News organizations are usually in the business of chasing traffic with topics and assets that audiences find most compelling. But a new study suggests some of the traffic bait may not be as economically effective as first thought.Perfect Market, an analytics firm that examines traffic for publishers, has released its Vault Index to suggest that many hard-news topics fare better in delivering higher-priced advertising impressions as they garner audience.In assuming that hard-news stories are charging more for ad impressions than many celebrity features, Perfect Market suggests that the yield is better when the subjective issues of quality are applied to news --- in other words, the more "serious" the journalism, the more it delivers economically.Perfect Market suggests, though, that publishers aren't setting themselves up to capitalize by attaching higher advertising rates on those more serious stories and topics.
Newspapers are producing new applications for Apple's iPad
in the hope they provide more significant per-reader advertising revenue and, perhaps, more significant per-reader subscription revenue.
But The Economist notes
it's not yet a match made in heaven. There are several challenges as papers enter the app age. Apple is making it difficult to sell subscriptions (the other day word surfaced that Apple is going to take a 30% cut on such revenue) and is reluctant to say much about buyers (frustrating for publications that want to cross-sell into other services).
Another dilemma is what to do about existing free Web services --- wall them off, curtail their offerings, retire their development? The Economist
suggests that publishers are hoping another device, perhaps with Google's Android operating system, emerges and gives them some leverage over Apple.
Almost the instant Google
unfurled Google Instant
, some were surmising that the era of search engine optimization was over --- that, in effect, the technique many publishers tried to master to please Google's algorithm was killed by the company that made everyone master the technique.
It has been interesting to watch the trajectory of the discussion on this. Google introduced Instant in mid-week as a way of anticipating what you're searching for and (like Apple's anticipatory spelling program for its iPhone and iPad) getting you to that search term more quickly --- or, arraying some nearby options to choose out of a drop-down list. It's a sort of result-before-you-type-it mentality.
But some saw it as Google predicting the outcome based on your previous activities and, in Steve Rubel's words,
no two people ever getting the same result. The feedback from Google Instant would make you tweak your search in midstream, he (who deserves great respect for his investment in this field) and others argued.
Obviously, SEO isn't dead. Nor is the Web, as Wired
provocatively stated last month. Nor are newspapers, as more than a few have been stating for years. But the challenge is to understand how something like Google Instant changes the game and contributes evolution. In playing with it a bit this week --- I'm not a big personal searcher, but I'm a big professional searcher --- I found its intuitive function good, but not as efficient as my own typing for the term I originally wanted. The real-time feedback isn't swift enough, I found, to move me off my first plan.
It's going to take more time to understand the consequences, though. Those early impressions may shift as Google weedles into my searches more often and understands my patterns. For many it will be a welcome addition to the massive reference volume of the Internet. Whether it makes irrelevant the effort to optimize content to get search results that drive traffic is an open question.
Last fall Google floated the notion
of Newspass, a publishing system that would enable e-commerce and also permit content to be searchable even when inside a paywall. It brought the idea to a gathering of publishers at a Newspaper Association of America meeting.
Now details are starting to emerge on the proposal, which appears headed to market by the end of the year.
The Italian newspaper, La Republicca, delved into the idea today
. Google so far is simply saying it doesn't comment on prospective products, but its comments to paidContent.UK
didn't dampen the report's contents, either.
Essentially Newspass will permit publishers to create a payment system, either through micropayments or direct credit-card purchases, through its Checkout system.
Google's CEO Eric Schmidt has repeatedly expressed concern about the news business' economic model in the digital sphere. While Google drives traffic to sites, and also benefits from search of those sites with its adjacent advertising, it sees a higher purpose in technological support of the news business --- the content is essential to Google's well-being.
Today the Publish2.0 organization launched the
Publish2 News Exchange, what it calls a 21st century alternative to The Associated Press that freely moves news and other information between Web and print properties.
It's a little different than the news cooperative model of AP, in that the terms of sharing content are set by the source organization. It seems most clearly focused initially on supplementing and formalizing the newsroom-to-newsroom informal exchanges that already take place but often are tedious to manage and not necessarily helpful with real-time needs.
The platform provides Web publishers with access to print distribution, something they've had to work through individually or through syndication. And it permits them to set the terms by which they'll provide the content --- to whom, when, and for what price.
What isn't clear at the outset is whether the batch of content providers in the fold --- and there are some impressive ones --- cumulatively form enough of a content file for properties to cut the ties with AP. It's not an easy feat, as many have found, and it is best judged by the newsrooms themselves.
More details will emerge this week and are bound to gain the attention of newsrooms who find the cost of a full wire service too onerous. Did we mention the word "free" in the mix?
The Apple iPad
makes its debut in stores in the United States today. Reviews have been largely positive. Applications are ready for launch
and an exponentially larger number are in the works. Consumer and publisher expectations are off the charts.
It is tempting to hop in the car, use my Nexus pass to get through the absurdly long border lineups, try to find one this weekend in Bellingham, Blaine, Everett or Seattle, and pay the duty as I return north.
After all, the Wi-Fi version will work the way my iPod Touch works here.
But I think I'm going to hold out for the Wi-Fi/3G version or perhaps the 2.0 iPad (I think it can use a camera like the Macbook Pro). I'll sleep on it.
Still it is getting comical --- or tragi-comical --- that device after device takes longer to travel the short distance to market from a nearby head office (think Seattle and Kindle, or think Silicon Valley and Apple) than to market across that head office's vast country.
We are led to believe the Internet has blurred borders, that we're in a global economy that finds receptive markets with few if any barriers. But it really isn't so --- witness the Web sites that won't let you surf from abroad. The most innovative technological devices (save the BlackBerry, which is from Canada) are oddly enough the ones held back in the most old-fashioned way.
The iPhone, the Chumby (still not here), the Kindle, Google Android and iPad have been hung up for months as our telecommunications firms worked out terms with manufacturers. The iPhone actually went to several non-U.S. countries before Canada. The irony is that Canada is the country with the most broadband Internet penetration.
The iPad is coming to Canada in late April --- shorter than the typically extended delays --- but pricing and carriage plans haven't been announced. What Canadians have found with other devices is that data plans have been anything but flexible and affordable.
Let's hope Apple and the carriers learn from earlier launches (Apple was reportedly upset with pricing of the iPhone plans in Canada). If so it'll be worth the few weeks' wait. But what the country needs is simultaneous release; we're seemingly backwards with it.
The arrival this week of the iPad is being treated in some quarters as the turning point in the industry's search for a palatable business model.
In other words, a model ideal marriage of a device, platform and content.
But TBI Research has punctured
the balloon by noting the revenue magazine publishers will derive from their new iPad applications will by no means offset their declines in circulation and advertising revenue from the printed product.
"Even if iPads fly off the shelves, magazines will still realize only a small per cent of their overall revenue," it notes.
Even if there are more than 2.5 million of the devices in circulation, they'll yield only about 10 per cent of the revenue magazines now derive from circulation and advertising, TBI notes.
It is getting preciously close to April Fool's Day, so it was with some skepticism that I read the account on the Singularity Hub
about the robotic journalist prototype.
But there it is: A wheeled device that infers its surroundings (and changes in them), queries nearby people, conducts searches on material to further develop it, snaps pictures and video, and publishes the result. It was developed in the informatics lab at Tokyo University.
Not dissimilar to devices that go where humans dare and should not in war zones, theses devices are surrogates. Unlike those, though, these are autonomous and not remote controlled.
Earlier this week Marc Andreessen was encouraging
old media publishers to burn the boats, to just move into digital and leave the printing presses behind. Commentators like Alan Mutter
weighed in and said the idea was ill-informed.
But the debate isn't going away. Today Erick Schoenfeld
of TechCrunch has added his voice, but it's more of an emotional than rational pitch. He asserts that it's necessary for media companies to get on the new wave before it's too late.
What he uses as evidence isn't all that meaty. He somehow thinks the $30-billion business will diminish to $20 billion and then to zero and that newspaper companies will wind up without a leg to stand on. The sooner they jump, the better they'll be at the new business.
It's easy to understand what he's trying to say: Don't wait too long. It's not easy to understand why he's saying the jump should be made now, when the business isn't done.
It's difficult to accept that somehow the business just keeps steadily evaporating. While it seems assured to be smaller, there will be declines and periods of flat or even nominal growth at times along the way. The decision may never be made to simply abandon a print edition; it may never make business sense to do so. We don't know yet.
What Mutter and others (I would include myself) have asserted all along is that it's helpful to keep one foot in the camp that is driving revenue as you try to drive change.
By all means devote energy and attention to the new platform, but don't throw away an operationally profitable business, community connection and loyal market.
Martin Langeveld, the industry veteran and contributor to the Nieman Journalism Lab site, has an extensive post
on how publishers can best embrace the imminent iPad from Apple.
He argues that mobile technology is going to be ubiquitous and that publishers ought to array their resources around several approaches.
Apart from some obvious directives --- array resources, create content and embrace the iPad --- Langeveld suggests publishers work with Apple to enable advertising personalization.
He also believes new relationships with marketers need to be created to facilitate transactions.