Month: April 2009

The Future of Print and Other Ponderous Questions

I recently spoke with a senior editor at a top business magazine that is just now co-locating digital and print editorial staff. (Something the NYT found to be of great value several years ago.) He commented that he did not find this integration necessary, digital is for daily news reporting, and magazines are for deeper analysis and insight. He explained that writers should work their way up from digital to print in the same way they graduate from news reporting to feature stories.

Steeped in tradition as that sounds, I think that online writers should learn to be more insightful in their writing, bringing something more to the medium than reporting, which makes their site easily substitutable. The challenge becomes how to offer added value online without “stepping on” the deeper, more sophisticated content of the magazine. After all, we do want a reason for people to continue buying magazines. It’s good to have a stronghold in both media; at the very least, this allows for multiple touch points and mutual cross-promotion.

Tina Brown is the founder and editor-in-chief of “The Daily Beast” and an industry veteran who has made a stupendous transition from print to digital. Tina spoke with me recently about the importance of preventing magazine content from leaking before the publications hit newsstands – and the difficulty of accomplishing this. This is an important consideration for magazines that invest heavily in newsbreaking stories. I think, for example about Vanity Fair’s unveiling of “Deep Throat.” This is challenging because of the extraordinary lead time of magazines, one element of which includes the week or so it takes to print and distribute the “books.” I recall a controversy a few years ago in which a woman gained access to BusinessWeek stock picks before they became public and made quite a bit of money leveraging this information.

So, how do we protect the unique value of the printed journal – recall Conde Nast’s positioning of “Portfolio Magazine,” a daring introduction to the Business Magazine space a few years ago – while also providing differentiated online content – differentiated from the magazine and from other online news sources? This remains one of several “ultimate” questions that face us in the 21st century:

“How will we turn the tremendous value of the Internet into tangible value for its (initial) creators?”
“Do we need professional journalists – of the kind that win Pulitzer prizes – and, if so, how will we be able to afford them?”
“What is the meaning of life?”
“What is the right media mix for an advertiser?” – hmmm… I digress

Returning to one of my earlier posts, the question is currently facing us regarding the possibility of consumer-supported content. iTunes has succeeded with “micro-payments.” However, will people be willing to pay for “disposable” content? They might pay for a song or musical collection (formerly called “CDs”) that will bring them continued enjoyment, often for decades. And they will pay (at least up until now…) for books, which offer hours of enjoyment and may be written in, passed along and reread. Will they pay for an article they might prefer skimming and that has an ephemeral value?

Publishers like The Wall Street Journal, The Economist and Advertising Age have demonstrated that it is possible. As have information providers like Hoover’s, Consumer Reports, eMarketer, Forrester, Lexis Nexis, etc. What differentiates these publishers from The New York Times, which has struggled with this question for years? The answer is, indeed, differentiation – at least part of the answer. The Wall Street Journal and The Economist have differentiated themselves enough that if they put the content behind a walled garden, their readers will feel a loss that can not be substituted for by another publisher.

This is similar to the loss I have felt since Cynthia Turner discontinued her daily digital news podcasts. I have attempted to replace this news source with Shelly Palmer’s broadcasts, with NYT podcasts, with Ad Age Three Minute reports, but I continue to be less informed and less satisfied than I was. It seems that Cynthia tried to support this content/investment through an advertising model but was not successful. Personally, I would have paid for it. But are there enough Karen Levines to have supported it. Perhaps not. Perhaps the content is too targeted. Perhaps it was not promoted to enough people that share my need for it.

In any case, the WSJ, the Financial Times (I believe) and The Economist offer something to a loyal reader base that they cannot find elsewhere. Another factor that comes into play here is the relative investment required. I believe that all three of these come for free with a print subscription. Perhaps the subscription line of revenue for these publications is larger than newsstand. I would certainly find this easy to believe for The Economist as all the Economist subscribers I know watch their mailboxes longingly a day or few before the magazine is scheduled to arrive. (One actually bought an issue at newsstand on an occasion when it was available there first.)

So, in those cases, there is no incremental cost to those who subscribe. And those who pay the money to subscribe do so because the relative expenditure is low given the value. For example, many of these readers are affluent or are able to expense or write off this expenditure.

Now the New York Times does not have this luxury. If it puts its massive amount of content behind a wall, readers will find substitutes. And although some elements of the paper cannot be substituted for, e.g., Frank Rich’s column, which can often be accessed via unauthorized sources such as blogs – something pointed out to me by Frank Rich. (Of course, this can be addresses via the right technology, a lengthy and expensive investment that accounts for the success of some of the publishers mentioned above.)

And there you have my thoughts for the day on just one aspect of the ponderous question of the ages: “How will print publishers adapt and survive?”

In my Semi-Professional TV Watcher Opinion

A few thoughts:

“Surviving Suburbia” is hard to survive – just painful

“Better Off Ted” is quite good – quirky, good ensemble

The stalker wanna-be boyfriend in “United States of Tara” is getting a little corny

“The Tudors” is verging on soft porn. It’s getting a bit repetitive – marry, celebrate, behead, invite to court, ban from court, invite back to court, sleep with Lady in Waiting, behead someone else – but it’s still FANTASTIC – oh, and educational – all that English history and such

I believe that “In the Motherhood” originated as a webisode series on MSN – shame it’s already been canceled; though it was good, not great; if the woman from “Curb your Enthusiasm” has a a teenage child, why doesn’t she know how to take care of a baby?

I am repeatedly shocked at the sexual allusions on “Two and a Half Men.” I don’t think this would have existed on primetime 5-10 years ago. Do younger people get the jokes, or is it one of those things where the dirty jokes can go over the head of the highly impressionable? Why is it that we never see Charlie Sheen’s bare feet? All that said, GREAT show. Terrific ensemble.

Why has Bill Maher reduced the number of people on his panel? Does he have trouble getting guests? I really “admire” conservatives who have the nerve to go on the show.

Waiting for “Californication,” “Dexter,” “Diary of a Call Girl” and “Weeds” to return. Showtime has developed quite a lineup. Not sure what’s getting me to keep my “HBO” subscription. Just Bill Maher for the moment. The series with Edie Falco (Showtime?) looks like it will be a lot of fun.

“The New Adventures of Old Christine” is wonderful. Glad to see one of the Seinfeld team making it work. Great ensemble. Lots of warmth and humor.

“Gary Unmarried” is really cute. Good chemistry and timing. And the daughter is quite beautiful.

“The Mentalist” is super. As is “Life on Mars.” The only crime shows I watch. Both lead actors are worth the time spent watching. Another talented actor who masters an American accent (“Mentalist” and “House”).

I’m afraid I ODed on “House” during the endless marathons over the last six months. I hear I missed quite a dramatic plot twist last week. I see that the actress who died last season has been reincarnated on “Big Love” – one of HBO shows I watch.

Hmmm… might I be watching too much TV?

The Cat’s Meow

I met a beautiful, smart, single woman today while eating dinner at one of my favorite places. I mentioned that I am single, and she asked what type of man I am looking for. I gave her a few high level thoughts, and she encouraged me to develop and write down a more specific list of what’s important. How can you achieve something that you haven’t defined? she asked. I asked to see her list, she had it on her Blackberry, and this is what it said:

35-45 6’0″ 175lb Well-built ‘David’ type Dark hair Athletic
Brilliant Sweet Funny Caring
Wonderful Generous Spontaneous
Loving Passionate
Loyal Faithful
In love with me/my fam
Wants children now
Successful Wealthy Business-oriented Self-sufficient Self-made
Can help me with my ambitions
Great/aggressive in bed
Talented Loves music
Good family Good b/g/education
Interesting job/life
Masculine with a sensitive side
Makes me feel laugh
Doesn’t hold grudges
No emotional or psychological issues

Thinks I’m the cat’s meow

— An interesting approach. Maybe I’ll give it a try.

On My Lap or by My Side

I have increasingly become a person who cannot watch television without my Macbook on my lap or closely by my side. Last night, I was watching “Better off Ted,” or perhaps it was “The Mentalist,” when I glimpsed in less than a second of footage what looked like a Diane Von Furstenberg dress that I own. After reviewing the spot on my DVR, I went immediately to the internet. Searching on “AT&T” and the name of the song used in the ad, I immediately found the AT&T “Brewery” ad on both YouTube and an advertising commentary website. I paused the video on the moment when you would see the dress, saved a screen grab to my desktop and uploaded the photo to a little fashion gallery I maintain on my Facebook profile.

A few weeks ago, I did the same thing with an Ikea ad in which the woman in the ad was wearing a DVF wrap dress I had just purchased in December. It was really quite fun to see the dress play a prominent role throughout the thirty-second spot as the leading lady slammed cabinets and drawers in her kitchen taking out her frustration with her “idiot” boss. I guess the dress I had purchased represented what a career woman would wear to work. I noted how she adjusted the sleeves to make them seem three-quarter length, assessed whether the actress (or wardrobe-ist) had pinned the front of the dress to keep it closed – I will never fully understand the logistics of a wrap dress, and considered whether the blousiness I had experienced with the top of the dress seemed to be part of the design. In this case, I uploaded a link to the video to my Facebook Wall.

A few months ago, I heard a wonderful song at the very end of an “Ugly Betty” episode. I quickly went to YouTube in an effort to find the song. Alas, it did not come up in my search based on the key phrases, so I went to Google. Already, I found several chats and Yahoo! Answers exchanges in which co-fans asked each other for help in identifying this song and shared what they remembered of the lyrics. Alas, no luck – a terrible missed opportunity on the part of the musical artists and their managers/promoters. (I did circle back and find the song several months later after letting these other zealots continue their investigations.)

More recently, I heard a song on ‘Grey’s Anatomy” that I quite liked. In this case, I shortly discovered websites – hosted by ABC, I believe, that provided all the pertinent information for individual episodes, including the song titles associated with particular parts of the show, e.g., “the montage when…” After realizing that I had confused two episodes – as I was catching up on several weeks of drama at once, I found the song – quite easily – went to iTunes and purchased it. I then looked for other songs by the same artist, but found little available.

I attended a panel the other night organized by Bill Sobel’s NY:MIEG that featured panelists involved in fashion and music. They discussed why it was that musical artists today are so quick to “sell out” by making their music available for commercial use — TV shows and commercials — when it was so taboo years ago. My answer, the artists today are up and coming and still being “discovered” by the general population. The television producers are using the songs to set the mood for their shows, but the musicians are gaining just as much, if not more, benefit by (a) being associated with “cool” programming or products – think about Feist and Apple (b) getting exposure to millions of viewers in one fell swoop – not only for free (I believe) or, more likely, with compensation.

Years ago (and still today), musicians paid and wrangled to get their music aired on the radio. The radio is no longer the medium. In this case it is television – and yes, mass, multi-million viewer, broadcast television. However, it is a terrible missed opportunity if the music is not immediately available online and easy to find. I personally am always on the prowl for something new to add to my iPod lineup.

When Viagra was first introduced, the demand was so unprecedented and unexpected that there was a shortage of product. In fact, it was unfortunate that media plans could not be changed in time to hold off on advertising until new product could be manufactured. In any case, the age old lesson is that product needs to be available at the time that it is promoted. In the case of Viagra and of the Ragu Pasta Sauce I used to market, this is much more complicated to do as there is physical demand to forecast and physical product to manufacture and distribute. In the case of the Internet and music, the product must be easy to find and easy to obtain.

When I worked for NBC at the “turn of the century,” I used to call or e-mail my friend in the traffic department – who was always at the office until very late at night – to comment on what was happening or what clothing was being worn on the currently aired episode of “Friends” or “Seinfeld.” In the age of TiVO and the DVR, I can no longer expect that others are watching TV shows at the same time I am – alas. There are, however, chat rooms and Twitter exchanges I can go to afterwards – as I have usually watched the program after that fact – to see whether others agreed that a twist of the plot seemed very strange.

And so it is that I have become not only addicted to my TV and my DVR but to my laptop – as an inseparable entertainment combination.