By paulgillin | October 27, 2009 - 7:53 am - Posted in Facebook, Paywalls

Media-watchers are interpreting yesterday’s horrifying Audit Bureau of Circulation audit numbers that show newspaper circulation falling at an accelerating rate. Alan Mutter takes calculator in hand and figures that readership is at historic lows. “Newspaper circulation now is lower than the 41.1 million papers sold in 1940, the earliest date for which records are published,” he writes. In those days about 31 percent of the population read a newspaper. Today, it’s less than 13%.

Mutter’s analysis draws quite a few comments, several of whom quibble with his math. Martin Langeveld cites figures that are even more alarming than Mutter’s: In 1940, publishers distributed 118 newspaper copies for every 100 households. Today, the equivalent number is 33 copies per 100 households, down from 53 per 100 less than a decade ago.


Writing in the Atlantic, Megan McArdle chooses a blunt headline for her analysis: “This is the End of the Newspaper Business.” In her view, publishers are now at the end of their ropes. They’ve cut all they can cut and still put out a respectable product. The industry is in a death spiral. “We’re eventually going to end up with a few national papers, [most likely] The Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and The New York Times…But in 25 years, will any of them still be printing their product on the pulped up remains of dead trees? It doesn’t seem all that likely.”

McArdle’s predictions sound eerily similar to what we wrote more than three years ago in an essay entitled “How the Coming Newspaper Industry Collapse Will Reinvent Journalism.” We picked the same three dailies to survive but gave print only about 15 more years. We tried to place the essay in a few big dailies at the time but were rejected. Too implausible, the editors said.


In a release that served as a preamble to the ABC numbers, the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) provided some context for the circulation plunge. Its latest numbers reveal the impact of publishers’ recent efforts to tighten up on circulation in order to reduce churn and acquisition costs. As a result, newspapers are seeing “higher levels of subscribers retaining subscriptions, with subscriber ‘churn’ falling dramatically to 31.8 percent in 2008, compared with 54.5 percent in 2000.” Publishers are also raising single-copy rates and discounting more aggressively for subscriptions.

The NAA’s analysis is an important counterpoint to the hand-wringing that’s going on over the ABC numbers. At least part of the decline in US circulation is intentional. Publishers are cutting back on free distribution and deeply discounted promotions in an effort to make circulation a profit center. That’s good business sense, although it’s hardly a long-term strategy.

Miscellany

More local weeklies are closing.

  • Oklahoma’s Midwest City Sun will shut down this week after nearly three decades, idling 10 employees.
  • The Shoreline/Lake Forest Park (Wash.) Enterprise will print its last edition tomorrow and four other weeklies in the area will be combined into a single edition, appropriately named publisher Allen Funk announced. Enterprise features Andrea Miller editor puts the loss in human terms. “This leaves more than 65,000 people in north King County without a newspaper devoted solely to coverage of the communities they live in,” she wrote in a thoughtful e-mail to us. The Enterprise has be around more than 50 years and its lineage actually stretches back to 1904, she wrote in a 2007 history.

Last night was the American television debut of Stop The Presses: the American Newspaper in Peril, a 2008 film that claims to be the only documentary about the industry’s downfall. Directors Mark Birnbaum and Manny Mendoza interviewed “reporters, editors, media critics, journalism professors, students and newspaper readers to document the historic role of newspaper journalists as public watchdogs.” They also talked to many journalists like Ben Bradlee and Ken Auletta. It appears that the filmmakers are going to let their work trickle out through localized TV showings over the next year. You can buy a copy at prices ranging from $25 to $250 at AMS Pictures. Now that the vid has appeared on television, it will no doubt pop up online somewhere, but we would never point to a pirated copy. Just who do you think we are? Commenters are another story.

And Finally…

If you’re a newspaper history buff, have we got websites for you. Life just published a collection of classic photos involving newspapers under the banner of When Newspapers Mattered. It includes gems like the image below of Los Angeles gangster Mickey Cohen sitting amidst the newspaper headlines that galvanized his reputation as the kingpin of crime. Cohen and the Los Angeles media enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship, as he sold a lot of newspapers. He and William Randolph Hearst were reportedly pals.

Mickey Cohen


The Library of Congress is now also offering free access to a searchable database of dozens of daily newspapers stretching back to 1880. The service is part of National Digital Newspaper Program, a partnership between the National Endowments for the Humanities, the Library of Congress, and state projects “to provide enhanced access to United States newspapers published between 1836 and 1922.” Nearly 1.5 million pages have already been scanned. It’s unclear how exhaustively they’ve been indexed, but news buffs can view images like the front page from the San Francisco Call-Chronicle-Examiner documenting the earthquake of 1906 (below).

San Francisco Call-Chronicle-Examiner earthquake front page

By paulgillin | October 26, 2009 - 4:13 pm - Posted in Facebook, Paywalls

Circulation at major metro daily newspapers fell at more than twice the rate of last year’s record declines, although extenuating circumstances may be partly to blame.

Audit Bureau of Control (ABC) numbers released today showed that daily newspaper circulation plunged 10.6% for the six months ended Sept. 30 compared to the same period a year ago. Sunday circulation was off 7.5%. In the same period a year ago, average daily circulation fell 4.6%, while Sunday papers were down 4.9%. Only one newspaper – The Wall Street Journal – showed an increase in circulation and it was a meager .6%. It blew past USA Today to become the US leader in circulation as USA Today posted a 17% circulation decline, largely as a consequence of the loss of Marriott’s hotel-distribution business.

The New York Times was down 7.3% and its neighbor New York Post was off 18.8%. Both blamed extenuating circumstances. The Times has been pruning unprofitable circulation as it seeks to make subscription revenue a bigger piece of its top line. The Post blamed its plunge in part on an April, 2007 decision to double its newsstand price. The Post didn’t explain why it took two years for the price increase to show up in the circulation figures.

The figures may have also been impacted by recent ABC rules changes that tighten up the ability for newspapers to count bulk and sponsored copies in their total circulation. That doesn’t change the fact that this is the last news the industry needs to hear right now.

Comments Off on ABC Circ Report: How Low Can It Go?
By paulgillin | October 15, 2009 - 8:23 am - Posted in Facebook, Fake News, Google, Hyper-local, Paywalls

Paid-content advocate Steven Brill (right) has been busy defending his position lately. He squares off over the pay wall issue with visionary Clay Shirky on McKinsey & Co.’s website.  Shirky says forget about charging readers for content. They’ll pay only if the information is “necessary, irreplaceable and unshareable.”  The Financial Times can get away with charging for online access because people make money from the information they find there, but few outlets have the kind of audience demographics to do the same. On the sharability point, Shirky notes that preventing paying subscribers from sending interesting information to their friends goes against the grain of the Internet, thereby subverting the pay wall by its very nature.

Brill begs to differ. The point is not to charge everyone for access, he says, but rather to charge those people who are most committed to the product and are willing to pay. So a college newspaper could ask alumni to pay for a subscription in order to subsidize free copies for the students. Brill says he basically agrees with Shirky but thinks publishers should go after subscription revenue where they can get it. He resorts to that most annoying of branding tactics by inserting that little ™ symbol whenever he mentions his own products. We at the Death Watch™ just hate that.

Brill was also at an event sponsored by the Paley Center for Media that put him up against National Public Radio CEO Vivian Schiller, iconoclast Jeff Jarvis and media consultant Shelly Palmer. The most damning quote came from Vivian Schiller, who was previously general manager of NYTimes.com during the newspaper’s ill-fated TimesSelect experiment. The pay-walled venture “made $10 million, but I don’t think it was worth it,” she said. “Trying to force a change in audiences’ behavior is the fundamental problem I have with some of these pay wall models.” PaidContent.org’s David Kaplan notes that despite the debate format, the panelists really weren’t that far apart on the fundamental issues. All of them believe publishers need to find new ways to monetize their audiences. It’s just that most believe that charging for content that readers can find elsewhere for free is not the way to do it.

Bloggers Need Shield Laws

Writing on Media Shift, Clothilde Le Coz says a double standard applies when it comes to shield laws for citizen journalists. She notes that 37 states have passed laws that protect journalists from prosecution for failing to reveal their sources. Now there is a bill awaiting Senate approval that proposes to implement a shield law on a national level. The problem is that the bill defines journalists as people who work for professional media organizations. Bloggers are not specifically addressed in its language, which seems a rather blatant oversight these days.

Josh_WolfLe Coz cites the 2005 case of journalist and blogger Josh Wolf, who was jailed for failing to hand over video of a clash between protesters and police during the G8 summit. Wolf spent a month in jail but was eventually released under the terms of California’s shield law. “Imagine what would have happened if Wolf wasn’t a journalist and couldn’t argue his right to protect his sources?” Le Coz writes. “He would have been forced to give up his footage and thus become an accomplice in the arrest of protesters.”

Blogger anonymity is a thorn in the side of many professional journalists, but the writer argues that it’s an essential tool for bloggers in some countries if they are to speak freely at all. Even in the US, the rise of citizen journalism as a legitimate complement to mainstream media would seem to argue for an extension of legal protection to those who happen to be on the scene when something happens and who report the details.

Miscellany

If you have a couple of hours to kill and want to trace the history of the Boston Globes near-death experience at the hands of owner New York Times Co., PaidContent.org has a link list of its coverage in reverse chronological order.


USA Todays loss is The Wall Street Journal‘s gain. As the Gannett-owned week daily announced a plunge in daily circulation figures earlier this week, the Journal reported a year-over-year increase of .8%, making it the top-circulating US daily. The shift in industry leadership has more to do with accounting practices than actual leadership habits. USA Today attributed much of its circulation plunged to Marriott’s decision to stop distributing the paper free to all guests in its hotels. Meanwhile, changes in Audit Bureau of Control rules now permit the Journal to count more of its deeply discounted copies as legitimate circulation.


“We bought BusinessWeek to invest in it,” says Bloomberg Chief Content Officer Norm Pearlstine in an interview with PaidContent.org. The former Wall Street Journal and Time, Inc. executive says Bloomberg did have some reservations prior to its blockbuster acquisition of the struggling newsweekly, which was announced earlier this week, but that the financial publisher sees BusinessWeek as a tool to expand its reach into the executive suite. Bloomberg intends to invest in the magazine’s editorial staff and become a “true newsweekly,” meaning 52 issues a year and no games during slow times. Paid content.org has a history of the BusinessWeek sale in links.


Huffington Post is doing some pretty creative stuff with customization, reports Zach Seward on the Nieman Journalism Lab. It’s writing two different headlines for some stories and showing them randomly to viewers for five minutes. After that time, the headline that generates the most clicks becomes the default. Huffington Post is also toying with the idea of regional versions of its homepage that would serve up, for example, a different menu of stories to the lunchtime crowd in New York than to people just arriving at their workplace in Los Angeles.


After years of cutbacks and sales declines, the Dallas Morning News is fighting back by raising subscription prices and investing in better journalism. The seven-day home delivery rate just jumped 43%, making the Morning News one of the US’s most expensive metro dailies. The paper has also added pages, increased local news and sports coverage, expanded its recipe section and introduced a new feature in the business section. And it’s looking to hire five reporters. “We need it to continue to be profitable so that we have the funds to invest to make the transition…to digital,” says publisher Jim Moroney.


If you’re using WordPress for your blog (and who isn’t these days?) then be sure to check out this list of 85 WordPress plug-ins for blogging journalists. They include gems like BackType Connect, which pulls comments posted about you on other social media sites into your own pages, and Global Translator, which translates entries into 34 different languages. We’ll include a plug here for Apture, a utility that makes it drop-dead simple to insert links and media into posts without going through the tedious download and upload process. See our ham-handed application of Apture in the Wikipedia clip above. We’re still learning.

And Finally…

Ninety-three percent of all newspaper sales “can now be attributed to kidnappers seeking to prove the day’s date in filmed ransom demands,” reports The Onion in a hilarious spoof on the industry downturn. It seems that evildoers just can’t get enough of “the smell of ink coupled with the mildew odor of a windowless basement.” Publishers are seizing the opportunity to cater to this influential audience by targeting advertorials and special sections devoted to ski masks, abandoned warehouses and industrial meat freezers.

By paulgillin | October 13, 2009 - 4:43 am - Posted in Facebook, Fake News, Google, Hyper-local, Paywalls

Tom CurleyThe CEO of the Associated Press is stirring up trouble in China. Tom Curley (right) took the opportunity of an address to the World Media Summit in Beijing to outline plans for an AP-led initiative to retake control of intellectual property produced by the organization and its members.

The three-part initiative includes the News Registry, which is a rights management and tracking system that includes some kind of digital licensing protocols. He also said the AP will create a NewsMap, which is a master index of original content submitted to the registry, and NewsGuide, which is “an aggregated body of unique news content,” that sounds a little bit like Google News only a lot harder to use. All this is happening under the banner of “Protect, Point and Pay,” the objective apparently been to make it really difficult for aggregators to access AP content without paying for it. Of course, history shown that, when faced with roadblocks like this, aggregators simply go elsewhere. No timeframe for the new initiatives was announced.

Jeff Jarvis is having none of it. The media iconoclast says he can’t help pointing out the irony of Curley’s choosing to unveil the AP’s plans in a land where government exercises tight control over what citizens may know. The whole idea indicates that the AP doesn’t understand the dynamics of the link economy and word-of-mouth transmission. Curley and his fellow control freaks, “are the ones killing newspapers, not the Internet,” Jarvis says.

Condé Nast ’09 Revenue Decline May Hit $1 Billion

If anyone doubts how hard this economy has hit the luxury sector, they have only to look at the dismal performance of Condé Nast. Newsweek reports that the upscale magazine publisher – one of the nation nation’s three biggest — may see its ad revenue drop by $1 billion in 2009. In light of that disaster, it’s not surprising that Condé Nast last week decided to close venerable publications like Gourmet and Modern Bride. The company still owns Architectural Digest, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, GQ, Vogue, and Wired.

But for how long? Newsweek estimates that ad revenues at Architectural Digest are off by almost half and that Wired and Vanity Fairare off 35% and 27%, respectively. For the newspaper industry, there’s bad news, too. Condé Nast owns newspapers in more than 20 cities through its Advance Publications subsidiary. Cost-cutting could force cutbacks at those titles as well.

Glimmers of Good News

Emarketer_h109_Chart2_thumbNewspaper stocks are finally coming back from the dead, but can they hold their gains? MediaPost points to encouraging news. Since April, Gannett stock has more than tripled from $3.81 to $12.50, McClatchy has quintupled to $2.56, and Media General has jumped 250% from $2.54 to $8.86. It could be that the current valuations better reflect reality, Erik Sass suggests. Newspaper stocks became such a hot potato during the revenue implosions of the last two years that investors may have forgotten that the companies still have valuable audiences and profitable businesses.

Another researcher says the online ad market is bottoming out. eMarketer analyst David Hallerman says ad declines in the second half of 2009 will be less than the first half’s 5.3% drop. These days, that’s considered good news. See the eMarketer chart above. It looks like the big gainer will be search while classified advertising will lose ground.

Miscellany

For beleaguered news industry veteran who happen to speak Portuguese, the new mantra may be “goes south, young reporter.” The people of Brazil are reading newspapers in bigger numbers than ever, reports The Guardian. Total circulation of Brazilian newspapers rose 12% in 2007, or nearly five times the global average. It was up another 5% last year. The cause, apparently, is rapid growth in the middle class, which is seeing disposable income increase and creating both advertiser and reader demand. Newspaper revenues have risen every year since 2001. Rio de Janeiro’s historic Olympic Games win will only add life to the party.


Ink-stained wretches who enjoy pointing out the failings of the blogosphere should read Paul Carr’s rant about an apparently flagrant miscarriage of journalistic justice by ZDNet. The story, which was the work of a ZDNet blogger named Richard Koman, alleged that Yahoo had passed the names and e-mail addresses of hundreds of thousands of bloggers to Iranian authorities during the country’s controversial election. It turns out Koman‘s unnamed source for the story was an Iranian blogger with a decidedly vested interest in spreading misinformation. ZDNet has since retracted and apologized for the misstep. Carr isn’t letting the publisher get off that easily, however. He lectures blog aggregators in general — and ZDNet in this particular — for shoddy journalism for not even passing the blog entry by a second set of eyes before posting it. Quoting Winston Churchill: “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”


USA Today has defied the industry circulation trends with minimal losses for the last two years, but that’s all about to come to an end. The newspaper is expecting circulation to drop 17%, the largest decline in its 27-year history. That translates into a loss of nearly 400,000 daily copies. The losses are apparently due to USA Today‘s reliance on hotel distribution. Cutbacks in business travel, combined with Marriott’s decision to discontinue automatic deliveries to its guests, created a potent double whammy.


Chicago has a new newspaper magnate, and he says he’s not going to repeat the mistakes of the last one. James Tyree, 51, chairman of Mesirow Financial, can’t help being compared to Sam Zell, the real estate magnate who bought Tribune Co. in 2007 and presided over its rapid descent into bankruptcy. Tyree (right) says Sun-Times Media Group is different. For one thing, there’s no debt. For another, Tyree understands the Internet. He reads six papers daily, all of them online. He has also made no bones about the challenges facing the company and has wrung significant concessions from the unions as a precursor to acquiring the Chicago Sun-Times and 58 suburban titles. If all goes as planned, he will take over control of the company in late October, much to the relief of employees and the Internal Revenue Service, which is owed more than $600 million by former owners.


The Russian owner of the London Evening Standard has decided to stop playing pricing games and simply make the 182-year-old newspaper free. Alexander Lebedev (left) says the move will more than double distribution from 250,000 daily copies to 600,000. The billionaire banking magnate, who took over the paper earlier this year, says the loss of circulation revenue can be more than made up by advertising gains. However, skeptics say that’s a long shot in a market that has recently seen the loss of one free title (TheLondonPaper) and that shows no sign of an advertising upturn.


Canwest Global Communications will be run by a group of creditors as it attempts to dig out from more than $4 billion in debt. Canada’s largest publisher was granted bankruptcy protection late last week. The company owns a variety of broadcasting and print businesses including Global TV and the National Post. Its acquisition of the latter is now widely seen as the source of its current difficulties because it loaded down the company with debt.


The Claremont (N.H.) Eagle has been resuscitated and removed from our R.I.P. list after a new owner rehired about 20 staff members and relaunched the 8,000-circulation newspaper on a somewhat-less-than-daily frequency.

And Finally…

It often takes an insider who understands the existing cultural norms to effect real change. That’s why Dan Gillmor continues to be such an effective voice for new-media reform. The former San Jose Mercury News columnist posts a list of 22 ideas for “changing the way news is produced.” They include simplifying language to speak in facts, not euphemisms, linking aggressively to competitors’ content, doing away with the use of unnamed sources and illuminating the motives of the people behind reported stories. While some of Gillmor’s proscriptions may seem condescending, his manifesto reflects the way information is communicated in the emerging bottom-up world. More than 100 commenters contribute their own addenda.

By paulgillin | October 6, 2009 - 9:12 am - Posted in Facebook, Paywalls

gourmet-magazineThere was a bloodbath at Condé Nast yesterday. The publisher, which has been rocked by the declines in lifestyle advertising, closed four magazines – Gourmet, Modern Bride, Elegant Bride and Cookie – and laid off at least 180 people. More turmoil seems likely as Conde Nast sorts through the problem of deciding which staff members to keep and which to boot in order to make way for them. The news comes as September ad page figures for the publisher showed a stunning fall of nearly 1,700 pages. Allure, Gourmet, Self and W were all off 50% or more. Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl is tweeting her feelings about the whole affair.


Reuters reports that Time, Inc. is spearheading an effort to assemble a consortium of U.S. magazine publishers who will cooperate on digital delivery of their products. The wire service says the effort could be announced as early as next month with a “digital newsstand” on the market sometime next year.

You can already buy many magazines on the Amazon Kindle, but publishers hate Amazon’s fee structure, which skives off 70% of the subscription revenue. The digital newsstand would be device-independent, meaning that readers could download magazines to devices from Apple, Sony, E Ink and others. Why Amazon doesn’t move more forcefully to consolidate its hold on the burgeoning market continues to be a mystery to us.


The Economist, which continues to defy the freefall in print circulation, is raising the barriers to free online distribution but still not charging for new content. The magazine will start charging for all content more than 90 days old (previously, the threshold was one year) and will make its digital print replica edition available only to paying subscribers. However, new stuff will still be free to the world online. It’s not like the Economist’s back is to the wall: its 1.39 million circulation was up nearly 7% in the most recent six-month reporting period and operating profits climbed 26% on a 17% revenue increase.


BTW, magazines are only a sidelight for us. If you want to follow the industry with a Death Watch twist, checkout Magazine Death Pool.


Poynter’s Rick Edmonds is expecting to see newspaper circulation results for the first six months of 2009 and he believes a Halloween release date could be appropriate. A variety of factors are contributing to accelerating circulation declines, including the recession, publishers’ efforts to exercise more discipline over their subscriber lists and a continued flight to online alternatives. Edmonds is estimating that the drop in newspaper circulation soon to be reported will exceed the record 7% year-over-year figure for the period ending in March. This will accelerate revenue losses, which will lead to more cost cuts and smaller issue sizes that fewer people will want to pay for. There’s also the problem of coupon and circular distribution. Unlike display advertising, those revenues drop in direct proportion to circulation.


The deadline has passed for new suitors to emerge for Chicago’s Sun-Times Media Group (STMG) and nobody stepped forward. That leaves local investor Jim Tyree as the sole hope of keeping the bankrupt company afloat. Tyree has said he won’t do the deal unless the unions agree to a 15% pay cut. Five of the 16 unions at STMG have said they won’t agree to the terms. The parties have until late December to agree to terms, but the company’s current management says it doesn’t have enough money to stay afloat until then.


Members of the Newspaper Guild at the Boston Globe must be seeing red now that their union chief has been formally charged with misappropriating funds. Daniel Totten spearheaded the union’s disastrous negotiations with The New York Times Company a few months ago. He’s been charged with, among other things, faking a countersignature on his own paycheck. The union’s governing board takes up the matter tomorrow night.


The executive director of the Nevada Press Association says newspapers won’t die; they’ll just shift shape sort of like the keyboard did. “When computers came along, with ‘word processing,’ there was no longer any need for a typewriter,” writes Barry Smith. “I used to have two typewriters — one at home, one at work. Now I look around and I have at least six keyboards, not counting the touch pad on my phone. You have to look at what they do, not what they are.” That’s a great analogy, except that you have to remember that IBM was able to sell a Personal Computer for a whole lot more than a Selectric.


If all goes well, we could be removing the Claremont (N.H.) Eagle Times from the R.I.P. list next week. An anonymous e-mail says that the paper, which closed in July, will reopen on October 12 as a weekdaily. It also says that the Weekly Flea, an advertiser also owned by the Eagle Times, restarted publication last week. We are unable to find any published verification of this information.

By paulgillin | October 2, 2009 - 2:04 pm - Posted in Facebook, Fake News, Hyper-local, Paywalls

Revenue20_logoDon’t celebrate the reinvention of news as a nonprofit model, writes Slate’s Jack Shafer. Although several prominent experiments in philanthropy-funded news have sprung up lately, Shafer says it’s a case of “substituting one flawed business model for another. For-profit newspapers lose money accidentally. Nonprofit news operations lose moneydeliberately,” he points out.

The problem is that deep-pocketed sugar daddies almost always have an agenda, and the news outlets they fund invariably become mouthpieces for their political goals. Think Sun Myung Moon and the Washington Times. “Having just evicted the usual gatekeepers, how many readers are going to be eager to have philanthropists reset the news agenda?” Shafer asks. What’s more, nonprofit ventures may compete with, and weaken, existing for-profit media organizations, which is a loser for everybody. Shafer correctly points out that the most prestigious news organizations in the world all have commercial motivations.

One of the nonprofits Shafer mentions is MinnPost and local media reporter David Brauerhas issues with Shafer’s comments. It’s true that philanthropist’s agenda does influence the staff who write the stories, he says, but can’t the same be said for advertisers’ influence on profit-making entities? MinnPost’s goal is to subsist on reader subscriptions and “I’d rather be subject to the tyranny of members than advertisers.” Texas Tribunefounder John Thornton has even harsher words for Shafer. Newspapering has only been an absurdly profitable business for about 40 years, he writes. Prior to that, it was a street brawl with very little profit for anyone. We’re just getting back our roots, he suggests.

Reporters Need Not Apply

Rick Burnes used to be an editor in Moscow and at The New York Times online. Now he’s in marketing at search-engine optimization firm HubSpot, which has a very well-read blog. Burnes wants to hire a top journalist to tend the blog, but he thinks it’s unlikely a journalism veteran will get the job. Why? Most journalists don’t believe businesses can produce high-quality content, they are repulsed by the business side of publishing and they don’t understand the link- and promotion-driven culture of the Web. Burnes would like someone to prove him wrong, but at this early stage, he’s skeptical anyone will. “As a hiring manager (and a former journalist) with one chance to hire the right person, I’m wary of somebody with a background in news.”

Or if the HubSpot job doesn’t interest you, try applying at Los Angeles Kings, theLos Angeles County Supervisor’s office or Major League Baseball. Those are just some of the organizations that have recently hired journalists. “All think the news media no longer cover the universe — or their corner of it — adequately and all have hired journalists of their own,” writes James Rainey in the Los Angeles Times.  County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky’s new deputy for special projects, Joel Sappell, used to work for the Times. Now he’ll be writing about “little-known county programs and issues” for his new boss. Major League Baseball has employed journalists as beat reporters covering the league’s 30 teams since 2001.

Miscellany

Simon Owens focuses on cartoonists who are making it on the Web. But making it doesn’t necessarily mean raking in the dough. Howard Taylor creates his own books of his Schlock Mercenary comic and sells them out of his home, which resembles a publisher’s warehouse. Many other artists run the comics as a loss leader and make their money on t-shirts. The good news: You can make a living. The bad news: It’s really hard.


Ebony magazine is for sale. Its ad pages are down 35% this year and it’s in the third consecutive year of decline. Ebony’s sister publication, Jet, is in even worse shape. Ad revenues there have fallen 40% this year. Ebony was the first African-American magazine and Johnson Publishing is the world’s largest African-American-owned publishing company. It’s not clear whether Johnson can survive as an independent entity, though. The company is reportedly looking for partnerships, rather than an outright sale, it’s likely that control will pass out of the Johnson family’s hands.


Newspapers have dramatically reduced subscriber churn rates and improved circulation profitability through a combination of price increases, outsourcing and better promotions, the Newspaper Association of America reports. The percentage of subscribers who cancel subscriptions fell to 31.8 percent in 2008 from 54.5 percent in 2000. The improvement appears to reflect publishers’ efforts to refocus their circulation promotion on high-quality readership rather than just adding names to the list.

By paulgillin | September 23, 2009 - 10:06 am - Posted in Facebook, Fake News, Paywalls

Magazines-YTD-October-2009The newspaper industry’s malaise has spread to the magazine business. Ad pages were off 20.1% in the most recent month, according to Media Industry Newsletter (Min), and those figures are down from an already depressed October last year. Of the 155 titles tracked by Min, 143 are down for the year. The carnage is worst in luxury titles like Architectural Digest (down 49.4%), Veranda (down 47.4%), W (down 45.5%), Town & Country (down 45.2%), Conde Nast Traveler (down 45.1%) and Gourmet (down 42.7%). Bucking the trend is Family Circle (up 13.9%) and several fitness titles.

The magazine industry’s troubles can be traced to the alarming trends in newsstand sales, which are off 37% since 2001, according to MediaPost. Newsstand sales are important because they’re far more profitable than subscription sales and are also a significant source of circulation promotion. However, it appears that not many people are buying magazines on newsstands any more. Check out these numbers covering total annual newsstand sales:

Title

2001

2009

Change

Woman’s Day 1,610,000 410,147 -74.5%
Redbook 556,355 154,609 -72%
Playboy 522,804 203,245 -71%
Country Living 380,192 134,884 -64.5%
National Enquirer 1,648,554 591,269 -64%
Reader’s Digest 749,099 270,045 -64%
ESPN The Magazine 54,346 25,154 -63%

One title that’s gone against the grain over the last eight years is The Economist, which is up 82% in that time. One reason might be innovations like a new service that enables New York City residents who receive text alerts from the magazine to order single copies delivered overnight. As long as the order is placed by 9 p.m. on Thursday, the customer can have a hard copy of that week’s new issue in hand in time for the Friday commute. That’s before the newsstands are even stocked. The Economist says it can provide the service at no additional charge over the newsstand price because it doesn’t have to pay distribution middlemen.

Not that magazines’ troubles are any solace to beleaguered newspaper publishers. Fitch Ratings says the decline in newspaper ad revenues will continue for at least another year, due to continued weakness in the print advertising market. The forecast is especially dour because it comes off terrible 2008 numbers and because most media markets are expected to enjoy a modest upturn in 2010 off of dismal results this year. PriceWaterhouseCoopers earlier forecast incremental newspaper advertising declines of 4.5% a year through 2013, noting that circulation revenue is falling in line with readership. Meanwhile, publishers are relying more and more upon circulation revenue to boost the bottom line. MediaPost documents several recent price increases by daily publishers and notes that circulation now makes up 39% of The New York Times revenue, compared to 27% five years ago.

Coupon Clipping

We somehow missed writing about this two months ago, when the survey was released, but the Newspaper Association of America just spent a lot of money on research that demonstrates that consumers rely upon newspaper advertising as an essential shopping tool. The survey of more than 3,000 consumers found that 59% cited newspapers as the “medium they use to help plan shopping or make purchase decisions,” while 82% “took action as a result of newspaper advertising.” Other media were way behind.

When you think about it, these results aren’t surprising. Retail purchases are local, and newspapers still do the best job of delivering local advertising. It’s also less convenient for a consumer to print and clip a coupon from the Internet than it is to cut it out of the newspaper. Finally, local display advertising has a better chance of catching the attention of passersby than an online banner ad, which many people block anyway. One thing the research makes clear is the importance of coupons: 90% of respondents said the presence of a coupon made it more likely they would read or look at an ad, making it the single most important influencing factor in stimulating an action. The NAA released the research as a series of short reports, all of which can be downloaded here.

Another Case Against Paid Content

Programmer guru Paul Graham has a pretty good essay on why people won’t pay for content. He notes that the print publishing model is based on selling paper more than it is on selling information. The more paper publishers can produce, the more revenue they generate. This is why the industry is in the doldrums now. He also suggests that the iTunes model is a poor one for publishers to emulate. “iTunes is more of a tollbooth than a store. Apple controls the default path onto the iPod…Basically, iTunes makes money by taxing people, not selling them stuff.” Well, not really. There are other ways to load up an iPod, it’s just that Apple has found the threshold of pain for paid content and manages to squeeze in just under it. The point about tollbooths is important, though. “A toll has to be ignorable to work.” Maybe that’s why micropayments have a chance.

Harkening back to arguments made earlier by Chris Anderson, Graham notes that the worst place to be is in the copying business. Consumers now perceive anything that’s distributed as a “copy” to be of low value. The reason movie and game producers manage to maintain high price points for their products is because they’re in the experience business, not the copy business. Perhaps that’s where publishers need to be, although their background as publishers gives them no particular head start in getting there.

And Finally…

Cuitlacoche

Cuitlacoche, or fungus in a can

Meet Steve. He’s married, has kids, could be your neighbor or your boss or your underling. Steve is a writer, whether he thinks of himself that way or not. Steve proves the point that King Content rules the social media kingdom. Steve is gross and uses foul language. Steve is racy. Steve is one of the funniest bloggers we’ve found on the Internet. You see, Steve finds “food” that no mortal would dare eat (including, but not limited to, Ralph’s Potted Meat Food Product, Dolores Brand Pickled Pork Rinds, Cuitlacoche — “a black fungus that infects corn fields, making the kernels bulbous and swollen as they fill with spores”) and, well, scarfs it down.

How do we know he’s not lying to us? Because he very explicitly reviews each product after he tastes it. Texture, smell, taste, everything. Could he be making up his reviews? Of course, but far be it from us to correct him. We’ll leave the job of testing to him; we just hope his hospital visits are insured.

By paulgillin | September 3, 2009 - 7:18 am - Posted in Facebook, Fake News, Hyper-local, Paywalls

Jeff vonKaenel has spent more than 30 years in alternative weekly publishing and he has some interesting observations about the paradox of publishing success. The CEO of the News & Review newspapers in central California is a student of media history, and he notes that the trend toward consolidation and monopolization that began in the 1970s dumbed down newspapers’ editorial product and set them up for failure when the rules changed.

The real demon was blandness. Alternative weekly publishers know that advertisers don’t like to run next to controversial editorial content. This is one market dynamic that keeps the alternative press small. Monopoly newspaper publishers aren’t small, however. They thrive on big-ticket schedules built on co-op ad dollars from giant national brands. They can’t afford to piss off million-dollar clients, so they intentionally keep the product inoffensive.

“It’s safer to make an outrageous statement about Saddam Hussein than to make a mild criticism of a local car dealer,” vonKaenel writes. “It’s something newspapers don’t like to admit. It has always mattered who pays the bills.” This is true. How many times can you remember the automotive section of your daily newspaper offering advice on how to get a better deal on a used car?

This dilemma creates a scenario that we’ve seen play out again and again: big industries and big companies collapse hard on the heels of their most successful years. That’s because success creates risk-aversion which leads to mediocre products (see General Motors). That strategy works fine until the rules change, and it served newspaper publishers very well for more than 30 years. But, as Bill Wyman pointed out in a recent essay, it also led them to create mediocre, inoffensive and bland products. When a low-cost alternative medium emerged, newspapers were poorly equipped to retain readers because, well, they sucked.

VanKaenel’s essay has one interesting twist: It implies that the current fascination with hyperlocal media could be in for a hard reality check. Noting that alternative weeklies’ coverage of music and nightlife topics has been heavily influenced by the willingness of those kinds of advertisers to run in those papers, he suggests that hyperlocal publishing will by driven by market forces. In other words, don’t expect a lot of critical stories about local merchants if those merchants are paying the bills. This reality actually could drive new-media publishers to broaden their scope. After all, they can’t afford to piss off thousand-dollar clients.

Orange County Register Owner in Bankruptcy

The small print of the bankruptcy filing by Freedom Communications Holdings Inc. contains a startling figure: circulation at the Orange Country Register is off 23% in the past four years. How can any business survive when it’s on a run rate to lose more than half its customers in a decade? The problem is made worse by the fact that the newspaper business model scales down so badly. The Register can’t cut back by 23% on printing or delivery expenses because of the high fixed costs involved. That means that operational expenses must be chopped to a disproportionate degree in order to make up for the shortfall. That comes directly out of the quality of the product, which leads to reader dissatisfaction, which creates bigger circulation declines.

This is why the newspaper industry is in a death spiral. The only way to turn the situation around is to dramatically improve the quality of the product, but economics demand that quality must take the biggest hit in order to keep the operation afloat. And so another noble publishing franchise falls into the hands of its bankers. They are always the owners of last resort for businesses whom, in their misguided greed, they chose to support.

Divide by 2

Did we say spiral? Alan Mutter has some sobering statistics. He projects that US newspaper revenues will fall $10 billion this year, making the industry about half the size it was in 1986. The most devastating collapse has been in classified advertising. For example, recruitment advertising was a billion-dollar quarterly business as recently as 2006. In the most recent quarter, it generated $202 million in revenue. The story is similar in automotive and real-estate advertising. While the recession has hit these categories hard, it’s hard to believe that they will ever again resemble their former size now that the Web provides nearly limitless advertising inventory.

By paulgillin | August 31, 2009 - 6:42 pm - Posted in Fake News, Paywalls

The Providence Journal is taking hyper local to heart. The paper has moved all its local coverage to the front and banished national and international news to a separate section. The move may be either brilliant or brain-dead, but at least the ProJo is doing something, writes David Scharfenberg in the Boston Phoenix. The ProJo has long been considered one of the best small-city newspapers, with a history of strength in local communities and a commitment to good reporting. However, recent layoffs and cutbacks have forced it to learn to do more with less. Suburban bureaus have been closed and the newsroom has been reorganized around five thematic desks, including public policy and justice. It’s unclear whether the strategy will work, but Scharfenberg quotes pundits saying that if any paper can figure out how to reinvent itself as a journal of local events, it’s this one.


Last April Fool’s Day, the Manchester Guardian published a very funny spoof story about its plans to reinvent the whole paper as a collection of Twitter posts. It turns out the idea may not have been so far off the mark. Check out Tewspaper, a localized news service composed entirely of Twitter feeds. Tewspaper currently serves five cities and hopes to expand, according to its “about” page. The service monitors the Twittersphere for relevant local information and posts the entire tweet, along with a link. Graphics are mainly stock photos and clip art and the whole site has a bit of a cheesy look and feel, but we have to give its creator points for innovation.


US newspaper advertising revenues shrank by 29% in the second quarter as the industry’s slide worsened. Total ad sales were $6.8 billion, down from $9.6 billion in last year’s second quarter. The declines were most pronounced in bread-and-butter ad categories that have been hit hard by the recession: recruitment ad sales were off 66%, real estate was down 46% and automotive advertising fell 43%. Print revenue fell 30% and online advertising dropped 16%


Chris Lake has a list of 25 things journalists can do to future-proof their careers. While many of his recommendations are obvious (“Start a blog” and “Embrace Twitter”), the piece is kind of a laundry list of Web 2.0 phenomena that are driving the evolution of journalism and a worthwhile read for journalists who are wondering what to do next. It’s also delightfully British. One recommendation: “Big up yourself.”


Among the biggest circulation gainers in the UK over the last 12 months are thelondonpaper, a Murdoch holding that the publisher plans to close, and the Observer, a Sunday companion to the Guardian that has been singled out as a potential candidate for closure by its owner. Several other papers saw healthy readership gains as British papers continue to defy the declining circulation trends taking place across the pond.

Comments Off on Monday Miscellany
By paulgillin | August 20, 2009 - 4:02 pm - Posted in Facebook, Fake News, Hyper-local, Paywalls

Abandoned newspaper racksIt hurts to read Bill Wyman’s blunt, sometimes savage piece on Five Key Reasons Why Newspapers Are Failing, but the veteran journalist says some things that need to be said. Unlike recent analyses that have mainly focused on the industry’s business challenges, Wyman aims his guns squarely at the editors and reporters whom he believes fostered a culture of risk-aversion and self-absorption even as the need for change grew urgent. Although the piece is heavy on anecdotes and light on statistical evidence, we found ourselves nodding in agreement frequently as Wyman ticked off a list of editorial missteps.

Perhaps the most damning point in the 9,000-word opus is when the author lists headlines from a “recent” (actually, it was well over a year ago) features section of an unnamed local newspaper (actually, it was the Arizona Republic). They include: “Post office food drive,” “Fight Crohn’s and colitis,” “Mom and Estában,” “Healthful salsa non-guilty pleasure,” and

“Great gifts for teachers.” The point: “There was nothing there of remote interest [to] just about any sentient being. But that’s not what the paper’s editors were aiming for. The point is that there was nothing there that could possibly offend anyone.”

Wyman hammers home this point repeatedly. In his view, advertisers and editors joined in an unholy alliance decades ago in which watchdog journalism was sacrificed to reliable and profitable ad contracts, stable circulation and don’t-rock-the-boat blandness. As a consequence, the guiding principle in editorial departments changed from informing the public to offending as few people as possible. Causing a reader to cancel a subscription was the ultimate sin. Better to under-inform than to antagonize.

As a longtime arts critic, Wyman has some stories to back up the premise. He tells of one arts editor who instructed him to avoid negativity in reviews because readers didn’t want to “hear bad things about their favorite artists over breakfast.” Reviews sections in local papers are almost unfailing positive, or at worst blasé, he notes. Arts sections are filled out with snippets from those stanchions of informational blandness: Press releases.

“Let’s be honest. Most newspapers in the U.S. aren’t watchdogs…Most papers are instead lapdogs, and the metaphorical lap they sit in isn’t even that of powerful interests like their advertisers…The real tyrant the papers served was the tender sensibilities of their readers,” he writes.

Tangled Web

The piece is equally damning in its criticism of newspaper websites, which Wyman believes are too often ponderous, difficult to use and inwardly focused. Search results return rivers of irrelevant promotions that the user doesn’t care about and that exist only to serve the interests of internal constituents, he says. External links are far too rare and readability is managed by people whose expertise is mostly in print. As a result, newspaper websites are some of the least useful properties on the Web, which is a shame because their content should be some of the most useful.

Wyman’s piece makes valuable reading, if only to hammer home the problems of a change-averse culture that still exists in many metro dailies. In part, that attitude is a hangover of management greed that has steadily pared back resources in the interest of maintaining 20% profit tax margins. However, the evils of management are a horse has been beaten to death pretty thoroughly by now. What’s different about Wyman’s perspective is that he takes editors and reporters to step to task for not doing more with the resources they have. Pack journalism and the not-invented-here mentality frustrate efforts at meaningful change. Last week’s acquisition of EveryBlock by Microsoft and MSNBC – rather than by a newspaper company — is just another indication that these businesses don’t move quickly enough.

Bloggers’ Harsh Glare

One insight that we found particularly illuminating is Wyman’s observation that the freewheeling — some would say reckless — culture of the blogosphere has cast a harsh light on the mediocrity that many newspapers have dished out for years. “The Web mercilessly exposes the flaccidness of the content of most papers. It creates a straightjacket for them: As they desperately bland themselves out on land, the material they have on hand to impress in cyberspace is correspondingly pallid,” he writes.

This point deserves special attention. Journalists like to trash talk bloggers for lacking basic journalism skills, but for all its weaknesses, the blogosphere is nothing if not interesting. Put another way, the sudden availability of massive choice exposes boring information for what it is. Big media could get away with mediocrity for many years because readers had no choice. Now that they do, the weakness of the products is magnified.

Wyman’s piece is far from perfect, being at times more tirade than exposé. But it is thought-provoking and — dare we say it — interesting. To hear him tell it, that’s a characteristic that’s all too often missing from the publications he criticizes.

Miscellany

After six quarters of stomachturning losses, newspaper companies finally reported some stability in the most recent quarter, and even a couple of upside surprises. The Wall Street Journal asks if the recovery is sustainable and largely concludes that it isn’t. One unexpected factor in the industry’s recent good fortune has been the plummeting price of paper, which is down nearly 40% in the last nine months. But the Journal expects those prices to come back as the market winnows out some weaker players. It also points to recent research indicating that marketers are more likely to cut newspaper and direct-mail spending than any other line item in the name of increasing their interactive budgets.


Rupert Murdoch’s British newspaper company plans to close the free daily thelondonpaper after reporting a ₤13 million pretax loss. Thelondonpaper is one of two afternoon free dailies, which are targeted mainly at young commuters. It lost ₤12.9 million in the fiscal year ended June 2008 on revenue of just ₤14.1 million. About 60 jobs are affected, though it’s not clear how many people will lose their jobs.


Marty Petty, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist-turned-successful-publisher, will leave the St. Petersburg Times after nine years. Calling the apparently voluntary move a “business decision” that reflects the shrinking size of the newspaper, Petty said management must adjust along with employees. Petty was a member of two Pulitzer Prize-winning teams at the Kansas City Star and Times in 1982. She later joined the Hartford Courant, where she rose to the position of associate publisher. She was named the Tampa Bay Business Journal’s BusinessWoman of the Year for media in 2005.


pornWhat do journalists and porn stars have in common? Plenty, according to a short piece in New York magazine. Jessica Pressler writes that pornographers who were making good money online just a couple of years ago are suddenly confronting a new threat from amateur videographers who are giving away all the sex you can watch for free. Once highly paid porn stars are complaining that they can’t find work and there’s little new blood coming into the system. Pressler suggests that maybe The New York Times ought to steal a page from the porn industry by focusing more on stars than on programs. That means orchestrating the careers and various activities of its best reporters instead of simply publishing their stuff.


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