Tuesday, June 03, 2008
BoSacks Speaks Out: I think there is much more in this story than meets the eye for every publisher. If we accept the fact that at least part of the future of publishing is digitally related, then this is a very important story. As we move our franchise into a digital broadband environment, then the process our readers use to get our material and the cost for them to do so becomes paramount. And especially so, if we are including our own videos or connections to other broadband services.
Do any of you remember paying for AOL by the minute? Is this a return to those heady days of yore? Ouch!
"I have ever been opposed to banks, - opposed to internal improvements by the general government, - opposed to distribution of public lands among the states, - opposed to taking the power from the hands of the people, - opposed to special monopolies,"
Sam Houston (American General, Lawyer and Politician, 1st president of Texas, (1836-38, 1841-44), 1793-1863)
Time Warner Tries Metering Internet Use
By Peter Svensson, AP Technology Writer
Time Warner Cable starts customer trial with metered Internet access in Texas
NEW YORK (AP) -- You're used to paying extra if you use up your cell phone minutes, but will you be willing to pay extra if your home computer goes over its Internet allowance?
Time Warner Cable Inc. customers -- and, later, others -- may have to, if the company's test of metered Internet access is successful.
On Thursday, new Time Warner Cable Internet subscribers in Beaumont, Texas, will have monthly allowances for the amount of data they upload and download. Those who go over will be charged $1 per gigabyte, a Time Warner Cable executive told the Associated Press.
Metered billing is an attempt to deal fairly with Internet usage, which is very uneven among Time Warner Cable's subscribers, said Kevin Leddy, Time Warner Cable's executive vice president of advanced technology.
Just 5 percent of the company's subscribers take up half of the capacity on local cable lines, Leddy said. Other cable Internet service providers report a similar distribution.
"We think it's the fairest way to finance the needed investment in the infrastructure," Leddy said.
Metered usage is common overseas, and other U.S. cable providers are looking at ways to rein in heavy users. Most have download caps, but some keep the caps secret so as not to alarm the majority of users, who come nowhere close to the limits. Time Warner Cable appears to be the first major ISP to charge for going over the limit: Other companies warn, then suspend, those who go over.
Phone companies are less concerned about congestion and are unlikely to impose metered usage on DSL customers, because their networks are structured differently.
Time Warner Cable had said in January that it was planning to conduct the trial in Beaumont, but did not give any details. On Monday, Leddy said its tiers will range from $29.95 a month for relatively slow service at 768 kilobits per second and a 5-gigabyte monthly cap to $54.90 per month for fast downloads at 15 megabits per second and a 40-gigabyte cap. Those prices cover the Internet portion of subscription bundles that include video or phone services. Both downloads and uploads will count toward the monthly cap.
A possible stumbling block for Time Warner Cable is that customers have had little reason so far to pay attention to how much they download from the Internet, or know much traffic makes up a gigabyte. That uncertainty could scare off new subscribers.
Those who mainly do Web surfing or e-mail have little reason to pay attention to the traffic caps: a gigabyte is about 3,000 Web pages, or 15,000 e-mails without attachments. But those who download movies or TV shows will want to pay attention. A standard-definition movie can take up 1.5 gigabytes, and a high-definition movie can be 6 to 8 gigabytes.
Time Warner Cable subscribers will be able to check out their data consumption on a "gas gauge" on the company's Web page.
The company won't apply the gigabyte surcharges for the first two months. It has 90,000 customers in the trial area, but only new subscribers will be part of the trial.
Billing by the hour was common for dial-up service in the U.S. until AOL introduced an unlimited-usage plan in 1996. Flat-rate, unlimited-usage plans have been credited with encouraging consumer Internet use by making billing easy to understand.
"The metered Internet has been tried and tested and rejected by the consumers overwhelmingly since the days of AOL," information-technology consultant George Ou told the Federal Communications Commission at a hearing on ISP practices in April.
Metered billing could also put a crimp in the plans of services like Apple Inc.'s iTunes that use the Internet to deliver video. DVD-by-mail pioneer Netflix Inc. just launched a TV set-top box that receives an unlimited stream of Internet video for as little as $8.99 per month.
Comcast Corp., the country's largest cable company, has suggested that it may cap usage at 250 gigabytes per month. Bend Cable Communications in Bend, Ore., used to have multitier bandwidth allowances, like the ones Time Warner Cable will test, but it abandoned them in favor of an across-the-board 100-gigabyte cap. Bend charges $1.50 per extra gigabyte consumed in a month.
Monday, June 02, 2008
It's not all grim news in magazine land
Some titles are showing strong gains in ad pagesBy Diego Vasquez http://www.medialifemagazine.com/
It surely seems the worst of times for consumer magazines, suffering as they are from the ad recession and increasing competition from other media. Indeed, over the first quarter of 2008, consumer titles experienced their worst tumble in years, with ad pages down more than 6 percent. Still, a number of magazines are showing strong gains, in some cases double-digit increases in ad pages over the prior-year period.
They include The Economist, OK!, Every Day with Rachael Ray, Women's Health, Wondertime, Men's Journal, Guideposts and Parents, among others. One might write off some of those gains to good fortune, a title being in a category of magazines that's somewhat insulated from the spending cuts that have swept through media and magazines in particular. But that's only a small part of it, if at all. In fact in many cases the gaining titles are in some of the worst-hit categories. By far the bigger factor is what the magazines are doing for themselves. They're investing dollars, they're repositioning, they're creating new voices that reach readers in new ways, they're building staff, they're adding features to their web sites, they're selling aggressively, they're taking chances.
They're heeding an age-old maxim of magazine publishing: Invest during downturns, as others cut back, and you'll win market share. In some ways, the Economist best exemplifies this aggressiveness. The title competes in two of the roughest ad categories, newsweeklies and business titles, which were each down nearly 14 percent over the quarter, yet its ad pages were up more than 5 percent. For that, North American publisher Paul Rossi credits the magazine's ongoing push to build circulation in the U.S. market, which rose 13 percent in second-half 2007, to 720,882, over the year-earlier period, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. "Circulation helps push up our rate base, which is good, but what it really does is grow the readership numbers," he says.
That in turn had made the magazine more attractive to more advertisers. "It allows us to go into other categories. Historically we would get luxury import cars, but now we have more Detroit cars. We can now go deeper into personal finance." "People want to know why we're up in pages," says Rossi. "At the end of the day we have a product that's never been more relevant, and more and more people are finding it."
*** In the case of Women's Health, whose ad pages were up 51 percent over the first quarter, its growth comes from a different way of talking to its readers. If the old mantra of women's titles was to prey on their insecurities, the new mantra, exemplified by the Rodale title, is that it's just fine to be who you are, and we're here to help you be even more. "We're all about it's good to be you. We encourage women and give them all the information we can," says publisher Mary Murcko. "We empower them to challenge themselves a little bit and have the confidence to do what they want and not to be afraid." It seems to be the language women relate to. A sister publication to Men's Health, the title launched in October 2005 with a rate base of 400,000, and that was quickly bumped to 850,000 and then in January to 1.1 million. "We've found our voice and our perspective pretty early in the plot," says editor Tina Johnson. "We've been speaking in the same voice women use to speak to themselves."
***At Every Day with Rachael Ray, where ad pages were up 38 percent in the first quarter, there were several factors at work. Certainly one is that Ray is all over television, and yet viewers never seem to tire of her bouncy good humor. But also the title launched in late 2005 with a very practical approach to cooking: putting interesting meals together in little time, and that set it apart from the traditional culinary titles, where growth had slowed for the most part. But publisher Anne Balaban says it goes beyond that. "Rachael brought a different point of view to the marketplace. She's about 'have fun and if there's something you want to do, it doesn't have to be perfect, just go ahead and do it.'" Thus the magazine's tagline, "Take a Bite Out of Life" "In this economic environment, marketers want to align their brands with something that puts a smile on customers' faces, and that's what we do," Balaban says.
*** At Guideposts, ad pages were up nearly 37 percent in the first three months of the year. Publisher Amy Molinero says sales have slowed for second quarter but are still ahead of a year ago, and that's for several reasons. The magazine has pushed deeper into food, with editorial support, and it's added to its sales staff. "Also, we've done well in the travel category, which is also new," says Molinero. Though the magazine has published for more than 60 years, it only began taking advertising in 2001. It has a rate base of 2.345 million. Says Molinero: "People had never heard of us, and they couldn't believe how long we've been publishing. While everyone else was coming down we were going up. We only had up to go."
*** In the crowded celebrity category, conventional wisdom had OK!, the British import, failing without much ado. The feeling was that it had come too late to the market. Nearly three years later, OK! is still here, and it's showing strong growth, with ad pages up 38 percent in first quarter at a time when the category grew just 2.7 percent in pages. Publisher Tom Morrissy credits that growth to the staff-building that went on in 2007. "We hired 20 sales and marketing people, and we were building programs and planting the seeds. And now they're just starting to sprout. So a lot of the work you're seeing now was accomplished a year ago." He says newsstand sales are up 22 percent so far this year, and the title has now been measured by MRI for the first time. The title has also been adding special issues. That's created a momentum for the sales team. Says Morrissy: "Presenting growth is fun for both the seller and the buyer. It really resonates with buyers who are looking for rays of light in the market."
*** At Men's Journal, which was up 21 percent in pages in the first quarter, publisher Will Schenck credits several factors: "We made a decision last year to try to capitalize on all aspects of the lifestyle of the reader. We've done a good job of developing some new categories, financial services and pharmaceuticals in particular. We've also done well in Detroit." But also helping, says Schenck, is a new corporate department at Wenner Media. "We now have the power of Rolling Stone and the power of Us Weekly to benefit us." It's given the magazine momentum with marketers, he says. "Our magazine is for a guy who's confident, and that breeds sales. Marketers seem to appreciate that. You go into meetings and you talk about it from the perspective of momentum. At the end of the day they don't give a hoot if you're up in ad pages. You're defined by the company you keep."
*** For Diane Newman, publisher at Parents, which is up 19 percent for the quarter, it's all about staying current and in touch with the new moms as they come along. "If the brand doesn't stay current, people can go other places. So we really acknowledge the new mom. We literally target Gen-Y moms. She's very different from the Gen X moms who preceded her," says Newman. "We walked away from what might be traditional sentimental editorial and photography and made it much more relevant for this generation," she says. "Keep it fresh for readers and advertisers, and they totally get it."
Sunday, June 01, 2008
Michael Crichton, Vindicated
His 1993 prediction of mass-media extinction now looks on target.
By Jack Shafer
In 1993, novelist Michael Crichton riled the news business with a Wired magazine essay titled "Mediasaurus," in which he prophesied the death of the mass media-specifically the New York Times and the commercial networks. "Vanished, without a trace," he wrote.
The mediasaurs had about a decade to live, he wrote, before technological advances-"artificial intelligence agents roaming the databases, downloading stuff I am interested in, and assembling for me a front page"-swept them under. Shedding no tears, Crichton wrote that the shoddy mass media deserved its deadly fate.
"[T]he American media produce a product of very poor quality," he lectured. "Its information is not reliable, it has too much chrome and glitz, its doors rattle, it breaks down almost immediately, and it's sold without warranty. It's flashy but it's basically junk."
Had Crichton's prediction been on track, by 2002 the New York Times should have been half-fossilized. But the newspaper's vital signs were so positive that its parent company commissioned a 1,046-foot Modernist tower, which now stands in Midtown Manhattan. Other trends predicted by Crichton in 1993 hadn't materialized in 2002, either. Customized news turned out to be harder to create than hypothesize; news consumers weren't switching to unfiltered sources such as C-SPAN; and the mainstream media weren't on anyone's endangered species list.
When I interviewed Crichton in 2002 about his failed predictions for Slate, he was anything but defensive.
"I assume that nobody can predict the future well. But in this particular case, I doubt I'm wrong; it's just too early," Crichton said via e-mail.
As we pass his prediction's 15-year anniversary, I've got to declare advantage Crichton. Rot afflicts the newspaper industry, which is shedding staff, circulation, and revenues. It's gotten so bad in newspaperville that some people want Google to buy the Times and run it as a charity! Evening news viewership continues to evaporate, and while the mass media aren't going extinct tomorrow, Crichton's original observations about the media future now ring more true than false. Ask any journalist.
So with white flag in hand, I approached Crichton to chat him up once more. Magnanimous in victory, he said he had often thought about our 2002 discussion and was happy to revisit it. (Read the uncut e-mail interview in this sidebar.)
Although Crichton still subscribes to the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, he dropped the Los Angeles Times a year ago-"with no discernable loss." He skims those two dailies but spends 95 percent of his "information-gathering time" on the Web.
He concedes with a shrug that the personalized infotopia he crystal-balled in 1993 has yet to arrive. When we talked in 2002, Crichton scoffed at the Web. Too slow. Its page metaphor, too limiting. Design, awful. Excessive hypertexting, too distracting. Noise-to-signal ratio, too high.
Today he's more positive about the medium. He notes with satisfaction that the Web has made it far easier for the inquisitive to find unmediated information, such as congressional hearings. It's much faster than it used to be, and more of its pages are professionally assembled. His general bitch is advertisements in the middle of stories, and he's irritated by animation and sounds in ads. "That, at least, can often be blocked by your browser," he says.
In 1993, Crichton predicted that future consumers would crave high-quality information instead of the junk they were being fed and that they'd be willing to pay for it. He's perplexed about that part of his prediction not panning out, but he has a few theories about why it hasn't.
"Senior scientists running labs don't read journals; they say the younger people will tell them about anything important that gets published-if they haven't heard about it beforehand anyway," he says. "So there may be other networks to transmit information, and it may be that 'media' was never as important as we who work in it imagine it was. That's an argument that says maybe nobody really needs a high-end service."
It will take a media visionary, he believes-somebody like Ted Turner-to create the high-quality information service he foresaw in his 1993 essay. In addition to building the service, the visionary will also have to convince news consumers that they need it.
Sounding like a press critic, Crichton criticizes much of the news fed to consumers as "repetitive, simplistic, and insulting" and produced on the cheap. Cable TV news is mostly "talking heads and food fights" and newspaper reporting mostly "rewritten press releases," he says.
Crichton suggests that readers and viewers could more objectively measure the quality of the news they consume by pulling themselves "out of the narcotizing flow of what passes for daily news." Look at a newspaper from last month or a news broadcast.
"Look at how many stories are unsourced or have unnamed sources. Look at how many stories are about what 'may' or 'might' or 'could' happen," he says. "Might and could means the story is speculation. Framing as I described means the story is opinion. And opinion is not factual content."
"The biggest change is that contemporary media has shifted from fact to opinion and speculation. You can watch cable news all day and never hear anything except questions like, 'How much will the Rev. Wright hurt Obama's chances?' 'Is Hillary now looking toward 2012?' 'How will McCain overcome the age argument?' These are questions for which there are endless answers. Contentious hosts on cable shows keep the arguments rolling," he says.
Crichton believes that we live in an age of conformity much more confining than the 1950s in which he grew up. Instead of showing news consumers how to approach controversy coolly and intelligently, the media partake of the zealotry and intolerance of many of the advocates they cover. He attributes the public's interest in Mike Huckabee, Ron Paul, and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright to its hunger for a wider range of viewpoints than the mass media provide.
He tosses out a basket of questions he'd like to see the press tackle, some of which I've seen covered. "What happened at Bear Stearns?" got major play this week, after Crichton answered my questions, in a Wall Street Journal series. And I know I've seen "How much of the current price of gas can be attributed to the weak dollar?" answered a couple of times but can't remember where. (Answer: a lot.) But such Crichton questions as "Why have hedge funds evaded government regulation?" and what specific lifestyle changes will every American have to make "to reduce CO2 emissions by 60 percent?" would be great assignments for news desks.
"I want a news service that tells me what no one knows but is true nonetheless," he says.