Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Are All Content Producers "Internet Slaves"? -- Why Can't We Place A Value of Online Content?

In a compelling op-ed published in the New York Times entitled, "Slaves of the Internet, Unite!" Tim Kreider, an author of “We Learn Nothing,” a collection of essays and cartoons, makes the case that once artists became known as "content providers," they were "essentially extinct."

The situation for writers is that: 
"People who would consider it a bizarre breach of conduct to expect anyone to give them a haircut or a can of soda at no cost will ask you, with a straight face and a clear conscience, whether you wouldn’t be willing to write an essay or draw an illustration for them for nothing."
What has lead us to this point?
"Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.
It's interesting that this op-ed follows an article from the previous Sunday's New York Times that talked about difficult clients, among the warning signs are “Whenever someone tells me, ‘I dabble in writing myself’ or ‘This just needs some polishing up’ alarm bells start ringing. Why? Someone who ‘dabbles in writing’ thinks they could do a great job themselves and they’ll micromanage you or worse, not pay what you’re worth."

For writers and those PR agencies and departments that hire writers, including companies looking to become thought leaders by regularly publishing fresh content, this question about the value of writing is not going to go away.

A decade or so ago, you could develop a marketing brochure in January and you could use it all year, possibly longer than that. But these days, you can't get away with the same brochure and content throughout the year. You need to regularly refresh and update your blog, Twitter feed, Facebook page, LinkedIn group, etc. That means there is a value to producing new content but the point that Kreider and others make is that no one seems willing to pay an appropriate amount for it. After all, blogs, like this one, are designed to give away content while many newspapers and magazines also make their content available for free, whether you're a subscriber or not.

I don't see the situation changing but here are some questions to consider:
  • Why does the content-consumer public feel they don't need to pay for the content they're consumer (unless it's on Netflix)?
  • There's always going to be someone willing to take a job for "the exposure" so how can established writers compete?
  • Companies may be able to afford to give away content but what can artists do to better support themselves -- including the freelancers who find they can no longer afford to write -- which could leave companies scrambling to find new content providers?
  • If companies can't point to specific sales generated by the content they produce to entice customers, how can they place a value on that content?
  • Can the model of free content be sustainable? Should it?
  • Should companies continue to give away their content?
  • Aside from page views, how can we provide an estimate of the value of our content?
  • How can freelancers and companies alike monetize their content?
That last question may be connected to my last two blog posts, "Why are Pogue, Mossberg & Swisher Leaving the NYT & WSJ?" and "Why Pogue, Mossberg & Swisher Are Leaving the NYT & WSJ, Part II."

Seems like even top reporters (aka "content producers") are looking for new opportunities because they can't make the money the old fashioned way. I don't think this problem is one that affects only writers and artists. It affects not just media companies but any company that produces content.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Why Pogue, Mossberg & Swisher Are Leaving the NYT & WSJ, Part II

With the imminent shift by David Pogue (The New York Times), Walt Mossberg (Wall St. Journal/AllThingsD) and Kara Swisher (AllThingsD) to new ventures, I had some additional thoughts about the significance of those moves.

Mike Maney, who tweets at the_spinmd, responded to my first blog post  on the topic, saying, "Not sure I'd say lots of people still open their paper to read. Which is the core of the 'why' IMO" that Pogue, Mossberg and Swisher are leaving.

I agree but I think people do check out the Times and the Journal on their apps and from those papers' websites. Soon, after checking the headlines on nytimes.com and wsj.com, people are going to have to remember to click to the other URLs to find out what Pogue and Mossberg think about the latest cosnumerish technology.

Of course a click or two, especially if bookmarked, is not an arduous, time-consumer process (not like it was with dial-up service -- for those old enough to remember dial-up). But we leave in a one-click world where requiring a couple of clicks to purchase an item may cause people to give up.  (I can't imagine what my grandmother would react if she she had learned that a couple of clicks represent too much of an obstacle to purchase, considering she had to take buses to get to the store to buy something only after trying it on, and then travel back again when she returned the item.)

I do think Pogue, Mossberg and Swisher are replaceable in a way -- I mean, we all are, after all. But I do think it will be more difficult for their replacements to establish themselves just as it will take a while for Pogue, Mossberg and Swisher (I'm not going to refer to them by an acronym).

As it is, one can make a case that the tech reporters getting a lot of attention these days are not the tech reviewers but those who cover startups. That said, consumer tech reviewers will always be important because we need someone to tell us which device is better -- the iPhone or the Galaxy.

No matter what, I think the continuing fragmentation of the media is a lose-lose proposition for reporters, these publications and the readers. 

This fragmentation makes it more challenging to reach a mass audience. It takes more effort to reach more reporters, who themselves reach smaller audiences. (These audiences may be more engaged than traditional print newspaper readers, but they're still harder to reach.) It takes more time to research and contact reporters...which means we need to spend more time overall to reach fewer people at a time. It's pretty much a similar story with social media, too. Don't get me wrong, you've got to reach people on different platforms -- Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, blogs, and forums, etc. -- but it can take more time to reach increasingly niche audiences.

That, I believe, is the point to keep in mind in terms of the implications for Pogue, Mossberg, Swisher and the rest of us.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Why are Pogue, Mossberg & Swisher Leaving the NYT & WSJ?

Following the recent news that Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher at AllThingsD will be leaving after 11 years to start a new technology writing and conference business, David Pogue announced that he's leaving the New York Times after 13 years. Pogue will be joining a new consumer technology site at Yahoo.

There are some reports/rumors that Mossberg and Swisher were pushed out of the Wall St. Journal, which has also announced it will expand "the Journal's technology coverage and conference franchise, including the addition of 20 editorial staff. (By the way, Mossberg has worked at the Journal for far longer than 11 years -- the 11 years is based on the launch of AllThingsD.) Mossberg and Swisher's contract runs through Dec. 31, 2013, and they have said that they will launch a new business as of Jan. 1, 2014.

What's interesting is this: regardless of whether Mossberg and Swisher were pushed out, they will launch a new platform. (Hard to imagine that they'll be able to launch a competing business while still writing for the Journal but I have every confidence that they will be successful). And regardless to how Pogue is leaving (there have been grumblings regarding conflicts of interest in terms of reviewing Apple technology when he also has had publishing contracts for how-to books on those same products), these departures raise a couple of interesting questions:
  • All three are hardworking, knowledgeable and have incredible industry connections -- but how much of their success has been the result of the platform they've had for the last decade? In other words, were they the top of the industry because they worked at the New York Times and Wall St. Journal or were they working at the NYT and WSJ because they are the best reporters out there? (Again, I've worked with them over the years, and have always read their columns and articles -- and they are terrific reporters and reviewers.)
  • How important are they to their respective tech sections? Based on my experience, lots of people open their Thursday editions to read the latest reviews from Mossberg and Pogue. So, will readers still turn to the Thursday tech sections as avidly as they did until now? I'm betting that there will be a fall-off because I think readers respect Mossberg and Pogue and because they've built up credibility over the past decade-plus.
  • Will their new endeavors keep them at the pinnacle of the industry? I think Mossberg and Swisher definitely will maintain their ranks -- because of the conference business. Pogue has hinted at more than blog posts, reviews and video -- but launching a successful conference is tough. Mossberg and Swisher have done it and should be able to do so again. The question is whether Pogue, who is also busy serving as technology correspondent for “CBS News Sunday Morning,” columnist for Scientific American and the host of a series on technology on the PBS program “Nova,” has the time and inclination to build a conference business. That said, by keeping his position with CBS News Sunday Morning, Pogue will also maintain his position at the top of the field.
  • That said, while I know online is usurping print, I still wonder if their new online platforms Yahoo for Pogue and To-Be-Named-Later for Mossberg and Swisher, will attract as much attention/traffic as the NYTimes.com or WSJ.com?
  • For Mossberg and Swisher, will their new site provide subscriber-only access -- a paywall to generate revenue even before generating advertising revenue? With Pogue, the established Yahoo! platform indicates his new site would be free -- but still leaves open the question: how does it become self-sustaining?. 
However this plays out, it's clear that reporters these days can find new ways to monetize their reviews and articles beyond print newspapers. But the further fragmentation of the media makes developing an audience that much more challenging for Mossberg, Swisher and Pogue -- and that much more challenging for those of us who follow and pitch them.

Let me know what you think.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

My Advice: Avoid "Best Advice" Articles in Magazines

Magazines and websites often run "best advice" that executives have received. I usually find the advice to be of extremely limited value to me, no matter the publication.

Sometimes the articles are the result of lazy journalism.

Often I can see that the advice was meaningful to the person describing it as the best advice he or she ever received but of limited value to the rest of us.

Take, for example, Steve Martin's advice for how to be a millionaire and never pay taxes (delivered as part of his monologue for Saturday Night Live): "You.. can be a millionaire.. and never pay taxes! You say.. 'Steve.. how can I be a millionaire.. and never pay taxes?' First...get a million dollars. Now.. you say, 'Steve.. what do I say to the tax man when he comes to my door and says, "You.. have never paid taxes'?"' Two simple words. Two simple words in the English language: 'I forgot!'" 

I couldn't find video of Steve Martin delivering that bit but a lot of advice dispensed in those articles are kind of like "First... get a million dollars."

 I recently came across "The Best Advice Elle Editors Ever Received From Their Bosses," and since I worked in NYC book publishing and had some experience with magazine publishing, I thought I'd take a quick scan.

Some of them fit right into what I expected: a beauty editor claimed her best advice was "sent via email in all caps one evening, 'NO JEWELS, NO RULES!' Interpret that as you wish."  Two pieces of advice may seem contradictory: "Don't sweat the small stuff" and "Pay attention to the smallest details." I guess it's important at various times to pay attention to details just as it might be important to not sweat the small stuff. But really -- those were the best advice they were given?

That said, three actually struck me as worthwhile:
    1. From Elle.com's social media editor: "Don't be afraid of the phone. No matter how many times you've emailed, if you haven't called, you haven't done everything possible get the job done. It's not pushy; sometimes it's just the most effective way."
    2. From an Elle.com intern: "Have a notebook at all times and write everything down,' which was told to me by Lauren Levinson. It's extremely simple advice but a life-saver when it comes to managing multiple tasks. Ideas are fleeting and details get lost in the mix, so putting it down in pen and paper keeps you on top of it all."
    3. From an Elle assistant editor: "You can't be afraid to ask for what you want, because rarely is anyone going to: (A) do it for you or (B) give it to you voluntarily. A raise, an assignment, a day off—such things could fall in your lap, but if you really want it and you can make a case for why you actually deserve it, then it's up to you to be your own agent in reaching your goals."
    For PR professionals, the first point should be obvious. Too many of us now rely solely on email when calling is an effective way to follow-up.

    For me, the second advice is relevant to PR folks because it's always important to make notes of new ideas because, given multitasking and juggling different assignments (even for the same client), it can be easy to forget that brilliant insight you had.

    The third point is important because we had a client once who had a way of working that was more complicated than it needed to be -- lots of people had to approve every document, for example, and if any of them made a substantive change, we'd have to start the review cycle over again -- but we never directly asked them to ask them to look at changing some of their processes so that we could be more efficient. We thought they might recognize that a two- or three-month process to approve a bylined article was not efficient or timely (and that time span hurt the pipeline of stories we could pitch and secure).  But we kept our frustration to ourselves for the duration of the assignment. When the project ended, we moved on, but we really should have spoken up to let the client know they should at least examine some of their processes.

    This may not be my best advice -- to avoid advice articles. On the other hand, feel free to post any advice you've received that you think are valuable.