[UPDATE 4 Sept: I have updated this post to the original draft, which includes specific and strong recommendations to publishers and marketers. They had been redacted, but a colleague asked "What would you DO about this?" so I saw fit to reinclude them. These are my answers; there are no easy solutions, but these are a step towards guidelines. Updates at the end of the piece, in bold.]
Publishers Are Engaged In Self-Harm, With Marketers As An Accessory
You remember when the email spam problem maxed out almost a decade ago? Or when content farms threatened to turn Google search results into useless piles of keyword-slurry? Or peak belly fat?
There should be a word for the moments when the mechanisms that aim to keep our electronic information corridors running well fail.
It’s shaping up to be one of those moments for the content distribution space (and particularly its subdiscipline native advertising, or sponsored content).
You can pity the reader who arrives at an article on many publishers’ websites today; I’m talking about you, Guardian and Forbes, but also you, New York Times and Washington Post. How is the reader to know if the article they’ve come to read is the product of a straightforward pay-to-publish play, an informal “link exchange” relationship, an “influencer” play, an independent opinion piece, or a piece of pure editorial? They can’t.
For the record: The “clear labeling” commandment is a fig leaf. By the time a reader has gotten so far through the article that they’re wondering why it keeps promoting a particular mindset, product, or opinion and started searching for cruft around the article, the trust in the information, the source, and the medium is lost.
Two ways media’s changing now, and two ways it’s going to change:
The FT Digital event in London last week pulled together some of the cream of the European media world. The big conclusion they were made privy to?
The media world will soon discover exactly how many ways you can skin a cat.
The old-fashioned way for media brands to skin a cat – make the content and license rights to distribute it, or advertise next to it – doesn’t work anymore as a standalone product. As a result, the business model experimentation we’ve seen so far in the media world is turning into business model explosion. Evidence: Half of the speakers and attendees at this media event wouldn’t have been at a media event at all only three or four years ago. Facebook. Shazam. BuzzFeed. And tech VCs, for example.
Two pieces of news exemplified changes taking place right now: One, Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus (a virtual reality gaming device) forced discussion toward the value of a platform – the device is only as valuable as the community of developers creating remarkable content for it; tech and media companies alike need to take a platform approach to their assets.
Second, The New York Times’ launching of NYT Now – a premium version of the Times exclusively for smartphones – showed how media companies are bending themselves backward to divorce (call it “conscious uncoupling” if you will) resources from revenue. The mobile app will take a Facebook-like approach to making money by allowing advertisers to publish sponsored content in-feed.
And two discussions painted a picture of media’s future:
When March comes to a close, the madness in the US picks up: March Madness, the national college basketball championship, gives sports fanatics the chance to rally around their alma maters, while sports novices get to observe college basketball culture at its best. Personally, I tend to lean to the latter end of the spectrum — but this year, thanks to a redesigned mobile app and enhanced social engagement strategy, I find myself moving away from observer status toward that of participant.
My story isn’t unique: The features and functions of sports-related mobile apps allow fans of any knowledge level to receive immediate updates, learn more about players and teams, and connect with fellow spectators across the region — and globe. From reviews of the recent winter Olympic Games to preparations for the upcoming FIFA World Cup, “sports fever” is universal. Forrester’s Consumer Technographics® data shows that while the impulse to engage with sports-related apps on portable devices is evident around the world, it is most noteworthy among consumers in Metro China and Metro Brazil:
More than 90,000 iPad-only apps are available today. Forrester clients in a wide range of industries — media, software, retail, travel, consumer packaged goods, financial services, pharmaceuticals, utilities, and more — are scrambling to determine how to develop their own iPad app strategies (or browser-based iPad strategies).
Clients are asking us to help them address both challenges and opportunities associated with the iPad: How do I develop an app product strategy for the iPad? Does the browser matter, too? What will make my app or browser experience stand out from the competition? How will an iPad app complement my smartphone and Web properties?
If you are navigating these sorts of decisions, I'd like to invite you to a very exciting event being hosted by an analyst on my team, Sarah Rotman Epps. Sarah's holding a Workshop on July 27 (in San Francisco) to help clients like you separate the hype from the reality and take concrete steps toward developing a winning iPad app and browser strategy.
The Workshop: POST — Refining Your Strategy For iPads And Tablets
This Workshop focuses on refining your strategy for reaching and supporting your key constituencies through iPads and other tablets. We'll take you through the POST (people, objectives, strategy, and technology) process, helping you to:
Understand where the tablet market is going based on Forrester's latest data and insights.
Apply what other companies have done to your own tablet strategy.
Just came off the stage at PaidContent 2010, a day-long summit here at The Times Center near Times Square, dedicated to the question of if/how/when people will pay for content. The timing is good -- as I wrote in January, The New York Times is planning to charge for content within a year or so, Hulu is considering a subscription model (not necessarily in place of but, I believe, in addition to its free service), and the eBook pricing dilemmas are causing sleepless nights.
I opened the conference with a brief assertion that fretting over whether people will pay for content is based on a mistaken assumption: that people have ever paid for content in the past. They actually haven't. Instead, people have paid for access to content. But in an analog world, access was gated by physical form factors like vinyl, newsprint, and movie theaters. As a result, the coincidence of form factor and content made us believe that people pay for content.
But people have never paid for content. Even when a daily newspaper was a necessity for the average home, the dime you paid a day (in the 70s) for a newspaper did not cover the print cost, much less the reporting. Instead, it was classified ads and auto dealers who footed most of the bill. And the hours we spent on TV and radio every day through the last half of the last century until the explosion of cable in the 90s, were all free. When cable finally asserted itself, people did not pay per show or even by channel (with the exception of premium movie channels). Instead, they paid for overall access.
It was a surprising weekend for those of us who had naively imagined that after crossing the River iPad, we might actually get some Elysian rest. But, alas, the fates conspired against us and handed us the curious case of Amazon vs. Macmillan. Or Macmillan vs. Amazon?
For those who actually took the weekend off, let me summarize what happened. John Sargeant, the CEO of Macmillan Books, gave Amazon a wee-bit of an ultimatum: switch from a wholesale sell-through model, where Amazon buys digital books at a fixed wholesale rate and then can choose to sell those books at whatever price it deems appropriate (even at a loss, as it does with $9.99 bestsellers), to an agency model, where Amazon agrees to sell at a price set by the publisher in exchange for a 30% agency fee. Sargeant explained to Amazon that if it did not agree to the switch, Macmillan Books would make its eBooks subject to significant "windowing" wherein new books are held back from the digital store for some period, say six months, while hardback books are sold in stores and possibly, digital copies are sold through the iPad at $14.99.
This is more detail than we usually know about a negotiation like this because of what happened next. Sargeant got off of a plane on Friday only to discover that Amazon had responded by pulling all Macmillan books from the Kindle store as well as from Amazon.com. He then decided to make it clear to the industry (and his authors) that this drastic action was Amazon's fault, in a paid advertisement in a special Sunday edition of Publishers Lunch.
Today is the big day: when Comcast announces it has taken a controlling share of NBCU in the latest mega media merger. And though the media have been covering it rapaciously for months now, the obligatory reaction stories are now being posted, analyzing something we should really know by now, namely:
This deal isn't about clamping down on runaway digital video content to save cable's collective hide.
If you're not careful, you may run into people who assert the contrary. Rafat Ali of paidcontent.org, whose opinion I generally value, earlier today titled his remarks "Comcast-NBC Deal Isn't About Digital." By which he means it's not about purely digital content (generation or delivery). While that's true, when he then goes on to say that Comcast's digital moves (thePlatform, Fancast) don't have "the potential to change the game for the cable giant," he is 100% wrong.
Because the future of cable is entirely dependent on digital. The future of all media of any sort is dependent on digital. Ergo so is the deal.
Many innovative start-ups have pioneered mobile social networking in the last few years: BuzzCity, Peperoni, Fring, Nimbuzz, eBuddy, Zyb, Plazes, Loopt, Foursquare and many others demonstrated the potential of the market.
In the last few months, a bunch of announcements clearly showed that the convergence between mobile and social computing is gaining traction and attracting the largest stakeholders:
Many recent innovations in the mobile space are led by new entrants such as Apple or Google. However, let's be fair with telcos. They invest significant amounts of money in R&D and have very creative staff. There has been some skepticism in the industry on selected Orange services such as Pikeo, Djinngo (ex Bubbletop) or Soundtribes where Orange was trying to "reinvent the wheel" without partnering with the right Internet players. However, these services have never been really marketed and does not prevent strategic partnerships to be signed. Orange in particular has many Orange Labs worldwide and is driving innovation.
I saw recently some interesting demos of products and services to be launched by Orange: