Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Magazine Death Pool

Business Week's media critic, Jon Fine, wrote about MagazineDeathPool.com, a blog that seeks to predict which magazines will fail and when. The blogger, apparently a magazine publishing insider, does a good job of explaining what turns out to be an epidemic of closings of major magazines. The latest victim: Business 2.0, which it first predicted in Feb. 2006: www.magazinedeathpool.com/magazine_death_pool/business/index.html.

It's not surprising that the Internet is putting pressure on print magazines. (I've already discussed that in earlier posts.) Apparently Time Inc. feels the smart business decision is to close a well-received magazine like Business 2.0, despite a strong circulation. MagazineDeathPool notes that Business 2.0 is "the forgotten business magazine of the Time Inc. empire" which also publishes Fortune, Fortune Small Business (FSB) and Money, and that is "in the same category as another barely-breathing dot-com relic, Fast Company."

What's surprising, though, is this: Time Inc. feels that they can't sell the advertising to support Business 2.0. Remember: circulation for most general magazines is only one sign of a magazine's health -- but it is not the most important. Advertising underwrites subscription fees for most magazines; publishers often reduce subscription fees to boost circulation and in turn to raise fess they can charge advertisers.

Having a strong circulation, which an involved readership, is not enough reason to keep a magazine around.

There's an increase in magazine's death rate because -- and this isn't getting a lot of coverage yet -- advertising is going through a slump. In the tech press, some ad reps blame industry consolidation: too many mergers reduce the number of companies that need to advertise.

From a PR perspective, this is bad news because:
1. Fewer magazines means fewer opportunities for coverage.
2. Fifty percent of any issue of a healthy magazine is advertising copy. Any cut in ad pages = cut in editorial copy -- again reduced opportunities for coverage.
3. Fewer opportunities leads to increased competition for remaining editorial.

Of course, this is not the first wave of magazine closings -- there were a lot following the dot-com crash, and in the early 1990s and in 1987, too. While PR will survive as it embraces new channels (and re-evaluates its priorities of traditional print to online), the challenge for the magazine industry is more significant. To capture readership, particularly those younger than Baby Boomers, magazines will need to find new ways of being relevant...and that may mean moving to a completely non-paper basis.

Somethng in the water...

There must be something in the water. Fast Company's July/August issue, featuring enviro-spokesmodel Al Gore on its cover, also features an article about bottled water that reports that bottled water is wasteful -- just in terms of the all the plastic bottles produced to hold the water.

On Aug. 12, New York Times published "Water, Water Everywhere, but Guilt by the Bottleful" (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/12/fashion/12water.html?_r=1&oref=slogin).

Maybe it's a summer trend -- hot days and not much news -- but there's been a spike in news about bottled water.

I've seen articles about Coca-Cola acknowledged that its Dasani brand is made from tap water. That Pepsi's Aquafina brand will be labeled tap water.

The first article I saw was in March, but
there seems to be a rising tide (sorry) of criticism against the bottled water industry. There's even an article, from physorg.com, that's gotten significant picked up around the world. It's headline: "The New Public Enemy Number 1: Bottled Water."

I could use a drink.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Yet more about Wikipedia...

I'm not obsessed with Wikipedia -- it may only seem that way. The same could be said the New York Times, which ran two articles recently about Wikipedia.

The New York Times had an interesting article, "Seeing Corporate Fingerprints in Wikipedia Edits," makes the point that Wikipedia does not like corporate meddling on sites, and that it is now easier to find out who has edited those entries thanks to "wikiscanner.virgil.gr, created by a computer science graduate student, cross-references an edited entry on Wikipedia with the owner of the computer network where the change originated, using the Internet protocol address of the editor’s network."

Interestingly, the article found "most of the corporate revisions did not stay posted for long. Many Wikipedia entries are in a constant state of flux as they are edited and re-edited, and the site’s many regular volunteers and administrators tend to keep an eye out for bias."

The second article, "Defending Wikipedia's Impolite Side," provides an interesting look Wikipedia's perspective on "being punk'd" online. The bottom line: Wikipedia isn't doing much to correct possible defamation in entries.

Friday, August 17, 2007

More advice on Wikipedia

Here's some more advice on Wikipedia:

6. Sometimes dis-contributors (see earlier posting) will delete entries from Wikipedia newbies just because they have no track record. The best way to overcome this objection is to build a track record. And the best way to build a track record is to edit pre-existing entries. The secret to that is simple: There are truly lots of misspellings and grammatical errors throughout Wikipedia -- so it is not difficult to contribute to an entry without having to have factual expertise on a topic. Just click onto "Edit This Page," and, just like MS Word, Wikipedia software uses a red underline to identify misspelled words. Once you correct them, the page goes into "Your Contributions" page. Of the more than two dozen entries, just six are new material. The rest were copy-editing changes. Which, believe me, Wikipedia desperately needs.

7. The secret to working successfully with Wikipedia and other social networks is frustratingly simple: you need to make the investment of time. Time to check out the site and learn the ground rules. Time to contribute ...by following those ground rules. And time to make sure your contributions remain, and don't get edited out by dis-contributors. Clients who want a quick turn-around and quick results are going to be disappointed because it takes time to be seen as a useful member of these online communities. If you rush into things, you'll make mistakes, and could inadvertently harm your client or cause.

8. Many contributors to Wikipedia seem to be lazy. By leaving the Wikipedia world, and doing a little searching on the Internet, I've been able to find credible sources for correct misinformation. Again, if the dis-contributors did a little digging and more copy-editing, they could actually make a real contribution to the Wikipedia world.

9. Lee Gomes, a Wall St. Journal reporter and "Portals" columnist, makes an interesting point in his recent column, "Forget the Articles, Best Wikipedia Read Is Its Discussions." Discussion pages are "where Wikipedians discuss and debate what an article should or shouldn't be." Gomes discusses issues raised on the Ireland entry (should the entry be called "The Republic of Ireland"?) or the page for kittens (an "editor was objecting to the statement that most people think kittens are cute"). While I understand discussions about subjective perspectives, some discussions about facts get heated, but could be readily solved by further research. For example, there was a debate on the discussion page for Joan Didion surrounding the term "prose stylist." The term was deleted from her entry by someone who felt that all writers could be classified as "prose stylists." (That is not the case with many Wikipedia entries, in my opinion.) Others stated that "prose stylist" is a valid description of Didion. This debate started April 2005 and continued through Aug. 2007. Part of the problem was getting a citation to back up the description of Didion as a prose stylist. I did a quick Google search, and found a reliable citation from the New York Times. Problem solved. That's an example of Wikipedians being too lazy to find information outside the Wikipedia world.

10. There's a lot of movie and entertainment information on Wikipedia, and I found that many of the articles include citations from Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com). So that in some cases, the Wikipedia entry doesn't offer as much trivia or interesting dialog lines as IMDB. While IMDB does have user-generated content, it could do a whole lot more by letting its users know to add content there, and for making it easier to post content onto the IMDB site. I've added information to IMDB before, but it took several days before the information appeared -- which is a benefit of Wikipedia: you can see your information instantly.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Washington Post & Hard Times

In "Hard News: Newspapers are dying. At the Washington Post Co., CEO Donald Graham is banking on the Internet to save serious journalism," Fortune's Marc Gunther takes a very interesting look at the need for old media to adapt.

Citing the Post as his "'$0.35 edition' in his blog," a Post reporter is lauded for being "platform-agnostic, which is a nice way of saying that his bosses are no longer big believers in print. Today a small army of bloggers, podcasters, chatroom hosts, radio voices, and TV talking heads, as well as a few old-fashioned ink-stained wretches, populates the newsroom at the 131-year-old Post. "If circulation is dropping," the Post reporter said, "and we're trying to figure out how people are going to get their news, who am I to say no to trying out new avenues?"

One of the secrets of the Post, according to an editor there, "Investigative reporting is our brand."

According to Fortune, "The Post has two goals online. It wants to become a must-buy in Washington while increasing its share of national ad dollars. Right now ads aimed at local readers account for about 60 percent of revenues. The site offers a vast trove of local content - going-out guides, traffic, weather, sports. Says Graham: 'We have a map of D.C. with every school listed, with test scores and other things parents would want to know. It's not all-inclusive, but it's a lot of information, and you couldn't do that in the paper.'"

The implications for those of us in PR is that we need to make sure our information is platform-agnostic, and look to use the Internet in ways that go well beyond the paper-based press release. It is likely to cost more to produce, certainly at first, but be much for effective.

The Wall St. Post

Of course ownership by Rupert Murdoch has not yet changed the Wall St. Journal...It has not morphed into a tabloid, with a headline, "The Economy is hot, hot, hot!!!" accompanied by a photo of scantily clad "Page Three Girl." (According to Wikipedia, "Page Three Girl" are those who appear topless in the British tabloid, The Sun, which is owned by Murdoch.)

Yet many are concerned that he will change the Journal as he has nearly every existing media property he has acquired.

In its article, "America is coming to terms with Rupert Murdoch's purchase of one of its great journalistic institutions," "The Economist" makes an interesting point about the nature of the Journal: "The Journal is not really one newspaper but two -- a newspaper and a highly opinionated conservative magazine. Hitherto it has succeeded in drawing a line between them. Will Mr. Murdoch resist allowing his own conservative opinions to blur that line?"

My bet: Murdoch will certainly start asking questions of his new management team at Dow Jones about the Journal's business, approaches, margins, etc. And asking these questions -- should the Journal.com be available by subscription only, thereby limiting access and lowering its rankings on search engines as limiting the number of people online who can view its articles -- will change aspects of the Journal. But he is too shrewd a businessman to want to tamper too much with his new crown jewel.

Shrinking Times

I know I feel there's never enough time. Now I feel there's barely enough Times -- New York Times, that is. This week, the New York Times changed the size of the broadsheet page it's been printing on for generations.

The Times made the change as a cost-cutting move, and joins the Wall St. Journal as broadsheet newspapers that have shrunk the size of their pages.

From a media business perspective, I understand the need to cut costs (especially in a post-Bancroft-family-owned Wall St. Journal, whose lackluster performance made its ownership by Rupert Murdoch possible, and pressures the Sulzberger-family-owned Times). But that's not going to solve the Times' business challenges. You can't cut costs to greatness. In other words, shrinking its pages is a short-term move. The more important, long-term moves will be those that position the Times as a 21st-century media property, embracing multimedia channels. (For an interesting look at what one newspaper, the Washington Post, is doing, check out Fortune's "Hard News: Newspapers are dying. At the Washington Post Co., CEO Donald Graham is banking on the Internet to save serious journalism" by Marc Gunther.)

From a reader's perspective, I don't like this move because it shrinks the editorial and op-ed pages. The section devoted to letters has been cut in half; the Times says it publishes more letters on its website -- but that's not the same thing, at least for those of us who still, anachronistically, feel there is more prestige to be in the print edition.

There is also less space on the op-ed page.

Since both the letters to the editor and the op-ed page are designed to provide a sense of dialog between the Times (comprised of its editorial writers, reporters, and editors) and its readers, the cost-cutting decision seems to say the Times is less interested in a dialog. The only other way readers can communicate with the Times is through its ombudsman; while that has been an interesting outlet, appearing every other week in the Sunday Op-Ed pages, letters to the ombudsman do not have the prominent placement either online or in the print version as compared with the letters to the editor or the op-ed page.

This is significant in that, given the advent of Web 2.0 tools and social media like blogs, other companies are moving in the opposite direction -- to having more dialog with their customers (aka readers).

The Web 2.0-isation of PR is significant, even in a discipline that always said its communication process was much more of a two-way street than advertising and other marketing initiatives. It opens new opportunities and new challenges. The same is true for journalism. The road to survival for PR and journalism alike will be to adapt to the new ways that people use and interact with content.

But in shrinking its pages and limiting dialog with its readers, the Times is taking a step backwards.