I've been trying to decipher the meaning of the click-through difficulties (AP story) for Google, because the impact on the media economy has enormous potential.
What's clear is that comScore is tabulating weakness in Google's click-through rate --- and has been for two months now --- which in turn guides the advertising revenue stream for the online advertising behemoth.
What's also clear is that Google is doing much to crack down on fraudulent and accidental clicks, a painful short-term move that could have long-term benefits in creating an advertising model with greater integrity.
The real concern, though, is that users are getting ad fatigue online and that Google's rapier targeting of paid search ads might be losing its appeal to the targeted.
The next few months in a downturned U.S. advertising market will tell an important tale.
It's possible that the relative excitement of clicking through to a product site or a service provider has waned. Some of the more dynamic, interactive ad models have been appealing, but it doesn't feel like we've entered an era of Ad 2.0.
Content providers are already scratching their heads about the digital business model. What if advertisers start doing the same?
The new BBC site is no longer under wraps and it's highly impressive.
Most notable as a comparison to its old site is the design simplicity. I counted fewer than 20 stories on the splash page (less than a dozen if you count the duplicated files).
The modules are customizable, as is the colour scheme.
I'd love to see the research in behind the redesign, because I think many managers are looking at reducing the complexity of splash pages and permitting users to choose elements. CNN's recent changes went in that direction, although there's a lot of white space and small type that doesn't work as well as my first glance at the Beeb.
David Pogue has gone through what I'm starting to go through: Traffic is growing for the blog, but the writing has to loosen up to encourage comments. (I walk a very difficult line as a manager in expressing any views about media change, I might note, so I am inherently a lot less provocative.)
His encouragement in the latest From The Desk Of blog at the New York Times is that interactivity with an audience makes them treat you less cynically --- and of course, you learn something new from them.
I've found over the years that media take the audience's loyalty and interest lightly. The more we explain our decisions, the more people at least appreciate how we took the time to weigh the options. Managers then don't have their motives hypothesized and people get to suggest how there might have been a wiser course of action.
Pogue (and, I might note, an assistant) sift through submissions to ensure there aren't harmful or profane comments. I do the same, without an assistant. But there, like here, criticism and comments are more than welcome. Just say who you are and keep it clean.
When Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. bought Dow Jones, one expected result (of many) was that the Wall Street Journal 's subscriber-supported online model was going to be liberated to become a free service.
For a dozen years wsj.com has been only accessible to the paying customer. A number of other large media organizations, from the New York Times to our own company at Canwest, either compelled users to pay for some access (TimesSelect) or granted access either as an add-on to existing newspaper subscribers or to users who would pay a fee for the HTML version of the paper's eligible content.
Newspapers wrestle with this question on at least two main fronts: there is a value proposition for consumers in a paid-for product (they feel more loyalty to it and feel it is more valuable) and there is a significant revenue implication to abandoning a business model that depends partly on users (and not entirely on advertisers) to pay for journalism. The recent State of the News Media report from the Project for Excellence in Journalism affirmed concern about finding a new business model in the absence of a well-supported advertising-based media organization. After all, someone or something has to pay for news.
Even so, slowly but surely almost everyone has opted with varying degrees of reluctance to join the content-is-free club. Almost overnight the user traffic grows substantially, and in theory that traffic is the foundation to build a successful advertising revenue model to finance newsgathering.
When wsj.com loosened some restrictions earlier this year and permitted editorials, commentary and videos to be freely available, traffic grew by about 40 per cent to 23 million unique visitors a month. It was widely expected that was the first of a few steps to make the Journal's journalism free. Perhaps a premium service with extra content might be preserved for the paying customer, but the general view was that any month now a free Wall Street Journal would be online.
But it's one thing to give up subscription revenue when you're early in the game, and quite another when there are about one million paying customers.
So Les Hinton, in his first interview as the CEO of Dow Jones & Co. with The Australian newspaper, says it's unlikely wsj.com will be free --- he's not saying never, just not now.
Even relative geezers like me understand there is something afoot in the way media are being dissembled and reconstructed by consumers --- find a piece here, get a search result there, a send-to-a-friend, get-from-a-friend couple of clicks, and you've got an adequate fill of information to form a view.
The U.S. presidential race is the best petri dish to study for any such new pattern of consumption, so today's New York Times story is welcome information on how younger voters are replacing conventional filters (CNN, Washington Post, even itself) with social media. They're sharing content like never before.
It's clear that the enthusiasts of social media have new ways to distribute content among themselves. Some see this as one more sign that the traditional media are on borrowed time, but it's also clear that someone has to generate and edit content. How that content is distributed and shared might decide how well it is financed, but the challenge for conventional media is to determine how to (not if it should) participate.
The journalism adage on investigations --- follow the money --- is also a necessity in media management in times of great change. In this digital age, where is the money going? Last week's State of the News Media report concluded there was a dangerous decoupling of news and advertising emerging in the transition to greater digital presences by the conventional media organizations.
Today it was possible to see three takes on the advertising outlook in the stressed U.S. market. Bloomberg is reporting a real stuck-in-the-mud feel to advertising in conventional media, according to TNS Media. USA Today has a piece following a PQ Media study that suggests new media advertising is going to surge. And Jack Myers is suggesting that big media that invest in digital are going to reap big benefits in a soft advertising market.
Jupiter Research's Barry Parr has outlined some best practices for news organizations in the Web 2.0 environment. His report is proprietary, but the David Card blog from Jupiter pointed to three elements of it this week:
1. Content creation and distribution should be separate businesses.
2. Widgets should be a key distribution strategy.
3. Partners are important as publishers consider themselves platforms.
If you think about what news organizations were thinking about two or three years ago, this makes your head spin.
Eric Alterman's scholarly piece today in The New Yorker examines the tension of the newspaper in the digital age. It is a sympathetic, somewhat nostalgic look at print, but it also pokes into the viability of digital news media and offers a slightly hopeful take on the print future. Like many New Yorker articles, it seeks definitiveness.
He spends quite a bit of time on Huffington Post as a new model worth scrutinizing. He has a fair amount of criticism for the lethargy of change. But he also understands the economic challenge of financing high-quality reporting as advertising revenue fragments and detaches from the conventional media.
Particularly useful in the piece --- at a length only The New Yorker would execute in this hyperattentive age --- is the explanation of the elite/democratic tension inherent in media. Alterman has been a good voice on the loss of liberal media, but this piece parks that perspective --- with one exception, when he notes that the Bush Administration's low rating isn't necessarily echoed in mainstream media.
A critical challenge for newspapers is to engage non-newspaper readers now online.
A new comScore study has some interesting and positive findings.
It found that those who don't consumer a printed paper are, as one might expect, younger. But they aren't necessarily light news consumers. Quite the opposite, in fact. They visit a lot of news sites.
Both heavy and non-print readers frequently surf recognized news brands, which suggests the brands themselves have stand-alone qualities online.
And they like the TV brands online, pointing to the need for audio and video in any offering.
It is never easy bringing about meaningful change at the best of times, but what happens when it's actually some of the worst of times?
That's what Erik Sass tries to analyse in a new piece on a U.S. recession's impact on media. (MediaPost provided the story.)
His conclusion: Online media will benefit from a draw-down of advertising from more expensive conventional media, partly for visibility of their return on investment. He paints a particularly challenging picture for newspapers and radio, noting that their online advertising gains won't be enough to offset conventional declines.
Now, I've also seen other analyses that suggest the digital gains will stall as advertisers stick with what's worked in the past. Regardless, complex times ahead in the U.S.