Friday, February 18, 2011

Two mindsets, two products, two platforms

Alan Mutter’s recent “Reflections of a Newsosaur” discussed the extraordinary adoption rate of mobile devices. This phenomenon reinforces the idea that to sustain professional journalism, news organizations will move from publishing one branded news product (flagship newspaper) on two platforms (print and digital) to publishing two branded news products (timely lists and leisurely serendipity) on two platforms (phone and pad). 
Consumers have historically used flagship newspapers to satisfy both their search and discover mindsets. These mindsets continue today and will into the future. The Internet has made it both possible and necessary to design two distinct products for two distinct platforms to serve these distinct mindsets.
  • The products serving those in the search mindset, those seeking timely answers to questions, will be list-formatted and designed for phone devices. 
  • The products serving those in the discover mindset, those seeking leisurely serendipity, will be display-formatted and designed for pad-devices.

The timely-answer products will be free to the user. Whether the leisurely-serendipity products are free to the user or paid for by the user remains a question.
Some leisurely-serendipity products are and will continue to enjoy user fees. My bet is that the content satisfying the discover mindset, provided by geographic-centered news organizations, will be free. 

Geographic-centered news content, by nature of the fact that it is produced so frequently, does not have the lasting value of content produced for books, music and movies. And geographic-centered news does not offer the opportunity for financial advantage as does the news from The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg and The Economist. 

So while people will likely pay, if seamless and in small amounts, for books, music, movies and financial news, they will not pay for news and information that informs them as citizens. There are too many other ways to get this. It is of fleeting value. It does not have enough influence on the reader's investing acumen. 

Advertisers, using the new capabilities of these platforms, will continue to be the bedrock upon which geographic-centered news will be sustained. Dramatically reduced printing and circulation costs will compensate for the lost subscription revenue.

Phones and pads, while advancing rapidly in adoption, do not yet render the current pc and paper platforms obsolete. So, for now, the product designed for phones will also appear on pc's. And the product designed for pad-devices will also appear in print. The two distinct phone/pc and print/pad products will have the following characteristics.
  • The phone/pc product will be brief.
  • The pad/print product will be in-depth.
  • The phone/pc product will feature trusted “who, what, where.” 
  • The pad/print product will feature trusted “analysis, context, reflection.”
  • The phone/pc product will be published 24/7
  • The pad/print product will be published monthly. 
    • There will be four, possibly more, monthlies, spread for publication across the month. 
    • Each monthly will target distinct sociographic and psychographic segments of specific 20,000 to 40,000 population demographic markets. 
    • Each monthly will have a distinct content focus varying by locale. For example:
      • News Summary & Analysis
      • Sports & Outdoors
      • Arts & Culture
      • Design & Life Style
I do not pretend to have enough understanding of the needs of metro, regional, national and world newspaper markets to envision their future. I am confident that the above is at least as good a vision as anyone else has at the moment for those news organizations targeting the 20,000 to 40,000 population urban neighborhoods, suburban villages and exurban towns. And as I said in a previous blog, this is the market with the most exciting opportunity.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Guttenberg, ARPANet, Empowerment

I remain convinced that professional journalism is sustainable within the current digital information revolution. And to achieve sustainability, news organizations must use the technology driving the revolution in a manner consistent with the reason the technology was created in the first place.

This current information revolution is tied directly to Russia’s launch of Sputnik. In 1958, congress created the Advanced Research Project Agency (ARPA) to focus on research and development in the areas of space, ballistic missile defense, and nuclear test detection. Driven to increase the speed and ability of its scientists to access and share information, ARPA began creation of a government supported data network called ARPANET. ARPANET led to the birth of the Internet and the current digital information revolution.

Charles M Hersfield, former director of ARPA wrote the following in - Inventors: "The ARPANET came out of our frustration that there were only a limited number of large, powerful research computers in the country, and that many research investigators, who should have access to them, were geographically separated from them….Bob Taylor, who was Director of the ARPA Computer Technology program at the time, tells the story correctly (see the article "25 Years of the ARPAnet" in the proceedings of the BBN Conference, September 1994). Bob and his colleagues wanted to see if there was a way to link the computers to each other, and connect the users to these netted computers in a way that facilitated access by the researchers.”

Thus, the technology enabling our current digital information revolution was created to empower individual researchers to access and distribute information unencumbered by limited connections. In the news industry, the Internet empowers  neighborhood citizens, Main Street businesses and community organizations to access and distribute news and information without the limits of our newspapers. News organizations must serve them in ways which enhance this new power.

Newspapers are a mass medium characterized by control of content access and content input. Holding fast to the rules and tools to serve masses is not a winning strategy for an organization wishing to sustain itself in the digital information revolution. We are in the information business, not the newspaper business. Multi-section newspapers have been the best and most efficient means to deliver information to masses. Those days are over. Less frequent, more narrowly targeted publications will replace them.

The last information revolution that empowered individuals by giving them access to information controlled by a few began around 1439.  It was nearly 600 years ago, when Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg invented movable type printing, printing presses and oil-based ink. It was nearly 600 years ago that the capacity of individual communication output and intake was dramatically changed. 

So, as in the era following Gutenberg’s inventions, today we have a market of newly empowered individuals. Our strategy to serve them must be focused on facilitating increased participation rather than holding fast to control. We must think in terms of serving dispersed markets not in terms of serving mass markets.

The four most important common traits leading to the success of new players such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, Craigslist and YouTube are: they serve individuals, they facilitate participation, they do not generate their own content and they dominate a world-wide market.

Which of these traits can we in the news industry emulate?  We must focus on individuals and not masses. We must facilitate participation. We cannot emulate no-self-content generating and no single news organization is going to dominate a world-wide market.
Disperse, hyper-local markets are the markets for which the Internet was designed. Hyper-local markets are our industry’s equivalent of the newly empowered individuals. And Main Street businesses can be valued participants delivering timely, useful news and information to the same people valuing the trusted news of professional journalists. 

And just as hyper-local markets are the targets best suited to this technology, small, independent news organizations are the organizations best positioned to take advantage of the Internet technology.  

Each urban neighborhood, suburban village and ex-urban town of 20,000 to 40,000 has many common traits which a one-size-fits-all approach can serve. But each has its own set of traits that make it different from every other like-sized community. This is the reason people choose to live in one place versus another. Independent, locally owned news organizations can best reflect and serve these unique community traits. Using the Internet, independent news organization can connect to each other, sharing tools, services and insights to perform as efficiently but more sensitively than can an aggregate of local entities under one ownership.  

These news entities serving these disperse markets are not likely to be darlings of the stock market commanding high multiple yields. But they will be solid businesses in their communities, facilitating participation and empowerment of its citizens, Main Street businesses and community organizations in community life.