Saturday, 29 March 2008

What Coldplay can teach the media star

The music industry is a little further on in the digital revolution than the press.

In the music industry, the major labels' struggles to stay profitable, and relevant, are more desperate than those in the newspaper industry.

Some of their major stars are deciding that they don't need the publishing and promotion services of the label.

Many labels are deciding they can't support acts that don't bring home the bacon.

Many acts are deciding that the MySpace/YouTube route to a public is the one for them.

Consumers, who used to shell out for physical products, are much less willing to do so. Increasingly, they buy (or otherwise acquire) a track or two electronically.

Even performers who have been selling millions of CDs - and some who continue to do so - are questioning whether music can be sold at all.

We don't know how all this is going to shake down yet, but we do know that things are becoming more granular.

Individual tracks by individual artists come to individual listeners' attention through the web. Those listeners browse around, pick up recommendations from others, get passed clips that online friends think they might like, and develop their own, often idiosyncratic webs of consumption.

Has all of this any relevance at all to the humble - or not so humble - hack?

I ask because I found myself recently talking to a room of writers who - in newspaper terms - are the equivalent of the big acts on EMI or any of the others now-shaky monoliths of the music industry.

Although it didn't seem to have occurred to most of them, their relationships with their publishers could be undergoing a sea change.

Let's start from the consumer end. Consumers of news, opinion, analysis, comment and debate are also beginning to take a much more granular approach to that consumption.

Where once most readers had a daily newspaper that provided their main source of news and comment now - online - they can pick and choose from the full range of available publications as widely and as often as they like.

Most publications have a handful of big names - their Coldplays and Madonnas - whose names sell many copies of that newspaper or magazine.

Ask any loyal reader why they buy a publication and they'll usually tell you that, apart from liking the general politics, tone, image etc of it, they love to read X or Y or Z.

Now they can have X,Y and Z without buying the physical product, and also browse around all the other letters of the star-writer alphabet, irrespective of where they are published - and for free.

My room full of Coldplays and Madonnas - I can't tell you their names because we were under the Chatham House rule - were unconvinced. They could not envisage a time when they would not need their publisher to pay them, distribute them and give them a platform.

But then an editor present mentioned a big star who wasn't there and who is creating their own website, independent of their trad media publisher.

This person is easily better known than the paper he writes for. The assembled print celebs were quick to point out that there was one rule for megastars, another for mere stars like them.

So maybe only the really big stars can break loose from their labels?

What it comes down to is money. The writers want paying. The newspapers have the deep pockets. I've blogged before on the subject of a payment system that might possibly square this particular circle, so I won't go over that again now.

Instead I'll concentrate on the question of a publishing platform, which was the reason all those stars had been brought together.

Alternative ways of finding the stars are being developed all the time. Almost any blog offers such a platform, with its links to people the writer thinks his or her readers would be interested in.

Some platforms - such as Arts and Letters - are very good at linking to a wide range of writers that its audience may not have heard of but who they will find interesting. It also provides a one-stop-shop for those looking for opinion and comment of a particular kind. The audience knows that they can keep tabs on several dozen prominent writers who are published in a score of different trad media outlets, by coming to this one place.

Such aggregating sites perform a valuable service in bypassing the online versions of trad media and gathering writing of a particular kind under one roof.

All the reader needs to do is find the roof that is right for them

And that strikes me as the alternative publishing platform that will work in future for the many stars and less-than-stars who currently can't eat without a media mogul's path to market.

I was struck by a comment on Mindy McAdams's blog about why newspapers still have a future. She was quoting a retiring journalism professor who said: "The hunter-gatherer model of journalism is no longer sufficient. Citizens can do their own hunting and gathering on the Internet. What they need is somebody to add value to that information by processing it — digesting it, organizing it, making it usable."

That's what the new breed of online, aggregating publishers are beginning to do.

Now, if I was sitting in a big leather chair in a multinational media company, I'd see if I couldn't do it too - only better. It's a bit like Sainsbury's getting into farmers markets.

Friday, 28 March 2008

Online, and Up To Speed

Students at Up To Speed in Poole have been the first to sit the Online Journalism exam I developed for the NCTJ, and the Sports Journalism qualification I steered through is also up and running.

Monday, 17 March 2008

Can the can, will the will

Click on both the videos, get them going at the same time and find out all you need to know about selling of the president(ial hopeful)

Sunday, 9 March 2008

This week, the futures look like this

The future is free. The future is citizen journalism. The future is print. The future is video. The future is high-value content for which you will be charged a subscription.

The future is a many-splendoured thing.

Many alternative futures beckon journalists. We just don’t know - depending on whether we are in TV, radio, local newspapers, national newspapers, consumer magazines, B2B magazines, or whatever - which version of that future will prove to be our destiny.

So here’s a snapshot: one week in multimedia journalism that shows the sheer diversity of solutions that are being sought and ways forward that are being followed.

But let’s bear in mind that next week’s futures could be different.

The future is premium content sold at a premium price

The FT has gone against the trend by increasing its paper cover price from £1 to £1.50 and, while some of its online content is available to subscribers who can register for free, most is protected and available only to those with a paid-for subscription.

The results: paper sales up 2 per cent year-on-year in the last six months of 2007 to 440,000; paid subscriptions up 13 per cent to 101,000.

Chief executive John Ridding told Press Gazette: “We have always believed that quality journalism is a viable business ...People will pay premium prices for premium journalism.”

Expansion of video production on has been a revenue driver in 2007 – with 100 videos published a month generating 500,000 views.

“The rates we can charge for sponsorship are several factors higher than what we can for the same number of page views in normal web traffic.”

His tip on surviving: “Be as different as possible...differentiate yourself and focus on what makes you different.”

The future is hyper-local websites run by readers.

The Glasgow Evening Times network of community websites, launched this week, will eventually be run by trained members of the public. There will eventually be 80 sites – 12 have been launched so far – covering ultra-local news and listings.

Evening Times assistant editor Graeme Smith told Press Gazette: “We felt we should do this because we wanted to own the Glasgow online audience before anyone else made a move.”

The future is hyper-local but with reverse publishing into print

On Teesside, Trinity Mirror's Evening Gazette launched 16 free titles last year, the content of which was reverse published from 20 websites, each based on a postcode.

The future is TV

Men’s Health, the monthly men’s lifestyle magazine, is to launch Men’s Health TV with 90 workout videos. It’s online ABCE was 300,000 unique visitors in January. The printed version’s average circulation for the second half of 2007 was 240,315.

The future is free, and not free

The Manchester Evening News has a total circulation 0f 180,900. Of that, 98,455 copies are given away, 82,445 are paid for.

The title has 73,304 daily unique users on its web site.

The plan had been to give the paper away in the city centre, where few copies were sold anyway, and charge in the suburbs. But suburban buyers didn’t like the sound of that: why pay for something you can get for free? So the number of giveaway copies has been increased.

The future is print

The Swindon Advertiser was the best-performing evening newspaper in the latest ABC figures. It owes its success, according to editor Dave King, to two things. One is digestible news: “our stories aren’t overwritten, you have side bars, there are lots of nibs, the pages are busy, every page counts.”

The other is a reader acquisition programme that has boosted home deliveries. These factors have won the paper a .4 per cent sales rise to 21,951 year on year.

The future is distribution via Facebook

Click through to York University student newspaper York Vision’s online edition and you go straight through to Facebook. The entire web presence of the paper is embedded into the social-networking site. Ian Withers, one of the students involved, said: “We decided to take our content to where students generally loiter online, rather than set up a stand-alone website... Facebook is by far the best way to distribute our content.”

The future is everything

Trinity Mirror has launched 34 websites, 24 magazines, 23 books and five events/exhibitions in 2007.

The future is B2B

Where did I get my snapshot? Everything in this post I read about in the print edition of Press Gazette. Business to business magazines still deliver.

The future is too bloody much

One problem with all this is that there is now just too much for us to read, watch and listen to.

Keeping up with the news – for journalists, or anyone else who needs to know things for their work - is tough.

What we need is help. We need an editor. Someone who knows what we really need to know and selects it for us, providing handy links to the essential news items of the week.

That’s another future.

Hang about, isn’t that what journalists were invented for in the first place?

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Our latest editor

We had a first at PMA's graduation ceremony yesterday. On the panel of editors was Sarah MacKinlay, who graduated a year ago and who starts work next week as editor of Iain Dale's new magazine Total Politics.

Usually it takes a little longer than 12 months for a student of ours to reach the editor's chair. Sarah's done it in record time and was a great inspiration to this course's graduates.

Of our cohort of 10 on the 2008 winter course, all gained their Postgraduate Diploma in Magazine Journalism.

One already has a job, and the rest are mainly on second interviews or following up promising leads. There are jobs to be had in the B2B sector, despite general media turmoil and fears of recession - a vindication of our policy of focusing of pushing students in that direction. Infact, they are able to pick and choose.

Sarah also got an informal, and very kind, masterclass in how to present her new magazine to the press from another of our panelists, Torin Douglas, the BBC's media correspondent. I'm not sure she had quite realised the level of interest there will be in Total Politics when it hits the streets in a couple of months. She has now.