amazing boondoggles you get to go on? Could it be the expensive lunches? (Does anyone have time for that anymore?) And how about the printer's sales force? Could the sales team be the reason that your favorite printer is your favorite printer? The coffee they serve in the customer lounge? And, for that matter, what about the customer lounges? I have been in cinder block bunkers buried in the earth and in plush, multi-roomed, leather-upholstered suites. Does that make the printer your favorite?
I will tell you why my favorite printer is my favorite. Management! Yep, that is right. I seek a printer with enthusiastic and extremely attentive management. I love great management. Most plants have good management. Some have very good management. And every now and then there is a plant with terrific management.
The sad thing is terrific management is a highly movable target. For whatever reason, as times change, so does management. And as that happens, so does my favorite printing plant.
5 Criteria for Great Management
What is it that I look for in great management?
1) I expect great management to be totally involved and understand the process, not from an ivory tower, but from the perspective of the pressroom floor.
2) I expect a commitment and readiness for ongoing reinvestment in the information-distribution process, sometimes referred to as printing and publishing.
3) I expect a dedication and willingness to change thoughts, processes and, with that, a headset for rapid deployment of the same.
4) I expect great management to have the proper respect and support of their customer service representatives (CSRs). A great CSR team with proper management support is like manna from Heaven. Conversely, poor management support of the CSR process is like dealing with the devil. Both the good and the bad come directly from management and management style.
5) The last is an intangible. The closest I can get to describe this "thing" would be chemistry. There is, at times, a unique and wonderful chemistry between the publisher's representatives and the printer's personnel. I attribute this chemical reaction to management. If all the players are positioned properly, then all it takes to ignite it is the catalyst of great management. It is an exhilarating experience when that happens.
So, with all that said, do you have a favorite printer? How do you feel about your printer's management? If you could, would you like to replace it? And while we are on the subject, how do you feel about your publication's management team? If you could, would you replace it as well?
It is also an interesting exercise to look up and down your internal business food chain, and see which parts of the process you would like to replace or outsource, if you could.
Hold that thought and ask yourself: Are the other departments in your company thinking the same thing about you and your department? If they could outsource you, would they want to? In these times that is worth pondering.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
BoSacks Speaks Out: On E-Ink, Esquire and Mankind.
I am sitting here with my copy of the October issue of Esquire with the now famous e-ink cover. I thought I would take a moment to reflect on what it is and what it isn't.
So what is it? It is a flashing billboard on the cover of a magazine. It flashes the message "The 21st century begins now." It's somewhat glitzy and underutilizes the real possibilities and significance of e-paper. But it is important to note that it is real e-paper, and it has gone completely through the magazine manufacturing cycle of being printed upon, manhandled, bound, stacked on skids and shipped across the county. That alone is worth several kudos to those who know and understand the manufacturing and distribution process.
I would also like to point out that I went to four large newsstand/bookstores in Manhattan and all were sold out. Kudos again to the PR and press for the coverage of this unique publishing event.
My real disappointment is the exploitation of the product itself. I'm sure there is enough memory on whatever chip is in there to have displayed some actual text in a more creative and expressive way as to why the 21st century begins now, but it doesn't. It only uses large headline type to broadcast and blink its message. E-ink is capable of more, much more. And just to confuse the issue further there is a plastic layer over the e-ink that deadens the contrast of the product. The plastic is there is give the illusion that the e-paper is in four color. It is not. The four color is printed on the plastic overlay. That was an unnecessary "fake out". Why tout the greatness of e-paper and then diminish the final reading results of the product itself? Is it a demonstration of design over function?
I am a patient man and delighted to see this technology finally come into the public's peripheral vision. This is the first time that e-ink is on/in a magazine and as such it is the beginning of something very important for readers and publishers alike. With the success of the Kindle, the Irex Iliad, the Sony e-reader and other new e-reading products soon to be released, it is one small step for e-ink and a giant leap for reading mankind.
It behooves every man to remember that the work of the critic is of altogether secondary importance, and that in the end, progress is accomplished by the man who does things.
Theodore Roosevelt (1858 - 1919)
The Future of Electronic Paper - a Flawed Vision?
Posted by Ian Hoar
Electronic paper, and e-book Readers are all based on a pretty cool technology that is truly something you have to see to believe. E Ink is the brand name manufactured by E Ink Corporation and it really does look like paper. The first time you see it you realize that it has a completely different feel to it than your standard LCD display. You can check out an E Ink display at the Sony store or anywhere that sells E Ink based readers.
Lately E Ink has been getting a lot of press. Earlier this month Esquire showed off the worlds first ever E Ink magazine cover. This brought visions of the science fiction film Minority Report to many people and an environmental disaster in the making for others. There are also many e-readers being released with iRex to introduce a 10.2-inch E Ink reader next week. Although I love the technology, I think the current vision of E Ink by the press and blog sphere is somewhat flawed.
Every where I read about E Ink I hear things like "Will this replace paper" and "This will allow for a more print / newspaper friendly layout". These are all flawed concepts to me. It reminds me of other great technological advances like "Will the TV replace radio" or "Will the Internet replace TV". Yes some of these technologies merged and can be used over the Internet, but no technology replaced the other. We still listen to the radio, whether it is satalite radio in our car, FM, or streaming radio, and we all certainly still watch television. We also use the web in the way it was envisioned also.
My art teacher would shoot me for saying this as she felt that the failure to adhere to a print like grid was a major failing of the web. I on the other hand believe it is a major advancement, I really hope that we don't resort back to old fashioned print style layouts. This was done on paper because there was a finite amount of space and paper costs money so you have to use it all up. Writing content to fit little boxes isn't fun. Anyone who has had to create print style web layouts knows this, it usually doesn't work. The wonderful thing about a digital display is that you have a liquid medium and unlimited paper. The text can be as long as you want and flow around images and boxes according to font size or display type. With CSS you even have the power to display the content in different formats, independent from the layout. This allows web designers to support many different platforms, and make sites usable for the visually impaired.
If e-readers do take off, and I think they will, I really hope that print changes to be more like the web, and not the other way around, it's a far more flexable approch. It's also only a matter of time before touch sensitive E Ink displays will be the norm, why lock it down to old fashioned design principals. Will I even have to click/touch my way to page 5 to continue the story? Maybe we can even add E Mess to the reader itself so that when you hold your reader for a long time your fingers become all soiled just like with a real newspaper.
A land fill nightmare, why?
While everyone was praising Esquire for bringing magazines into the 21st century did anyone stop to think of the environmental implications? This is a little more serious than my first grip; why do we have this disposable attitude towards everything? Here we have this fantastic reusable technology, but we want to turn it into a throw away medium? Don't we have enough garbage clogging the landfills already. I know we can recycle newspapers, but I'm not so sure about E Ink, and recycling costs a lot of money. Why bother when we can just re-use the technology. Once everyone has an e-reader they can just wirelessly download their favourite newspaper.
If papers had to stay old fashioned with their multi-columned mess, companies could even deliver content in multiple formats. Lets hope that every time we read a newpaper or magazine in the future we are not dropping batteries by the boatload into our garbage cans as we step off the subway for work. It should be about reusability, not a throw away technology.
The cost is the last major hurdle. Right now really popular readers cost anywhere from 300 to 1000 dollars. This is just too much for the average Joe. The new 10.2 inch iRex reader to be released next week clocks in at $850 for the high end model with Wi-fi, Bluetooth and 3G. Couple that with the fact that a lot of people don't even get through a book a month and the cost of buying physical books is still a lot cheaper.
E-readers will have to get a lot more competitive or offer features that we can't live without. Right now the average smartphone / laptop can do everything an e-reader can do, and in colour. The only real advantages an e-reader has is a screen that can be seen in bright daylight and long battery life, not enough for a lot of people, but if you read lots of books it can be worth it. I think back to breaking my back with college and university books; an e-reader would have come in handy back then.
The future is electronic paper
That said I do think the future is in electronic paper. Like any technology it is still in its infancy. Some day in the near future refresh rates which are pretty slow right now will be faster and the technology will be available in colour as E Ink has already demonstrated. I could even see monitors switching to this technology someday.
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
BoSacks Speaks Out: Why Esquire Mag is your Future?
BoSacks Speaks Out: Please, let's not all get crazy at the same time. So many people are over-reacting to the announcement that Esquire is using e-ink on their cover that I almost don't know where to begin. But almost isn't don't know.
First and foremost, this is a clever magazine cover gimmick for a 75th anniversary cover. Period, end of story, except for all the brouhaha. They deserve to do something special. And e-ink is going to be something special. In this case it is underutilizing the power and the possibilities of e-ink, but what the heck? You have to start somewhere. And this year our industry starts here on the cover of Esquire with a flexible, magazine-bindable production of e-ink.
We as an industry have been inserting and on-serting for generations. Believe me I know, as I was partly responsible for the AOL onslaught of on-serting and inserting first fragile plastic diskettes and then CD's into magazines. The computer and music sectors have been doing this for years. The women's service groups have inserted hundreds of items including such nutty ideas as shampoo samples which in the course of palatalizing squished and squeezed the samples all over the printer's bindery floor. So ease off on the condemnation that gimmicks are something new or distasteful.
And the same thing is true for the carbon footprint. Why is Esquire being singled out?
I'm the first to admit that we have been reckless as an industry when it comes to carbon foot-printing and inefficiencies, but to single out a single publisher . . . . pure and absolute rubbish. Anyone who is starting to condemn a single gimmick in a single magazine doesn't know the industry, the history, nor the true story of magazine sales and magazine production.
E-ink or e-paper is special, in fact it is very special, and it is an integral part of the future of the magazine business. If we are going to have a big future at all, it is going to be digital. We will combine the ease of use of digital editions of magazines with the portability of brilliantly colored WiFi connected epaper, with a drastically lower carbon footprint than today and dramatically reduced manufacturing costs. What's not to like? What part don't we understand?
Publishers sell words and thoughts, not paper and printing? For those who need to hear me say it again, printing ink on paper is not going to go away; it is also not going to be the dominant distribution vehicle of information.
Esquire's Granger: Magazine Medium 'So Compelling We All Should Do More with It'
Editor responds to news of flashing anniversary cover.
Since the report last week about Esquire's flashy e-paper October anniversary cover-and our follow-up on the technology behind it-I've been hearing/reading a lot of negative opinions about it.
One Web site called it obnoxious. Rex Hammock said it was "the worst use of technology by a magazine." Fast Company, in a blog post, estimated that the manufacturing process increases the issue's carbon footprint by 16 percent over other typical print publications. But, if you ask Esquire editor-in-chief David Granger, the technology could help revolutionize the way we read magazines, beyond the printed page and online.
"When I talk to groups I sometimes speak about the days I had when I'd get the new issue of Esquire and go through it and think to myself, 'Fuck, it's still a magazine,'" Granger said in a recent interview with FOLIO:. "What I mean is that the medium is so compelling that I and we should all be able to do more with it. The magazine experience is one of the last remaining opportunities to enter a hermetically-sealed world, an edited experience of our culture created by someone else. And, more importantly, it's an experience that encourages you to stay in it rather than constantly bounce in and out of it.
"We have an amazing medium, print, and if we can enhance the experience of it by putting new technology to use, then all the better," he said.
Bob Sacks, an industry consultant and frequent proponent of technology, says that Esquire's flashy cover may be a small step overall but offers a glimpse of what's to come in the next few years.
"It's not a representation of what e-paper was designed for, but doing the cover is the right thing to do," Sacks says. "It will be a demonstration of what it can be used for. In the near future we all will have flexible e-paper readers in our pocket and will be able to access all the magazine and books you want."
Right now, the technology is expensive and, if you believe Fast Company, not very green. Granger says that, with time, he hopes the technology will become cheaper. Maybe, after some refining, the application will become more realistic and environmentally-friendly, too.
The Real Cost of E-Ink
posted by Anya Kamenetz
An article in the New York Times earlier this week described an effort by the legendary print magazine Esquire to make "a nod to the digital age" by using something called E Ink on its cover. That's pretty much what it sounds like: electronic ink, so the cover can blink like a Times Square billboard, as opposed to a staid old highway billboard.
One problem: Did anyone stop to consider the environmental implications? Check out this description of the process, from the Times article:
The batteries and the display case are manufactured and put together in China. They are shipped to Texas and on to Mexico, where the device is inserted by hand into each magazine. The issues will then be shipped via trucks, which will be refrigerated to preserve the batteries, to the magazine's distributor in Glazer, Ky.
Editor David Granger described it as "a 21st-century technology" combined with "a 19th-century manufacturing process." Can't argue with the second part, at least. The article goes on to note that this process is expensive, and hence requires sponsorship from a Ford SUV (not exactly a 21st-century technology itself). But what about the other cost . . . the carbon one? Some back-of-the-envelope calculations show it's not small, and Ford's not picking up the tab.
Let's start at the beginning. According to the article, "The batteries and the display case are manufactured and put together in China." The manufacturing phase is the biggest question mark in the life cycle of any product. According to life cycle analysis by Nokia, the manufacturing phase, alone, of another battery-powered electronic device, their 3G phones, is responsible for 12.3 KG of CO2 equivalent per unit. Granted, the E Ink display is a lot simpler and uses much less material than a cell phone, so let's say the carbon footprint is one-tenth as much-1.2 KG per user. That would be 135 tons of CO2 for the entire run of 100,000 devices.
Next, the devices will be shipped to Texas. According to E-Ink, a comparable prototype device weighs about 150 grams (5.3 ounces). According to the calculator on ShipGreen.net, shipping 100,000 of those overseas from Shanghai to Houston is worth another 2.6 tons -189 tons if they for some reason chose air freight.
From there, the little magic doohickeys will make their way to a Mexican maquiladora (where the work conditions are certain to be just lovely-ditto the Chinese factory) to be inserted by hand into the magazine covers (1.28 tons from Houston to Monterrey, Mexico), and from there, the completed issues, about one-third heavier than normal, will travel about 1,400 miles to the magazine's distribution center in Kentucky (11 more tons). Oh, and because of the delicacy of the electronics, they'll have to travel in refrigerated trucks. Certain kinds of refrigeration units can consume a half gallon of fuel per operating hour - that's an additional 10 gallons for that 20 hour trip-per truck. So for 5 trucks (let's say), the refrigeration adds about another half a ton. Then the blinking magazines go to their final destinations.
So . . . the total outlay in greenhouse gas emissions for this little experiment-again, this is based on loose estimates-comes to 150 tons of CO2 equivalent, similar to the output of 15 Hummers or 20 average Americans for an entire year, and a 16% increase over the carbon footprint of a typical print publication (based on calculations by Discover Magazine, Time, and In Style). The potential environmental impact of the E Ink covers increases even more when you consider that the units are designed to be disposable after one use and they'll make it more difficult or impossible to recycle the paper portion of the magazines.
Maybe Esquire should go back to the drawing board for a truly forward-looking concept of the possibilities of print. Fast Company would be glad to advise them on where to go to get printed on 100% recycled paper
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
BoSacks Speaks Out: Last week I wrote the following in my blog called Pub Talk.
How Much Does Free Really Cost?
There was an announcement this week from Google that the company plans to launch a new ad tool, called Ad Planner, designed to help agencies identify sites where their target audience might be active. This new, free service, if I understand it correctly, uses audience measurement data and combines that data with search engine information, to determine with extreme exactitude what sites attract the particulars of any unique demographic audience. It then creates a resource for ad agencies to determine where to precisely place ads.
This seems to me to be a two-edged sword. It is conducive for advertisers, publishers and webmasters to have as much data on their readership as is possible. But at what point is that pool of rich data just too intrusive and delving into our private lives, while we are numbly uninformed at the keyboard? At what point will the power to corrupt be so overwhelming a temptation by the "Google god" of personal information storage that it gets used against us?
This could be simple paranoia, a relic attitude from the last century when only I and my conscience knew where I was and what I was doing. Now it seems our very thoughts (Google searches) are on open display and for sale to the highest bidder. Does this mean that "big brother" is actually watching? The clear answer is yes. But it turns out that there are two big brothers: one is the government (phone tapping) and the other is the capitalist system. I'm not sure which one scares me more.
He that is of the opinion money will do everything may well be suspected of doing everything for money.
What happens when a single company becomes the gateway to the Internet? Critics are raising concerns about Google, where over 60 percent of all internet searches in the U.S. originate. Boston Globe reporter Drake Bennett investigated the Google juggernaut.
BOB GARFIELD: In the novel 1984, George Orwell wrote, "Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past." In our anxious age of information and technology, some have seen the face of Big Brother, and they are calling him - Google.
According to Nielsen Online, the California based company, not yet ten years old, is now responsible for more than three-fifths of all Internet searches in the United States. Of course, Google doesn't just sift through information. It collects and compiles it too, which, as Boston Globe reporter Drake Bennett wrote recently, has some scholars and programmers pushing back. Drake, welcome to On the Media.
DRAKE BENNETT: Thanks very much.
BOB GARFIELD: So I go on and I do a series of searches during the course of a day, or a lifetime, and Google keeps track of all of that stuff. How long does it keep it and how can it connect it to me as an individual?
DRAKE BENNETT: Well, it can connect you through cookies, which are these little lines of text that identify the computer that did this search. And Google and other ISPs do now put a time limit on how long they keep cookies and other identifying information, but they do have this record of what the search was and what computer did it. For the first year, year and a half, that can be traced back to you.
And also, as Google has expanded into email and social networking and things like that, I mean, you're giving them more and more information, and they're holding onto it.
But the government, especially in the post 9/11 era, does have a frightening history of subpoenaing entire haystacks to locate potential needles. And, in 2005, Google itself was subpoenaed. Tell me about that case and how it turned out.
DRAKE BENNETT: That was a big Justice Department investigation into child pornography. The Justice Department wanted information about what sort of search terms were popular. They wanted to make the case that a lot of people were looking for child pornography.
Google, more than any other of the companies that were subpoenaed, really pushed back and fought the case in court and ended up having to release a much smaller amount of information than the government originally wanted. So Google, if you ask them about privacy issues, will hold this up as an example of how they're going to really go to bat for you.
There are other ways besides subpoenas, though, that the federal government goes after information. One of them is National Security Letters. That's a much lower profile thing and happens probably more often.
BOB GARFIELD: And, in fact, had Google received any National Security Letters we would have no way of knowing that. It could have been forced by the government to surrender information and be legally bound never to disclose that the letter was ever even received.
DRAKE BENNETT: Yes, exactly. That's a very good point. It's something we would not even hear about.
BOB GARFIELD: Now, you mentioned how Google pushed back against the subpoenas in 2005. Others are pushing back against Google. For example, in Finland, an employer is not [LAUGHS] allowed to do a google search about a prospective employee. But there's been other solutions for trying to stem the influence of this juggernaut. Can you go through some of them for me, please?
DRAKE BENNETT: Sure. There are programs one can use or websites one can go through. One of them is something called TrackMeNot. Basically what TrackMeNot does -- it's a Firefox plug in and every time you do a google search, it sends out three or four dummy searches based on, you know, what other people are searching at the time.
Google has no way of knowing which of those searches was your real search and which was the artificially generated one, and so it sort of creates this white noise and obscures your tracks.
Another thing that an increasing number of people are turning to is a site called Scroogle. You go to the Scroogle site and you type in your search query and Scroogle basically takes the search query and turns around and submits it to Google, so any attempt, any cookies that come back, don't make it all the way to you. They stop at the Scroogle site and Scroogle basically just throws them away. So it sort of serves as this buffer.
BOB GARFIELD: We've been talking about privacy issues up 'til now. You also wrote that there's a new worry arising, and the worry is about what it means when a single company becomes the world's doorway to the entire content of the Web. Those are mostly your words.
In what ways should we be concerned that Google has such dominance in the search sphere?
DRAKE BENNETT: Unlike the other organizing systems for information that we've had in the past, like the Dewey Decimal System, for example, Google's algorithm, the thing that decides what information is more and less important, is proprietary. It's a secret. And there's a worry that Google's own agenda, because it is a profit making entity, could impinge there. For example, there have been a couple of cases, lawsuits against Google, where companies have accused Google, Inc. of basically blackballing them.
The SearchKing is perhaps the more telling case. It's a company that marketed itself basically as a gamer of the Google algorithm. It sold a service to online companies that wanted to improve their Google ranking.
SearchKing, in its lawsuit, accused Google of basically kicking them out of the Google search results. And Google seems, in its response, to have basically admitted that it did so, although there's some debate about that. But, more importantly, what Google said was - that's none of your business. I mean, we get to decide how we rank information, and this is basically free speech.
BOB GARFIELD: It makes some people think of the railroads, which were owned by private companies but which nonetheless, because they were essential monopolies and because they so influenced the public economy, the federal government regulated them.
DRAKE BENNETT: It sort of gets at this larger question of, you know, what is a search engine? You know, do we treat them like newspapers, do we treat them like television stations or do we treat them like public utilities, where they're providing this service that people increasingly cannot live without and that, as a result, the government needs to decide the terms of access?
BOB GARFIELD: Drake, thank you.
DRAKE BENNETT: Thanks a lot.
BOB GARFIELD: Drake Bennett is a reporter for the Ideas section of The Boston Globe
Monday, July 14, 2008
BoSacks Speaks Out: It was Dr. Joe Webb who reminded me yesterday of the old Harry S. Truman quote, "It's a recession when your neighbor loses his job; it's a depression when you lose yours." The publishing industry along with the rest of the economy is hurting right now, although as is usually the case, some few titles are bucking the downward trend and showing some actual gains.
I think it is sadly a double whammy on print, because the economy will surely rise again, but will the advertisers return as they used to when the economy bounced back? At best the answer is yes for some and no for some others. We were struggling enough in this digital transition period and don't need an additional economic anxiety attack to have advertisers focus on identifiable ROI while tightening their belts and reducing their budgets.
If you add the increasingly visible sustainability factor into the publishing caldron of issues to contend with, you start to see the makings of a perfect storm. That storm is still on the horizon, but it is looming and it is large. As with any storm there is always hope it will remain distant with only the booms of thunder to remind us of our peril and help us keep our focus as we steer correctly towards open waters and profitable information distribution.
It is going to take very nimble, very aggressive, visionary management to lead the way.
I wrote a blog a few days ago for another site where I listed the following as the last of several predictions for the end of 2008 and that that seems fitting and appropriate to refer to here:
More publishing dinosaur management who don't already have their own facebook page, nor the knowledge of how to build one, will be asked to either jump from the executive terrace or take what's left of the money and run.
"We pay a heavy price for our fear of failure. It is a powerful obstacle to growth. It assures the progressive narrowing of the personality and prevents exploration and experimentation. There is no learning without some difficulty and fumbling. We are continually faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems.
John W. Gardner (American Writer and Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, 1912-2002)
Layoffs And Closings Help Explain Why Media See 'Depression' As Real
By DAN GAINOR
One of the hardest things for reporters to do is to distance themselves when they become part of a story. That's precisely the problem with journalists covering the U.S. economy.
We're a long way from it being what NBC claims is "a bust." We're not in another "Depression" either, despite dozens of network stories to that effect. But many journalists think things are that bad because their own industry is in chaos.
Ad sales have plummeted and online sales aren't making up for it. Media outlets are closing or laying off staff. There are at least 4,000 fewer jobs for reporters and editors than in 2000, according to the Project for Excellence in Journalism.
The list of media laying off or buying out staff includes some of the best-known outlets: the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, St. Petersburg Times, Media General, Tribune and Thomson Reuters. And those are just since May.
Top names in journalism are walking out the door or being pushed. Such popular writers as David Broder and Tony Kornheiser joined more than 100 co-workers to take the latest buyouts at the Washington Post - the third round in just five years. The newsroom is down 25% as a result, according to the paper's media critic, Howard Kurtz.
In just a month and a half, a media blog run by the Poynter Institute cited roughly 40 stories detailing the red ink being spilled on the floors of newsrooms nationwide.
Dean Singleton, CEO of MediaNews Group (which owns almost 60 dailies), said recently that there will be two types of newspapers in the future - "those that survive, and those that die." He went on to claim "as many as 19 of the top 50 metro newspapers in America are losing money today, and that number will continue to grow."
That adds a little perspective when news reports dwell on problems at General Motors or the possible sale of Anheuser-Busch. Journalists have covered market changes in other industries with obvious anxiety.
An American Journalism Review analysis was titled "Why a lot of newspapers aren't going to survive" and included a prediction that "a lot of major metros" will close.
The few that survive will be smaller and possibly even free. Tribune has announced plans to trim the news hole in its papers. Stock pages have followed classifieds in moving to the Internet. Whole sections of newspapers have gone away.
Those are the news outlets reporters and producers turn to every day. TV and radio news departments have long been famous for "rip-and-read," where they lift an entire story from the newspaper.
That's the context for your economic news. Your paper screams disaster with every story about business. The evening news broadcast repeats the claim. Both reflect the media mind-set about their changing business as much as they do reality.
In December 2005, the big issue was the declining auto industry. CBS's Trish Regan might as well have been discussing journalism when she said: "Jobs in traditional industries, the ones that helped build this country, are slowly disappearing." That could be the epitaph for traditional journalism except for the word "slowly."
Journalists know it but seem unable or unwilling to adapt. Instead they do what they do best - they communicate. They tell stories. The news becomes one long ode to a dying economy. Mortgage crisis, debt crisis, housing crisis. Every story is a crisis, but the unstated crisis is the very one reporters are coping with.
The Washington Post's Neil Irwin recently tried explaining the disconnect between economic reality and ordinary Americans' opinions. People are saying, "It is not just bad, it is run-for-the-hills terrible," he said. Irwin's pathetic defense of the economy: "It's not all that grim."
What followed should have been a detailed analysis of how the mainstream media have misrepresented the economy of the greatest nation on Earth. But Irwin didn't even try. He mocked claims that the media could have a major role in the gloom.
"There is no obvious reason that it (media impact) would be more pronounced now than in 2001 or 1990, when consumer confidence did not drop as much as it has recently," he claimed.
But he ignored major changes in the media landscape - the rise of the 24-7 news cycle, the increased power of the Internet and, especially, the blurring of lines between unbiased journalism and so-called "analysis."
Reporters blur those lines every night on the evening news, convinced the problems impacting media must reflect society in general. That same sense of self-importance has undermined journalism for decades and now does the same to the U.S. economy.
Gainor is the Boone Pickens fellow and vice president of the Media Research Center's Business & Media Institute.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
BoSacks Speaks Out: BoSacks Speaks Out: Who Should We Put On The Cover?
I was cruising the web tonight, as is my habit and at Rex Hammock's Blog, he pointed me to the article below and noted the following quote:
"I look forward to the day when magazines can return to serving their audience and not the newsstand. Until then you're stuck with 109, free, biggest, hot, ultimate, travel, toys, secrets, great, perfect, best, sex, abs, weight-loss, getaway, new, insider, easy, delicious, shortcuts, paired with a celebrity you keep seeing over and over on the covers of magazines."
Those are true and in a way very scary words. We have homogenized and dumbed down our covers, with elating numbers, ridiculous claims and a plethora of nonsense freebies. Where is the focus on excellent content? Where is the compelling editorial that excites the reader after the newsstand purchase gets home?
I was just at a publishing convention a day ago, that had as usual an assortment of magazines on display. Not one, not two, but at least three were touting that we all could have flat abs in ten minutes. Hmmm. Would that, that could be true? It ain't.
I'm sure that it is successful and sells magazines to the twenty something crowd of ab busters each and every month. The publishers wouldn't do it if it wasn't successful. Or at least, I would like to think they wouldn't. Who the heck knows, it's brutal out there on the newsstand these days.
I guess what I'm getting at is that this process which might help sell newsstand titles seems to somehow cheapen the overall product. Maybe that's it. If we don't respect ourselves how can we expect others to do so?
For me it's late at night on a poker night and perhaps I'm off target. What do you think?
Who Should We Put On The Cover?
Photography Director Rob Haggart
In my career I've gone from "let's see which of the stories we have this month will make a good cover" to "we're going to call every single A list celebrity that has a movie this month till someone says yes" and then of course, task some writer with throwing a story together in a week or less. The cover of the magazine was the single source of more anxiety, stress and nightmares than anything else I've ever worked on. There was always a deadline looming and unreturned phone calls to publicists, a photographer to figure out, location, wardrobe and then what will he be doing on the cover, it was always just hanging out there for weeks on end waiting for a date, time and place to land so the rest of the pieces could be jammed in.
I'm sure it's quite a different experience working at GQ, VF or Time where the celebrities and politicians have heard of your publication and are actually interested in appearing on the cover. I've always been in the hapless position of pitching a publicist and providing material to actually prove we're worthy enough for a celebrity to grace us with their presence.
The importance of the cover image, coverlines, background, expression, wardrobe is at an all time high these days because advertisers need some sign of the health of a magazine and newsstand sales are a decent indicator because consumers are free to decide what purchase to make that month. Except everyone is trying to game the system so the coverlines, subjects and many times the photography have turned into such predictable garbage, because everyone is using the same handful of words and subjects that have proven effective at capturing eyeballs.
Who should we put on the cover? How about someone who actually wants to be there and that the audience cares about. How about someone we can spend some time with a write a meaningful story and take interesting pictures of. I look forward to the day when magazines can return to serving their audience and not the newsstand. Until then you're stuck with 109, free, biggest, hot, ultimate, travel, toys, secrets, great, perfect, best, sex, abs, weight-loss, getaway, new, insider, easy, delicious, shortcuts, paired with a celebrity you keep seeing over and over on the covers of magazines.-------------------------
Rolling Stone: A Picture's Worth a Thousand Coverlines
by Matt Haber
No Words: Obama
Mere words cannot express the awesomeness that is Barack Obama. At least that's what the new cover of Rolling Stone tells-or doesn't tell-us. The cover of the magazine's new issue features only a photograph of a smiling Senator Obama (with prominent flag pin!) and no text whatsoever. In keeping with the photo theme, Rolling Stone's Web site features a photo gallery called Barack Obama, a History in Pictures, with a whopping 98 (!) images of the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate.
The wordless cover is not Rolling Stone's first. The motif has also been used by the magazine for other important, "words are not enough" stories like the deaths of John Lennon and George Harrison.
It was also used to great effect on February 1995 for a cover story about Demi Moore.
Monday, June 2, 2008
Will the increasing costs of entry make print publishing a world where only the brave and truly committed dare to go?
As you may know, my friend Samir Husni, also known as Mr. Magazine, tracks new magazine launches. He has done so for decades and has amassed a wealth of data. In his latest announcement, the overall numbers for our business are less than stellar. Many possible reasons exist for this decline. Both Husni and I can postulate about its causes, but neither of us actually knows.
According to Husni: "The number of new magazine launches in the first quarter of 2008 (150) increased by five titles compared to Q1 2007. [While it was an increase,] it is still a far cry from the introduction of 192 new magazines in the same time period in 2006. However . . . only 41 magazines were launched with the intention to be published at least four times a year compared with 50 in 2007, and 72 in 2006."
Husni goes on to ask: "So what does this mixed bag of numbers mean? Not much. Since I have started tracking new magazine launches, I have witnessed a two or three years' decline after a very healthy and busy year.  was a very healthy year-1,013 new magazines were launched. The decline started in 2006. We are in our third year of decline. In 2006, we [saw] 901 new launches. The number dropped to 715 last year, and if the trend of the previous years continues, we will see another drop again this year before the numbers bounce back. Call it market correction if you please, but definitely it is not a sign that print is on its way out."
Well, on that last point, Mr. Magazine and I agree. Printed magazines are not on their way out. Not by a long shot. I believe that the printed magazine will have a prosperous run until the advent and adaptation of new technologies, which will finally surpass the printed magazine around 2025. So there is some breathing room left. And even in 2025, magazines will not be completely gone, and those publishers established to produce them will do just fine. But I do believe that by 2025, the printed magazine will not be the predominant way that the public will read, but rather only one of the ways. Sort of like it is now, only more so.
So what will happen to Husni's belief that there will be a predictable parabolic curve of highs and lows of new title releases? I think there will always be some high points of new releases and some low points. But as we move into the future there will be periods of lower highs and lower lows. And the long-term trend will be a decreased number of new printed titles, until we reach a new level of sustainability.
That new sustainability will be predicated on the dictates of the new information age, balanced with the cost structure of print-and-ship manufactured goods. This may not be a bad thing for the printing and publishing industry. Perhaps a more expensive entry fee to be a printed publisher will lead to a greater survival rate, as only the brave and the truly committed will apply. I believe we will reach a new successful, sustainable plateau of new releases more in line with the new business realities of the day.
The further the reach of a new digital infrastructure, the less drive there will be to spend money on printed products. Publishing has always had a component of vanity attached to it. Almost everybody wants to be a publisher. In the past, the only way to do that was to put ink on paper. It was significantly less costly than it is today to materialize those vanity impulses. I think we will find that the new world order is based on dematerialization.
The dematerialization business plan can send billions of words anywhere on the planet in an instant with no material form and no manufacturing expenditure. So, as usual, Mr. Magazine and I agree on some points and disagree on others. For today, we agree that the printed magazine is not going away any time soon, but disagree on the relevance of the decreasing trend in new startups.
Bob Sacks (aka BoSacks) is a printing/publishing industry consultant and president of The Precision Media Group (BoSacks.com). He is also the co-founder of the research company Media-Ideas (Media-Ideas.net), and publisher and editor of a daily international e-newsletter, Heard on the Web. Sacks has held posts as director of manufacturing and distribution, senior sales manager (paper), chief of operations, pressman, circulator and almost every other job this industry has to offer.