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Is there a Difference between Pay Walls for Web Sites and Mobile Media?

Posted March 24th, 2010 by Andrew Kaplan - Special Assistant to the Future of Media project

Some media executives, like Slate chairman Jacob Weisberg, believe media companies should require readers to pay for content when delivered in a “specific, convenient, dedicated form” such as the iPhone or Kindle, but keep Web sites free.

In a piece in today’s New York Observer, Weisberg noted his first hand experience with putting online content behind a pay wall and called it “the worst year at Slate. Luckily it’s 12 years in the past now; we got it out of our system early.” He recalled that the year of having the pay wall was a “tough year for the writers, because they went from having a growing audience and starting to feel like the web was working in terms of reaching to people you wanted to reach to suddenly feeling like you’re writing for a very small group of people.”
Do you buy Weisberg’s distinction of media companies charging for newer mobile technologies that deliver content in a dedicated form versus Web sites that should remain free? Do you believe consumers will buy the difference?

Posted in Internet and Mobile Newspapers and Magazines

Project for Excellence in Journalism Releases Important "State of the Media" Report

Posted March 16th, 2010 by Andrew Kaplan - Special Assistant to the Future of Media project

The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism released their very important State of the Media report yesterday.  

Here’s the report.

Here’s a good summary from the Columbia Journalism Review:
Top two items from CJR:

1) To put all those tiny little papercuts into perspective; each round of newspaper layoffs, here and there, equals one big gushing head wound:
“We estimate that the newspaper industry has lost $1.6 billion in annual reporting and editing capacity since 2000, or roughly 30 percent, which leaves an extra $4.4 billion remaining. Even if the economy improves, we predict more cuts in 2010.”

2) Today’s brave new media ventures are rowboats struggling against the rushing tide of lost journalistic capital. The following statistic only underscores how important it is to critically examine the short- and long-term prospects of many new media ventures funded by foundations and individual donors. How long will their charity be sustainable?
“$141 million of nonprofit money has flowed into new media efforts over the last four years (not including public broadcasting). That is less than one-tenth of the losses in newspaper resources alone.”


Posted in Ideas and Debates Information Needs of Communities Newspapers and Magazines
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Can News and Information Be Appealing as Virtual Goods? (By Adam Hanft)

Posted March 12th, 2010 by Andrew Kaplan - Special Assistant to the Future of Media project

The Game Developers Conference was held this week in San Francisco.   On the surface, you wouldn’t think that this convocation would be an event of great interest to those working on, and thinking about, the future of media. 

 But when you consider it more deeply, the “God of War III” and “Street Fighter IV” are actually quite relevant to many of the issues that newspapers and magazine face. Because they’ve been successful at turning free into paid in a category where small packages of content are delivered to users as a form of distraction, entertainment and sociability.
Casual games are booming; it’s a multi-billion dollar industry that continues to grow by 100 percent ever year.   What are consumers paying for?   Since the games are free, they’re ponying up for virtual goods that enable a user to move up faster or explore new areas.  
It’s really important to note that casual games have a particular appeal to women – and particularly, older women. Hint hint: this a demographic that consumes a lot of news and information, too.
Casual games function as tiny distractions, as a kind of video snacking, as stress-reducers, as pure entertainment and escapism. And importantly, because they live inside social networks, they are a hybrid of gaming and connecting.
Can the success of game snacking be translated into news snacking? Can the media package its content in a way that connects with the expectations and behaviors of the casual game consumer? Should the news media be partnering with the game developers at the conference?
It would be a real breakthrough if news snacking was able to ignite social networks for sharing and virality -- in the way casual game have -- and by doing so extend the reach and appeal of newspapers and magazines.
John Pleasants, the CEO of Playdom, a leading casual game company, said in an interview that 90 percent of his revenue comes from the sale of virtual goods, versus just 10 percent from advertising.
Can news and information content be made as appealing and emotionally rewarding as virtual goods? What do you think?
For more information: 

Posted in Ideas and Debates Internet and Mobile Newspapers and Magazines
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Wallpaper, Hidden Gems, and Water-Coolers

Posted March 1st, 2010 by Dana Scherer - Senior Policy Analyst, Media Bureau


After they lost their radio jobs, deejay Mike O’Meara, sidekicks Robb Spewak, Oscar Zeballos, and “news guy” Michael Elston opted to take their show to the Internet.  Zeballos argues that listening to traditional radio programs and advertising is like watching wallpaper:  you know it’s there, but you don’t pay much attention to it.  In contrast, he says, podcast listeners actively seek out programs, making them far more likely to be engaged in the accompanying commercials.  (See Mike Musgrove, “With this Radio Gig, Who Needs FM?,” Washington Post, Feb. 21, 2010 at G1.) 


Paul Camp writes in a Future of Media comment that readers who self-select news and information online miss out on the serendipity factor.  When you listen to the radio or thumb through a newspaper, you may encounter a hidden gem of a story that you otherwise might have missed.  Paul calls this an “unsung beauty” that neither advertisers nor consumers have fully valued.


Another facet of online-offline media dynamics is the “Water-Cooler Effect.”  Brian Stelter in the New York Times discusses how the Internet can enable television viewers to alert each other to and engage in national conversations about politics, sports, and entertainment.  While consumer split their time between computer and television screens, the two screens reinforce, rather than compete with each other.  (See Brian Stelter, “Water –Cooler Effect:  Internet Can be TV’s Friend,” New York Times, Feb. 24, 2010 at A1.) 


Do you think these forms of gathering news and information will co-exist in the long term, or do you expect one will dominate?  What do you think are the public interest costs and benefits of each? How do you think advertisers will react?

Posted in Ideas and Debates Business Models and Financial Trends Commercial TV and Radio Internet and Mobile Newspapers and Magazines
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Newspaper Advertising: Paper Dollars vs. Digital Dimes?

Posted February 3rd, 2010 by Dana Scherer - Senior Policy Analyst, Media Bureau

In Entertainment Industry Economics, Hal Vogel estimates that about 80% of newspaper revenues have traditionally come from advertising, with the remaining 20% coming from subscription and newsstand sales. [Hal Vogel, “Publishing,” Entertainment Industry Economics (Seventh Edition) at 342.]

Standard and Poor’s has a similar estimate in its August 2008 Publishing Survey.  [James Peters, Industry Surveys: Publishing (includes Advertising), Standard and Poor's, Aug. 21, 2008, at 26.]

As newspaper readership migrates online, however, this ratio may change. Ken Auletta states in his latest book, Googled that:

The rule of thumb is that an online ad brings in at most about one-tenth the revenue as the same as the same ad in a newspaper. There are two reasons for this: readers spend less time reading a paper online than they do a newspaper, and because ad space is not scarce on the Web, advertisers pay lower rates.” [Ken Auletta,”Chasing the Fox,” Googled, 2009, at 165.]

Do you think that these estimates are valid? Do you think these estimates will persist? If so, could the paper dollars vs. digital dimes ratio apply to subscription revenues as well?



Posted in Ideas and Debates Business Models and Financial Trends Internet and Mobile Newspapers and Magazines
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Could the Library Serve as an Aggregator of Local News?

Posted February 2nd, 2010 by Andrew Kaplan - Special Assistant to the Future of Media project

We have an area where citizens can describe their local media. For example, Rick Livingston writes:
Columbus still has a strong, locally owned daily paper (The Dispatch), functioning as the main channel for local news and statehouse reporting. It also owns the major TV station. Other print publications are mostly puffery, catering to the college-age music-and-drinking crowd (or post-graduate, young-professional versions thereof). We have three (count 'em) NPR stations, mostly overlapping programming larded with a little local coverage; the rest of the radio dial is hopelessly canned. One excellent website I know (Columbus Underground), and several partisan blogsites. Some civic issues are getting publicized through Facebook, thanks primarily to a few civic-minded individuals: the medium is not conducive to discussion, however, so much as mutual encouragement. Good if you agree already. We lost one important voice for fair-minded debate this year, when Fred Andrle, a gifted local talk-show host, retired.

I know we're lucky still to have a hometown newspaper, but the range of discussion and information is distinctly limited. The Dispatch has invested heavily in a particular version of urban development and definitely shapes the options we're offered. The only civic institution with a comparable citywide reach is the library system: could it develop a presence as an aggregator of local news and a forum for discussion?
What are your thoughts? Could the library “develop a presence as an aggregator of local news and a forum for discussion”? Could Facebook (or other social networking websites) be used to facilitate discussion of civic issues? Feel free to comment and don’t forget to tell us about your community and its media by posting here.

Posted in Ideas and Debates Commercial TV and Radio Internet and Mobile Newspapers and Magazines
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The Perils of Un-Bundling

Posted January 29th, 2010 by Steve Waldman - Senior Advisor to the Chairman

Newspaper editors know that for many years popular entertainment and sports features – like horoscopes, comics, and box scores – in effect subsidized the cost of the city hall reporter and other more civically-oriented journalism. In The Big Switch by Nicholas Karr offers an interesting description of this “bundling” process, and the effects of the internet:

“A print newspaper provides an array of content-local stories, national and international reports, news analyses, editorials and opinion columns, photographs, sports scores, stock tables, TV listings,   cartoons, and a variety of classified and display advertising-all   bundled together into a single product. People subscribe to the bundle, or buy it at a newsstand, and advertisers pay to catch readers'   eyes as they thumb through the pages. The publisher's goal is to make the entire package as attractive as possible to a broad set of readers and advertisers. The newspaper as a whole is what matters, and as a product it's worth more than the sum of its parts.
"When a newspaper moves online, the bundle falls apart. Readers don't flip through a mix of stories, advertisements, and other bits of content. They go directly to a particular story that interests them, often ignoring everything else. In many cases, they bypass the newspaper's "front page" altogether, using search engines, feed readers, or headline aggregators like Google News, Digg, and Day-life   to leap directly to an individual story. They may not even be aware of which newspaper's site they've arrived at. For the publisher, the newspaper as a whole becomes far less important. What matters are the parts. Each story becomes a separate product standing naked in the marketplace. It lives or dies on its own economic merits.”


So the question is, can civically-important journalism survive on its own "economic merits"? Do consumers, at the end of the day, value it enough?


Posted in Ideas and Debates Newspapers and Magazines
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Comment on: Newspaper and Magazines

Posted January 20th, 2010 by William Freedman - Associate Bureau Chief, Media Bureau

The Future of Media project encourages comments and suggestions on the key questions about the changing media landscape.  This post includes questions about newspapers and magazines.  (The full public notice can be found here.)

39)  What are the trends in staffing and coverage at newspapers?  Where staffs have been cut, what kinds of staff have been reduced, and what kinds of news coverage have been affected?  What impact, if any, do such cuts and reductions have on the ability of broadcast radio and television, cable, satellite and other electronic media to serve communities’ news and information needs?  What characteristics distinguish newspapers that are relatively healthy from those in less sound financial condition (e.g., size, debt levels, cost structure, circulation patterns, advertising rates, taxes, ownership structure, location, technological innovation, Internet operation, Internet competition)?

40)  What are the trends in staffing and coverage at print magazines specializing in news and information?

Please weigh in on any of these questions, or offer your own.

Posted in Public Notices Ideas and Debates Newspapers and Magazines
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