A blog on issues affecting Australia's newsagents, media and small business generally.

Author: Mark Fletcher

Digital Round Table discussion at newspaper congress

Fascinating points coming from the Digital Media Round Table at the WAN 58th World Newspaper Congress in Korea yesterday. Here are some comments posted by Robb Montgomery, CEO – Visual Editors:

  • An interactive mobile news delivery scheme can grow single copy sales
  • Media consumers are becoming Digital Nomads. `they want their content, at the ready – wherever they are.
  • The mobile phone is the most frequently used content provider in Norway. Average 5 hrs of use a day – and the typical session is between three and five minutes.
  • Internet news consumers are middle-age and expect free services and content.
  • Mobile users are young and are comfortable paying for services through their handset (Currently these are mostly personalization options – ring tones, graphics, photos, e-mail. voting for ‘American Idol’ singers, et al)
  • Telcos have captured the user with the handsets – they need to partner with content providers to keep them.
  • Mobile represent a powerful new media but one that can complement newspaper reader’s lifestyles. You have them as younger readers through mobile – middle age via internet and growing older with news print.

    Read all the comments here.

    That newspaper publishers and editors are talking about these topics in such an open forum is excellent. Australia’s 4,600 independent newsagents need to be part of the conversation. Our channel was created by the publishers. We need to force a seat at the table where the future is discussed.

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    Australia Post: privileged tenants

    While my landlord dictates what minimum hours my shop must open, the Australia Post retail outlet directly opposite my newsagency operates off different rules. They close at lunchtime on Saturdays and all day Sunday – avoiding employee penalty rates. While one could argue the extra hours provide my business with an advantage, without the mail services to draw people to our part of the centre, we don’t get enough tarffic on Sundays to cover wages. There are two sets of rules in play and it’s the independent businesses which are worse off than the government owned Post Office.

    The government should divest itself of the Australia Post retail channel.

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    Newspapers consider their future

    Newspaper publishers and editors are meeting in Seoul this week at the World Association of Newspapers conference. In his opening remarks, Gavin O’Reilly, Acting President of WAN challenged the place of newspapers in the increasingly mobile and digital world. “After 400 years of newspapers rightly dominating the media landscape – and successfully weathering the onslaught of radio, TV and latterly the new digital age – it’s hard to see the full-time whistle blowing quite yet.” And then this: “Believe me – this game is not over: we’re not even into extra time. News-papers represent an integral part of over a billion people’s life every day – showcasing and celebrating the serendipity of life.” The full speech can be found here.

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    Newsweek on the future of Television

    Changing Channels is an excellent article by Rana Foroohar and published this week by Newsweek. While broad in its coverage of the challenges facing television, a core focus of this article is the impact of dramatic distribution changes on the medium. What is the future of television if the IPTV distribution channel becomes viable? The same question is on the table for all mainstream media distribution channels including Australian newsagents who rely on newspapers and magazines to generate more than 50% of their foot traffic. News and information supply chains face huge challenges.

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    Newspaper executive blog goes public

    Scott Anderson is the Director of shared content for Chicago-based Tribune Publishing and Interactive. A journalist, Anderson has worked in various reporting and editing capacities at Tribune since 1981. He created his blog to keep Tribune staff abreast of online media developments. It’s just been made public.

    This blog is an excellent resource for those interested in online media developments from the perspective of someone deeply connected with mainstream media. That the blog has been made public is a tribute to the Tribune and to Anderson.

    Can’t find any newspaper executives blogging in Australia.

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    TV Guide podcasts

    The US TV Guide has launched a podcast, TV Guide Talk, which they say provides: “inside scoop, off-beat opinions and answers to your questions about the latest entertainment headlines, the hottest TV shows, the newest movies and the biggest celebrities in this weekly Podcast”.

    The TV Guide folks are engaging with their audience by inviting feedback on stories listeners want to hear in future podcasts.

    Okay, so here we have a magazine creating audio content and making it available at no cost. Currently, the content is like a segment of the magazine, a story if you will. Mediocre production values which I am sure will improve if they see consumer acceptance of their experiment. Advertiser support will follow.

    If they improve content and production and if technology continues to evolve to make podcast access easier (and it will), the TV Guide experiment will become their preferred method of getting their brand to consumers. Podcasts, like magazines, are, for the publisher, the delivery mechanism for advertising. They cut out the traditional news and information supply chain.

    Given easy access to TV Guide like program schedules online and more up to date than the printed product and the launch now of these podcasts it is reasonable to wonder about the implications for the magazine and those who sell the magazine. There will be a tipping point. It’s a way off but how far off is anyone’s guess. That they are playing in this space is proof that they can see a tipping point. Maybe the magazine will morph as a result into something offering more reflective content which lends itself to existing only in print whereas the podcasts will be about more immediate news.

    Still no major print media company in Australia playing in the podcast space.

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    An important citizen journalism speech

    Dan Gillmor is a keynote speaker at the World Association of Newspapers conference in Seoul commencing tomorrow. Yesterday he posted the text of his keynote, What Professional and Citizen Journalists Can Learn From Each Other, at on his blog.

    Dan’s is a leading voice in the citizen journalism movement and his keynote speech essential reading for anyone interested in this field. He positions citizen journalism with this statement:

    Something important is happening in the world of journalism:. It’s an evolution from the lecture model, to which we in mass media have become accustomed in the past century, to something closer to a conversation. The shift stems from the collision of technology with media.

    He then notes:

    That, by the way, is the last time I’ll talk about technology today in any specific way, because this trend is more about people than gadgets. Citizen journalism is made possible by what’s new. It will be made excellent because of what people do with it.

    I think what he’s saying is that technology is the enabler. The real movement is what people do with it. This is the killer application as software people would call it. The people application. How we embrace the technology and use it to release us from the control of others. Rather than being lectured at as Dan refers to the old model, it’s is a conversation with our input helping shape the result as much as the professional reporter/news gatherer.

    I was to be in Seoul, in part to hear Dan speak, and am glad that through his blog and the concurrent World Editors Forum blog I am able to access content electronically.

    Those of us on the news and information supply chain can learn from Gillmor for roles we can play in this changing world.

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    D: All Things Digital

    The Wall Street Journal has hosted its third annual D: All Things Digital conference. They say it’s: “…three days of unscripted, frank interviews with the leaders of the digital revolution, responding live onstage to the kinds of tough, smart questions…” The conference has provided excellent discussion including that reported by the Washington Post in their report: News Groups Wrestle With Online Fees.

    The article documents the struggle going on within many news and information publishing businesses about how to price online access. Publishers are looking for online to pay its way while at the same time looking more carefully at the print economic model in the face of advertising revenue challenges.

    From Leslie Walker’s article:

    The painful transition facing the newspaper industry was on display here this week at the Wall Street Journal’s “D: All Things Digital” conference. In a panel discussion, top executives from three newspaper companies — Knight-Ridder Inc., The Washington Post Co. and Dow Jones & Co. — expressed optimism about what they called the “challenges” facing their industry. Since most large papers have gained more Web readers than they have lost in print, the panelists said the industry has a chance to reinvent itself.

    At the conference the Chairman and Chief Executive of the Washington Post, Donald Graham, claimed that readership of their journalism had more than doubled in the past seven years if they include print, online and their free commuter products. Years ago it was print readership. The Washington Post is but one example of how newspaper publishers are morphing their business model to grow readership. And the changes will continue into more mobile delivery of content.

    Again from the Washington Post article:

    Peter R. Kann, chairman and chief executive of Dow Jones, publisher of the Wall Street Journal, said publishers must figure out how to recapture readers fleeing print editions with new electronic products.

    He also said publishers are underpricing their print newspapers and should consider raising print prices. “No one in this room thinks twice about spending $2 to buy a bad cup of coffee walking through an airport,” Kann declared, “yet most newspaper publishers are wary over even getting their single-copy price up to a dollar.”

    Hmmm, a cover price increase for newspapers, I’D LIKE TO SEE THAT. The cover price of a newspaper ought to respect the value placed on the content by the publisher. The price should be based on this value judgment and not on fear of consumer reaction.

    Kann is right with his analogy. Yesterday I paid A$3.50 for a mediocre coffee at Brisbane airport and threw it away after a sip. A$1.00 for a newspaper is cheap.

    I hope Australian publishers are reading the same reports I’m reading.

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    Build it and they will not respect you

    Newsagents have been good at supporting many businesses in getting a footprint across the Australian retail landscape. Our 4,600 stores see, according to some, 17 million people every two weeks. Even if that number is a bit off newsagents see more than any other retail channel every week than all comers except, probably, Australia Post.

    So, because of our national footprint, companies come to newsagencies with promises of good gross profit if we put their new products into our shops.

    Such was the case with mobile phone recharge product.

    We did the work, provided the retail footprint and enabled a faster national roll out than any other channel could deliver.

    Vodafone has just joined other carriers showing their respect for newsagents by cutting the gross profit from each sale. Newsagents have put in the technology, trained employees, put up the point of sale material and attracted customers – as a key part of the Vodafone story.

    The thanks we get, now they have critical mass, is less payment for our effort.

    Australian newsagents need to stand up to moves by companies like Vodafone and negotiate respect for our unequalled footprint, our extended trading hours and our connection with the community.

    Newsagencies are the quintessential independent retailer and we’ll disappear if suppliers like Vodafone continue to squeeze us.

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    McDonalds moving into digital content

    Big Mac, fries and an MP3?, at CNN.com reports that McDonald’s is hoping music downloads, Internet will help attract hipper, tech-savvy crowd.

    “This may become the new customer service catchphrase as McDonald’s hopes to reel in the young and tech-savvy with Blaze Net, which allows customers to buy music mobile-phone ring tones, print digital photographs and surf the Internet, according to a report published Wednesday.

    The fast-food chain began pilot testing the new ATM-style device May 16 at its new flagship restaurant near the Oakbrook Center shopping mall in Oak Brook, Ill., the Chicago Tribune said. But a spokesman wouldn’t say how many restaurants will add Blaze Net.”

    It’s a wise move by McDonalds, one which should be followed by others facing challenges in reaching younger customers.

    The McDonalds move will help push mobile technology further and therefore challenge traditional content (news, information, music and video) supply chain channels.

    McDonalds are doing what Australia’s 4,600 newsagents should be doing.

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    Local or national … a dilemma

    Since talking more publicly about our plans for a local (eastern suburbs Melbourne Australia) citizen content news site we have received many emails and calls from people elsewhere around the country telling us to make it national. They get the citizen journalism mantra but not the local focus.

    For any citizen journalism project to work there has to be community engagement. This is what will make the decision for us. It may be that we start with a broader focus since this is where there is more interest and provide local links from that broader perspective.

    The more people who tell us what they want the better the opportunity for us to get it right.

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    New digital storytelling tool from HP

    HP are reporting the development of “an experimental digital storytelling service that lets people use their camera phones and other mobile devices to easily create and instantly share stories with friends and family”.

    HP says the process is simple: Using the mobile phone handset as a microphone, users speak into the phone while clicking on thumbnails of photos they want to describe or that illustrate a story. The user experience is similar to recording a traditional voicemail, with the benefit of allowing users to augment the audio track with pictures.

    There is a sample story to show the technology off. The sample was made at a conference in the UA a week back.

    Puts a whole new slant on citizen journalism. Easier access, different storytelling techniques. Mobile. Citizens are in control. All the elements are there. No supply chain needed.

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    First Australian Rules Football Podcast

    At Footytalk.com.au you’ll hear The World’s First Australian Rules Football Podcast. Here’s their pitch in their opening blog entry:

    Footytalk.com.au provides a unique look at the week in AFL football and some exclusive analysis of AFL Teams, Coaches, Players and the Media. And even a few special guests throughout the year.

    Each week your hosts Disco & The Explosion will be bringing you reviews, news, analysis & previews of past & upcoming rounds of AFL football, in an entertaining 30-minute Podcast and Weblog.

    These blokes have released 10 podcasts so far and you can hear the difference between #1 and #10.

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    Business Week on Podcasting

    In a Special report, The Lowdown on Podcasting, Stephen Baker of Business Week tells the mainstream world “Now it’s a lot easier to listen than it is to send your own audio programs into cyberspace. But stay tuned — this party’s just getting started”

    Articles like this are essential to the legitimisation of a technology which is barely one year old. That Business Week is devoting such space gives what some called just a few months a ‘fringe’ technology tremendous credence and business context.

    Podcasting sets the story free and this is where there are tremendous implications.

    I wish I could work out a way for businesses like my retail shop (there are 4,600 of us in Australia who rely on newspaper and magazine sales to deliver at least 50% of our traffic) to quickly have a role in the podcasting world.

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    How Old Media Can Survive In a New World

    A group of media experts have written an excellent report published at The Wall Street Journal Online. How Old Media Can Survive In a New World is a well researched piece about the challenges “traditional media” is facing in the rapidly changing mobile digital world.

    There’s no question: Traditional media businesses are struggling.

    Newspaper publishers, book publishers, movie studios, music companies, ad agencies, television networks — they’re all trying to figure out how they fit into a new-media world. Their old way of doing business isn’t as profitable as it used to be, but they haven’t found a new way that’s as profitable, either.

    Add to that list any other business involved in the news and information supply chain – such as Australia’s 4,600 independently owned newsagencies, the channel created in the 1800s specifically to distribute newspapers and magazines and now in need of finding relevance for itself in the changing world.

    Each expert writes on a specific traditional media category: books, newspapers, music, movies and the like. They were asked to consider what they think old-media companies should do to survive.

    The newspaper expert, Brian Steinberg, advocates better quality journalism and a customisable news product.

    Let readers customize their own newspaper. “The newspaper of the future is going to be a coalition of niche products,” says S.W. “Sammy” Papert III, chairman and CEO of Belden Associates, a Dallas newspaper-industry consultant. That means, for instance, that newspapers should offer online readers — who are used to hunting for narrowly focused information that interests them — an opportunity to create a specialized newspaper according to their areas of interest. So, for example, newspapers might allow their readers to click a few buttons and see all of a paper’s coverage about local politics, excluding everything else. Or readers might opt for a page devoted to sports or cultural news.

    Reporting on the challenges is one thing. We’re over that now with even traditional media outlets reporting the impact of technology on the production of news and information. While some continue to wallow in reporting doom and gloom, smart people are turning their attention to what the future might be. This is where small businesses in the news and information supply chain need to focus attention. What’s their future? What do they have to do to ensure their future? The WSJ report does well to focus our attention on moving forward.

    Planning for the future begins with understanding the current situation. Hence the need to read reports such as this one at wsj.com.

    Australia’s newsagents can build a bright future regardless of what happens to sales of the core products of newspapers, magazines and lottery product – the three categories more likely to be impacted by technology advances. The future could include:

  • Becoming a local centre for content download – part of a national network.
  • Creating content exclusive to our retail channel of 4,600 stores.
  • Embracing citizen journalism and connecting with the local community in a deeper way. We’re experimenting with this in our own newsagency.
  • Selling more of the devices of access to the digital mobile world.
  • Becoming the local service hub – the centre of all things local: products, services, knowledge.
  • Becoming a more traditional service centre.
  • Creating new content businesses – maybe competing with traditional media.
  • Embracing technologies such as print on demand which enables the printing of professional book product quickly without carrying stock.

    It comes down to relevance and to be relevant you have to listen to the voice of the customer. Many independent retailers have done this already in competing with national chain stores. Newsagents can compete by becoming more business like and assuming more control over the operation of their businesses.

    To start, read the Wall Street Journal article.

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    Why don’t young people buy newspapers?

    From the American Society of Newspaper Editors: the ASNE reporter asked young people across the nation how they follow the news and how they want their information. The responses, while not announcing the death of newspapers, they do provide a valuable insight into the demographic proving very hard for newspaper publishers to attract.

    Environmental concerns seem top of mind with comments like: “It’s a waste of money. Plus it takes trees to make paper…. Some of it gets recycled but most of it ends up in our landfills.” Cost justification is also key as shown with: “I don’t think a lot of people read the newspaper because there are other things to do and we already get information in other ways, TV and the Internet. I don’t see myself buying something I can get for free.”

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    We media

    The Media Centre at the American Press Institute has published an excellent paper: We Media How audiences are shaping the future of news and information. By Shayne Bowman and Chris Willis of Hypergene.

    This 66 page paper is an excellent presentation of where We Media (citizen journalism, citizen media, participatory journalism – call it what you will) is at, how mainstream media might react and the implications for all stakeholders. It is a must read paper.

    While slanted more toward those in mainstream media than our small We Media project (Local News Daily), it is a welcome additional resource to this conversation. It brings legitimacy to the discussion of the changes being brought about in journalism as a result of huge and rapid technological change and the power the changes deliver to consumers.

    Here’s part of the introduction by the respected Dan Gillmor, a leader in the we media movement:

    This is all about decentralization. Traditionally centralized news-gathering and distribution is being augmented (and some cases will be replaced) by what’s happening at the edges of increasingly ubiquitous networks. People are combining powerful technological tools and innovative ideas, fundamentally altering the nature of journalism in this new century. There are new possibilities for everyone in the process: journalist, newsmaker and the active “consumer” of news who isn’t satisfied with today’s product — or who wants to make some news, too.

    Be sure to read the whole report.

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    How open should open mean?

    We’re discussing how open to make our citizens media LocalNews Daily site and therefore watching with interest the experience of others. The media drop reported yesterday that the Ventura County Star has disabled comments. Today the Ventura County Star reports why. (You need a password to get in.) Apparently some comments were nasty and off-topic. This is a challenge. While we want to create an open space for unedited comment we also need to ensure that the rights of others are protected and that comment is reasonable. We’re looking at a model based on some form of approval process given the defamation laws in Australia.

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    The future of the local newspaper questioned

    In a post headed Local newspaper week: when’s the funeral? Jemima Kiss of journalism.co.uk writes about the importance of citizen journalism for the future of newspapers and especiually local newspapers. Her post is a call for local UK newspapers to get serious about an online startegy or risk having no future at all. Here’s a good quote:

    “There is a need for quality local community news online, but most papers in the UK are nowhere near ready for that. If they don’t move into the citizen journalism space soon, someone else will.”

    The reality is that many are now playing in the citizen journalism space, most important of these are citizens themselves. Today’s online publishing tools being what they are the barriers have come down.

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    Helping newsagents facing tough times

    Over the last week we have received calls from several newsagents surprised at the results reported in their Sales Comparison Report when preparing to enter the FAST 3 AWARDS. They have discovered that they are losing sales – while each felt sales were flat, the report showed the extent of the slump in several core departments.

    We have made resources available to assist if a client business is in a sales slump, from advice to practical help. We offer these without cost. We’d start with analysing data to understand the problem – looking at the performance of newspapers, magazines greeting cards, stationery and lotteries. We’d look at the sales efficiency of the business. Finally we’d consider external factors. The result might be suggested changes in the business. It could also be hands on help. How involved we become would be entirely up to you. We don’t have all the answers. However, we get to see many newsagencies and this provides us with an insight which might help in providing advice which improves your business. We’re welcoming calls from our clients to me (0418 321 338) or our Financial Controller Cameron Lamb (03 9524 8000).

    In the environmental movement they talk of the tragedy of even one old growth tree being cut down. It’s the same with newsagencies: one newsagency in trouble is one too many. We’re here to help. We’ll respect your privacy.

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    eBay buys up more community classified sites

    As reported in this story at Poynter.org, the giant eBay corporation has bought the UK Gumtree classified business along with some others. sBay last year acquired 25% of craigslist – the category killer in the classified advertising space.

    It quotes a report from Classified Intelligence Report publisher Peter M. Zollman. I’ve read his excellent report on the craigslist advertising phenomenon and it convinced me that classified advertising in newspapers has no future in its present form and that was before the technology advances of the last year.

    Elsewhere here’s I’ve discussed the efforts of newspaper publishers to play in the online advertising space. eBay are growing. Plus there is a plethora of independent sites playing. This has to be good for consumers. What will happen next is playing with the financial models as we saw when the skies opened and airlines were deregulated. New pricing models and new offerings will emerge which make advertisers more powerful.

    The businesses not connected with existing media companies will be the ones to watch.

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    Citizens Media Summit

    A bunch of leaders in the citizens media movement got together for a strategy session on May 14. A summary of the discussions can be found here. There are postings from other attendees here and here.

    My key take aways from the notes arethat there are many views on what citizens media is and ought to be but it all comes down to content which is valuable and truthful – and how we attract that.

    Based on the feedback we’re starting to get for our small venture it might be appropriate to organise a similar get together in Australia soon.

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    Structured blogging

    Bob Wyman has written a profound post about the business implications of structured blogging, and prospective search. Prospective search is like watch lists – you setup what you’re looking for and you get advised when new content is published meeting your match. You can find about a match in seconds. Structured blogging is a way of the world’s millions of bloggers feeding data into cyberspace in a pre defined way to enable faster and more targeted access.

    For example, bloggers could feed event details in and prospective search engines could process the entries as event data and treat it differently to a general rant. Wyman’s blog entry provides a far better discussion than I could write. He also talks about the busiuness context. Here is the heart of the post in my view:

    With Structured Blogging, we’ll be able to post structured items in any of millions of blogs or web sites and have those items recognized, indexed, and searched on any number of search sites — just like HTML pages are today. No longer will we need to rely on going to a small number of centralized, walled-garden, closed sites like MeetUp, eBay, Monster, or EVDB to publish or search for the kind of information that requires structure. Common search engines like Google, Yahoo! and PubSub will be able to usefully index this data.

    There are implications here for the news and information industry because we are all about publishing and disseminating news and information. Structured blogging brings a level of control and focus to the hitherto somewhat uncontrolled blogging in a way which makes blog content more useful and accessible.

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    Weekly news magazines

    Here’s a good read about the future of weekly news magazines (Time, Newsweek etc) in the expanding online and mobile world. The article is as relevant to our own Bulletin magazine (which incorporates Newsweek). Here’s a quote from the article by Matthew Flamm.

    Like newspapers, which have seen an acceleration of their decline in the last year, the newsmagazines must either find ways to extend their brand or face a slide toward extinction, as happened with the Saturday Evening Post and the original Life.

    The article is another in a long line of wake up calls for news magazine publishers to embrace online (and I’d say podcasting) to build relevance to the consumers who rely more on those delivery mechanisms than the more traditional printed product.

    As discussed elsewhere here, Newsweek has taken some steps to embrace podcasting and Business Week is making good strides with blogging. Time will tell if these steps are enough.

    Enough consumers have moved from aggregated product – whole magazines, whole television shows, whole newspapers, whole CDs – to what interests them more: specific songs, stories and photos for publishers to have to respond. This disaggregation (unpackaging if you will) is something media companies will have to embrace to reach the younger and more mobile audience. It is also the biggest threat to the traditional news and information supply chain.

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    Does condom advertising make podcasting mainstream?

    That’s the question many media companies will be asking on hearing the news that the Durex corporation has bought advertising space to spruik its wares on the podcast show, Dawn and Drew.

    Adrants.com has the story along with the observation that the US FCC (Federal Communications Commission) does not regulate podcasts – thus enabling Durex to get coverage in a way unavailbale to them with other media.

    Advertiser acceptance of podcasting as a delivery mechanism will opportunities which just one year ago (before podcasting existed) did not exist.

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