Friday, December 19, 2008

BoSacks Speaks Out: A Time for Reflection and Hope

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.

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.
Take Heaven.

No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present instant.
Take Peace.

The gloom of the world is but a shadow; behind it, yet within our reach, is joy.
Take 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

BoSacks Speaks Out: Twitter has made Dell $1 million in revenue


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:  


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 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, 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 (, 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 ''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."




Twitter has made Dell $1 million in revenue

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

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

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.