Sep 212014
newspapers are dying as the media business models move online

A great piece by Michael Wolff in Town and Country describes how the Forbes family struggled with making their magazine work in the digital economy.

For the Forbes family, it was always going to be hard stepping into the shoes of the late Malcolm after he unexpectedly passed away in 1990 and unfortunately for them that happened to coincide with the end of the great era of publishing wealth.

Twenty five years later the family are largely removed from the publication which is a shadow of its former self with its best hope for survival lying with Asian investors who still see some value in the brand.

What’s particularly poignant about Wolff’s story is the Forbes family did nothing wrong — they embraced the new platforms, experimented with digital and tried to find a way to make their business work in the online marketplace.

As it turned out, the old advertising and publishing model was horribly and irredeemably broken.

Forbes Magazine’s decline is an important tale for the whole publishing industry, for both the brash new entrants and for the struggling established players.



Sep 112014
what do we share on social media sites

“LinkedIn is the world’s biggest publishing platform,” states Olivier Legrand.

Legrand, LinkedIn’s Head of Marketing Solutions for Asia Pacific & Japan, was speaking at the company’s Connectin Sydney conference where the service was demonstrating its credentials as a marketing and advertising service to Australia’s largest corporations.

The view that LinkedIn is a publishing platform is problematic for content creators — it creates a conflict for those using the service to distribute or publicise their work and again it shows social media services are not your friends.

It’s understandable LinkedIn wants to get corporate advertisers on board seeing the business’ stock currently trades at eighty-four times revenue, however a focus on becoming an advertising driven media company at a time when advertising driven media companies are heading the way of the wooly mammoth seems to be a risky strategy.

Another risk for LinkedIn as a publishing platform is that user generated services can, and will be, gamed resulting in a dramatic decline in quality and value in the site.

Every social media service now sees itself as a media company and it may turn out they are correct, however that future of publishing will be very different from last century’s newspaper and broadcast models they are trying to emulate.

Even if the dreams of social media services do come true, the advertising driven media industry, an the publishing world, will be very different to the world they hope to be part of.

Jun 282014
newspapers are dying as the media business models move online

You know a product has problems when retailers start start moving it out of key retail positions. When the product was the retailers’ core business, you know the entire industry is in serious trouble.

Mark Fletcher describes in the Newsagency Blog how he’s moved his city’s number two selling paper off the main level of his newspaper display.

“Sales are not paying for the space,” Mark says bluntly.

Newsagents relegating newspaper fits nicely into Ross Dawson’s Newspaper Extinction Timeline, in the case of Mark Fletcher’s newsagency Dawson sees the Australian newspaper industry vanishing by 2022.

For newsagents the signals have been clear for some time that they have to adapt to a society where paper based products – newspapers, stationery and greeting cards – aren’t in demand.

The process of adapting isn’t easy or smooth – many experiments will fail and even the smartest business people will make expensive mistakes. That’s the nature of evolution.

Newsagents though are just one example of changing marketplaces, there’s few industries that aren’t being disrupted by the technology and economic changes of our times. All of us are going to have to adapt to a rapidly changing world.


Mar 202013
The BBC investment of Lonely Planet didn't succeed

The BBC yesterday sold Lonely Planet to US media company NC2 Media. Their £80 million loss on the venture puts them in good company as established media struggle to find new online channels and revenue streams.

While the losses aren’t trivial, they are not quite in the league of News Corporation $545 million loss on MySpace or Time Warner’s billion dollar adventure with AOL.

All three stories show how tough it is for ‘old media’ adapting to a new landscape.

The problem is there for ‘new media’ as well, most ventures struggle to make money and many of the success stories like Huffington Post rely on a combination of free content and a greater fool buying them.

No-one has really figured out what the new media revenue models are; not the established publishers or the online upstarts.

Lonely Planet’s online success was due to their forums which, like most web discussion boards, can feature discussions politely described as “robust”.

This was always going to a problem for the BBC’s public service management culture and it resulted in the shutdown of the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree forums over Christmas.

So it’s not surprising that the BBC has decided to end its experiment and now the corporation’s management is dealing with the criticism of those losses.

While it’s easy to criticise the BBC for the deal, at least the broadcaster was attempting something different online, doing nothing is probably a poorer strategy than buying MySpace or Lonely Planet.

Over time, we’re going to see a lot more experiments and many will be public embarrassments like those the BBC and News Corporation have suffered, but there will be successes.

Someone will crack the code and they will be the Randolph Hearsts of this century. It could one of the Murdoch heirs, it could be the owners of NC2 Media or it could be some young, hot shot developer working in a Rio favela or the slums of Kolkata.

But it will be someone.

It’s an exciting time to be in business.

Feb 222013

Yesterday Sensis announced it would restructure for digital growth by sacking staff, offshoring and “accelerate its transition to a digital media business”.

The directory division of Telstra has been in decline for years, a process that wasn’t helped by then CEO Sol Trujillo embarking on his expensive “Google Schmoogle” diversion.

A decade later, Managing Director John Allen has announced another 650 jobs to go from the remaining 3,500 workforce.

John’s comments are worth noting.

Until now we have been operating with an outdated print-based model – this is no longer sustainable for us. As we have made clear in the past, we will continue to produce Yellow and White Pages books to meet the needs of customers and advertisers who rely on the printed directories, but our future is online and mobile where the vast majority of search and directory business takes place.

Carol King put it best – it’s too late, Baby. These are words that should have been said a decade ago.

Feb 152013

One of the hoped for futures of publishing was cheap, hyperlocal websites that report news on individual suburbs or neighbourhoods and get advertising from local businesses.

Last week US TV network NBC abruptly closed down its Everyblock online service, leaving loyal users angry and bemused. Right now it appears though the hyperlocal concept isn’t working.

The failure of Everyblock

Founded five years ago, Everyblock had an interesting model of mashing up local data like Flickr pictures and government information with news so residents and visitors would have an accurate up-to-date picture of what was happening in their neighbourhood.

Everyblock’s failure follows AOL’s struggle to get their hyperlocal play Patch working, although AOL reported in 2012 that Patch’s revenues have doubled.

Whether that doubling is enough to save Patch remains to be seen, it’s quite clear that some question the sustainability of AOL’s growth in revenues and page views.

All of this raises the question of why hyperlocal isn’t working.

A game for amateurs

The main reason is that there’s not enough money it –anybody who is going to run a hyperlocal site is going to be doing it for love or because there’s a dumb corporation burning shareholders’ equity on the venture.

In most communities there simply aren’t enough advertisers interested to pay the bills and you can forget any paywalling.

Most critically for local publishing ventures, the local advertising market has been suffocated by the web. Twenty years ago, the local plumber or cafe would hit most of their market by spending $2,000 on their Yellow Pages listing and probably double that with a weekly ad in the classified section of the local newspaper.

Today, a web site with sufficient SEO smarts to come up on their first page of searches for their suburbs is enough, many can get away with a free Facebook or Google Plus for Business page, despite the dangers of using other people’s services to promote your business.

For the telephone directories this change has been catastrophic while local newspapers only survive thanks to their less than healthy relationship with real estate agents.

Local market failure

The interesting thing with the evolving local media market is just how poorly the web giants have performed.

Two years ago, Google appeared to have the sector sown up with the Google Places service but a combination of poor service, restrictive rules and an obsession with Google Plus have seen the company squander their advantage, leaving their local search service underused and irrelevant.

Similarly, Facebook looked like they could take that market off Google but they too haven’t executed well.

Which leaves local businesses reliant on their own websites and a hodge-potch of services like Yelp!, Tripadvisor and Urbanspoon.

This doesn’t serve the business or the customer well.

Where to for local news?

A bigger question though is where do people go to find local news?

Increasingly it looks like social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are the place as people see what their friends and neighbours post. It’s not great, but it’s better than the local newspapers increasingly stuffed with syndicated content with a few local stories from an overworked part-timer.

It’s not clear that hyperlocal news has failed, but right now it’s not looking good. Perhaps it needs somebody with a truly disruptive model to find what works in our communities.

image courtesy of davidlat on

Jan 132013
newspapers are dying as the media business models move online

The future of journalism is bleak if sales teams can’t figure out how to sell ads on news sites.

Eighteen months ago News Limited, the Australian print arm of News Corporation, put out the first indications that content was going behind a paywall.

This was always going to be controversial so a softening up process was put in place including the then head of News Digital Media, Richard Freudenstein, speaking at various conferences.

Inviting bloggers to a briefing on News Limited’s online future was another strategy which, predictably, resulted in varying views on the prospects from attendees like Laurel Papworth and Ross Dawson.

Another part of the process was Freudenstein penning the odd article for The Australian describing the rationale behind the paywall.

“And we will have completely solved how to sell advertising across print, tablet and digital.” Freudenstein said at both the end of his Australian article and a later Q&A at the Mumbrella 360 Conference.

Sadly this appears not to have been the case, a year later News was struggling with digital revenues.

This is not just a problem for News Limited or Australian publications, The Economist looked at the struggles of print media in 2012 and cited a graph from Reflections Of A Newsosaur showing how newspapers’ digital revenues have been flat lining for nearly a decade while their print revenues collapse.

digital advertising revenues have been flatlining for decades

One of the reasons for traditional media’s stagnation is their salespeople have been bought up selling newspaper display ads, are locked into antiquated KPI’s and have commission structures that reward print over digital.

This was bought home to me a few weeks after News Limited started its charm offensive at a presentation by Cumberland Press, News Limited’s suburban division, where the salesman told a room of small business owners about the range of print advertising products available in the local newspapers.

Not once was True Local, News Limited’s Google Places competitor, mentioned. When I asked about it, the salesman waved the idea away and said he’d throw in an annual sub if I took out a week’s worth of quarter page display ads in the Manly Daily.

Many of the small business owners in the room thought that was a good deal, which shows its not just newspaper managers who are having a digital steamroller running over their revenues – but that’s a post for another time.

As The Economist and Newsosuar shows, News Limited’s experience in selling digital advertising is the norm and it’s genuinely shocking that newspapers’ digital revenues have flatlined while the revenues of Google and other online advertisers soar.

When News Limited announced its new strategy they also announced a community site to discuss the issues of digital news gathering and online advertising. They called it The Future of Journalism.

Just over a year later The Future of Journalism site looks like this;

the future of journalism is gone according to News LimitedThat’s a dismal view of the future of journalism but it’s pretty accurate if somebody can’t figure out how to sell ads on news sites and break newspapers out of their online advertising stagnation.