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April 04 2013

10:32

Game Changer? Inside BuzzFeed's Native Ad Network

After quietly piloting the concept for months, BuzzFeed officially launched its own native ad network this March. The mechanics of the network are bizarre, yet intriguing: Participating publishers allow BuzzFeed to serve story previews on their sites which, when clicked, bring visitors to sponsored stories on BuzzFeed.com. The network, whose ads resemble real story teases, is brash and a bit risky, but it may just help publishers circumvent the abuses of today's established, banner reliant, ad network ecosystem.

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The current ad network model, or indirect sales model, is a mess. It functions based on an oversupply of simple display ads and is rife with inefficiencies, opening the door for middlemen to reap profits while devaluing publisher inventory. BuzzFeed's native ad network, along with others in a similar mold, has the potential to minimize these drawbacks by giving publishers a simple, safe way to make money through indirect sales channels.

How We Got Here

The ad networks we know today came about as a result of the poor economics of the banner ad. A little history: In the early days of Internet publishing, the banner ad seemed to make sense. Just as many publishers began figuring out the Internet by taking content produced for print and slapping it on the web, they took the standard print ad format -- selling advertisers designated space on a page -- and brought it online too. Instead of selling these ads by the inch though (a measurement suitable for edition-based print publishing), digital ads were sold by the impression, or view, a better fit for the unceasing nature of online media.

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Over time, the acceptance and standardization of the banner ad brought a number of side effects along with it, the most important being an incentive for publishers to pack their pages with as many banners as possible. For publishers, the decision was easy: The more banner ads they placed on a page, the more money they stood to make. So instead of running a more manageable (and more user-friendly) three or four banner ads, publishers cluttered their pages with 10, 15 or even 20 of them.

Placing ads on a page was only half the equation though; publishers still needed to sell them. As they soon found out, selling premium, above-the-fold ads was a lot easier than getting advertisers to pony up for the glut of below-the-fold, low-quality inventory. A significant percentage of ads thus went unsold, and into the void stepped ad networks. Even at a heavy discount, publishers figured, it was better to get some money from remnant inventory via ad networks as opposed to making nothing. This would prove to be a poor calculation.

The Dark Side of Ad Networks
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Rather than question the logic of creating more inventory than it was possible to sell, publishers stuck with the model, growing their audiences along with their inventory and watching the original ad networks evolve into a multibillion-dollar tech industry fed largely on remnant inventory. Soon, publishers found themselves exposed to more drawbacks than they perhaps initially bargained for, and the original premise of making more money with more ads came into question.

As it grew, the indirect ecosystem not only enabled advertisers to buy publisher inventory at cheaper prices, devaluing even premium inventory, it also allowed them to buy premium publisher audiences on non-premium sites, thanks to the third-party cookie. The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal zoomed in on this problem in a long piece about the tough economics of the online publishing industry.

"Advertisers didn't have to buy The Atlantic," he wrote. "They could buy ads on networks that had dropped a cookie on people visiting The Atlantic. They could snatch our audience right out from underneath us." The indirect system, in other words, commoditized his audience, leaving his impressions as valuable, in some ways, as those on third-rate sites.

Recognizing these and other abuses as endemic to the system, publishers today are starting to fight back. Many are trying to limit their dependency on banner ads either by cutting them out of their business completely or by constricting supply. David Payne, the chief digital officer at Gannett who oversaw a major USA Today redesign which dramatically reduced the site's supply of banners, put it this way when I spoke with him for an article for Digiday: "I think we've all proven over the last 12 years that the strategy we've been following -- to create a lot of inventory and then sell it at 95 percent off to these middlemen every day -- is not a long-term strategy."

Publishers have started looking for alternative forms of revenue to fill the gap and, so far, the hottest alternative is the native ad. Everyone from The Atlantic, to Tumblr, to the Washington Post, to Twitter is giving it a try and BuzzFeed, perhaps the extreme example, is all in. It sells only native ads, no banners.

BuzzFeed Susceptible to the Same Problems?

Which brings us to BuzzFeed's ad network. At this early point, it seems like the network should indeed be free of many of the abuses listed above. Its simple nature, for example, ensures that most of the value won't be siphoned out by a group of tech middlemen and will be largely shared by BuzzFeed, participating publishers and minimally, the ad server. Participating in the network, furthermore, should not devalue publishers' existing inventory since it will not provide advertisers access to the same inventory at cheaper prices.

BuzzFeed also claims its networks steers clear of third-party cookies, the audience-snatching culprit that The Atlantic's Madrigal railed against.

"We believe the ultimate targeting is real human-to-human sharing, digital word of mouth, so we don't do third-party cookie targeting," BuzzFeed advertising executive Eric Harris told me via email. "We're not collecting individually identifiable data and will not sell any data."

The approach should help participating publishers breathe a bit easier -- and they may just want to consider demanding the same from any network they engage with, not just BuzzFeed's.

"It's cleaner; it's more straight up," said Fark.com CEO Drew Curtis of BuzzFeed's network. His site, which is one of the partners participating in the launch, embeds BuzzFeed sponsored story previews on its home page, marking them as sponsored. "I just like the fact that there's no screwing around," Curtis explained in a phone interview, "It's exactly what it appears to be, no more no less." Rates from BuzzFeed's ad network, he added, are significantly higher from other indirect channels. "Advertisers," he said, "are willing to pay for less bulls#*t."

Of course, one question participating publishers might ask themselves is why they are helping BuzzFeed profit from sponsored posts instead of selling them on their own sites. The answer might worry BuzzFeed -- at least until it can get its traffic up to the point of advertiser demand -- but if publishers decide to go that route and withdraw from the network, they may be able to pull themselves away from the bad economics that brought them into the network game in the first place.

Alex Kantrowitz covers the digital marketing side of politics for Forbes.com and PBS MediaShift. His writing has previously appeared in Fortune and the New York Times' Local Blog. Follow Alex on Twitter at @Kantrowitz.

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April 02 2013

10:49

Native Advertising Shows Great Potential, But Blurs Editorial Lines

Radio legend Paul Harvey was such a great storyteller that he could totally enthrall you before you realized you were listening to an ad.

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Today, you'd call that sponsored content. The larger term is native advertising -- strategies that mesh branded messages into the media where they appear. They include articles on news sites; funny videos and animated GIFs on humor sites; tweets and Facebook updates, and more. Instead of interrupting the flow like a typical TV commercial, pre-roll, pop-up or print ad, it blends into its surroundings and, in theory at least, offers the reader/viewer/listener something interesting.

Pew Research Center's 2013 State of the News Media Report found that while the amount spent on native advertising in 2012 was comparatively low -- $1.5 billion compared with $8.6 billion for banner ads -- it's rising fast. Spending for sponsored content grew 45 percent in 2011 and almost 39 percent in 2012. That's second only to video ads.

A Word from Our Sponsor

Some fear sponsored content blurs the ethical church-and-state division between advertising and journalism, while others say the revenue keeps reporters employed.

Reuters' Jack Schafer put it strongly in a recent piece, "A Word Against Our Sponsor": "If, as George Orwell once put it, 'The public are swine; advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill-bucket,' then sponsored content is the meal so wretched that even pigs will reject unless sugar-frosted," he wrote.

But whether you love or hate native advertising, examining the recent history of the news business, including declining revenues and widespread layoffs, sheds light on why it's growing so quickly.

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Mark Jurkowitz, associate director of the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, told me that tough economic realities and the "anemic" growth of digital ad revenue opened the door.

"The grimmer news is that basically for every $16 that a newspaper is losing in print revenue, they're gaining $1 in digital," he said. "Just as the case with classified ads, which disappeared ... it's very possible that other forms of digital ad revenue are maybe more difficult than previously thought."

Forbes Leading the Way

Forbes was the first major news site to integrate sponsored content. In 2010, I wrote about how Forbes Media chief product officer Lewis Dvorkin shook up the established formula with AdVoice -- which hosted sponsored articles on Forbes.com.

Forbes Media chief revenue officer Meredith Levien told me it was slow going at first, especially since few companies had the staff or mindset for content creation. But in the last 18 months it's grown dramatically, in part because the publication added a team of writers, editors and graphic designers -- separate from the editorial team -- to help brands produce their articles. "We can't staff it fast enough," she said, adding that BrandVoice was "No. 1 on the list" of factors that made 2012 revenues the best in five years.

Last year, Levien successfully lobbied for the name to be changed to BrandVoice.

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"AdVoice conveyed the notion it was part of the advertising mix," she said. "This is really about content and thought leadership."

Levien adds that she was gratified to see the Washington Post adopt a similar model earlier this year. "I don't think we can take credit for it, but we were especially pleased to see the Post get into it," she said.

A recent random look at BrandVoice content showed a piece from Oracle titled "King Richard III: Villain, Hero, or Tragic Victim of Identity Theft?" NetApp offered "3 Steps To Build Your Personal Brand For Tomorrow's Business (Tips From The CIO)." The CapitalOneSpark credit card team offered: "Optimize Your Website To Convert Visitors To Buyers." The "Voice" pages include links to more from the sponsor, which in some cases includes press releases.

In February, Dvorkin blogged that BrandVoice now has 20 partners. While he remains passionately upbeat, others are more cautious.

Digiday recently quoted Businessweek.com editor Janet Paskin saying she's treading lightly: "Our credibly and integrity, for all journalists, is sometimes harder to defend than it should be. We don't want to compromise that or allow for that perception."

Edgier Sites Jump In

While the traditional journalism community remains divided, many edgier news and entertainment sites see no problem at all. Some of BuzzFeed's snappy content is sponsored, as is some of what you'll see on Cheezburger, Gawker, Vice and others.

Onion Labs, the in-house advertising and marketing team of The Onion humor site, works with sponsored content in several ways. It integrates brands into its own video content -- such as 7-Up's placement in its morning show, "Today Now." It creates original content for major brands. It also posts or links to content produced by the brands themselves, like this video for Adobe:

CollegeHumor CEO Paul Greenberg said his site embraced the concept five years ago. At the Native Advertising Summit in February, he said there's such interest that the site's inner workings now resemble a digital ad agency.

"We've really had to turn into a machine to super-serve the clients that come to us and meet the demand that we're seeing in the marketplace," he told me. Listerine, he says, saw a 17 percent jump in sales after its native ad campaign.

Matt McDonagh, vice president for national sales at The Onion, says a Nielsen study shows that humor is the best way to reach a young target audience. Even big names such as Hilton and Coke Zero are dipping their toes into the comedy pool. "Brands are willing to take a few more risks than they were a few years ago because to hit 18- to 24-year-olds -- you're not going to do that on '60 Minutes,'" he said.

It seems that when it comes to entertainment sites, sponsored content has found a comfortable home.

"Those kinds of sites have pretty seamlessly integrated this," Pew's Jurkowitz said. "It's a more controversial choice for traditional legacy news organizations."

What Not to do

In 2010, Gary McCormick, then-chair of the Public Relations Society of America, publicly warned that poorly labeled sponsored content could be confused with objective news, especially because disclaimers can be lost as information is shared. Three years later, he feels media and brands understand the need for authenticity and transparency.

"It may be that it's no longer always the 'buyer beware' -- it's now the 'manufacturer beware' of putting out false claims," McCormick said. "If you come out with something hidden behind the wall it only takes one consumer to spot it ... They're going to dig deep."

When The Atlantic ran a boosterish Church of Scientology native ad, then deleted critical comments, the outcry prompted an apology with the opening line, "We screwed up."

At the Native Advertising Summit, The Atlantic Digital's vice president and general manager, Kimberly Lau, called the Scientology incident a lesson in what not to do. "The whole experience clarified how it is people are going to judge these things," she said.

The Onion did a scathingly hilarious take featuring fake content praising the Taliban.

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The Onion's McDonagh notes the parody came from the editorial, rather than sales side, but he feels their pain. "To The Atlantic's credit, they're testing some things out and trying to make themselves a smart digital publisher," he said. The key, he adds, is to understand and stay true to your audience.

Sharing the Wealth

The native ad boom is also already creating new business models -- maybe even a whole new advertising sector.

Take, for instance, the success of Sharethrough, which helps increase the reach of sponsored content. For example, if a brand creates a post for one site, Sharethrough carries it to other platforms such as WordPress, Forbes.com, The Awl and Thought Catalog, which direct traffic back to the original post. Videos can be embedded and viewed in a number of blogs and sites.

Although it's only four years old, it's worked with 20 of the top 25 brands of AdAge magazine's Megabrands list. Relationships with many websites and publishers helped it create the Native Advertising Summit. (As a matter of fact, it popularized the term "native advertising," building off the phrase "native monetization" used by venture capitalist Fred Wilson.) Sharethrough has also become a clearinghouse for information about the new industry with tools such as the Native Advertising Leaderboard, which is searchable by brand, publisher, topic and social actions.

"There's a lot of creativity happening in this space right now," said Chris Schreiber, the firm's vice president of Marketing & Communications. One recent project promoted an infographic Pop Secret developed about how people watch movies. "They were delivering value -- something you didn't know and was easily sharable," he says.

When sponsored content -- especially videos -- work, he says, it's great. "It's more about thinking what's valuable for the audience and the consumer rather than what's valuable for the marketer."

Microsoft met its marketing goals while engaging a new audience with its The Browser You Love(d) to Hate campaign for Internet Explorer 9. Roger Capriotti, director of Internet Explorer product marketing, hired producers to create visual content that targeted young people who might otherwise disregard the product. The effort relied on viral shares and news coverage instead of paid posts; the most frequently shared video recalled memories of growing up in the '90s:

As anyone who's tried to make a video go viral knows, 25 million video views -- including 22 million for "Child of the 90s" alone, is nothing to sneeze at, even for Microsoft.

"If we can build good content, we can engage them in a way that we haven't engaged them in the past," Capriotti says. The best part, he says, was reading positive reviews posted by new-found fans.

The Rest of the Story?

Jurkowitz, of the Pew Research Center, questions how far the native ad trend will reach.

"Obviously the growth rate is high, but we're talking about a universe of small numbers here," he says. "There's some momentum in this direction, understandably, but it's not by any means a foregone conclusion that this is going to become a dominant form of advertising in mainstream news outlets going forward."

But The Onion's McDonagh clearly sees brands moving away from conventional ad campaigns, and demanding more creativity. "Brands are trying to develop content and trying to act more like publishers, and that's a sea change from where we were three to five years ago."

Sharethrough's Schreiber notes that as soon as new platforms crop up, advertisers jump on them -- as they've done with Twitter's Vine app, which creates short videos. He expects newer platforms will arise specifically for native advertising. "You're going to see new media created with native advertising, knowing that's how they're going to make their money," he says. And brands, he says, will learn what works best for their audience and their message. "They'll find their voice," he concludes.

Usually at this point in a Paul Harvey show, he would knowingly say, "And THAT's ... the rest of the story." But right now, prospects for native advertising are not so clear-cut that any one person or group can claim to have the last word. The only thing that's certain is that they will continue to evolve.

Terri Thornton, a former reporter and TV news producer, owns Thornton Communications, an award-winning PR and social media firm. She is also a freelance editor for Strategic Finance and Management Accounting Quarterly. Follow her on Twitter @TTho

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April 01 2013

11:00

Special Series: Online Advertising, Evolved

If the banner ad isn't dead, it's certainly on life support.

Once upon a time (actually, not so long ago), there was one way to advertise online: the almighty banner ad. But, the banner ad just didn't do enough. It didn't fully take advantage of the medium, it was hard to track, and it certainly didn't keep up with the lightning speed at which the medium changed.

Even Federated Media CEO John Battelle, who was there at the birth of the banner ad, said recently to Business Insider that as an industry, "we messed up when we decided banner ads would be how we make money on the Web."

Today, as the banner ad of old gasps what could be its last breath, brands, publishers and industry leaders are breaking the ad mold wide open to find new ways to connect online readers with marketing. All this week on MediaShift, we're looking at the ways they're doing this with our "Online Advertising Evolved" special.

We'll still look at banner ads -- but we'll look at how they're innovating and changing. After all, some of the banner ad's ancestors will survive. But, how those ads are targeted, how they're purchased, how they're measured ("viewability" is hot on industry minds), and how they're used will determine their fate.

Then there's scrapping the banner concept altogether and working with something new -- so-called "native advertising." The definition of a native ad can be as narrow or as broad as the person defining it would like. (There's a whole push there -- to define native advertising better so everyone is speaking the same language.) But, in essence, native advertising is advertising that folds more seamlessly into the content around it. It could be just an old-fashioned advertorial -- a story written by a marketer next to an original magazine piece. Or, it could be in-stream ads that pop up in your Facebook newsfeed. Or, it could be a short digital film that's part ad, but also part content. But, no matter what it is, if it's called "native advertising" it has some major buzz around it these days for publishers, marketers and the industry as a whole.

Stay tuned as we tackle a few of these issues this week on MediaShift. Below is a list of what we have planned so far. Have an idea to share? Let us know.

Also, to get you up to speed, see our list below of some of the best reporting, opinion and analysis from other outlets on this topic.



Coming Soon

>Digital Magazines Dive Into Native Advertising, by Susan Currie Sivek
>Where Native Ads Have Been and Where They're Going, by Terri Thornton

>Advertising Remains Revenue King, but the Future Is in Innovation, by Marianne McArthy

>Ad Exchanges: Automated Systems Hold Great Promise, But Raise Concerns, by Dorian Benkoil

>Why Are the 'One Old Trick' Ads Surviving? by Laruen Orsini

>How Responsive Design Is Changing Advertising, by Jenny Xie

>What's Behind BuzzFeed's Native Ad Network? by Alex Kantrowitz

Recent required reading on the evolution of online advertising

Native Advertising Study Shoots Some Bullets at Pre-Roll (MediaPost)

BuzzFeed, Sharethrough Battle to Bring Native Ads to the Masses (AdAge)

Native Advertising Is Bad News (Digiday)

What's All the Hype About Native Ads, Anyway? Looking Beyond the Buzzword. (AdAge)

Native + Content: A Powerful Advertising Combination (MediaPost)

The Washington Post Dives Into Native Advertising (Forbes)

Ad War: BuzzFeed, the Dish, and the Perils of Sponsored Content (The Atlantic)

Where You Can Go Right, And Wrong, With Native Ads (TechCrunch)

We Need a Better Definition of Native Advertising (Harvard Business Review)

AOL Eschews Banners, Leans Into Native (AdWeek)

Native Advertising Works -- If You Don't Embarrass Yourself (VentureBeat)

3 Out of 10 Display Ads Are Never Seen by Consumers (ClickZ)

5 Marketing Predictions for 2013 (Mashable)

The New York Times' Plan to Save the Banner Ad (Digiday)

Industry Effort to Improve Web Ad Metrics Goes Nowhere (AdWeek)

Study Says Half of Media Buyers Will Try Native Advertising in 2013 (PaidContent)

Solve: Media Buyers Warm To Native Ads (MediaPost)

Is Your So-Called 'Native' Advertising Really Native? (AdAge)

Sponsor Content Doesn't Fool Anyone Except Advertisers (AllThingsD)

12 Tips to Avoid The Atlantic's 'Sponsored Content' Meltdown (PBS MediaShift)

Managing editor Courtney Lowery Cowgill is a writer, editor, teacher and farmer based in central Montana. In addition to her work with MediaShift, she teaches online courses at the University of Montana's School of Journalism. Before she came to MediaShift, she was the co-founder and editor in chief of the now shuttered online magazine NewWest.Net. When she's not writing, teaching or editing, she's helping her husband wrangle 150 heritage turkeys, 30 acres of food, overgrown weeds or their young daughter.

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11:00

Digital Magazines Dive Into Native Advertising

Ah, that awkward moment when you're interviewing someone about online advertising and you have to pause to quit your ad-blocking browser plugin so you can view a sample ad.

Clearly, I'm part of the problem, not the solution, for magazines trying to develop online monetization opportunities for their digital products. Yet most online advertising options, like banner ads, provide little profit to magazine publishers.

But a new (old) approach is rising to the rescue in the form of revitalized, interactive, and highly tailored sponsored content within digital magazine products. That is to say, yes, magazines are also taking advantage of the "native advertising" boom.

While some of the sponsored content looks a lot like digitized versions of the "special advertising sections" that print magazines have long used, today's innovators are coming up with more creative ways to integrate sponsored content to increase its effectiveness and to maximize profit.

Sponsored content on the web and in replicas: GTxcel

One of the challenges of using sponsored content for today's digital magazines is that standard PDF-like replica editions typically only include static ad pages, like those in print issues. GTxcel (the just-rebranded company formerly known as Godengo+Texterity) is releasing a new product, Turnstyle, that will allow publishers to add interactive sponsored content to an HTML5-based magazine app.

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Available first for iOS apps and later for other platforms, Turnstyle allows a publisher to insert interstitial full-page ads that can show video and lead to additional pages of sponsored content within the app, accessible through touch interaction with the ad. Readers can interact with all of this content without leaving the magazine app. Interactivity will be fully functional offline as well. Personalization and geolocation features are likely to be added in the future.

"In magazine apps, the industry is pretty much banners and ribbons at the bottom, maybe an introduction page. Then you get into the flip experience," says Kim Keller, executive vice president for sales at GTxcel. "The ability for you now to be able to insert an interstitial ad that is completely interactive is very powerful."

Keller sees this new product as especially valuable for magazines that want to create standalone special issues for regional or seasonal themes. "They can create it very easily with Turnstyle -- a 20- to 30-page app with sponsored content that is highly interactive and relevant to that special edition," he says.

The goal of the new product, along with the other sponsored content strategies GTxcel recommends for its magazine customers, is a positive user experience of marketers' messages -- "not sponsored content that gets in the way, that is obviously just an advertisement," says Keller. "When a publisher does sponsored content correctly, the reader doesn't care. They actually love it."

Sponsored content made customized and current: Nativo

Part of creating a good user experience for sponsored content is ensuring a seamless, relevant look and feel in the context of a magazine's usual content. Nativo (known as PostRelease prior to its rebranding this month) is creating ways to help publishers integrate native advertising (another term for sponsored content) into their web and digital magazine experiences with a smooth, integral feel.

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"When [publishers] are redesigning their sites, they are looking at native advertising as not just an option, but perhaps their lead option," says Justin Choi, CEO of Nativo. "They can get improved monetization because they're focusing on driving engagement, as opposed to interruption" caused by banner ads and other forms of display ads.

Nativo allows publishers to use native advertising that marketers have tagged and customized in such a way that it matches the editorial content's existing online appearance. So far, the company has attracted magazine clients including Maxim, Source Interlink (publisher of Motor Trend, among other magazines), and Entrepreneur Media. The service works across platforms, including mobile devices and the web.

"The publisher says, 'I want the native ad here.' They start tagging, and the system knows to replace those elements when they get a branded element," explains Choi. "Once it's integrated, they can control that native ad the same way they do other advertising. They can turn it on and off. They can geotarget it. All the same ad controls they can do with advertising, they can do it with native."

This kind of branded content is an especially good option for mobile publishing, says Choi, at a time when other kinds of mobile ads are bearing little profit for publishers. While mobile traffic is growing rapidly, advertising formats for mobile haven't adapted to maximize that audience.

"Monetization has to be solved by publishers. Smart editors realize that. Native placement works remarkably well on mobile, for the user experience but also for monetization," says Choi. "Publishers are thinking of this holistically."

Of course, making sponsored content or native ads a truly seamless part of a digital magazine experience is an issue of not just transparency, but also brand voice: Who produces the content? What kinds of brands fit with the publication's editorial perspective? Nativo's focus is on the technology to integrate these ads, one part of what Choi calls a "whole ecosystem now helping brands produce better content."

Sponsored content across media properties: Brightcove

For companies that publish more than one magazine or have other digital properties, the ability to reuse sponsored content across more than one website or app is alluring. The same content can be rebranded and republished in more than one place, maximizing its value to the publisher.

Brightcove is one company exploring ways to make this reuse easier for publishers. With a long list of magazine publishers as customers, Brightcove's platform allows the sharing of a single video -- like one created by a sponsor -- in different settings, with unique branding and distinctively formatted players for each publication.

"If I'm ... creating sponsored content because it has good upfront value and will invest my reader, I'm going to take that sponsored content across a number of platforms," says Chris Johnston, vice president of digital media solutions for Brightcove. "If I have that on my homepage, that's great, but if I have another property that has a whole gallery of videos, it adds value to them, too. If another property has a feature on a related topic, they may already have a video, but they may want to show another to show depth of knowledge."

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The possibility of applying sponsored content to multiple media properties may appeal to publishers that want to make the most of an initial foray into sponsored content.

"Most magazines aren't working on lots of sponsored content. They more typically lean towards the traditional CPM-based model because it's easier," says Johnston. Creating sponsored content in-house for an advertiser, or managing its creation by an outside firm, is difficult for publications already stretched to just create their print and digital products. "Lots of content creation and distribution takes effort," he says.

So while magazines may like the idea of integrating more sponsored content into their digital products, and the payoff may be greater than the investment in other advertising efforts, it's going to take time for these innovations and others to find a place at many publishers -- plus a willingness to face the other challenges of sponsored content, like ensuring readers' positive experience of the content and maintaining a consistent editorial identity.

Keller of GTxcel, however, is optimistic, comparing the integration of sponsored content today to the early adoption of Google AdWords by publishers.

"They had text in them, and people were concerned it might look like editorial. It's not uncommon for that view to be applied" with sponsored content today, Keller says. "What we've found is that over time, as more and more publications have adopted native advertising, that concern has subsided."

Susan Currie Sivek, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Mass Communication at Linfield College. Her research focuses on magazines and media communities. She also blogs at sivekmedia.com, and is the magazine correspondent for MediaShift.

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March 29 2013

20:13

Poll: What's the Future for Yahoo?

Yahoo has a long and storied history as a tech and media company, starting as a directory of websites, moving into being a portal, trying various advertising models, pushing more original content -- and then what? With brash CEO Marissa Mayer at the helm, Yahoo has made headlines, for sure, by banning work-at-home, and now purchasing news app Summly for $30 million with its 17-year-old CEO. Plus, Yahoo is considering buying video site Dailymotion from France Telecom and it might begin de-emphasizing original content. Are these the right moves for Yahoo? What do you see as its future? Is it bright, dark or middling? Vote in our poll below and share your thoughts in the comments. For a longer discussion of Yahoo's prospects, check out this week's Mediatwits podcast.


What's the future of Yahoo?

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August 27 2012

09:04

GB: Amazon vend plus de livres électroniques que de bouquins traditionnels [session de rattrapage]

Parmi les infos à retenir de la période estivale, ce cap franchi en Grande-Bretagne où Amazon annonce que désormais il vend plus de livres électroniques que de livres papier. Ce retournement était intervenu aux USA il y a déjà un an. Parmi les signes qui annoncent un bouleversement du monde de l’édition aussi brutal que [...] No related posts.


Tags: business

August 21 2012

14:00

At Rural Newspapers, Some Publishers Still Resist Moving Online

In 1968, Dick Graham bought a small weekly newspaper in Ferry County, Wash., one of the most remote and sparsely populated counties in the Pacific Northwest.

Forty-four years later -- give or take a few months -- broadband Internet is arriving.

Graham and his century-old newspaper, The Republic News-Miner, have cast a wary eye toward the web and raised a legitimate question: Should rural newspapers go online?

Graham, now 75, has resisted.

"I'm old-fashioned," he said. "I don't put nothing up for nothing."

Long shielded from the pressure of Internet news competition, as well as classified competitors like Craigslist, rural newspapers have reportedly fared far better than their metropolitan counterparts. While newspapers in population centers saw growing competition from online startups in the past decade, rural newspapers have faced relatively little competition. (So-called hyper-local sites like AOL's Patch are clustered in metropolitan areas and altogether absent from rural areas in the West.)

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As broadband Internet spreads into rural communities -- spurred by a $7 billion federal investment -- rural newspapers are increasingly facing a question encountered by their metropolitan counterparts a decade ago: What information should be offered online?

The considerations aren't solely economic. Rural newspapers that ignore online opportunities may be risking their relevancy -- and losing opportunities -- in their communities, experts say. And rural readers may be missing out as well; a recent survey suggests that rural citizens are going online to look for news but struggle to find local content, especially when compared to more metropolitan citizens. Instead, those readers are finding state or national media outlets that may have little or no "local" content.

That places rural weekly newspapers at a crossroads.

"It's a 24-7 world and they come out 52 times a year," said Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky. "The worst day to die in a rural area is on a Thursday -- your obit won't be printed for a week."

'We need a business-model solution'

Digitally savvy rural journalists can quickly publish breaking community news, making their publications even more relevant to readers. But the web may not work for every rural publication; Cross said some rural papers may jump directly to mobile platforms, as phone technology rapidly evolves and cellular networks continue to spread.

Today, community newspapers are struggling with the same economic worries that larger publications have seen online, according to Bill Will, executive director of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association, which represents about 130 community newspapers in the state.

"We have lots of business-model questions," Will said at an April roundtable discussion at Washington State University. "We need a business-model solution."

Translating digital readership into advertising dollars may be as perilous for rural news outlets as it has been for larger metros.

"They rightly have been wary of putting information online for free because that cannibalizes their print content," Cross said. "But I think there is a way to go online ... You put things online that you can't put in print."

Federal investment carries broadband to small towns

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In Ferry County, the online debate has been slow to arrive.

For more than a decade, the county's residents relied primarily on dial-up connections or satellite Internet access -- about 80 percent of county residents were unserved by broadband Internet, according to the state's 2012 Annual Report on Broadband in Washington.

Three years ago, the federal government invested more than $7 billion into expanding broadband Internet access to unserved or underserved areas. The money, which was appropriated through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, has strengthened network capability and expanded infrastructure across the country, including Washington state.

Today, more than 96 percent of the state's households have access to broadband Internet, a network that stretches from the foothills of the Cascade Mountains to rural farmland and tiny mountain towns. But rural communities still lag behind larger cities, which tend to have faster broadband access, digitally literate citizens, and journalists increasingly adept at web and social media tools.

Technology leaders say that these rural residents are on the wrong side of the country's digital divide, and small businesses, rural citizens, and far-flung towns run the risk of falling further behind as cities increasingly become more digitally savvy. Broadband access must be partnered with public education, experts say, so that communities and citizens understand the impact of faster Internet access -- think of it as building a highway system without teaching people how to drive.

Three Initiatives to Help

Participants in the April roundtable, which was sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Knight Foundation, recommended three initiatives:

  • A news consortium to facilitate training for community journalists and partnerships with larger media organizations to increase the flow of information.
  • A grassroots campaign to increase digital literacy in rural areas, as well as with state and local policymakers.
  • An annual survey of news awareness among Washington citizens, as well as a measure of the health of the state's media outlets, and the expansion of high-speed broadband.

Obviously, that outreach takes money in a time of strained state and local budgets.

"If communities need to become digitally literate, then how can they accomplish this, given today's economic realities?" Angela Wu, former broadband policy and programs director for Washington state, asked at the April roundtable. (A full report on the roundtable can be viewed here.)

Critics say rural residents choose to live in small towns; many do, of course, but others must be close to jobs or cheaper housing. Others question whether such communities need quicker access to YouTube videos or other web diversions. Those critics fail to realize how video conferencing or a web presence can fundamentally alter rural businesses -- or educate rural citizens.

Research from colleagues at Washington State University suggests that rural residents find it "significantly more difficult" to keep abreast of local news than metropolitan residents. Rural residents are less frequent consumers of news media for local news, even though they appear to be seeking broadcast and online outlets for state and national news, according to the study by Douglas Blanks Hindman and Michael Beam. (Both rural and non-rural residents say it's easier to keep up with local news than it was five years ago, but non-rural residents find it significantly easier than rural residents, according to the survey.)

That gap may be the product of a dearth of local online information in small towns. In many small communities, weekly or monthly publications may be the sole source of news, and that news does not always migrate to the web. But in the Pacific Northwest -- Ferry County -- change is coming.

In Ferry County, competing papers and approaches

In 2009, Greg Sheffield opened another weekly newspaper in Ferry County, creating a new challenge for Graham's News-Miner.

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Sheffield's paper, The Ferry County View, created a competition for the county's 4,000 households. And unlike Graham, he's begun moving content online -- though not all of it.

"I'm just afraid that if we put our content online that if will remove the incentive people have to read the published newspaper," said Sheffield, a former private pilot turned publisher. "I might consider putting it behind a paywall, but it's just not my top priority."

And he's not sure it's a good economic idea.

"I wish there was an old newspaper publisher's club where I could sit down and ask, How do you deal with this?" Sheffield said. "I would love to have that opportunity."

Graham, who has officially retired as publisher of the News-Miner but still owns the publication, said his paper's circulation has dropped from 1,200 to about 900 in recent years.

"I'm no different than a lot of the weekly newspapers. I spent more for computers than I did buying the place," Graham said. "(A web presence) is something that we've had some inquiries about. I'm just not too sure in these small towns how well that goes over."

For Graham, who began working at newspapers at age 12, the arrival of broadband may threaten his readers' habitual perusing of the print paper each week.

"People get their paper early Thursday morning and have their coffee," Graham said, before pausing. "Of course, they're all 80 years old now."

Benjamin Shors teaches journalism at the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University.

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August 20 2012

13:34

Red & Black Lesson: Students Must Balance Business Needs at College Papers

There are no winners in the mess at the Red & Black. But there are lessons.

The Red & Black at the University of Georgia has long been regarded as one of America's finest college news operations. The students' journalism is consistently first class, and publisher Harry Montevideo has a track record as one of the sharpest business minds in the industry. (Disclosure: Montevideo has been a mentor of mine.)

But last week, a clumsy board memo became public, suggesting students focus more on "good" stories and granted more editorial control to professionals. Student editors resigned in protest. And Montevideo scuffled with a reporter at an open house. Montevideo has since issued a written apology for the scuffle and the board member who wrote the memo has resigned.

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How could things go so wrong? And what can the rest of us who work in college newspapers learn from it?

On the face of it, the dispute rests on whether students or professionals "control" the editorial content. Certainly, student control is central to the mission of student media. But the reality of running an independent, self-supporting college newspaper in the digital age is more nuanced than just who controls content.

Boards, editors and publishers must figure out how to evolve from the 1990s model of a journalism lab funded by an advertising monopoly to a 2010s model of a media company fighting in a hyper-competitive market.

"Every paper in the country wrestles with that: How do we deliver what you need to know vs. what you want to know?" said Barry Hollander, a professor at the University of Georgia's Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

"If I knew the answer, I'd be a consultant ... I have no idea what the answer is, and I have my doubts about anyone who says they know what the answer is. We're all trying to feel our way along."

From lab to business

College newspaper boards and publishers must figure out the business model while still giving students the editorial freedom that they deserve and without compromising traditional journalistic values and ethics. In some ways, it's a more complicated balance than professional newsrooms where the publisher and owners get the final say on all business and editorial decisions.

In the 1990s model, college newspapers offered students and advertisers the only option for news and a local marketplace. That opened up a river of revenue that subsidized student-led newsrooms and provided nearly limitless journalistic freedom. I was a product of that system at the Oregon Daily Emerald at the University of Oregon in the late 1990s. It was the most fun I've had in journalism.

But I will be the first to admit, we occasionally produced some silly, unprofessional and self-absorbed journalism. In that model, it didn't matter. We practiced the skills we learned in class -- writing, sourcing and beats -- and didn't have to bother with advertisers, rates and readership.

But those days ended long before Myspace.

In the 2010s model, college newspapers offer one option among dozens. They compete against Facebook, Google and Twitter for students' time and advertisers' money. For many newspapers, readership and revenue are down 25 percent or more from the peak in the 1990s or 2000s.

Boards and publishers stare at those trendlines and seek solutions. But they also know they have no direct control over the most important piece of the operation: the content.

Different models at different schools

Each independent college newspaper confronts that challenge differently.

"It's the same as it has always been: education, training, persuading, suggesting. Some combination of all of those things," said Eric Jacobs, general manager for 31 years at The Daily Pennsylvanian.

At the Red & Black, the board believed the newspaper needed more professional oversight, especially online. "You've got to have people there to guide these things," Elliott Brack, the board's president, told the Student Press Law Center. "Each one of those takes its own professional."

But the students believed they were being forced into assignments that were more public relations than newsgathering, including "grip and grin" photos during sorority rush week, said Evan Stichler, the Red & Black's former chief photographer. "I think they were looking at it more from the marketing and advertising standpoint of getting viewers," he said.

At UCLA's Daily Bruin, director Arvli Ward is building a digital advertising network completely divorced from the newspaper. So far, his staff has built 60 mobile apps. His goal: to generate enough advertising revenue to subsidize the student newsroom.

"The monopoly that we owned was not on distributing dead tree products around campus, it was the advertising monopoly," Ward said. "That's what we have to regain. When we regain that, we can funnel money to our newsroom and let students do what they do. It's not going to be The New York Times, and sometimes it's going to be off color, but that's what makes a college newspaper interesting."

At the University of Oregon's Emerald, where I now work again, our student editors went on strike in 2009.

Students walked out after a consultant to the board drafted an organizational chart in which the publisher would oversee the student editor. I advocated for and later chaired an Editorial Independence Committee to protect the newsroom's editorial independence.

But my perspective evolved when I became publisher of the Emerald and was accountable for the company's financial performance. I still believe that students must retain editorial control. However, I also see the need to ensure student editors run the newsroom in a way that fits with the company's long-term business goals. It's a delicate balance that is now reviewed at least annually by an Editorial Advisory Committee led by a former Emerald editor in chief and editor at The Oregonian.

The sense of urgency is intense for independent college newspapers. Now, more than ever, college newspapers need tighter working relationships among news editors, business leaders and board members.

Or as Stichler, the former Red & Black photographer, put it: "Stick to your principles. Have some standards between board, editor and staff people ... You have to make sure everyone is in agreement."

Ryan Frank is president of the Emerald Media Group, formerly the Oregon Daily Emerald, the independent nonprofit media company at the University of Oregon. He blogs at thegarage.dailyemerald.com.

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August 16 2012

14:00

Why Self-Publishers Should Care That Penguin Bought Author Solutions

Should self-publishers care that Pearson, the corporate parent of Penguin Group, has acquired Author Solutions and its subsidiaries? Maybe. Because among them are Author House, Booktango, Inkubook, iUniverse, Trafford, Xlibris, Wordclay, AuthorHive, Pallbrio, and Hollywood Pitch.

Thus, the move marks something significant happening in the world of self-publishing. Here's my take on the acquisition and what it means, along with some pundits' reactions to the merger and a report from my conversation with the senior vice president of marketing for Author Solutions, Keith Ogorek.

Why Author Solutions? Why Now?

Keith Ogorek, Sr VP Marketing, Author Solutions

It's no secret that since traditional publishing houses have been suffering, smart agents and acquisitions editors actively seek successful self-published authors. Publishers like Harlequin, Hay House, and Thomas Nelson partnered with Author Solutions (ASI) to create self-publishing services for them back in 2009, both to expand into a profitable business, and to data mine for successful authors in their genres.

Penguin is no different, of course, and its solution was Book Country, a genre-fiction writing community, which only added self-publishing services in November 2011 -- late to the game.

"Sure they've been watching the trend," Ogorek said. "Penguin has already been acquiring self-published titles. With the [ASI] acquisition they will be able to identify self-published authors earlier in the process, the ones that meet the high standards of Penguin."

Bringing in Community

One big question that arises from the purchase is: Will Pearson's Book Country continue as both a genre fiction writing community and self-publishing service retooled to use Author Solutions technologies and services? Or will Book Country revert to a writing community and retire its self-publishing arm to open a new and improved self-publishing service more obviously branded next to Penguin?

"It's part of the discussion," Ogorek said, "We think there's a bigger opportunity in the online learning center there, and it's possible that Booktango could bring in Book Country as part of that. It's a great site for curating content and community involvement. However," he added, "I'd like to talk to you in about a month. After all, we just got married yesterday, and we haven't figured out where all the furniture is going to go."

(Book Country's self-publishing tools area recently went offline while they "upgrade the site.")

Book Country Self-Publishing Tools Offline

A Booktango and Book Country pairing could be interesting, as community is lacking in most self-publishing platforms.

Scribd comes close, with its document sharing and commenting features, paired with a sales platform. But it doesn't distribute, so popular authors like "My Drop Dead Life" author Hyla Molander have to choose print and e-book platforms that get them into all the stores.

Then there's the WattPad community for the young adult market, where authors like Brittany Geragotelis shared her writing and attracted 13 million readers, before deciding to self-publish using Amazon CreateSpace and KDP for print and e-book sales.

As a side note, WattPad and Smashwords partnered to close the gap between community file-sharing and commenting and getting books out into the stores. The right combination of community and publishing platform could attract authors to Booktango and Book Country.

DIY Services ... or More?

Ogorek uses the home-improvement metaphor to explain that DIY services like their Booktango e-book service, along with Smashwords and Amazon CreateSpace, Kindle Direct Publishing and maybe BookBaby, are "for people with skills, who know how to build a deck and want to do it themselves." Then there are the people who don't have the skills, or maybe just don't have the time, "who hire contractors to build the deck." For these authors, they provide add-on services and "assisted self-publishing" tools like iUniverse and Author House, Trafford and Xlibris, for which authors pay into the five figures.

Self-publishers who dream of winning a traditional publishing contract may anticipate that Penguin will notice them if they're popular on Book Country, or Booktango, or whatever it will be called. (Though so obviously impractical, the acquisition dream dies hard, even now, when so many traditionally published authors are jumping to the free services.)

How is an Author to Choose?

Booktango List of Services

Instead of salivating over a possible acquisition by Penguin, self-publishers should be asking how the Penguin/ASI services help them now. Do Booktango and Book Country compete in the current market? Well, yeah. Let's just say that ASI is pulling an Amazon and underselling, giving authors 100% of earnings when they publish with Booktango, without even a signup fee. "It's a business decision on our part," Ogorek said. "We think that authors will purchase services, and we'll have the opportunity down the road to get their books out there and known."

So how is an author to choose? Author Solutions is often criticized for its hard upselling, and Booktango's pages are not exempt. There are "hot deals" on social media consultations, as well as "new" marketing services like Kirkus Indie Review, and blogger review services among the many listed on their site.

Their packaged services (iUniverse, Author House, etc.) are also famous for add-ons, but let's stick to Booktango, whose e-book packages range from free to $189. In comparison, Smashwords is free, giving authors 85% of earnings. BookBaby is closest in structure to Booktango by not taking a percentage, but it makes its money by signing up authors for $99 and in premium services. Amazon KDP gives the author 70% of earnings, and Amazon CreateSpace (print) 80%.

BookBaby, whose premium publishing e-book packages top out at $249, sells add-on services like cover design and advanced formatting, with cover designs topping out at $279. (They can also do web design with their HostBaby product.) Smashwords doesn't sell anything but the authors' e-books, and almost reluctantly passes on an email list of e-book formatters and cover designers liked by its authors.

The Critics Say...

Smashwords founder Mark Coker is a longtime critic of Author Solutions, saying that they make more money from selling services to authors than selling authors' books: "Author Solutions is one of the companies that put the 'V' in vanity.  Author Solutions earns two-thirds or more of their income selling services and books to authors, not selling authors' books to readers ... Does Pearson think that Author Solutions represents the future of indie publishing?"

Mark Coker, Founder, Smashwords

It's not news that ASI, along with Amazon, is the company that some publishing pundits love to hate. Jane Friedman, in her Writer Unboxed blog, notes that ASI's acquisitions are "appearing more and more like a huge scramble to squeeze a few more profitable dollars out of a service that is no longer needed, that is incredibly overpriced when compared to the new and growing competition, and has less to recommend it with each passing day, as more success stories come from the e-publishing realm where author royalties are in the 70-85% range. (An author typically earns less than half that percentage for royalties on a POD book.)"

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez of Digital Book World was skeptical of Penguin's claim as to the value of the acquisition, posting in his blog that "my own first reaction was pretty cynical." And he finds Penguin Group CEO "John Makinson's claim odd, as reported by Publisher's Lunch, that he expects there will be a 'new and growing category of professional authors who are going to gravitate towards the ASI solution rather than the free model.'"

I always advise authors to be skeptical of add-on services -- marketing especially. It's generally agreed in the industry that unless you've got very deep pockets, you just cannot hire it out to someone else, and that's even if the book is great. I've remarked many times that authors are as much, or more at fault, as the seller, for paying more than they need for services, and for paying for services they don't need. Especially vulnerable are new authors, and authors recently dumped by their publishing companies, as they would like to believe it can be easy to simply throw money at a service to solve their problem, mewing in an almost deliberate naiveté, "I just want to write."

Lest I sound too harsh, I have often found the language on some of ASI's pages to be convincing, easily frightening uneducated authors into paying for a service that can be cheaply and easily done themselves. In fact, it was the language on Booktango's U.S. Copyright Registration service, along with the $150 price tag, that led to me write my previous post on how to easily and cheaply register your copyright electronically for $35 in 35 minutes.

I asked Ogorek to comment, and he responded with the deck analogy. "It's up to the individual to decide whether they want a product. They may have the time and skills to build the deck themselves, or they may not want to learn how, and hire the contractor instead. We provide tools and services to serve both cases."

The Future

Should self-publishers put ASI's Booktango in the running when they're considering Smashwords and BookBaby, Amazon CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing? Sure. Just resist the upsell.

Should you consider purchasing ASI's iUniverse, Author House, Xlibris, or another package? Hmmmm. It is very difficult for a committed do-it-yourselfer like myself to be convinced to recommend these options. I've never taken a hands-off approach to publishing, and I like to know who is editing, designing, and formatting my book, instead of throwing it into a mill and seeing which cubicle it lands in. I may get a riffed senior editor from Random House, or a recent college graduate. But the bigger question may be, will Penguin provide a much-needed publisher's touch to organize the confusing array of products and soften ASI's hard-sell approach?

Will the Book Country community prove to be valuable to authors seeking to perfect and sell their books? Is all the acquisition and activity productive and author-friendly, or is it just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic? Penguin has a chance to reorganize, rebrand, and remarket Author Solutions companies with a level of transparency that regains the trust of authors and critics in the industry.The activity is worth watching closely.

Carla King is an author, a publishing consultant, and founder of the Self-Publishing Boot Camp program providing books, lectures and workshops for prospective self-publishers. She has self-published non-fiction travel and how-to books since 1994 and has worked in multimedia since 1996. Her series of dispatches from motorcycle misadventures around the world are available as print books, e-books and as diaries on her website. Her Self-Publishing Boot Camp Guide for Authors was updated in early 2012 and is available in print and online at the usual resellers.

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14:00

Prehype Uses Collaboration to Bring Startup Culture to Big Companies

What if you could incubate the energy and talent that fuels so many startups, inside a big company?

Prehype, a product innovation company with offices in New York City, London, Copenhagen, and Rio, is doing just that, providing an infrastructure of collaboration in which big company executives and their team members willingly play on equal ground. The result? Companies retain more talent, and entrepreneurial employees get the chance to remake their day jobs into their dream jobs.

Capturing the Startup Spirit

Henrik Werdelin

In the not-so-distant past, every business school graduate's dream was to get an offer from a Fortune 500 company, thanks to the promise of a good salary, competitive benefits, and a strong foothold on the corporate ladder. But these days, new MBAs are increasingly forming their own ventures instead. And often, the startups they create are the result of collaboration.

At the Wharton School, 5 percent of graduating MBAs started their own business rather than looking for jobs; that means more Wharton MBAs are becoming entrepreneurs than hedge fund managers. At Stanford, a whopping 12 percent of 2012 MBAs started their own businesses rather than going to work for someone else.

Big companies are scared by this trend -- and they should be. The talented employee who tenders her resignation in order to start her own company often inspires others to follow suit. This exodus lowers morale at a big company and causes a drain on the talent pipeline that such companies have long taken for granted.

Enter Prehype, which brings the creativity and exhilaration of a startup venture into big company structures. Prehype founder Henrik Werdelin, a Danish digital dynamo, has designed his career around turning conventional business wisdom on its head. Watch a video of Henrik talking about innovation:

Rebuild big business - how to innovate from within?, Henrik Werdelin, Prehype from Rebuild21 on Vimeo.

He and partners Philip Petersen and Steven Dean all have deep product experience working for and with big companies and startups alike, so they speak both cultures' languages. And they believe the two cultures have much to learn from one another -- and a lot to gain by collaborating.

Cultivating Internal Stars

Traditionally, when a big company wants to expand into a new line of business or target a new customer segment, it scrambles to hire outside talent. Prehype helps break this paradigm, focusing instead on finding entrepreneurial talent inside a company's ranks.

Prehype then helps these internal entrepreneurs -- or "Entrepreneurs in Residence" -- develop their new product ideas and pitch them to company executives. When execs give the green light, they give the employees the freedom, investment (of time and money), and opportunity to bring the idea to life.

Since a product's fate ultimately lies with customers' willingness to buy it, Prehype helps companies get customer feedback as early as possible in the life of the product -- namely, within 100 days.

Leveraging a company's existing human resources to develop innovative products comes with a host of advantages:

  1. Employees want to be happy, appreciated, intellectually challenged, and engaged. Prehype believes the best way to achieve this is to help employees execute their own ideas in an effort to support the company where they work.
  2. Companies develop a stronger spirit of collaboration, and employees feel a renewed sense of pride in their work and loyalty to the company.
  3. The 100-day launch timeline instigates a high level of camaraderie. It leaves no time for office politics, power plays, and the dreaded corporate silo mentality. To get a product off paper and into the hands of customers in 100 days, everyone involved needs to roll up their sleeves and work together.
  4. Though working for a startup sounds like nirvana to many a corporate employee, the truth is that it is a lot of work and success takes time to build. For people who have hefty financial obligations (such as mounting student loan debt, a mortgage, or a spouse or children who depend upon a stable income and benefits), leaving a corporate job for a startup can be difficult to near impossible. Prehype's method gives employees a way to keep the stability of their corporate jobs while increasing the satisfaction they get from their work.
  5. It's far cheaper for companies to fail and learn with their existing teams than it is to do an external talent search that may bring forward a candidate who doesn't understand, like, or fit into the company culture.

Making Big Companies Better

Prehype focuses on bringing together companies, entrepreneurs, and freelancers with world-class technical chops to help large companies capitalize on opportunities and minimize threats.

Of course, that doesn't always work. The bigger the company, the more complex its politics. And when a big company has been successful for a long time, it can be difficult to get its management to realize that what made them successful in the past will not necessarily make them successful in the future. Plus, in the current economic downturn, even the boldest corporate employees can be reticent about suggesting new ways of doing things, for fear of losing their jobs.

Given these challenges, why not just help entrepreneurial-minded people get out of Dodge, ditch their companies, and start their own business independently? The Prehype team certainly has the skills and connections to make that happen. Steven Dean offered one answer.

"Companies have interesting problems to solve," he said. "They have an enormous impact on society because they are deeply entrenched in our everyday living, and they have been for a long time. If we can help them succeed, then we all win."

Though they are open to working with a wide variety of companies in a whole host of industries, the Prehype team has found that certain company characteristics are more likely to predict success with the Prehype model than others. Midsize companies, with a demonstrated ability to change with the times, are much more open to the Prehype methodology. It also helps if a company's back is up against the wall and it has no choice but to change or fall off the map. Desperate times call for unprecedented measures, which can be just what's needed to allow a company to embrace the change it needs.


Prehype is currently on the hunt for new markets and partners who want to reinvent the way business innovates. Given the number of frustrated corporate employees and big companies that desperately need creative solutions to stay alive, I'd say Prehype has a lot of potential ahead of it, indeed.

Christa Avampato is a product developer, freelance writer, and yoga and meditation teacher based in New York City. She blogs daily about the art of creative living at Christa In New York: Curating a Creative Life. Learn more about the things that light her up by visiting her company website Chasing Down the Muse and very-often-updated Twitter feed.

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August 07 2012

14:00

Tired of Text Spam and Dropped Cell Phone Calls? You're Not Alone

Think you're the only one ready to throw your cell phone out the window the next time you have a dropped call or text spam? You're not alone, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project. The survey found that cell phone problems are a common reality for the 280 million users in the United States.

The report identified four major cell phone problems: 72 percent of all cell users experience dropped calls, 68 percent of all cell users receive unwanted sales or marketing calls, 69 percent of text messaging users in the U.S. receive unwanted spam or text messages, and 77 percent of those who use Internet on their cell phones experience slower than desirable download speeds.

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The report also surveyed the frequency of all four mobile phone problems as experienced by smartphone owners. And in all four cases, smartphone owners reported higher incident rates. The largest margins are in spam and unwanted texts -- 29 percent of smartphone owners compared with 20 percent of other cell owners -- and slow download speeds -- 49 percent of smartphone owners compared with 31 percent of other cell owners.

Limited Solutions to Block Spammers

There are several ways people may attempt to remove cell phone nuisances from their daily lives. Step one is to contact your mobile carrier and request the available spam-blocking services.

University of New Hampshire student Feier Liu uses a non-smartphone and first called her mobile carrier to block a spam number about three years ago. The service was free, but only blocks individual numbers. Liu said she hasn't received a spam call since. She is certainly a lucky one.

Another service introduced back in March also counts on mobile users to vigilantly report spam text messages. North American mobile carriers have adopted a centralized spam-reporting service, which collects spam complaints into a shared database to help carriers identify and stop spammers. In practice, users forward spam texts to the shortcode 7726 (or SPAM), prompting the carrier to request the spam number.

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Allin Resposo, a web designer and smartphone user, has been reporting every spam text to 7726 since the service was introduced. Resposo hasn't seen an obvious decrease in spam and said that the spam texts are never from the same number.

While smartphones experience more problems, they paradoxically enable more possible solutions. A search for "block spam" on Google Play brings up dozens of apps created to block spam calls and texts. Most of these apps have ratings of four stars or more and could be worthwhile efforts for Android users. However, because of Apple's restrictions on developers, similar apps are not available for the iPhone, which, according to a prior Pew report, is used by some 53 million people in the U.S.

Finding Digital Authenticity

The Pew report stated, "It is against the law in the U.S. to place unsolicited commercial calls to a mobile phone when the call is made by using an automated random-digit dialing generator or if the caller uses a pre-recorded message." Yet spam phone calls, like those offering free cruises to the Bahamas with a pre-recorded "[fog horn] This is your captain speaking" are as real as ever. Clearly, spammers are evolving faster than legislation.

In fact, they may be piggybacking on our mobile dependence. The report also noted that non-white cell owners experience all four of the common cell phone problems at higher weekly rates than white cell owners, possibly due to the fact that "African-Americans and Hispanics are more likely than whites to rely on their cell phones as their primary or exclusive phones for calling and for Internet access."

Does all this indicate that more mobile usage equals more problems?

In a world where there are 14 million spam accounts on Facebook and probably similarly disturbing figures on other social networks, it's not hard to imagine that spammers on these mobile-enabled networks will find a way to spam our mobile devices.

Jenny Xie is the PBS MediaShift editorial intern. Jenny is a rising senior at Massachusetts Institute of Technology studying architecture and management. She is a digital-media junkie fascinated by the intersection of media, design, and technology. Jenny can be found blogging for MIT Admissions, tweeting @canonind, and sharing her latest work and interests here.

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August 02 2012

14:00

6 Questions for Rafat Ali on Skift.com, His New Travel Startup

Rafat Ali is one of those rare people in the media industry who understands the power he wields with his written words, yet can be so humble and friendly in person. I was struck by that quality in him when we first met probably 10+ years ago when he was first starting the paidContent blog as a one-man operation focused on digital media.

What he accomplished with that site was a lesson for all of us who are running small media ventures, taking a one-man operation and expanding it into a full-fledged online business. Ali received venture funding, expanded staff and built more sites, and eventually sold the site to the Guardian (which later sold it to GigaOm).

rafat mongolia.jpeg

After selling his baby, Ali decided to take time off to travel the world and disconnect from the intense 24-hour news cycle that consumes everyone who lives on Internet time for breaking news. And now that he has resurfaced, his new baby is Skift.com, billed as a "travel intelligence media company."

As he has described the startup on various Mediatwits podcasts (we co-host the show together for MediaShift), Skift will put a laser-sharp focus on the business of travel, the travel business and business travelers, disrupting the current incumbents who cover the industry in a less intense fashion.

We recently connected by email, and he answered my six burning questions about Skift and his plans for the site.

6 Questions for Rafat Ali

1. Why did you decide to target the travel business with Skift? From all your trips abroad?

Rafat Ali: It is in the travel sector, but not really built upon my own travels over the last two years. The cliche is: A startup guy sells his company, goes off to travel the world, and through his experiences during his travel, hits a brainwave in the middle of Mongolia on how to solve all the travel woes in the world. Thankfully, mine isn't that.

My travels inform my worldview on how we want to build Skift, how broadly we look at travel, but the genesis of Skift is more prosaic: We saw a big white space in the travel information industry, and we're attacking it.

2. What lessons did you learn from paidContent, and how did you apply them to Skift?

For one, we're bringing the same energy of the saturation coverage of the digital media industry that we did for years at paidContent, and now bringing it to the world's largest sector: travel. We'll be a digital native, 24/7, breaking news, analysis, opinion, somewhat similar to what we did with paidContent.

Also pC, back when it started in 2002, brought together then disparate silos of the larger media-information-entertainment industries, and with Skift, we're attempting the same with the very large silos of aviation, hospitality, destinations, cruises, technology and others, and bringing them together. The underlying assumption, that these silos will collapse, is the same as paidContent. We'll see if they're borne out.

3. Who are your first investors, and how did you find them?

A long list of 17 angels, 14 disclosed: Chris Ahearn, Luke Beatty, Gordon Crovitz,
Craig Forman, Jim Friedlich, Tom Glocer, Vishal Gondal, Jason Hirschhorn, Peter Horan, Alan Meckler, Mohamed Nanabhay, Sanjay Parthasarathy, Amol Sarva, Chris Schroeder.

These are all very accomplished business execs in the media-tech industry that I've known for years, covered them at paidContent, they spoke at pC conferences, and I have developed relationships with.

So they're betting on us, the team, to build a large media+information+data business in a very large sector.

rafat medillin.jpeg

4. How is it different starting a site in 2012 vs. when you started paidContent?

We realize trying to scale just using media/content will not cut it; we're trying to build a very large travel intelligence company, and that means we have to go beyond what we did at pC.

For us, that means building the company at the intersection of travel and data, and that means first pulling in that data, and then building services on top, all of which we hope the industry will pay for.

Also unlike paidContent, where we tried in small ways to do some crossover stories, with Skift we really will attempt it, aimed on the consumer side at business travelers. While paidContent helped define the digital media industry as it exists now, our ambition was to go deeper into the vertical, not go broad and consumer.

Skift hopes to redefine a new generation of data- and information-heavy media companies, built to break out of the vertical media ghettos and scale.

5. Tell me more about the "studio model" and how much revenue you think you'll get from services vs. ads.

This for us means we'll build a slew of data services, some of which will succeed and some won't. It means we'll be quick to prototype, and quick to discard if it doesn't work -- that's what we mean by studio model. It means we'll learn what the information and services black holes are for the travel industry and professional travelers as we grow, and we'll adapt quickly to address those needs.

We think we'll get a majority of our revenues from services. Ads will be a decent part, both on B2B and especially on the business traveler side. Business travelers are a very addressable and lucrative category for all sorts of advertisers, including travel brands, financial services, luxury and others.

6. Will you ever look at travel the same way again after getting so deep in the weeds on the business side? How will things change?

Great question. I hope I don't lose my sense of wonder in travel. If I can keep traveling to the kinds of places I have over the last two years, then I surely won't, but if I just restrict myself to work and business travel, then I'll always be in work mode!

*****

What do you think about Skift.com and its "studio" business model? Can an upstart disrupt the business travel industry? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian and fiancee Renee. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit. and Circle him on Google+

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May 04 2012

20:00

Poll: What Do You Think About the Facebook IPO?

Now we have a date (May 18) and a price range ($28 to $35 per share) for what could be the biggest initial public offering in the history of tech stocks: Facebook. The company has grown by leaps and bounds since it was born in Mark Zuckerberg's dorm at Harvard in 2004, and now could make Zuckerberg richer than Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. If the IPO prices at the high end of the range, $35 per share, Zuckerberg could be worth $17.6 billion. So what's your take? Would you invest your hard-earned dollars in Facebook stock? Would you short the stock? Do you even care? Vote in our weekly poll, and explain your vote in the comments below.


What do you think about the Facebook IPO?

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April 26 2012

14:00

LedeHub to Foster Open, Collaborative Journalism

I'm honored to be selected as one of the inaugural AP-Google Journalism and Technology Scholarship fellows for the 2012-13 academic school year, and am excited to begin work on my project, LedeHub.

I believe in journalism's ability to better the world around us. To fully realize the potential of journalism in the digital age, we need to transform news into a dialogue between readers and reporters. LedeHub does just that, fostering collaborative, continuous and open journalism while incorporating elements of crowdsourcing to allow citizens, reporters and news organizations to come together in unprecedented ways.

LedeHub in Action

Here's a potential case study: "Alice" isn't a journalist, but she loves data and can spot the potential for a story amid the rows and columns of a CSV file. She comes across some interesting census data illustrating the rise of poverty in traditionally wealthy Chicagoland suburbs, but isn't quite sure how to use it, so she points her browser to www.ledehub.com. She creates a new story repository called "census-chicago-12," tags it under "Government Data," and commits the numbers.

Two days later, "Bob" -- a student journalist with a knack for data reporting -- is browsing the site and comes across Alice's repository. He forks it and commits a couple paragraphs of analysis. Alice sees Bob's changes and likes where he's headed, so she merges it back into her repository, and the two continue to collaborate. Alice works on data visualization, and Bob continues to do traditional reporting, voicing the story of middle-class families who can no longer afford to send their children to college.

A few days later, a news outlet like the Chicago Tribune sees "census-chicago-12" and flags it as a promising repository -- pulls it, edits, fact-checks and publishes the story, giving Alice and Bob their first bylines.

As you can see, LedeHub re-imagines the current reporting and writing workflow while underscoring the living nature of articles. By representing stories as "repositories" -- with the ability to edit, update, commit and revert changes over time -- the dynamic nature of news is effectively captured.

Fostering Open-Source Journalism

GitHub and Google Code are social coding platforms that have done wonders for the open-source community. I'd like to see similar openness in the journalism industry.

My proposal for LedeHub is to adapt the tenets of Git -- a distributed version control system -- and appropriate its functionality as it applies to the processes of journalism. I will implement a web application layer on top of this core functionality to build a tool for social reporting, writing and coding in the open. This affords multiple use cases for LedeHub, as illustrated in the case study I described above -- users can start new stories, or search for and contribute to stories already started. I'd like to mirror the basic structure of GitHub, but re-appropriate the front end to cater to the news industry and be more reporter-focused, not code-driven. That said, here's a screenshot of the upcoming LedeHub repository on GitHub (to give you a general idea of what the LedeHub dashboard might look like):

ledehub.jpg

Each story repository may contain text, data, images or code. The GitHub actions of committing (adding changes), forking (diverging story repositories to allow for deeper collaboration and account for potential overlap) and cloning will remain analagous in LedeHub. Repositories will be categorized according to news "topics" or "areas" like education or politics. Users -- from citizens to reporters or coders -- will have the ability to "watch" different story repositories they are interested in and receive updates when changes to that story are made. Users can also comment on different "commits" for a story, offering their input or suggestions for improvement. GitHub offers a "company" option, which allows for multiple users to be added to the organization, a feature I would like to mimic in my project for news outlets, in addition to Google Code's "issues" feature.

Next Steps

I recognize that the scope of my project is ambitious, and my current plan is to segment implementation into iterations -- to build an initial prototype to test within one publication and expand from there.

Journalism needs to become more open, like the web. Information should be shared. The collaboration between the New York Times and the Guardian over WikiLeaks data was very inspiring, two "competing" organizations sharing confidential information for publication. With my project, LedeHub, I hope to foster similar transparency and collaboration.

So, that's the proposal. There's still a lot to figure out. For example, what's the best way to motivate users to collaborate? What types of data can be committed? What copyright issues need to be considered? Should there be compensation involved? Fact-checking? Sound off. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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Katie Zhu is a junior at Northwestern University, studying journalism and computer science, and is particularly interested in human-computer interaction, data visualization and interaction design. She has previously interned at GOOD in Los Angeles, where she helped build GOOD's mobile website. She continues development work part-time throughout the school year, and enjoys designing and building products at the intersection of news and technology. She was selected as a finalist in the Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership in 2011.

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April 24 2012

14:00

Collaborating for Dollars: How to Raise Revenue With Others

At the recent Collab/Space 2012 event, more hands shot up when Journalism Accelerator's Emily Harris asked who was interested in generating revenue than for any other question. Clearly, there's big interest in collaborating to earn money.

Here, then, are some pointers on collaborating to earn revenue and otherwise improve business performance.

Share The Pie to Make It Bigger

The common model in the media business used to be that one party would pay another a flat fee for a specified service or product. A publisher, for example, paid a vendor for printing or distribution. A freelancer got a check for a specified amount, agreed upon in advance.

PieThese days, however, it's increasingly common for two parties in a media deal to share revenue as it grows, rather than for one to fork over a single lump sum -- an approach that aligns interests and keeps both sides working toward the same goal.

Content creators for platforms like YouTube, BlogTV and Yahoo Voices can earn more revenue as what they produce gets more traffic. Vendors like AdSense and ad networks collect a share of revenue as it's earned, rather than simply charging a fee upfront for their technology.

Sure, if you're a content creator, it can be hard to let go of the impulse to keep all the money your efforts earn -- after all, the more participants there are, the more revenue has to be generated to support them. But your chances of earning more revenue grow if more people are collaborating to help make a project a success.

Help Promotion and Distribution

The more people or organizations there are collaborating on a media effort, the more promotional and distribution outlets become available, from websites to social networks, broadcast outlets, emails, mobile platforms, word of mouth, and so on. 

A New York Times executive recently told me that the paper's collaboration with WNYC on SchoolBook generates a lot more awareness of the education website because of the radio station's reach. (Read our previous coverage of SchoolBook.)

Lowell Bergman

Such active linking and sharing can, in turn, increase a product's search engine visibility, thus generating more traffic over time. And every additional pageview that carries revenue opportunities such as ads equals more money over time.

For non-profits, increased traffic can lead to increased funding.

"Collaborations could lead to ... more recognition, more distribution and more impact for stories," MediaShift's Mark Glaser, who co-hosted Collab/Space with UC Berkeley's Investigative Reporting Program (Berkeley IRP), wrote on a discussion thread started by Harris on the Journalism Accelerator website. "That could lead to more donations, memberships and foundation interest for funding."

At Collab/Space, co-host Lowell Bergman of Berkeley IRP pointed out that a Frontline collaboration with another news organization generated twice the viewership of a typical episode of the investigative documentary series.

Increase Efficiencies and Decrease Costs

In today's resource-starved news business, with reporters being laid off and fact-checking and copy desks eviscerated, it's increasingly difficult for any individual news organization to have the person-hours needed to carefully report a story and get it right.

"Collaboration has become something that is not just optional," Glaser said at the event. "It's become something that's really required and necessary."

Collaborating creates efficiencies by enabling partners to report and produce different parts of the same story. Rather than having multiple partners send a reporter or camera operator to a news conference, the partnership can send one coverage team, and other staff can focus on complementary work. People who are good at writing can write; those who specialize in video production can focus on that; and so forth. Organizations can share resources on the business side, too.

"Do we all want to be islands, or do we want to collaborate, share things like back-office operations?" asked Evelyn Larrubia of the Investigative News Network collaborative, which helps its dozens of members share "back-end" resources such as billing and accounting. "The problem we're solving is not a content problem. It's a resource problem and a depth problem."

Change the Mentality and Learn "Coopetition"

arm wrestling

Journalists needed to learn, as technologists in Silicon Valley have, that sometimes, cooperation with competitors is the best thing for your business, Glaser said. Facebook, Google, Twitter, Foursquare and many other media and technology companies share some level of information and code with competitors, knowing they'll be stronger for having done so.

As The Huffington Post, Business Insider, and Gawker have shown, others will share your material and build a business on it with or without your active participation; in that case, it's better to form proactive partnerships for mutual benefit.

Many news organizations and some journalists still tend to be proprietary about their efforts. But in a linked economy, why invest resources in "matching" a story that's just a click away?

"We have to have this kind of cultural shift," Glaser said. "There's a kind of ownership of the story that ... becomes about us. 'I want this scoop, I want the award.' What we have lost along the way is it's not about us, it's about serving people -- uncovering things that are important."

Oakland Local's Susan Mernit talked at Collab/Space about a for-profit news organization that "doesn't link out" and refused to help fund her organization's efforts to contribute to their site for fear her not-for-profit group would eventually overtake them. Both, actually, could have benefited and earned more revenue from the content.

Build Smart Networks to Build Value

Collaboration can take advantage of the network effect, the concept that the more nodes there are in a network, the more value there is to the network and to each of those nodes -- even when the nodes are competitors.

One apt illustration is "private label" ad networks that allow similar, sometimes competitive websites to aggregate their page views and communities through platforms such as Addiply, BSA Private Label and AdKiwi and increase each site's ability to appeal to advertisers they'd have more trouble reaching on their own.

In one example, a group of local websites that reach different neighborhoods around Chicago are banding together and increasing their ability to sell throughout the region with one sales staff.

Large media companies such as NBC Universal and Cox media have formed their own private label networks to group sites by subject, such as health, sports and food. Collaborating in this way can lead to more revenue for all.

Limit Liability

Imagine if CBS News had collaborated with computer experts to vet documents allegedly showing George W. Bush shirked his duties in the National Guard, or if Jason Blair had collaborators on his false stories published in Times. In each case, the news organization could have saved huge embarrassment and cost, and even kept the focus on the issues in the stories rather than the mistakes.

Also, the more contributors and organizations there are behind a story, the less easy it is for someone offended by it to take legal action. As Bergman noted, "If you can spread the liability on a story," you can make those who might sue think a little more before they do.

By its nature, business is a collaborative venture. All sides must derive value for a deal to succeed, and that's never been truer than in today's media business. Journalists who've grown up in a lone wolf, competitive culture would do well to emulate the lessons of their brethren in other domains.

Related Stories

> Collab/Space 2012: Building Trust, Tools and Relationships for Collaborating by Meghan Walsh

> Live Coverage of the Collab/Space 2012 Event by Ashwin Seshagiri

> Collab/Space 2012 Detailed Agenda

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An award-winning former managing editor at ABCNews.com and an MBA (with honors), Dorian Benkoil handles marketing and sales strategies for MediaShift, and is the business columnist for the site. He is SVP at Teeming Media, a strategic media consultancy focused on attracting, engaging, and activating communities through digital media. He tweets at @dbenk and you can Circle him on Google+.

Pie photo courtesy of Flickr user Mackenzie Mollo; arm wrestling photo courtesy of Flickr user Fabio Venni.

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April 23 2012

14:00

A Progress Report on a College Paper's Pioneering Metered Pay Wall

It was just over a year ago that a college newspaper in Oklahoma became a digital media pioneer.

In what was believed to be a first for a college news outlet, The Daily O'Collegian at Oklahoma State University began charging for online content. Sure, the Wall Street Journal, Times of London and other professional publications had already gone for pay walls, but college newspapers are known for being a free and readily available resource on campus and online. As one commenter put it when the news broke, "They might as well charge a million dollars."

Bloggers and media watchers shared the skepticism. Why restrict access to work by student journalists who need all the exposure they can get? Who would pay for student content? Should they even have to, given that student newspapers are more about training future journalists and serving a campus community than turning a profit?

The O'Colly's decision to charge was more of a "why not?" than a grab for riches or precedent. General manager Ray Catalino figured it was worth placing a value on the outlet's content, and said he'd be happy if 100 subscribers signed up in the first year.

With that year now up, how is it going? Was it indeed a pioneering move in the march to monetize online content, or another failed experiment in the wild west of the web world?

Of course, the answer isn't simple or even fully formed yet.

The Update

paywallocollegian.png

The O'Collegian worked with a company called Press+ to launch what both call a "metered system" in March 2011. After viewing three free articles within a month, readers outside a 25-mile radius of the Stillwater campus and without an .edu email address were asked to pay $10 for a year of unlimited access. Those who said yes will be automatically renewed each year unless they cancel.

Press+ launched in 2010 and counts media entrepreneur Steven Brill among its three co-founders. The company works primarily with professional outlets to monetize online content through donation solicitation and metered systems. (Brill repudiates the term "pay wall" because readers are usually given some free content before being asked to pay. Others just call that a softer pay wall.)

A year in, Catalino's admittedly informal goal of 100 paid subscribers was met and exceeded. On the one-year anniversary, there were 156 paid subscribers, and as of last week there were 177. Not a windfall, considering the paper has a print circulation of 25,000 and a regular online audience of 2,000, but enough that Catalino recently upped the annual fee to $15 for new subscribers.

There wasn't any national news on the OSU campus that might have lured a burst of new paid subscribers. They came slow and steady, never exceeding three per day. Looking ahead, Catalino has budgeted $3,000 to $4,000 in revenue from online subscribers for the next fiscal year -- again, a mere drop in the outlet's $700,000 budget, but a drop nonetheless.

"The pay wall to me is almost a no-brainer," Catalino said. "It's very simple to implement; it's basically a technical change, and the money comes in. And as long as you're providing good content, it continues. So it has very little cost, has a nice upside and very little downside, in my opinion."

So how is it going? Well enough that the O'Colly will keep charging, and might even further up the price if readers continue to show a willingness to pay. But it's no cash cow and likely won't be anytime soon.

The Impact

Once anathema in the wide open world of the Internet, the idea of charging for online news content is becoming more comfortable for publishers squeezed by plummeting print subscriptions, declining ad sales, and few other revenue options.

Press+ began with 24 clients. Another 300 have signed up since then, and still more are devising their own pay systems and seeing some success, the most prominent example being The New York Times. Those who sign up with Press+ generally pay a set-up fee of a few thousand dollars and hand over 20 percent of revenue.

The O'Collegian was the company's first college publication, but others quickly followed suit, including Boston University's Daily Free Press, the Kansas State Collegian and Tufts University's Tufts Daily. Grant money from the Knight Foundation covered the set-up fee for those that got in early, including the O'Collegian, but Press+ now offers colleges a 10 percent discount as an enticement.

steven_brill.jpg

Brill says college newspapers are not a huge business priority for Press+ and counts about 50 on the client list, but he predicts that more and more will turn to the company for help with either seeking donations (the option most current clients choose) or charging for online content.

"We wanted to seed the landscape there and have them benefit from it," Brill said of colleges. "We'll probably have twice the number today by next winter. It's worked well, and it's easy. It doesn't take any work on their part. It's found money."

Brill says the company's geo-location technology is crucial for college outlets because they can aim pay requirements solely at readers outside the campus community, preserving limitless access for students, faculty members, and local residents. If a mega-story breaks and a college newspaper wants full exposure for its content, it can exempt that coverage from the metered system.

The Implications

So the Press+ client list proves that at least some college papers are willing to ask online readers for money, and OSU's first year suggests that at least some readers are willing to comply. Neither addresses the question of whether student publications should make this move.

Dan Reimold, a journalism professor and student media adviser at the University of Tampa in Florida, wrote in January 2010 that college media "should ignore the siren song of pay walls." Why? Because as professional outlets increasingly wall off their online content, college media might become a viable alternative for readers, and because student journalists deserve maximum exposure for their work.

Reimold's opinion today is essentially unchanged. He applauds the O'Collegian for taking the lead on new ways to make money. And he obviously recognizes the significance of their decision to charge, because he broke the news of it on his blog, College Media Matters, in January 2011. But he worries about the long-term implications of a world in which online student content is increasingly restricted.

"I still feel strongly that it is not such an effective revenue technique that it should trump the main purpose of the student press, which is enabling students to get exposure for their work and hopefully join a larger conversation that will help them learn more about the process of reporting things to the world," Reimold said. "The learning vehicle aspect should trump the notion of restricting access."

Brill counters that his company has found no evidence that charging for content restricts the number of unique visitors to a site. If people don't want to pay, they might stop reading for that month, but they return the next month.

Personally, I'm not convinced that access to a student's work, and therefore valuable exposure for that student, remains unchanged in a pay wall world. How can it, when a reader might have read 10 stories but stops at five because he or she won't pay for more?

At the same time, I'm not sure the siren song should be avoided. Professional news publications must find new revenue sources to survive, and their online content does have value. If readers don't agree, that's that. But if they are willing to pay, and remarkably it looks like many are, then why not keep this trend rolling? And why not train future publishers, editors and reporters (not to mention consumers) that it's OK to put a price on such work?

Alexa Capeloto is a journalism professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice/City University of New York. She earned her master's degree at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism, and spent 10 years as a metro reporter and editor at the Detroit Free Press and the San Diego Union-Tribune before transitioning into academia.

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April 20 2012

15:56

Announcing ScraperWiki Premium Accounts!

ScraperWiki digger in front of credit card payment logosThe most exciting bit about ScraperWiki is how it forms a link between two very different worlds.

On the one hand, we love the public good that data liberation enables, and we’re used by everyone from journalists (did you see us on the Guardian front page last week?) to activists (like the guys behind Australian planning alerts).

But we also love the value that businesses create using data. They use ScraperWiki in many ways – like pulling customised marketing leads from the web, and extracting and cleaning old proprietary data so it can be sold anew – something we’ll be blogging about a lot more in the next few weeks.

Today, we’re really excited to announce that anyone (be they journalists, businessmen or anything else!) can now use ScraperWiki in private with the click of a button. Our new premium accounts range from $9 per month for individuals, to $299 for corporates with lots of collaborators – all you need is a credit card.

For that monthly fee you get to make ScraperWiki vaults (secure, private areas, which you can share with precisely who you want) and you also get the ability to schedule any scraper to run hourly (for data feeds that update more often than once a day).

This will let journalists keep their scrapers secret – embargoed until they write their story. It will let businesses scrape websites without revealing to their competitors the advantage they’ve found. It will let anyone scrape their own private data, in private, to repurpose it and do wonderful things that nobody had ever intended.

We’re quite excited to hear about what you do. Since vaults are private we won’t know, so please get in touch. We’d love to write about it here, if you’ll let us.


April 18 2012

13:51

In the Age of Social Media, the Customer Really Is King

The following is a guest column by Kevin O'Connor, the president of User Insight, a user experience strategy firm.

The idea of putting customers first is not a new one. In fact, it was the start of the 20th century when Harry Gordon Selfridge coined the phrase "The customer is always right."

But customers have never been as powerful as they are today in the social media age.

The potential damage that can be done to a reputation on social media raises the stakes higher than they've ever been. A new era means new ways to collaborate with and serve valuable customers. It's time for companies to stretch beyond customer satisfaction surveys and stop relying on demographic research to determine how their brands should interact with their customers. It's time to start talking to customers, one on one, in order to understand who they are and how to wow them with a product or service.

Today, more and more companies realize they must spend time and effort to really get to know their customers. If one person has a bad experience, news travels at lightning-fast speed. They will post their woes to their friends, contacts and Twitter followers.

"If we knew someone had 50,000 Twitter followers, our call centers would escalate their call for support," someone once told me.

That's certainly understanding the power of social media, but the goal should be larger: to make sure the customer experience is as good as it can possibly be to avoid all complaints in the first place, whether public or private.

the case of Qwikster

Netflix clearly underestimated its customers last year when it announced it would rename its DVD-distribution service Qwikster. Creating separate charges for DVDs and streaming video would almost double prices. Plus, a high schooler already owned the Twitter handle @Qwikster, indicating even worse foresight.

The day Netflix announced Qwikster, online conversations spiked almost 300 percent. Seventy percent of the chatter was negative when emotion was tied to the posts. Netflix stock dropped 20 percent. $2 billion in value evaporated in eight hours. Hundreds of thousands of subscribers canceled their service. The customers had spoken -- Netflix abandoned the idea, and the CEO apologized.

On the flip side, if consumers love a product, store, brand or experience, they will shout it out into their vast digital networks. Take for example, musician Tommee Profitt, whose love for Target led him to record a music video using his iPhone 4S.

A new take on 'user experience'

Since today's customer truly is king, with powerful communication tools right at their fingertips, companies have to pay more attention to the overall "user experiences" they are creating for people. User experience, or UX, is a broad term used to describe all aspects of a person's experience with a system or brand.

User experience research and testing helps companies "put the customer first" in all aspects of their businesses.

In today's many-to-many world, consumers group themselves, especially online, largely based on values, interests and aspirations -- not by sex, race and age. In this scenario, companies must understand their consumers' behaviors and motivators -- the why behind their actions.

An example: A company in the financial services industry came to my firm, User Insight, to get to know its customers better. Based on the demographic and segmentation information, this client believed that people chose banks according to life stage. After spending hours one on one, in consumers' homes, interviewing them on how they choose a bank, we discovered that it wasn't about their sex, age, race or stage of life at all. Instead, we found three groups based on values and behaviors: customers who preferred to bank online, those who like a branch nearby, and those who want a banker who knows them by name and handles their complex finances.

Getting insights from the customers who will actually use the product at the end of the day allows a company to focus on the core experience these customers are looking for. It's not about "if" someone can use a product; it's about "will" they use the product. The key today is serving up the right content at the right time in the right way. Consumers have many ways to interact with a brand; understanding how they want to do that will make the brand successful.

Smart companies should be willing to seek out and accept the tough love they need to serve consumers and manage change well. They also need the right people to guide them who are passionate, pleasant and collaborative. Putting time and effort into quality user experience research can mean healthier businesses, happier customers, and fewer reputation-flaying diatribes online. Because in today's social media age, user experience matters.

Kevin O'Connor is president of User Insight, a user experience strategy firm providing research and consulting to more than 300 clients in 25 different industries. User Insight, an Inc. 5000 firm, is headquartered in Atlanta, Ga.

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April 23 2012

14:00

A Progress Report on a College Paper's Pioneering Metered Pay Wall

It was just over a year ago that a college newspaper in Oklahoma became a digital media pioneer.

In what was believed to be a first for a college news outlet, The Daily O'Collegian at Oklahoma State University began charging for online content. Sure, the Wall Street Journal, Times of London and other professional publications had already gone for pay walls, but college newspapers are known for being a free and readily available resource on campus and online. As one commenter put it when the news broke, "They might as well charge a million dollars."

Bloggers and media watchers shared the skepticism. Why restrict access to work by student journalists who need all the exposure they can get? Who would pay for student content? Should they even have to, given that student newspapers are more about training future journalists and serving a campus community than turning a profit?

The O'Colly's decision to charge was more of a "why not?" than a grab for riches or precedent. General manager Ray Catalino figured it was worth placing a value on the outlet's content, and said he'd be happy if 100 subscribers signed up in the first year.

With that year now up, how is it going? Was it indeed a pioneering move in the march to monetize online content, or another failed experiment in the wild west of the web world?

Of course, the answer isn't simple or even fully formed yet.

The Update

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The O'Collegian worked with a company called Press+ to launch what both call a "metered system" in March 2011. After viewing three free articles within a month, readers outside a 25-mile radius of the Stillwater campus and without an .edu email address were asked to pay $10 for a year of unlimited access. Those who said yes will be automatically renewed each year unless they cancel.

Press+ launched in 2010 and counts media entrepreneur Steven Brill among its three co-founders. The company works primarily with professional outlets to monetize online content through donation solicitation and metered systems. (Brill repudiates the term "pay wall" because readers are usually given some free content before being asked to pay. Others just call that a softer pay wall.)

A year in, Catalino's admittedly informal goal of 100 paid subscribers was met and exceeded. On the one-year anniversary, there were 156 paid subscribers, and as of last week there were 177. Not a windfall, considering the paper has a print circulation of 25,000 and a regular online audience of 2,000, but enough that Catalino recently upped the annual fee to $15 for new subscribers.

There wasn't any national news on the OSU campus that might have lured a burst of new paid subscribers. They came slow and steady, never exceeding three per day. Looking ahead, Catalino has budgeted $3,000 to $4,000 in revenue from online subscribers for the next fiscal year -- again, a mere drop in the outlet's $700,000 budget, but a drop nonetheless.

"The pay wall to me is almost a no-brainer," Catalino said. "It's very simple to implement; it's basically a technical change, and the money comes in. And as long as you're providing good content, it continues. So it has very little cost, has a nice upside and very little downside, in my opinion."

So how is it going? Well enough that the O'Colly will keep charging, and might even further up the price if readers continue to show a willingness to pay. But it's no cash cow and likely won't be anytime soon.

The Impact

Once anathema in the wide open world of the Internet, the idea of charging for online news content is becoming more comfortable for publishers squeezed by plummeting print subscriptions, declining ad sales, and few other revenue options.

Press+ began with 24 clients. Another 300 have signed up since then, and still more are devising their own pay systems and seeing some success, the most prominent example being The New York Times. Those who sign up with Press+ generally pay a set-up fee of a few thousand dollars and hand over 20 percent of revenue.

The O'Collegian was the company's first college publication, but others quickly followed suit, including Boston University's Daily Free Press, the Kansas State Collegian and Tufts University's Tufts Daily. Grant money from the Knight Foundation covered the set-up fee for those that got in early, including the O'Collegian, but Press+ now offers colleges a 10 percent discount as an enticement.

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Brill says college newspapers are not a huge business priority for Press+ and counts about 50 on the client list, but he predicts that more and more will turn to the company for help with either seeking donations (the option most current clients choose) or charging for online content.

"We wanted to seed the landscape there and have them benefit from it," Brill said of colleges. "We'll probably have twice the number today by next winter. It's worked well, and it's easy. It doesn't take any work on their part. It's found money."

Brill says the company's geo-location technology is crucial for college outlets because they can aim pay requirements solely at readers outside the campus community, preserving limitless access for students, faculty members, and local residents. If a mega-story breaks and a college newspaper wants full exposure for its content, it can exempt that coverage from the metered system.

The Implications

So the Press+ client list proves that at least some college papers are willing to ask online readers for money, and OSU's first year suggests that at least some readers are willing to comply. Neither addresses the question of whether student publications should make this move.

Dan Reimold, a journalism professor and student media adviser at the University of Tampa in Florida, wrote in January 2010 that college media "should ignore the siren song of pay walls." Why? Because as professional outlets increasingly wall off their online content, college media might become a viable alternative for readers, and because student journalists deserve maximum exposure for their work.

Reimold's opinion today is essentially unchanged. He applauds the O'Collegian for taking the lead on new ways to make money. And he obviously recognizes the significance of their decision to charge, because he broke the news of it on his blog, College Media Matters, in January 2011. But he worries about the long-term implications of a world in which online student content is increasingly restricted.

"I still feel strongly that it is not such an effective revenue technique that it should trump the main purpose of the student press, which is enabling students to get exposure for their work and hopefully join a larger conversation that will help them learn more about the process of reporting things to the world," Reimold said. "The learning vehicle aspect should trump the notion of restricting access."

Brill counters that his company has found no evidence that charging for content restricts the number of unique visitors to a site. If people don't want to pay, they might stop reading for that month, but they return the next month.

Personally, I'm not convinced that access to a student's work, and therefore valuable exposure for that student, remains unchanged in a pay wall world. How can it, when a reader might have read 10 stories but stops at five because he or she won't pay for more?

At the same time, I'm not sure the siren song should be avoided. Professional news publications must find new revenue sources to survive, and their online content does have value. If readers don't agree, that's that. But if they are willing to pay, and remarkably it looks like many are, then why not keep this trend rolling? And why not train future publishers, editors and reporters (not to mention consumers) that it's OK to put a price on such work?

Alexa Capeloto is a journalism professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice/City University of New York. She earned her master's degree at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism, and spent 10 years as a metro reporter and editor at the Detroit Free Press and the San Diego Union-Tribune before transitioning into academia.

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April 20 2012

15:56

Announcing ScraperWiki Premium Accounts!

ScraperWiki digger in front of credit card payment logosThe most exciting bit about ScraperWiki is how it forms a link between two very different worlds.

On the one hand, we love the public good that data liberation enables, and we’re used by everyone from journalists (did you see us on the Guardian front page last week?) to activists (like the guys behind Australian planning alerts).

But we also love the value that businesses create using data. They use ScraperWiki in many ways – like pulling customised marketing leads from the web, and extracting and cleaning old proprietary data so it can be sold anew – something we’ll be blogging about a lot more in the next few weeks.

Today, we’re really excited to announce that anyone (be they journalists, businessmen or anything else!) can now use ScraperWiki in private with the click of a button. Our new premium accounts range from $9 per month for individuals, to $299 for corporates with lots of collaborators – all you need is a credit card.

For that monthly fee you get to make ScraperWiki vaults (secure, private areas, which you can share with precisely who you want) and you also get the ability to schedule any scraper to run hourly (for data feeds that update more often than once a day).

This will let journalists keep their scrapers secret – embargoed until they write their story. It will let businesses scrape websites without revealing to their competitors the advantage they’ve found. It will let anyone scrape their own private data, in private, to repurpose it and do wonderful things that nobody had ever intended.

We’re quite excited to hear about what you do. Since vaults are private we won’t know, so please get in touch. We’d love to write about it here, if you’ll let us.


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