Thursday, October 04, 2007

BoSacks Readers Speak Out: On Brain Drains, Time Inc, Media and More

BoSacks Readers Speak Out: On Brain Drains, Time Inc, Media and More

Re: The Brain Drain
oh how true. the problem with old media is that the people who work there are old, and their experience tells them that the new media won't make it.
the problem with new media is that the people who work there have no experience, so they have no clue what can't be done, so they go ahead and do it.
ah to be young and unbald again
(Submitted by an Industry Pundit)

Re: The Brain Drain
This post hits close to home for me. I won't go into details, but recently when I went to management with ideas to make our company web site more user-friendly (and as the Circulation Manager getting readers to LIKE our web site is important to me!) I was thanked for my time and told that management "knew what they were doing" . . . a management team whose median age is 55 and who frequently ask my help to do "difficult" things like attach multiple files to an email or print a document as a PDF file. When I mentioned a new-fangled technology called "RSS" none of them had a clue. Ironically when I talked to our web master about it he had received the same reaction to most of his suggestions. Like the first person quoted in Alan's post, I feel like I'm wasting my time here. . . . Thanks for letting me rant a little.
(Submitted by a Circulator) and a smart young woman whose company will no doubt be a victim of the Brain Drain Syndrome.

Re: The Brain Drain
Bob, The young man has a good idea, but with at least one big problem; veracity. One of the most valuable assets of most news organizations is the integrity of their published words. At least, it needs to be. The problem with individual bloggers is that unless they are sued for being legally inaccurate, which may be reported in MSM, there is little way of telling whether they write fact or opinion, truth or fiction. I guess the same goes for our politicians.
(Submitted by a Publisher/Printer)

Re: Media Remix
Bo, this goes along with what P&G said several years ago that "there is no such thing as mass media anymore and new approaches have to be found to connect with customers on a more direct basis" Glad the beer guys are getting around to the approach.
(Submitted by a Paper Person)

RE: Uh-oh, here comes Media 3.0

media 3.0
the mets 0
(Submitted by a Senior Dir of Mfg & Dst)

Re: Time Inc. Gives In to Issue-Specific Guarantees
Oh thank the stars above. Time Inc. took one for the team. I was worried that if we didn't feed the ABC buyers committee and the MPA something soon - that they would demand something ELSE at the ABC November meeting in Chicago. Ooooh - maybe I spoke too soon . . . these guys have short term memory. They changed the sponsor rule 4 times in three years...and the rumor is that they still aren't satisfied.. . . Could we be in for the 5th time? . . . oh joy . . .

Hey circulators!, this is very important to remember: The ad buyers are hiding a very painful secret: They haven't a clue where their audience really is! It's thinned out and cloaked itself. Not entirely tangible these days - and not all that engaged. Don't let them fool you. Ad buyers want more 'transparency' out of magazine circ - because they are hoping to "see" something that they can't find themselves.

I think it's funny how Ad Buyers (and the MPA) point the finger at the circulators - like were the dirty ones. Like we're hiding something, cooking numbers and looking for loop holes. Fact is - we're as real as we possible can be because the stakes are way to high. Anyone fell like losing their job? Not me. Here's a nightmare: I could never imagine switching careers . . . putting a media plan together and selling it to a big client. Can you image all the fancy words they come up with and the junk they spin to their clients? Talk about a dirty job . . . yuck.
(Submitted by a Senior Circulator)

Re: Stora Enso sells its North American paper operations to NewPage

Wow! I am not surprised but rather awed. The number of mills and the supply of coated paper continues to shrink. I think the mills want to take the market supply of coated paper down to or below the market demand. I believe the Internet has hurt the paper business more than some mills want to admit.
(Submitted by a Senior Paper Person) (This guy called on BoSacks in the mid-1970s and taught him a lot about the business)

Re: The Cheap Revolution
So the geeks are learning now what has been clear to printers for some time. Somewhere along the way, customers go from wanting to get more for less to expecting to get everything for nothing. They have my empathy if not my sympathy. It will be interesting to see how well they cope.
(Submitted by a Printer)

Re: U.S. Marketers Are Sewing Seeds of Their Own DestructionBo,The headline should be:
U.S. Marketers are Sowing Seeds of Their Own Destruction.
Sorry, I was an English major.
(Submitted by a Senior Production Director)

Re: In Defense of Media Cross-Ownership

This question comes down to this: Who should determine ownership of means of communication, or anything else for that matter, the government or the market?

Being a government official and a large D Democrat, that the regulatory approach looks good to you is unsurprising. Knowing you as I do, I am sure this is inspired by your innate idealism, and a belief that government intervention will guard the public interest in the name of the common good. Being a taxpaying consumer and a large C Curmudgeon, and as imperfect as the market is, I choose it over government regulation every time.

Companies and their ownership act in their own best interest, i.e. in the way that will maximize their profits. Making the most money means pleasing the greatest number of customers - us - because the customers can always choose the services of a competitor in the same medium or move to another medium or turn off the media. The government also acts in its own interest, i.e. collecting taxes, staying in power and getting more of both. But since the only monopoly the government allows is its own and they run the courts and own the jails, we are not free to ignore their mandates. You can refuse a subscription offer. Try it with a subpoena.

So, we are given the choice between dealing with a commercial enterprise that would like to be a monopoly and a coercive enterprise that is already a monopoly. I'll take Door #1, Monty.
(Submitted by a Printer)

RE: Americans have Skewed View of Ad Industry
Bob, I doubt that American consumers have ever valued advertising as an industry. We like to think of ourselves as independent-minded and naturally curious, so who needs an advertising industry to inform us and recommend products to us? At best, consumers knowledgeable about how the media industries work look at advertising as a necessary evil, a way of funding the media they enjoy. In don't think JWT or the ad industry should be surprised by these survey results.
(Submitted by a Publisher)

RE: BoSacks Speaks Out: New Research and Advisory Service for our Industry

Definitely a great idea, filling a real need for help and direction in the publishing industry. The challenge will be to get the attention and support of the industry ostriches - the ones who need it most probably already don't "get it". Just had an image of Paul Revere riding through the Boston suburbs, sounding the alarm. It is the publishers who roust from their sleep and pay attention to the warnings that will survive, with your capable help.
(Submitted by a Senior Director of Mfg & Dst)

MSM, MSN, and other thoughts
Your note to me about MainStreamMedia got me to thinking. I nowadays spend enought time reading news- and newsletters on my computer screen, that I suppose it has become MSM to me. We still subscribe to the CLARKSVILLE LEAF-CHRONICLE, which is probably 50% smaller in page volume than two years ago, but mostly turn to the editorial pages for columnists, and the comics, to see what Dilbert is up to.

We watch the TV news at 6:18, when the weather comes on, to get their idea of our forecast. The local (Nashville) TV news is hardly an unbiased look at events, local or national. There is ALWAYS a spin in their stories. The implication is: "Here's how your should see this.", and not "So, what do you think?"
I do listen to NPR, and watch a moderate amount of NPT. They often have something to say, or show, that I find interesting or stimulating.

I am pleased that NYTimes has lifted the premium pay-per-peek for columnists, such as Paul Krugman. Read his blog today about Is this our Wylie E. Coyote Moment?
Having been a magazine printer (and sometimes working for the publishers) for nearly 40 years, I still love 'em, but I am trying to reduce our subscription count from 12 pubs to a number about half that. Part of it is dollar economics, and the other part is time management economics. There is more to read and learn than I seem to have hours in a day for. And, that doesn't count the other required activities of daily living!

So, Bob, it looks as though I have somehow taken a tributary of MSM, and swim it on my LCD. This river is wide enough to have trouble seeing both shores at the same time. I believe I may be going with the flow.

Oh, and I ALWAYS read your 3 messages a day. Why? Because it could be useful and interesting. Couldn't do that if you were in MSM, and Bob XXXX hadn't forwarded one of your blogs a couple of years ago.

A thought starter for you might be to invite your readers to describe their own relationships to media, Print, Broadcast, or Electronic; is their practice matching their doctrine? Does that need reconciliation?
(Submitted by a Printer/Publisher)

Don't give Google double the power

Don't give Google double the power
BY Joseph Turow

Google's decision to spend $3.1 billion to buy little-known DoubleClick will affect the future of American media and the way advertisers tell stories about you and me. Eventually, if Google has its way, what we see on the Web, hear on the radio or read in print will largely be based on decisions Google computers make about how different we are and why.

Already Google can likely say quite specifically how you search for stuff on the Web. Google can also send you text ads and (very soon) video ads that fit your search interests, your background and what you are reading about on thousands of Web sites. Other firms are doing the same thing. But by acquiring DoubleClick, Google will jump so far ahead of the pack with the technology and knowledge to be the only place marketers have to go to reach you and just about anybody else.

Perhaps more than any other company, Google sees that American media and marketing will change profoundly in the coming decades. At the center of the transformation is a phenomenon called ad-serving. Many of the ads that we receive online come from a company that makes deals with Web sites to send ("serve") ads to you when you reach the site. The Web site receives a part of the revenue that the ad-serving firm makes from selling the ads. Advertisers like digital ad-serving because they pay only if the customer reacts to the ad- clicks on it or responds in some other way. Because they need to show action-oriented results, Google and its competitors have been collecting loads of information on Internet users, slicing and dicing what they know about us and our actions in relation to different topics so that they will know what ad will yield what action from what person.

Ad-serving can be very lucrative. AOL, Microsoft, Yahoo, ValueClick and others bring in a lot of cash. Google makes, by far, the most money from it on its search site as well as its ad network. Moreover, Google has been the most aggressive in seeing ad-serving as where its future lies. That future is not just on the Web. Google's top executives understand that consumers are using all sorts of media in all sorts of places. They also know that marketers want to follow their best customers wherever they go, and they want Google's technology to help them do it. So far, Google has tested the waters of ad-serving in mobile phones, radio, newspapers and satellite television. The company's secret weapon: Its knowledge of us.

Google can use its enormous and accumulating knowledge of who we are and what we do to become the "go to" company of choice when it comes to advertising on any medium. Some years from now, Procter and Gamble will go to Google to sell diapers rather than to CBS, Meredith Publications, Rodale Press or Clear Channel Outdoor. With its huge database, Google will identify the particular individuals and types of individuals P&G wants to reach, will know where and when to reach them across media, and will digitally insert ads tailored for them in CBS, Meredith, Rodale and Clear Channel vehicles. Those media firms will feel forced to share in the take. You and I will see the results, too, though we may not know it. Wherever we go, we will receive ads and discounts (and maybe even different articles and programs) based on whether and when Google thinks we are valuable to one or another sponsor.

Of course, Google knows that Microsoft and other competitors want to do this, too. And Google has an Achilles heel: Almost all its ad-serving activity has involved text ads - meaning it has dealt with millions of small advertisers. Google has by all accounts not cultivated really big sponsors, the Fortune 1000s of the world. DoubleClick, the king of display advertising with powerful technology and strong ties to the largest ad agencies, will allow Google to rush into this territory. The merged company can then create new networks and other facilities for marketers that will drive it far ahead of rivals in the business of database ad-serving. This advantage will feed on itself so that Google will become the most influential entity in the new media world. With competitors marginalized, the great proportion of ads we receive, tailored to us across a wide range of media, will be based on what Google thinks about us. At the start of a great marketing-and-media transformation, the meaningful protection of consumers requires we ensure real competition even among giants.

Google supporters argue that the company is being unfairly singled out and that its plans for DoubleClick don't threaten competition or the public. But their claims can't be evaluated because so little is known about Google's goals for DoubleClick and about the ad-serving market. That's why the Federal Trade Commission merger review and the upcoming congressional hearings on the subject must carefully evaluate the union's impact and be ready to act in support of genuine competition across the new media marketplace. Ultimately at stake is more than whether we receive ads tailored to our interests. It's about what kind of news, entertainment and marketing system we want for our democracy.

Joseph Turow is the Robert Lewis Shayon Professor of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication. He is the author of "Niche Envy: Marketing Discrimination in the Digital Age" (MIT Press, 2006).

Major Consumer Magazines May Not Hit Wal-Mart Shelves

Major Consumer Magazines May Not Hit Wal-Mart Shelves (and other major retailers) Next Week
By Jeremy Greenfield

Earlier this week, Anderson News, the nation's largest wholesaler of magazines, recently announced to its customers (Time Warner, Comag, Curtis, and Kable, to name a few) that it was requesting a major change in the economics of distribution due to retailer implementation of SBT (scan-based trading--more below). Time Warner, et al, have threatened, in response, to stop shipment of its magazines to Anderson, which would keep Vogue, Time and others off of Wal-Mart and other retail shelves, starting this week. Anderson handles roughly 25% of all wholesale magazine distribution in the US.

Today, Time Warner came to an agreement with Anderson that would prevent the stoppage in magazine delivery until next week to give parties on both sides time to negotiate. Industry sources have also told minonline that Curtis Circulation Company, whose clients include Elle, Maxim, Forbes, and Newsweek, has settled with Anderson, and will continue its relationship uninterrupted with the wholesaler.

At the center of the conflict is a new technology called SBT that helps eliminate waste in the distribution business. Basically, instead of buying a stock of issues and then selling them to its customers, retailers will only buy each issue as they sell it to the customer. With the old system, magazines had to be sold back up the distribution chain if they went unsold at the rack. With SBT, this need not occur financially, making the process from printer to consumer a much less complicated one. Instead, as it stands today, magazines in stores are on Anderson's books, and listed as inventory. What the company wants is for those magazines to appear on the publishers' books, giving them both a higher stake in what happens at the newsstand, and more control as to how many copies are on newsstands. In addition, this required Anderson (and other wholesalers) to eat a one time loss of revenue from not being paid one month when the retailers switched to SBT. Anderson is trying both to change distribution chain relaionships, and recoup its money from that lost month.

"Anderson, along with a whole lot of other magazine wholesalers, felt they had an unusually high cost in switching over to SBT, and that they were bearing all the burden of it," says John Harrington, Editor of The New Single Copy, a newsletter about publishing and distribution. "What Anderson unilaterally proposed is that they were going to assess a share of it to the national distributors."

"All I'm saying is that I want them to carry the cost. I'm not trying to make any money out of this overall," says Charlie Anderson, CEO of the company.

Anderson cites the case of American Greetings, which just went to SBT for its greeting cards business, stating, "Do a supply chain management study. This is why American Greeting went to it. It simplifies the process. Magazine publishers are very similar." In Anderson's opinion, this is an issue for publishers to handle and not for wholesalers.

Harrington suspects that Anderson will reach an agreement with all of its suppliers before any magazines are kept from the rack, as both parties have a huge stake in making their relationship work. After all, Curtis has already reached an agreement.

While Anderson will not comment on the specifics of his relations with various distributors, including Curtis, he is confident that all will be resolved: "I think business will continue because I think we're making progress in negotiations."

We will keep you updated as reports come in.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Publishing Brain Drain

Publishing Brain Drain
By Alan Mutter

As if the mainstream media didn't have enough trouble navigating the uncharted realm of digital innovation, they are losing many of the young, technologically astute employees who could be their guides.

"What am I doing here?" a talented young designer and programmer working at a publishing company asked me recently. "These guys don't get it. I've got to get out. I'm just wasting my time."

Like the others quoted in this article, the young journalist is not being named, so as to protect his livelihood until he bails out of his MSM job.

He summed up the frustration of the twenty- and thirty-something professionals who grew upMedia 3.0 with a keyboard at their fingertips and an iPod, or at least a Walkman, plugged in their ears. They use modern media the way their generation does, not the way their fifty-something bosses wish they would.

But the young net natives, for the most part, rank too low in the organizations that employ them to be invited to the pivotal discussions determining the stratgeic initiatives that could help their employers sustain their franchises.

"In most organizations, the people with the most online experience have the least political capital," said one mid-level online editor at a newspaper. "It seems like the pace of change inside media is slowing, tied up in politics and lack of expertise in managing technical projects - while the pace of change is continuing apace outside our windows."

Members of the wired generation say the process, bureaucracy and caution common to most media companies steals spontaneity and edginess away from ideas that could be appealing to their peers.

"Management is more concerned about who owns the change than they are about creating change," said the online newspaper editor. "I hear people wail about journalism, when most of their arguments aren't about journalism but about their own job security and, more importantly, egos."

Adding insult to injury, the net natives say they sometimes are pulled off promising projects to work on watered-down ideas that, in their opinion, won't be successful. "I can innovate 10 times faster than any journalism organization," said an online editor.

While the above comments may be, in part, a common reflection of generational impatience, these concerns take on new urgency at a time when most available data tell us that young people are consuming media in completely different ways than prior generations.

As but one example, consumers aged 13 to 24 narrowly favor user-generated media (blogs, YouTube, Facebook, Flckr and the like) over content created by the traditional media, according to recent research from Deloitte & Touche (see table below).

"I don't understand or like the media," said the online newspaper editor who's planning his exit. "Blogging has shown me that I don't really need the guys that own the presses anymore. I'll probably stay in journalism, but I can't wait to get out of the media."

The Cheap Revolution

The Cheap Revolution
Wall Street Journal; Page A19

Poor Steve Jobs. First he apologizes for dropping the price of the iPhone from $599 to $399 after just 10 weeks on the market and offers Apple customers a $100 rebate. Now he's being slapped with a $1 million lawsuit from a New York woman who says Apple violated price discrimination laws when her fancy new phone was suddenly worth $200 less.

What's going on here? Did Mr. Jobs gouge early technology adopters just for a couple extra (billion) bucks? I don't think so. After a long streak of successes, Mr. Jobs and Apple -- whose stock is up more than 20-fold since 2002 -- have collided with two forces stronger than they are: One is the cheap revolution; the other is the global economy. Together they forced Apple to drop the price of the iPhone and offend its geeky customer base.

Some background: The cheap revolution is a first-order effect of Moore's Law. If you don't know Moore's Law by now, you should probably hang it up. But in case the coffee is slow to stir you this morning, here is the short version: Fairchild Semiconductor cofounder (and later Intel cofounder) Gordon Moore formulated his famous law in 1965, six years after Fairchild had invented the silicon chip. Mr. Moore saw that the number of transistors that could be shrunk and baked into a silicon chip of constant size was doubling every year or so. Caltech professor Carver Mead dubbed this exponential trend of transistor density "Moore's Law" and soon everyone agreed that 18 months was the predicted interval of doubling.

For years, if you said Moore's Law, people presumed you were describing a future of ever more powerful computers. The personal computers of 1981, including the Apple II and the IBM PC, were punks by today's standards. They could run only rudimentary spreadsheets and word processing software. But soon, the dark green screens and white type were replaced by graphics during the mid-1980s, first in the Apple Macintosh and later in PCs running successive versions of Microsoft Windows. This was a terrific advance. But software could only evolve at the pace of Moore's Law.
Moore's Law delivered. By the early 1990s, the exponential gains had evolved to the point where microprocessors now ran fast enough in PCs and workstations to topple an entire industry -- in this case, all the minicomputer companies along Boston's fabled Route 128. Down they went -- Digital Equipment Corporation, Wang, Data General, all victims of a new and more powerful force.

By the early 2000s, Moore's Law had crammed enough zip into PCs so as to turn them into multimedia machines. Our PC became a base station for news, photos, songs and movies as well as manipulator of words and numbers.

But along the way, another, even bigger trend was in the works, if not seen as clearly. Call it the flipside of Moore's Law. If the frontside said chips and therefore computers would get twice as fast every 18 months "at the same price point," the backside said prices would drop 50% every 18 months "at the same performance point."

I am thumbing this column on Research In Motion's BlackBerry 8600. It's a 2006 model, almost ancient now. My BlackBerry is powered by an Intel 312 megahertz microprocessor, for which RIM pays Intel about $20 per chip in volume. Keep that price and performance in mind. Fifteen years ago, at the dawn of the Web age, Intel's hot seller was the Pentium family of microprocessors. In 1992, the Pentiums ran at about 312 megahertz, just like the Intel chip in my 2006 BlackBerry. The difference being that the 1992 Intel chip cost about $400, in volume. That's the cheap revolution at work -- the flipside of Moore's Law.

The second-order effect is hyper-charged global capitalism. Bestsellers have been written on the rapid rise of China, India, Southeastern Asia, Eastern Europe and so on. Of course, many factors from supply-side tax policies to open trade have contributed to the global boom. But cheap technology is at the center of it, first and foremost. That's because the ticket to entry into the global economy today is not a computer costing $2,000 running on a $400 chip. Rather, it is a Web-enabled phone costing $200 running on a $20 chip.

Think about it. If the average educated Chinese or Czech citizen had to pay $2,000 to enter the grid of the global economy, they'd still be sending faxes.

These are the twin forces blowing in Apple's face when it priced its revolutionary iPhone at $599. Cool as the iPhone is -- I'm buying one this weekend -- the price could not be sustained in the world of the cheap revolution, where Moore's Law drives the cost down and buyers in China and India will set the price.

Apple need not apologize for cutting prices. It had to. And as for that nutty lawsuit in New York, the court should delete it post haste.

Mr. Karlgaard is the publisher of Forbes.

'All the news that's fit to click' at

'All the news that's fit to click' at
Commentary: Separately, why the Times killed the TimesSelect program
By Jon Friedman

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- It takes a lot to wipe the smile off Vivian Schiller's face.

"People tell me that my biggest character flaw is that I'm a Pollyanna," the general manager of the New York Times' Web site,, told me. However, she couldn't help but frown when pondering the reaction to the recent decision to kill the TimesSelect program.

In 2005, amid fanfare, The New York Times Co. (NYTNew York Times Company

News, chart, profile, more launched TimesSelect, believing that customers would be willing to pay $49.95 a year or $7.95 a month to read columns and other online content as well as to gain access to the Times' vast archives. (There was no charge for print subscribers or for some students and educators.) The program produced annual revenue of about $10 million.

But after news of its demise made the rounds, bloggers proclaimed that TimesSelect had bombed and that the mighty Times miscalculated from the start, ultimately swallowing its pride by putting TimesSelect out of its misery. To be fair, I suspect that a lot of them have simply always hated the Times and were trying to make the paper look bad.

"We're a target," Schiller shrugged over lunch on Monday. "I'm still PO'd that [blogger] Jeff Jarvis called TimesSelect a cynical act. We're the least cynical people around -- for the news business." (Yes, I almost choked on my coffee at the notion that any New York Times people could lack cynicism.)

For the record, Jarvis told me: "What I meant was that by choosing to put up the Times columnists, it was a clever or cynical act. It didn't have an impact on their ad revenues since there are few ads [surrounding] their columnists. It's not like they put travel stories behind a pay wall. I wasn't trying to condemn the whole thing. I was trying to be wryly amusing about their cleverness."

Online strategies

The New York Times isn't alone in trying to find innovative ways to attract readers and turn them into paying customers. Newspapers everywhere are doing much the same thing. Just this week, the Financial Times said it would be unveiling a plan for its online content, in which it allowed 30 free views before asking readers to subscribe.

Yet naturally, media hounds immediately started to speculate that the Times made the move to pre-empt the rival Wall Street Journal, the jewel of Dow Jones (DJDJ

News, chart, profile, more which is acquiring Dow Jones, is said to be considering the idea of eventually converting into a free site. Dow Jones also owns MarketWatch, the publisher of this column.

Schiller downplayed the chatter, saying the mechanism was in place before news broke that News Corp. had made an unsolicited bid for Dow Jones.

"Our projections for growth on that paid subscriber base were low, compared to the growth of online advertising,'' Schiller told Times media reporter Richard Perez-Pena last month.

"There's no mystery to it," Schiller told me the other day.

The flaw in Schiller's argument is that is a monument to the success that a fee-based Web site can still enjoy in 2007. It has a paid-subscriber base of nearly 1 million customers.

When TimesSelect was being launched, I wrote that the Times was suggesting its loyal liberal reader base would pony up a nominal fee to continue reading the likes of such widely followed columnists as Maureen Dowd, Frank Rich, Paul Krugman, Nick Kristof and (yes, even the resident conservative on the bench) David Brooks. See related column. Ultimately, TimesSelect attracted about 225,000 paying customers of its own.

Focus on growth
The's growth strategy centers on the in-house mantra, "All the News That's Fit to Click," a twist on the newspaper's age-old motto, "All the News That's Fit to Print.", which was introduced in 1996 and now claims some 13 million unique users, has more than 30 blogs and 12 daily and weekly podcasts. It also generates 100-plus original video segments a month

"The whole marketing campaign stems from how people don't think of us only as an online newspaper," Schiller said. "You don't know what's going to stick. Slide shows have taken off like a rocket, accounting for 10% of our page views in August. Our strategy is to unleash the creativity of our journalists to tell their stories and build communities around areas of interest."

While the Times failed to give more specific statistics about the success of the slide shows, Schiller noted: "What it says to me is that you can figure out a compelling way to deliver news and information to the readers. What do we do next? We do more of them. We're thrilled that people are attracted to the core of what The New York Times is."

To flourish online, Schiller stressed, the Times doesn't intend merely to fall back on its world-class reputation.

"You can't just say 'Come and get it' any more," she said, leaning forward for emphasis. "You've got to push your content out. You've got to skate where the puck is going."

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Playboy Freer Online, More Restrained in Print

Playboy Freer Online, More Restrained in Print
Mag Cuts Circ 13% as It Tries to Keep Up With 'Revolution'
By Nat Ives

It's not easy for magazine publishers to set priorities in this tilting media landscape, where print advertising brings top dollar but web audiences grow fastest. Playboy -- a title whose content falls squarely into a category that people will still pay real money for online -- is undertaking what some would call a risky strategy: reducing its paid print circulation while at the same time trying to attract an online audience that wants free content.

Instead of obsessing over retaining print readers and trying to sell content online, as in the past, Playboy's brand managers will now try to expand its reach wherever that may be. Plenty of publishers have proclaimed similar philosophies, of course, but the tough practical choices involved lend Playboy some extra credibility. As part of its reorientation, Playboy is slashing its paid circulation to 2.6 million from 3 million, a 13% reduction, effective with the January issue. That will compound a cut of nearly 5% just two years earlier.

"We have a very strong print product, but there is a revolution that is taking place around us," said Bob Meyers, president of the media group at Playboy Enterprises. "There is a very dramatic change in the way the consumer is consuming media."

Media buyers once saw falling rate base as a sign of weakness. Now many say downsizing is shrewd.

"My sense is they're accepting reality, which is fantastic," said Rishad Tobaccowala, president of Denuo Group, a Publicis Groupe unit devoted to emerging media. "Magazines have tended to fixate and look at everything through their distribution window. They thought about the magazine, the physical thing."

For many titles, that strategy has become outdated. As maintaining big circulation has gotten more expensive and less rewarding, publishers have stripped millions of copies from sales guarantees at magazines as diverse as Reader's Digest, Time, Woman's Day, TV Guide, BusinessWeek and even Star magazine, the only celebrity weekly to ever reduce rate base.

Despite a raft of shutdowns from Premiere to Child to Jane, most magazines aren't going away. The business is just being redefined. "No one is going to be in the magazine business," Mr. Tobaccowala predicted. "They're going to be in the content business, of which magazines will be one component."

Tear down this walll
While Playboy shrinks its print presence, it's also retooling its website to better coordinate editorial and ad sales with print. Until a redesign last week, was set up to point surfers toward content that lived behind a pay wall, hoping to continue a print model that required subscriptions. But like The New York Times Online, which demolished the two-year-old pay walls around its columnists Sept. 19, Playboy has decided to prioritize traffic and the ad revenue its growth should attract by featuring more of the content on its site's home page that viewers can get free.

"We were myopic in creating a gateway that would drive people into a pay area," Mr. Meyers said. "We didn't take full advantage of the fact that there are many other dimensions of the Playboy experience online. There wasn't as robust an online ad business then as there is now. There wasn't the sophistication and the widgets that could help us create a community today."

Andrew Swinand, president-chief client officer at Starcom USA, said he supported Playboy's new path -- despite the pain involved. "The challenge is right now the financials on online don't make up for the financials in print," he said.

Media remix

Media remix
By Alan Mutter

There could be two reasons advertising expenditures for the major media declined in the first half of this year for the first time since the tech bubble burst in 2001. Or, maybe three.

One cause could be that advertisers, fearing a weak economy, are cutting back on expenditures to sustain their bottom lines. The other is that advertisers are funneling more dollars into non-traditional media. And the third possibility - the one I favor - is both of the above.

Ad outlays slipped by 0.3% to $72.6 billion in the first six months of 2007 from the same period a year ago, according to TNS Media Intelligence, a company that tries to sleuth out where marketers, who don't necessarily want people knowing what they're doing, spend their dough.

The sales drop was not spread equally among the media. As you will see from the graph below, the period was kind to such media as the Internet (+17.7%), business magazines (+6.7%), outdoor (+3.9%) and cable TV (+2.8%). The shortfalls were suffered by consumer magazines (-7.2%), newspapers (-5.8%), broadcast TV (-4.1%) and radio (-2.7%).

Advancing the theory that the over-all decline in ad sales is the result of uncertain economic conditions, Steven Fredericks, the chief executive of TNS said: "While the protracted downturn in automotive spending has been a prime contributor, the overall results reflect weakness across a wide range of industries and advertisers. Given the uncertainties about near-term economic growth and consumer spending, we expect core ad spending will continue to face challenges during the second half of the year."

I think Steven's probably right. But I also think fewer ad dollars are flowing to the several media his compnay happens to monitor. Maybe lots fewer, to wit:

Even though TNS reported that the nation's top brewers cut their traditional spending by 24%, or $131 million, during the first six months of 2007, "brewers insist they haven't cut [total marketing] spending at all," reports Jeremy Mullman of Advertising Age, adding that "in many cases [they] have increased it."

Far from vanishing, "beer bucks are flowing into less-traditional sponsorship and promotional activities that services such as TNS don't pick up on,'' says Jeremy. "Moreover, as a result of the influx of smaller brands into the big brewers' portfolios, more of their ad budgets are being channeled into local media, which the brewers say TNS doesn't measure, either."

Instead of buying commercials and print ads, reports Jeremy, brewers nowadays are paying for product placement in entertainment programming (not measured by TNS-type services) and sponsoring promotional events like a bar "Olympics" in Chicago.

If you work at a mainstream media company and happen to believe, like me, that brewers aren't the only ones forsaking the MSM for non-traditional ways to connect with customers, then you ought to start thinking about how you can help marketers engage creatively with consumers in your market.

Maybe it's in print or on the air. But maybe it's in a saloon.

For the Rich, Magazines Fat on Ads

For the Rich, Magazines Fat on Ads

The rich will always be a good bet in publishing. First, they have the money, at least most of it. Second, they have the time, which is the by far the biggest luxury of our age.

So until the rich hire other people to read for them, a magazine is a good way to get their attention. Particularly now, it turns out.

Last week, a new Trump Magazine was announced by Ocean Drive Media Group. The week before, The Wall Street Journal announced Pursuits, a magazine supplement, which will compete with the baldly named How to Spend It from The Financial Times and the cryptically named T magazines from The New York Times.

Forbes, a publication that would seem to know a thing or two about rich folks, began publishing ForbesLife Executive Women last month. Condé Nast Publishing is currently investing many millions in Portfolio, a business-inflected lifestyle magazine that suggests that the rich and powerful like to read about the rich and powerful.

Coming on top of magazines like The Robb Report, which is full of impossibly expensive goods, magazines like Gotham and Hamptons from Niche Media and the Modern Luxury chain of moneyed local publications, it would seem that while the rest of the industry is scrambling to fight off the Web and irrelevancy, there is a bull market in wealth.

During the 1990s, magazines like Money, Fortune and Red Herring got fat on wealth how-to's, but the current crop skips that icky middle part about actually earning the money. Look for other publishers to cash in on the already arrived: maybe there's still room for magazines called Lucky Stiff, I've Got Mine or Born on Third Base.

And it's not just the guys. As reported in The New York Times, a recent study by a professor at Queens College pointed out that women in their 20s working full time in many American cities earn more than their male counterparts, creating a more gender-neutral wealth base that certainly has helped luxury women's magazines. Pity the poor mail carriers who have to deliver Vogue, W, Elle and Harper's Bazaar, which all put out huge September issues that seemed to weigh more than models in them. Vogue weighed 4.9 pounds and had 727 advertising pages, a 16 percent increase over last year; W was 4.5 pounds with 477 pages of ads.

"Luxury continues to be a lush tropical island in a sea of complaints in the publishing industry," said Reed Phillips, a media investment banker.

What gives? And, more important for the magazine business, will it last?

There is, as has recently been noted in The New York Times, no shortage of swells. The number of millionaires rose by 26 percent from 2000 to 2005, a total of more than 303,000, which is a lot of rich people.

America used to have a corner on wealth, but Russia and China are minting millionaires by the day, and they covet luxury in all languages. And it is worth remembering that much of the advertising that is jamming American luxury magazines is coming from foreign brands that find even the most expensive advertising buy can look mighty cheap given the feeble American dollar.

Part of the flight to luxury magazines is simple me-too, the most persistent trend of all in publishing, and maybe that alone should tell us the end of the boom is near. But luxury also represents one part of the business that will not succumb to the Web anytime soon.

Luxury is all about sensation, about touch, about look. Advertisers may look for efficiency in all of their buys, but in the publishing world, it is all about environment. They want to smell the money coming off the pages.

An aesthetic is being offered, one that suggests, as Mason Cooley did, that the rich are just naturally happier than we are because, well, they should be.

But it is not just about rich people. Luxury has been defined down any number of ways. "Sex and the City" is now in wide syndication, which means that most of the country now knows that Jimmy Choo is not a kind of beef jerky. BMW is introducing the 1 Series next year with a lower point of entry for the aspirant. Even if you can't afford a baby Beemer, you can express your taste in finery in everything from coffee to chocolate. And while other teenage magazines folded, Teen Vogue proved that brand aspiration can be baked in at a very young age.

"It's true that there is a small percentage of people who continue to become wealthier and wealthier, but just underneath that, there is a very large percentage of people who are completely enamored with luxury goods," said Robert Burke, a consultant on luxury in New York. Mr. Burke said that the surge in desire for precious things is not unlike what happened in Japan 15 years ago. "People want those things that give them a feeling of luxury in all sorts of products and at all kinds of income levels."

Even with the subprime mess and question marks over big merger deals, the ferocious and fundamentally undemocratic concentration of wealth still seems unstoppable. But the French Revolution proved that it is difficult to preserve epic economic imbalance.

The skeptics might point to other cultural indicators that the luxury boom has topped out. The ka-jillionaire Mark Cuban appearance on this season's "Dancing With the Stars" comes to mind, as does Damien Hirst's $100 million diamond-encrusted skull, a totem of an excessive age that was snapped up at the end of the summer.

Excessive wealth is providing fuel for an otherwise impoverished industry. Like fossil fuels, it is bound to peter out at some point, but no one knows exactly when. In the meantime, let them eat Coach.

Monday, October 01, 2007

AM, FM Radio Predicted to End in 15 Years

AM, FM Radio Predicted to End in 15 Years
TV/Radio Writer

In an address that made the musings of Nostradamus seem rosy by comparison, a respected industry observer warned radio executives Wednesday that their industry would all but evaporate within 20 years.

Michael Harrison, publisher of the talk-radio magazine Talkers, told a group at the National Association of Broadcasters Radio Show that competing technologies -- like Internet, Wi-Fi, podcasts and cell phones -- would all but fill the niche they now occupy.

"These are dark times for terrestrial radio," Harrison said. "And most people in terrestrial radio are in denial of it."

Meeting this week at the Charlotte Convention Center are more than 4,000 radio industry executives, on-air personalities and station owners for the NAB's annual gathering.

Harrison, who entered broadcasting in 1967 and has published Talkers since 1990, said he believes most listeners will abandon the traditional AM and FM radio services and migrate to new technologies in the next two decades.

"The next 15 years will be the demise of terrestrial radio as we know it and the rise of the extraterrestrial," he said. Just as Vaudeville gave way to movies and horses to the automobile, he said, radio will be overtaken by gadgets that serve people's needs more efficiently.

Radio isn't an industry in need of a pep talk -- profit margins of 40 percent are not uncommon at stations and listenership has held up well compared with the erosion of broadcast television.

But advertising revenues are flattening, innovations like HD radio have been all but ignored by the public and the industry is struggling with finding a revenue model that works with new technology like Internet streaming.

"It's amazing how little our industry is doing to slow down the deterioration," Harrison said.

What will succeed in radio in the intermediate years, he predicted, will be talk radio because it provides content that can't be duplicated elsewhere.

"That doesn't mean conservative talk, progressive talk or a person spending three hours in a room bloviating," he said. "I'm talking about the unhindered, infinite vista of what can be done with the spoken word."
He said he believes that ever smaller -- yet more valuable -- niches will be served by radio, ones that advertisers find attractive because of their pool of specialized listeners, drawn to programming serving their interests.

Music may vanish first
Music formats, which will be widely available from a variety of sources, are most vulnerable, Harrison said.Bill White, program director of Charlotte's WBT-AM (1110), told those attending that his station has found success by focusing intensely on community-oriented programming and by serving local sponsors. "And we have a lot of fun," White added.

Richard Neer, a sportscaster on New York's sports radio station WFAN, said although his station isn't a ratings leader in its market, it is highly successful because of the sports-talk niche it serves.

"It's going to be the last surviving dinosaur," said Neer, who lives in Mooresville and connects electronically with WFAN for his show. "It's specifically aimed at a very passionate audience."

Furthermore, Neer said, stations like WFAN are more resistant to upstarts in emerging media because the station's informational infrastructure includes reporters, broadcast talent and other journalistic sources. "I don't know how anyone in their garage 10 years from now can do what we do," he said.

Experts described NASCAR as a marketer's dream sport Wednesday, one so flexible that innovations for new advertising strategies are being constantly invented.

In a panel presented at the National Association of Broadcasters Radio Show, being held this week at the Charlotte Convention Center, marketing consultant Max Muhleman told delegates that branding strategies in NASCAR go beyond that of any other professional sport and tie the logos and products more closely to the athletes.

"They see them on the backs of the stars, on the chests of the stars, on the hook and trunks of these 200 mph rockets that run around the track," he said.

It is a long stretch from the early days of the sport in the 1940s and `50s, he said, when he recalled seeing stock cars sponsored by "Sue's Cafe" or "Smith's Chevrolet." Sponsorships for cars now run upwards of $25 million.

Will publishers take a punt on pixels with the e-book?

Will publishers take a punt on pixels with the e-book?
It's been rumoured for years, but now e-books are being taken seriously at last.
By Daniel Lee

We could soon be able to read all our books electronically rather than in great chunks of decorated paper and cardboard, according to leading authors, agents and publishers.

New chapter? Howard Stringer of Sony with the company's Reader e-book
"In two years there will something that is sufficiently sexy to tempt a lot of people," predicts Simon Trewin, who co-runs the literary division of leading international literary and talent agency Peters and Fraser & Dunlop (PFD), which represents the likes of Alan Bennett, Margaret Drabble and Joanna Trollope. Electronic versions of books might offer clever extras, such as footnotes that automatically update, embedded movie clips, and links through to discussion forums.

"Publishing has to evolve or it will die," Trewin adds. "The cyber generation spends the majority of its leisure and work time in front of screens and we need to find ways of taking books and author-led content to this audience."

Publishers are not wasting time. They are preparing the ground for this new era of the book, says Linda Bennett, founder of Gold Leaf, a company that recently researched the uptake of "e-books". "People talk about the tipping point. In the academic world this was 2005 and now most academic publishers go online if they can. This year the big publishers are digitising their content" - uploading it in electronic form to their websites and letting users "browse" novels. "The electronics industry is developing handheld readers. We could expect an almost paper-like electronic reader towards the end of this year. Some electronic readers will upload between 50 and 500 novels, which will be great for travelling."

Heady stuff, indeed, and this new magic is not going to be missed by Harry Potter publisher Bloomsbury, which is also home to big names such as Margaret Atwood and the chef Heston Blumenthal. A few months ago its chairman, Nigel Newton, talked of using new media to "create a unique community for readers, writers and publishers??as well as our digitisation project".

With this vision in mind, the company's dotcom director, Stephanie Duncan, explains the possibilities for e-reading. "The nature of the specific book will determine whether or not e-books change the reading experience." Duncan says that while links to other websites or books would be appropriate for reference books, they won't work for novels. "People want to get immersed in a work of fiction, such as a novel, and it will be important for them not to be distracted by other things."

All exciting plot twists for the next chapter in the story of the written word, but is that likely to be the final chapter for the life of the printed book? Not according to Duncan. "The new forms of publishing will be complementary with traditional books," she says. "We started with hardbacks, then paperbacks, now digital. Everybody likes reading books differently."

Trewin agrees. "Along with hundreds of thousands of other people, I love the smell of a book's binding, the quality of the stitching and the paper quality," he says. "The publishing world can have some huge fun with digital versions of books but we will still need authors with amazing imaginations."

Freedoms offered by e?reading could open up much more choice and create a richer literary landscape for the reader. "Reader choice has been hindered enormously by publishers ceding control to the booksellers," Trewin says.

"The notion of taking the reading experience online may reclaim some of that lost ground." Just as cinema did not kill theatre and TV did not kill cinema, it seems that e-reading is unlikely to kill the printed book. Each new piece of technology is another chance for self-expression.

Wallpaper* Founder Believes in Print Media

Tyler Brûlé's tunnel vision
Canadian journalist's new publication, Monocle, has a European sensibility, private backers and a hefty cover price.
Special to The Times

The death of print is often lamented among media types these days, in the era of Google ads and the mad exodus of advertisers from dreary old ink-on-paper. But Tyler Brûlé doesn't buy it.

The London-based founder and editor of Wallpaper*, the definitive late-1990s design-travel-shelter-entertaining-lifestyle magazine, stopped over in Los Angeles on his way to Silicon Valley recently to barnstorm upscale advertising targets -- Apple, Lexus -- for his new publication, Monocle, which is targeted at the borderless global elite. Brûlé has mixed views on the city. "L.A. is full of extremes for me," he said. "I love the Modernist architecture but loathe the strip malls. And I want to see more neighborhoods where people walk and bike and get out of their cars."

A vintage Brûlé comment, and one that neatly summarizes his attitude about a life lived well and his ambitions for his latest magazine. Monocle, which has been available since early this year, strives to combine Brûlé's indefatigable cosmopolitanism with his desire to improve the world, one devoted reader at a time. In a media world where words are a vanishing species, Monocle practically wallows in its allegiance to a theoretically outmoded publication model: uncoated paper stock, precisely set columns of type and a smooth mix of photography, illustration and info-graphics. There's also a website,, but it's thus far a rudimentary exercise. The not inexpensive print version -- $10 a pop in the U.S., published 10 times a year -- is clearly where his 38-year-old heart lies. In fact, Monocle is a dense, multilayered allusion to the heyday of a certain kind of serious printed enterprise.

Most new magazines these days do not boldly describe themselves, as Monocle does, as "a briefing on global affairs, business, culture and design." Nor do they take an avowed anti-celebrity stance (a "house rule," according to Brûlé). If Monocle's hybrid of the old-school news weekly and the Japanese "magalog," of which Condé Nast's Lucky is the best known version, can succeed, then there will be a strong indication that a serious youth audience for print continues to exist.

Brûlé is optimistic. "I have a personal passion for news and foreign affairs," he said, munching on breakfast bacon at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills. "I'm not obsessed with looking at someone's constantly updated blog." With his neat beard, Rolex and olive-drab blazer, he still looks the part of the foreign correspondent he once was.

Remember Time? Remember Newsweek? No, not in their current, etiolated incarnations, but in their 1970s glory, when the far-ranging weekly news digest strode large upon the media landscape. That generation of American glossies is just the tip of Brûlé's iceberg. His fetishistic inspiration for Monocle is the hard-core news weekly of his European youth, magazines like Germany's Der Spiegel and Stern, deftly covering culture, strife and political malfeasance with depth, insight and -- not incidentally -- great photography. Brûlé's model for Monocle embraces provocative, unapologetically self-important magazine-making, the sort of thing that has now migrated to the Economist and the New York Review of Books.

In many respects, Brûlé, who is gay and in a long-term relationship but seemingly indifferent to sexual politics, is the perfect Gen X media entrepreneur. Monocle, with its features on the "Top 20 Liveable Cities," stories on startup running-shoe companies, artfully composed fashion spreads and concluding manga comic, combines Brûlé's romantic view of journalism with an eminently futuristic vision of how the post-boomer cadre wants to live.

Like his fellow Canadian-born magazine impresario, Vanity Fair's Graydon Carter, Brûlé has managed to create -- twice now -- something of absorbing visual elegance that's also worth reading.

Of course, with Monocle, one also gets Brûlé's other passion: shopping. Readers of the New York Times "T" Style magazines will be familiar with this side of his personality, as over the years he has contributed globe-trotting speculations on how to obtain the perfect luggage and the most versatile sportswear. Stuff has always been on his mind: He runs a design firm in addition to developing magazines. After Wallpaper* was bought by Time Warner and Brûlé eventually departed, he revamped the Swiss national airline's visual identity. In fact, a preoccupation with a level of design esoterica accessible mainly to the international jet set of the Clinton administration was a consistent knock against Wallpaper*. The stimulating lifestyle proposed by the magazine came with an entry fee that far exceeded the cover price and implied a fairly lofty tax bracket.

This may be the battle that defines Brûlé's editorial soul, but he can always dodge assaults on his cred by showcasing the war wounds: the actual war wounds, sustained during an ambush, when he was a young, college-dropout freelancer (for, naturally, a German news weekly) in Afghanistan, hitching a ride with Doctors Without Borders. One bullet destroyed nerves in his left arm, robbing him of the use of his hand. The other round chewed into his right forearm, leaving a nasty reminder whenever he rolls up his sleeves.

In fact, Brûlé credits his convalescence period with giving him the time he needed to dream up Wallpaper*. "I felt sorry for myself," he said. "But the doctor said I should learn to cook to help regain some ability with my hand, and I had just moved into an ugly house in England that needed to be decorated. In 1996 there was a reurbanization going on. It was cool to live in the city. Being in the suburbs and having a big house was not what it was all about." According to Brûlé, he packaged this new urbanist sensibility with travel and entertaining and -- presto! -- Wallpaper* was born.

It did not take long for the magazine to achieve escape velocity, in media terms, nor for Brûlé to sell the fledging publication in 1997 to giant Time Warner, where it is still being produced (although the aftermath of 9/11 and the ascent of more ecologically oriented shelter books such as Dwell have undermined some of its original editorial philosophy). He stayed on the masthead for another four years and then departed to focus on his design work.

"I left Time Warner after signing a long non-compete agreement," he said, explaining why he worked primarily as a branding consultant and newspaper columnist, for outlets such as the Financial Times, before the Monocle launch.

The September issue, No. 6, is fat with luxury advertisers. Brûlé's introductory brief on nation-branding -- "If brand is everything then the concept of place branding is still virgin territory" -- is preceded by lush pitches from Ralph Lauren, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Versace, Prada, Hugo Boss and Tod's. What follows, however, is the furthest thing from fluff. There is page after page of dense yet enticing text, laced with savvy argument and writerly panache. By and large, the writers are not big names but rather versatile journalists who can get the job done.

You can say one thing about Monocle: It's no flip-through. This is a magazine that intends to occupy coffee tables for months, then be passed along to spend time on other people's coffee tables, before being stored in acid-free archival boxes. This is National Geographic territory, and don't chuckle, because that hoary bastion of photojournalism is another of Brûlé's inspirations.

Brûlé has so much faith in Monocle's prospects that he and his partners -- including a quintet of wealthy international families putting up some of the funds -- have decided to induce subscribers to foot a radically larger chunk of the bill than they are accustomed to. "You can't leave it all up to the advertisers," he said. "And the discount subscription model is wrong." The result, for a magazine that would cost $100 to buy yearly at the newsstand? A $150 subscription, which includes access to Monocle's online archive. (He says that Monocle currently has 4,000 subscribers.)

"I've always sought the mortar to bind my divergent interest together," he said. "With Monocle, I decided we needed something more bookish. Yeah, there's a lot to read in the magazine. But that's the idea."

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Although healthier than newspapers, consumer magazines have problems

Although healthier than newspapers, consumer magazines have problems
BY Emily Field

Who wants to buy some magazines?

THIS week bankers have a perfect excuse to pore over pictures of scantily clad models, fast cars and film stars: Emap, a British media firm that straddles consumer magazines, radio and trade exhibitions, is up for sale, and bids are due by early October. Emap has 50 magazine titles, which produced revenues of £408m ($773m) in the year to March 2007, and its sale will attract international attention. Foreign publishers are expected to bid, as are private-equity firms. The outcome will be a timely judgment on the prospects for consumer-magazine publishers in the developed world.

In America and Europe magazine publishers have a common lament: total circulation is either flat or declining slightly as people devote more time to the internet, and an ever greater share of advertising spending is going online. Magazine units are mostly a drag on growth for their parents. Time Inc, the world's biggest magazine company, has to fend off rumours that its parent, Time Warner, will sell it. People in the industry expect that Time Warner will soon sell IPC Media, its British magazine subsidiary. In Germany publishers reckon that Bertelsmann, a media conglomerate, may sell Gruner + Jahr, its magazine unit, when its new chief executive takes over in January 2008.

"It's a long, slow sunset for ink-on-paper magazines," says Felix Dennis, a publishing entrepreneur, "but sunsets can produce vast sums of money." He recently sold his firm's American arm, which publishes Maxim, a racy men's magazine, to Quadrangle Capital Partners, a private-equity business, for a reported $240m.

The business model for consumer magazines is under pressure from several directions at once, both online and off. Magazines have become more expensive to launch, and the cost of attracting and keeping new subscribers has risen. In America newsstand sales have been worryingly weak, partly because supermarkets dominate distribution and shelf-space is in short supply.

The internet's popularity has hit men's titles the hardest. FHM, Emap's flagship "lads" magazine, for instance, lost a quarter of its circulation in the year to June, its lingerie-clad lovelies finding it hard to compete with online porn. Not long ago consumer magazines were Emap's prize asset, but slowing growth from the division contributed to the company's decision to put itself up for sale. Men's magazines are in trouble in most developed-world markets. In France, America and Italy, the three biggest magazine markets for Lagardère Active, part of Lagardère, a French conglomerate, men have quickly switched from magazines to online services, says Carlo d'Asaro Biondo, the division's head of international operations. "We have solved the problem in the automotive sector with new web services," he says, "but no magazine publisher has cracked the problem as a whole yet."

There are good reasons why magazine owners should not feel despondent, however. For readers, many of the pleasing characteristics of magazines-their portability and glossiness, for instance-cannot be matched online. And magazines are not losing younger readers in droves in the way that newspapers are. According to a study carried out last year by the digital arm of Ogilvy Group, a communications company, appetite for magazines is largely unchanged between older "baby boomers" and young "millennials".

On the advertising side, magazines are faring much better than newspapers, which are losing big chunks of revenue as classified advertising shifts online. Advertisers like the fact that in many genres, such as fashion, readers accept and value magazine ads and even consider them part of the product.

Unfortunately, magazine publishers have been slow to get onto the internet. "Eighteen months ago the internet was something they worried about after 4pm on Friday," says Peter Kreisky, a consultant to the media industry, "but now it's at the heart of their business model." Meredith, a magazine publisher from the mid-west of America with old-fashioned brands such as Better Homes and Gardens, recently held an internet "boot-camp" for its executives to teach them internet basics.

To their credit, big magazine firms are doing far more than replicating their print products online. Whereas newspapers have concentrated on transferring print journalism to the internet, magazines offer people useful, fun services online-Lagardère's Car and Driver website, for instance, offers virtual test drives, and Better Homes and Gardens online has a 3D planning tool to help people redesign their homes.

Magazine firms disagree on whether to take existing brands online or try to do something new for the internet. Condé Nast believes it can cast a wider net by creating themed websites that use some magazine content but also go beyond to appeal to a bigger market. "You've got to have scale on the internet, and magazine brands can be limiting online," says Sarah Chubb, president of CondéNet, the firm's internet division, which runs a number of portals such as Some magazine editors have objected. Anna Wintour, the editor-in-chief of Vogue, is said to have noted the popularity of and asked why it couldn't be called (American Vogue will in fact get its own website soon.)

Time Inc, in contrast, has stuck to its big magazine brands with and with, its website for Sports Illustrated. The price, competitors say, is that Time Inc cannot do the sort of sarcastic, bitchy celebrity gossip that people like on the internet for fear of tarnishing the brand of People, and therefore cedes first place for entertainment to (also owned by Time Warner), which excels at it. But is able to charge advertisers a premium, points out John Squires, executive vice-president of Time Inc, because of the quality of its brand. And surfers are highly engaged with People online: in June each visitor to the site looked at an average of 85 pages, compared with 13 for In financial terms, says Mr Squires, would now rank among the firm's most profitable monthly magazines.

The internet still brings magazine companies a fraction of what they earn in print. Publishers have found that websites are good at winning and keeping subscribers, but few pay their own way. If Emap closed down all its magazine sites tomorrow, says a publishing executive, the company would make more money. Even though magazine firms have built attractive sites, says Andreas von Buchwaldt of OC&C Strategy Consultants in Hamburg, huge independent communities on the internet have often already formed, and it is hard for magazine brands to achieve leading positions. In six countries in Europe including France and Germany, for instance, an internet-only brand,, dominates the women's category.

Before the credit crunch, observers expected some or all of Emap to go to private equity. Now publishing firms are perhaps better placed to win. It is possible that no one will pay a good price for consumer magazines at the moment. That would add to the industry's gloom. But it might also encourage media conglomerates to stick at magazines and have a proper go at revamping them for the digital age.

All Digital, All Commerce, All The Time

All Digital, All Commerce, All The Time
by Diane Mermigas

Get over the stale notions of what you think convergence ought to be.

It is becoming abundantly clear that every digital interactive device and platform will be driven by advertising, marketing and transactions. The digital era will invariably be about commerce before intellectual and altruistic pursuits. The connected consumer is the unifying catalyst. Accepting that realization makes so much about this chaotic and exciting transition easier to comprehend.

All the dazzling gizmos (like Apple's iPhone), search platforms (like Google), transaction springboards (like Amazon), social networks (like MySpace), content aggregators (like Yahoo) and communications services (like Verizon) are propelled by one conviction: Making a fortune by connecting targeted consumers with other people, marketers, services and content that most interests them.

That convenience may cost consumers more of their privacy, freedom and peace of mind than they want to concede. Those tradeoffs are at the heart of most Internet-related controversies, including all the grandstanding in Washington this week over whether its proposed $3.1 billion acquisition of DoubleClick will make Google even more powerful.

Don't blame Google for having the algorithms and savvy to give consumers and businesses what they appear to want from interactivity. It's too late for fear and resistance. The genie already is out of the bottle. The salient issue is how to embrace the unwieldy digital beast to get what you need without being eaten alive.

One prerequisite is accepting and understanding the commercial imperative of the new digital interactive landscape. Content may be king, but it also is a major means to an end. If a consumer gets hooked on an online video, Web site, service, communications or e-shopping platform, there are hundreds more that can be instantly and electronically peddled. The powers of association and linking have never been more potent and dangerous.

Every connected consumer becomes a profile treasure trove with the ability to generate lots of money for companies that pay for access, share revenues and complete transactions. Interactivity is becoming fundamental to everyone and everything, including pitching and selling products and services. And it will eventually provide the groundwork for the only kind of user accountability that makes sense-the most intrusive, but accurate click-and-track metrics that will make Nielsen Media's consumer samples and estimates seem like child's play.

The eventual convergence of all content and all ad platforms with all things digital should surprise no one, but it still does. Speakers at industry conferences, trade shows and government hearings wax self-promoting predictions and positions that sometimes smack of convergence truths. The whirlwind of daily developments and trends is overwhelming. Connecting all those disparate dots is an arduous task.

Here are a few initial observations about this paradigm shift.

*Just a few decades ago, consumers and advertisers trapped in an analog world were convinced that media conglomerates (broadcast networks and film studios) were monopolistic forces driven only by the need to transform their estimated TV viewers into ratings points, which could be cashed in for premium ad dollars. Although they are still struggling with that commercial mandate and archaic measurement system, the big media players have been reduced to smaller fish in a bigger pond. Will we be saying the same about Google 20 years from now?

*When not only monetizing but manipulating consumers becomes media's singular goal, via fragmented niche users and communities, it may lose sight of loftier endeavors, like truth and knowledge. Those stakes are bigger now than when 30-second spots invaded prime time and news shows. There is strength in special-interest communities that is yet to be tapped. Just how niche and far down the long tail can advertising and content get and still be commercially viable? We're about to find out.

*The gold standard of interactive marketing will be catching the consumer at the opportune time. One of the goals will be anticipating individual needs or wants with a coupon or message on a portable digital device that can be used to make a purchase. Why then are local media and advertisers so slow to catch on? National advertisers are already on it, using new GPS and texting software being designed for mobile devices.

*If the advertising overlay on Facebook, Google's YouTube and News Corp.'s MySpace look like creeping commerce, it's because it is. Deal with it. Google refers to itself as a tech force creating an ecosystem for information online. But what good would these ecosystems and social communities be without adding a commercial element to pay the way?

*If you buy the convergence-in-all-things theory, then there is plenty of sense in Google's attempt to spread its search analytics and new applications to the wireless spectrum where it can behave and charge just like any other utility. Likewise, Amazon's new digital MP3 music store answer to Apple's iTunes, and Microsoft's aQuantive response to Google's proposed DoubleClick display advertising initiative are just the opening salvos in a lively competition across all media, advertising and commerce lines.

*All forms of competing advertising are on a convergence path. So why have newspapers forfeited their online future by giving up their core classified advertising to Craigslist? Conversely, Yahoo is on track to restore positive revenues for its seven newspaper partners as early as 2009. The lines of demarcation so painfully drawn today between so-called new and old media must dissipate for the creation new economic value and opportunities. From the Internet to television to newspapers, all media eventually will settle into a continuum across which content, services, consumers and advertisers will interchangeably move.

*If you think the nearly $290 billion ad pie is big, just wait until it morphs into all digital marketing and commerce. As the lines blur, the economic imperative becomes selling what you can to whomever you can in a click. The smart phone will be the premiere interactive device, which means more iPhone copycats and more intriguing creative changes in mobile advertising, commerce and consumer behavior.

*All the flip allegations about Google wanting to take over the world demonstrate a patent ignorance of reality. The Internet and digital interactivity is borderless, just like Google's economic designs and ambitions. Why aren't other U.S.-based businesses aggressively following suit?

What Ails the Short Story

What Ails the Short Story

The American short story is alive and well.
Do you like the sound of that? Me too. I only wish it were actually true. The art form is still alive - that I can testify to. As editor of "The Best American Short Stories 2007," I read hundreds of them, and a great many were good stories. Some were very good. And some seemed to touch greatness. But "well"? That's a different story.

I came by my hundreds - which now overflow several cardboard boxes known collectively as The Stash - in a number of different ways. A few were recommended by writers and personal friends. A few more I downloaded from the Internet. Large batches were sent to me on a regular basis by Heidi Pitlor, the series editor. But I've never been content to stay on the reservation, and so I also read a great many stories in magazines I bought myself, at bookstores and newsstands in Florida and Maine, the two places where I spend most of the year. I want to begin by telling you about a typical short-story-hunting expedition at my favorite Sarasota mega-bookstore. Bear with me; there's a point to this.

I go in because it's just about time for the new issues of Tin House and Zoetrope: All-Story. There will certainly be a new issue of The New Yorker and perhaps Glimmer Train and Harper's. No need to check out The Atlantic Monthly; its editors now settle for publishing their own selections of fiction once a year in a special issue and criticizing everyone else's the rest of the time. Jokes about eunuchs in the bordello come to mind, but I will suppress them.

So into the bookstore I go, and what do I see first? A table filled with best-selling hardcover fiction at prices ranging from 20 percent to 40 percent off. James Patterson is represented, as is Danielle Steel, as is your faithful correspondent. Most of this stuff is disposable, but it's right up front, where it hits you in the eye as soon as you come in, and why? Because these are the moneymakers and rent payers; these are the glamour ponies.

I walk past the best sellers, past trade paperbacks with titles like "Who Stole My Chicken?," "The Get-Rich Secret" and "Be a Big Cheese Now," past the mysteries, past the auto-repair manuals, past the remaindered coffee-table books (looking sad and thumbed-through with their red discount stickers). I arrive at the Wall of Magazines, which is next door to the children's section, where story time is in full swing. I stare at the racks of magazines, and the magazines stare eagerly back. Celebrities in gowns and tuxes, models in low-rise jeans, luxury stereo equipment, talk-show hosts with can't-miss diet plans - they all scream Buy me, buy me! Take me home and I'll change your life!+

I can grab The New Yorker and Harper's while I'm still standing up, without going to my knees like a school janitor trying to scrape a particularly stubborn wad of gum off the gym floor. For the rest, I must assume exactly that position. I hope the young woman browsing Modern Bride won't think I'm trying to look up her skirt. I hope the young man trying to decide between Starlog and Fangoria won't step on me. I crawl along the lowest shelf, where neatness alone suggests few ever go. And here I find fresh treasure: not just Zoetrope and Tin House, but also Five Points and The Kenyon Review. No Glimmer Train, but there's American Short Fiction, The Iowa Review, even an Alaska Quarterly Review. I stagger to my feet and limp toward the checkout. The total cost of my six magazines runs to over $80. There are no discounts in the magazine section.

So think of me crawling on the floor of this big chain store and ask yourself, What's wrong with this picture?

We could argue all day about the reasons for fiction's out-migration from the eye-level shelves - people have. We could marvel over the fact that Britney Spears is available at every checkout, while an American talent like William Gay or Randy DeVita or Eileen Pollack or Aryn Kyle (all of whom were among my final picks) labors in relative obscurity. We could, but let's not. It's almost beside the point, and besides - it hurts.

Instead, let us consider what the bottom shelf does to writers who still care, sometimes passionately, about the short story. What happens when he or she realizes that his or her audience is shrinking almost daily? Well, if the writer is worth his or her salt, he or she continues on nevertheless, because it's what God or genetics (possibly they are the same) has decreed, or out of sheer stubbornness, or maybe because it's such a kick to spin tales. Possibly a combination. And all that's good.

What's not so good is that writers write for whatever audience is left. In too many cases, that audience happens to consist of other writers and would-be writers who are reading the various literary magazines (and The New Yorker, of course, the holy grail of the young fiction writer) not to be entertained but to get an idea of what sells there. And this kind of reading isn't real reading, the kind where you just can't wait to find out what happens next (think "Youth," by Joseph Conrad, or "Big Blonde," by Dorothy Parker). It's more like copping-a-feel reading. There's something yucky about it.

Last year, I read scores of stories that felt ... not quite dead on the page, I won't go that far, but airless, somehow, and self-referring. These stories felt show-offy rather than entertaining, self-important rather than interesting, guarded and self-conscious rather than gloriously open, and worst of all, written for editors and teachers rather than for readers. The chief reason for all this, I think, is that bottom shelf. It's tough for writers to write (and editors to edit) when faced with a shrinking audience. Once, in the days of the old Saturday Evening Post, short fiction was a stadium act; now it can barely fill a coffeehouse and often performs in the company of nothing more than an acoustic guitar and a mouth organ. If the stories felt airless, why not? When circulation falters, the air in the room gets stale.

And yet. I read plenty of great stories this year. There isn't a single one in this book that didn't delight me, that didn't make me want to crow, "Oh, man, you gotta read this!" I think of such disparate stories as Karen Russell's "St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves," John Barth's "Toga Party" and "Wake," by Beverly Jensen, now deceased, and I think - marvel, really - they paid me to read these! Are you kiddin' me???

Talent can't help itself; it roars along in fair weather or foul, not sparing the fireworks. It gets emotional. It struts its stuff. If these stories have anything in common, it's that sense of emotional involvement, of flipped-out amazement. I look for stories that care about my feelings as well as my intellect, and when I find one that is all-out emotionally assaultive - like "Sans Farine," by Jim Shepard - I grab that baby and hold on tight. Do I want something that appeals to my critical nose? Maybe later (and, I admit it, maybe never). What I want to start with is something that comes at me full-bore, like a big, hot meteor screaming down from the Kansas sky. I want the ancient pleasure that probably goes back to the cave: to be blown clean out of myself for a while, as violently as a fighter pilot who pushes the eject button in his F-111. I certainly don't want some fraidy-cat's writing school imitation of Faulkner, or some stream-of-consciousness about what Bob Dylan once called "the true meaning of a pear."

So - American short story alive? Check. American short story well? Sorry, no, can't say so. Current condition stable, but apt to deteriorate in the years ahead. Measures to be taken? I would suggest you start by reading this year's "Best American Short Stories." They show how vital short stories can be when they are done with heart, mind and soul by people who care about them and think they still matter. They do still matter, and here they are, liberated from the bottom shelf.

Stephen King is the author of 60 books, as well as nearly 400 short stories, including "The Man in the Black Suit," which won the O. Henry Prize in 1996.

Are e-books ready to be read?

Are e-books ready to be read?
Paper publishers don't have cause to worry just yet
by Dave Gordon
Financial Post

The days of door-to-door encyclopedia salesmen are long gone with the Internet being a one-click information source. Now, some even think that the days of actual books are coming to an end.

Author Stephen King tried to set the trend. He made his novel The Plant available on his Web site for online reading in July, 2000. The first two parts were available without conditions. The third part required readers to donate $1 to King. By part four, only 46% of the people who started downloading the book paid for it, according to

But that experiment doesn't mean everyone has closed the chapter on electronic books, or e-books. English language classics are available for free online through the non-profit Project Gutenberg. Google Books is also digitizing public domain books ( com). But, as with most Google searches, you have to know what you're looking for. Google does not provide a list of books, authors or genres to pick from.

While books on computer screens are one part of ebooks, a growing number of books are also becoming available for download to a portable reading device. One device that's gaining traction is the Sony Reader, a handheld tablet just a year on the market. It is about the size of a paperback and can also store PDFs, photos and music files. The battery is said to last 7,500 page turns before requiring a recharge, and it will hold about 80 books in its memory. Sony's device weighs about 200 grams, is about two centimetres thick, with a 15-cm long screen; it retails for about $280. The product is currently unavailable in Canada.

Although the device for reading electronic books has still to be decided, some publishers are priming themselves for the inevitable day when downloadable books gain mass appeal.

Sony has partnered with top publishers to offer content for the Reader, available for purchase at the online Sony Connect store. Random House, Penguin, Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins all have e-book titles and multiple genres to choose from: fiction, non-fiction, classics and children's books. Most sell for $1.99.

"Random House's perspective is that consumers are doing more reading on screens every day. We believe that trend will continue," says Matt Shatz, vice-president, digital, at Random House U.S., which currently offers 6,000 e-titles, with 500 more expected for November.

Lisa Charters, Random House's vice-president and director of online sales and marketing in Canada, laments there are but a handful of Canadian e-book titles --Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake and the Neil Young bio Shakey, to name two. She says that's because many of the reader devices have not yet been made available here.

For smaller publishers, the interest is more tepid. Rob Sanders, vice-president of Vancouver's Douglas & McIntyre and publisher of Greystone Books, says his company is still deciding which titles to offer. "When you ride a subway, you don't see many people reading things on their handheld. Until the market says so, there really isn't a defined and successful platform yet."

Still, he admits, it is just a matter of time before e-books catch on. "Digital delivery of books is going to become much more important in the future than it is today," he says.

Toronto's Insomniac Press has begun to produce a small number of e-books. "Initially, we were releasing them at the same price as paperback and bound editions. We'll actually be lowering the prices of the ebooks. The paper versions are rooted in the costs of printing and distribution. Online, those are radically different costs," says publisher Michael O'Conner.

Talon Books president and publisher Karl Siegler isn't impressed with the hype. "I think e-books has been a pipe dream since people began talking about them in the late '80s," he says, though his company is investigating digitizing some of its books for libraries.

Some in the technology sector are also not convinced ebooks will be a must-have for this Christmas --or even next.

"It's a real pain for most people to read a book on a screen. That said, I do know a small number of people who like e-books. One person even reads them on his tiny Palm Pilot screen," says Jeremy Lichtman, a programmer at MIT Consulting in Toronto.

David Silverberg, managing editor of DigitalJournal. com, believes people will miss "the old-time feel of dog-eared corners, portability, reading at the beach and the tactile feel of a book."

However, says Mr. Silverberg, the future may open up possibilities for an all-in-one device. He sees a fusion of technologies so users can watch a DVD, play video games, write e-mails and read digital books.

Would he consider investing in an e-book reader? "As much as I am a fan of Net culture and innovation, I like reading a good book before going to bed and I can't do that on a laptop like I can with a paperback. For a book fan like me, it'll be a hard sell."