Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Google CEO Foresees Advertising, Technology Cozying Up
by Laurie Sullivan
Look for the advertising and the technology industries to grow cozier in a move similar to one experienced by the financial industry during the 1970s.
That's when a set of scientists and mathematicians developed new metrics, and suddenly a generation of employees focused on analytics joined financial firms to maximize efficiencies and profits, Google chairman and CEO Eric Schmidt told attendees at the 90th annual American Association of Advertising Agencies Leadership Conference on Tuesday in Laguna Niguel, Calif.
"There is every reason to believe marketing will go through a similar transition--but the principles of marketing, which are around storytelling, entertainment, targeting and selling--will be augmented by analytical tools," Schmidt said.
The goal for Google is to develop technology that delivers actionable metrics, making it easier for advertisers and agencies to optimize and measure campaigns. More advertisers will have the tools to expand into multiple markets that can test consumer interest in products and services.
Take, for example, Cadillac's click-to-play video ads. The car manufacturer had its ad agency create 13 versions of an ad, testing them in multiple markets to gauge consumer impact and the correlation between viewing the ads and the actual sales. Chrysler allowed consumers to customize the Chrysler 300, but the carmaker did it as content to draw in consumer engagement.
Honda sponsored a concert. Google engineers built technology that allowed concertgoers to ask the band questions and get responses. Schmidt says these will become the defining models for advertisers over the next 10 or 20 years.
For Google, advertising nirvana occurs when the search giant can return the exact answer for each query, accompanied with one perfectly targeted ad. "Eventually, maybe what we can do is guarantee advertisers who pay us money--and this is my fantasy, the sale," Schmidt says. "If we can get to that level of that specificity, advertising will no longer be a marketing expense. It becomes a sales expense."
Schmidt also addressed the challenges of finding ways to compensate content producers and issues of finding advertising content on YouTube when the consumer does not have a specific destination in mind. He acknowledges that financial compensation from one minute of online content brings in much less than one minute on television, but says the solution should focus on creating more compelling and targeted ads that command higher rates.
Nearly 400 attendees signed up for the conference, which runs through today.
Sunday, April 27, 2008
BoSacks Speaks Out: Here is an interesting story of a small eclectic magazine store going out of business. I thought that the response of the owner interesting and quite telling.
Such as this remark:
The effect of industry consolidation was to reduce competition. The way so many wholesalers competed with each other was to offer good terms and lengthy lists of titles including many low-circulation, specialized magazines. After consolidation, the remaining wholesalers learned to respect each other's turf, reducing competition more. They tightened up terms with retailers considerably. And they reduced their lists of titles by expelling the kind of low-circulation specialty magazines Magpie thrived on.
Well industry . . . What do you have to say to that? Decreased competition and a reduction of magazine titles. Is that the way for our continued sustainability and success? Or do you think it is a good thing for us to be at the mercy of Wal-Mart who at any moment can lop off another "unnecessary" printed 1,000 titles.
Business is a good game - lots of competition and a minimum of rules. You keep score with money.
Atari founder Nolan Bushnell
Vancouver's Magpie Magazine Gallery to close
Running a proper magazine store, one that reflects the owners' sensibilities and carries offbeat, quirky and hard-to-find titles is not an easy job and sometimes the job just gets too much. Hence, one of Vancouver's most engaging magazine stores, Magpie Magazine Gallery, is closing this Saturday after 15 years in business. The reasons given are sobering.According to a heartfelt tribute by Chad Christie in the Vancouver Sun and a personal note to his readers by Magpie owner Kevin Potvin, the store was done in by the usual suspects: Amazon, the internet, changing public tastes. As Christie put it:
It offered not the facade of intelligence -- a fake fireplace, decorative library ladders, a comfy "leather" chair -- but rather its own raw eccentricities.
Magpie was perhaps the only bookstore in the entire country that didn't play the same euro-centric classical music all day long. There, one could negotiate the sounds of Gracie Fields one minute and Public Enemy the next, Zhou Xuan and Madonna, Yma Sumac and Nine Inch Nails, Emmett Miller and Rodney Graham, among others.
Almost instantly Magpie became a community resource, the nexus of something new. In 2000 the owner of the store, Kevin Potvin, published a manifesto for the area in the Vancouver Courier entitled the "People's Republic of East Vancouver."
The article drew so much attention that I designed a logo for it, the merchandise of which -- stickers, magnets, T-shirts -- remained popular sale items to this day. Several local festivals and even realty brochures now refer to the area as such, and Potvin soon established the at times infamous Republic of East Vancouver newspaper, copies of which are subscribed to from all over the world.
Kevin Potvin, the Magpie's owner, writes in the current issue of The Republic of East Vancouver:
I am sad to be closing Magpie, but I'm very happy to have operated so long on this wonderful street bringing to residents of my community such a wide array of interesting magazines and good books. It was always a delight, and it remains one now.
Potvin says that changing public habits (staring off into space on the bus with ipods in their ears, rather than reading books, using laptops in coffee shops, staying home and surfing the web) were one of the blows. Another was the consolidation of the distribution industry.
Where once the store had magazine supply contracts with up to 42 wholesale distributors, today only three remain after a serious round of mergers, takeovers, consolidations and collapses.
The effect of industry consolidation was to reduce competition. The way so many wholesalers competed with each other was to offer good terms and lengthy lists of titles including many low-circulation, specialized magazines. After consolidation, the remaining wholesalers learned to respect each other's turf, reducing competition more. They tightened up terms with retailers considerably. And they reduced their lists of titles by expelling the kind of low-circulation specialty magazines Magpie thrived on. Just as supply of these types of magazines became harder, demand dropped as well, as particularly those readers who sought out specialized content were among the first to discover the internet as a source.... But there are things the periodical industry could have done had they perceived the changes in time and had they imagined solutions that were available.
For example, it is well-known in the magazine and newspaper businesses that the proceeds from sales of single copies at stores have never more than covered the accounting, collections, distribution and wasted copies costs of supplying stores. The only benefit to publishers of single copy sales in stores has always been the chance to attract new subscribers. The real business of periodicals is in advertising, a business that requires eyeballs at almost any cost.
Publishers could have perceived the same changes already sweeping the digital music business and switched their way of doing business by offering stores directly-shipped free copies of their products, sill with a cover price, with the stores responsible for paying for shipping only. The result for publishers would have been the same neutral cost they already accept by employing the lecherous distribution industry, but they would have helped create many more flourishing stores happy to make space to push sales of what would then be very high profit margin products. I wrote an article seven years ago for the leading magazine-industry magazine explaining this solution. The article was rejected. That magazine itself went out of business the following year due to the same pressures.
And, finally, it was finances that finished the quirky independent off:
Magpie itself had developed intractable business problems. Around 2000, after operating for six years and arriving, as expected, at a time to re-capitalize, the unexpected arrival on the scene of Chapters Bookstores, with its predatory schemes-successfully executed-to wipe out most independent bookstores, made it suddenly impossible for any remaining bookstores to negotiate ordinary business re-capitalization loans at banks. The only financing available was through credit cards. Rather than close after six years, I made the choice to take credit card money, the crack of financial markets.
Since then, the amount the store has paid in interest rates on credit cards is equal to almost two times the capital borrowed against them. Credit card interest rates, though at a period of historically very low Bank of Canada overnight borrowing rates, were such that Magpie had in seven years paid the borrowed capital back twice over and yet still owed the total amount again. Pleas for lower more reasonable rates fell on coldly deaf ears.
Thursday, April 24, 2008
Hell, there are no rules here-- we're trying to accomplish something.
Thomas A. Edison (1847 - 1931)
New Rules of Custom Publishing - New Complimentary White Paper: Nine Strategies to Create a World-Class Content Marketing Company
Posted by Joe Pulizzi
The web and a continuing modification of buyer behavior (among other things) have changed the rules of what most people call the "custom publishing" industry. Traditional custom publishers, who profit from the creation and execution of customized content solutions for clients, must understand the new rules of custom publishing in order to survive. To help, I put together this complimentary white paper titled: The New Rules of Custom Publishing: Nine Key Strategies for Creating a World-Class Content Marketing Company.
Although this white paper is clearly targeted for publishers, or the providers of content services for marketing professionals, there is tremendous value for both marketers and publishers. This is especially true, since it doesn't matter if you make your money off of publishing or not. We are all publishers . . . so we all need to understand what is going on in the marketing/publishing world in order to compete in it (with content).
Unfortunately, most custom publishers are still hanging on to older business models and, as such, are getting plowed down by those abiding by the new rules of custom publishing. That said, there is a huge opportunity for those organizations that do choose to adopt the new rules as part of their overall business strategy.
The nine strategies highlighted in "The New Rules of Custom Publishing" are:
Understand the Changes That Are Leading the Content Marketing Future - A comprehensive overview of the changes in technology, publishing and marketing that are driving the custom content revolution.
Be Active in Social Media: It's Mandatory for the Future of Custom Publishing - From blogs to LinkedIn to Facebook, the new landscape of social media is an essential part of any strategy.
Acquire Expertise in All Forms of Content - Forget about focusing on one custom product; these days publishers need to be masters (or access to expertise) of everything from print magazines to Webcasts.
Walk the Talk - Don't expect a client to have confidence in your expertise if your company is not its own best content marketer.
Position Yourself as Both a Marketing and a Publishing Expert - Only companies that understand - and work with - both sides of the business are going to thrive.
Have a Clear Value Proposition - At some point the custom publishing field will become glutted. What's going to differentiate your company from the masses?
Price Your Services According to What the Customer Values - From industry standards to client specifics, everything a company could need to know about pricing.
Value the Role of the Project Manager - No project is going to manage itself. Don't underestimate the importance of good oversight.
Use Questions, Not Answers: Five Steps to Closing the Deal - How to make the client knock on your door...
Download this complimentary white paper The New Rules of Custom Publishing: Nine Key Strategies for Creating a World-Class Content Marketing Company and take your content company into the new world of publishing. I hope you enjoy it!
Monday, April 21, 2008
Ad buying goes digital
By Eric Pfanner
The International Herald Tribune
For all the talk of "digital this" and "2.0 that," one part of the advertising world remains defiantly analog: the buying and selling of ad space and time in traditional media like television and print.
Eschewing online auctions and other digital-age transactional tools, owners of offline media and the agencies that allocate marketers' ad budgets often turn to an older negotiating forum: the bar.
There, over a beer, they can run through the available ad space in, say, a newspaper, and determine how much an advertiser is willing to pay. They can haggle over how much of a discount the advertiser should get, compared with the media owner's published ad rates. And, in some cases, they can decide how much of that discount should go back to the media-buying agency as part of its compensation for brokering the deal.
Advertisers sometimes complain about the lack of transparency in this arrangement, though media buyers say their clout helps them negotiate better deals than their clients would be able to strike otherwise.
Digital evangelists say there is greater clarity online, at least when marketers use systems like Google's AdWords, which places text advertisements alongside search results, using an online auction to allocate a keyword to the highest-bidding advertiser. Google has moved to extend its services to offline advertising in the United States, with agreements to sell newspaper, radio and some television spots.
Now an online media buying venture based in London is trying to do something similar in Britain. The firm, called MediaEquals, was set up by Martin Banbury, a marketing executive and entrepreneur, who described it as an "online stock exchange" for advertising.
The exchange allows media owners to list their available advertising space or time slots online; they can choose from a variety of pricing methods, including an auction system that allows agencies to bid competitively for the ad opportunities. Media buyers can go online and get a clear picture of what is available.
"When there's more transparency, people are able to spot greater value," Banbury said. "That opens up markets for additional trading."
Several media buying agencies said they would participate in the MediaEquals pilot. These agencies are eager for alternatives to Google, because its online auction system essentially cuts them out of the deal. MediaEquals, by contrast, keeps them in the loop; its system essentially moves the existing media buying process online.
"They aren't looking to replace the traditional buyer-seller relationship," said Jim Marshall, chairman of one of these agencies, the British unit of Starcom MediaVest, which is owned by Publicis Groupe.
MediaEquals plans to begin operating in a few weeks in Britain. If it succeeds, Banbury said, the goal is to expand the service to other markets, including Continental Europe and the United States.
Some media buyers are skeptical about the benefits of automating the process, noting that the planning of marketing campaigns has grown more complex, given the proliferation of new, digital media formats.
The biggest challenge for Banbury may be to persuade media owners to make attractive ad slots available on the system. MediaEquals is not the first online ad exchange, but previous initiatives have tended to focus on subprime advertising niches, like selling late-night space on cable television. A U.S. service, Bid4Spots, for example, allows radio advertisers to buy unsold radio air time.
Banbury said several media owners, including the magazine publishing arm of the British Broadcasting Corp. and the billboard owner CBS Outdoor, along with radio stations and newspapers, have agreed to join the system for the pilot program. Media owners will be charged a commission to sell their ads on MediaEquals.
"If I can get my inventory across more eyeballs, then I've got nothing to lose," said Matt Teeman, ad sales director at BBC Magazines. "The challenge will be to see how it can coexist alongside personal relationship. I don't think people will stop making phone calls or seeing each other in person."
Thursday, April 17, 2008
New Research Into Why People Read
Posted by Tom Weber
The question of what drives people to read blogs is a big one for traditional media losing time with their audiences to the Internet and companies looking to tap the Web for marketing. It's also of more than passing interest to bloggers themselves (including us here at Buzzwatch).
One view suggests that, with such a broad smorgasborg of blogs and posts to choose from, readers will only dine on the most compelling content. But some researchers who studied a group of blog readers say one factor may be unappreciated:
When University of California at Irvine researchers delved into usage patterns, they found study participants who labeled their blog-reading time as "chilling out" and "doing nothing," with one describing his impulse to read blogs as similar to his cigarette habit. Another talked about following through on her blog-reading routine even when she wasn't interested in some of the content.
In other words, when it comes to some blog readers, keeping them may be much easier than getting them in the first place-a finding that suggests the importance of good marketing for blogs. The study, "Exploring the Role of the Reader in the Activity of Blogging," was presented last week at a conference on human factors in computing.
There are some caveats to the research-most notably, that the study examined just 15 blog readers. The researchers say their results point to areas worthy of bigger studies-and note how little academic research has been done on blog reading.
One interesting finding: the blog readers typically professed little stress about information overload in trying to keep up with their favorite blogs. When they got behind on reading posts, they just skipped the old ones. (Blogs apparently are not like the pile of New Yorker magazines you intend to get to-someday.)
We asked two of the study's authors, Eric Baumer and Bill Tomlinson, to answer a few questions. Mr. Baumer is a doctoral candidate at the University of California at Irvine. Mr. Tomlinson is an assistant professor there. Here's the interview:
Q: Your study suggests that regular blog readers are reading out of habit, rather than making content-oriented decisions about whether to read. Do you think blog reading is becoming more like TV viewing, to which some people devote hours while complaining that they can't find anything good to watch?
Mr. Baumer: While blog reading often becomes habitual, that does not mean it is not about the content. Motivations for reading are highly multifaceted, and while routine is one motivation, there are many others, including finding current news, fostering a personal connection with the blogger, fulfilling social obligations by reading a friend's blog, entertainment value, etc. While blog reading is often habitual, that habitual nature interacts with many other varied motivations.
With respect to the comparison with television, the form of the habitual activity is different from TV viewing. With few exceptions, TV limits the viewer to being a mostly passive participant; it is not a medium that facilitates much audience interaction. On the other hand, blogs enable interaction in a number of different forms: comments, email, trackbacks, etc. Thus, while blog reading might in part be habitual, those habits include interaction and engagement by the reader in a way not possible with television.
Q. People told you that they don't get stressed out if they're not up-to-date with their blog reading-which you point out is at odds with the pervasive notion of information overload. What are the implications? And does this ring true for you personally?
Mr. Baumer: In the paper, we actually reference a quote that describes the excessive amount of information available and that people will soon be completely overwhelmed by it; that quote is from 1613.
There are a number of important implications here. First of all, this rhetoric of information overload is not new, and is certainly not only a product of digital information technologies (keeping in mind that books are a sort of analog information technology).
Second, I think this finding helps to open up the design space in terms of tools to support blog reading. Rather than focusing on helping readers wade through a deluge of information content, one could envision tools that focus on the reader's relationship with the blogger or allowing more fluid, nuanced interactions between bloggers and readers.
Does it ring true personally? Yes. Shortly after I started reading blogs regularly, I gave up on trying to stay completely up to date, as it was a futile effort. When I have a chance, I'll skim through titles and maybe glance at some interesting looking posts, but I'm not trying to get to everything in my RSS feed reader.
Also, one of the biggest ways I find items of interest is through other people I know. If another student in our lab or a friend of mine finds something interesting, they're likely to share it. Lots of online sites, such as del.icio.us, are built around this idea of social filtering, but that sort of filtering happens through casual offline conversations, too.
Q. What are the signs that someone's own reading of blogs has become habitual? Also, you say that tools to raise self-awareness could be needed. What might those be, and what problems would they address?
Mr. Baumer: Habits aren't necessarily bad; reading the same blogs in the same order at the same time every day can help make it easier to remember which blogs one wants to read.
However, habits aren't necessarily good, either. Habitual reading can become potentially detrimental when people disengage mentally and don't think very critically about what they're reading. Many of our participants were reflective about why they read blogs, but not as reflective about how or what they read.
In terms of self-awareness, there is an interesting potential for tools that encourage critical thinking and reflection about what a person is reading. We want to encourage and enable people to ask questions about what is being said on the blogs they read, not just by the words themselves, but between and behind the words. Encouraging this sort of critical reflection may be an interesting and compelling way to make blog reading a more engaging experience.
Q. Your results are based on 15 respondents-all under age 40, and many of them bloggers themselves. What are the limitations of that sample?
Mr. Tomlinson: In the early stages of research into a topic, it's often helpful to begin with small qualitative studies such as this one in order to figure out the key issues. Quantitative studies with larger sample sizes are then useful for refining the understanding of these issues and developing statistical analyses of specific phenomena.
While the small sample size in this study does limit the generalizability of the findings (i.e., not everyone will have the same perspectives as the 15 people in this study), it nevertheless allowed us to go into much greater depth with each participant and develop a nuanced understanding of their way of approaching the blogs they read. This study has helped us to identify behaviors and perspectives for this particular group; further studies can then help see if these findings hold across broader samples and different communities.
Q. Many bloggers are obsessed with-and depend financially on-the size of their readership. What do you see as the most important takeaways from your results to bloggers? How might they be used to improve blogs?
Mr. Tomlinson: One of the most important lessons for bloggers from the study is that readers are heterogeneous - they're coming from different backgrounds, and have different expectations and motivations. Even among the participants in this study, there was a wide diversity of perspectives on several key issues.
Being aware of this heterogeneity in their readership can help bloggers think more carefully about the content they are providing, and how it will be perceived by their audiences. Blogs as a medium are highly varied and give rise to a broad range of interactions between bloggers and readers; understanding a bit more about the dynamics of these relationships was one of the core goals of this study.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
What went wrong at JRC
Posted by Alan Mutter
Teetering near default on a tower of debt and days from being booted off the Big Board, Journal Register Co. shows how strategic missteps and bad luck can imperil even as good a business as this highly profitable chain of community newspapers.
For all that's wrong with JRC - and there is a quite lot, to be sure - the company's 19.3% operating profit not only compares quite favorably with those of several of the largest Fortune 500 corporations but actually surpasses the margins of such giants as Chevron (18.5%), Wal-Mart (7.5%) and General Motors (3.5%).
The ability of JRC to continue generating rich profits at a time of unprecedented contraction in the newspaper business is the direct legacy of the rigorous expense management enforced by Robert Jelenic, the chief executive who ran the company for two decades until he resigned in November to undergo cancer treatment.
In addition to leaving JRC with some of the leanest-running newspapers in the land, Mr. Jelenic also left the company with the hefty $628.4 million in debt that now threatens to force it into bankruptcy. Most of the debt results from one bold, but less than successful, acquisition he undertook in 2004 in an effort to keep the company's sales, profits and stock price growing.
Not only did the transaction prove over time to be a serious miscalculation, but a steep drop in JRC's sales in the last two years has made it increasingly unlikely that the company can generate enough profits in the future to service its ponderous debt.
Between 2005 and 2007, JRC's sales tumbled 20.2% to $463.2 million, a drop nearly 2½ times greater than the over-all industry decline of 8.2% in the same period. (Some revenue was eliminated in JRC's sale of a few modest operating units, but the volume of the discontinued operations comes nowhere close to accounting for the disparity between the performance of the company and the industry as a whole.)
Caught between high debt and declining sales, the company today finds itself in a world of hurt:
JRC's share price has fallen by 99% from a high of $21.84 in 2004 to $0.265 Friday at the New York Stock Exchange. The Big Board plans to ban the shares from trading this week, because the value of the company is too low to meet the minimum listing standards.
:: The company's debt, which amounts to an untenable seven times its operating earnings for the last 12 months, is now rated at Caa1 by Moody's Investor Services, which means the rating agency believes the company has better than a 1 in 3 chance of default. Moody's is concerned that the company cannot generate enough cash to cover the debt repayments scheduled for 2009.
:The largest portion of the debt that threatens to force JRC into bankruptcy resulted from the acquisition for $415 million in 2004 of a group of community papers concentrated around economically distressed Detroit. To date, the company has been forced to write off $215 million, or nearly 52%, of the value of those assets.
:: An investment banker has been hired to explore the sale of some or all of the company's assets, but few parties are interested in acquiring newspapers these days, given the the unsettled outlook for the industry. Further, it is questionable whether a buyer, if one materializes, would pay much more than the 7x earnings necessary to extinguish the company's debt. This fear has caused investors to hammer the stock to the point it is all but worthless.
Ironically, JRC, which owns 22 daily newspapers and more than 300 non-daily publications in six geographic clusters, got its start as the reincarnation of a newspaper empire that was run off the rails in the 1980s by Ralph Ingersoll II, a buccaneering publisher who built his eponymous empire by overpaying for newspapers and financing them with junk bonds.
When Ingersoll Publications collapsed under its debt in 1990, its investors turned to Bob Jelenic, Mr. Ingersoll's protégé, to restart the company as Journal Register.
The strategy for JRC, which went public in 1997, was essentially the same as that of Ingersoll Publications: Build the company by aggregating neighboring newspapers into ever-larger clusters that would make it possible to sell advertising more efficiently while lowering the costs of producing the publications.
It's a terrific idea, so long as you don't overpay for acquisitions and have a plan to build sales while judiciously cutting costs. But the execution didn't prove to be much better at JRC than it was for Ingersoll Publications.
As JRC pursued its rollup strategy, Mr. Jelenic sought to boost his company's stock by aggressively reducing expenses to increase earnings as much as possible, thus earning the reputation as the most zealous cost cutter in the newspaper industry. "Nobody cinches the belt tighter than . . . Journal Register Co., where cost-cutting has become an art," reported Forbes Magazine in a 2001 article titled "Cheapskate Journalism."
Beyond shrinking staff, benefits and newshole, JRC was known for such practices as printing on ever-thinner newsprint and requiring executives to check the odometers of journalists before reimbursing them for driving to their assignments. A former JRC publisher told the American Journalism Review in 1999 that Mr. Jelenic sometimes demanded the instant firing of an employee, any employee, if his paper missed its weekly revenue target.
JRC produced some of the highest operating profits ever seen in the newspaper industry when its earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) hit 29.1% in 2001. But it is hard to replicate annually such one-time savings as downsizing a newsroom or consolidating two printing plants into one. In the absence of significant sales growth from 2001 to 2003, JRC's profitability, though still ample, began faltering.
To boost the company's growth and potential for future profitability, Mr. Jelenic in 2004 bought 21st Century Newspapers in what it called "affluent markets" in Michigan for $415 million, paying a generous 11.5x EBITDA. But the domestic auto industry was facing a decline that, if anything, has accelerated since then.
The Michigan acquisition not only failed to produce the hoped-for sales and profits, but also saddled JRC with substantial debt at the same time revenues began falling at its properties and most other newspapers in the United States.
Now, JRC is caught in a squeeze it may not be able to survive. Unlike newspapers owned by other publishers that are trying to tough out the tough times by paring expenses, most JRC newspapers have little left to cut - and limited resources to build sales with new print and online products.
Despite its straitened circumstances, JRC in 2007 did manage to pay Mr. Jelenic more than $6.3 million in salary, severance and other compensation, which represented a fourfold increase over the nearly $1.5 million he received the prior year.
As part of his severance arrangement, Mr. Jelenic got an extra 192,000 shares of JRC to add to the nearly 2.3 million shares he already owns. Unfortunately, his stock, like mine, isn't likely to be worth anything near what it used to be.
Sunday, April 13, 2008
What's Next for Newsmagazines?
Fading Publications Try to Reinvent Themselves Yet Again
By REBECCA DANAApril 4, 2008; Page B1
The weekly newsmagazines have been declared dinosaurs as far back as the late 1980s. But now that 111 employees at Washington Post Co.'s Newsweek have taken buyouts, including many longtime editors, it's clear that their cultures are finally being blown up and reinvented. And some say that's not such a bad thing.
The employees at Newsweek, making up around 20% of the staff, last week accepted a buyout offer that includes months of salary, years of health insurance, and in some cases, a contract with Newsweek. However generous-sounding, the buyout marks a significant round of bloodletting in the newsmagazine business, which in recent years has seen Time Warner Inc.'s Time and Newsweek wage staff-attrition campaigns in search of long-term economic viability. Shedding employees, particularly older ones that earn higher salaries, is a quick way to offset depressed advertising and newsstand sales.
The most recent cuts are more than just attrition, however. These magazines are changing dramatically, and losing chunks of institutional memory along with the exiting employees, many of whom never worked anywhere else.
Newsweek Editor Jon Meacham offered the buyouts to around 150 employees mainly as a way of cutting costs, but also because it fits into the broader strategy he said he has been putting in place at the magazine since taking the reins 18 months ago.
Mr. Meacham's strategy involves increasing the quotient of serious news in his magazine by bringing in energetic, often younger and frequently lower-earning talent while keeping Newsweek's stable of brand-name writers intact. Some of those writers, including Cathleen McGuigan and film critic David Ansen, accepted the buyout offer but will likely return on contract.
"Like any managers anywhere, we looked at a revenue picture that could be more thrilling and said, 'How can we accomplish two or three things?,' " Mr. Meacham said in an interview. " 'How can we control costs? How can we have money to rebuild and hire new voices and new reporting talent? And how can we do that in the service of what we've been trying to do with the magazine of the last year-and-a-half, which is make it more serious and try to make ourselves indispensable to the conversation?' "
While circulation for both Newsweek and Time has remained flat, at around 3.1 million and 4 million per issue, respectively, the number of advertising pages has declined in recent years and major retailers, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc., are reducing the number of issues they stock in stores.
Time, along with several of its sibling magazines, endured its own round of buyouts just over a year ago. Editor Richard Stengel assumed his post shortly before Mr. Meacham did and made sweeping changes, redesigning the magazine and Web site, cutting the advertising rate base and changing the delivery date to Friday from Monday.
"My whole view was there's more information out there than any time in human history. What people don't need more of is information," Mr. Stengel said. "They need a guide through the chaos."
This appears to contrast with Mr. Meacham's strategy of upping the news content in his magazine. However, both men share what could be called "Economist-envy." In 2007, the Economist newsmagazine, published by U.K.-based The Economist Newspaper Ltd., saw an 8.5% increase in advertising pages compared with 2006, according to the Magazine Publishers of America. By contrast, Newsweek's advertising pages dropped 6.7% and Time's fell 6.9%.
Cable news and the Web have sapped Time and Newsweek of much of their audience in recent years, crowding out their exclusive hold on certain kinds of stories, including analyses and detailed retellings of major news events. As the Internet has also given rise to a new generation of multiplatform, self-branded news personalities. It no longer takes two decades at Newsweek to be a brand-name pundit.
The newsmagazines' first response years ago was to increase their focus on softer, user-friendly stories on topics such as health, science and technology. The content appealed to baby boomers; advertisers liked it, too, seeing it as a better environment for their pitches than wars and political scandals. Meanwhile, having well-known columnists became a way these magazines could distinguish themselves amid the increasing competition.
"What's happened in the business as a whole is talk is cheap and reporting is expensive," said Newsweek writer Jonathan Alter, a 25-year veteran at the magazine who qualified for the buyout but declined it. But he adds, some of the change in culture is welcome. "In general, the office politics are at a much lower volume than in the past because the old fight of space is different than it was. If there's not room in the magazine for something, you can just do it online," he said.
Mr. Meacham said that since he took over, Newsweek has 30% more text and fewer pictures.
Time and Newsweek have both used targeted voluntary buyout packages to help trim the budget in recent years. Time has also closed some bureaus to save on real-estate costs, replacing them with roaming "laptop correspondents," and removed some of the layers of intermediate editors.
Those who survived rounds of buyouts at both titles are adapting to new job descriptions. "We have to have stories that have original reporting and are well-written and that you can actually remember," said Newsweek Editor-at-Large Evan Thomas.
At a recent speech at Columbia University, Mr. Meacham delivered a blistering response after he asked who reads Newsweek and none of the 100-odd students in attendance raised their hands.
"It's an incredible frustration that I've got some of the most decent, hard-working, honest, passionate, straight-shooting, non-ideological people who just want to tell the damn truth, and how to get this past this image that we're just middlebrow, you know, a magazine that your grandparents get, or something, that's the challenge," Mr. Meacham said. "And I just don't know how to do it, so if you've got any ideas, tell me."
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
Murdoch: Technology Driving Vast Changes in Media
Media Magnate Discloses Desire to Add Another Newspaper to His Stable of NY-based Publications
Media mogul Rupert Murdoch warned that "technology will continue to destroy all of the old ways and old assumptions, especially in the media" during an April 2 speech on "Creative Destruction: News for the 21st Century," sponsored by the McDonough School of Business.
"We have one certainty - we can never be sure where the industry will end up," Murdoch said in a Gaston Hall address about the changing face of media. "It is true that technology is changing accepted ways of doing business. It's making us work harder for our customers."
The ultimate effect, Murdoch predicted, is more access to news and entertainment for people who cannot traditionally afford it.
Murdoch is the chairman and chief executive officer of News Corp., one of the world's most extensive media conglomerates. Its holdings include TV and radio channels, movie studios, Internet sites and newspapers. In his speech, he said technology's effects have permeated every aspect of News Corp., from the social networking on MySpace to the type of articles printed in local newspapers.
Consumers, especially the younger generation, have a chance to shape the inevitable changes by demanding content based on personal preferences, he added.
"Unlike traditional media, choices in the future will be generated from the bottom up, not top-down," Murdoch explained. "A 13-year-old girl in Delhi is not going to want the same news and entertainment as a 50-year-old executive in Chicago . . . Our challenge is to personalize the experience for these people so we can reach them both."
Murdoch foresees the end of traditional mass media with consumers receiving news and entertainment from limited sources. Media companies need to diversify to survive, which is one reason his company purchased MySpace in 2005, he said.
The CEO claimed News Corp. is at the forefront of providing individualized content. His company's news media outlets reached three-quarters of the world's population and are published in more than 30 languages.
Murdoch hinted for the first time publicly that he is looking to extend that reach by acquiring Newsday, a Long Island-based newspaper owned by Tribune Company. That, Murdoch said, could bolster another News Corp. holding, The New York Post, and compete for revenue against The New York Times.
However, he acknowledged the U.S. Department of Justice might stand in the way based on antitrust concerns, because News Corp. also owns The Wall Street Journal.
When asked about bias in the media, Murdoch dismissed claims that his outlets show biases, saying that his personal opinions are not reflected in the news cycle.
"People laugh at Fox News because we call ourselves fair and balanced . . . The fact is that CNN was always extremely liberal and never had a conservative, Republican voice on it. The only difference is that we have equal voices on both sides, but that seems to have upset a lot of liberals," he said. "We believe the more voices, the better and let's have variety and opinions coming from all sides. Society is growing more intelligent and people can absorb this, they can accept or reject it."
Murdoch also denied that his company wants to create a news monopoly by saying, "We're just a tiny fraction of the media landscape. There are millions of voices out there. Everything we've done, in my opinion, is to create competition , , , We think that's a public service. We want to give people choices. The more choice there is, the better it is."
Sunday, April 06, 2008
The Most Notable Launch of 2007
Posted by Samir Husni
Drum roll please . . . from a field of 715 new magazines launched in 2007, Condé Nast Portfolio is our choice as The Most Notable Launch of the Year. 2007 will be remembered as the year that saw the return of the prophets of doom and gloom and at the same time as the year folks like David Carey and Joanne Lipman showed the world that print is and can be alive, well and kicking. Our hats off to the folks at Condé Nast Portfolio and the 714 other magazines that showed the doubting Thomases that print is still a very vibrant medium in this day and age. A recent Dutch newspaper adopted the tag-line "News is free but information you have to pay for." And that is exactly what CN Portfolio has done as it approaches its first anniversary issue. The magazine has provided in depth information on business issues ranging from food, gender, oil, media . . . you name it. The information in each issue is presented in an in-depth fashion merging the power of words and images to deliver the best visual impact of print (VIP). This VIP enhances CN Portfolio's addictive, exclusive and timely, yet timeless content.
With the power of print alive, well and kicking on the pages of CN Portfolio magazine, the same can be said about Portfolio.com website. CN Portfolio provides a complete package of information that makes it a must to today's movers and shakers. Whether ink on paper or pixels on the screen CN Portfolio deserves the honor of being named the Most Notable Launch of the Year. A well done job in the midst of a very rough year both on the business and media fronts.
Indeed, 2007 has been a rough year for media across the board, but what we have seen in the last 12 months isn't new. It has happened before. In just one short year we have seen overseas news bureaus shutdown, a television and movie writers' strike that has altered viewing habits, a move to free internet media content by some big name papers, the slashing of approximately 1000 titles from Wal-Mart's newsstands and now you see that we have the lowest total number of new magazine launches in five years. So what should I do? Should I say some of you were right? That we are actually a dying industry?
I can't and I won't.
If I were to say those things and side with those who believe media is doomed I would not only be ignoring some key events that happened this year, but I would be ignoring what happened when new mediums burst on to the market in the middle of the last century. Newspapers and magazines were supposed to die after radio wowed the world. A few decades later radio, newspapers and magazines were all agreed to be dead after we fell in love with television. And today the talk seems to be that everything will suffer because of the internet. Just for a quick historical piece of information newspapers and magazines, like any other product, have a time to be born and a time to die. That was true in 1690 when the first American newspaper was born and the same was true when it died after the first issue was born. There is nothing new under the sun when it comes to the life cycle of all things that have a time to be born and a time to die.
Well here we are: it is 2008, we still have television, we still have radio, we still have newspapers and we still have magazines. That will not change. Most of the world is having no problem with media consumption. Newspaper circulation and readership is up all over the world with the exception of the American market (that is the subject of another blog), a paper mill was recently completed in Germany at a cost of €486 million, a printing press was also recently opened in the United Kingdom unlike any we've seen before and foreign newsstands are more crowded than ours and still European consumers want more.
But you don't even need to look as far as Europe to see that print is well, alive and kicking. The 2007 new launches totaled 715. That is, still nearly two new magazines launched each day on average. And while 2007 count is nearly 200 titles fewer than 2006, it is still substantially higher than the number than the number of new launches in 1991, the first year that commercial use of the internet was allowed. And don't forget the golden goose. Condé Nast felt so sure of the current desire for good content that they fed over $125 million into the launch of CN Portfolio, our Most Notable Launch of the Year. So far I haven't heard one whisper of disappointment concerning that investment, except of course from the prophets of doom and gloom.
I've been saying this for some time now, we are in the midst of a market correction. We saw the market correct itself in 1999 and we are seeing it again this year. What we are seeing is, in some ways, similar to what the housing market or national economy is doing. Anything involving money has a tendency to be a roller-coaster ride of ups and downs. There may be those that are complaining as we are at a low point, but be certain, those same individuals will be praising our industry when the numbers swing back up like they have time and again over the 20+ years I have been tracking new launches. Enjoy.
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
BoSacks Readers Speak Out: Evil Mantra, Scan Based Mags and Husni
RE: Is the Real Mantra? Be Evil. Very Evil
What happened to words like trust, ethics, civility, common courtesy, or morality (not to be confused with "religious")? Articles like this make me want to quit my job and live in a small cabin in the middle of nowhere.
Thanks for sharing this, I needed a little fire in my belly this morning to get the juices flowing.
(Submitted by an innocent bystander)
RE: Is the Real Mantra? Be Evil. Very Evil
Google has me scared . . . really scared. I am fearful as a publisher, as a father, and as a citizen in an open democracy. Where does this intrusion end? Can it actually end? The genie is out of the bottle. We have willing given out information everywhere to everyone. I can't see a way to stop this and at the same time I am fearful of it, even though my business does it's best to collect the very same data.
(Submitted by a Publisher)
RE: Is the Real Mantra? Be Evil. Very Evil.
Privacy. Hm. What's that?
Well let me give another example of a "time bomb".
Let's say you sign up with Earthlink.net for an email address. You use it for a couple of years and then something better comes along. So you cancel your Earthlink.net account and signup with your new subscriber. You take the time to make all the changes to all your accounts, you think, so they send messages and newsletters to the new account.
Then one day, a year or two later you get an email from a stranger. They have randomly chosen your old email account. An account that Earthlink.net conveniently re-activated as an available email name since you were not using it. This stranger tells you he was able to access your Classmates.com account using your old email address. How? Well, since he now has your email address, he can conveniently say he lost his password and they'll send him a new one, to the email address! Voila! Access to an account and ANY information, credit card info, personal data, that may be there. And, the stranger says, that any email list that you were on that hasn't updated their list, he is now receiving. Oh boy, you'd better not let you Mom/Wife/co-workers see THAT newsletter. That could be embarrassing. If the stranger wasn't an honest person, well let's just say that blackmail and identity theft from an old email address pops into mind.
So what do you think? How many of you dropped your dial-up email address for a new DSL email address? Did you know that your email address is being recycled?
Just something to think about.
(Submitted by a Paper Person)
RE: Jerry Seinfeld quote
"There's very little advice in men's magazines, because men don't think there's a lot they don't know. Women do. Women want to learn. Men think, "I know what I'm doing, just show me somebody naked.""
Jerry Seinfeld quotes (American television Actor and Comedian, b.1954)
I love this quote! And it's pretty much exactly what Mike LaFavore was told when he presented his pitch more than a decade ago for a new magazine idea: Men's Health.
Fortunately, Men's Health has proven Jerry's comment to be largely -- but not entirely -- incorrect. Men's Health does have a lusty "Cex & Relationships" section - and Cex is always a top-ranking Web feature as well.
Men DO want advice. They just don't want to admit it.
(Submitted by an Editor)
(BoSacks has intentionally changed the word CEX to hopefully bypass silly corporate filters that have no understanding or sense of proper usage and propriety)
RE: Scan-Based Trading's Hold-Up
A couple of comments . . . .
SBT is a way of the future - no doubt about it. Why in your whole story on SBT was the term "Issue code" not mentioned? (I searched) Simple scan based trading is logical and can apply to gum, except we change our product every week/every month and want to know if Angelina outsells Posh Spice. Retailers have not come to grips that requirement. Shall we change the manufacturing code every week as I believe People does? Then there will be 10,000 bar codes in the system. Also - not all retailers scan . . . will wholesalers have 2 classes of retailer. Many independents will likely never afford SBT.
It was also amusing when in the same set of BOSACKS emails, one had advertisers demanding magazines be more environmentally friendly then in the second email they we being suspicious of any audience calculations. The fastest way to efficiency in the use of magazines is to count pass along. To demand inflated circulation for the sake of rate bases is environmental hypocrisy - and a poor business model as well.
(Submitted by a Director, Consumer Marketing)
RE: Husni Vs. BoSacks - The Whole Experience vs. the Hole Experience
Bob, I've been a long reader, studier, and huge fan of print magazines. I've tracked their successes, their failures, I've tried to educate my customers about their trends to better serve the needs of publishers and mag advertisers. I've been fiercely loyal to print. I've purchased hundreds of newsstand copies to the tune of thousands of dollars (and NOT on an expense report). My very livelihood depends on the success of magazines. I've
worked to convince advertisers of the importance of the tangibility of that printed piece.
You know what? I haven't bought a magazine for 10 months.
I realize now that I didn't buy them for the paper, or the convenience. I bought them for the content, and I found a better way to get much higher quality content. Jezebel.com has replaced any random women's title (my intro was from an ADAge. Com article). I've literally replaced every bit of content that I once got from mags with free content on the web.
Now, I still buy print. Mostly books (lots of engagement hours for the money) and newspapers (lots of info for the amount of money) when I travel. Magazines fill neither niche . . . high cost for the time of engagement provided. The exception, of course are magazines like Vanity Fair, New Yorker, Esquire and Atlantic Monthly. And I feel THIS is the category of mag that will survive.
Keep up the good work!
(Submitted by an unknown Publishing Professional)
RE: Husni Vs. BoSacks - The Whole Experience vs. the Hole Experience
Bo, Your on-going debates are a joy to be a part of. You and Samir are both passionate defenders of your particular points of view and both unyielding of your turf. I think Samir is on the wrong side of the equation, but I applaud his last man standing approach. Having seen you both several times, you both make terrific and convincing arguments. I would see you again at any given moment. But Bo, is more correct than Samir. Magazines will be around for a long time as Samir says, but it will be the digital world where all the action and the advertising dollars will be. And that is coming from a multi-title print publisher. But in my niche, my readers are saying they prefer the digital path 2 to 1. I will not argue with my bread and butter as they pay the bills and the digital subscription fees.
(Submitted by a Multi-Title Publisher)