Tag Archives: Peter Kafka

Mr. Sulzberger, Tear Down This Wall

Jeremy W. Peters at NYT:

The New York Times rolled out a plan on Thursday to begin charging the most frequent users of its Web site $15 for a four-week subscription in a bet that readers will pay for news they have grown accustomed to getting free.

Beginning March 28, visitors to NYTimes.com will be able to read 20 articles a month without paying, a limit that company executives said was intended to draw in subscription revenue from the most loyal readers while not driving away the casual visitors who make up a vast majority of the site’s traffic.

Once readers click on their 21st article, they will have the option of buying one of three digital news packages — $15 every four weeks for access to the Web site and a mobile phone app, $20 for Web access and an iPad app or $35 for an all-access plan.

All subscribers who receive the paper through home delivery will have free and unlimited access across all Times digital platforms except, for now, e-readers like the AmazonKindle and the Barnes & Noble Nook. Subscribers to The International Herald Tribune, which is The Times’s global edition, will also have free digital access.

“A few years ago it was almost an article of faith that people would not pay for the content they accessed via the Web,” Arthur Sulzberger Jr., chairman of The New York Times Company, said in his annual State of The Times remarks, which were delivered to employees Thursday morning.

Felix Salmon:

Rather than take full advantage of their ability to change the numbers over time, the NYT seems to have decided they’re going to launch at the kind of levels they want to see over the long term. Which is a bit weird. Instead, the NYT has sent out an email to its “loyal readers” that they’ll get “a special offer to save on our new digital subscriptions” come March 28. This seems upside-down to me: it’s the loyal readers who are most likely to pay premium rates for digital subscriptions, while everybody else is going to need a special offer to chivvy them along.

This paywall is anything but simple, with dozens of different variables for consumers to try to understand. Start with the price: the website is free, so long as you read fewer than 20 items per month, and so are the apps, so long as you confine yourself to the “Top News” section. You can also read articles for free by going in through a side door. Following links from Twitter or Facebook or Reuters.com should never be a problem, unless and until you try to navigate away from the item that was linked to.

Beyond that, $15 per four-week period gives you access to the website and also its smartphone app, while $20 gives you access to the website also its iPad app. But if you want to read the NYT on both your smartphone and your iPad, you’ll need to buy both digital subscriptions separately, and pay an eye-popping $35 every four weeks. That’s $455 a year.

The message being sent here is weird: that access to the website is worth nothing. Mathematically, if A+B=$15, A+C=$20, and A+B+C=$35, then A=$0.

Andrew Sullivan:

We remain parasitic on the NYT and other news sites; and I should add I regard the NYT website as the best news site in the world; without it, we would be lost. But like most parasites, we also perform a service for our hosts. We direct readers to content we think matters. So we add to the NYT’s traffic and readership.

But what makes this exception even more interesting is that, if I read it correctly, it almost privileges links from blogs and social media against more direct access. Which makes it a gift to the blogosphere. Anyway, that’s my first take: and it’s one of great relief. We all want to keep the NYT in business (well, almost all of us). But we also don’t want to see it disappear behind some Great NewsCorp-Style Paywall. It looks to me as if they have gotten the balance just about right.

MG Siegler at Tech Crunch:

There are a lot of interesting angles to the news this morning about The New York Times’ new paywall. Top news will remain free, a set number of articles for all users will remain free, there will be different pricing tiers for different devices, NYT is fine with giving Apple a 30 percent cut, etc, etc. But to me, the most interesting aspect is only mentioned briefly about halfway down the NYT announcement article: all those who come to the New York Times via Facebook or Twitter will be allowed to read for free. There will be no limit to this.

Up until now, we’ve seen paywall enthusiasts like The Wall Street Journal offer such loopholes. But they’ve done so via Google. It’s a trick that most web-savvy news consumers know. Is a WSJ article behind a paywall? Just Google the title of it. Click on the resulting link and boom, free access to the entire thing. No questions asked. This new NYT model is taking that idea and flipping it.

The Google loophole will still be in play — but only for five articles a day. It’s not clear how they’re going to monitor this (cookies? logins?), but let’s assume for now that somehow they’ll be able to in an effective way. For most readers, the five article limit will likely be more than enough. But that’s not the important thing. What’s interesting is that the NYT appears to be saying two things. First, this action says that spreading virally on social networks like Twitter and Facebook is more important to them than the resulting traffic from Google. And second, this is a strategic bet that they likely believe will result in the most vocal people on the web being less pissed off.

Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing:

Here are some predictions about the #nytpaywall:

1. No one will be able to figure out how it works. Quick: How many links did you follow to the NYT last month? I’ll bet you a testicle* that you can’t remember. And even if you could remember, could you tell me what proportion of them originated as a social media or search-engine link?

2. Further to that, people frequently visit the NYT without meaning to, just by following a shortened link. Oftentimes, these links go to stories you’ve already read (after all, you’ve already found someone else’s description of the story interesting enough to warrant a click, so odds are high that a second or even a third ambiguous description of the same piece might attract your click), but which may or may not be “billed” to your 20-freebies limit for the month

3. And this means that lots of people are going to greet the NYT paywall with eye-rolling and frustration: You stupid piece of technology, what do you mean I’ve seen 20 stories this month? This is exactly the wrong frame of mind to be in when confronted with a signup page (the correct frame of mind to be in on that page is, Huh, wow, I got tons of value from the Times this month. Of course I’m going to sign up!)

4. Which means that lots of people will take countermeasures to beat the #nytpaywall. The easiest of these, of course, will be to turn off cookies so that the Times’s site has no way to know how many pages you’ve seen this month

5. Of course, the NYT might respond by planting secret permacookies, using Flash cookies, browser detection, third-party beacons, or secret ex-Soviet vat-grown remote-sensing psychics. At the very minimum, the FTC will probably be unamused to learn that the Grey Lady is actively exploiting browser vulnerabilities (or, as the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse statute puts it, “exceeding authorized access” on a remote system — which carries a 20 year prison sentence, incidentally)

6. Even if some miracle of regulatory capture and courtroom ninjarey puts them beyond legal repercussions for this, the major browser vendors will eventually patch these vulnerabilities

7. And even if that doesn’t work, someone clever will release one or more of: a browser redirection service that pipes links to nytimes.com through auto-generated tweets, creating valid Twitter referrers to Times stories that aren’t blocked by the paywall; or write a browser extension that sets “referer=twitter.com/$VALID_TWEET_GUID”, or some other clever measure that has probably already been posted to the comments below

8. The Times isn’t stupid. They’ll build all kinds of countermeasures to detect and thwart cookie-blocking, referer spoofing, and suchlike. These countermeasures will either be designed to err on the side of caution (in which case they will be easy to circumvent) or to err on the side of strictness — in which case they will dump an increasing number of innocent civilians into the “You’re a freeloader, pay up now” page, which is no way to convert a reader to a customer

Yes, I was going to hate this paywall no matter what the NYT did. News is a commodity: as a prolific linker, I have lots of choice about where I link to my news and the site that make my readers shout at me about a nondeterministic paywall that unpredictably swats them away isn’t going to get those links. Leave out the hard news and you’ve got opinion, and there’s no shortage of free opinion online. Some of it is pretty good (and some of what the Times publishes as opinion is pretty bad).

Peter Kafka at All Things Digital:

The Times will put up its paywall in 11 days, on March 28th. It promises to comply with Apple’s subscription terms by making “1-click purchase available in the App Store by June 30 to ensure that readers can continue to access Times apps on Apple devices.”

And as previously announced, this isn’t a formal payall. Or, at least, it’s a porous one.

Anyone can use the Times’ Web site to read up to 20 articles a month for free. And if you’ve surpassed your monthly limit, you’ll still be able to read Times articles if you’ve been sent there from referring sites like Facebook, Twitter or anywhere else on the Web. The Times says it will place a five-article-per-day limit on Google referrals, however; it’s currently the only search engine with that limit, Murphy says.

To spell that out: If you want to game the Times’ paywall, just use Microsoft’s Bing. For now, at least.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Mainstream, New Media

Arianna Told Me To Write This Blog Post

Arianna Huffington at The Huffington Post:

I’ve used this space to make all sorts of important HuffPost announcements: new sections, new additions to the HuffPost team, new HuffPost features and new apps. But none of them can hold a candle to what we are announcing today.

When Kenny Lerer and I launched The Huffington Post on May 9, 2005, we would have been hard-pressed to imagine this moment. The Huffington Post has already been growing at a prodigious rate. But my New Year’s resolution for 2011 was to take HuffPost to the next level — not just incrementally, but exponentially. With the help of our CEO, Eric Hippeau, and our president and head of sales, Greg Coleman, we’d been able to make the site profitable. Now was the time to take leaps.

At the first meeting of our senior team this year, I laid out the five areas on which I wanted us to double down: major expansion of local sections; the launch of international Huffington Post sections (beginning with HuffPost Brazil); more emphasis on the growing importance of service and giving back in our lives; much more original video; and additional sections that would fill in some of the gaps in what we are offering our readers, including cars, music, games, and underserved minority communities.

Around the same time, I got an email from Tim Armstrong (AOL Chairman and CEO), saying he had something he wanted to discuss with me, and asking when we could meet. We arranged to have lunch at my home in LA later that week. The day before the lunch, Tim emailed and asked if it would be okay if he brought Artie Minson, AOL’s CFO, with him. I told him of course and asked if there was anything they didn’t eat. “I’ll eat anything but mushrooms,” he said.

The next day, he and Artie arrived, and, before the first course was served — with an energy and enthusiasm I’d soon come to know is his default operating position — Tim said he wanted to buy The Huffington Post and put all of AOL’s content under a newly formed Huffington Post Media Group, with me as its president and editor-in-chief.

I flashed back to November 10, 2010. That was the day that I heard Tim speak at the Quadrangle conference in New York. He was part of a panel on “Digital Darwinism,” along with Michael Eisner and Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen.

At some point during the discussion, while Tim was talking about his plans for turning AOL around, he said that the challenge lay in the fact that AOL had off-the-charts brand awareness, and off-the-charts user trust and loyalty, but almost no brand identity. I was immediately struck by his clear-eyed assessment of his company’s strengths and weaknesses, and his willingness to be so up front about them.

As HuffPost grew, Kenny and I had both been obsessed with what professor Clayton Christensen has famously called “the innovator’s dilemma.” In his book of the same name, Christensen explains how even very successful companies, with very capable personnel, often fail because they tend to stick too closely to the strategies that made them successful in the first place, leaving them vulnerable to changing conditions and new realities. They miss major opportunities because they are unwilling to disrupt their own game.

After that November panel, Tim and I chatted briefly and arranged to see each other the next day. At that meeting, we talked not just about what our two companies were doing, but about the larger trends we saw happening online and in our world. I laid out my vision for the expansion of The Huffington Post, and he laid out his vision for AOL. We were practically finishing each other’s sentences.

Two months later, we were having lunch in LA and Tim was demonstrating that he got the Innovator’s Dilemma and was willing to disrupt the present to, if I may borrow a phrase, “win the future.” (I guess that makes this AOL’s — and HuffPost’s — Sputnik Moment!)

There were many more meetings, back-and-forth emails, and phone calls about what our merger would mean for the two companies. Things moved very quickly. A term sheet was produced, due diligence began, and on Super Bowl Sunday the deal was signed. In fact, it was actually signed at the Super Bowl, where Tim was hosting a group of wounded vets from the Screamin’ Eagles. It was my first Super Bowl — an incredibly exciting backdrop that mirrored my excitement about the merger and the future ahead.

Jack Shafer at Slate:

I underestimated Arianna Huffington when she launched her Huffington Post in May 2005. I didn’t trash the site the way Nikki Finke did, though. Finke called Huffington the “Madonna of the mediapolitic world [who] has undergone one reinvention too many,” and slammed her site as a “humongously pre-hyped celebrity blog” that represented the “sort of failure that is simply unsurvivable.” And those were among Finke’s nicer comments.

Instead of critiquing Huffington’s debut copy, I speculated as to whether she was up to the job of “impresario.” In the scale of things, my write-up is more embarrassing today, now that Huffington has sold the Post to AOL for $315 million, than is Finke’s pissy take. Huffington has proved herself a first-rate entrepreneur, incubator of talent, and media visionary.

Felix Salmon:

My feeling, then, is that this deal is a good one for both sides. AOL gets something it desperately needs: a voice and a clear editorial vision. It’s smart, and bold, to put Arianna in charge of all AOL’s editorial content, since she is one of the precious few people who has managed to create a mass-market general-interest online publication which isn’t bland and which has an instantly identifiable personality. That’s a rare skill and one which AOL desperately needs to apply to its broad yet inchoate suite of websites.

As for HuffPo, it gets lots of money, great tech content from Engadget and TechCrunch, hugely valuable video-production abilities, a local infrastructure in Patch, lots of money, a public stock-market listing with which to make fill-in acquisitions and incentivize employees with options, a massive leg up in terms of reaching the older and more conservative Web 1.0 audience and did I mention the lots of money? Last year at SXSW I was talking about how ambitious New York entrepreneurs in the dot-com space have often done very well for themselves in the tech space, but have signally failed to engineer massive exits in the content space. With this sale, Jonah Peretti changes all that; his minority stake in HuffPo is probably worth more than the amount of money Jason Calacanis got when he sold Weblogs Inc to AOL.

And then, of course, there’s Arianna, who is now officially the Empress of the Internet with both power and her own self-made dynastic wealth. She’s already started raiding big names from mainstream media, like Howard Fineman and Tim O’Brien; expect that trend to accelerate now that she’s on a much firmer financial footing.

Paul Carr at TechCrunch:

We really have to stop being scooped by rivals on news affecting our own company.

Tonight, courtesy of a press release that our parent company sent to everyone but us, we learn that AOL has acquired the Huffington Post for $315 million. More interestingly, Arianna Huffington has been made Editor In Chief of all AOL content, including TechCrunch.

Now, no-one here has been more skeptical than me of AOL’s content strategy. I was reasonably scathing about that whole “tech town” bullshit and I was quick to opinion-smack Tim Armstrong in the face over his promise that “90% of AOL content will be SEO optimized” by March. Hell I’ve stood on stage – twice – on TC’s dime and described our overlords as “the place where start-ups come to die”.

And yet and yet, for once I find myself applauding Armstrong – and AOL as a whole – for pulling off a double whammy: a brilliant strategic acquisition at a logical price. As AOL’s resident inside-pissing-insider, I can’t tell you how frustrating that is. I can’t even bust out a Bebo joke.

An important note before I go on: I have no idea how any of this will affect TechCrunch. So far AOL has kept true to its promise not to interfere with our editorial and there’s no reason to suppose that will change under Huffington. That said, it would be idiotic to think that our parents’ content strategy – particularly the SEO stuff – won’t have annoying trickle-down consequences for all of us in the long term.

As I wrote the other week, I hate SEO. It’s bad for journalism as it disincentivises reporters from breaking new stories, and rewards them for rehashing existing ones. And it’s bad for everything else because, well, it’s garbage. But when discussing the SEO phenomenon privately, I’ve always cited the Huffington Post as the exception that proves the rule.

Arianna Huffington’s genius is to churn out enough SEO crap to bring in the traffic and then to use the resulting advertising revenue – and her personal influence – to employ top class reporters and commentators to drag the quality average back up. And somehow it works. In the past six months journostars like Howard Fineman, Timothy L. O’Brien and Peter Goodman have all been added to the HuffPo’s swelling masthead, and rather than watering down the site’s political voice, it has stayed true to its core beliefs. Such is the benefit of being bank-rolled by a rich liberal who doesn’t give a shit.

Ann Althouse:

What difference does it make? AOL as a brand meant something to me in the 1990s, but not now. Who cares whether AOL retains a semblance of political neutrality? In any case, mainstream media always feels pretty liberal, so why would anyone really notice. Now, that quote is from the NYT, so… think about it. The NYT would like to be the big news site that looks neutral (but satisfies liberals). HuffPo is the raging competition, which needs to be put in its place.

Alexis Madrigal at the Atlantic

Erick Schonfeld at TechCrunch

Kevin Drum:

Last night I saw a tweet saying that AOL was going to buy the Huffington Post for $31.5 million. Yowza, I thought. That’s a pretty rich valuation. Maybe 20x forward earnings? Who knows?

But no! AOL actually bought HuffPo for $315 million. I mentally put in a decimal place where there wasn’t one. I don’t even know what to think about this. It sounds completely crazy to me. The odds of this being a good deal for AOL stockholders seem astronomical.

Still, maybe I’m the one who’s crazy. After all, I haven’t paid a lot of attention to either HuffPo or AOL lately. I’m a huge skeptic of synergy arguments of all kinds, but maybe Arianna is right when she says that in this deal, 1+1=11

Peter Kafka at Media Memo:

So maybe AOL + HuffPo won’t equal 11. And maybe 10x Huffington Post’s reported 2010 revenue is a very pre-Lehman multiple. But the broad strokes here make sense to me:

AOL is pushing its workers very hard to make more content it can sell. HuffPo is a content-making machine:

Huffington Post still has the reputation as a left-leaning political site written by Arianna Huffington’s celebrity pals. In reality, it is most concerned with attracting eyeballs anyway it can. Sometimes it’s with well-regarded investigative journalism, and much more often it’s via very aggressive, very clever aggregation. And sometimes it’s by simply paying very, very close attention to what Google wants, which leads to stories like “What Time Does The Super Bowl Start?

However they’ve done it, it’s worked–much more efficiently than AOL, which is headed in that direction as well. AOL reaches about 112 million people in the U.S. every month with a staff of 5,000. The Huffington Post, which employed about 200 people prior to the deal, gets to about 26 million.*

AOL can start selling this stuff immediately:

HuffPo reportedly generated around $30 million in revenue last year, but that was done using a relatively small staff that sales chief Greg Coleman had just started building. AOL’s much bigger sales group, which has just about finished its lengthy reorg, should be able to boost that performance immediately.

AOL can afford it:

Tim Armstrong’s company ended 2010 with $725 million in cash, much of which it generated by selling off old assets. This seems like a relatively easy check to write and one that shouldn’t involve a lot of overlapping staff–AOL figures it will save $20 million annually in cost overlaps, but that it will spend about $20 million this year on restructuring charges. HuffPo is about four percent of AOL’s size, and several of its top executives are already stepping aside. (This is the second time in two years that sales boss Greg Coleman has been moved out of a job by Tim Armstrong.) The biggest risk here will be in the way that Huffington, who is now editor in chief for all of AOL’s edit staff, gets along with her new employees. On the other hand, morale is low enough at many AOL sites that it will be hard to make things worse.

AOL Gets a Really Big Brand:

There’s some downside risk to attaching Arianna Huffington’s name to a big, mainstream media brand, as her politics and/or persona might scare off some readers and/or advertisers. But two years after Armstrong arrived from Google, AOL still doesn’t have a definable identity, other than “the Web site your parents might still pay for even though there’s no reason to do so.” Being known as “the guys who own Huffington Post” is infinitely better than that.

HuffPo’s “pro” list is much shorter, but only because there’s not much to think about for them: Huffington, co-founder Kenneth Lerer and their backers get a nice return on the five years and $37 million they put into the company. And those who stay on get to leverage the benefits of a much larger acquirer–access to more eyballs and more advertisers. Easy enough to understand.

Dan Lyons at The Daily Beast:

No doubt Hippeau and Lerer and Huffington were drinking champagne last night, but the truth is, this deal is not a victory for either side. It’s a slow-motion train wreck and will end in disaster.

Listen to Nick Denton, who runs Gawker, which now becomes the biggest independent Web-based news outlet. “I’m disappointed in the Huffington Post. I thought Arianna Huffington and Kenny Lerer were reinventing news, rather than simply flipping to a flailing conglomerate,” he told me.

Denton insists he has no intention of ever selling Gawker, and he seems not-so-secretly pleased to see his opponents cashing out: “AOL has gathered so many of our rivals— Huffington Post, Engadget, Techcrunch—in one place. The question: Is this a fearsome Internet conglomerate or simply a roach motel for once lively websites?”

One big problem with the deal is that Arianna Huffington now runs editorial for AOL properties, which include tech sites Engadget and TechCrunch. Those sites are both accustomed to being free-wheeling, fiercely independent and fiercely competitive—so competitive, in fact, that recently they’ve been battling with each other.

Michael Arrington, who runs TechCrunch and just sold it to AOL a few months ago, is an abrasive, big-ego, sometimes obnoxious guy. He’s a friend of mine, so I mean this in the best possible way. But I can’t imagine him working for Arianna.

The other, bigger problem is AOL itself. AOL touts itself as a media company, but as Ken Auletta reported in The New Yorker recently, most of what AOL publishes is junk, and 80 percent of its profits come from a rather seedy little business—charging subscription fees from longtime users who don’t realize that they no longer need to pay for AOL service, and could be getting it free.

The other problem is that AOL’s chief executive, Tim Armstrong, is a sales guy. He ran sales at Google before he came to AOL in 2009. Nothing wrong with sales guys, except when they start telling people how to do journalism. Sales guys deal in numbers. But journalism is about words. Sales guys live in a world where everything can be measured and analyzed. Their version of journalism is to focus on things like “keyword density” and search-engine optimization.

Journalists live in a world of story-telling, and where the value of a story, its power to resonate, is something they know by instinct. Some people have better instincts than others. Some people can improve their instincts over time. The other part of storytelling is not the material itself but how you present it. Some can spin a better tale out of the same material than others.

But no great storyteller has ever been someone who started out by thinking about traffic numbers and search engine keywords.

Leave a comment

Filed under New Media

So Does It Come Out Every Day?

The Daily:

New York, NY, February 2, 2011 – Today Rupert Murdoch, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of News Corporation, unveiled The Daily — the industry’s first national daily news publication created from the ground up for iPad.

“New times demand new journalism,” said Mr. Murdoch. “So we built The Daily completely from scratch — on the most innovative device to come about in my time — the iPad.”

“The magic of great newspapers — and great blogs — lies in their serendipity and surprise, and the touch of a good editor,” continued Mr. Murdoch. “We’re going to bring that magic to The Daily — to inform people, to make them think, to help them engage in the great issues of the day. And as we continue to improve and evolve, we are going to use the best in new technology to push the boundaries of reporting.”

The Daily’s unique mix of text, photography, audio, video, information graphics, touch interactivity and real-time data and social feeds provides its editors with the ability to decide not only which stories are most important — but also the best format to deliver these stories to their readers.

John Hudson at The Atlantic with a round-up

Erick Schonfield at Tech Crunch:

A new edition will come out every day, with updates throughout the day. it will feature a carousel navigation that looks like Coverflow, an dinclude video and 360-degree photographs.

Since there are no trucks and no printing costs, The Daily will cost 14 cents a day or about $1 a week. The first two weeks are free, thanks to a sponsorship by Verizon. You will be able to download it live at noon ET.

Murdoch also revealed that the total cost to get the Daily up and running—the technology, the staff, everything—has been $30 million, and that operating costs are half a million dollars a week.

I asked Murdoch why he thinks it is better to charge a subscription versus gaining a larger audience via free downloads and selling that larger audience to advertisers, who are lining up anyway because their ads look so much better in an iPad app. “I think they will pay much less per thousand if it was free,” says Murdoch. “We feel this is better for advertisers and will draw a better class of advertisers at a better rate.”

Jesus Diaz at Gizmodo:

Of course, he seems really adamant about his project. His letter is full of Cupertinian hyperbole: “this pioneering digital venture, fully championed by Steve Jobs and the rest of his team at Apple, establishes an entirely new category of delivery and consumption.” An entire new category. It must be really magical. This fair and balanced quote, however, makes me think The Daily may be just another glorified reader with lots of video thrown in: “I’m convinced that what they’ve created is the most immersive and unique experience available – one that will resonate with our audiences everywhere and change the way news is viewed.”

Peter Kafka at Media Memo:

The Daily’s formal debut is in a few hours, at which point we’ll have no shortage of pro/con opinions about News Corp.’s new iPad newspaper.But until then, here are the reasons the Daily won’t work, followed by the reasons it will. They’re both from the same guy–Stifel Nicolaus analyst Jordan Rohan. From his note published yesterday:

CONS:

1. Consumer Acceptance Could Take Time: Nobody really knows the future of the iPad daily, and the official launch party is not “where the rubber meets the road” in terms of understanding consumer acceptance of such a new concept.

2. Hype or Reality?: Hype does not necessarily translate into market share, revenue, or cash flow.

3. Control: Apple tends to control its environment so tightly that there may be clashes down the road with apps offered by Yahoo!, Google, Facebook, AOL, Amazon, and a host of other Internet companies. This could reduce overall profit potential for iPad publishers.

4. Understanding the revenue model will be key. Online ad networks and other intermediaries could be left on the outside, looking in, if the iPad remains a premium offering with high CPMs. The subscription model is somewhat irrelevant unless it scales to support a vibrant advertising environment. We will have to wait and see on that key point.

PROS:

1. Product Differentiation: News Corp could marshal the resources of its newspaper, cable television, studio, and Internet divisions to differentiate the product from most other companies.

2. Apple is a powerful ally. The recent track record of product innovation and commercialization at Apple is unmatched. If Apple is willing to throw its weight behind this initiative, along with News Corp, then the chances of success are high.

3. Playing Offense: If News Corp can make an iPad daily work, then other media companies will begin to play offense as well. And that is generally a good thing for innovation, and ultimately for advertisers and marketers alike.

4. Makes More Sense than Wired for iPad: Mid last year, we attended a pre-launch event for Wired magazine’s iPad initiative, which Conde Naste marketed at a surprising $5 per copy. The product was beautiful, but results were mixed at best. And it was a monthly, not a daily, which implied that the frequency of visitation was much lower.

Rohan, by the way, is ultimately bullish on the Daily, and he was that way before he got a look at the thing at Rupert Murdoch’s apartment last night. Now he’s very, very bullish, but he’s been embargoed from talking about it until noon today.

Darrell Etherington at GigaOm:

Unlike many existing print and newspaper magazine conversion apps, The Daily seems to feature a lot of clickable and interactive elements. Web links will bring up pages in a built-in browser, and Twitter feeds are accessible from within the app. There’s also an in-app text and audio commenting system for greater reader interaction. The app will also be able to pull in breaking news using Twitter and other sources, so that it stays fresh throughout the day without undergoing the kind of massively frequent overhaul you see on blogs. It’ll be interesting to see how The Daily strikes this balance.

No back-issues will exist at launch, and users instead will have to save articles for later from within the app or retrieve them on the web via HTML. Plans for improved access to older content are in the works, but won’t be included at launch.

At launch today,  The Daily will be available only to customers shopping in the U.S. store, and will be free for the first two weeks. According to a leaked official memo published by Gizmodo (which was completely accurate regarding other details), News Corp. is planning to bring The Daily to international markets (and other tablets) in the coming months.

Apple VP of Internet Services Eddy Cue announced the inclusion of new in-app recurring subscription billing with “one click,” but didn’t offer any further details. Cue noted that an upcoming  (“soon” was the only timeline hinted at) Apple announcement would detail this new feature further, including implementation plans among other publishers.

Colby Hall at Mediaite:

There is no question that the partnership between Apple and News Corp. is a big story worth covering, as it received a lot of deserved attention months ago when it was announced. And yes, Rupert Murdoch is arguably the single most powerful media mogul (best evidenced by his place on the Power Grid); his enthusiasm and embracing of a new media platform (and pouring of $30 Million into its development) is a compelling and relevant story.

But the story unfolding in Egypt right now could not be more compelling, since it appears that the American ally (with huge strategic influence on the U.S. economy) is on the brink of complete and total destabilization. Ironically, the Murdoch-led press conference was introduced by Fox News’ Neil Cavuto, an individual who has repeatedly reported the relevance of the Egyptian uprising on the price of oil. The decision to go with The Daily press event over the revolution in Egypt seems odd at best.

Obviously, other news networks continue to air short, fluff pieces in between their Egypt coverage, and if Fox had relegated this to such a segment, clearly disclosing the relationship, then they’d be much less open to criticism. But this was neither short nor fluff.

In many ways this feels similar to Sunday night’s programming decision at MSNBC to air reruns of their Lockup series, while Fox News and CNN covered Egypt live. As we reported earlier, MSNBC was rewarded by getting the highest ratings of the night!

Clearly this event was planned well in advance of the upheaval in Egypt, and when two giant corporations like Apple and News Corp. partner, it is big news (particularly with regard to the future of media and news.) But the Fox News’ decision to forgo real news coverage in Egypt for the promotion of a new commercial information platform (from which they hope to profit) seems to be at best a perfectly ironic example of the state of media today.

Leave a comment

Filed under Mainstream, Technology

And The Dry Erase Board Is Represented By William Morris, Too

Leo at The Chive:

We received the following photos last night from a person who works with this girl. Her name is Jenny (not confirmed) – we’re working our contact for Jenny’s last name. Yesterday morning, Jenny quit her job with a (flash)bang by emailing these photos to the entire office, about 20 employees we’re told. Awesome doesn’t begin to describe this office heroine. Check back as we will be updating if we get more details.

Jessica Pressler at New York Magazine:

It’s probably fake — there’s something super actressy-looking about this girl, and the change of clothes at the end is weird — but it’s still good fodder for the cubicle-bound masses who have been secretly fantasizing about what form they might use in their own dramatic exit — YouTube? Skywriting? Jumbotron?

Margaret Hartmann at Jezebel

Peter Kafka at All Things Digital:

Yesterday, everyone on the Internet loved Steve Slater, the Jet Blue flight attendant who quit his job by cursing out his passengers and bolting out of his plane using the emergency slide.

Today, our favorite job quitter is “Jenny”–”a girl” who left her job by sending co-workers a series of photos where she uses a whiteboard to insult her boss and expose his fondness for Farmville.

We know that the Steve Slater story is true. But what about Jenny’s story?

Almost certainly made up.

The story showed up this morning on theChive.com, a dude-centric site run by brothers John and Leo Resig, who own a series of photo/humor sites. (That’s Leo on the left.) Before that, the Resigs ran a site called Derober, which features doctored photos of celebrities in their underwear.

And Derober’s moment in the spotlight came back in December 2007, when it made up a story about Donald Trump leaving a $10,000 tip on a $82.27 bill. The story was convincing enough to fool Fox News and the New York Post (both of which are owned by News Corp., which also owns this site).

So Jenny is a fake, too. Right, Leo Resig?

No, Resig says over the phone. “Jenny’s very real.”

Really? Really, Resig says.

He says Jenny is with his brother John at this very moment, and that the three of them are trying to figure out the best way to identify her and tell her story.

Jay Leno wants Jenny on his show, Leo Resig says. “Good Morning America” wants her, too. He’s not sure the best way to proceed, because “we’re trying to be respectful of that girl.”

But don’t worry, Leo says. The brothers plan on identifying Jenny “tomorrow morning around 10 am. We’re not exactly sure who or how we’re going to release it. Obviously it will be on thechive.com as well.”

Okay. But you’re the same guys who gave us the Donald Trump story, and that was fake. Is this one different?

Pause. “Good homework. That was a good time.”

Ah. So is Jenny’s story real, then? “This one is to be determined. People are kind of making up their own stories.”

James Joyner:

Aside from the Resig brothers connection, there are all manner of indications that the story is dubious.

  • The posing and photo quality are both professional
  • Why would a boss spying on his employee’s Internet habits give the codes to his secretary?
  • Why would Jenny think being a secretary was a route to becoming a broker?
  • Why would she consider being referred to as a HOPA grounds for quitting?
  • Why does she think HOPA and HPOA are the same thing, anyway?
  • It’s plausible that a broker is spending a lot of time on Scottrade.  But Farmville?  Seriously?
  • The story was “broken” on a professional comedy site

It’s amazing how often these things go viral without people getting suspicious.

Ryan Tate at Gawker:

Their near-certain hoax will provoke some outrage, but the Resigs should get some credit for supplying the world with yet another bizarre story to laugh at this week. That’s no small accomplishment, even if it did mean suckering everyone into trusting two known media pranksters.

Chris Matyszczyk at Cnet:

Porterfield, 22, is already on Twitter at Twitter.com/officialelyse. And the only tweet she would offer about her little hoax with TheChive is: “Yes, I am Jenny (the dry-erase board HPOA) 🙂 Thanks to the creative and amazing duo John and Leo Resig at TheChive.com.” I am sure she now has very good agents.

Part of the fascination of Jenny’s fictitious story is that it coincided with the real story of a JetBlue flight attendant, Steven Slater, who, having been allegedly cursed out by a passenger, announced that he was quitting just after his plane had landed, proceeding to sweep down the emergency slide, only to be subsequently arrested.

Slater has also become a hero. He now enjoys more than 120,000 friends and supporters on Facebook.

Working people who feel they have been squeezed a little too much, a little too often, may find that the only way to receive some modicum of revenge–or even a sympathetic audience–is on the vast, (currently) open support group that is the Web. This should make it quite fun for everyone else.

Leave a comment

Filed under New Media

Let Us Sit Upon The Mediagazer And Tell Sad Stories Of The Death Of Mainstream Media

Megan McCarthy at Mediagazer:

The media business is in tumult: from the production side to the distribution side, new technologies are upending the industry. What do news organizations need to do to survive? Will books become extinct? When will an audience pay for content? Can video bring television and the internet together? Will the iPad save us all? Keeping up with these changes is time-consuming, as essential media coverage is scattered across numerous web sites at any given moment.

Mediagazer simplifies this task by organizing the key coverage in one place. We’ve combined sophisticated automated aggregation technologies with direct editorial input from knowledgeable human editors to present the one indispensible narrative of an industry in transition. We collect relevant takes on an issue and package them together in a comprehensive group of links. That way, you not only get the lead opinion on an issue, but you can easily find the supporting, opposing, smart, controversial, notable, and previously unseen viewpoints. You get the big picture.

We make it easy for you to get your media news fix. If you want to share the latest media news with your Facebook friends or Twitter followers, you can use the easy “share” button next to the headline title. (See more here.) If you’re on the go, you can easily access Mediagazer on your smartphone by viewing mediagazer.com/m in your mobile browser, though mediagazer.com will redirect there on iPhone and Android devices. If you have a simpler phone, mediagazer.com/mini will bring you the same information in a simpler display.

Mediagazer is brought to you by the same people behind Techmeme, the leading aggregator of computer and internet industry news and analysis. We are a self-funded and independent company. Mediagazer earns revenue through the support of sponsors, and we are proud to announce the companies who are with us from Day 1: WordPress, Tynt, Seesmic, Smash Summit, and Zemanta.

Gabe Rivera at Techmeme:

Today we’re launching our first new news vertical in almost four years: Mediagazer, which will focus on the content production and distribution business, organizing topics as wide as journalism, blogging, video production, e-books, and digital distribution technologies.

Why it’s been four years is an interesting tale. Our experience with Techmeme memeorandum, WeSmirch, and Ballbug taught us what was most valuable to readers, and why. That lead us to focus on one site, Techmeme, first by giving extra attention to the configurations controlling its automation, and second, introducing manual editing and evolving the process in which man and machine work in concert.

Mediagazer incoporates all these lessons. We’ve taken great care in its construction, have outfitted the site with the latest iteration of our automation engine, and have launched it from the outset with a dedicated human editor.

That editor will be Megan McCarthy. While Megan’s career in media has focused more on the technology space (both at Gawker and at Techmeme), she’s long developed an interest in media industry buzz and should feel very much at home at Mediagazer. Techmeme will continue to be edited by Rich DeMuro, Lidija Davis, Mahendra Palsule, and myself going forward.

Molly Fisher at New York Observer

Peter Kafka at Media Memo:

Does the Web need yet another outlet dedicated to media coverage? Nope. How about another aggregation site? Plenty of those to go around too.

So what if you combined the two? Exactly.

But here’s a not-very brave prediction: Mediagazer, which launches today, is going to do pretty well. For two reasons:

  • Like porn or Apple (AAPL) news, there’s always going to be an appetite for this stuff, at least as long as there’s a media business. Because media folks–like me–love to read about themselves.
  • The people behind the site are the same ones behind Techmeme, and they’ve got the aggregation formula down cold: Build your site using other people’s work, automate as much as you can, and keep your human interaction to a minimum.

In this case, the human touch comes from Megan McCarthy, who joined Gabe Rivera’s outfit late in 2008 to help run his flagship site. The new one will be self-explanatory to anyone who’s seen the original ’meme. Or the site Jim Romenesko runs, for that matter.

MG Siegler at TechCrunch:

But why chose to focus on media?

Media news has several things going for it: lots of new coverage every day, lots of interlinking, a variety of subtopics (video, blogs, journalism, newspapers, etc.) and (we hope) a potential audience with interest in several of those subtopics,” Techmeme founder Gabe Rivera tells us.

Rivera has tried in the past to roll the Techmeme idea to other verticals such as celebrity news (WeSmirch), political news (Memeorandum), and even baseball news (Ballbug). All those sites still exist, but none have gotten the level of interest that Techmeme has.

So why will this be different? Aside from the interest in media, this is the first site Rivera has rolled out since switching over to using human editor curation. And actually, Mediagazer will be launched under the control of Megan McCarthy, the first human editor Rivera hired in late 2008. Rivera has since made other hires to round out a full staff that can work around the clock for Techmeme.

Leave a comment

Filed under Mainstream, New Media

Are They Birds Of A Feather And Do They Fly Together?

Peter Kafka at All Things Digital:

When will Comcast and GE’s NBCU finally unveil their hook-up plans? When Vivendi says they can.

The former French water utility has the ability to hold up the deal due to its 20 percent stake in NBCU and a put option that gives it the right to sell the stake back to back to GE (GE), hang on to it or take the thing public.

There’s no reason for Vivendi to do anything but the first option, but the company is not going to come out and say so, which means that negotiations for GE to buy the stake aren’t going as fast as it or Comcast (CMCSA) would like. Vivendi itself wrote down the value of the stake by a few billion earlier this year, but that was then, and this is now.

Sam Gustin at Daily Finance:

How fitting that NBC, perhaps the most distinguished TV brand in the world, would become controlled by Comcast, a company that provides TV programming on cable — a medium that was once once scorned by the legacy networks, but now appears to have supplanted their one-time dominance. In a way, Comcast’s deal to buy a controlling stake in NBC Universal represents one of the final nails in the coffin of the Big 3 networks’ 50-year monopoly of the TV business.

Among the complex deal’s basic outlines are the following. Comcast will contribute cash and its cable channels. GE will raise several billion dollars in debt and buy out Vivendi’s 20% stake. GE will then sell 51% of its newly full ownership stake to Comcast. GE will contribute the NBC Universal assets and pass on to the joint venture some additional debt.

The deal will value NBC Universal at “about” $30 billion, but that could change as the final valuations of the various components are hammered out, according to a source with knowledge of the talks.

It’s entirely possible that NBC Universal chief Jeff Zucker, as well as “a good portion of their management team” — could stay on to run the joint venture, but it’s too early to know for sure, and no decisions have been made.

Diane Mermigas at Seeking Alpha:

It could just be posturing, but Vivendi (VIVEF.PK) says it is in no hurry to sell its 20 percent stake in NBC Universal, which would trigger a $30 billion deal to make Comcast (CMSCA) the majority owner. Even if the transaction does not occur, there will be interesting fallout.

Vivendi is in talks to unload its minority stake to the highest bidder. That could be NBCU co-owner General Electric (GE), a third party, or the public (in a stock offering). Vivendi has until 2012 to sell its stake during an annual window from Nov. 15 to Dec. 10. Sources close to the deal say cash-strapped GE would place $12 billion against the new NBCU to buy out Vivendi. GE would be a minority owner in NBCU with Comcast.

Vivendi Chief Financial Officer Philippe Capron said today no decision has been made yet about the “complex” situation. “We have never been closer to the end of the story. It’s in the future, but I can’t comment on the timing or the likelihood of what will happen,” Capron said at the Morgan stanley Technology, Media and Telecoms Conference in Barcelona.

Huffington Post:

Media mogul John Malone said Thursday that Comcast Corp.’s plan to buy a controlling stake in NBC Universal would give it too much market power and force competitors to consider similar acquisitions.

Comcast Corp. – the nation’s largest cable TV provider – is in talks to buy a 51 percent stake in NBC Universal from General Electric Co. GE is negotiating to buy back Vivendi SA’s 20 percent ownership in NBC Universal and then sell a majority stake to Comcast.

Malone, who is chairman of Liberty Media Corp., which has a controlling stake in satellite TV carrier DirecTV Group Inc., said GE did not approach him about investing in NBC Universal.

“It was developed very quietly between Comcast and GE and they did not seek any other,” Malone told The Associated Press on Thursday.

UPDATE: John Hudson at The Atlantic

UPDATE #2: Tim Arango at NYT

1 Comment

Filed under Economics, TV

Number Nine, Number Nine, Number Nine

Xbox Freedom:

The Fab Four have made their way into the Beatles Rock Band the Video Game and now take another entrance into gaming with this fabulous Xbox 360 Mod created and painted in tribute to the Fab Four and the new video game.

Game Guru

Josh Hathaway at Blogcritics:

It’s Beatlemania one more time and I get to be a part of it. The New Album Releases column existed before I entered the picture and I’ve pretty much held to the format used by others since taking over, but I shall, from time to time, declare a special occasion and do something different. This week is one of those occasions.

Like Brian Wilson, I sometimes wonder if I was made for these times. I do know I’ve always wished I could have been a part of Beatlemania the first time. I hate how The Beatles are always going to be a bit of a history lesson for me. The Beatles broke up three years before I was born. My mom watched them on Ed Sullivan. I was seven when John Lennon was murdered. I didn’t get to experience what it was like when The Beatles ruled the world.

There won’t be a reunion tour to recapture the glory years, but there have been a few moments when the world turned their attention back to the best thing to come from Liverpool in history. I remember watching The Beatles Anthology documentary and going to buy the first 2-CD volume of the three-volume set. It was the first time I felt like I got to be part of the phenomenon in real time, even if it was a celebration of past glories.

Lawrence Bonk:

What’s not to like? It’s “Rock Band” mixed with the Fab Four. To the uninitiated, “Rock Band” is a series of video games that has you playing along on fake instruments to popular songs. It’s similar in form to the popular “Guitar Hero” franchise but incorporates singing and drums into the mix. People go gaga for it. This Beatles version goes several steps further than usual, allowing for three part harmonies and an interactive story mode.

The game’s developers boast that they worked hand in hand with the Beatles, which is surprising considering Ringo Starr constantly asks his kids if e-mail and the Internet are the same thing. Still, the attention to detail is fairly astounding. From a virtual Ed Sullivan to psychedelic dreamscapes, this game goes out of its way to provide a sense of realism that is usually lacking from the genre.

Rolling Stone:

When The Beatles: Rock Band really clicks — when you’re pounding out “Helter Skelter” hard enough to get blisters on your fingers; when you’re loping through the bass line of “Dear Prudence”; when it starts feeling like you are, in fact, the Walrus — the experience is almost eerie. It begins to seem like the Beatles didn’t write and record these songs so much as construct them — so sturdily that they translate with absurd ease to an interactive format that was four decades away. The Beatles’ musical development lends itself oddly well to a game — the songs become both more difficult to play and more rewarding as the band’s story moves along: It’s a lot more fun to play “And Your Bird Can Sing” than, say, “I Wanna Be Your Man.”

That said, unlike the Beatles’ music — and the original Guitar Hero and Rock Band games — there’s nothing particularly revolutionary here. Aside from the ability to sing in three-part harmony (a frippery that few users are likely to exploit), the gameplay is familiar: You hit the correct color at the proper time and score points. But thanks to richly detailed and artful graphics — highlighted by the psychedelic images that pop up once the Beatles quit playing concerts — it is the most refined music video game ever. From the Beatles’ facial expressions to the signs at Shea Stadium, there’s enough verisimilitude that it’s forgivable when no animated Eric Clapton turns up for “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” or when cartoon Ringo is shown playing drums on “Back in the U.S.S.R.” (it was really Paul).

In any case, Starr may be the big winner here: Anyone who has questioned his chops will repent after failing for the 10th time to make it through “Birthday.”

But what about getting the Beatles on iTunes? Peter Kafka at All Things Digital:

iPods with cameras? Maybe. iTunes with new features? For sure. iTunes with Beatles? Nope.

I’m sure that Apple (AAPL) will indeed sell the Fab Four’s music via its digital music store one day. But it’s not happening at Apple’s keynote presentation tomorrow.

The Beatles estate, Electronic Arts (ERTS) and Viacom’s (VIA) MTV will be releasing a new version of “Rock Band” that features the band’s songs tomorrow. And on the same day, EMI Music Group will release all of the band’s music on remastered compact discs.

But that’s it, a source familiar with the band’s plans tells me. For now.

Harry McCracken at Technologizer:

I’m not going to entirely discount the possibility of a surprise tomorrow until the event (which I’ll be liveblogging) ends and Paul McCartney hasn’t emerged from behind the curtain. I’m not sure why I care, since I long ago ripped the music I wanted from CD. Like most Beatles fans who have gone digital. Perhaps the band and EMI wants us to buy the music one last time on CD in these new remastered versions before it gives us the chance to purchase it yet again in downloadable form.

This whole saga is as old as the iTunes Store: It began with the news that the Beatles were suing Apple over iTunes and the lads’ Apple Corps trademark, segued into musings on whether digital Beatles were in the offing after the spat was settled, and in recent years has involved repeated rumors that a deal had already been struck and was about to be announced. After the jump, a recap of the last six years of developments.

Anthony DeCurtis in Rolling Stone on the remastered albums:

As you probably know by now, the remastering of the Beatles catalog was carried out with the caution of translating the Dead Sea Scrolls. Happily, the results justify the obsessive care. These 14 stereo remasters — from Please Please Me (1963) to Let It Be (1970), with a two-disc Past Masters added for good measure — make the original recordings sound newly invigorated and alive, whether you’re listening on standard earbuds or a high-end system.

An enormous effort was made to stay true to the original mixes, so there aren’t going to be any easy revelations for Beatles fans. Instead, these albums sound deeper, richer and fleshed-out. The buoyancy of “Something” becomes more comprehensible when you hear clearly Paul McCartney’s nimble bass line. You knew that “Twist and Shout” featured one of John Lennon’s most visceral performances, but here you can feel his vocal cords shred. The horns on “Good Morning Good Morning” roar, driving the song in a way you may not have noticed before. Lennon and George Harrison’s guitars on “You Can’t Do That” sharpen to a gleaming edge.

One tip for deep-pocketed fans: The 12-CD The Beatles in Mono box set is more than a collector’s indulgence. The warmth and punch of early albums With the Beatles and Beatles for Sale evoke the experience of first hearing songs like “All My Loving” on the original vinyl. But in stereo or mono, these albums have finally received the treatment they deserve.

Tony Sachs at Huffington Post:

This isn’t for those music fans who pre-ordered the newly remastered Beatles CDs the instant they were offered. It’s not for the people who have double-checked their stereos to make sure they’re properly wired to capture every nuance of newly-tweaked sound. And it’s certainly not for the folks who, when they heard that the Fabs’ catalog was going to be reissued in both stereo and mono, didn’t think twice about buying both boxes.

No, this is for that small but stubborn minority of naysayers who rolled their eyes when they heard that the Beatles’ recorded legacy was being given a state-of-the-art sonic overhaul for the first time in more than two decades. “Ripoff artists,” they snorted. “They keep repackaging the same music over and over again.”

Well, you know what, naysayers? You’re wrong.

Let’s look at it by the numbers. In the CD era, EMI has released 14 Beatles albums, not counting the straight CD reissues of the original British LPs in 1987. Of the fourteen, five consist partly or entirely of previously unreleased music (Live At The BBC, Anthology 1, 2, 3, and Let It Be… Naked). Two are collections of singles and rarities that weren’t included on the British albums (Past Masters Vols. 1 & 2). Three are well-thought out, fairly comprehensive greatest hits collections (the CD versions of the classic “red” and “blue” LPs, which were originally released in 1973, and 1).

Which leaves a grand total of four questionable Beatles releases over more than a quarter century. These include:

The Capitol Albums Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, featuring the American mixes, sequencing and artwork of the early Beatles’ LPs in both stereo and mono, which American fans had been requesting for years;

Yellow Submarine Songtrack, which jettisoned the incidental music from the 1968 film in favor of more Beatles songs;

and Love, the inessential but interesting 2006 mash-up collection with absolutely stellar remixing and remastering.

And not a skimpy, ten-song compilation in the batch. By comparison, in the ’90s alone, RCA released over 50 Elvis CDs, a good chunk of ’em short collections of random hits, and Frank Sinatra’s various labels put out over 30 “new” collections of his — some essential, many pointless. The Rolling Stones’ 1971 album Sticky Fingers has, by my count, been issued on CD a half dozen times with assorted packaging and remastering variations since the mid ’80s.

In Entertainment:

It looks like the Beatles Remastered box sets are proving very popular amongst the fans at the moment, as according to reports from latimes.com, both the mono and stereo box sets were sold out at Amazon.com, a day before their official release.

Although reports say, that the online retailer is still taking orders for individual CD reissues and they will be restocking on the box sets soon. Amazon’s sell out just proves that the band’s tradition of topping the charts is still alive after 39 years.

UPDATE: Farley Katz in the New Yorker

Leave a comment

Filed under Music, Technology