Thursday, May 15, 2008

Coffee and the papers. Yes, papers
By Anita Diamant

Monday, May 12, 2008
For me, the morning begins with the newspapers, which arrive somewhere in the vicinity of my front door, every day of the week. This fact brands me as a bit of an anachronism, and certainly a demographic cliché: middle-aged, middle-class, blahblahblah.

According to a 2006 survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, only about 4 in 10 Americans get their news this way anymore, down by 18 percent since 1993, a trend that continues. I am not among the 57 percent who watch TV newscasts. And while I am glad to know that between 1993 and 2006 National Public Radio nearly doubled its audience from 9 to 17 percent, I will never quite forgive "All Things Considered" for what I swear was a 20-minute segment about Indian cooking that included a lingering sound-clip of garlic hissing in a frying pan.

I have friends who long ago canceled their hard-copy subscriptions and pick up the news from a laptop. My reluctance to join them has something to do with the fact that I already spend far too many hours staring at a screen. The computer is my work station, a place where I frequently pull at my hair and wish I could be somewhere else. The last thing I need is to start my day there, too.

I know that my morning newspaper is on its way into the museum, along with the model T and the whalebone corset, perhaps within my own lifetime. And while that prospect makes me a bit wistful, I am not convinced that the end of newsprint signals the death of literacy, reporting, language or civilization itself. The daily paper is, after all, only one of many news delivery systems. And some of the new systems are way cool.

Recently, I have taken to reading novels and works of nonfiction from the screen of an ebook - an electronic book - a paperback-sized, 10-ounce wonder that enables me to lightly lug a whole library in my carry-on luggage and to change the font size if I misplace my reading glasses. In the interest of full disclosure, you should know that I acquired this nifty little reading device as payola for taping an endorsement of the herein unnamed product. That said, I do love my new toy, which means I'm never stuck for reading material. Well, almost never.

I get all peevish when a title I want is not available in electronic form; what's the matter with that publisher, that writer? Are they quill-and-parchment Luddites? Get with the program already.

But when I settle into my airplane seat and fire up my ebook, I am one very chill Cheshire cat. The young man who sat beside me on recent flight admired it and asked if I worked in high tech. I glowed, feeling a good 20 years younger than I am, and precisely the sort of person who gets her news online, too.

And yet I cling to my paper. I'm biliterate, and proud. If I lost my ebook, I'd buy another. But cellulose is part of my morning ritual, a song-and-dance that starts when I open the front door to make sure it's been delivered. Will I need to put on shoes to retrieve it? Is an umbrella called for? Generally, I just sneak out in my robe and slippers, regardless of weather, studiously keeping my eyes on the ground, which makes me invisible to the kids walking past on their way to school.

Back at the kitchen table, I inhale the reviving aroma of coffee and open her up. First, I peruse the headlines and check in with the presidential campaign. But after that, it's pure chance what catches my attention. I flip through the sections: city, business, arts, sports. I wander and meander, finishing my grapefruit over a movie review. I pour a second cup and sigh about the situation in Israel, or Zimbabwe, or in a local public school. I glance at the ads and wonder who buys those "Sex for Life" books. I read all of the comics.

My husband wanders in and I say, "You've got to see this."

Anita Diamant's most recent novel is "The Last Days of Dogtown."

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Print is not a burden, Useless drivel is the burden.

BoSacks Speaks Out: Rex Hammock is one of my favorite bloggers. I picked up this rant today from his site. It covers a lot of ground worth discussing with a style and grace we should all emulate. Rex and I have e-chatted for years and he is a top shelf observationist.

"There is no lighter burden, nor more agreeable, than a pen"
Francesco Petrarch (Italian Scholar, Poet and Humanist, 1304-1374)

Print is not a burden.
Useless drivel is the burden.
So ignore this post.
Posted by Rex

Early this morning, there seemed to be a theme emerging in my RSS newsreader. Here are a few items that showed up:

Frank Anton of Hanley Wood, says:

"If the magazines published two or three years from now aren't different, we're in trouble. The current magazine model won't take us into the next five years, let alone the next 100 years."

Colin Crawford of IDG says:

" . . . being unburdened by print allowed the team at Infoworld the opportunity to focus on the changing needs of their customers and to develop online, event and mobile products."

Jeff Jarvis responding to Colin's post, says:

"Yes, print is a burden. It's expensive to produce for it. It's expensive to manufacture. It's expensive to deliver. It limits your space. It limits your timing. It's stale when it's fresh. It is one-size-fits-all and can't be adapted to the needs of each user. It comes with no ability to click for more. It has no search. It can't be forwarded. It has no archive. It kills trees. It uses energy. It usually brings unions. And you really should recycle it. Wow, when you think about it, print sucks.

So what was the theme? Print is a burden. Unfortunately, saying "print is a burden" implies that there are other options out there that are not burdens. Frankly, the web is a burden. Traveling to events IDG puts on is a burden. Trying to synch my phone and computer is a burden. As Scott Karp displayed in a post yesterday, trying to discover which among 2,000 different news stories on the same topic is a burden.

Despite my love (and I use the word love very deliberately) of the magazine medium, I have never been burdened by thinking print is a hammer and every communications or marketing challenge is a nail.

Granted, my company has published magazines since the day it opened 16 years ago. But even back then, we also created lots of "interactive multimedia" (published on CD-ROM). And in those pre-web days, we also managed "forums" on CompuServe. As a custom media creator, I've never felt "burdened" by any medium that helps build strong relationships between our clients (associations and companies) and their members or customers. If smoke signals would help forge and sustain those relationships, we'd be all over it.

Those who know me - even through this blog - know I personally agree with Jeff Jarvis on his somewhat satirical indictment of print. I'm about as paper-free as someone can get in their personal and business practices, but I'm no print vegan (did I just create a new buzzterm?). As Jeff is writing a book and writes for newspapers and magazines, it's not like he's a print vegan either. But my print aversion is neither "environmental" (as I always say , if paper is the cause of global warming, someone needs to share that inconvenient truth with this guy) nor based on any belief that print is inherently bad. What I find a burden is poorly designed, written and produced print. What I find a burden is the clutter and confusion print and paper often add to my already cluttered life.

Bottomline: Print is not the burden. My time is the burden. If you publish a beautiful magazine with articles that really matter to me - that instruct, inform or celebrate something I feel strongly about, it is no burden on me. If you help me get to the information and insight I need to live a fuller life or conduct business in a more flexible and productive way, your blogging and tweeting and bookmarking does not burden me. Useless, redundant, meaningless, re-shuffled drivel is the burden. It can be delivered via print or on a weblog or a mobile device. Crap is a burden no matter what the medium used to deliver it.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Condé Nast Eyes Eye-Tracking

Condé Nast Eyes Eye-Tracking
By Jason Fell
Publisher to monitor effectiveness of ad campaigns; others wait on technology.
When the thought of "eye tracking" comes to mind, one may invariably picture some amalgamation of popular sci-fi flicks-the Matrix, Minority Report, Total Recall-with test subjects wearing cumbersome, Robocop-style headgear to trace eye and head movement.

Today, the clunky headgear has been replaced by cameras that are built into computer monitors. By collecting and analyzing data like "first gaze" and a person's vision path across a page or screen, publishers can use the information to help design covers, monitor the effectiveness of advertisements and help plan Web site redesigns-and they are beginning to do so. Condé Nast recently partnered with eye tracking service provider MediaAnalyzer to analyze the effectiveness of its clients' ads, especially for its long-term advertisers.

According to Scott McDonald, Condé Nast's senior vice president of marketing research, the partnership enables the company to offer "a unique value add to advertisers in our publications." Using MediaAnalyzer's methodology, he says, "helps our advertisers maximize their ROI and determine whether readers are engaged with their ads."

MediaAnalyzer's Web-based "AttentionTracking" technology tracks the path of eye movement while a print or online ad is being viewed. This, combined with a questionnaire, allows MediaAnalyzer to quantify the ads that leave the most lasting impressions. Or attempt to, anyway.

"In an increasingly competitive magazine market-with publishers fighting declining circulation numbers and a shift in ad dollars to other media-it is important that publishers continue to differentiate their products and offerings from the competition," says Charles Boyar, MediaAnalyzer's vice president of U.S. operations. "Research can help publishers create better-looking and more compelling magazines [and Web sites] and can aid them in helping their customers to create ad campaigns that will best address readers."

Are Other Publishers Buying It?

Despite some of the stated benefits, magazine publishers so far have been slow to buy into eye tracking technology, even online. So far, Condé Nast is MediaAnalyzer's only magazine client.

"Most of the eye tracking technology science is used for video and Web work," says veteran magazine consultant Bob Sacks. "When we start to get into digital editions, then the science becomes more meaningful and important, e-paper, eye tracking technology and a Web connection changes everything."

"When used appropriately, eye tracking studies have the most immediate impact for magazine publishers as they relate to Web sites," says Tim Kauffold, director of business development at Oneupweb, an integrated online marketing firm that provides eye tracking services. Kauffold says studies can cost as little as $4,000 or "well into six figures." Oneupweb does not have any magazine clients.

"The demands for user attention online are huge, and it's critical for sites to maximize all the opportunities they have to interact with their users," says Kauffold. "Poor navigation, cluttered content, and unnecessary confusion can force users away. This is a huge loss for publishers, especially in the relationship with their advertisers."

But as print magazines continue to see their business move online, Sacks says more publishers will start turning more to eye tracking services. "When we as publishers adapt to the next level of digital information distribution, and abandon a print-only mentality, we will have to use all the science and technology at our command," says Sacks. "Our use of eye tracking technology will grow as we do."