Disruptive Innovation

B&N didn’t have the culture or financing to compete with the likes of Amazon and Google

22 September 2017

From Publishers Weekly:

During its annual meeting held Tuesday morning at its flagship store in New York City, Barnes & Noble chairman Len Riggio supported its new CEO, Demos Parneros who was named to his current role in April.

During the meeting, Riggio called Parneros “the perfect fit” to help the company grow its top line and improve profits. Observing that Parneros “has brought lots of energy to the company,” Riggio said he is looking forward to watching the executive over the next few years, noting that Parneros shares his vision and will revive B&N “store by store.”

. . . .

Riggio also assured shareholders that B&N is no longer in the tech business. While the Nook e-reader and e-books will remain a part of the company’s offerings to customers, bricks and mortar stores will be its focus. Riggio explained that when e-book sales began exploding several years ago, B&N felt it had no choice but to enter the digital market. In retrospect, Riggio said, B&N didn’t have the culture or financing to compete with the likes of Amazon and Google.

Instead, according to Riggio, B&N will focus on its physical stores and will partner with technology companies to keep a presence in the digital space. “There is no business model in technology” for B&N, Riggio acknowledged.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly and thanks to Nate at The Digital Reader for the tip.

PG says the Nook business was doomed from its earliest days. The big reasons are:

Riggio didn’t want to pay for top online talent.

This was evident from the first time PG visited the Nook Store. Poorly designed and poorly executed. And it never really changed.

Real tech talent is rare and in great demand. In the beginning, for the right money, skilled tech people would have gone to work at Nook, but Barnes & Noble wanted to pay bookstore salaries.

PG has no idea if Nook tried to hire really good talent at the right price after it became clear that the Nook Store was a disaster. Unfortunately, by that time, serious tech talent wouldn’t have come regardless of salary because nobody wants to clean up someone else’s mess and a line mentioning the Nook Store would have been deadly on the résumé.

Besides, nobody would have believed Barnes & Noble stock options would ever make them rich at that point.

The Nook Store set ebook prices at a level designed to support the print book prices in its stores.

One of PG’s least favorite things to hear during a product planning meeting is, “We don’t want to cannibalize our existing business.”

The problem is that, if your business is cannibalizable by you, it’s cannibalizable by somebody else. Jeff Bezos has always been a happy cannibal.

Low ebook prices combined with instant availability fueled Amazon’s early dominance. Over time, by cultivating successful indie authors, in part by using Kindle Unlimited, Amazon has added tens of thousands of high quality titles that Riggio couldn’t sell if he wanted to.

Amazon vs. Big Bookstores and Big Publishing is going to be a classic business case used in MBA programs around the world for decades to come. Brains and speed beat money and size once again.

What the “Book People” Won’t Tell You: Print is Dead

18 September 2017

From The Digital Reader:

I have been writing about industry trends in bits and pieces in each news story, but it has been a long while since I last pulled everything together, took a step back, and told you what I see.

I can sum it up in a single sentence: The major publishers are dead because they bet against digital, which is the future.

The thing about the major publishers is that they thought they could make the market go where they wanted.

They didn’t want ebooks to cannibalize print sales, so they conspired with Apple in early 2010 to bring about the Agency model. Then they doubled down on their bet with Agency 2.0, and hedged that bet by sabotaging subscription ebook services like Scribd and Oyster by saddling them with nonviable business models.

It is now 2017, and book publishing is in the later stages of a transition to digital.

. . . .

The major publishers bet against digital, and they continue to do so, and it is going to kill them in the long run. In fact, we can see them die bit by bit. First they dropped mid-list authors, then they started dropping best-selling authors.

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

PG thinks the illegal collusion between the big publishers to force Amazon to set higher prices for ebooks was an important milestone on their path to suicide. They got together in various New York restaurants to engage in face-to-face groupthink.

Here’s a summary from Wikipedia:

The Publisher Defendants sold over 48% of all e-books in the U.S. in the first quarter of 2010. The Publisher Defendants along with Random House Publishing are the six largest publishers in the United States (collectively the Publishers) and are often referred to as the “Big Six” in the publishing industry. In 2009 Amazon.com Inc. had nearly 90% of the e-books industry. Amazon charged $9.99 for certain new releases and bestselling e-books which helped make it the market leader in the sale of e-books and e-readers with its Kindle.

Amazon’s price point caused discontent among the Publishers. The Publishers believed that the low price point was a problem for their sales of more profitable hardcover books. Approximately every three months, the CEOs of the Big Six would meet in private dining rooms in New York restaurants “without counsel or assistant present, in order to discuss the common challenges they faced, including most prominently Amazon’s pricing policies.” The Publishers used several different strategies to fight against Amazon’s pricing point, including selling e-books for the same price as their printed version through a continued wholesale model and “windowing” new releases. Windowing is a tactic that would delay the release of books to their e-book form for a certain window of time.

. . . .

Amazon sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission complaining about the simultaneous nature of the demands for agency model agreements from the Publishers who had signed with Apple. By March, Amazon had completed agency agreements with four of the five publishers. During the negotiations over the agreements, the publishers would talk with each other and share information about what Amazon would concede with each. Apple was closely following all of this progress and Cue was in contact with the publishers. Following Amazon’s move to agency amounted to “an average per unit e-book retail price increase of 14.2% for their new releases, 42.7% for their NYT Bestsellers, and 18.6% across all of the Publisher Defendants’ e-books.”[2] The Publishers also raised the price of some of their New Release hardcover books so as to move the e-book versions into a correspondingly higher price tier. Amazon saw Random House (who for the moment had not joined Apple) e-book sales having an increase of 41%. Two studies showed that the Publishers who moved to agency model sold over 10% fewer units at major retailers. In contrast, other publishers’ sales increased 5.4% in the same period. In January 2011 Random House also moved to the agency model and raised the prices of its e-books, and then experienced a decline in its e-book sales. This allowed Random House to join the iBookstore.

. . . .

Beginning on December 8, 2009, Apple’s senior VP of Internet Software and Services, Eddy Cue, contacted the Publishers to set up meetings for the following week. During the meetings Cue suggested that Apple would sell the majority of e-books between $9.99 and $14.99, with new releases being $12.99 to $14.99. Apple also adopted the agency model which it used in its App Store for distribution of e-books. This let Publishers control the price of the e-books with Apple receiving a 30% commission. Apple also set up price tiers for different books. Apple also included a MFN clause in their contract with the Publishers which allowed for Apple to sell e-book at its competitors’ lowest price.

. . . .

On the day of the launch, Jobs was asked by a reporter why people would pay $14.99 for a book in the iBookstore when they could purchase it for $9.99 from Amazon. In response Jobs stated that “The price will be the same… Publishers are actually withholding their books from Amazon because they are not happy.”[2] By stating this, Jobs acknowledged his understanding that the Publishers would raise e-book prices and that Apple would not have to face any competition from Amazon on price.

This collusion between the top executives of five out of the (then) six major US publishers to destroy Amazon’s pricing model for ebooks helped accelerate the development of anti-Amazon/anti-ebooks groupthink throughout Big Publishing.

Later, when the Justice Department charged these publishers with illegal anti-competitive behavior and publicly humiliated their management by requiring an admission of guilt and forcing monetary settlements, the anti-Amazon/anti-ebook sentiment blossomed into something of an industry-wide psychosis.

Publishing couldn’t live without Amazon and hated the company even more for their dependence upon it.

When Borders, the second largest bookstore chain in the US, went bankrupt in 2011, that shocking event should have set alarm bells ringing in CEO offices of every publisher.

The second-largest bricks-and-mortar customer for every major US publisher had just imploded. Perhaps it was time for some new thinking? Would the future be a lot different than the past? What a silly thought.

Borders would have been happy to sell its assets to virtually any willing purchaser, but smart money was not interested. Neither was dumb money and about 650 retail bookstores in the US just disappeared.

At the time of the Borders bankruptcy, reporters and business writers (often relying on traditional publishing sources) concluded that Borders had made a big mistake by working with Amazon to sell ebooks. On the other hand, Barnes & Noble was brilliant because it had spent lots of money to build up its Nook business as a viable competitor to Amazon’s Kindle.

Amazon Derangement Syndrome was running rampant through the publishing business and that, combined with widespread ignorance of technology among management, blinded them to a simple fact that was evident to anyone with an ounce of internet savvy: Amazon was much, much better at selling books (and a lot of other things) online than Barnes & Noble and the gap between the two organizations was growing at a rapid pace.

The traditional book industry and its convoy of pet pundits have not gotten any part of selling online right for well over ten years and show no indication that anything is going to change in the next ten years (to be clear, PG is not predicting that Big Publishing has ten more years ahead of it).

Barnes & Noble is running on fumes. Whether it continues to sink into the sunset or suddenly implodes won’t impact the overall trajectory of the retail book business. It’s dying. At this point, even if Barnes & Noble were able to hire talented management, PG thinks it’s too late for that to make a difference.

When Barnes & Noble is gone, what’s left for legacy publishing? A bunch of mom and pop bookstores. There may be some fancier moms and pops in Manhattan and Washington DC, but they’re all small businesses with tiny profit margins.

PG ran out of time before he could bloviate about traditionally-published authors heading for the exits and hedge funds taking over management of the gazillion legacy publishing contracts which represent the only value of Big Publishing.

Building our new house

13 September 2017

From Medium:

I was struck by Jeff Jarvis’s recent polemic, ‘If I ran a newspaper…’ published on Medium.

In it, he quoted an unnamed editor’s description of the predicament he — and many of us — find ourselves in:

“We have two houses. One is on fire and the other isn’t built yet. So our problem is that we have to fight the flames in the old house at the same time we’re trying to figure out how to build the new one.”

He was, of course, describing the rock-and-a-hard place dilemma that’s beset legacy media brands for more than a decade now: We know print is declining fast, and the future’s digital, but the problem is most of our revenues are still in the former, and the latter will never generate the money we made back in the day.

I’ve lived in this cleft stick for most of my career. The legendary ‘tipping point’ is still talked about hypothetically years after it should have become a reality for more of this country’s legacy media — particularly in the regions. The tipping point comes when your digital revenue growth offsets your print revenue decline. Rather than waiting reluctantly for it to happen — or indeed trying to postpone it — we should have been doing everything to make it happen on our terms. Unfortunately, I think the industry dragged its feet for too long.

. . . .

We announced this week that we are creating a new, standalone and sustainable digital business that could be a model for similar enterprises across the UK and beyond.

At the heart of the new operation is a digital-only newsroom forged from the team that has made BirminghamMail.co.uk the fastest-growing regional news website in the UK for much of the past year. Thanks to my team’s efforts, we reach more than 50% of Brummies every week, and now we want to reach even more with our new approach.

At the same time, we want the new model to be completely self-sustainable, achieving a profit driven by programmatic and solus digital advertising, and not over-dependent on print upsell from legacy clients. There’ll be whole new revenue streams, too.

The new newsroom will be more than digital-first; it will be digital only.

. . . .

When you lose pounds in print, you only ever get pennies back online / we’ll never make enough money to have a newsroom as big as it was ten years ago.

True(ish), and true. Sadly, we know the future requires the business to be leaner and more flexible than we are now, and despite years of seemingly endless restructures and job losses, we will have to make further reductions. We are building the new model by asking the question: “What size newsroom can we afford, given what we know about our current and future digital scale, how much programmatic revenue we get, and how much new digital revenue we think is out there in the market?”.

Link to the rest at Medium

PG says the OP describes a constructive way to deal with disruptive innovation. “What would my business look like if I was starting it from scratch today?” It’s a much better management strategy than, “How can I preserve my existing business when the economics of the market it serves have completely changed?”

The more common strategy of downsizing, then downsizing some more, then further downsizing is self-defeating in the extreme.

  1. Employee morale tanks and stays tanked with deleterious effects on the enterprise.
  2. Talented new people who might like the idea of working in a particular business stay away because of justified skepticism about the long-term future of the business and a rational desire to avoid a sinking ship.
  3. The talent level of new hires is lower than that of veteran employees.
  4. Existing employees who can leave do leave, taking their experience and abilities with them.
  5. The percentage of staff who stay with the business because they can’t get a job elsewhere skyrockets.

PG considers himself typical of many traditional readers of printed newspapers.

Growing up, he pretty much read every newspaper that arrived in his home cover to cover every day. When he commuted to work by train, he bought and read one newspaper in the morning and another in the evening.

(Yes, my young friends, in large cities, some newspapers published every morning and others published every afternoon. Chicago had four major daily papers, two morning and two afternoon, plus at least a half-dozen other dailys devoted to particular audiences, African-Americans, for one example.)

When he didn’t commute via mass transit, PG had at least one daily newspaper delivered to his home, usually two.

A couple of years ago, PG observed many issues of the two daily papers he received were piling up, largely or completely unread. He stopped The Wall Street Journal, but still pays for access to the entire digital edition.

At first, he kept his subscription to the local daily paper because he has always wanted to support local news organizations. However, when a week or two would pass without him reading any physical papers, he quit renewing that subscription as well.

Perhaps based upon years of habit, PG’s delivery person has continued to drop the local daily on his driveway, despite PG not having paid for a subscription for several months. PG has wondered if the paper’s management is trying to artificially pump up its subscription numbers.

Why you’ll wear a body camera

4 September 2017

A number of years ago, PG remembers reading a science fiction story about a future in which a large percentage of the population wore body cameras.

From TechConnect:

InfoTrends says people will take 1.2 trillion digital photos this year. That’s 100 billion more than last year and nearly double the number taken as recently as 2013.

The rate at which photo taking grows is currently clocked at a whopping 100 billion per year – that means each year humanity takes 100 billion more photos that it did last year.

I think that rate is about to accelerate. And the reason is wearable cameras.

As the cost goes down, quality goes up and ease of use improves (through miniaturization, better software and better batteries), wearable cameras will become more compelling.

These will arrive in the form of clip-on cameras, smartwatch cameras and cameras attached permanently or temporarily to glasses, including smart glasses.

. . . .

Just a few years ago, nobody could have predicted or imagined what’s now acceptable public behavior with a smartphone camera. People shamelessly pose and posture in public for selfies without embarrassment. They take pictures of their food and drinks in restaurants. They take selfies in the bathroom mirror.

. . . .

It turns out that the location of a wearable camera makes all the difference for how it’s used.

Badge-style clip-on cameras are acceptable for “lifelogging” applications – jogging your personal memory about places you go and people you meet. But they’re horrible for “photography.” Because the physical cameras move around, sit at odd angles and aren’t directly controlled by the user (they tend to shoot photos at intervals, or take video), the pictures are universally bad, save that one odd lucky shot.

Wrist-worn cameras are best used as expedient replacements for smartphone cameras – group shots, vacation snapshots and selfies.

As Google Glass wearers learned, eyeglasses-based cameras can take amazing photos. They point the camera where the user is looking, and show a first-person, this-is-what-I-saw picture, which can be photographically compelling.

. . . .

Smartglasses will use camera electronics and lenses as much for data gathering as photography. Images and video will be processed for object and face recognition and this data will be fed back into the AR application. Looking at a table with a goldfish bowl on it, an AR app will know that a virtual kitten can stand on the table but not the bowl, and a virtual shark can swim in the bowl but not the table. In AR, cameras aren’t for photography.

Other applications will capture photos or video all day, and process it through artificial intelligence systems to provide extremely good data on activity, behavior and environment.

Best of all, photography can be retroactive, either as photography or as data.

For example, instead of taking pictures of their food while they’re eating it, consumers can just tell their virtual assistant at the end of the day: “Post a picture of that pie I ate.” A.I. will reach into the recorded video, grab the best still shot of the pie and post it online. From a data perspective, we’ll ask that same assistant: “How many slices of pie did I eat last year?”

. . . .

The co-founder and CEO of Shonin, Sameer Hasan, told me wearable cameras will be initially focused on quality control and documentation, medical applications and security. They’ll be immediately usable for “instruction and demonstration, live entertainment and news reporting.”

Wearable cameras will enable AR to “process video information in real time and instantly provide the wearer with analysis and recommendations based on what the camera is seeing,” according to Hasan.

Link to the rest at TechConnect

As PG remembers the scifi story, the ubiquity of video recording devices were a great assistance to the totalitarian government that collected all the video.

A Neural Network Wrote the Next ‘Game of Thrones’ Book Because George R.R. Martin Hasn’t

3 September 2017

From Motherboard:

Minutes after the epic finale of the seventh season of Game of Thrones, fans of the show were already dismayed to hear that the final, six-episode season of the series isn’t set to air until spring 2019.

For readers of the A Song of Ice and Fire novel series on which the TV show is based, disappointment stemming from that estimated wait time is laughable. The fifth novel in seven-novel series, A Dance with Dragons, was published in 2011 and author George R.R. Martin has been laboring over the The Winds of Winter since, with no release date in sight. With no new source material, producers of the TV series have been forced to move the story forward themselves since late season 6.

Tired of the wait and armed with technology far beyond the grand maesters of Oldtown, full-stack software engineer Zack Thoutt is training a recurrent neural network (RNN) to predict the events of the unfinished sixth novel. Read the first chapter of the book here.

“I’m a huge fan of Game of Thrones, the books and the show,” said Thoutt, who had just completed a Udacity course on artificial intelligence and deep learning and used what he learned to do the project. “I had worked with RNNs a bit in that class and thought I’d give working with the books a shot.”

. . . .

“It is trying to write a new book. A perfect model would take everything that has happened in the books into account and not write about characters being alive when they died two books ago,” Thoutt said. “The reality, though, is that the model isn’t good enough to do that. If the model were that good authors might be in trouble. The model is striving to be a new book and to take everything into account, but it makes a lot of mistakes because the technology to train a perfect text generator that can remember complex plots over millions of words doesn’t exist yet.”

. . . .

“I start each chapter by giving it a prime word, which I always used as a character name, and tell it how many words after that to generate,” Thoutt said. ” I wanted to do chapters for specific characters like in the books, so I always used one of the character names as the prime word … there is no editing other than supplying the network that first prime word.”

George R.R. Martin isn’t going to be calling for writing tips anytime soon, but Thoutt’s network is able to write mostly readable sentences and is packed with some serious twists.

Link to the rest at Motherboard

PG predicts AI-written books will be common within two years.

He doesn’t know if they will be very good, but it will be interesting to watch the technology develop.

PG also predicts that AI-written books won’t put good human authors out of business.

Never say never’ to Alexa on Kindle

26 August 2017

From iNews:

The Kindle was Amazon’s first standalone product, marking a departure from its online bookstore strategy and into the world of consumer electronics. While the company has never officially announced sales figures, its success paved the way for the release of the Fire tablet, Fire TV Stick, ill-fated Fire Phone, and wildly successful series of smart speakers: the Dot, Echo, Tap and Show, and smart camera Look, all of which Limp watches over as senior vice president of Amazon devices and services.

. . . .

As the Kindle become the go-to term for an e-reader, the Echo, according to Limp, who is in London to visit Amazon’s vast new Shoreditch offices, “kind of invented a new category”. The voice-powered smart speaker, controlled by artificially intelligent digital assistant Alexa, went on sale in the UK last year and is capable of setting timers, browsing the internet and even telling jokes through the cloud, meaning it gets smarter over time. Such is Alexa’s ubiquity, people have started calling Echos ‘Alexas’.

. . . .

What sets Amazon apart from other consumer electronics companies is its desire to “do more than just make a gadget, and by gadget, I mean things you would buy and most likely put in a drawer a few months later,” Limp says, explaining that for people to keep using an Echo, it must constantly evolve to stay relevant and useful.

. . . .

“Our view is that these AIs need to work together. If we get to a world where there’s just one of them, that’s not good for customers,” Limp says. “You want to have the ability for AIs to collaborate, and certain AIs will be good at some things, and others will be better at others. When you use Alexa to order a pizza from Dominos, that’s invoking another AI that [is] an expert in pizza.”

. . . .

AI is “foundational” across all of Amazon’s departments, not just consumer electronics, he says, adding that children born today “will never remember a world when they weren’t able to talk to their house and the things around them – and that’s the way it should be.”

Link to the rest at iNews and thanks to Suzie for the tip.

The Village Voice Is Ending Its Weekly Print Edition

24 August 2017

From The Vulture:

After more than 60 years, the Village Voice is shutting down its weekly print edition. Founded in 1955 and converted into a free weekly in 1996, the Voice built its name as one of the country’s first alt-weeklies by covering and critiquing New York politics, culture, and more with its distinctive downtown sensibility. The progressive alt-weekly plans to continue on in digital form, according to an announcement from Peter Barbey, who purchased it in October 2015 amid financial struggles, and will also continue to sponsor events like the Obie Awards and Pride Awards. “[The Voice] has been a beacon for progress and a literal voice for thousands of people whose identities, opinions, and ideas might otherwise have been unheard. I expect it to continue to be that and much, much more,” Barbey said. “The business has moved online — and so has the Voice’s audience, which expects to do what we do not just once a week, but every day.”

. . . .

The no-longer-weekly alt-weekly has a hallowed history of defining and exemplifying New York counterculture, having been founded by Norman Mailer, Ed Fancher, Dan Wolf, and John Wilcock. It launched the careers of numerous authors and journalists.

Link to the rest at The Vulture

A question popped into PG’s mind as he read this item. Because there was not much else popping in his mind, he noticed this question.

Is there any traditional print publication that has transitioned to a pure digital form (and binned the print side) that has prospered?

By prospering, PG doesn’t mean surviving or claiming a zillion website visits. Rather, he means the publication demonstrates at least some of the traditional outward manifestations of prosperity – hiring more people on a consistent basis without laying them off later, moving to larger offices, etc.

Does any such transitioned publication make more money than it did before the digital deluge?

According to Statista, The New York Times had 5,363 employees in 2012 and 3,710 employees in 2016.

In June of this year, hundreds of staff members of the New York Times staged a walkout to protest more firings. The laid-off copy editors wrote a letter:

“We only ask that you not treat us like a diseased population that must be rounded up en masse, inspected and expelled,” they wrote. “After all, we are, as one senior reporter put it, the immune system of this newspaper, the group that protects the institution from profoundly embarrassing errors, not to mention potentially actionable ones.”

Globe and Mail ends print edition in Maritimes

23 August 2017

From CBC News:

The Globe and Mail will stop delivering its print edition to the Maritimes, the newspaper said Monday.

Phillip Crawley, the publisher and CEO, said it followed the decision made in 2013 to stop printing in Newfoundland and Labrador.

“In keeping with the same policy, we have watched print subscriber numbers declining in the Maritimes over the last few years as we’ve seen digital subscriptions increase,” he told CBC News in a phone interview.

“It gets to the point where it makes no sense to keep on subsidizing print delivery to that degree, where it’s costing us $1 million a year to do that, and that’s where it’s now at with the Maritimes.”

. . . .

The newspaper recently hired a new Atlantic Canada correspondent, filling a post that had been vacant for more than a year. Crawley said Halifax-based Jessica Leeder will start reporting in September.

“We’re very much interested in the stories coming out of the Maritime provinces. We have a national audience that would expect us to do that.”

People anywhere can still get the digital version of the newspaper.

Subscribers were informed of the change via email this week. “Our core mission is to invest in journalism that matters, so the money now being spent on subsidizing uneconomic delivery routes will be redirected to creating content for all of our customers across the country,” the email reads in part.

Crawley said the Globe and Mail will still provide national coverage.

“We never said we’d deliver to every town, village, hamlet or whatever. We haven’t done that. We make a decision on where it makes sense based on the number of people who want to read it,” Crawley said.

Link to the rest at CBC News and tip-thanks to Tudor, who says this would be like a major American newspaper cutting off delivery of its print edition to New England.

PG hopes people who live in the Maritime provinces have good internet connections but suspects they may not.

B&N Needs to Get Over Its Fear

21 August 2017

From The Digital Reader:

I live in Vancouver, WA, with Powell’s Bookstore in Portland about 40 miles away. I was thrilled when the B&N stores opened in the area, they were a lot smaller than Powell’s, but were closer, and had the coffee bar.

B&N has since operated like they are run by people with 2 years before retirement, they want to keep everything static to maximize their retirement. They for the most part fight the Internet, not embrace it.

. . . .

My memory says that B&N had the first cheap Android tablet, but it was locked down to work only as a book reader, until hackers made it useful. Then, as a hacked, useable tablet, its sales exploded. Then, instead of giving away the razor and making money on the blades (this is exactly what Amazon does with tablets), B&N made it a profit center and failed to compete with Amazon.

B&N has operated from fear, where Amazon grabs the bull by the horns and goes, understanding that they will make errors.

For example, Amazon works with Overdrive to provide ebooks for libraries. A lot of people don’t like library ebooks because they expire in 1-3 weeks, and people like me will read library ebooks all the time. I don’t think Amazon loses much if any sales servicing library customers, but they do get them to their web site.

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

PG says Barnes & Noble was perfectly situated to dominate the ebook market, but management didn’t understand digital and wanted to protect its legacy business instead of following its customers.

‘Raining clicks’: why we need better thinking on technology, data and journalism

11 August 2017

From Medium:

I’ve spent the last eight years building the case for using audience data in newsrooms and the tools and culture required to make it a force for good. So reading Franklin Foer’s piece When Silicon Valley Took Over Journalism was a deeply bizarre experience. Over the first four years of my work at the Guardian, I encountered almost every possible objection to what I was doing and I thought long and hard about each one. At that point a great deal of my job was about making sure that my instincts, processes and arguments were genuinely robust. Foer’s piece is a collection of the most ill-considered objections I saw, blended into one long, unappealing cocktail.

To be clear, there’s the odd thing here that I agree with. It’s obviously true, for example, that publishers need to be more robust in dealing with technology companies (although ironically one of the things we should be asking of them is more data). It’s also true that homogeneity can be dangerous. But the intelligent application of data can also help us spot where this is doing damage.

But most of these arguments, prejudices masquerading as arguments, childish hopes that everything can just go back to ‘normal’ and windy emotional appeals are zombies. They’re dangerous, stupid and they have no business climbing out of their grave and causing damage in 2017.

Technology isn’t an amorphous lump of stuff

The single biggest problem with the piece is the tendency to take anything that went wrong around the New Republic and the wider industry, gather it up and shove it in a big bucket labelled Silicon Valley or Technology. At various points Foer covers the use of data, data itself, platforms, algorithms, selling advertising, advertising itself, revenue, virality and search engine optimisation. Considering the experience he went through, the absolute conviction dripping from each line and his expressed commitment to good journalism, it’s surprising that he seems to have given so little thought to any of these specific issues.

. . . .

Audience data isn’t just page views…

We would resist the impulse to chase traffic, to clutter our home page with an endless stream of clicky content. Our digital pages would prize beauty and finitude; they would brashly announce the import of our project — which he described as nothing less than the preservation of long-form journalism and cultural seriousness.

Considering this stated aim, why the hell is the only metric mentioned in this epic piece page views?

. . . .

Growing audience doesn’t have to be a con trick

People clicked so quickly, they didn’t always fully understand why. These decisions were made in a semiconscious state, influenced by cognitive biases. Enticing a reader entailed a little manipulation, a little hidden persuasion.

Here’s another failure of imagination and thought (not to mention a pretty contemptuous view of the capabilities of readers in the 21st century). Buzzfeed’s viral strategy is basically inapplicable to serious journalism, as partly evidenced by Buzzfeed News’s difficulties in replicating the audience of the broader company despite great journalism. Equally, Upworthy’s aggregation and headline testing approach just doesn’t relate. In both cases the nature of the content is as important as the method of delivery. But using audience data to spot when a story you care about isn’t connecting with readers is a hugely positive thing. There’s a world of difference between writing misleading headlines and making a headline work well in a digital environment. Part of resisting that first impulse is to do with monitoring time spent on page, a metric Foer never mentions.

Link to the rest at Medium 

When PG read the initial piece referenced in The Atlantic, he dismissed it as a rant written by someone who didn’t understand modern communications technology (who was also the former editor of The New Republic who was fired from his job because he didn’t adapt well to new technology).

This Medium article does a good job (in PG’s disruptive opinion) of disassembling the original Atlantic essay to more fully demonstrate that author’s lack of understanding of modern communications technology.

PG also suggests that Big Publishing is dominated by people who don’t understand modern communications technology.

When PG wrote the preceding paragraph, he had a sudden vision of the executive offices of a major New York publisher with little orange Amazon warehouse robots scooting around the hallways.

Next Page »