Plummeting Newspaper Ad Revenue Sparks New Wave of Changes

21 October 2016

From The Wall Street Journal:

Newspapers are suffering an accelerating drop in print advertising, a market that already was under stress, forcing some publishers to consider significant cost cuts and dramatic changes to their print and digital products.

Global spending on newspaper print ads is expected to decline 8.7% to $52.6 billion in 2016, according to estimates from GroupM, the ad-buying firm owned by WPP PLC. That would be the biggest drop since the recession, when world-wide spending plummeted 13.7% in 2009.

That decline is hitting every major publisher, increasing pressure on them to boost digital-revenue streams even faster to make up for lost revenue and, in some cases, even reconsider the format of their print products and the types of content they publish.

. . . .

“We operate in a time of rapidly changing market conditions, especially in the world of print advertising,” Gerard Baker, editor in chief of The Wall Street Journal, wrote Wednesday in a memo to employees. “These are days of accelerating change in the newspaper business.”

In light of the steep downturn, the Journal this week announced a coming revamp of its print editions that will include the consolidation of sections and other cost reductions, moves designed to make the print newspaper more sustainable for the long haul and help accelerate the newsroom’s digital transformation. Meanwhile, the Times has been working on a strategy to significantly boost digital revenue by 2020, including shifting more resources into digital initiatives and looking at ways to revamp things such as its Metro section.

“It’s definitely been a hard year for print in the first half,” said Meredith Kopit Levien, chief revenue officer at the New York Times.

. . . .

During the past decade, marketers have fled newspapers for a variety of reasons, including declining circulation, aging readership and the need to fund their digital initiatives.

Other factors more recently have come into play, including the growing use of data and analytics in the media-planning process. Moreover, advertisers aggressively are pushing into online video, and marketers in sectors such as retail, financial services and telecommunications are reducing print spending.

“There’s been acceleration in the downturn this year” in print advertising, said John Ridding, chief executive officer of the Financial Times. “That is partly structural towards digital and mobile and the major platforms, such as Facebook and Google.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

The Importance of Fiction

20 October 2016

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

September 11, 2001 was a Tuesday. Here on the Oregon Coast, as in New York City, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C., it was a beautiful fall day. Sun out, clear blue sky.

And horrors, everywhere.

I was in the middle—quite literally—of writing one of my Smokey Dalton novels. Set in another terrible time in American history, those books are emotionally dark, hard to write, and harder, at times, to think about. On September 10, I had just hit one of the most violent scenes in the book, scenes that left me shaking after writing them.

I made notes for the following day, shut down my word program, and did not log back into it for ten days.

In those ten days, I watched in horror, searched for friends, gave money to other friends and charities that had come up specifically for the 9/11 victims and their families. I also put a cat to sleep. We hadn’t even known he was ill.

There seemed to be no respite. People I knew had lost loved ones, some of my friends had barely escaped with their lives, all of the companies I did business with were shut down, and no one knew what was coming next.

It felt like we were waiting for another, equally horrible shoe to drop.

. . . .

A movie, a comedy, came out that week (I can’t remember what it was) and it tanked. We had stopped using humor to cope. Our comedians took the week off, not returning until the following week, when they felt it was safe to crack a joke again. And even then—hell, even now—we do not joke about that period of time.

I found it hard to escape. Regular television shows were too violent or too pre-9/11. For a while, some TV programs and movies edited out images of the Twin Towers from old programming because everyone found looking at them just too painful.

I didn’t want to read my usual fare. Mysteries seemed too mundane, thrillers too violent, and romance novels too frivolous. Science fiction hadn’t predicted anything like this, and for that reason, I washed my hands of it that month.

Thank heavens for J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter. I had never read Harry Potter, and frankly, I wasn’t planning to. But I had the first book, and since nothing else was holding my attention (besides the tragedy), I started to read.

And escaped. Harry’s world is different enough from ours to shut out the horrors of the real world, and heal. I will forever associate those books with that need for healing.

I also credit them for teaching me about the value of fiction.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

All changes

20 October 2016

All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.

Anatole France

Now Amazon is taking over the clothing business

20 October 2016

From The Washington Post:

It’s been clear for some time now that has ambitions of competing more seriously in the fashion business: The e-commerce site has been investing in private-label clothing brands. It launched a nightly, QVC-like streaming show to tout its apparel. And it has lured big-name brandssuch as Kate Spade to sell goods on its site.

It appears those efforts are paying off. New data from Slice Intelligence, an e-commerce analytics firm, underscores just how much of a threat Amazon now poses to traditional clothing retailers. (Jeffrey P. Bezos, chief executive of Amazon, owns The Washington Post.)

Over a one-year period, Slice examined shoppers’ online purchases of two wardrobe staples: Denim and leggings. The analysis included about 236,000 shoppers, and the findings show that Amazon has hustled its way to some big market share.

For leggings, Amazon had the largest market share of any retailer, drawing 11.6 percent of purchases. Nordstrom was close behind with 10.8 percent market share. But other chains should be shaken by what they see here: Amazon’s market share is more than triple that of Macy’s, and it’s more than double that of the Gap.

When it came to denim, Amazon also gobbled up greater share than many brands that have been in the jeans game for much longer. Amazon had the third-largest market share in denim, capturing 9.3 percent of purchases, putting it behind only Old Navy and Nordstrom. The e-commerce site came in just ahead of Gap, which had 8.6 percent share of denim orders, and it was far ahead of Macy’s, Kohl’s and Levi’s.

. . . .

And yet, Amazon’s site doesn’t exactly have a sheen of exclusivity or glamour to it. It’s the so-called “everything store,” the place where you buy paper towels and baby formula. For example, the chief financial officer of Louis Vuitton’s parent company recently told investors, “We believe that the existing business of Amazon doesn’t fit with luxury, full stop. ”

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

PG says it’s often a luxury for him not to go to a store, particularly during the Christmas season. He absolutely loves it when extended family members provide him with an Amazon Gift List.

Most UK authors’ annual incomes still well below minimum wage, survey shows

20 October 2016

From The Guardian:

As publishing prepares for the Christmas rush, with a blizzard of titles due for launch this week on “Super Thursday”, a European commission report has shown that life is less than super for many authors in the UK, with average annual incomes for writers languishing at £12,500.

This figure is just 55% of average earnings in the UK, coming in below the minimum wage for a full-time job at £18,000 and well below the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s minimum income standard of £17,100.

In an industry that is becoming increasingly unequal, those at the bottom of the income distribution continue to struggle. Only half of the 317 UK authors who responded to the survey said writing was their main source of income, with respondents who offered a figure reporting total earnings from their latest book averaging at £7,000.

The survey confirms a picture of steady decline in author incomes that was revealed in a 2015 survey published by the Society of Authors (SoA). While the publishing industry has seen revenues begin to rise, with sales up 1.3% in 2015 to £4.4bn, median incomes for authors (a measure that better reflects the experience of most authors) were down 29% in real terms in the last decade.

According to the writer Lucinda Hawksley, who sits on the SoA management committee, initiatives to make life fairer for authors are “utterly necessary”.

“I know from personal experience how difficult it is to be creative when panicking about the state of one’s finances and worrying about the rent [and] trying to meet a publisher’s demands,” Hawksley said. “My books have been well-received and plentiful, which might be assumed to bring in a healthy income, but it is impossible to support myself by writing alone.”

. . . .

A comparison of the legal protections enjoyed by writers across the continent put the UK and Ireland at the bottom of the ranking, with the UK also performing poorly in a measure of authors’ power in collective bargaining. . . . [A] comparison between two countries with the highest number of responses, the UK and Germany, could suggest “that a more protective legal framework may have a positive effect for the authors’ average income”.

In a world where the digital revolution is opening up a bewildering array of new ways for publishers to make money out of writers’ work, the report argues for written contracts that specify where and how an author’s work is to be used. It adds that rights should be limited to uses that are known or foreseeable.

. . . .

“This detailed study shows, yet again, that authors are disadvantaged by an unfair playing field,” Solomon said, “and conclusively demonstrates that simple legal remedies such as controlling the term and scope of contracts can have a positive effect on authors’ earnings, which remain woefully low.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Dave and several others for the tip.

The Library Is Dead. Long Live the Library!

20 October 2016

From The Millions:

“Close down the lending libraries and buy every citizen an Amazon Kindle Unlimited subscription,”Forbes contributor Tim Worstall wrote in July 2014, arguing that his native U.K. might thus save a lot of taxpayers’ money.

Given that the amount of new digital content produced in 2011 amounts to several million times the combined contents of every book ever written, it is easy to see why technology-fascinated experts and non-specialists alike have propagated the idea that libraries will soon fall prey to Google, Amazon, and other technological giants. However, public libraries around the globe are increasingly disproving hardcore pessimists like Worstall and others who find libraries irrelevant in the modern age. Simply put, these pessimists make a fundamental mistake: They look at libraries as reactionary spaces filled with nothing but shelves.

Another feature of the modern age is the expanding gulf between the information rich and the information poor. According to the Pew Research Center, adults with more education, higher household incomes, and more technologies connected to the Internet “are more likely to be participants in today’s educational ecosystem and to use information technology to navigate the world.”

The digital divide poses numerous challenges in affluent countries like the United States, as well as in poorer and smaller countries like Bulgaria (where I come from).

. . . .

“With all these technologies, libraries are becoming more important because the process of critically sifting out information and finding the right information will be growing more important,” explains Spaska Tarandova, director of the Global Libraries Foundation in Bulgaria. “The freedom of space requires that one has basic skills in evaluating which resource is reliable [and] which one is the product of someone’s imagination and speculation.”

Many people, particularly the young, have a fundamentally incorrect understanding of information literacy, says Elitsa Lozanova-Belcheva, a researcher and professor at Sofia University who has also worked as a librarian. Young people, she says, interpret information literacy as the ability to do a simple Google search, write and read emails, and chat with friends on Facebook. These and other activities are a long way from information literacy, she says, and that’s why most people should go through training to master more of the resources available online.

. . . .

Public libraries in Bulgaria and many other countries benefit the less privileged members of the communities outside the capital city. Lozanova-Belcheva agrees with Tarandova that libraries can help bridge the digital divide. She explains that this divide is still more serious when one takes into account ethnic minorities, such as the Roma in Bulgaria, and citizens with disabilities who face a greater risk of social exclusion. Properly maintained public libraries empower minority communities by providing access to modern technologies and the training to use these technologies for education- and work-related purposes.

In addition to information and computer literacy, libraries have discovered another promising niche: e-government.

“Over the past few years, libraries have come to serve as an intermediary between [citizens and authorities] through e-government services,” says Lozanova-Belcheva, explaining that some libraries in the U.S. have e-government librarians who help users navigate the sea of administrative and oftentimes incomprehensible language of modern-day bureaucracies. “Global trends show that users themselves prefer to use e-government services through the library because they trust this institution.”

E-government services, through which citizens can access administrative information and contact public institutions and officials from a distance, have now left the confines of American libraries and have popped up in their counterparts in Bulgaria.

. . . .

This spring, the regional library in the city of Varna, in cooperation with a local robotics school, organized a 3-D printing and modeling course. The library, which in March became the first public library in Bulgaria to introduce self-checkout, offered several three-hour editions of the course in the span of a few months. During the course, participants, who had to be at least 12 and bring their own laptops, learned to model 3-D objects such as a simple cube, a favorite character, or a practical tool for daily use.

For its part, the regional library in the town of Stara Zagora has launched a service unique for Bulgaria: bibliotherapy. Eleven certified consultants, who have completed training organized by the library and funded by the Global Libraries Foundation, consult library users and assist them in finding books that address some of their troubles. “With this service, readers receive special attention, enough time to share the problem that bothers them, conversation confidentiality, and a specially selected book,” explains Nadezhda Grueva, director of the Stara Zagora Regional Library.

Link to the rest at The Millions

Barnes & Noble to close its last bookstore in the Bronx

20 October 2016

From News12 – The Bronx:

Barnes & Noble is closing its last bookstore in the Bronx.

The Bay Plaza store will close by the end of the year.

The store almost shut down two years ago but was saved due to a large community effort.

A Barnes & Noble spokesperson told News 12 that “though we were paying substantial rents at this location, the property owner has decided to lease the space to another retailer who was willing to pay more.”

Link to the rest at News12 – The Bronx

For visitors from outside the US, The Bronx is one of the boroughs of New York City and has a population of 1.4 million.

Why Amazon Buy Box Is Not the Lowest Price

19 October 2016

From Marketplace Plus:

Recently we saw multiple articles calling the Amazon’s Buy Box algorithm unfair. Here is a quote from one of them titled “Amazon Says It Puts Customers First. But Its Pricing Algorithm Doesn’t”:

We looked at 250 frequently purchased products over several weeks to see which ones were selected for the most prominent placement on Amazon’s virtual shelves — the so-called “buy box” that pops up first as a suggested purchase. About three-quarters of the time, Amazon placed its own products and those of companies that pay for its services in that position even when there were substantially cheaper offers available from others.

. . . .

Amazon marketplace is built on delivering the best customer experience. Customer experience includes things beyond price – things like shipping price, likelihood of a seller being reliable, customer support quality etc. Of course Amazon will try to offer the best possible price, but in the 5-10% price variance window it also considers other metrics. For example, is a customer willing to spend $3 more, but be sure that the item will arrive next day, as opposed to having it ship in 7-14 days?

Many Prime customers are used to two-day shipping. When products are coming from Amazon warehouses, Amazon can be fairly confident that shipping time will meet those expectations. Thus Prime customers are very likely to be shown not the cheapest price, but instead the price which offers Prime shipping. For marketplace sellers this means that unless you are using Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) for inventory, many customers won’t see your offer.

An important metric for deciding if a seller should be picked for the buy box is feedback they have received. That’s why new sellers struggle to get sales first – Amazon is not likely to trust them even if they have lowest price. New sellers with hard-to-believe low prices are often scammers, so while some customers are willing to risk it for a chance to save some money, most people would rather buy from trusted sellers.

. . . . marketplace has taken this even further by hiding the complexity of picking the right seller. While on anyone can expand the sellers list and see if any seller has a better price, on the algorithm picks the best seller based on various metrics. It makes the same decision Amazon buy box does – it picks the seller who will offer the best customer experience.

Amazon is trying to avoid creating a race to the bottom, where having the lowest price is a guarantee way to get sales. While in theory that sounds like an ideal marketplace model, in practice making sellers care more than beating others by $0.01 is much more important.

Link to the rest at Marketplace Plus


My attitude toward punctuation

19 October 2016

My attitude toward punctuation is that it ought to be as conventional as possible. The game of golf would lose a good deal if croquet mallets and billiard cues were allowed on the putting green. You ought to be able to show that you can do it a good deal better than anyone else with the regular tools before you have a license to bring in your own improvements.

Ernest Hemingway

Harry Shearer Files $125 Million ‘Spinal Tap’ Fraud Suit, Copyright Termination

19 October 2016

From The Hollywood Reporter:

For a Hollywood accounting case, this one is an 11.

Harry Shearer has launched a $125 million fraud and contract-breach lawsuit against Vivendi and StudioCanal over the 1984 rockumentary classic This Is Spinal Tap. The complaint, filed Monday in California federal court, is packed with enough nuggets to instantly make this a must-watch “Hollywood accounting” case. Through the lawsuit, Shearer also reveals he is attempting to claw back rights to the film and its continually popular soundtrack.

Shearer, perhaps best known for the 23 characters he voices on The Simpsons, co-created the semi-fake band Spinal Tap in the 1970s with Christopher Guest and Michael McKean. The film, directed by Rob Reiner and featuring Shearer as bassist Derek Smalls, was produced and released by Embassy Pictures. After a series of transactions, rights to Spinal Tap landed in the hands of Vivendi, the French conglomerate that once had the ambitious goal of becoming one of the largest studios in the industry.

Despite the film’s legacy and Spinal Tap’s enduring success as an actual band able to sell out arenas, Shearer’s company Century of Progress Productions alleges that the four lead creatives have received just $81 in merchandising income and $98 in musical sales income in the past three decades from the franchise.

. . . .

“The accounting between the Vivendi subsidiaries is not at arm’s-length, is anti-competitive, and deprives the TIST creators of a fair reward for their services,” states the complaint.

With other accounting improprieties alleged, such as undocumented marketing expenses and improper deductions, Shearer’s lawsuit references the Copyright Act’s termination provisions, which allow authors to cancel grants and regain rights after 35 years.

“Particularly given that Vivendi has offset fraudulent accounting for revenues from music copyrights against equally dubious revenue streams for film and merchandising rights also controlled by Vivendi subsidiaries, Shearer is concurrently filing notices of copyright termination for publishing and recording rights in Spinal Tap songs he co-wrote and co-recorded, as well as in the film itself,” states the complaint.

That means that Vivendi would potentially lose rights to This Is Spinal Tap in 2019. Copyright termination has been a big subject in the music industry, but is only beginning to impact the film business.

. . . .

Shearer’s company says that in 2013, in anticipation of the film’s 30th anniversary, it commissioned a study of accounting statements and revenue streams that “first discovered that Vivendi had engaged in a pattern of anti-competitive and unfair business practices, had abandoned enforcement of valuable TIST rights, and had willfully concealed and manipulated years of accountings to retain monies due and owing to Plaintiff.”

Link to the rest at The Hollywood Reporter and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

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