Not bad at all for an 11 year old

May 22, 2010

Google this week announced two major and again blunt new business moves. It is stunning to watch this 11 year old company grow. I never lost interest since I got my very first mail with a link to their new search engine, back in 98. They sure seem to have kept their startup attitude and energy.

Google offers lots of nice, useful, beautiful and handy services and is probably the most successful company so far, at least in the media industry. Which is a bit surprising, since it basically started as a company in the IT business. They came up with and still expand on very well designed algorithms.

Why is it that the publishing and media industries future is designed by engineering companies? Who would have thought that during a recent top meeting of the biggest and brightest minds & most influential businesspeople in publishing every attendant worked in Technology? And more surprisingly: where were all the publishing and media executives? They were the audience.

Technology is something most publishers never really learned, let alone understand. Printing was easy, one shipped a manuscript to a printer or to one’s own printing factory. Then slowly but gradually computers arrived on desks. First to replace typewriters and calculators in the office, then to automate parts of the design and (pre) publishing process. But these things were just tools. Like a piece of paper and a pen.

Nowadays computers, laptops, iPads, smartphones and whatever new devices the future will bring, actually are turning into rather hybrid tools and experiences. These devices are used for producing and consuming content. The Alfa and Omega of the information age. (Or should one say: Beta and Omega?)

One writes, designs, composes  and reads/watches/listens on the same device.  Always and everywhere.

The epicenter of this shift has become a screen. And an overwhelming part of the content producers and consumers of today look at a homepage on this screen. They even call it…….. home. In most cases this is and will be a very well designed ‘homepage’, with just one name on it. That’s indeed not bad at all for an 11 year old kid!

And this week the kid announced it will take a shot at another screen: our TV.


May 21, 2010

Newspapers are papers filled with news. Many of the debates on the future of newspapers focus on the element of paper. ‘Dead trees’ is the association most commonly evoked. Of course the daily physical endproduct is an essential element in every contemplation on the future of the news industry, but in my view there is much more to be considered.

How about:

  • the dependence on the willingness to spend money by advertisers
  • the practice of giving content for free online, while still charging for the same product and service in print
  • the not-so-very-unique-and-remarkable-character of the news that’s published
  • the way news is published and the content formats used to package it

The sharp economic downfall caused advertisers to stop advertising. Not because it might not be effective, simply because no out of pocket money is spent. Newspapers with their fixed number of pages and longterm printing contracts reacted in different ways. In The Netherlands we have seen newspapers advertise their own products (books, dvd’s, magazines, wine to name a few).  How clever this may look at first sight, the effects on the willingness to pay top-euro by advertisers is negative, to say the least (‘….why should I pay if you can get it for free and at the same time sell products, which used to be my business….?). Other newspapers drop their rates, a downward spiral they might come to regret. Some took advertisements that do not match their community of readers, thus changing the ‘Umfeld’.

After losing cashcows like classifieds, personals and joblistings to more flexible and less expensive online media entrepreneurs, the old school newspapers jumped online. Content for free, but we will attract eyeballs & traffic and make up for any losses by selling online ads. No-brainer, right? The same economic downturn led to an even harder landing and to a giant wake-up call. Rates are still falling and ‘giving away our content for free should stop and it should stop now!’

Since the largest publishers met in Chicago a year ago to discuss putting up paywalls, there has been an avalanche of opinions and expectations. It can not work. It will work, if so and so. It has to work, otherwise the newspaper industry will vanish.

What I missed, except in a few blogs, was and is discussions on the quality of the basic product. What is news in a 24/7 world, wired with media all over the place and so called users producing content themselves? What is it that our community of readers want and need? How can we redefine our function into a service that is fit for the 21ste century? What sort of content should we focus on, when news is not new, but old?

It is not the element of paper (or/and money) that should be discussed, but the element of news. Why read, buy or use  a newspaper if the newspaper has no news?

 There are meaningfull questions to be asked. To name a few:

  • Who? What? Where? When? Why? How?
  • Words, pictures, graphs, video, podcasts, blogs, comments, links?
  • Opinion, archives, interviews, background, meaning, history, importance, facts, views, interpretations?
  • How do we compose an article these days, what should a header be?
  • Why show a video that does not have any production value, except that it is cheap to make?

And the biggest question of them all: how can we integrate the powers of the web, the coming tablets and smartphones and our paper product into a meanigful experience for our community of readers? And how do we engage the community we serve?

New as source of myopia

May 19, 2010

With every new form of new media, all of the believers jump on it. The digital tree is growing quite rapidly and more and more branches are  there to be seen. On each branch new media enthusiasts sit as birds tweeting. They all sing the same song: everything will change and it will change now (or tomorrow, or at least very soon).

Older, old school, executives have seen it all and before. A lot will change, but much will stay the same (as the French say). Where’s the money? We’ll wait and see. Watch and buy later.

Both ways of thinking, mindsets, frames or perspectives are part of the problem. Not everything will change, of course not. But a lot has changed already in a rather fundamental way and a strategy solely based on the presumption of business as usual is not getting you there (where is there, I might ad?). On the other hand most of the hyped ideas of innovators and early adopters will never reach the Walhalla of the mass markets. They will fade away and be replaced by new hypes.

These two different views are not based on sound analysis & thoughtfulness. It is more something like a habit of non thinking.

The source of this type of myopia originates in the domain of attitude. Knowledge can be obtained, skills can be practised, attitudes can also be changed, but the process is more painfull.

In the meantime media executive minds & habits and eager action oriented new media dynamics devotees grow apart. Both should be careful and avoid that their differences in judgment and beliefs will lead towards a chasm. 

High Tech needs High Touch as Naisbitt said.

Why do I still call it New after all these years?

May 19, 2010

In the summer of 1985 I started in the audiovisual industry and the small company I joined experimented with interactive video. We called it New Media. We were trying to mix text, graphics, video, stills and audio into longform and meaningfull interactive experiences, mostly aimed at well defined groups of people for training purposes. Then came along videodisc (Laservision, as Philips called it). And I even remember the very early days of cd-rom. At the time we looked at the US for interesting opportunities and read The Videodisc Monitor.  Monthly delivered snailmail of 8 pages black and white reading, filled with examples, I then would try to market in Holland. 

New Media were new, because they were interactive. New Media were also new, because once in a while some company came up with something new. Like CD-i. When that happened I watched the entire Dutch interactive community drop videodisc and embrace CD-i. Leaving me perplexed and stunned, because I thought we were in the business of creating interactive experiences, not pushing physical media.

 That time I encountered the real meaning of the word (or should I say ‘frame’) ‘New’:

  • stop what you’re doing, declare it dead or non existent
  • embrace the new New
  • keep following every hype
  • evangelize the New

It is funny to notice that today’s most promising new New Medium (the iPad) will bring on real longform multimedia interactive experiences. Back at the beginning. Maybe it is new afterall?

Why myopia and why media?

May 14, 2010

In the summer of 1960 Theodore Levitt published his stunning article ‘Marketing Myopia’ in Harvard Business Review.

It began with the now famous sentences:’ Every major industry was once a growth industry. But some that are now riding a wave of growth enthusiasm are very much in the shadow of decline. Others  which are thought of as seasoned growth industries have actually stopped growing. In every case, the reason growth is threatened, slowed, or stopped is not because the market is saturated. It is because there has been a failure of management’.

With this lesson in mind, I will be blogging about the media industry and it’s attempts to keep up with all things digital.

Since sharing my thoughts in this way is a new thing for me, I expect to make the necessary mistakes. Please bear with me along the way.