By paulgillin | November 8, 2010 - 6:50 am - Posted in Fake News

We can’t remember the last time we went two weeks without updating the Death Watch, but a crush of work (though not so much money) has overwhelmed us recently. Plus we saw the new Harris Poll that found that over half of online adults now believe traditional media as we know it will no longer exist in 10 years, causing us to wonder if there’s really any point to “chronicling the decline” any more when the majority now agree  on the end point. But we forge ahead for SEO purposes, if nothing else. Here are some stories we’ve bookmarked lately.

Nielsen: 362K Paying for London Times

Revenue 2.0 ideas for newspapersHow are the early Murdoch paywall experiments in the UK faring? That involves unraveling some complex formulae about the value of free versus paid circulation and the opportunity cost of a paid subscriber. However, for now we are calling the early figures from Nielsen encouraging. The media monitoring service recently estimated that some 362,000 people have been accessing subscription content on the Times of London’s website each month since a paywall went up in June. The trade-off: unique monthly visitor traffic is down about 44% from 3.1 million to 1.78 million.  A separate analysis by Hitwise concluded that there had been a “large reduction” in visits to the Times’ website since the paywall was erected, resulting in a drop in online market share of nearly 60%.

So does this mean the Times’ paywall is a good or a bad idea? Here’s one way to look at it: The Times charges £1 per day or £2 per week for online access, with print subscribers getting a free ride. The back of our envelope says that if the Times can get half of those 362,000 monthly visitors to pay for one week’s worth of access each month, then it will have traded 1.3 million visitors for £362,000, or about 25 pence per visitor. The question then is whether those lost visitors can be monetized to the tune of 25p.

That actually should be a fairly easy calculation. If the Times looks at its online advertising revenue for the prior year, for example, and compares it to average unique monthly visitor volume, it can calculate the value of a free visitor pretty quickly. If that value is less than £.25, then the paywall is working, at least for now.

It isn’t that simple, of course. Those 362,000 monthly visitors aren’t necessarily paying the full price for Times content. Some are using free or heavily discounted promotions account or are print subscribers when get the online product bundled. However, they may also be more valuable that afree visitors. If advertisers are willing to pay more to reach paying customers on the theory that they’re better prospects, then those 362,000 visitors could be worth more than two bits apiece.

There are also intangibles, like the lower cost of operating a computing infrastructure to serve a smaller visitor base. However, we would suggest that the quick and dirty calculations aren’t all that complex, and if other Murdoch titles forge ahead with similar strategies, then the paywall is probably working.

A Case for Editorial Accountability

“In reality, publishers and CEOs have little understanding about what their editors are doing,” writes Neil Heyside (left) of New York-based CRG Partners in a provocative piece on MediaShift about the cost of content. Heyside shares some anonymized cost figures from client newspapers in the US and UK showing that the ways in which publishers allocate budget for different kinds of content varies wildly.

He makes the argument that publishers can reduce the amount of staff-generated content by increasing contributions from free (aka citizen) sources and making more use of “reworked” or rewritten material like press releases. He also suggests that publishers can make use of pooled or wire service material for topics that have little local relevance but that are important to carry anyway, such as international news and movie reviews.

“One paper printed 8% of its material from free content,” Heyside writes. “If that number moved up to 20% …a reduction of the use of 16% of staff-produced material led to a savings of 28% in staffing costs.” Sounds easy, but as anyone who’s worked with a substantial amount of contributed free content will tell you, the time required to massage it into something worth publishing can nearly equal the cost of paying for good material in the first place. Commenter Scott Bryant makes this case with some passion. Both Heyside and Bryant are right. Publishers should scrutinize the process and costs of creating content more carefully and editors should be more accountable for what they spend. However, quality is an intangible that defies rigid classification. As Sam Zell and his team found out at Tribune Co. a couple of years ago, boiling editorial content down to column inches, source counts or other rigid metrics is a recipe for trouble.

AP: Newspapers Are Now Loss Leaders

Associated Press' Tom CurleyFor the foreseeable future, publishers don’t seem to be funneling their investment dollars into wire services. Associated Press CEO and President Tom Curley (right) tells Poynter’s Rick Edmonds that newspapers now make up only 20% of the AP’s revenue and that figure is expected to continue to decline by 4% to 5% a year for the foreseeable future. In fact, “The AP loses money on services to newspapers and effectively subsidizes those offerings with more profitable lines of business,” such as photo wires and corporate business news, Edmonds writes.

The silver lining for the AP is that the drop appears to be a consequence of the industry’s overall decline rather than the contentious battles that erupted between the AP and its member newspapers two years ago. Curley says that unpleasantness has largely been put to rest as a result of adjustments to AP’s licensing fees and a lot of face-to-face meetings.

There is one battle still ongoing, however: with CNN. The AP claims that the broadcast giant is effectively using wire service material without paying for it by picking up (and attributing) stories moments after they hit the websites of AP subscribers. Here’s another area in which copyright law has failed to keep up with the velocity of digital information. As long as CNN summarizes and attributes information, it isn’t technically doing anything illegal, but the AP also has a defensible case for arguing that those actions are unfair to it and other members.


Starbucks store with newspaper boxesCould Starbucks soon compete with the newspaper publishers whose products it places next to the cash registers at its ubiquitous coffee shops? Yes, but for now it’s taking pains not to call its new in-store information service a “news” network, even though it sure looks like one. Instead, the Starbucks Digital Network is being positioned as a means for the retailer to gather more intelligence about what interests its customers in order to deliver to them better…um…latte? Sounds like a bit of a stretch to us. More likely, Starbucks is testing ways it can use localized and even personalized news as a way to improve customer affinity and maybe even sell advertising.

We proposed more than two years ago that Starbucks could become a major force in the US media market (see slide 28 in embedded presentation below) if it chose to pursue the opportunity. Our scheme was to provide printed, personalized mini-newspapers optimized for reading by commuters. Since we floated that idea, though, the iPad happened, and it now makes more sense to deliver news digitally to a tablet-toting public. However the plan works out, we think publishers should look at Starbucks as a potential partner rather than a rival, because anyone who feeds the caffeine jones of millions of affluent professionals enjoys a chemical bond that no editor can hope to match.

Forbes’ Jeff Bercovici rang up a media appraiser who correctly estimated the value of Newsday two years ago in order to find out what the Boston Globe is worth. Kevin Kamen’s guess: a maximum of $120 million and a realistic value of $75 million. That sounds terrible in light of the $1.1 billion that Globe parent New York Times Co. paid for the New England Media Group in 2003, but remember that money was relatively easy to come by in those day and that the Times Co. couldn’t find someone to take its Boston Harbor boat anchor off its hands last year for a paltry $25 million. Since then, cost-cutting has made the Globe a little more valuable, Kamen estimates. Perhaps that’s why a group of investors, led by entrepreneur Aaron Kushner, wants to buy it, Bercovici reports.

And Finally…

Rupert Murdoch has been the most strident of all publishers in demanding that readers pay for content, which is why the circulation promotion now being used by his Sun in the UK is so deliciously ironic. The paper stuffed thousands of banknotes into Saturday’s issue. Presumably it used small denominations so as not to encourage assaults on its street vendors. The daily has recently suffered a 4% drop in circulation. Perhaps Murdoch is hoping that readers will put their winnings to work to pay the access fees for the Times or News of the World.

About 55,000 readers of the Los Angeles Times in the San Gabriel Valley and Riverside were surprised to open their morning papers late last month to discover that the Times had acquired a sudden fixation with topic of “briefs subhed (see below).” Actually, it was a production error.  “About 55,000 papers were printed before the error was discovered,” the Times wrote in a correction. “Readers feared that all the copy editors had been laid off, or even ‘massacred,’ as one put it.”LA Times Brief Subhed glitch



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