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

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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    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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