death of the daily

Almost two years ago, I wrote a scathing review of the new iPad only newspaper “The Daily”. Today, News Corp announced they’re closing down the Daily.

While I’ll stick with much of my initial critique of why it ultimately failed, there’s a simple distilled reason of its failure. A digital newspaper failed for the same reason that traditional newspapers are failing. It’s not about the platform, whether that be an iPad or newsprint. It’s about the content and the audience (and the revenue model)

usa yesterday

In July, USA Today underwent a redesign. (For the rest of this blog post, I’ll try to avoid the phrase “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic”.)

But while we could talk alot about the news / journalism implications of the redesign and even how the print design is meant to evoke more of a web feel, I’m stuck on the new “logo” (use “airquotes”)

USA Today’s new logo — a large circle in colors corresponding to the sections — will be an infographic that changes with the news, containing a photo or image that represents key stories of the day.

This “evolving logo, but not a logo” idea was tried by AOL back in 2009.  Basic business lesson: Don’t copy AOL ideas.

While logo does not equal brand, the logo is the main visual anchor of a brand. Visual brand identity does need to evolve with the brand, but it needs to be a gradual process, not a daily one.

The USA Today’s troubles run deeper than the logo. What if hotels stopped dumping them at guests’ doors? Circulation would go down by 97%.

Seriously, the USA Today still has the same 2 major brand problems it’s had since 1982. It’s a McPaper about a mile wide and an inch deep and it’s owned by Gannett.

In the end, I guess the real reason I’m a little disappointed in the redesign because it’s no longer “delivered by satellite” (cause that’s SO high-tech).

learning marketing from local media

So your {insert local media outlet} is offering a free seminar that will “teach you how to market your business”.

How benevolent of them to offer such a community service.

I’m amazed at how many small businesses are suckered into attending these events and don’t realize the true motivation behind the “seminar”.

If the radio station is sponsoring this knowledge fest, I’ll bet you my hat that they will try to convince people that radio is the best option. The newspaper seminar will tell you the printed word is the way to go. The TV station’s seminar will tell you why radio and newspaper are a waste of money. And now added to the mix, you have agencies that have a small social media following teaching the way to Facebook and Twitter bliss.

Think about this: Would you go to the “How to choose the best place to buy a car” seminar hosted by the local car dealership?

The truth is that every advertising medium has strengths and weaknesses. It depends on what you’re trying to communicate and who you’re trying to reach.

Just because a salesperson has the words “marketing consultant” on their business card doesn’t mean you should listen to them about your overall marketing strategy. They’re doing their job trying to capture as much of your marketing budget as they can. You should never let someone sell you advertising; you should buy it.

The only reason to ever go to the local media outlet’s seminars is that they typically offer some really good deal to the attendees. If you’re planning on buying from them anyway, it’s a good way to save some money. It’s like going on vacation and sitting through an hour of a timeshare pitch just to get free theme park tickets.

And shame on marketing speakers who lead biased events like this.

the daily disappointment

UPDATE (2 years later): They finally killed The Daily.

So yesterday, I was all giddy (in a professional way) about the advent of The Daily, the world’s first news publication built specifically for a tablet (read: iPad). I actually “tuned-in” for the live stream of the launch (which began late). But the more I watched, the more I soured. (which probably came through on Twitter)

And it’s my fault. I was expecting too much.

I guess I was envious of what they could do with a fresh slate. There were no sacred cows to kill with the “this is how we set hot type” luddites, no internal turf wars that hinder what could be done with an online news publication, no online/print revenue streams to shield with an opportunity for a real understanding of an online revenue stream, no technology limitations of how content could be presented, and more. It was a chance for a complete re-invention.

But what did they do? They put together a gussied-up online newspaper.

It’s completely made up of the same multimedia content that you can find on any major market newspaper website — just presented like your iTunes albums (and will users flip through with the same uninterested abandon?)

Crossword and Sudoku!? Wow. They might as well as have included Alley Oop, Ann Landers (who is still dead), and the horoscope (update: Corey says they have a horoscope.)

One of the Daily’s first tweets (where you think they would promote the coolest stuff) was that you could share articles on Facebook, Twitter, or email. That’s so unique to this new and exciting platform. I can’t do that with any other site. Email? Tell me more! (btw – it’s not really social sharing if it’s inside the paywall)

I thought of writing a huge post about The Daily, but it would have been full of snark like the above. Instead, here are a link, a personal anecdote, and a quote that pretty much sum up my overall thoughts:

  • This article from GigaOm does the best job of quickly pointing out the flaws and foibles of The Daily.
  • This morning, I’m teaching one of my college classes and today was the day I had already scheduled to talk about web design, user/reader experience, etc. So I started out by asking them about yesterday’s launch of The Daily as a new way to interface news. In a group of 48 students (most in their late teens/early twenties) who are enrolled in a journalism school, not one of them had even heard of The Daily.
  • And finally this from James Lileks’ Bleat

    As for New Media platforms, I’ve looked at the Daily app for the iPad, and I can only say this: it’s always going to come down to tomorrow. Yes, yes, do the in-depth stories, the culture stuff, the lite ‘n’ brite features, but when it comes to NEWS, don’t tell me anything tomorrow I didn’t know today.National and international news has to be updated hourly, or it’s still fishwrap. Without the added functionality of, you know, actual fishwrap.

punish your biggest fans

A memo from the top brass at the New York Times was sent to employees about the plan to charge for online content at nytimes.com…

Today we are announcing that we will be introducing a paid model for NYTimes.com at the beginning of 2011…we have chosen a metered approach that will offer users free access to a set number of articles per month and then charge users once they exceed that number.
(Read the full memo here)

There is no doubt that there will have to be a paid model for online news. Journalism is not free. But what’s the revenue solution for online news consumption? Hard to tell.

But I do know that penalizing your best and most frequent users is not the answer.

While I can see their plan is to try to have their cake and eat it too — I think it would work better in reverse. Give it to the power users. Those influencers would spread the links, ideas, etc to occassional users who would pay.

we’ve got trouble right here in Newspaper City

parody_naaFor several months, the Newspaper Association of America has offered a series of free, downloadable print and digital ads that papers can run. The ads mostly talk to readers but are actually subversively directed at advertisers.

Newspapers are not in trouble. They just think they’re in trouble and these ads just reinforce that idea with them, their readers, and their advertisers. They do not inspire confidence.

Newspapers, like all media, are in the eyeball selling business. It doesn’t matter if those eyeballs are looking at column inches or pixels — just as long as those inches or pixels are filled with good content.

I’m offering this version of one of these ads that any newspaper can use for free.

(Click the ad for a larger version to read the copy.)

connecting the dots

Another printed newspaper went away today and with typical media self-absorption, the paper reported their own obituary with an in-depth report complete with a full page front page farewell. This death comes on the tails of last week’s Pew Research report that apparently shows that the public is not concerned with the demise of newspapers.

First off, I think the reports of the death of newspapers are widely overstated — because they’ve been over reported by the subjects themselves.  The Narcissus Media demands that other news orgs report on other news orgs. So the Seattle and Denver news deaths were front page news from the NY Times down to the Podunk Weekly Times (circulation 51).  The editors of other papers were interested in the deaths of these papers so they thought you would be too.

Plus some of these papers (which are actually for-profit businesses!) needed to die just like some banks need to die right now. Over-consolidation and over-monopolization of newspapers have caused unrealistic expectations from shareholders of these bloated behemoths corporations. (Radio, you’re next!) The reality is that with more available media outlets some markets can no longer support more than one major daily newspaper. (but what about the San Francisco Chronicle, you cry? Prediction: If the Chronicle does go under, there will be a new nimbler newspaper pop up in its place within a month.)

Despite the naysayers — there will always be a market for news and information. Sure, now is a rough economic time for any industry that depends on ad dollars — but a sensibly run media organization that’s looking to the future will be OK in the long run. That doesn’t mean that information will always be printed on sheets of dead trees and thrown on your doorstep. That model is going / will eventually go the way of the dodo. I think the Seattle Post-Intelligencer is a good coal mine canary to see if a traditional newspaper can transition to a new distribution model.

Every pundit, guru, and almost everyone in media has put their two cents in about the journalism “crisis” and have come up with a plethora of ideas from micropayments to new distribution models to crowdsourcing. Some have merit and some are “just rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic” (a favorite phrase of the pundits). From my seat in the nosebleed section, I see that newspapers (and all traditional news media) have two main problems that need to be solved before the ship sinks:

Problem 1) — a house divided against itself cannot stand
I rail and rant against organizations that have no marketing/business strategy. And while having no strategy is a bad problem, there’s something that’s even worse — and that’s having two strategies. News organizations are particularly prone to this problem because of the supposed “editorial wall” (there’s a great post here about this problem). Walk into any traditional media outlet and ask 5 people what’s the organization’s plan for dealing with the new realities of communication, and you’ll get 5 answers that will be biased by the side of the wall they’re on.
REALITY: People read the newspaper for news. Go try to sell advertising in a paper that has no news content and see how far you go.
REALITY: Reporters want a paycheck. That Mac needs electricity to run. Advertising supports the economics of journalism.
SOLUTION: Every news organization needs to kill their separate internal tribes, come up with one war strategy that everyone agrees on, and fight the white man before he takes your land.

Problem 2) — the Brand has been forgotten
There’s a disconnect in perceptions when it comes to news coverage. While the news orgs are saying “You’ll miss us when we’re gone!“, the public is saying “uhhh, no we won’t“. It doesn’t matter who is right. But guess which group’s perception matters to the bottom line and staying in business?

Brand is perception. Perception is reality. What changed the public’s perception of the news brand into something they think they can live without?

Alot of people blame the emergence of online media for journalism’s current troubles. And while it’s a major factor, online is not what is killing newspapers. Newspapers saw the Internet coming way before you had your first AOL account. The trouble was that their first line of defense didn’t work in Web 1.0. When Web2.0 rolled around, they saw they missed the opportunity so now they’re trying to out amateur the amateurs — which is killing the brand image they’ve been cultivating for 50, 75, or 100 years. It’s not hard to find ameutuer-ish crap on the Internet, but it is hard to find sources of information that you’ve trusted for years.

The news media have not done a good job selling their USP. Instead of focusing on the one thing that they could do better than anyone else (local news), they wrapped 2% of news into 98% of other stuff that could easily be replicated by competitors and sold it as such.

The sale to the news consumer is not “you can’t get this type of information anywhere else”. It devolved into “buy a subscription and get a CD and an umbrella“.  News media have forgotten what they’re really selling so the consumer has forgotten as well. The public thinks they won’t miss the newspaper because the newspaper has cultivated a brand that they are the place to get the items that the public can now get other places in better ways. But there is no better way to get local news.

Problem 2 is the bigger problem and the one that will take the longest to fix. But the fix needs to start today.

Plus there’s a third problem of trying to fit old mass media models into new media which I addressed last fall.

expecting this call

Concerning this MediaShift post:

Hi! I’m calling from your local newspaper. As you may know, over the past few years our industry completely missed the boat on how to succeed online. As a matter of fact, we’re still arguing with each other on how to compete and win online. The reason I’m calling is that we’d like for you to put your trust in us to handle your online marketing strategy!

I will agree with the post’s point (and have said before) that the concept of “mass media” on the web does not work and that old-media can’t seem to get that idea out of their heads.

The big problem I have with the idea is the concept of a media property operating as as any sort of marketing or ad agency. I’ve witnessed the fast crash/burn of a media property that tried to start an ad agency. And I’ve seen several media salespeople who “help handle” all the advertising for a small biz client.

In case it’s not obvious to you (and apparently with the number of small buisnesses who do it, it’s not), media properties and salespeople are a bit biased to have your money spent with them. It’s not the best idea to trust all of your ad/marketing dollars with someone who has ad space to sell.

the eckberg effect

A few weeks ago, I was being interviewed for a story by Cincinnati Enquirer reporter John Eckberg. As we corresponded and he read this blog, he noticed that I occasionally do a few book reviews and asked if I would take a look at his new book, The Success Effect.

I’ve often said that some of the most interesting content sometimes gets left on the cutting room floor. And along those same lines, some of the most interesting questions/responses in an interview don’t always make it into the final story.

Eckberg has gone back through his extensive collection of audio tapes that he’s amassed as a business reporter at the Cincinnati Enquirer. He’s pulled 47 of his biggest and best interviews and culled out some of good stuff. The result is not warmed over leftovers, but instead a fresh perspective and a very entertaining read.

Each interview is pegged to a “big idea” (brand, desire, style, future, innovation, etc) and shows insight into each of those ideas. And in addition to the questions you’d expect a journalist would ask, Eckberg throws a few of my favorite kind of questions into each interview, offbeat tangent questions that sometimes reveal more about the interviewee than anything else does. This is in addition to sidebars in each interview about what books the subject has “on their nightstand” and what music is in their “cd changer”.

Some of my favorite interviews were speaker Jessica Selasky, former Cincy mayor Jerry Springer, and former Cincinnati resident Donald Trump (yes, that one — in Cincinnati.)

But all 47 interviews have good content. Overall, the breadth of the background of the interviewees and the style of the Eckberg interview make “The Success Effect” a very useful read for anyone in business.

btw — I’ve noticed that I’m doing more book reviews on the blog myself. My book review guidelines are as follows:

  1. it needs to be either about marketing or closely related to marketing/business/etc.
  2. contact me to see if a review is possible. If it is, a copy or galley of the book can be mailed to me for review.
  3. If I like it and think it will benefit my readers, I will post about it. If I don’t like it, nothing will be posted.

mass media will never win on the web

Or at least they won’t think they’re winning because they’re still using the same yardstick for success that they’ve used for decades.

With broadcast and print media, success is measured in numbers with lots of zeroes on the end — both in terms of audience and cash.

Meanwhile, true success on the web is measured in (sometimes small) dedicated audiences.

The long tail does not fit the mass media model — in terms of audience or revenue. And yet, newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, and every other form of mass media have been trying to cram their square hole mass media model into a round online hole ever since the mid-90’s.

And they’ve been sitting in sackcloth and ashes since the start — lamenting that the web is taking over and they can’t replace the shrinking offline audience with a new online audience. And they worry that the old fistful of advertising dollars won’t follow that audience.

And they’re right. That audience and those ad dollars are gone. And the faster that mass media outlets stop trying to make those old models work, the faster they will find success.

It’s not new. We’ve seen it before on a lesser scale. Some huge radio stars couldn’t translate into being big TV stars. The Andy Griffith Show was better in black and white. No one wanted to hear what silent movie actors sounded like. But there was huge success and massive revenue to be found in the new worlds of television and talkies — when people stopped trying to cram the old model into the new.

Mass media needs to stop thinking about how to make people “read newspapers online” or “watch the evening news online”. They need to take a fresh look at what they’re doing. What does an online audience look like and how do they want to consume your product online? They need to “stop broadcasting and start narrowcasting“.