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

Author: Mark Fletcher

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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WANTED: Retired Journalists

We are looking to connect with some retired or semi-retired journalists to help us build our Local News Daily citizen journalism business model. We are looking to supplement citizen input with professional journalism skills and principles. We are also looking to commission some professionally reported local content to give voice to local stories not receiving coverage in local newspapers.

We don’t have money to pay since Local News Daily is not about being a conduit for advertising. This about the glory of building a local news site and showing that we (the people) have worthwhile stories to report which are not being covered elsewhere.

If this could be you please email emef@towersystems.com.au.

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Famous people blog

The Huffington Post is blog of the famous featuring opinion pieces and reports from the likes of Walter Cronkite, Diane Keaton and Ellen Degeneres to name a few. When asked by CNN why she was providing a blog voice for the rich and famous, Arianna Huffington said:

“..one of the reasons why I wanted to bring together 300 of the most creative people in the country into the cyberspace, into the blogosphere, is because I believe the blogosphere is so important, it is changing the way we receive information so dramatically that I wanted to make sure that those people, who, as you say, have other platforms, would also have an online platform, because the truth is even though they could probably all write a column and send it to “The New York Times,” the chances are they would not do that.”

It’s an interesting blog worth a look. Even though the blog is criticised for a voice to those who have a strong voice, it provides close and direct access to the opinions of others outside their usual forums.

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Online readership of newspapers grows, newsagents need a strategy

The Newspaper Association of America reports in their May 11 press release that 1 in 3 internet users in March 2005 visited a newspaper website – up 3.1%. From the NAA press release:

Across the board, online newspaper usage is trending up. Unique audience grew by nearly 9 percent from February 2005 to March 2005, page view consumption grew by 38 percent, pages per person by 27 percent, visits per person went up 5 percent, and time per person increased 6 percent.

Businesses in the news and information supply chain, such as Australian newsagents, need to develop their own strategies for the future in the context of this growth in online news consumption. Newspaper publishers are too busy pursuing their future (and rightly so) to worry about the existing supply chain. The key to our (newsagents) future is consumer relevance.

Newsagents are like the country town which was visited regularly by travelers for decades and around which string businesses were built until one day a bypass was built so those travelers did not have to pass through the town. Slowly the town contracts, businesses close, people move away. The town fades from its glory days to be but a name on a sign you read as you speed past.

Customer traffic is oxygen in any business. More than 75% of sales in newsagencies include the sale of news and information (newspaper and magazine) product. An analysis of shopping basket data shows that the majority of such sales are destination sales.

Publishers owe newsagent nothing in terms of ensuring our future. However, newsagents could benefit from access to their vision of the future so that we can develop our own.

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P-Day (Podcast Day)

KYOURADIO the world’s first podcast-based radio station launches live today @ 9am. Here’s the start of their pitch from their website which provides context:

Do you have the feeling that things are moving faster than they were a year ago, or even a few months ago? That keeping up with the latest trends in culture and technology is almost a full time job? In 1965, the co-founder of Intel, a guy named Gordon Moore, outlined a theory that said the number of transistors on a memory chip would double every 18 months: Moore’s Law. Turned out he was right.

Take podcasting for example. It didn’t exist 10 months ago. Now it seems that a day doesn’t go by without an article appearing somewhere talking about something related to podcasting. If you believe everything you read, and who doesn’t, podcasting is being championed as the great equalizer.

KYOURADIO is the first radio station in the world to get all of its programming from podcasts. Everyday we’ll feature new, innovative and cutting edge programs produced by people like you. Your original thoughts and sounds will be broadcast in San Francisco on the revolutionary 1550 KYCY-AM and streamed worldwide at KYOURADIO.com.

The KYOURADIO experiment will be watched closely not only by radio exectuives but everyone in the news and information business interested in how podcasting may impact their more traditional media companies.

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WSJ: Papers turn to ‘Podcasting’

Further to my earlier post below, today at Wall Street Journal online is a story Papers Turn to ‘Podcasting’ In Bid to Draw More Readers by David Kesmodel. It’s an excellent read with good background on podcasting and a summary of how newspapers are using the technology. This quote from the WSJ article provides excellent business context for publishers:

“Pete Conti, a newspaper industry consultant with Borrell Associates Inc., said podcasting gives newspapers a chance to reach younger audiences, such as people in their thirties who regularly tote iPods but were raised with television as their main news source. It’s too early to tell if papers, which face declining circulation, can make a financial success of podcasts, but “I think it opens up a huge opportunity to offer a lot of their local” content, Mr. Conti said.”

Coverage by the Wall Street Journal makes podcasting more legitimate than ever. It must be merely a matter of time before Australian newspapers embrace podcasting as a means of reaching a broader audience.

The article notes that Business Week is to release its first podcast on May 23. The topic? Podcasting.

Podcasting unlocks stories from newspapers and magazines. It makes them mobile, sharable and more colourful. Podcasting reduces the supply chain between manufacturer and consumer. While no one knows if it will impact the sale of newspapers, the embrace of the technology by US publishers is such that Australian publishers cannot afford to ignore it any longer. So far, the ABC is leading the media pack in Australia on podcasting.

It’s curious that the Sydney Morning Herald published a story on May 6 The frequency of Generation C talking about podcasting and the impact on radio yet did not cover implications and opportunities for newspapers.

In our own tiny (and yet to be launched) Citizen Journalism experiment, LocalNews Daily we’re hoping to provide local story coverage using the podcasting medium (citizens willing).

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Newspapers and podcasts

While more and more newspapers in the US are podcasting, I cannot find any here in Australia. Podcasting is easy, cheap and can help a newspaper reach a new mobile audience. Some newspapers in the US have even hired journalists to create audio content.

Brian Chin’s blog at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer site lists newspapers that podcast as of a couple of weeks ago. The efforts of the Ventura County Star, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Philadelphia Daily News are well worth listening to.

The latest podcast at the San Francisco Chronicle is a fascinating interview with Larry Ellison of the Oracle Corporation. It demonstrates how podcast technology enables an interview to have life (and colour) beyond the page. Listen to it.

Developing stories for podcasting as well as print will help produce better stories since the different skills will themselves uncover different perspectives of a story. The reader benefits and the story has a broader life.

In some respects, given that one of my businesses relies on success of printed newspapers and magazines, podcasting poses a personal economic threat. However, the technology is there and is being embraced at an exponential rate so I say embrace it and let it take news and information stories to every possible consumer. Along the way, businesses like mine will adapt and find their own place in this changing world.

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Newspapers battling craigslist.org

Everyone knows (don’t they?) that Craigslist is winning the online classifieds battle. In various US cities and overseas (including our own Melbourne and Sydney) Craigslist is impacting on newspaper classified advertising. In San Francisco, according to industry watcher, Classified Intelligence, Craigslist has taken millions in revenue from the Chronicle.

The Tribune Company, publisher of several major US city dailies, created recycler.com to compete with Craigslist and similar community sites. Tribune yesterday announced that recycler.com is expanding to 12 cities.

This expansion is interesting because for those interested in how a well established business with a commercial model responds to an upstart with a less commercial yet highly successful model.

It’s worth checking out the two offerings. You will soon see why consumers like Craigslist. Besides NO FEE, it offers faster ad placement and easier navigation. Also, Craigslist offers a sense of community as opposed to a pure commercial play.

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Chicago newspaper involved readers in editorial process

The Chicago Sun-Times is reporting that the Chicago Tribune is involving its readers in its editorial process.

“Long committed to market research, the Chicago Tribune is now soliciting opinions from an online focus group that allows its members to see and comment on parts of the paper before publication.”

This is a unique and welcome online engagement between a newspaper publisher and its readers.

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Digital dawn; yesterday’s news

Mainstream media outlets continue to break the news to their readers that the world (their world) is changing. Today’s Melbourne AGE newspaper has an excellent article Digital Dawn by Annie Lawson.

“The next generation of bigwigs work in an industry standing at the precipice of digital convergence that poses a threat to the traditional gatekeepers.”

It correctly lays out the drivers of change.

“An increasingly fragmented audience will become more difficult to capture as digital television and personal video recorders strengthen their hold in the market. Media executives also have to protect content from piracy and deal with cautious investors who have had their fingers burnt in the dotcom crash.”

And explains the risk to mainstream media revenue models.

“Broadband is the key to the online ad sector’s future. It is lifting the time people spend online and making online advertising more attractive for marketers.”

The article talks too much about the impact on the television and music companies and not enough about publishing. A reader could get the impression that the writer does not foresee any change in the area of news and information publishing. It would have been good to see the article link to the recent lectures by Jay Rosen and Lance Knoble at the Deakin Innovation series in Melbourne this week as covered elsewhere in this blog.

The other criticism I would have is the headline – Digital Dawn. I’d suggest that dawn was the arrival of the internet followed by blogging software followed by podcasting. Once publishing became accessible to anyone with cost no longer a barrier to entry, democracy took a step forward and it is the democratization of media what is the real digital dawn impacting our lives.

Criticism aside, it is good to see respected newspapers such as The Age giving space and ink to the impact of technology on our lives.

Those involved in the news and information distribution business ought to acquaint themselves with the story in The Age and similar outlets. The world is changing rapidly. Your place in the supply chain, as you know it today, is changing in relevance.

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GM as a podcasting innovator

Podcasting is barely one year old and now we find the giant General Motors organisation embracing it as part of their pre launch marketing strategy for the new Chevrolet HHR and the Chevrolet Corvette Z06. This story at detnews.com reports on how GM is cleverly using podcasting to generate buzz in advance of the launch since it helps them effectively and efficiently get to a specific marketplace. The GM early adoption of podcasting legitimises the technology and will lead other corporations to play.

This link will take you to the GM podcasts.

So, not only are news reports and stories disconnecting from aggregated delivery mechanisms – newspapers, magazines, radio shows, tv shows – advertisers, if they take the GM lead, will disconnect as well. Of course once many of GM’s ilk play the same game the channel becomes cluttered and other innovative approaches to consumers will need to be found.

In the meantime, GM has further legitimised podcasting and added to the concerns being felt in media companies across the globe. Aggregators, publishers, producers and broadcasters will be looking for ways to leverage their brand into strategies such as those embraced by GM.

The GM move is further shrinkage of the supply chain between manufacturer and consumer.

Businesses selling aggregator product (newspapers and magazines) need to understand these changes and plan accordingly.

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Digital magazines growing

At Poynter.org there is a story that Digital Magazine News is reporting significant growth in digital magazine circulation. Here are the top 10 as of December 2004 as they have reported:

  • eWeek: 65,000 among 400,100 circulation (16.2%)
  • Computer Weekly: 40,065 among 139,817 (28.7%)
  • Microsoft Certified Professional: 39,092 among 119,092 (32.8%)
  • NASA Tech Briefs: 31,179 among 190,428 (16.4%)
  • Electronic Weekly: 16,853 among 43,498 (38.7%)
  • EDN: 16,397 among 134,025 (12.2%)
  • ECN: 16,324 among 126,020 (13.0%)
  • Computing: 15,000 among 115,000 (13.0%)
  • SD Times: 13,997 among 51,481 (27.2%)
  • Foreign Policy: 13,804 among 103,589 (13.3%)

    Digital edition circulation doubled in 2004 compared to 2003.

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    Technology, Journalism and Mainstream Media

    I was fortunate to attend the Deakin Lecture last night in Melbourne (Australia) featuring Lance Knobel and Jay Rosen. Lance has posted his excellent lecture on his blog, Davos Newbies. Jay posted the more formal part of his equally excellent presentation at his PressThink site a few days ago.

    Anyone involved in the news and information business from publishing through to retail needs to read and consider the contributions of these two eminent thinkers. They coverd issues which demand understanding and warrant discussion. Countless Australian small businesses face the risk on missing the opportunity to participate in the changes to the way we create and access news.

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    Local News Daily – the process of going live

    We have been working away on our new citizen journalism project, LocalNews Daily. We’re still playing with the technology to make it as easy as possible for people to publish their material. This is crucial as we do not want complexity of use to be a barrier to people accessing their voice here.

    In the meantime we have commenced a campaign to let folks in our area know about LocalNews Daily. Here’s some of what we are doing to find readers and writers:

  • Emails to all universities, particularly schools of Journalism, English and any other where people interested in writing may be.
  • Letters to all high schools including student submissions. Our feeling is that the more engage younger people in the process of news reporting the greater the respect they will have for news in the future.
  • Letters to primary schools inviting submission from and interaction with even younger citizens.
  • Letters to community groups inviting publishing of content.
  • Letters to clubs, action groups and any other organisation likely to want to report on local matters.
  • Contact with local government inviting their submission.
  • Flyers to the 10,000+ customers who visit our shop each week. Every customer for the next month will receive a flyer inviting participation.
  • Engagement with employees and friends of employees who live locally to review local events, food venues and the like.

    Once we get a trickle of content we will hit the community radio airwaves in pursuit of a broader audience.

    As with any project like this, content is king.

    Our objective with LocalNews Daily is to be completely open to content and attract from the broadest range of contributors possible. Once we see the range of content we receive we will retrofit sections (categories) to enable easier finding of content suited to reader interests. We felt that by creating specific categories today beyond the few we have would set pigeonholes which might restrict participation.

    We realise that we are working with generations which have grown up with others creating and editing news. This passive connection with news has allowed news to drift and our hope is that LocalNews Daily will empower citizens (in our small area at least) to claim the news back. This can be achieved through accurate reporting of local events, this ensuring citizens are better informed and more involved in local decisions which affect them.

    Newspapers and the sale of news and information are important to our retail business. The category accounts for more than 50% of our sales. We see LocalNews Daily providing a deeper connection in terms of the category and helping us experience the citizen journalism movement first hand. It also provides a way for us to connect with a local demographic – our expectation is that they are more likely to participate in creating and reporting news.

    LocalNews Daily has grown out of our desire to engage with our community in the deepest way possible.

    While LocalNews Daily has grown out of a business (Forest Hill Newsagency) we are not applying any editorial control on content other than to protect against offensive material.

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    Dan Gillmor interview

    Dan Gillmor is author of We the Media: Grassroots Journalism By the People, For the People. It’s an excellent book about the way technology, mainstream media cost cutting and journalism are intersecting and transforming mainstream media.

    Webpronews.com has published an excellent article with Gillmor by Jeremy Pepper. It’s a must read for anyone serious about participating in citizen journalism.

    The writings of Gillmor helped start us working on our own (small) LocalNews Daily project.

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    Parallels between the UK and Australia

    “The imminent destruction of a massive number of small and specialist magazines emerged as the hot button issue at Magazines 2005, the Periodical Publishers’ Association conference at London’s Grosvenor House Hotel last week.”

    UK’s Mediaweek previews a decision expected in the next week by the UK Office of Fair Trading.

    While we’re not facing decisions by regulators in Australia, operationally the system which has supported the distribution of newspapers and magazines is under more pressure than ever before for a range of reasons (retailers demanding more from the category; publishers competing with other publishers more aggressively; new retailers wanting ‘in’ on the category; and, greater financial pressure on newsagents)

    The newspaper and magazine distribution system in Australia has operated like a completed jigsaw for more than 100 years. Now, some pieces of the jigsaw are missing and other pieces from a different picture are being forced in their place. Whereas the total category was the measurement point of profitability, now newsagents (the only part of the chain to carry all titles) expect each title to be profitable and this is not possible.

    So, while we’re not experiencing regulatory change such as that coming in the UK, we are experiencing equally unsettling and challenging operational change.

    Newsagents want to own magazines as a category in consumer’s minds. They want to achieve this in an economically sustainable way and through relationships with publishers and distributors who treat the channel and its 4,600 business owners as equals.

    Most shopping centre newsagents need a sell through rate of 60% to pay for the space and layout.

    High Street newsagents need a sell through rate of 45%.
    Rural newsagents need 40%.

    These sell through rate goals assume titles with a shelf life of no more than 30 days.

    Titles performing at less than these sell through rates aren’t paying their way.

    Newsagents do not have the capacity to continue funding underperforming product.

    The answer is to either cut supply or pay for the service newsagents provide by making space in their stores available for range.

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    Newspapers are important

    Anyone in an independently owned small business knows that if you’re under attack, commercially, you fight back with a better product backed by better service. It’s a no brainer.

    In the case of newspapers and the challenge they face from new media, one immediate defence would be to aggressively work on their product. They need to make newspapers relevant again. Not as advertising delivery mechanisms but as newspapers. Next, they could work on their existing supply chain and through commercially respectful co-operation reduce and possibly even reverse the trends we’ve seen in recent circulation figures posted by dailies across the globe.

    Yes technology will impact on newspaper sales and it’s logical publishers get into the new media pit. However, wise professionally guided investment aimed at improving the content of newspaper news and analysis and delivering this only through the physical product will make it more valuable.

    Newspapers could try and stop the tail wagging the dog. The problem is that many newspapers have cut their investment in creating content. Newspapers are not as respected today as some years ago.

    The me too strategy being pursued by some publishers will not help them long term.

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    E-Ink and the new Sony Librie

    The new Sony Librie is what is called an e-book reader that makes use of the new e-ink, digital paper or electronic paper (choose the label that suits). The technology seems brilliant. It looks like it could be an iPod for text in terms of functionality. Here is the Sony Librie product page (Japanese, sorry) and here’s a US product page. The screen has a resolution some who have seen it compare it to that of newsprint, thin, flexible, and using little power. This is the first commercial product based on the e-ink technology. Here’s a good blog entry from Jason Kottke who played with the device.

    Now fit this device with wireless, plenty of battery power and a couple of extra screen features and we have the portable device magazine and newspaper readers like without the need for a daily trip to the store to purchase new product.

    The supply chain just got shorter.

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    New York Daily News plays catch up

    This story published today by the New York Daily News reports on the brilliant mock documentary, Epic 2014 produced by Robin Sloan and Mark Thompson.

    This is a catch up story for the New York Daily News since Epic 2014 has been around since late last year and widely reported at online news sites and in countless blogs. While soft in its analysis of the power of Epic, the report at least provides a link so readers can mke their own assessment.

    These two pars from the article provide context for the article:

    The mockumentary arrives at a time of unusually high anxiety for the news industry. Publishers are nervous – some would say paralyzed with fright – over polls showing that young adults are not reading papers.

    Rupert Murdoch, speaking at the recent convention of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, warned that newspapers risked being “relegated to the status of also-rans” if they don’t make use of the Internet.

    Viewing Epic 2014 ought to be compulsory for everyone remotely connected with the news and information supply chain.

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    The Coles Magazine Distribution Trial

    The Australian Financial Review today publishes a report (p 47) by Neil Shoebridge about a 12 week trial of a centralised magazine distribution system in 12 Victorian Coles supermarkets. The report claims a 20% kick in sales of magazines whereas for the same period other Coles stores reported a 1% kick in sales of magazines.

    Coles wants more control over the range and quantity of product it sells. The article documents the challenge of this process for traditional magazine distributors – Network, NDD and Gotch. The greater control, according to the article, is being sought over returns. It says that a more efficient returns system might dust distributor revenue by $4 million.

    One anonymous senior magazine industry executive is quoted as saying “Magazine distribution needs to be a push system, not a pull system, because we know the business better than the retailers.” My own experience is that such a claim is nonsense. That my own newsagency and many I know sell out of TOP 50 titles with half the shelf life of an issue to go get we return more than 50% of the BOTTOM 1,000 titles suggests that the push system is failing. It may not be failing for the distributors but it is failing for newsagents and other retailers as the AFR article suggests.

    In my shop, year on year, we have achieved growth of between 28% and 35%. In the top selling women’s weeklies segment our sales growth is in excess of 50%. We would have achieved more had we been able to get the product to sell.

    So, here is the newsagency channel starving for oxygen when our major competitors, supermarkets, are able to engage in trials of supply chain alternatives which better serve their needs.

    I cannot provide a link to the AFR article because of their policy of making online content available only by subscription.

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    A different supply chain story

    The rapidly shrinking distance between manufacturer (journalist) and consumer is observed often here. Here is an excellent example of technology having the potential to turn book publishing (and possibly book sales) upside down.

    The process of finding a publisher has always been a bit of a mystery to authors and some would note that too often good words are left unpublished while less deserving projects get up. A new website, Browse Books, looks set to have a positive impact because it takes some of the mystery out of the process and connects authors more directly with people who will give their works life through physical or electronic publishing.

    Authors submit their manuscripts to this Browse, and work with affiliated editors to tidy up their projects. They are submitted to content and service providers to produce the book. Connect this print on demand techno logy and the book supply chain is a fraction of what it is today and the time to get new product to market much shorter.

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    Younger people and newspapers

    Newspaper sales are in trouble and the biggest problem seems to be with the 18-34 demographic. Thanks to an excellent blog entry at www.editorsweblog.org I have found this excellent report by Greg Gatlin of the Boston Herald. In a recent visit to a journalism class at an American college he asked them about their own media habits. I’m not surprised to read that these students want news to be free and more accessible.

    Publishers have a fine line to walk. They want to connect with the demographic yet it has to be on commercial terms.

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