Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Mondragon Cooperative

Father José María Arizmendiarrieta
The Mondragon story is a little bit too sweet for my taste. I guess I'm getting old. In any case, I'm impressed, the experience seems to defy gravity.

If the co-op model is so efficient, it may well be the model that companies may have to adopt in the future, or risk the fate of the dodo.

In light of the current turmoil in the publishing industry, the co-op model seems to be an excellent alternative for bloggers, journalists and photographers, or content providers, to offer their services.

To peak your curiosity, I have an interesting proposition to make to you down below.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

TGI's Online Marketing Fiasco

TGI was faced with some unexpected consequences to its September '09 promotion.  I wholeheartedly recommend reading Bob Garfield's article Why getting a Woody and bribing people won’t get you any real friends.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Content providers

If traditional media is going the way of the Dodo, then who is going to supply content? In (a Google) search for an answer, I found several well established sites that have been providing this service.

Twitter: a news alert system

Fred Wilson, one of Twitter's owners, among other things, explains why Twitter is so relevant to news.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Girl Friday

There was a time when reporters could get away with murder...

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Ted Rall project

Ted Rall has his project too.

Calvin & Hobbes

I love these kickstarter projects. Calvin & Hobbes too.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Google's FTC presentation

Ad growth in the last 20 years?
Best performer Cable TV, worst, newspapers.

Flatworld: A textbook model

Have textbook publishers found their model?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Are marginal costs free for digital content ?

Are marginal costs for Internet content really free? If not, what's wrong with Chris Anderson's arguments?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Free: why not?

After reading Malcolm Gladwell's "Priced to Sell", I felt compelled to combine some of the gems from his article with some other thoughts.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Google News degrades newspaper brands

Could Google News be affecting the brand value of newspapers?

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Free: why?

Free, why not?

Digital marginal costs are practically nil. Economy 101 tells us that a producer should sell down to a price close to his marginal costs in order to maximize his profits.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Google detour

Is Google hijacking our traffic?

Friday, February 19, 2010

The New Normal: high unemployment

In taking another stab at our world view, to suggest what the media may need to survive, we cannot dismiss the toxic recession we're in, and its aftermath effects on our society.

Friday, February 12, 2010

A digital new world

As an introduction to how media content is evolving, I will begin by looking at the effects of technology on our own lives. Are there any dangers in this brave new world?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Design shaping communications and media

Will Apple's irresistible design give it a chance at controlling —through the Ipad— the book, newspaper, magazine, radio, TV, and movie industries?

Sunday, January 31, 2010

News agencies content leaks

It's the craziest thing. Why would any reader pay for a magazine or newspaper when he can get his news for free?

Currently, news agencies, like AP, AFP and Reuters, still charge for the rights to republish —while... they give away their news content to readers for free!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Ipad launch

A quick peek at the much awaited Ipad launching.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Search Engine Optimization and the news

Google Trends, an excellent source of news?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Tweaking subscription prices

Tweaking for the right price for an online subscription is a lot harder than I thought.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Where is my paid content?

Newspapers are crying, "WHO HAS BEEN TASTING MY SOUP?". Have they been too willing to give away their content?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Online distractions

How much are computers affecting our kids?

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Apple Tollgate

What can we expect from the Apple Islate?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Content creation opportunities

You might want to check Mike Shatzkin's presentation at the BEA, or his Publishing Points series of lunchtime talks to get a feel of what's coming from a book publishers' perspective.

My feeling is that what book publishers are experiencing today with technology, newspaper publishers may very well experience in the near future. On Kindles and e-readers, book format reproduction has been a child's play.

He highlights the obvious dominance of specialized-vertical over general-horizontal publishing in the new search publication environment.

I strongly feel that he falls short in his appreciation of the consequences of the laser focused search pushed publishing. I don't feel there's room for the publisher to guide the book author any longer.

Why would an author approach a publisher, when a healthy search engine optimization of his work should suffice?

As Mike mentions, the usual publisher's marketing wares, —book clubs, newspaper reviews, magazine and newspaper ads, and others—, are too expensive or rapidly disappearing.

Nevertheless, his presentations touch on what I think are a few crucial and far reaching points, which we need to appreciate on the newspaper publishers side of the fence:
  • Building or maintaining communities is at the core of it all. Well-known places will always occupy a space in our minds. People will always visit the New York Times, as well as, their local newspaper's print, online, or phone presence, to look for what's happened in their community. As a consequence, newspaper brands are relevant, and must be nourished —with likable presences in any new format, like: Facebook, YouTube, MySpace, Twitter and others.

    Mike's take:
    We are all in the conteNt business, and we are going to have to move into the conteXt business. The ownership in the future of eyeballs will be more important than the ownership of IP, because value moves to scarcity. This is immutable, you cannot change this. Content creation and distribution are no longer scarce. Anybody can do them. Distribution is not an issue. I can type something on my computer today, I can flip it to my website, it is distributed. Any body in the world, on the web, can get it. The problem is, will they know about it? That’s the problem. Marketing is the problem. Distribution is no longer the problem. And you’re going to do your marketing niche by niche, and nugget by nugget, and it does require scale. If you don’t have enough content, or clout in a community, you won’t be heard. If you don’t pay enough attention or put enough labor into a community, you won’t be able to command the attention of that community.
  • Content creation, on the other hand, opens new doors of opportunity. Publishers must take advantage of the fact that it's been their business to know all the intricacies of how to better connect the creator to his audience. They should offer this service to those countless companies needing to show a pretty face to the world —which is better known as publishing.

    Mike's take:
    Publishers also recognize creative possibilities and ideas that aren’t fully developed. As a matter of fact, publishers usually buy projects based on ideas that are not fully developed, and participate in the development of ideas. That is a very important skillset. That doesn’t go away. And the publisher is coordinating the whole range of disparate activities that are necessary to connect the creator to an audience. You know what that is, it’s putting the art in the book, it’s deciding what typeface, it’s deciding what price, it’s deciding how to market, but sometimes it’s finding a co-author for the book, or sometimes it’s finding an illustrator. So sometimes you’re actually connecting the creators with each other, as well as providing the detailed management that the creator needs. Actually, I believe, is the most important skill set of publishers is that they manage a massive amount of detail. Which the authors would very rapidly table themselves up in knots if they managed for themselves. That is the scale opportunity that publishers present, and that is not going to change. It’s actually going to be even more necessary in the web.
We've already seen a good example that takes advantage of the laser focused search publication environment in a previous post, The new news habitat: content that works.

So, it's time you guys get out there to offer your creation and presentation wares...

Good luck.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The power of praying

Gregg Braden explains the power of prayer

I'm always curious and surprised at how I run into certain subjects.

In this video, Gregg Braden tells his amazing experiences with what our feelings are capable of. It's fascinating to learn that a gathering of people can feel their way into making a person's tumor disappear. Or, that an online gathering of hundreds of thousands can effect positive results by praying for world peace.

Prayer, is a way of eliciting our feelings —which, would empower us to change the world around us.

Eliciting our feelings empowers us to change the world!

Which is in agreement with Losada's positivity. Although, Gregg's praying would have a broader scope, since it can also alter physical (water, tumors) structures.

I don't want to sound too preachy, but, shouldn't we be trying to be nicer, or at least, more positive?

For those pragmatically inclined: it pays.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Be nice: it pays

I have a tendency to be very demanding with my personal relations, maybe, because I'm very exacting on myself. Or maybe, it's because I like to live on the edge, and after a while, this life style takes its toll by making me grumpy.

Not long ago, I realized that showing my love to my wife had the (unexpected) consequence of having her love me back a lot more.

So, it's quite simple: give more to receive more in return.

Dr. Marcial Losada
Founder and executive director of Meta Learning

Interestingly enough, I recently ran into an eye-opening interview with Marcial Losada (In Spanish: part I and part II), where he explains his Meta Learning Model (same stuff, in English).

Marcial was initially interested in understanding how to improve the effectiveness of a group of people within an organization. Flourishing teams would be those that would show high performance across three indicators: profitability, customer satisfaction, and good evaluations by superiors, peers and customers.

Like a flower, a group or a couple, may flourish or languish!

It was discovered that 95% of what goes on is explained by the emotions involved, and only 5% by knowing the process. In other words, people may know what to do, but this has a minute weight in the effectiveness of a group, —it's the positive affect involved in the interactions of a group that sustain its high performance.

Positive affect, or pleasant expressions (feeling grateful, upbeat, expressing appreciation, liking) predict well-being; whilst, unpleasant expressions (feeling contemptuous, irritable, disdain, disliking) predict an opposite outcome.

Other studies have shown that inducing positive affect carries multiple benefits:
  • Good feelings alter people's mindsets, widening attention, broadening behavioral repertoires, increasing intuition and creativity.
  • Good feelings alter people's bodily systems, improving cardiovascular aftereffects, alter frontal brain asymmetry and increases immune function.
  • Good feeling predict good mental and physical outcomes: (a) resilience to adversity, (b) increased happiness, (c) psychological growth, (d) lower levels of cortisol, (e) reduced inflammatory responses to stress, (f) reductions in subsequent-day physical pain, (g) resistance to rhino-viruses, and (h) reductions in stroke.
  • And, perhaps reflecting these effects in combination, good feelings predict how long people live. Several well-controlled longitudinal studies document a clear link between frequent positive affect and longevity.

To make a long story short:
(for the long version check the Positive Affect and the Complex Dynamics of Human Flourishing study)

Observe a group's behavior, counting positive (P) and negative (N) acts, as mentioned earlier, and use the following formula to determine the connectivity (c), or the strong lasting social connections between the members of the group, which determines the long term effectiveness of a group.

c = 15 + 2.67 P/N

c = 18 represents a low performance,
c = 22 a medium performance, and
c = 32 represents a high performance team.

Due to some Lorenz systems behavior, from where this formula is derived, there is an important breakpoint, which delimits the performance of a group: it will be pulled (permanently) either to the flourishing or languishing attractor.

This value is found for c = 22.74 or P/N = 2.9.

And this sums it up: we must get 3 positives, or better, for every negative in the interactions, in order to flourish. If not, languishing and low performance is a given.

Long lasting relations is the secret —and it might improve your news writing too...

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Are e-readers the holy grail?

As I try to unclutter my garage, —a consequence of procrastinating the decision of what to do with this and that, typewriters definitely have to go this time around—, I'll try to see if e-readers really have the magic for news delivery as its been touted long before the current San Francisco Las Vegas CES show.

CNETting the CES comments on e-readers and the like, the Intel LG smartphone and Nvidia Tegra II tablet although pricey, knock me off my feet. You must watch the videos to get a feel of their navigation, images won't do.

Here's the thing. I've always thought and I've tried to make the point that we humans —our readers— are a lot more complex than what meets the eye. If you don't believe me, check Levin's apologies here, or how he lost trillions believing that online news was going to be the hole in the donuts, going forward with the Time Warner - AOL merger.

Levin concurs that the consumer "experience" is driving online traffic.

Aha! I think it'll be safer to keep the stuff I don't understand while my wife is away on vacation, —better safe than sorry, don't you agree?

Bottom line: the devil is in the details. All the dah-dah and doo-doo has to be weighed against this fact. As a good example, videos (even laptop screens) hinder the tranquil zen-like environment of news-paper reading, which is so helpful to its advertising.

I'm sure designers will agree that typeface, font size, leadings —which, seem to be minute issues— are precisely what makes reading effortless and transparent. But, by moving news into an immense and totally different media, like the Internet, people tend to forget these basic axioms.

E-ink and touch-screen (operating systems) adoption in e-readers are enormous strides towards making these machines less objectionable to magazine and newspaper reading —dramatically improving reading eye stress and navigation.

As a matter of fact, the tablet should reign as the new laptop hardware standard. It's easy to foresee that touch-screens will also serve as keyboards when needed, making manufacturers drop keyboards altogether.

Or, double up, as in the case of Microsoft's Courier project.

When that time comes, pricing will not be an issue. I'm curious of why manufacturers are not following this path, is it the Newton's legacy of fear?

How far away in the future is the $500 all encompassing computer-tablet?

How is it that some of us keep garages so nicely organized?

Love to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Spot.US: a silver bullet?

David Cohn,
a candid interview

I wasn't expecting to find such an interesting news model —but David Cohn's Spot.Us is something else.

Spot.Us is a nonprofit project of the Center for Media Change funded by various groups like the Knight Foundation.

When asked, David Cohn sees his organization's mission as that of a provider of local investigative reporting, funded by the community.

The process is initiated with news "tips" that the community feels are stories worth covering. Reporters propose news "pitches" based on these tips, while editors from Spot.Us provide an estimate of the cost, and screen both pitches and reporters. Finally, the community or news organizations finance through their donations each approved pitch.

And it doesn't end there, if a news organization finances 50% of the cost, it gets the exclusive. If not, it will get published at no cost at any organization willing to publish it — blogs, New York Times... Of course, we're talking of a 100% financed story. If not, it gets scrapped —well, not really... the reporter involved could also donate part of his time too.

Finally, this is an Open Source project. I read that there's already a site in Japan using the same piece of software.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Why News-in-papers?

Why should publishers use paper?

If you really want to get a deeper look into this problem, I suggest you read (the 75 pages of) Hamlet's Blackberry: Why Paper is Eternal, by William Powers, or you can check the excerpts in italics down below.

W srednim wieku by Wiewslaw Walkuski
Courtesy of Polish Posters

This question brings me back to Heidegger's assertion, the great philosopher of the 20th century, that we are truly very complex creatures. So complex, according to Dreyfus, that we may never be copied by computers.

The following cloud of concepts gives us a good overall feeling of how media outlets differ:

in the flow
settled down
search and destroy
thinking & planning
quick read
closed and finite
easier editing
difficult editing
no editing
light reflecting
light emitting
light emitting
easy on the eyes
toll on eyes and brain
easy navigation
tolling navigation
minimum navigation

Like the hinged door, paper magazines have thrived deep into the electronic age because the way they convey information remains, for some purposes, more useful and satisfying, in ways that can be hard to describe except anecdotally.

Paper not only conveys tranquility by being immutable, but there are times, when we need to think with our hands. I still prefer to get my bank statements in paper. I also jot down telephone numbers and ideas, as well as, do some note taking and planning on paper.

And although digital servers have made paper storage obsolete, or libraries cannot compete with digital database sorting and others, paper is still an excellent communication device. I print my digital travel itineraries, kids’ homework and copies of important presentations. And, I would only send condolences in a hand written note —no e-mail here.

Which brings us to recognize maybe the most notable property of paper: it adds a distinct "value" to its message.

Paper has intrinsic qualities that: 1)make it easy and enjoyable to work with, 2)help us make sense of information and 3)are conducive to certain kinds of reading and thinking, —properties that new media, for all their wonders, have not yet been able to match.

Lazy Sunday morning, late breakfast in bed,
reading our favorite section of the newspaper.

It's amazing to realize that magazines and newspapers have clear advantages over online and TV advertising, precisely, because of its lack of hoopla. The magazine and newspaper experience is a quite one, —readers view their ads when they please and within a peaceful Zen attitude. In contrast, readers tend to avoid ads in Online's speed reading and TV's entrancement environments. In the former, readers are too focused in their urgent search; and in the latter, they react annoyed by skipping channels, —TV ads interrupt their entrancement.

And this is why news-in-paper alongside ads-in-paper persist in making a golden couple, —it's good company. By the way, the market cap increase for newspapers for 2009 was spectacular.

Wish you well.

My Blackberry abridged edition:

Sellen and Harper found that paper has four affordances that specifically assist reading:

(1) Tangibility. This refers to the way that we navigate a paper document or book using our eyes and hands together. “When a document is on paper, we can see how long it is, we can flick through the pages . . . we can bend over a corner while searching for a section elsewhere. In other words, paper helps us work our way through documents.”

(2) Spatial Flexibility. When working with multiple paper texts, they can be spread out around a large area or reduced to fit a smaller space, depending on our needs.

(3) Tailorability. With paper it’s easy to underline, scribble in the margins and otherwise annotate a text we are reading.

(4) Manipulability. Because paper can be moved around, one can shuffle effectively among different paper sources, for example putting one page aside in order to concentrate on another.

The first of these, tangibility, isn’t available at all on a two-dimensional screen. The others are more difficult to achieve with computers and other electronic media, as anyone who has “written” in the margins of a digital document can attest. As the authors put it, “It is as if people need to use their hands and eyes to fully grasp the meaning of the text in question. People really do understand what a document conveys by physically getting to grips with it.

“[T]he physical feel of the paper meant that little attention (and especially visual attention) had to be given over to the task of page turning. Much of the information needed to navigate was both implicit and tactile. Similarly, physical cues such as thickness of the document provided important tacit information about where in the document the reader was. All of this . . . meant that readers were not distracted from the main visual task.”

In contrast, one of their subjects had this to say about online reading: “I was getting very annoyed and clicking on those things and shouting at it . . . . I just found that it took ages and ages. I was losing interest – it was distracting me from the point.”

Thirty-six consumers were interviewed, half of them frequent magazine readers. The other half were people who watched at least two hours of commercial television a day and also read at least one magazine a month. The study found that the way consumers react to ads in hard-copy magazines is in fact very different from how they respond to commercials on television.

The distinction came down to a matter of control. Because viewers cannot control when TV commercials are shown or how long they will last, they tend to feel trapped by the ads, which those in the study spoke of as disruptive, distracting and annoying.

Meanwhile, the subjects had largely positive views of ads in magazines, and the main reason seemed to be the sense of control that paper inherently affords: The reader turns the pages at will, deciding what to look at and for how long. One subject said: “A magazine ad is like a glass of wine because I have the time to sniff it and appreciate it . . . It’s there, I can take it or leave it . . . . Because I have control, I can take the time to make particular decisions [about] which ads I will savor and absorb.”

In the last decade, digital reading has become a part of everyday life, yet it hasn’t replaced reading on paper. McDonald says that at the moment screens are not used predominantly for flow-style reading – settling in and losing one’s bearings – but for a kind of high-intensity foraging. “When one is reading on the screen, it’s sort of like speed reading, information-retrieval mode. ‘I’m looking for something. Now I’m looking for something else.’ It’s very purposeful, it’s very utilitarian. . . . There’s something about it being on the screen that signals to people to hurry. It’s pushing the page-down button, just having your finger on the clicker and scrolling. It’s a higher speed, more nervous kind of thing.” Screen-based reading, he says, is “very much about ‘search and destroy.’”

The paper news should provide long-form, in-depth coverage, while the Internet should be interactive, immediate, provide an open dialog with the audience and throw in all those nifty doo-dads and videos people love to play with.” This distinction is not so much generational as operational.

The digital medium serves up content differently from paper, and we go to it for different kinds of reading experiences – “search and destroy” versus “settle down.”

It has little to do with age and everything to do with the human mind, which does not evolve so quickly that those born after 1980 read and think in a fundamentally different way from everyone who came before them. In effect, the content that works best on the Web, for readers of all ages, has migrated there, while the “long-form, in-depth” stuff clings tenaciously to paper (even when it’s on the Web, people are less likely to read it there).

Thus the public exodus from newspapers is not a rejection of paper, but an objection to using it for hard news and other utilitarian, quick-read content (including, not incidentally, classified ads) that gains little or nothing from arriving in that format. It’s because this content has always been the core mission of newspapers – they’re called newspapers, not “essaypapers” – that the industry finds itself in the tough spot it’s in. The two sides of its culture have been pulled apart, and the side that drives the franchise wound up in a not-so-profitable medium.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The new News habitat

Before you start reading, you might want to check out these two excellent posts: from Dan Conover here, and from Clay Shirky here.

I'm watching History Channel's "Monster Dinosaurs". A change in habitat is bad for the prevailing or perfectly adapted animals; extinctions are akin to throwing the dice in evolution, it may or may not give forth better species in the new environment.

The Internet's world wide web

Let's analize the new environment.

The Internet extends its reach quite a bit, to the www, or worldwide, to the far reaches of the web's network. As a consequence, optimal content should have universal appeal (i.e. Google search, Facebook, Wikipedia).

Publication is immediate and storage —or hosting— costs are close to nil. Breaking news and large archives can take good advantage of the immediacy and database features of sorting, retrieval and linking (i.e. Wikipedia, Google books, Facebook).

Articles, fields within a database, may include text, sound, images and videos. Since more senses are involved, videos should be the preferred communication media (i.e. YouTube).

It's a two-way street, communication can go both ways. The more content from users, the better —it's cheaper. (i.e. Facebook, Wikipedia, MySpace).

Let's try to propose a publication model that takes advantage of these features.

But before we go on, we have to grasp a major Internet limitation —it's computer based. To put it bluntly, it's like pinching a mirror, not much satisfaction in the smell and touch sensory areas; and worse, reading stresses our eyes, quite a bit more than print on paper.

A good example is worth a thousand words...

I found content that works a near perfect example. It develops web page content from thin slices of news: Bridal's Guide, Your Garden, Body & More, Home Style, Car Guide... It extends its reach to readers from a variety of publications through syndicating their service. It's not perfect... it lacks user content derived advantages, and no feed into print.

Beetles are incredible... Far more interesting than dinosaurs.

Love to hear from you.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Adapting to the new tools of the trade

I've already flatly stated that it's disheartening to see how traditional news outlets still fail to comprehend current technology.

The fact that online editions leave very little money on the table has been a major source of confusion for publishers, hindering online, as well as, in my opinion, print growth.

While I watch an old favorite "Dr. Who's: The End of Times", let's review some of the weaknesses that I feel require an urgent change of course:

It's alarming to see the great number of publications that hold back breaking news from their online edition to protect their print counterpart.

Isn't it obvious that the market is going to exploit this blatant weakness? Why not rethink the online edition as a service to the community with associated benefits. It has the potential side effect to draw readers into both editions, online and print. Greater online traffic not only means greater online ad revenue, but, also should attract subscribers to the associated print editions —if and only if, the contents of these editions are quality topic reader centered articles, with follow-up calls feeding into each other.

This immediately brings us to the major issue of repeatability.

It's quite obvious that these editions must carry different, although, often complementary content. They can deepen their online articles with opinion in the print edition, and broaden their print articles into the inexpensive online edition —with related archive database background.

Content from Wire, TV, radio, and online, needs to be chopped away; carrying brief, or excluding completely, repeat articles in the print edition, to strike an appropriate balance between accomplished news and non-repetitiveness.

And, yes, yes, of course! I'm watching Henry Evans being interviewed by Bloomberg, where he stresses the importance of quality journalism, or in a few more words: the value of honest, unbiased and brave investigative reporting, —which unfortunately we don't see as often as we should.

If you stop to think about it, a bias knocks out the "other" readers from the get go —not a very smart move, if you want good circulation numbers. Honesty, on the other hand, builds the best brand possible for any publication by attracting an extremely loyal following. Further, brave and heroic feats are not only rare, but, admirable, which we also know to attract reader attention by the plain etymology of the word. Did I mention that they're also the right thing to do?

Technology has significantly altered the branding of a publication.

In a technologically dialogue rich world it's very rude not to allow the other person to comment. Further, a publication's persona becomes transparent. Dishonest behavior is spotted from a distance.

If it's not interesting, it's not worth reading...

Journalists must also use and take advantage of the new tools at their disposal to quickly grasp an article's impact, to enable them to quickly morph their publishing topics closer to readers' interests. Again, if you don't, they will.

I'm sure there's a lot more. I'd love to hear from you.