Monday, December 28, 2009

A roundup of media predictions for 2010

Besides offering my own 2010 predictions and revisiting my 2009 predictions to see how I scored, I've gathered (as I did last year) a set of media predictions for 2010 from bloggers and others. Here's what came up in their crystal balls:

From Folio, a set of 115 mostly magazine-related predictions gathered from magazine and ad agency pundits.  A prevailing theme there is that 2010 will be the year of the tablet.

Social media guru Chris Brogan says, "2010 will see consolidations and foldups."

Newser's Michael Wolff says, "Newsweek dies." (He doesn't say precisely when, or whether it's in 2010. But it dies.)

Millenial Media (a mobile advertising network) says 2010 will not be the "Year of Mobile," because that was 2009. They've got 10 predictions for mobile's development in 2010, and (you have to download the PDF linked to at the MMAGlobal link to see this) a very interesting bonus prediction: "There will be content categories, particularly news, weather, travel and real estate only accessed via a mobile device. The advertiser imperative: understand the shifts in content consumption of your consumers."  Surely that shift won't be completed in 2010, but it's one that journalists and publishers should take very seriously.

Emarketer's Geoff Ramsey limits himself to seven predictions.  Read all of them, particularly the seventh:  

The classic interruption/disruption model of advertising, whereby marketers insert unwanted, usually irrelevant ads as a price the consumer must pay to view desired content, will erode, if not fade away. Consumers in the digital age simply have too much control over their media environments these days for marketers to be pushing unwanted banners, buttons or videos. This raises the bar for marketers and their agencies to develop new forms of messages that are not even perceived as ads, but rather as welcome content.
Julia Boorstin at CNBC says control over distribution will shift to consumers, the dominance of social media will continue to grow, and the proliferation of content will force more changes on media giants.

Pat Kitano of Mediatransparent has the right take on local, I think, suggesting that:
Portals believe they can scale and develop the website traffic required to support a local advertisement model. However, communities may develop their own home grown commercial systems for the same reasons why “buy local” is becoming a mantra; and the portals aren’t entitling ownership of their local media systems to the community. For that reason, a community may rather spend its local advertising dollars with an on-the-ground local publisher like Minnpost or OaklandLocal, or even a Chamber of Commerce sponsored local media resource than CNN Local.
She has lots of other good food for thought including:
The stream is more important than website.  Anybody immersed in the social media already knows this. The content stream constitutes a conversation, and can be perceived as far more “real” than a calculated marketing-focused website presentation. The same new paradigm that makes an advertisement seem  promotional applies to websites. Yes, conversations can happen on websites but there are likely many more occurring on Twitter, Yelp, Facebook and other blogs that are deemed more credible because they are third party commentary.
Gordon Plutsky's King Fish Media Think Tank predicts 2010 and reviews 2009 prognostications.

Cory Casciato of Denver Westword has Five Fearless Tech Predictions including "the final death of the paywall... it will hasten the death of any organization that fully commits to it (note to Rupert Murdoch: I encourage you to follow through on your plans to go this route -- pretty please?) and hurt those that experiment with it by bleeding off market share they will take years to recover."

London journalist Adam Westbrook offers his outlook for 2010 in video form: including "lots of new news startups ... lots of journalist moving into NGO territory ... more journalists moving into the field of training ... the year of the hyperlocal ... paywalls in action ... demand for really high quality content will push consumers to want to pay ... journalism in real time ... the battle of the smartphones continues ... augmented reality ... and the watchword for 2010 is innovation."

Min's Media agrees that advertising won't rebound, mobile will be big, and paid content won't fly. They also provide a nice video with insights from Mark Cuban and others.

Addendum Dec. 29: I had bookmarked, but neglected to include Adam Lavrusik's roundup at Mashable, entitled "10 News Media Content Trends to Watch in 2010."

Addendum Dec. 29: Steve Outing's final column at E&P includes a 20/20 hindsight vision of what the 90s and 00s could/should have been like for newspaper publishers, plus a look ahead at 2010 and beyond.

Addendum, Dec. 30: Random Mumbler Jack Lail has rounded up his own favorite media predictions.

Addendum, Dec. 31: Alan Mutter, the Newsosaur, has posted his "un-predictions" for 2010.

Please send me any other published prognostications I've missed.  Interestingly, I checked on most of the bloggers I included in my roundup last year and found nobody sticking their neck out again (perhaps because last year David Cohn put them up to it as his turn hosting the Carnival of Journalism, but that collaboration seems to have gone into remission, or intermission, or something).

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Out on a limb again: Predictions for 2010

Continuing a News After Newspapers tradition, here are my media predictions for 2010:

Newspaper ad revenue: At least technically, the recession is over, with GDP growth measured at 2.8 percent in Q3 of 2009 and widely forecast in Q4 to exceed that rate. But newspaper revenue has not followed suit, dropping 28 percent in Q3. McClatchy and the New York Times Company (which both came in at about that level in Q3) hinted last week that Q4 would be better, in the negative low-to-mid 20 percent range. This is not unexpected — in the last few recessions with actual GDP contraction (1990-91 and 2001), newspaper revenue remained in negative territory for at least two quarters after the GDP returned to growth. But the newspaper dip has been bigger each time, and the current slide started (without precedent) a year and a half before the recession did, with a cumulative revenue loss of nearly 50 percent. Newspaper revenue has never grown by much more than 10 percent (year over year) in any one quarter, so no real recovery is likely. This is a permanently downsized industry. My call for revenue by quarter (including online revenue) during 2010 is: -11%, -10%, -6%, -2%.

Newspaper online revenue (included in the overall prediction above) will be the only bright spot, breaking even in Q1 and ramping up to 15% growth by Q4.

Newspaper circulation revenue will grow, because publishers are realizing that print is now a niche they can and should charge for, rather than trying to keep marginal subscribers with non-stop discounting. But this means circulation will continue to drop. In 2009, we saw a drop of 7.1% in the 6-month period ending March 31, and a drop of 10.6 percent for the period ending Sept. 30.  In 2010, we'll see a losses of at lest 7.5% in each period.

Newspaper bankruptcies: I don't think we're out of the woods, or off the courthouse steps, although the newspaper bankruptcy flurry in 2009 was in the first half of the year. The trouble is the above-mentioned revenue decline. If it continues at double-digit rates, several companies will hit the wall, where they have no capital or credit resources left and where a "restructuring" is preferable and probably more strategic than continuing to slash expenses to match revenue losses. So I will predict at least one bankruptcy of a major newspaper company. In fact, let's make that at least two.

Newspaper closings and publishing frequency reductions: Yup, there will be closing and frequency reductions. Those revenue and circulation declines will hit harder in some places than others, forcing more extinction than we saw in 2009.  

Mergers: It's interesting that we saw very little M&A activity in 2009 — none of the players saw much opportunity to gain by consolidation. They all just hunkered down waiting for the recession to end. It has ended, but if my prediction is right and revenue doesn't turn up or at least flatten by Q2, the urge to merge or otherwise restructure will set in. Expect to see at least a few fairly big newspaper firms merge or be acquired by other media outfits. (But, as in 2009, don't expect Google to buy the New York Times or any other print media.)

Shakeups: Given the fact that newspaper stocks generally outperformed the market (see my previous post), it's not surprising that there were few changes in the executive suites. But if the industry continues to contract, those stock prices will head back down.  Don't be surprised to see some boards turn to new talent. If they do, they'll bring in specialists from outside the industry good at creative downsizing and reinvention of business models. Sooner would be better than later, in some cases.

Hyperlocal: There will be more and more launches of online and online/print combos focused on covering towns, neighborhoods, cities and regions, with both for-profit and nonprofit bizmods. Startups and major media firms looking to enter this "space" with standardized and mechanized approaches won't do nearly as well as one-off ventures where real people take a risk, start a site, cover their market like a blanket, create a brand and sell themselves to local advertisers.

Paid content: At the end of 2008, this wasn't yet much of a discussion topic. It became the obsession of 2009, but the year is ending with few actual moves toward full paywalls or more nuanced models. Steve Brill's Journalism Online promises a beta rollout soon and claims a client list numbering well over 1000 publications. Those are not commitments to use JO's system — rather, they're signatories to a non-binding letter of intent that gives them access to some of the findings from JO's beta test. Many publishers, including many who have signed that letter, remain firmly on the sidelines, realizing that they have little content that's unique or valuable enough to readers to charge for. JO itself has not speculated what kind of content might garner reader revenue, although its founders have been clear that they're not recommending across-the-board paywalls. So where are we heading in 2010? My predictions are that by the end of the year, most daily papers will still be publishing the vast majority of their content free on the Web; that most of those experimenting with pay systems will be disappointed; and that the few broad paywalls in place now at local and regional dailies will prove of no value in stemming print circulation declines.

Gadgets: The recently announced consortium led by Time Inc. to publish magazine and (eventually) newspaper content on tablets and other platforms will see the first fruits of its efforts late in the year as Apple and several others unveil tablet devices — essentially oversized iPhones that don't make phone calls but have 10-inch screens and make great color readers. Expect pricing in the $500 ballpark plus a data plan, which could include a selection of magazine subscriptions (sort of like channels in cable packages, but with more a la carte choice).  If newspapers are on the ball, they can join Time's consortium and be part of the plan.  Tablet sales will put a pretty good dent in Kindle sales. One wish/hope for the (as yet un-named) publisher consortium: atomize the content and let me pick individual articles — don't force me to subscribe to a magazine or buy a whole copy. In other words, don't attempt to replicate the print model on a tablet.

Social networks: Twitter usage will continue to be flat (it has lost traffic slowly but steadily since summer). Facebook will continue to grow internationally but is probably close to maxing out in the U.S. With Facebook now cash-flow positive, and Twitter still essentially revenue-less, could Zuckerberg and Evan Williams be holding deal talks sometime during the year? It wouldn't surprise me.

Privacy: The Federal Trade Commission will recommend to Congress a new set of online privacy initiatives requiring clearer "opt-in" provisions governing how personal information of Web users may be used for things like targeting ads and content. Anticipating this, Facebook, Google and others will continue to maneuver to lock consumers into opt-in settings that allow broad use of personal data without having to ask consumers to reset their preferences in response to the legislation. In the end, Congress will dither but not pass a major overhaul of privacy regs.

Mobile (with thanks to Art Howe of Verve Wireless): By the end of 2010 a huge shift toward mobile consumption of news will be evident. In 2009, mobile news was just getting on the radar screen, but during the year several million people downloaded the AP's mobile app to their iPhones, and several million more adopted apps from individual publishers. By the end of 2010, with many more smartphone users, news apps will find tens of millions of new users (Art might project 100 million), and that's with tablets just appearing on the playing field. During 2009, Web readership of news (though not of newspaper content) overtook news in printed newspapers. Looking out to sometime in 2011 or 2012, more people will get their news from a mobile device than from a desktop or laptop, and news in print will be left completely in the dust.

Addendum, Dec. 18 - Stocks: I accurately predicted the Dow's rise during 2009 and that newspaper stocks would beat the market (see previous post), but neglected to place a bet on the market for 2010, so here goes: The Dow will rise by 8% (from its Dec. 31 close), but newspaper stocks will sink as revenue fails to rebound quarter after quarter.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Some hits, some misses: a look back at my 2009 predictions

A year ago, in December 2008, I went on a limb with a raft of predictions for 2009.

Here's my scorecard (send corrections if I've missed anything!):

No other newspaper companies will file for bankruptcy.
  • WRONG. By the end of 2008, only Tribune had declared. Since then, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, Journal Register Company, and the Philadelphia newspapers made trips to the courthouse, most of them right after the first of the year.
Several cities, besides Denver, that today still have multiple daily newspapers will become single-newspaper towns.
  • RIGHT: Hearst closed the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Gannett closed the Tuscon Citizen, making those cities one-paper towns. In February, Clarity Media Group closed the Baltimore Examiner, a free daily, leaving the field to the Sun. And Freedom is closing the East Valley Tribune in Mesa, which cuts out a nearby competitor in the Phoenix metro area.
Whatever gets announced this week by the Detroit Newspaper Partnership in terms of frequency reduction will be emulated in several more cities (including both single and multiple newspaper markets) within the first half of the year.
  • WRONG: Nothing similar to the Detroit arrangement has been tried elsewhere.
Even if both papers in Detroit somehow maintain a seven-day schedule, we'll see several other major cities and a dozen or more smaller markets cut back from six or seven days to one to four days per week.
  • WRONG, mostly: We did see a few other outright closings including the Ann Arbor News, and some eliminations of one or two publishing days, but only the Register-Pajaronian of Watsonville, Calif. announced it will go from six days to three, back in January.
As part of that shift, some major dailies will switch their Sunday package fully to Saturday and drop Sunday publication entirely. They will see this step as saving production cost, increasing sales via longer shelf life in stores, improving results for advertisers, and driving more weekend website traffic. The "weekend edition" will be more feature-y, less news-y.
  • WRONG: This really falls in the department of wishful thinking; it's a strategy I've been advocating for the last year or so to follow the audience to the Web, jettison the overhead of printing and delivery, but retain the most profitable portion of the print product.
There will be at least one, and probably several, mergers between some of the top newspaper chains in the country. Top candidate: Media News merges with Hearst. Dow Jones will finally shed Ottaway in a deal engineered by Boston Herald owner (and recently-appointed Ottaway chief), Pat Purcell.
  • WRONG AGAIN, but this one is going back into the 2010 hopper. Lack of capital by most of the players, and the perception or hope that values may improve, put a big damper on mergers and acquisitions, but there should be renewed interest ahead.
Google will not buy the New York Times Company, or any other media property. Google is smart enough to stick with its business, which is organizing information, not generating content. On the other hand, Amazon may decide that they are in the content business... And then there's the long shot possibility that Michael Bloomberg loses his re-election bid next fall, which might generate a 2010 prediction, if NYT is still independent at that point.
  • RIGHT about Google, and Not Applicable about Bloomberg (but Bloomberg did acquire Business Week). The Google-NYT pipe dream still gets mentioned on occasion, but it won't happen.
There will be a mini-dotcom bust, featuring closings or fire sales of numerous web enterprises launched on the model of "generate traffic now, monetize later."
  • WRONG, at least on the mini-bust scenario. Certainly there were closings of various digital enterprises, but it didn't look like a tidal wave.
The fifty newspaper execs who gathered at API's November Summit for an Industry in Crisis will not bother to reconvene six months later (which would be April) as they agreed to do.
  • RIGHT. There was a very low-key round two with fewer participants in January, without any announced outcomes, and that was it.
Newspaper advertising revenue will decline year-over-year 10 percent in the first quarter and 5 percent in the second. It will stabilize, or nearly so, in the second half, but will have a loss for the year. For the year, newspapers will slip below 12 percent of total advertising revenue (from 15 percent in 2007 and around 13.5 percent in 2008). But online advertising at newspaper sites will resume strong upward growth.
  • WRONG, and way too optimistic.  Full-year results won't be known for months, but the first three quarters have seen losses in the 30 percent ballpark. Gannett and New York Times have suggested Q4 will come in "better" at "only" about 25 percent down.  My 12 percent reference was to newspaper share of the total ad market, a metric that has become harder to track this year due to changes in methodology at McCann, but the actual for 2009 ultimately will sugar out at about 10 percent.
Newspaper circulation, aggregated, will be steady (up or down no more than 1 percent) in each of the 6-month ABC reporting periods ending March 31 and September 30. Losses in print circulation will be offset by gains in ABC-countable paid digital subscriptions, including facsimile editions and e-reader editions.
  • WRONG, and also way too optimistic. The March period drop was 7.1 percent, the September drop was 10.6 percent, and digital subscription didn't have much impact.
At least 25 daily newspapers will close outright. This includes the Rocky Mountain Post, and it will include other papers in multi-newspaper markets. But most closings will be in smaller markets.
  • WRONG, and too pessimistic.  About half a dozen papers closed for good during the year.
One hundred or more independent local startup sites focused on local news will be launched. A number of them will launch weekly newspapers, as well, repurposing the content they've already published online. Some of these enterprises are for-profit, some are non-profit. There will be some steps toward formation of a national association of local online news publishers, perhaps initiated by one of the journalism schools.
  • Hard to tell, but probably RIGHT. Nobody is really keeping track of how many hyperlocals are active, or their comings and goings. An authoritative central database would be a Good Thing.
The Dow [Industrials] will be up 15 percent for the year. The stocks of newspaper firms will beat the market.
  • RIGHT, or close enough, although the year isn't over yet. As of Friday, December 11, the Dow is more than 19 percent ahead of its Dec. 31, 2008 closing level. (This prediction is the one that got the most "you must be dreaming" reactions last year.  
  • AND RIGHT ABOUT NEWSPAPERS BEATING THE MARKET (as measured by the Dow Industrials), which got even bigger laughs from the skeptics. There is no index of newspaper stocks, but on the whole, they've done well.  It helps to have started in the sub-basement at year-end 2008, of course, which was the basis of my prediction. Those beating the Dow were: New York Times (+25%), AH Belo (+126%), Gatehouse (+350%), Lee Enterprises (+763%), McClatchy (+296%), Journal Communications (+56%), EW Scripps (+208%), Media General (+388%), Gannett (+65%) and News Corp. (+57%).  Only Washington Post Co. (+6%) lagged the market. Not listed, of course, are those still in bankruptcy.
At least one publicly-owned newspaper chain will go private.
  • NOPE.
A survey will show that the median age of people reading a printed newspaper at least 5 days per week is is now over 60.
  • UNKNOWN: I'm not aware of a 2009 survey of this metric, but I'll wager that the median age figure is correct.
Reading news on a Kindle or other e-reader will grow by leaps and bounds. E-readers will be the hot gadget of the year. The New York Times, which currently has over 10,000 subscribers on Kindle, will push that number to 75,000. The Times will report that 75 percent of these subscribers were not previously readers of the print edition, and half of them are under 40. The Wall Street Journal and Washington Post will not be far behind in e-reader subscriptions.
  • UNKNOWN, as far as the subscription counts go: newspapers and Kindle have not announced e-reader subscription levels during the year. The Times now has at least 30,000, as does the Wall Street Journal (according a post by Staci Kramer last month; see my comment there as well.) There have been a number of new e-reader introductions, but none of them look much better than their predecessors as news readers.  My guess would be that by year end, the Times will have closer to 40,000 Kindle readers and the Journal 35,000.  During 2010, 75,000 should be attainable for the Times, especially counting all e-editions (which include the Times Reader and additions along with the Kindle). The Times' total electronic circulation stood at 53,353 weekdays and 34,435 Sundays for the six months ending Sept. 30.
The advent of a color Kindle (or other brand color e-reader) will be rumored in November, 2009, but won't be introduced before the end of the year.
  • RIGHT: plenty of rumors, but no color e-reader, except Fujitsu's Flepia, which is expensive, experimental, and only for sale in Japan.
Some newspaper companies will buy or launch news aggregation sites. Others will find ways to collaborate with aggregators.
As newsrooms, with or without corporate direction, begin to truly embrace an online-first culture, outbound links embedded in news copy, blog-style, as well as standalone outbound linking, will proliferate on newspaper sites. A reporter without an active blog will start to be seen as a dinosaur.
  • MORE WISHFUL THINKING, although there's progress. Many reporters still don't blog, still don't tweet, and many papers are still on content management systems that inhibit embedded links.
The Reuters-Politico deal will inspire other networking arrangements whereby one content generator shares content with others, in return for right to place ads on the participating web sites on a revenue-sharing basis.
  • YES, we're seeing more sharing of content, with various financial arrangements.
The Obama administration will launch a White House Wiki to help citizens follow the Changes, and in time will add staff blogs, public commenting, and other public interaction.
The Washington Post will launch a news wiki with pages on current news topics that will be updated with new developments.
The New York Times will launch a sophisticated new Facebook application built around news content. The basic idea will be that the content of the news (and advertising) package you get by being a Times fan on Facebook will be influenced by the interests and social connections you have established on Facebook. There will be discussion of, if not experimentation with, applying a personal CPM based on social connections, which could result in a rewards system for participating individuals.
  • NO. Although the Times has continued to come out with innovative online experiments,  this was not one of them.
Craigslist will partner with a newspaper consortium in a project to generate and deliver classified advertising. There will be no new revenue in the model, but the goal will be to get more people to go to newspaper web sites to find classified ads. There will be talk of expanding this collaboration to include Ebay.
  • NO. This still seems like a good idea, but probably it should have happened in 2006 and the opportunity has passed.
Look for some big deals among the social networks. In particular, Twitter will begin to falter as it proves to be unable to identify a clearly attainable revenue stream. By year-end, it will either be acquired or will be seeking to merge or be acquired. The most likely buyer remains Facebook, but interest will come from others as well and Twitter will work hard to generate an auction that produces a high valuation for the company.
  • NO DEAL, so far. But RIGHT about Twitter beginning to falter and still having no "clearly attainable" revenue stream in sight. Twitter's unique visitors and site visits, as measured by, peaked last summer and have been declining, slowly, ever since.  Quantcast agrees.
Some innovative new approaches to journalism will emanate from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
  • YES, as described in this post and this post.  See also the blogs of Steve Buttry and Chuck Peters.  The Cedar Rapids Gazette and its affiliated TV station and web site are in the process of reinventing and reconstructing their entire workflow for news gathering and distribution.
A major motion picture or HBO series featuring a journalism theme (perhaps a blogger involved in saving the world from nefarious schemes) will generate renewed interest in journalism as a career.
  • RIGHT.  Well, I'm not sure if it has generated renewed interest in journalism as a career, but the movie State of Play featured both print reporters and bloggers.  And Julie of Julie and Julia was a blogger, as well.
Stay tuned for my predictions for 2010! 

    Tuesday, November 3, 2009

    Texas Tribune: an impressive launch that feels web-native


    The Texas Tribune lifts off this morning in Austin — there’s an election today — offering not only a slew of innovative features but also a unique content-sharing plan, by which the state’s legacy media can freely publish any content generated by the Tribune and dip into its multi-faceted information databases.

    Tribune CEO and editor Evan Smith took me on a tour through the site last night, showing off what he and a staff of just 16 (plus some outside help from Austin design group FlashBang) have put together in just three months of ramp-up time. Smith points out that Trib (as it tends to call itself) is not just about journalism, but about information and context. And in fact, the depth of political information already offered on the site puts to shame the offerings of many metro newspapers with vastly larger reporting, technical and design resources than the Trib.

    The Trib is offering all of its content as a “free syndication service” to print and broadcast media throughout Texas, as long as it’s credited to Texas Tribune. The reception of this offer, especially among the larger newspapers, has been cautious, Smith says, but has been welcomed by smaller papers without a statehouse staff of their own. The Waco Tribune-Herald has already published some Tribune content, according to Smith. Texas media will also be able to offer their readers access to Texas Tribune databases via apps they can embed on their sites.

    On the Trib front page, Smith points out:

    Read the rest of this post at Nieman Journalism Lab.

    Monday, October 26, 2009

    Newspapers take a bus plunge: circulation plummets 10.6 percent

    It’s hard to put a good face on this kind of news; in fact, it reminds me of the old “bus plunge” meme. The Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) reports that newspaper circulation for the six months ending Sept. 30 dropped 10.6 percent from the same period in 2008 (7.5 percent on Sundays).

    And this is an accelerating trend. Here are the results for the three previous six-month reporting periods (in each case, versus the same period one year earlier):

    — Oct. 1, 2008-Mar. 31, 2009: down 7.1 percent on weekdays, down 5.3% on Sundays
    — Apr. 1, 2008-Sept. 30, 2008: down 4.6 percent on weekdays, down 4.9 percent on Sunday
    — Oct. 1, 2007-Mar. 31, 2008: down 3.5 percent on weekdays, down 4.5 percent on Sundays

    In each case, the decline was the worst ever reported by ABC. The bus-plunge, cliff-drop analogy will get additional support when the Newspaper Association of America’s third-quarter advertising revenue report comes out (typically at Halloween); it’s likely to continue the trend of the previous two quarters with a drop in the 20-30 percent ballpark.

    The NAA has not provided positive spin on the circulation news (it usually distributes an internal memo with upbeat talking points for publishers), but last week it did report gains in newspaper website traffic along with this comment from NAA President and CEO John Sturm:

    Newspaper publishers continue to aggressively reinvent their business models, leveraging trusted brands to attract a growing and sophisticated audience in the digital space. At the same time, industry executives have adopted smarter circulation strategies that are growing circulation revenues even though paid circulation numbers are lower. This places the focus where it belongs: retaining core readers who deliver maximum value to advertisers while harnessing digital platforms to broaden our medium’s audience and position us strongly for the future.

    Rick Edmonds at Poynter provides a good enumeration of the various factors behind the print decline, including strategic pullbacks by newspapers from fringe distribution and higher prices charged to subscribers and single-copy buyers. NAA also reported recently, as a positive development, that the “churn rate” (which measures how often subscribers fail to renew their subscription), had dropped from 54.5 percent in 2000 to 31.8 percent in 2008. It’s probably even lower today, as papers simply stop trying to retain marginal subscribers and focus on keeping their “core readers,” as Sturm says.

    The 10.6-percent decline means that since last year, about 4.5 percent of U.S. households have given up reading a printed newspaper, and that printed newspapers now reach less than 40 percent of U.S. households. About the same percentage of adults say they get “most of their news” from printed papers, but that fraction will very soon be overtaken by the portion who get most of their news from the web.

    You could read Sturm’s comment as an acknowledgment of several inexorable trends: news readership is moving to the web; print circulation will continue to fall; print is now a niche product which still reaches our “core readers” (older, higher income readers still desirable to a subset of advertisers); newspapers will charge whatever they can for print subscriptions — but “digital platforms” are going to be the industry’s future.

    I’m hopeful that’s the NAA’s real advice to publishers. Taken seriously, it implies that the much-discussed, little-implemented strategy of charging broadly for online content in order to “protect print” is backing the wrong horse. It’s because print is now a niche business that newspapers are able to show the growing circulation revenues mentioned by Sturm. Readers can’t be forced into print by online prices, although they certainly may pay for niche content online and they should pay, handsomely, for the luxury of a home-delivered newspaper. Meanwhile, the industry’s all-out focus should be on seriously growing its online audience.

    Unfortunately, in that department it has a ways to go. The NAA is upbeat about the stats outlined in its web traffic report, but (as I outlined also after the Q2 report), seen in context, they paint a picture of an industry that’s lagging seriously in transforming itself to a digital news medium. An “active reach” of 38 percent means 62 percent of adults ignored newspaper web sites. About 48 pages per person per month means the average visitor looked at only 1.5 pages per day. Time spent, at 34 minutes per person in September (and down from the previous two summer-vacation months), is barely one minute per person per day. At most of the top newspaper sites, according to E&P’s compilation, that time spent is even lower — just twelve and a half minutes at the top-ranked, for example.

    Meanwhile, the average web user spends between 30 and 40 hours a month online, depending on which survey you like, and dabbles at Facebook and other social networking sites 17 percent of that time. Time spent at social networking sites has tripled in the last year, while time spent at newspaper sites is flat, at best. (All these stats are from Nielsen, by the way, so there’s no apples/oranges issue going on.)

    All of which is to say: newspapers have a pretty tiny share of online attention and are losing ground online just as they are in print. But online is the future the NAA’s Sturm is talking about. The focus for newspapers has to be on growing online attention share, fast.

    (Also posted at NiemanLab.)

    Tuesday, September 22, 2009

    Has newspaper advertising reached rock bottom? Probably not.

    During the last few months, as newspaper stock prices rebounded somewhat from their lowest points, and as newspaper execs suggested, in conjunction with second quarter results, that having made all the cuts they did, they would be in good shape “once advertising rebounds,” I found myself nevertheless thinking the same thoughts as the crystal ball-gazers consulted by the New York Times who said that the bottom, for newspaper advertising revenue, had not yet been reached.

    The good news is that the third quarter of 2009 won’t be quite as bad as the second: the consensus is that revenue will drop just 25 percent, compared to about 30 percent in Q2. That means that even if the fourth quarter somehow manages to be dead even with last year’s Q4, revenue for the year will be down 20.4 percent. But dead even would be a big stretch, because the first three quarters of 2009 will average about $6.7 billion, while Q4 of last year was $10.1 billion. Typically, Q4 beats the average of the first three quarters of the year by about 22 percent in good years, less in bad years. Even with the benefit of the doubt at a 20 percent differential (Q4 vs. the average of Q1-3), that puts Q4 at $8.1 billion (down 20 percent from prior year) and the full year 2009 at $28.2 billion, down 25.5 percent from last year’s $37.8 billion. (My recent guess for the year stands at $27.5 billion.) For newspapers to get to around $28 billion for the year, however, advertisers would have to invest in newspapers in Q4 with the assumption that the recession is mainly over and that consumers will be loosening purse strings significantly during the holiday shopping period.
    Continue reading this post at NiemanLab.

    Monday, August 31, 2009

    Can newspaper publishers survive this revenue freefall? Perhaps, if they embrace a digital future.

    Without the fanfare that accompanied the recent release of its online readership data, the NAA quietly posted last week its latest compilation of quarterly revenue data for U.S. daily newspapers, in a data set it has maintained for 50 years. The latest figures, for the second quarter, show an alarming drop of 30.15 percent in print revenue and 15.90 percent in online revenue versus the same period in 2008. Despite signs elsewhere that the recession may have bottomed out, these figures are even worse than the first quarter results (declines of 29.70 percent in print and 13.40 percent online).

    Alan Mutter, the Newsosaur, analyzes these numbers by category and projects that for the full year 2009, combined print and online revenue will be “no more than $27 billion” — and worse if the economy doesn’t pick up — a drop of more nearly $11 billion from 2008’s $37.8 billion. My guess is slightly higher: print revenue of $25 billion; online revenue of $2.5 billion, total $27.5 billion — a drop of $10.3 billion.

    How did this happen to an industry that in 2005 garnered record revenue of $49.4 billion ($47.4 billion of it in print)? By adjusting the historical numbers for inflation, as Mutter did, the industry is half the size it was in 1986, when it scored $52.3 billion in 2008 dollars. But that doesn’t paint the whole picture.

    A better way to look at the historical revenue record is to place it in the context of total advertising expenditures across all U.S. media. I’ve done that, and here’s what it looks like:

    Continue reading this post at Nieman Journalism Lab.

    Wednesday, August 5, 2009

    NAA/Nielsen stats show newspapers own less than 1 percent of U.S. online audience page views, time spent

    The NAA has issued another of its regular updates on the state of the U.S. daily newspaper Web audience. As usual, the numbers, sourced from Nielsen Online, sound impressive:

    Newspaper Web sites attracted more than 70.3 million unique visitors in June (35.9 percent of all Internet users), according to a custom analysis provided by Nielsen Online for the Newspaper Association of America. Newspaper Web site visitors generated 3.5 billion page views during the month, spending 2.7 billion minutes browsing the sites over more than 597 million total sessions.

    NAA mentions that Nielsen has changed its methodology (in part by increasing the sample size of its online usage survey to more than 230,000 panelists), so the numbers should not be compared with those issued in prior months. But just in case you do compare, they are nicely up in the unique visitor and page view categories — so far so good.

    Comparison with past performance is one way to put the numbers in context, but another that seems appropriate is to compare them with the total online audience. In other words, just how much of time spent online, and page views, are going to newspaper Web sites? And how do newspaper numbers compare with top Web brands? The answers are, unfortunately, rather dismal.

    A few weeks back Nielsen issued some information, also based on its new methods, painting a picture of the total online audience in June. Combining those number with the ones put forward by NAA, here’s the whole picture in context (all figures for the month of June, all from Nielsen Online):

    • The total “Active Digital Media Universe” (Nielsen’s term for total U.S. unique visitors online during the month, both at home and at work): 195,974,309.
    • Of these, 70,340,277 or 35.89 percent visited a newspaper Web site. (On the other hand, 64 percent got their news elsewhere.)
    • The average member of the Active Digital Media Universe visited 2,569 Web pages. That adds up to 503,457,999,821 page views.
    • Of those 503 billion page views, 3,468,549,698 (3.5 billion) went to newspaper Web sites. That’s less than 1 percent of all page views, or 0.69 percent to be exact.
    • Nielsen says the average page view (in that universe of 503 billion) lasted 57 seconds.* That translates to 7,971,418,330 hours spent online or 40 hours, 40 minutes and 33 seconds per person.
    • Of those 7.9 billion hours spent online, time spent at newspaper Web sites was 45,022,485 hours. That’s less than 1 percent of all time spent online, or 0.56 percent.

    Further context: the total audience as measured in unique visitors for the top eight online brands, individually, exceeded the audience for all newspapers combined. Those eight, with their unique audiences, are: Google (147,778,000), Yahoo! (133,139,000), MSN/WindowsLive/Bing (111,352,000), Microsoft (96,071,000, AOL (92,705,000), YouTube (87,686,000), Facebook (87,254,000) and Fox Interactive (72,724,000). Most of these brands also far exceed the average time spent, in total, at newspaper sites (38 minutes, 24 seconds in June). Time spent by the average visitor at Facebook, alone, was 4 hours, 39 minutes, or more than seven times the newspaper average.

    The challenge to newspapers is not simply to improve their numbers over prior months, or to post numbers that look impressive at first blush — the challenge is to gain market share. To do this, newspapers need to build not only unique visitors, but visits per person, pages per visit, and time spent per visit. At less than 1 percent of page views or time spent, newspapers are barely on the radar screen.

    The dialogue in the industry should not be about building paywalls, punishing aggregators, tweaking copyright laws or anything else that would constrict, rather than build, the online audience for newspaper content. And it should not be about “protecting print.”

    The dialogue should be primarily about transforming newspapers into online-first digital enterprises. That’s what those eight brands I listed are, that’s what everyone working for them understands, that’s what drives every decision they make, and that’s how they are able individually to far outpull the entire newspaper industry in online audience share.

    *The release as originally posted transposed some numbers but I’ve confirmed with Nielsen that 57 seconds is the correct time per page view.

    Click here for my prior posts at Nieman Journalism Lab

    Monday, July 27, 2009

    The Times should develop paid niche channels, not broad premium content packages

    Yet another stage of the New York Times’s exploration of paid content options has come to light via Gawker, which has posted the text of two potential content packages, labeled “Silver” and “Gold.” It’s clear these are hypothetical options; Gawker quotes a Times spokesperson as writing them that “It’s very early in the process. We are still in the data collection phase.”

    As described in the survey, Silver would be priced at $50 a year and offer benefits called FirstLook (early access to some stories) and BackStory (extra background on some stories), as well as TimesWire (now free) and TimesMachine (an archive service now largely free). You also get some extras including bling (coffee mug, tote bag, baseball cap, or a copy of the New York Times Style Guide) and discounts on photo reproductions and other stuff from the Times store.

    At the Gold level, you would pay $150 a year for all of the above plus TimesEvents (preferred access to events organized or sponsored by the Times), and TimesInsider (personal access to some Times writers). The pitch for Gold is “with NYT Gold, you won’t just read the Times, you’ll experience it.”

    Silver and Gold sound like packages dreamed up by Times execs who were thinking, “how can we add a couple of layers to the free content we’re putting on the site, and make it look like something some people might pay for?”

    And what they came up with was something that resembles how memberships are generally packaged at cultural non-profits like the museums, opera companies and symphony orchestras of New York City, which those Times are undoubtedly members of. As a museum member, you might get similar invitations to special events, admission to special exhibits, a chance to meet the curator, behind-the-scenes tours, discounts at the museum store, and so on.

    But the Times is not a museum. It’s a business with customers. And rather than creating general access packages that are aimed at all of its customers, the Times should look at the many specific niche interests of its customers and offer packages aimed at as many of those niches as possible. Few people are willing to pay for broad news content, no matter who they get to rub shoulders with, but many people are willing to pay for content relevant to their passions. If the Times asked their customers about that, they’d find that frequent traveler might be willing to buy premium travel content; a film buff might pay for deeper movie content; an avid gardener might pay for specialized horticultural material. The Times should think about a suite of TimesChannels: TimesTravel, Times Tech, TimesGourmet, TimesDesign, TimesGarden, TimesArt, TimesFilm, TimesWeather, TimesPuzzles, TimesBooks, TimesPolitics, TimesFinance, TimesWhatever, each with much deeper content than the free website has, each priced at $50 a year, and each potentially capable of attracting an audience as large as TimesSilver or TimesGold might get.

    My prior posts at NiemanLab

    Friday, July 24, 2009

    American Centinel: The first newspaper in Pittsfield, Mass.

    For newspaper history buffs: Over on the blog of Pittsfield's Monday Evening Club, I've posted a 2003 presentation to the Club detailing the history of the first newspaper in Pittsfield, the American Centinel, of which only one copy is known to survive.

    Thursday, July 23, 2009

    Texas Tribune buys Texas Weekly

    Texas Tribune, the just-announced, well-funded nonprofit that plans to cover Texas politics and more starting in the fall, is wasting no time building up a team and incorporating institutional memory by acquiring Texas Weekly and naming its owner and editor, Ross Ramsey, managing editor of the Tribune. Among other things, the acquisition buys Texas Tribune a valuable content base — nearly two decades of electronic archives.

    Texas Weekly is an online newsletter founded in 1984 focused on Texas government and politics. Most of its content is delivered to subscribers in a weekly emailed edition priced at $250. Current subscribers will “receive, for the duration of their subscriptions, a new weekly publication featuring premium content not available to regular readers of the Tribune.” (This suggests that Texas Tribune, also, could have in mind a premium content edition for paying subscribers, although founder John Thornton has been pretty negative about paywalls in the past.)

    Along with the Texas Weekly purchase and the appointment of Ramsey, the announcement discloses the hiring of “the first five reporters on the Tribune’s newsroom team: Brandi Grissom, Elise Hu, Emily Ramshaw, Abby Rapoport, and Matt Stiles.” Bios are in the release here.

    My prior posts at NiemanLab

    Monday, July 13, 2009

    How healthy are community papers? The sudden death of the Eagle Times

    A scenic ride along the Connecticut River valley from my abode near Brattleboro, Vt., on the New Hampshire side of the valley, is the city of Claremont — a typical New England mill town with a population of 13,000, a regional hospital, a state college branch, a relatively sound local economy (unemployment rate of 6.0 percent), and until last Friday, a local daily newspaper with a circulation of about 7,800, the Eagle Times.

    But on Thursday, Eagle Times owner and publisher Harvey Hill threw in the towel, after subsidizing losses in his operations to the tune of “seven figures”. He gathered his employees and announced that Eagle Publications was filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy (some were told by e-mail), that Friday’s edition of the paper would be its last, and that the company’s three weekly publications would not publish any more issues. Chapter 7 means the company is heading for liquidation, not reorganization. (Note: links to the newspaper’s web site may not last much longer.)

    Locally, the big concern is what will move into the void. At least one entrepreneur has a plan. But more broadly, the big question is what the Claremont situation portends for small “community” newspapers — both weeklies and dailies — across the country. The conventional wisdom has been that it’s primarily the big metropolitan newspapers that are in trouble; that papers in smaller markets remain profitable, if less so than in the past.

    An Inland Press Association study cited by Alan Mutter, the Newsosaur, in several recent posts suggests that papers under 15,000 in circulation have seen revenue grow slightly from 2004 to 2008, while suffering a 64.8% drop in profits. But the study is based on data from only 120 newspapers of all sizes, and may not have a representative sample of papers in any particular size group.

    Continue reading this post at Nieman Journalism Lab.

    Wednesday, July 8, 2009

    Adiós, Gannett Blog; where are the rest of the watchblogs?

    You have to admit, Gannett Blog kind of jumped the shark.

    When Jim Hopkins got started with it, Gannett Blog was a useful compendium of news, gossip, tips and analysis about the country’s largest newspaper publishing company, and occasionally he would uncover something nobody else had noticed, like CEO Craig Dubow’s self-serving direction of $40,000 in Gannett Foundation money to an endowed scholarship, in his and his wife’s names, at Western Carolina University.

    But lately the site has degenerated into a rather odd mix of self promotion, beefcake, travelogue from Ibiza, more beefcake, and a countdown toward oblivion, which is slated for Friday. Time’s running out! You have just two days left to comment!

    Hopkins is redirecting his traffic to Gannettoid, which started up in December. Gannettoid is not a blog; its content lacks clear dates, so it’s not clear that it will be as useful to Gannettoids as Gannett Blog was, at least before it succumbed to self-admiration and hype. Until recently it lacked commenting, as well, but it has recently added a forum for discussion. Maybe it will get around to RSS, also.

    Not every major newspaper group is favored with a meta-site where employees and others can get the latest news, leaks, gossip and analysis on their favorite company.

    MediaNews groupies can turn to MediaNews Monitor, operated by the Newspaper Guild-CWA, which doesn’t do much reporting of its own, but links to stories and blog posts published elsewhere.

    Read the rest of this post at Nieman Journalism Lab.

    Tuesday, July 7, 2009

    If you were starting a news organization, where would you put your initial efforts?

    I’m continuing my response to Phil Buckley’s excellent question: “If you were starting a news organization today, where would put your initial efforts?” (Previously)

    A from-scratch news organization today would, of course, be an online-first enterprise. That doesn’t rule out print as a niche byproduct, but print would not be among the “initial efforts.” So let’s focus on digital strategies and tactics, beginning with the easier ones:

    • Even if you plan a print spinoff, like a weekly newspaper (or even a daily), lead with your dot-com brand. The URL should be the biggest thing on your business cards, your sales materials, the sign on your offices — everything.
    • Be clear about your geography. Every day I come upon local news sites with no indication what city or state they’re based in. (Where is this site published? Where in New Jersey is this one? Where in oil country is The Derrick? What’s so hard about adding “Lewiston, Maine,” “Newton, New Jersey,” or “Oil City, Pennsylvania”?) Remember that sites all over the world may link to your content. Tell those visitors where they’ve arrived.
    • Make it easy for people to reach you: publish a clear, accessible directory under “Contact Us,” with everyone’s e-mail, phone extension, cell phone and Twitter handle. Amazingly enough, some sites still omit “Contact Us” entirely. Others make it damned hard to find.
    • Include plenty of links in posts and stories, both inbound and outbound. It’s what makes the web go round.
    • Strongly encourage news staff to jump into comment threads and talk with readers. We do that here at NiemanLab, and it’s what turns commenting in conversation.
    • Strongly encourage news staff to Tweet and blog, as well.
    Continue reading this post at Nieman Journalism Lab.

    Monday, June 29, 2009

    Could strategic bankruptcies be needed to transform newspapers?

    Continuing on a theme: I’ve been discussing the apparent disconnect between the quality of a news site’s design (as perceived and rated by professionals) and how much time people spend there; as well as the kinds of things that count more than design: reader engagement, interaction, community, personality — real life behind and around the content.

    In a comment on the second post, Phil Buckley, whose commentary I had quoted and linked to, asked: “If you were starting a news organization today, where would put your initial efforts?”

    I like this, because it’s the key question that all news organizations should be asking themselves. If tackled correctly, it can be a transformative question, a way to self-disrupt the organization, a way to get through the wormhole of reinvention that newspapers are facing, and come out on the other side with a workable business model.

    And indeed, forward-thinking news organizations are asking it. But in some news organizations (like Phil, I try to call them that instead of newspapers), the process of dealing with this question leads to an uncomfortable realization: the business model for news in the future is so radically different from today’s legacy newspaper business that there is no way to get from here to there without “a major restructuring event,” which is a euphemism for bankruptcy.

    In other words, the viable business model they can glimpse — consisting, perhaps, of a weekend-only or twice-weekly printed byproduct of an online-first publishing operation — represents such a downsizing of the enterprise that it can’t possibly carry the company’s legacy debt load, so the only way to make the transition is first file Chapter 11.

    Continue reading this post at Nieman Journalism Lab.

    Yet another “What if you go online-only?” scenario

    This question keeps getting asked in various ways: “What if you just stopped printing the newspaper and went online-only? How many people would you need, what would your costs be, and could you earn enough revenue to make a profit?”

    It’s not necessarily the right question, because there’s still life left in print. An online-print hybrid, with one or two days a week of printed distribution tied to a strong digital publishing operation, is probably a much better solution than online-only.

    In any case, Peter Kafka of All Things Digital is the latest to noodle the online-only version and has posted a spreadsheet supplied by Mark Josephson, CEO of, which offers a news platform, for Publishers, that can augment a local news site (such as that of a newspaper or TV station) with a stream of content links to local blogs and other sources.

    In Josephson’s wildly optimistic model, the news operation gets 40 million page views per month, which is then augmented by 93 million page views from the adjunct, and ultimately this sugars down to a tidy annual profit of $2.8 million with 20 employees who earn $70,000 apiece.

    If it were that easy, it would be happening all over. The problem begins with the combined page views of 130 million per month, which is more than nearly all U.S. newspaper sites get, as Topix CEO Chris Tolles pointed out in response to the Kafka post. As well, it seems unrealistic for the add-on to the local site to more than triple the combined monthly traffic. Maybe for the typically underperforming broadcast site, that would be the case, but not with a newspaper partner. Tolles questions the assumed ad CPM, as well.

    Josephson responded to Tolles by saying “but the model still works with fewer [pageviews]. [Pageview] reductions reduce the attendant expense and would require fewer people.” Well sure, but look, a typical 30,000-circulation daily paper is lucky to get a million pageviews a month, which, even if leveraged to 3 million with, would scale the 20-person staffing model to exactly 0.5 people. Back to the drawing boards, I’d suggest.

    Friday, June 26, 2009

    What counts more than design in attracting an online news audience?

    As I laid out on Wednesday, there seems to be no discernible correlation between the overall quality of a web site and how much time readers spend there.

    In the heydays of printed newspapers, we had some similar anomalies: newspapers with terrible designs (as judged by the designer elite) would have market penetrations equally strong as those following the latest design trends and gimmicks.

    So what keeps eyeballs on sites, once they’ve landed there? Here are some recent views of interest:

    Phil at has a nice post building on Dave Brubeck’s breakout “Take Five”, raking over the coals the lackluster site of the News & Observer (once an internet pioneer), and agreeing with my conclusion that it’s not really about design:

    Continue reading this post at Nieman Journalism Lab.

    Wednesday, June 24, 2009

    Time-spent on newspaper sites: not predictable from rated quality

    Much buzz last week about the release, via E&P, of Nielsen’s May time-spent ratings of the top US 30 newspaper sites, and the fact that 17 of them — more than half — showed a decline from year-earlier levels.

    Now, any statistician will tell you not to read too much into one month’s data. It’s like drawing conclusions from one day’s fluctuation in the stock market. I’d bet the ratings were up, big time, in November and January on Presidential election and inauguration news. In May 2008, among other things, there was a lot of attention being paid to the final primaries and pre-convention maneuvering in the Presidential race — far more interesting news than we had last month. Clearly, that explains why time spent at Politico dropped about 4 minutes from last year’s 10 minutes, 21 seconds. Barack Obama clinched the nomination on June 3, 2008; Hillary Clinton threw in the towel on June 7 — so when the June 2009 ratings come out, we could see another lackluster month, unless traffic is boosted by events in Iran.

    On the other hand, when any site is seeing a consistent drop in reader engagement, year-over-year, that’s an issue, and that seems to be the case with some of these papers, although the data we have is spotty. It would be nice if E&P’s Jen Saba would dip into the Nielsen data for us and draw a graph of the times-spent measured at these sites monthly during the past year — she has previously published reports only on January, March and last September (now behind the pay wall).

    Also puzzling: in some cases, while time spent is plummeting, unique-visitor counts are soaring. For example, the May data has time spent at, the Star Ledger’s site, dropping from 8 minutes and 25 seconds to 2 minutes and 28 seconds. Meanwhile, however, according to, uniques at have soared from 1.2 million in May 2008 to 2.7 million last month, with site visits zooming during that period from 4.2 million to 7.5 million. Both UVs and visits show a pretty consistent uptrend especially since November.

    What’s going on there? Back in August, the site underwent a redesign promising “to make its wealth of in-depth content easier to find and use.” Perhaps, too, there has been more local promotion of the site. But all those extra eyeballs are obviously not sticking around very long. And when investor-oriented 24/7 Wall Street rated the top US newspaper sites last week, it singled out as deserving an F rating, with this description:

    Continue reading this post at Nieman Journalism Lab.

    Sunday, June 21, 2009

    Circulate enters the fray: holistic, user-centric content discovery tool

    Again with full disclosure up front: this is a venture in which I am personally involved:

    A few weeks ago in Washington DC, my partners and I announced the formation of CircLabs and the intent to develop a product "code-named" Circulate, incubated at the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri. But the announcement stopped short of an explicit description. We've now unveiled the CircLabs Inc. website with more details about our plans for Circulate on the About Us/FAQ page.

    Circulate is a holistic, user-centric solution aimed broadly at sustaining journalism in a digital world, with specific relevance to the ongoing exploration of paid-content models for newspaper Web sites. Circulate enables experimentation with subscription and per-item user charges, but as a user-centric content discovery tool, Circulate goes well beyond the announced features of other systems that have been proposed in that space.

    Circulate will be rolled out in phases. Initially, it will be a browser add-on that you can have always handy as you move around the Web. Circulate will function on multiple platforms to allow full portability: a mobile application is planned, possibly first as an iPhone application, along with user start page and e-mail notification options.

    We describe Circulate on our site in these terms:
    Circulate will be present whenever and wherever Web users go online. Circulate learns the user's preferences and becomes an intelligent, indispensable Web assistant that replaces the hassle of search with on-target recommendations and social interactivity....

    Circulate travels with you, at your option, wherever you go online. Using your expressly shared interests and preferences, along with your current browsing path, it suggests where you may want to go next, or later on. Over time, you can refine your content interests so that Circulate gets to know you and becomes an even better personal guide to the Web....

    Before Circulate, you had to know where you're going online or use unpredictable search engines. And you needed to do all the work by typing search terms or by scanning links. This hasn't changed much during all the time the Web has been around.

    Circulate solves this problem by bringing the Web to you simply and quickly. With Circulate, you can take a big step into the post-search, Web 3.0 world. Circulate is a personal information agent that works just for you....

    When you begin using Circulate, you'll probably want to tell it a little bit about yourself. As you continue to interact with it, you can allow it to learn more about you and your preferences, and it uses that information to deliver Web recommendations to you.

    Eventually, you'll find that Circulate brings you what you want to see, learn about, and interact with online, before you even think about it. In a real sense, it will become an intelligent personal information agent.
    As a Circulate user, you'll be able to have an account with a home-base publisher, like the local paper, and optionally profile yourself. Then the Circulate system will go to work and discover and present to you information that’s really relevant to your interests. You'll be able to set alerts if you want, but you don't have to. Circulate won’t start out carrying advertising, but eventually when it does, you'll see advertising that matters to you, not blindly-aimed mass-market ads. And it sets up the possibility that you could optionally subscribe, through your home-base publisher, to valuable information at hundreds and eventually thousands of news and other websites, all at a low monthly blanket rate.

    Circulate will feature social functionality, so that you can share and discuss content (but its content recommendations are not sourced through "collaborative filtering"). Over time, you will be able to select additional features on Circulate as they are developed.

    Importantly, a core, fundamental value at CircLabs is user privacy. While Circulate will work best when the user shares information, that will happen with the user's explicit permission, not by virtue of obscure language buried in user agreements no one reads.

    For publishers, we see Circulate as a game-changing solution that can enhance revenue in a number of ways:
    • Local branding
    • Increased high-value site traffic
    • Local advertising on Circulate
    • Subscription revenue
    • Per-item revenue
    • Other forms of commercial revenue
    We invite publishers to contact us and to explore the features of Circulate in more detail. We've begun software development, but Circulate will improve even faster if we can work with publishers in various ways, including technical collaboration, refinement of the end-user experience, marketing to end users, local and national advertising sales, and paid content options.

    Besides myself, the CircLabs leadership team consists of Jeff Vander Clute, President; Joe Bergeron, VP, Product Development; and Bill Densmore, Co-founder. You can read more about us here.

    We expect to begin beta testing Circulate this fall.

    Thursday, June 18, 2009

    Metamorphosis for the Globe?


    Imagine one morning, you wake up from your troubled dreams and find yourself transformed in your bed into a horrible vermin… No, no, wait! Imagine you wake up and find yourself holding the keys to the Boston Globe. And Arthur Sulzberger is standing beside your bed, ready to hand you $20 million or so if you will please, please, just take it off his hands.

    This scenario could well play out — well, not quite like that of course — since the value of the paper is essentially zero. The Times Company has put it up for sale, and the question is really whether the buyer will pay some token sum to the Times, or whether the Times will subsidize the buyers by spotting them some working capital.

    The folks nibbling at this opportunity (some of whom have been mentioned in the Globe and elsewhere) have to be asking themselves whether this white elephant of a newspaper can be made profitable once again. A key part of that question is whether Boston can remain a two-newspaper town.

    My prediction is that, ironic as it may seem, Pat Purcell’s Boston Herald will be left as the only daily paper in Boston, and that the Globe will evolve into something different. That doesn’t mean the Herald wins, because in the long run, daily print is just not a sustainable business model anywhere. Or almost anywhere, if we want to hedge that bet a little.

    If Denver, Tucson, Albuquerque and Seattle, all with populations in the same ballpark as Boston’s, couldn’t sustain two newspapers, then neither can Boston.

    Continue reading this post at Nieman Journalism Lab.

    Time Warner makes a small bet on hyperlocal news sites in Patch

    We’re starting to see some dollars flowing into online-only news startups.

    Patch, operator of six local sites in New Jersey, was purchased last week by Time Warner. Forbes reported the purchase price to be about $10 million.

    patchPatch has announced plans for three more sites, in Connecticut, and clearly it has its sights set on many more. In an unrelated transaction, Time Warner is also buying a Boston-based events-based site called Going.

    Earlier this year, Dallas-Fort Worth local site Pegasus News sold to Gap Communications, reputedly for $1.5 million. (The seller was Fisher Communications, which had bought Pegasus in 2007.)

    Just as we’re seeing signs here and there that the financial logjam that created this recession is beginning to loosen up, perhaps transactions of this kind are signs that smart money (or at least money that thinks it’s smart) is putting some value on local news and information.

    In the scheme of things, $10 million is not a big valuation, even in this post-recessionary epoch we’re embarking upon. And, with its limited geographic footprint, Pegasus is a long way from proving the fabled “scalability” so desirable in world of Web startups.

    To begin with, Patch will have to start generating some revenue from advertising, which is not visible on its sites at this point. In fact, the “advertise” link on Patch goes to a pretty rudimentary information page suggesting a choice between banner ads and “self-service” ads.

    Continue reading this post at Nieman Journalism Lab.

    Sunday, June 14, 2009

    Ruminations on newspapers and communities

    My friend Richard Floyd keeps a blog called Retired Pastor Ruminates. He is a fellow member of the Monday Evening Club of Pittsfield, Mass., to which I presented a paper, previously mentioned here, on the future of newspapers.

    Floyd has now conducted and posted an e-mail interview following up on the paper, in which he pursues, and I attempt to answer, a line of inquiry relating to the function of newspapers in holding together communities, and whether the decline of newspapers will have an effect on the well-being of communities.

    Monday, June 8, 2009

    Extra, extra, read all about it on your iPhone: Mobile news is gaining fast

    iphoneA convergence of factoids seems to point to something inevitable: the future of news delivery is on wireless devices, and those devices will be smartphones, much more than e-readers.

    First, here’s data about the ubiquity of wireless as of the end of 2008, which is already nearly half a year ago, all from CTIA, “The Wireless Association” (what the initial actually stand for, I can’t figure out) (via Amy Gahran at Poynter):

    • The U.S. has 270.3 wireless subscribers, which is the equivalent of 87 percent of the entire population. At the end of 2005 the penetration was just 69 percent. It looks like only centenarians and some of the sub-teen population are still cellphone-less.
    • 17.5 percent of households are wireless-only and have no “land line” (one of those retro-formations, like “analog watch”). This is more than double the 2005 level of 8.4 percent.
    • In 2008, we used our wireless phones for 2.2 trillion minutes, which is almost 50 percent more than during 2005.
    • We sent 1 trillion SMS messages during 2008, which more than 10 times the 2005 level of 81 billion.

    Now, at the cutting edge of all these wireless users are the smart-phone owners, and thanks to a study from gravitytank, we have some insights into them as well:

    Read the rest of this post at

    Monday, June 1, 2009

    Selling online news content like airline seats: price discrimination maximizes revenue

    The other day at RJI’s conference “From Gatekeeper to Information Valet,” at George Washington University, the final presenter on the formal schedule was Albert Sun, a University of Pennsylvania math and economics student who happens also to have a strong interest in journalism.

    On his blog, back in March, Sun posted a remarkably confident essay entitled “Price discriminate! The economics of charging for online content,” complete with some nifty graphs.

    Now, we know that from the newsroom to the board room, math and economics are not widely held skills. So get out your old Samuelson and try to follow along. This just entails supply and demand and a few special wrinkles, all from Econ 101.

    Here are Sun’s PowerPoint slides from GWU:

    Read the rest of this post at Nieman Journalism Lab.

    Wednesday, May 27, 2009

    Circlabs: a new entry in the options for sustaining journalism

    Full disclosure right up front: I’m one of the partners launching the venture described herein.

    This morning in Washington, D.C., Jeff Vander Clute and I announced the formation of CircLabs, a technology company based in Silicon Valley that’s building a new service to finance online news. CircLabs has seed funding from the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri.

    The announcement was part of a one-day conference entitled “From Gatekeeper to Information Valet: Work Plans for Sustaining Journalism,” organized by Bill Densmore, another partner in the project along with Joe Bergeron, a Silicon Valley software engineer.

    CircLabs plans a suite of services, the first of which is code-named “Circulate.” Software development on Circulate is underway, and we anticipate launching the service during the second half of this year.

    Circulate will address the challenges of how to increase traffic to media-affiliated websites, secure relationships with online users and enhance the value of news. The Associated Press has been cooperating with us and is supportive of the service. We anticipate including a variety of strategic partners — unique investors necessary for continued development after the launch of Circulate.

    Continue reading this post at Nieman Journalism Lab.

    Tuesday, May 26, 2009

    News entrepreneur boot camp seeks to launch 15 journalism ventures

    I’m back from 5 days in Los Angeles at the Knight Digital Media Center News Entrepreneur Boot Camp, held at the University of Southern California under the auspices of USC Annenberg. Long ago I lived in San Francisco for a year and never felt an earthquake, but for the occasion of our five days in L. A. there were two “moderate” quakes, 4.7 and 4.1 on the Richter scale.

    More significantly, if not of earthshaking import, the boot camp met the expectations of participants to help them shape their visions into plausible business ventures. As both a participant and an observer, my feeling was that the proceedings lent credence to the idea that going forward, successful journalism can happen not just in large organizations but in small, bootstrapped operations that target well-identified local, regional and national needs.

    The businesses being formulated by the campers ranged from hyperlocal news sites to local, regional and national niche sites on politics, economic development, technology, entertainment, health, education and consumer issues. Several of them underwent major revisions in their focus or funding options during the camp.

    Continue reading this post at Nieman Journalism Lab.

    QR code: tool for journalists?

    Michael Josefowicz, self-styled “print evangelist” and a frequent commenter here at Nieman Journalism Lab, has a new post at PBS’s MediaShift that will bring you up to date on QR codes, which look to be “CueCat done right.”

    QR stands for “quick response.” QR codes are two-dimensional scanning code blocks that can be placed in print ads. Readers scan the code with their Web-enabled cell phone and are instantly connected with Web content relevant to the ad. Marketers get an instant read on how well their ad is working and how much of their Web traffic is print-driven. The codes are fairly common in Japan and are beginning to show up in European publications. As usual these days, we’ll see this in the U.S. somewhere down the road.

    QR codes can be used by journalists as well — they can be included in a print story to connect readers with background or detail, or to provide feedback to reporters and editors. The QR responses can also help sort out what kinds of readers like what kinds of content. Josefowicz:

    Continue reading this post at Nieman Journalism Lab.

    Thursday, May 14, 2009

    Maybe Google really needs newspapers


    Google has steadily and politely resisted suggestions from various quarters that since it has so much cash and clout, it should just rescue the newspaper business. Wisely, they have stuck with the mantra that they are out to organize information, not to publish content.

    But this week we hear that Google is in negotiations with the New York Times and the Washington Post (and, one assumes, possibly others) “about improved ways of creating and presenting news online.” And Richard Siklos at Fortune reports

    that an intermediary tried to interest Google in “buying the Times.”

    Nicholas Carlson at Silicon Valley Insider mentions a couple of possible ingredients in the Times/Google talks:

    • A potential agreement in which any time Google’s search crawlers find a Web site carrying New York Times content and Google ads, Google would split the revenue it gets from those ads with the Times.
    • Google would somehow help the New York Times actually embed ads within its text so that when blogs or other Web sites use that text, the ads go with it. We have no idea how Google and the Times would do this. Neither does our source.

    The latter is certainly something that a news organization allowing fairly free use of its content via an API would want to be exploring.

    Two recent blog posts offer other possible explanations for the schmoozing between Google, Times and WaPo execs:

    Read the rest of this post at Nieman Journalism Lab.

    Photo credit: Adriaan Bloem, used under Creative Commons license.

    Monday, May 11, 2009

    Wolfram-Alpha and other ways to enhance database journalism

    Participants at Matt Thompson’s recent gathering on the Future of Context discussed (among many other things) database journalism — city crime maps, for example — and agreed that they can actually be a disservice to readers. The problem comes in maintaining the data: a reporter or team gathers data, analyzes it, creates interesting presentation graphics — and then often fails to maintain the data, so that it is quickly out of date, irrelevant, and even misleading. As well, a map presented without context or interpretation can lead to erroneous conclusions by readers.

    As news organizations look to add high-value content that might form the core of paid-content sections for their sites, compilations and analysis of public (but not necessarily online) information is one of the areas they’re exploring. (See, for example, Steve Buttry’s laundry list of data the Cedar Rapids Gazette is looking to incorporate on its sites.) As the data imported to the site grows, so does the maintenance issue.

    One way out of this is the way the Raleign (N.C.) News & Observer handles it: their crime maps are set up to pull information directly and continuously from law enforcement databases, so that the maps are always up-to-date. The N&O uses the same approach with many of the other data topics in its impressive Fact Finder resource.

    alpha_logo_apr09Another resource that may prove useful to database journalism is Wolfram Alpha, which is set to launch on May 18. Some have heralded its advent as potentially “changing the internet forever”:

    Wolfram Alpha will not only give a straight answer to questions such as “how high is Mount Everest?”, but it will also produce a neat page of related information — all properly sourced — such as geographical location and nearby towns, and other mountains, complete with graphs and charts.

    The real innovation, however, is in its ability to work things out “on the fly,” according to its British inventor, Dr. Stephen Wolfram. If you ask it to compare the height of Mount Everest to the length of the Golden Gate Bridge, it will tell you. Or ask what the weather was like in London on the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated, it will cross-check and provide the answer. Ask it about D sharp major, it will play the scale. Type in “10 flips for four heads” and it will guess that you need to know the probability of coin-tossing. If you want to know when the next solar eclipse over Chicago is, or the exact current location of the International Space Station, it can work it out.

    Continue reading this post (and watch Wolfram-Alpha demo video) at Nieman Journalism Lab.