Friday, December 21, 2012

The coming death of seven-day publication

First posted at Nieman Journalism Lab

Update: On Dec. 28, 2012, I appeared on the John Gambling show on WOR radio, New York, to talk about these predictions. Here's a podcast of our talk.

My (newspaper-centric) predictions for 2013 in a nutshell:
  • Because of the rapid adoption curve of tablets and the convenience of news consumption on them, the business model for seven-day printed newspapers in most markets is toast. We’ll start to see frequency reductions to two or three days a week at an accelerated pace. By the end of 2015, fewer than half of the current dailies will still be on that schedule.
  • While we’re still seeing more papers hopping on the paywall bandwagon, there will be a growing realization that simple paywalls that just provide access to the content of a single newspaper are not the answer. Sopaywalls will begin to morph into membership models, where subscribers get access not only to content but to a range of services and benefits.
  • As part of membership thinking, newspapers will finally start adopting the “jobs to be done” thinking advocated in the American Press Institute’sNewspaper Next project (2005-2008) — the idea that the resources of the news organization can address a wide variety of problems that readers and advertisers need solutions to.
  • Membership thinking will also encourage the idea of paid (or unpaid) access to content from a network or cooperative of news organizations — sort of an E-ZPass approach, in which your paid digital subscription at a local news site might also provide you with access to regional and national news sources along with topical news from sites that specialize in business, finance, travel, sports, food, design, or whatever suits your fancy.

Let’s look at each of these in detail.
Frequency reductions
I’ve been suggesting since 2008 that to transition from a print-centric business model to a digital-centric one, newspapers need to go through an essential and strategic transition: cut print publication from six or seven days a week to two or three days. And when they do this, the printed product should be understood as a niche byproduct of a news organization that understands itself as being above all a digital-first enterprise.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

NewsRight’s potential: New content packages, niche audiences, and revenue

Look past Righthaven-related fears and you’ll see the possibilities NewsRight might afford in enabling and automating new ways of redistributing content.

First posted at Nieman Journalism Lab

When NewsRight — the Associated Press spinoff formerly known as News Licensing Group (andoriginally announced by the AP as an unnamed “rights clearinghouse”) —began to lift the veil a couple of weeks ago, most of the attention and analysis focused on “preserving the value” of news content for content owners and originators. In the first round of reports and commentary on the launch, various bloggers and analysts quickly made comparisons to Righthaven, the infamous and all-but-defunct Las Vegas outfit that pursued bloggers and aggregators for alleged copyright violations.
But most of that criticism misses an important point: Would NewsRight’s investors, all legacy news enterprises, really invest $30 million in a questionable model just to enforce copyrights? Or are they investing in a startup that has the capacity to create revenues from new, innovative ways of generating, packaging and, distributing news content?

While some of the reactions point to the former, I believe the opportunity (and NewsRight’s real intention) lies in the latter: NewsRight has the potential to create revenue for any content creator large or small, and to enable a variety of new business models around content that simply can’t fly today because there hasn’t been a clearinghouse system like it.

(As background, here at Nieman Lab in 2010, I first described the potential benefits of a news clearinghouse months before AP announced the concept. Then after AP made public their plans, I described a variety of new business models it could enable, if done right.)

First, let’s have a look at some of the critics:

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A look back at my 2011 predictions, along with a fresh batch for 2012

Here we go again — time to have look back at my December 2010 predictions for 2011, and to go out on another limb with prognostications for 2012.

Below, I’ve listed each of my 2011 predictions (somewhat abbreviated in some cases — just click back to the original post for the full verbiage). Following each 2011 prediction, read my report on how things actually turned out, plus a fresh prediction for 2012.
2011 Prediction: Digital convergence: News, mobile, tablets, social couponing, location-based services, RFID tags, gaming . . . All these things will not stay in separate silos. . . . imagine for a moment: personalized news delivered to me on my tablet or smartphone, tailored to my demographics, preferences, and location; coupon offers and input from my social network, delivered on the same basis; the ability to interact with RFID tags on merchandise (and on just about anything else); more and more ability not only to view ads but to do transactions on tablets and phones — all of these delivered in a entertaining interfaces with gaming features (if I like games) or not (if I don’t). In other words: news delivered to me as part of a total environment aware of my location, my friends, my interests and preferences, essentially in a completely new online medium — not a web composed of sites I can browse at my leisure, but a medium delivered via a device or devices that understand me and understand what I want to know, including the news, information and commercial offers that are right for me. All of this is way too much to expect in 2011, but as a prediction, I think we’ll start to see some of the elements begin to come together, especially on the iPad.

How I did: Some hits, some misses in a complex prediction there....

Click here to continue reading this post at Nieman Journalism Lab.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Amazon enters the tablet battle: It’s all about the shopping

What the aggressively-priced Kindle Fire will mean for news publishers.


In February 2010, before the first iPad shipments, I went out on a limb here (in a post about iPad strategies for publishers) with this prediction:
I believe the biggest transformation that will be wrought by the iPad will be to bring an enormous increase in online shopping.
How have things turned out so far? What might the results have to do withAmazon’s new tablet? And, most importantly for the Nieman Lab audience, what new disruptive challenges does all this throw at the elusive and precarious business models for news?
First, it turns out that tablets indeed push much more online shoppingas Dana Mattioli reported in the Wall Street Journal yesterday. In a story entitled “Tablets: Ultimate Buying Machines” — quoting info from Forrester Research, Macy’s, and others — Mattioli reported these findings:
  • Tablet shoppers make purchases in 4 to 5 percent of shopping site visits, compared to about 3 percent for consumers visiting shopping sites on PCs. That’s about 50 percent more purchases.
  • Tablet shoppers, according to many retailers, spend 10 to 20 percent more per order than PC shoppers or smartphone shoppers. Combined with the first finding, that means 65 to 80 percent more spending.
  • Tablet shoppers who shop via apps tend to spend much more than tablet shoppers on websites. (At TheFind, they’re spending three times as much through the app compared to the website.)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A call for consolidation: Dean Singleton on John Paton, collective action, and the next waves of newspaper cutbacks


My recent post at NiemanLab:

When MediaNews Group and Journal Register Co. announced a quasi-merger on Wednesday — putting the two under a new common management structure named Digital First, with John Paton serving as CEO of both companies — it was the most dramatic combination of American newspapers companies in years. And it was also a victory for the vision of Dean Singleton, the longtime MediaNews CEO who has been a champion for consolidation in the newspaper industry for decades.
Singleton, now MediaNews’ executive chairman, spoke with me Thursday about the move and his belief that more mergers, clusters, and partnerships are essential for the industry’s survival. “Broadcast consolidated, cable consolidated, and newspapers, in order to have the same relevance that cable and broadcast and others have, need to go through consolidation,” he said.
Back in 1996, at a management meeting when I was working at MediaNews, Singleton said that he anticipated one day just three companies would own most of the papers in the country — and he intended MediaNews to be one of them. At the time, the company owned only 13 newspapers and was not among the top 10 in terms of total circulation. Fifteen years later, with paid weekday circulation of about 2.2 million (JRC adds in another 400,000), it ranks second, behind only Gannett’s roughly 5 million.
Having shed most of MediaNews’s debt via a strategic bankruptcy, and having stepped aside from day-to-day management, Singleton is focused on building the next rounds of consolidation. He feels that collectively, the newspaper industry “should have seen the changing media environment sooner and dealt with it sooner,” and that collective strategies are now essential.
For Singleton, Paton seemed like an ideal partner: Their friendship goes back decades, and Singleton actually helped sponsor Paton, who is Canadian, when he needed a green card to work in the United States.
As a reflection of the daunting headwinds facing the newspaper industry, he predicted: “I don’t think there’s any newspaper company in America that won’t have fewer people a year from now than they have today, and fewer still in two to three years.” But he’s not headed for an exit strategy: “I love this business, I’ve been in it since I was 15, and I love it and I care a lot about it.”
Here’s a transcript of our interview. You can also download an MP3 of our conversation. (Due to the interviewer’s klutziness, the first question and a snippet of the first answer were truncated.)

CLICK TO READ THE REST OF THIS POST AT NIEMAN JOURNALISM LAB.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

MediaNews group under new management

MediaNews Group, the second-largest US newspaper company in terms of weekday circulation, a company I worked for some 13 years, publisher of the Denver Post and newspapers from California to New England, is consolidating management with Journal Register Company under CEO John Paton.

This is sort of a merger without merging, but could be a positive development for both companies. Look for big changes, in any case.

From Nieman Journalism Lab, here's a post linking to the announcement and a Paton blog post, along with context and background quotes from yours truly posted back in January and July foreshadowing this development.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Annual interview with Rick Floyd on future of news

Once a year, my friend Rick Floyd interviews by email me for his blog "When I Survey" (formerly "Retired Pastor Ruminates").

He has posted this year's installment. He calls it "The future of newspapers", but it's really about the future of news. Enjoy!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Alden Global Capital drops a shoe: Is the Journal Register acquisition prelude to more consolidation?


On Thursday, Journal Register Company announced that it had been acquired by Alden Global Capital, a secretive hedge fund that specializes in “distressed opportunities,” such as companies emerging from bankruptcy — including newspaper groups. The acquisition may foreshadow additional moves by Alden, which is interested in two strategies to add value to its investments: (a) it wants its newspaper holdings to aggressively develop digital capabilities and revenues, and (b) it wants to see consolidation (mergers) among newspaper groups.
In its capacity as a distressed-opportunity specialist, as I detailed here in January, Alden acquired stakes not only in JRC, but also in MediaNews GroupPhiladelphia Media NetworkTribuneFreedom Communications, and the Canadian newspaper groupPostmedia Network . Among publishers that avoided bankruptcy filings, it has stakes inA.H. BeloGannettMcClatchyMedia General and Journal Communications. (I detailed those investments in this post in March.) In addition to its newspaper holdings, Alden has other media investments, including in Emmis Communications and Sinclair Broadcast Group. Only the investments in public companies are detailed in SEC filings — they add up to about $210 million in media holdings. Together with the non-public investments in JRC, MediaNews, Freedom, Postmedia, and Philadelphia, Alden may have as much as $750 million of its total assets of $3 billion invested in newspaper and broadcast media properties.
At the time of that January post, Alden had just asserted itself at MediaNews Group by shaking up the executive suite and naming three new directors to the seven-member board. (Disclosure: I spent 13 years as a publisher at a MediaNews Group newspaper.) That move was important because it enabled Alden to use MediaNews as a platform from which to drive consolidation in the still-fractured U.S. newspaper industry. (The largest player, Gannett, owns only about 13 percent of the industry in terms of daily circulation.) Under SEC rules, by taking a position on the board, Alden was no longer allowed to speculate in MediaNews stock; hence, their assumption of board seats signalled an intent to use their MediaNews holdings strategically rather than speculatively. Until the JRC acquisition, Alden had not done the same at any of the other firms in which it had invested.

Click here to continue reading this post at Nieman Journalism Lab

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The flip side of black hat SEO: If your news site publishes paid links, you risk suffering Google’s wrath

Last month, the New York Times outed retailer JCPenney for engaging in “black hat optimization” — the practice of buying or placing links designed primarily to improve a site’s standing in Google search results.

While JCPenney did a quick mea culpa and fired the SEO consultants responsible for the links (and had its search standings plummet for all the keywords involved), there is also a flip side to the story: a cautionary tale for news sites and bloggers — indeed, for anyone operating a reputable website that looks for advertising revenue.

A number of high-profile news sites, in fact, still carry links of the offending variety, potentially to the detriment of their own standing in Google search results. In a survey last week, we identified a variety of news sites publishing paid links that lack Google-required HTML formatting designed to avoid negative SEO results. The list includes GlobalPost (which has since removed the links), the Jerusalem Post, the Christian Science Monitor, The Monthly (of Australia), the Gotham Gazette (which has since made them Google-compliant by adding nofollow tags — see below), the Charleston (WV) Daily Mail and its JOA partner the Charleston Gazette.

...Continue reading this post at Nieman Journalism Lab...

Monday, March 7, 2011

Who owns newspaper companies? The banks, funds, and investors and their (big) slices of the industry

Who owns America’s newspapers?

In January, I detailed how a hedge fund named Alden Global Capital, which played a role in the shakeup at MediaNews Group, also had significant holdings in newspaper groups Freedom Communications, Philadelphia Newspaper Holdings, Journal Register Company, Tribune, and the Canadian newspaper firm Postmedia Network — all firms with current or recent bankruptcy status.

After noticing that Alden also owned, as of December 31, 3.91 percent of Gannett’s common stock, I surveyed all of the U.S. public newspaper companies to see whether Alden pops up elsewhere as well. It turns out that, other than Alden’s stake in Gannett, there’s little crossover between the principal investors in the public companies and those that have picked up the “distressed opportunities” created by trips through bankruptcy court.

First, here’s a set of slides detailing the top investors in each of the publicly-owned newspaper publishers. I’ve included among these News Corporation (both the class A and class B common stock), but for the rest of this analysis, News Corp. is excluded because its global multimedia holdings in film, television, magazines and book dwarf the entire rest of the American newspaper business. (Note: All holding and valuations throughout this post are as of December 31, 2010.)

Continue reading this post at Nieman Journalism Lab.