Tumblelog by Soup.io
Newer posts are loading.
You are at the newest post.
Click here to check if anything new just came in.

April 01 2013

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.

pittsburgh-godengo.jpg

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.

nativo-mobile.jpg

"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."

brightcove-winespec.jpg

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.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

September 05 2012

00:00

Aerbook Maker, Kwik Help E-Books Come Alive with Multimedia

In the two years since I wrote a "A Self-Publisher's Primer to Enhanced E-Books and Book Apps," the development of user-friendly tools for authors to build rich-media books has boomed. Aerbook Maker and Kwik are two easy-to-use tools for authors of graphically rich enhanced e-books and apps. Mimetic Books is developing a tool for photographers and artists. The founders demonstrated these Corona-backed tools at the last meeting of the Palo Alto, Calif., Corona SDK Meetup Group titled "Bringing Stories to Life - eBook Development with Corona SDK."

Before I go into more detail, it's worth noting that these are really today's only options for authors who are not programmers to easily create picture books and games. Aerbook Maker is a browser-based, drag-and-drop tool that works much like presentation applications like Keynote and PowerPoint. Kwik is a plugin that extends Photoshop CS5 to create pages of a book and even animations. Mimetic is at work on a plugin to Adobe InDesign.

AERBOOK MAKER

Ron Martinez

Aerbook Maker was founded by Ron Martinez, an inventor with a long resume including the impressive title of vice president, Intellectual Property Innovation for Yahoo. He was there to demonstrate Aerbook Maker, talk about an upcoming Corona partnership, and give a sneak peak of projects in the pipeline.

If you're writing an illustrated children's' book, a book of photography, art, or any other heavily graphic book, Aerbook Maker is for you. Martinez demonstrated how easy it is to drag and drop your files into a window in the web browser. You can drop in photos, audio, video, text boxes, scene animation, and interactivity, then rearrange them and apply styles, colors, and frames.

When you're done, export your content to all the major e-book formats -- to HTML5 for viewing on the web -- and soon you'll be able to print.

A built-in social media feature lets readers share any page of your book on Twitter, Facebook, and other networks. Like Kwik and many other tools for authors, Aerbook is evolving, and though books are not fully or officially supported until iOS 6, your book will probably already work on the iPad today.

The tool is cloud-based, so whether you're just one author, or partnering with a designer or an entire team, the project is scalable and centrally available.

Aerbook Maker's pricing structure is based on export credits at $29 each or $99 for five exports. This removes the Aerbook watermark and generates a final version to download directly to devices and place with e-book retailers. Their services include book and app distribution, and they will help you build your book for a reasonable fee.

KWIK PHOTOSHOP PLUGIN

Kwiksher Book Floating FunKwik is now in release 2.0, and founder Alex Souza showed off some impressive cross-platform e-books: "Fire Cupid" (featured in the Wall Street Journal, TIME, the Washington Times and others), Frederick "Spin" (which soared to the No. 2 e-book in the Dutch App Store), and "Sparky the Shark" (a beloved, award-winning children's tale).

Kwik's capabilities allow much more than creation of a simple color book. You can add audio, sound effects, buttons, timers, actions, drag and drop objects, linear animation, sprite sheets, movie clips, even path animation. Children's book authors will be interested in the ability to sync audio to text so that the words are highlighted during playback. If you have items for sale in the iTunes App Store or Google Play, you can insert in-app purchases. Output your book to a universal app or iPad, iPhone, Kindle Fire, Nook Color or other Android device.

Kwik's creator, Alex Souza, holds a master's degree in Digital Design. In 1995, he was the first developer of a Shockwave game in his native Brazil, and in 2000 was a runner-up for the iBest Top 3 award, Brazil's most important Internet award. Later he worked for IBM and Microsoft, creating applications and marketing Microsoft Office, Expression and Silverlight.

"There are too many updates to 2.0 to list, but physics is a major thing in the new version," said Souza, "so the game-making capabilities have improved." Kwik 2 costs $249.99 for a new license and $149.99 for an upgrade but at launch. Look for it in late September and get introductory pricing at $199.99 and $99.99. The free trial version will allow you to export up to four project pages. For ideas on what can be done with Kwik, take a look at their showcase.

Mimetic Books

Golden Gate Bridge E-Book / AppPhotojournalist David Gross of Mimetic Books presented some of his recent e-books including App of the Week winner "A Wild Flight of the Imagination: The Story of the Golden Gate Bridge," a project he put together for its 75th anniversary. The free e-book weaves interactive photographs, artwork, letters, and newspaper clippings together with music, audio recordings and video.

Gross is a photographer who can code, and he invented his own way of importing his projects directly from Adobe InDesign (the tool that book designers use) and exporting the results to XML. Gross says that Mimetic Books plans to offer an InDesign plugin so that photographers and artists can create books to publish to the iPad and Nook. In the meantime, they do it for you. You choose from a number of designs, then send Mimetic the picture files. They can create a chapter from a properly captioned collection of photos in Lightroom or from captioned JPEG pictures. Or you can hire them to do full-service graphic design, photo-editing, copywriting, editing, animation, and custom programming.

Gross said that as well as using InDesign, "I am working on ways of using Google Apps, WordPress, and a custom browser-based editor to create books. As well, I am investigating whether Kwik can create plugins for books -- Kwik excels in making complex animations, so why should I?"

Regarding pricing, Gross said that "I was offering book apps starting at $850, but I found that clients did not have enough experience in graphic design to deliver 100% complete materials. The extra work I have to do to prepare clients' pictures, sound, and video, and the multiple changes clients make during the creation of the book, I have found a book project generally costs between $5,000 and $15,000. In addition, custom "interactive" pages also raise the price. But, I can produce a basic book app relatively cheaply using my system."

Mimetic plans to have some products ready to go near the end of October.

By now, you might be wondering, so what's an e-book and what's an app? Yes. The lines are blurring as content becomes portable among a variety of devices.

"Book apps are different from e-books," Gross explained. "E-books are data files which are displayed with readers. EPUB is one of the best-known data file formats designed for books of text (not fixed-format). A 'book app' is an app -- a stand-alone program -- that is a book. It's a weird idea, actually, a temporary effect of the state of publishing software and the market. In a rational world, it wouldn't exist, and I don't expect such things to exist in few years. Instead, we will have a few e-book file formats that the different devices can read and display."

Why the Corona SDK?

If you're geeky enough to know that SDK stands for Software Development Kit, you might be interested in the reasons these e-book and app platform developers chose the Corona SDK to power Aerbook Maker and Kwik export-to-app capabilities. They pointed me to David Rangel, COO of Corona Labs, to provide details, and here's what he told me.


"Corona integrates a number of advanced technologies such as OpenGL (widely adopted 2D and 3D graphics API), Box2D (a 2D physics engine for games), physics and more, to allow developers to create great mobile content," Rangel said. "If e-book platforms wanted to replicate these features on their own, it would take them loads of development time and expertise. By building to Corona SDK, they save a great deal of time and get to take advantage of our platform's offerings."



Adding to the previous point, Rangel said, "Corona allows developers to build apps for both iOS and Android, from a single code base. If e-book platforms want to support both of these operating systems, they would need to spend a lot of time and energy building in that support. As we add in more features and platform support for Corona SDK, Kwik and Aerbook Maker automatically reap the benefits."

Designers and illustrators are attracted to the SDK's core engine because of its popularity in the mobile space. Kwik and Aerbook Maker provide the added advantage of allowing e-book authors to create impressive content without the need for code.

Watch the YouTube Video

The folks at Corona Labs recorded the event.



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 since 1994 and has worked in multimedia since 1996. Find her workshop schedule and buy the Self-Publishing Boot Camp Guide for Authors on SelfPubBootCamp.com.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

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.)

al_cross_uky.jpg

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

ruralbroadband.jpg

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.

ferryview.png

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.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

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.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

May 03 2012

13:53

Can E-Books Succeed Without Amazon?

E-book author Victoria Hudson doesn't like Amazon or the power it seems to wield with independent writers.

She didn't want to sell her book and short stories on its Kindle Direct Publishing Select program, something she calls "too restrictive to authors." Instead she chose an alternative book distributor based in the San Francisco Bay Area called Smashwords.

"I want my work to be available in as many places as possible," she said.

In the e-book market, Amazon.com is the biggest name in the game. But, as criticism mounts -- especially from people who believe that Amazon, and specifically, it's KDP Select Program, can hurt rather than help writers -- alternatives like Smashwords are on the rise.

But can an independent author afford to bypass Amazon, especially when it provides so much exposure to self-published e-books? So far, the answer isn't a clear one.

The Criticism

Most of Amazon's criticism comes because of the KDP Select program. For most authors at the Kindle Store, books are usually split between two prices -- 99 cents and $2.99. At $2.99, Amazon's take is only 30 percent with 70 percent going to the author. At $2.98 and below, the author's take is only 35 percent.

But the KDP program offers more visibility on Amazon if authors agree to give their book away for free for five days during a 90-day period. The author must also sell exclusively at the Kindle store for those 90 days. While the subject is a hot topic on the Kindle boards, many authors are already a part of the program in hopes of getting momentum and their title climbing the Kindle charts. "Charts are everything for Amazon publishers," said Erica Sadun, an independent and traditionally published writer. "Chart position gives you momentum."

kindlelibrary.png

Authors are also asked to loan out books for free at the Kindle Owners' Lending Library for a chance at a pot of $600,000.

"Successful books are not in this program," Sadun said. "It's the ones trying to get market traction and trying to climb those charts." It is one of the few ways that people can successfully market a book that would have no market otherwise, she added.

Questions sent to Amazon for comment on the KDP Select program and its new publishing arm went unanswered.

Amazon Alternatives

While that may be true, some say that Amazon's heavy-handed attitude is hurting independent authors, and writers are looking for alternatives to the Amazon juggernaut.

Hudson, a writer from Hayward, Calif., has a chapter from a future book distributed by Smashwords as well as "No Red Pen: Writing, Writing Groups and Critique," a handbook on giving better writing critiques.

"Smashwords was an easy way to get the electronic version out to a lot of markets," she said.

Mark Coker created the Los Gatos, Calif.-based Smashwords four years ago after trying to get his own book, "Boob Tube," published.

"The more I thought about the issue, the madder I got that a publisher has the power to stand between me and my potential audience," he said.

Now Smashwords has more than 37,000 authors and publishers and 100,000 e-books in 32 countries -- with a 60-85 percent royalty for authors.

Coker doesn't like the KDP Select program because he questions its fairness. "It's using self-published authors as pawns as a broader campaign to wage war against retail competitors," he said. "If it wasn't for the exclusivity requirement, I would be a big supporter of KDP Select. I love the idea that an author can receive payment when it's borrowed."

The exclusivity also hurts authors, he said. "We lost 6,000 to 7,000 books around the Christmas season," he said. "Yes, in three months you can bring that book back, but you have lost any momentum that you had."

Despite his dislike of some of Amazon's practices, Coker holds no animosity toward the company nor does he suggest writers have any. "For those authors who do not work with Amazon out of principle, that's not a behavior I would encourage," he said. "Authors should be everywhere."

BookBaby.jpg

Another alternative to publishing on Amazon is Portland, Ore.-based BookBaby, which has a $99 "self-publishing made easy" option which formats e-books, offers cover design, and has a better-known sister company called CD Baby that sells independent music. It distributes its books to the iBookstore, Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble's Nook, Sony Reader and others.

"We are taking nothing from the back end and passing on 100 percent of net royalties, so authors get to keep all of the money they earn," said Brian Felsen, president of BookBaby. "Our payments are timely and transparent, and we pay immediately upon receipt from our partners."

Hyperink is a new kind of e-book publisher, one that comes with $1.2 million in venture capital funds and seeks out experts to write targeted e-books.

Kevin Gao, a co-founder of digital publisher Hyperink, said his company looks at search engine data, book sales, and tables of content to find out the hottest book topics. "In general, there are two types of authors: professional writers who are freelance writers interested in writing e-books and experts with an area of expertise," he said.

Gao said the year-old Hyperink launches about 100 titles a month on Kindle, Kobo and the iBookstore, and royalties to authors typically run 25-50 percent. But if experts need help organizing material or their thoughts, or the company needs a quick-hit e-book, Hyperink finds freelance writers to take on the task.

Zach Demby, a 28-year-old writer from Oakland, Calif., answered one of Hyperink's initial calls for writers. He penned an 8,000-word study guide or "quicklet" for the book "Freakonomics" and was paid $200. He received no royalties.

"I just found them on Craigslist," he said. "They paid a flat fee plus royalties ... But I didn't expect any royalties." Now with pay rates cut, Demby said he would rather put his efforts into more lucrative freelancing and his own work.

A recent Hyperink call for writers stated it was looking for new freelance writers to take on 5,000- to 8,000-word quicklets ranging $80 to $130 plus 15 percent royalties.

Gao said rates for writers have gone down on a per-word basis since its launch. "There's a lot more supply and a lot of writers out there looking for work," he said.

Amazon's New Publishing Twist

While the alternatives to Amazon exist, independent authors would be wise to watch what the online retailer is doing. Amazon is reinventing itself and becoming a traditional publisher, making it more difficult for writers to ignore the company on principle.

While the Kindle Store still handles the majority of e-book sales, Amazon has been busy creating its own stable of authors. It began its own publishing arm, Amazon Publishing, last May and published 122 books last fall. The publishing house now has six imprints: romance, mysteries, science fiction and fantasy, international authors, emerging authors, and how-to books. Would-be authors can now submit their book proposal directly to Amazon.

The courting of authors could easily edge out both publishers and agents by offering a direct-to-print service.

"The only really necessary people in the publishing process now are the writer and reader," Russell Grandinetti, one of Amazon's top executives, told the New York Times. "Everyone who stands between those two has both risk and opportunity."

Barbara E. Hernandez is a native Californian who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has more than a decade of experience as a professional journalist and college writing instructor. She also writes for Press:Here, NBC Bay Area's technology blog.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

April 27 2012

17:40

Poll: Where Are Your Favorite Places to Share Photos?

You recently went on vacation to an exotic and new locale and you want to show people your great photos from the trip. So where do you post them online? Are you a fan of Flickr or Facebook? What about Instagram? Or perhaps you're part of the thriving photography community on Google+. And let's not forget the old school folks who still prefer getting photo prints and putting them in an actual real physical photo album! Vote in our poll -- you can vote for multiple items -- and explain in the comments what makes a good photo-sharing service for you.


Where are your favorite places to share photos?

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

13:38

Mediatwits #46: Photography Special: Creative Commons, Cameraphones, Instagram, Google+

rafat photo.jpg

Welcome to the 46th episode of the Mediatwits podcast, this time with Mark Glaser and the Rafat Ali as co-hosts. Rafat is celebrating his birthday, we're not sure how old he is, but we know that he loves photography. So this week we are celebrating his birthday by doing a special show focused on photography in the digital age. Our roundtable includes crack professional photographer Gregor Halenda, photo and multimedia guru Brian Storm and social photographer extraordinaire Thomas Hawk in a wide-ranging discussion.

First is the debate over rights: Is it a good idea to post your photos on social media under a Creative Commons license? Or should you be more restrictive of your photos online? We also talk about the state of stock photography and the democratization of photography now that the tools are more accessible -- and everyone has a potential global reach online. And what about the rise of amazing cameraphones, apps and filters? Now that Instagram has been bought by Facebook for $1 billion, what's the implication about the future of photo-sharing and filters? Thomas Hawk also cites Google+ as being a hotbed of photography. How did it surpass Facebook?

Check it out!

mediatwits46.mp3

Subscribe to the podcast here

Subscribe to Mediatwits via iTunes

Follow @TheMediatwits on Twitter here

Our show is now on Stitcher and being featured there! Listen to us on your iPhone, Android Phone, Kindle Fire and other devices with Stitcher. Find Stitcher in your app store or at stitcher.com.

Intro and outro music by 3 Feet Up; mid-podcast music by Autumn Eyes via Mevio's Music Alley.

thomas hawk.jpg

Here are some highlighted topics from the show:

Intro

0:20: Happy birthday to Rafat!

2:15: Rafat got the photography bug in last two years

4:00: Pro photographers threatened by rise of amateurs

Creative Commons a good thing?

6:00: Special guests Thomas Hawk, Brian Storm and Gregor Halenda

8:30: Flickr has even started to innovate, along with newer players

10:20: Halenda: I won't post on Flickr or under Creative Commons, I want to be paid

gregor_halenda.jpg

13:20: Hawk: There are examples of pro photogs making a business from posting online

What skills do photographers need now?

15:00: Storm: Schools are teaching kids everything -- photography, video and multimedia

18:00: Halenda: Stock photography can't support pros anymore

20:10: Storm: Everyone has tools and distribution so now it's all about quality

22:10: Hawk: Google+ lets you share circles of photographers with all followers

Cameraphones get ever more powerful

25:30: High-end cameras are still selling well

BrianStorm.jpg

27:30: Hawk likes Camera Awesome as one of his favorite photo apps

29:40: Halenda says knowing Photoshop is essential to pro photography

32:30: Storm helped start "The Week in Pictures" at MSNBC.com in 1998 as pioneer; had 100 million page views last month

More Reading

Photojournalists Scramble to Video. Is it Worth It? at MediaShift

Digital camera sales defy smartphone onslaught at the Globe and Mail

Zuckerberg announces Instagram purchase on Facebook

Camera Awesome app

Thomas Hawk on Google+

Gregor Halenda Photography

MediaStorm

The Week in Pictures at MSNBC.com

The Big Picture at Boston.com

Lens blog at NY Times

Guardian Eyewitness app

Flickr Creative Commons images

Creative Commons' Images blog

Creative Commons + Flickr = 22 Million Sharable Photos at MediaShift

The Digital Journalist

Weekly Poll

Don't forget to vote in our weekly poll, this time about where you share photos:


Where are your favorite places to share photos?

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. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit. and Circle him on Google+

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

April 26 2012

14:00

'Carnivàle' Creator Bypasses Hollywood, Launches Transmedia Story 'Haunted'

Discovered on the Internet and known as a storyteller with a unique vision, writer and producer Daniel Knauf, best known as the creator of "Carnivàle" on HBO, has ditched Hollywood and struck out on his own to mine the field of transmedia.

With a beta project made public called "Haunted," Knauf's new company, BXX, is jumping feet first into the transmedia world.

Difficult to separate the plot from the technology, "Haunted" is best described as a fictional story that follows paranormal investigators working inside an abandoned house tormented by supernatural events. The storytelling format features multimedia elements such as research documentation and investigators' blogs. Shot with multiple cameras, the project's navigational timeline allows viewers to manipulate how they view the story.

The transmedia world is a popular one, with Sundance Institute announcing this past fall six transmedia projects accepted into its first-ever New Frontier Lab, with an impressive list of Hollywood heavyweights as advisers. In an article on Mashable, Lisa Hsia, executive vice president of Bravo Digital Media, defined transmedia storytelling as telling a story that extends across multiple media platforms. (For television, it goes beyond the on-air show.)

I spoke with Knauf to find out why "inventing a new narrative" is so important to him, what potential he sees in transmedia storytelling, and to ask him, "Why the rebel stance?" The following is an edited transcript of that discussion.

Bxx: "Haunted" Promo No. 1 from Daniel Knauf on Vimeo.

Q&A

Tell me about BXX (pronounced BOX) and what drew you to create the transmedia project "Haunted" for the Internet?

Daniel Knauf: Black BXX LLC is the name of our company, but we're going by BXX now. I wanted to see if I could make a nonlinear drama work. I came up with BXX Mars about five years ago, and I did the normal thing and talked to the money people. Everyone said, "This is interesting. Can we make a TV show out of it?" It's the first place they go.

The traditional entertainment industry is not known for their humility. They tend to think they are the end all. You don't take a TV show and put it on Hulu and call it Internet content. No, it's not. It's a TV show you're watching on your computer. Hulu's not really Internet, Funny or Die is not really Internet; those are just TV being watched on a different screen. For me, I wanted to invent a narrative that there was absolutely no way you could have done it if the Internet wasn't invented. That was the goal I set myself.

In the end, I just got tired of trying to convince them this lives and breathes on the Internet. I got tired of explaining finance models to them and I thought, let's just do an inexpensive version of this and show them. I had sold "Carnivàle" off the Internet. I've always been into the Internet, and it stuck in my craw that the Internet wasn't treated as the medium it could be.

But obviously money comes into play; what are the plans to monetize BXX?

Knauf: I've given up on Hollywood. They are too frightened. I've gone so far off the reservation. All I want to do is set up shop here in Nashville and build a studio and start making these things. If I had to monetize this right now, I would use surveys. I think they are the least intrusive. I don't think I need people to watch ads every 30 seconds. I hate roll-ins, banners and pop-ups. I'd like to give people the option to subscribe and watch without surveys for a reasonable price. Choice is best.

But let's be realistic, in order to make these things, they cost money. I'm a huge believer in capitalism, and we'll look for people to invest in this. Money follows the eyeballs. I tried a Kickstarter for this, and I didn't meet my goal. But when I told people they would get their money back, I got $14,000 sent to my PayPal account from total strangers in $5 and $10 amounts. They just wanted to see this thing and loved "Carnivàle" and what I do. The money will come.

Audience-building must be key to a project like this that's outside of the Hollywood system and without its production and marketing budgets.

Knauf: I've built a relationship with my audience. It used to be complex for the audience and artists to connect, but that chasm doesn't exist anymore. We have no PR. We've really only promoted through social networks. We had about 3,100 people sign up for early access, and we've had about 8,000 unique visitors. Not bad for no advertising or PR. Only 22 people put their hands on this thing. We are all artists or craftsmen. Even our CFO was pulling cable. I was driving the RV. We didn't build sets. We shot on location. We used high-end security cameras and made certain compromises and bootstrapped it ourselves.

The actors ended up doing such an amazing job, that what was supposed to be a beta, not for the public, we decided to release to the public. We did the pre-launch because we thought it would be pretty buggy and wanted to get feedback before it went public, and two weeks later we went live. Anyone can access anything free. They do have to register if they want to unlock documents; this is so next time you log in, you aren't locked out of documents you've already opened up.

Thumbnail image for Documentation Haunted.jpg

About 30 percent of people who visit spend more than a half hour, and about 12 percent spend more than an hour. I created this to engage people, so we are really happy. Strangely, the U.S.A. is the No. 1 place for hits, but Norway is second. My wife says it is because it's where 'Big Brother' was invented.

Speaking of 'Big Brother,' there is a voyeuristic aspect of "Haunted." It reminds me of certain forms of reality TV mixed with paranormal activity. I think the use of the security cameras amplified that feeling. Can you talk about that?

Knauf: There is a voyeurism quality. Even a good movie feels voyeuristic or (like) a stage drama. What's interesting is, with this shooting schedule, you're not just watching actors acting. You're watching actors living. There was no off-stage. We had cameras in the bathroom. When we said 'action,' we didn't say 'cut' for 32 hours. There is a certain level of reality that occurs in that situation. We directed in shifts, and there is still some footage I haven't seen.

My partner, at about 26 hours, said, 'You gotta come in and watch these people.' I would say they were experiencing some kind of incipient post-traumatic stress syndrome. They were zombie-fied and behaving oddly. The location was like a spook house with sound effects and things falling and crashing. There isn't a big difference between being an actor pretending to be attacked by a haunted house and being a person being attacked by a haunted house. It was a traumatic event for them, and I ended up cutting about eight hours off the shoot.

Dan and cast.jpg

What about the tech part, the security camera vibe and ability to track the characters' movements throughout rooms? How does this factor in, and where do you see this going?

Knauf: I'm used to copywriting everything, but now I get patents and I feel like Thomas Edison. It's really cool, like I'm an inventor or mad scientist. The hardest thing when we are explaining 'Haunted' is the easiest thing when you get on and play with it. People ask, 'How do I watch this? What if I make a mistake?' It doesn't matter. You can't do it wrong. I tell people just watch it, and you'll see how natural it is. Nothing is more artificial than a three-act structure. They don't exist in nature. What you find when you play with 'Haunted' is you are accessing it like you do your memories. Memories don't work in a linear fashion. Memories work like we work on the Internet -- something reminds us of something, that keys something, that then links to something else.

It was designed to have multiple cameras and views open. The first thing that came up was people wanted to sync them all up. I hadn't thought about that, and we did our best to make that happen. Of course with the Internet, maintaining sync is hard unless you have a really big pipe. I would like to make it work better on tablets. We have 90 percent function. We can't get the time slider to work on touchscreen HTML 5 yet, but we are working on it.

What I really want to do is make it so people can download these videos and cut their own movies and have a film festival. We haven't licked that end of the coding yet, but definitely for the next one.

Is there a specific 'event' I can send readers to find to get a taste of 'Haunted'?

Knauf: Saturday, Hour 5, Segment 6, Camera 1 is a good time for people to check out to see a character reacting strongly to something she is watching on camera, then they can go find which camera she is watching. Our audience has blown my mind. We have a lot of multimedia research stuff, articles and such, and they knew to go to the logs and find out when all the weird s--- happens. It didn't even occur to me they could do that. People are so smart at figuring out all the 'wow' moments.

Screenshot Haunted Seg 5.jpg

That's clever of the audience -- a true use of a multimedia project. With this under your belt, are you ready to tackle BXX Mars? What genres of storytelling do you see as lending themselves to this format besides supernatural or horror?

Knauf: BXX Mars is the next one we're doing. It's about a group of astronauts facing being marooned. They have a short launch window they have to make or be stuck on Mars. BXX Mars will be 72 hours. I'd love to do BXX Niagara about a honeymoon hotel. A family reunion would work, too -- any story that Robert Altman would have done. This whole thing is character-driven. We could follow people in a shelter in a hurricane like Katrina or track a firefighter on 9/11 -- or BXX Whitechapel and set up the East End of London and have the actors living that role for a 12-hour period.

How do you decide the length of time to cover?

Knauf: The length of the event isn't as important as how we are covering it. One isn't directing in a traditional sense -- more like cuing events to poke the actors with a stick. It's a marathon for an actor. I'm not willing to hurt people to deliver entertainment. The next one, the actors will really have time to train, especially when we aren't on location but on sets. You could technically call a cut or shoot an insert, but the problem is it feels totally false. There is a level of reality in these performances that exist only in this format. Even voices change in tone depending on whether one is tired or scared. It is impossible to duplicate.

There is a strength in the performance from the actors being in character for so long. The actors had to change how they act. I had to change how I write. Everything changed. It turned out to be a surprising way to tell a story. They wake up in character and cook a corn dog in character. It leads to some real moments. We connect with the quiet moments. That's where drama lives. This format really delivers that.

MS: So is this goodbye to Hollywood?

Knauf: What has really burned me out on Hollywood is since I did 'Carnivàle,' I have a stack about 11 feet tall of material, and maybe 18 inches of it has landed on eyeballs. I didn't get into the business to write for half a dozen studios executives. I've been paid well for the 11 feet, but that's not why I do this. I do this because I am paying forward for every writer that inspired me. If my stuff isn't landing on eyeballs, then I've failed at that. In Hollywood, they are always teetering on the brink of saying no for 1,000 reasons. With BXX, I can create huge amounts of content for peanuts in Hollywood terms. I can create 1,500 hours of content for under a million dollars. This is potentially very profitable, and I can take those profits and do standard productions as well.

BXX Mars will create 1,600 hours of footage. I could easily cut a mini-series out of that for TV. What's cool is once everything is set up, I can bring in an American cast and then bring in a Chinese cast and do it all over again. It is so cross-platform. Everything follows the Internet because the Internet embraces every medium.

And everything you do is yours as opposed to working within the Hollywood system and selling rights. Is that a motivating factor?

Knauf: My big bugaboo with Hollywood is copyright. If you open a Stephen King book, it is copyright Stephen King. If you watch 'Carnivàle,' it is copyright HBO. The only reason for that is they are pigs. There's only five or six of them, and they know they have to stick together. It's like a cartel and so against antitrust laws. I want to create a studio where if someone wants to make something at my studio, they get to retain their copyright. It will never be 'copyright BXX.' That's my pipe dream. We would be what Random House is to Stephen King -- we would publish that person's work. Why would I pirate someone's intellectual property just because I'm the one with the money? It's disgusting the way Hollywood treats artists. Everyone's convinced we are always on the bubble of being fired at all times. The town runs on flop sweat. 'Everybody will never work again.'...There is so much fabulous material that didn't move forward because of Hollywood timidness.

People ask why there isn't anything good on TV. I'm coming from the inside, and I'm telling you that not only do they think the audience is an idiot, to the point where they think you can't feed yourself, but they loathe you, too. They hate the audience because they can't figure out why they watch what they watch. I've read somewhere that the odds of a show succeeding is about the same as they were in the '60s. Things fail now because they are exactly like 10 other things on TV.

I think we are going to have another renaissance. My showrunner friends listen to me being a mad prophet, and they are amazed: 'You do whatever you want to do? No one tells you what you have to do!?' I think when people realize the gates are open and no one will shoot them when they step out, things are going to change.

Mad Scientist Daniel Knauf.jpg

Technology is definitely pushing storytelling to new limits. As writer and blogger Chuck Wendig wrote on transmedia, 'It makes me feel like I'm from the future. In the end, though, whether you call it transmedia or cross-media or new media or hybridized-story-pollination (HSP), it's still just storytelling. Though it's storytelling in a bigger, sometimes weirder, way.'

Amanda Lin Costa is a writer and producer in the film and television industry. She writes a series called "Truth in Documentary Filmmaking" and is currently producing the documentary, "The Art of Memories."

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

April 24 2012

14:00

Photojournalists Scramble to Video. Is it Worth It?

Few can say they didn't see it coming. but many felt the final nail in the coffin was firmly in place when at the end of 2011 CNN fired 50 photojournalists.

The international news network explained its decision in a letter:

We looked at the impact of user-generated content and social media, CNN iReporters and of course our affiliate contributions in breaking news. Consumer and pro-sumer technologies are simpler and more accessible. Small cameras are now high broadcast quality. More of this technology is in the hands of more people. After completing this analysis, CNN determined that some photojournalists will be departing the company.

What exactly led up to this is point is hard to pinpoint; it's a chicken-or-egg situation. Some might say it began with the lowered cost of DSLR cameras or the fact that every cell phone began to come with a camera.

Another camp will point fingers at the steady decline of the newspaper industry and its inability to maintain exclusivity as the daily go-to for information, leading to a shift of quantity over quality.

Add to that the crash of world economies, and the result is that photojournalists have been losing their jobs to mass layoffs for the last few years.

But many are rallying and turning on the video function on their DSLR cameras and becoming video journalists.

Photographers learning video

One successful photojournalist who early on made the transition to video is the Pulitzer Prize-winning Vincent Laforet. He told me that when he was growing up, he wanted to study both journalism and film. "I picked journalism in the end and am happy I did so. When the Canon 5D MKII came out -- it seemed to be the perfect timing to make the transition for me," he said.

Laforet dove into video early on when the technology presented itself and has made a name in the video world. He is now a member of the Directors Guild of America.

I also spoke with two photojournalists currently incorporating video into their reporting, Ana Elisa Fuentes and Julie Dermansky.

Ana Elisa Fuentes' photography has appeared in The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Life, Vanity Fair, People Magazines and the Los Angeles Times, and Julie Dermansky has been working with The Atlantic, US News, The Guardian, The New York Times and The Washington Post.

I asked them why they first started shooting video, what difference they find between photojournalism and video, and what they think of the current market for photojournalists.

Ana Elisa Fuentes: Clearly the market for photojournalism, at least in the United States, is shrinking -- specifically, the day-in-and-day-out photojournalism as seen in daily newspapers and magazines. This is very sad, and I see this as perilous and injurious to democracy. Journalists are the fourth estate, part of the check and balance of our democratic process. Images are essential to an open society.

The most profound difference for me between video and photography is in "still" -- in photography, you can wait for hours for the right moment. The waiting requires patience, for what Henri Cartier Bresson coined as "the decisive moment." When you have captured this moment, everything comes together.

I believe having more tools available in the tool box is essential for photographers or anyone in visual media. I also believe photographers have to become more creative in how still images can be used or sold. I often recommend up-and-coming journalists to think "packaging." What languages do you speak? How many? Polish your writing skills. Acquire multimedia skills. Your office is your laptop -- update, update, update."

Julie Dermansky: I started out as an artist showing my work in galleries and selling it on the streets of NYC in 1988. In 2004, I switched my focus from painting and sculpture to photography. I branched out from my in-depth personal projects into the realm of photojournalism in 2008. Labeling myself an artist or a photojournalist is of no consequence to me. I leave that for others. I started to learn video when I went to Iraq in 2008 and started to make a habit of shooting video along with my stills using a Canon 5D MKII in 2010.

Technically, photography and video require some of the same skills. The hardest thing sometimes is to decide whether to shoot video or stills -- often by doing both you can end up with work that is not as good as it should be. It is very hard to go back and forth, and inevitably you will miss the still you wish you would have taken -- or missed the moment of action you wanted to film. So generally, I shoot stills first and video once I'm done, though I don't always stick with that standard. Emotionally, that has more to do with the situation than the media. Both are fantastic tools to work with.

I have worked with a cameraman and produced video news packages from Iraq, so I picked up tips from him. Working with a pro in the editing phase taught me a lot of what is needed to make a news package.

This is a terrible market for photojournalists since so many photographers are willing to give their work away for free. Media outlets have started to rely on the free stuff. There is a small number of photojournalists who are able to continue to make a living, but the whole marketplace seems to deliver lower and lower paychecks -- and there are fewer jobs. Crowdsourcing and free photos are lowering the bar of quality as well. Some talented members of the photography community have had to drop out to make a living in a different way.

Shooting video helps keep a photographer marketable as news media wants both stills and film these days, and they want it for one price. If you can't do it, they take someone who can. Also, in the commercial world, video commands higher fees than stills, so for practical purposes video shooting is a skill one needs to have to survive. Not to learn it is to limit yourself. You should take advantage of all available tools at your disposal. That is how I see it."



Julie Dermansky is interviewed by Fox News about her photojournalism work on the Occupy movement.


Do photojournalists make good video journalists?

Adam Westbrook, a multimedia producer who writes and lectures on the subject of video journalism, believes there are many pitfalls to be avoided when photographers move into video.

He even wrote a guide to common mistakes.

Some include: forgetting the importance of audio or not using a tripod when needed and, most importantly, understanding "show, don't tell" as a principle of visual storytelling. As he aptly says, "Five years after YouTube's birth there's probably not a newsroom in the land that isn't trying to do video journalism in some way or another."

Some of the mistakes Westbrook points out can be avoided with proper training, but that appears to be something many employers are not willing to pay for. As early as 2009, the question of whether or not newspapers would be willing to train their photographers to become video journalists was being investigated by Blake Kimzey for Black Star Rising: "Training for photojournalists in video varies from newspaper to newspaper -- but at many papers, it's been spotty at best. Most photographers say sufficient training and the time to learn are seldom provided. While some newspapers send their staffers to attend industry conferences, and others offer in-house courses, many staffers say they mostly learn through trial-and-error on the job."

This appears to still be a problem -- as Sean D. Elliot, president of the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA), recently told me: "Unfortunately for our members, the publications have been wanting the video, but they have not generally been willing to pay for the training. Many visual journalists have paid their own ticket to attend NPPA's many video and multimedia workshops."

Elliot said that the advent of web video and multimedia led the NPPA to reconfigure many of their educational programs some years back.

"This was in the era when newspapers everywhere were looking at web video as the salvation of their operations. Time has shown that nobody has been able to monetize web video well enough for it to be any sort of saving grace," he said. "Many papers have either eliminated or curtailed their web video efforts. Some chose to focus on doing less video but doing it better, and some have simply dropped any semblance of quality, opting instead for short snippets of video shot by reporters with smartphones or Flip-type cameras. The jury is still out on where this will fit into the long-term journalism paradigm."

Laforet has some wise advice for photographers interested in learning video: "It's a very different field -- and not for everyone. I recommend they try it out first before making the commitment. I recommend they study the competition and the economics of the field they are going into. Just as there are many different sub-fields and specialties and budgets in photography -- the same is true of video. It's a bold move, but one that many should at the very least try, in my opinion."



"Reverie" -- Vincent Laforet was the director and cinematographer on this video considered to be the first 1080p widely released shot on the Canon 5D MKII. It was viewed more than 2 million times in the first week of its release.


Does learning video provide any kind of job safety?

I tried to track down an official study of how many photojournalists had lost their jobs in the last few years in the U.S. NPPA didn't know exact figures, and Kenny Irby, a senior faculty member at Poynter, said he didn't know of any study offering numeric data. He explained that collecting such data took a great deal of resources and money, something scarce these days. "We know that staff sizes and the number of 'feet on the street' reporters are way down," he added.

In an article on Poynter in 2009, photographer Ami Vitale, whose work has appeared in National Geographic, Newsweek, Time and Smithsonian, was optimistic about her experience with video: "This is the best time to be a photojournalist. We have more tools available than ever before, and we also have an audience bigger than any time in the history of mankind ... I see this as a wonderful time to exploit all these tools for the power of good!"

Yet in an interview earlier this year, Dan Chung, a photo and video journalist and founder of the popular website DSLRNewsShooter, said, "I don't really see a future in photojournalism, if I'm completely honest, as a way to earn a living. But also there are a lot of creative opportunities with moving images that you couldn't possibly dream of doing with stills. I'm surprised, though, that relatively few other photographers have made that conversion."



A video of a military parade in North Korea shot by Dan Chung for The Guardian.


But with the cell phones in everyone's pocket being equipped with HD video capability, will free crowdsourced material just take over video journalism as well? Laforet gave a nuanced answer: "I'm afraid so. But not to the same degree. The production hurdles and the amount of work involved in getting a good video piece out (pre-production, script, storyboarding, editing, music, mixing, grading, etc.) makes it more complex than making a single photograph. It's very hard for most to do all of these specialties alone -- it almost demands working with others and therefore becomes more complex and, more often than not, more expensive."

It looks like the term "visual journalist" will become a common phrase. "The move to online has been, arguably, a boon to visual journalism as far as the potential audience is concerned, but obviously the challenges that the web has posed to the business model of newspapers has led to a lot of lost jobs," Elliot said.

As for the problem of many photographers losing their jobs to "citizen journalists" as in the CNN case, Elliot said, "The reality that citizen journalists will have a better chance of 'being there' for the big moment is only more real today. The democratization of photography, where one no longer needs to have esoteric darkroom skills and tens of thousands of dollars of equipment to produce images of relative high quality has certainly affected certain markets.

"But the need for visual journalists who have a command of both the technical aspects of still and video as well as the mind-set for quality visual storytelling remains. Video storytelling is different in execution than still photography, without a doubt. But it has been well-established that very talented still photographers can make the transition back and forth between the media and enhance their visual reporting."

It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the next few years. Certainly the public's demand for visual content shows no sign of declining. Just this month, the Associated Press announced its own online video delivery platform. Clearly, demand is high, and rising.

Amanda Lin Costa is a writer and producer in the film and television industry. She writes a series called "Truth in Documentary Filmmaking" and is currently producing the documentary, "The Art of Memories."

ejc-logo small.jpg

This piece was originally published by the European Journalism Centre, an independent non-profit institute dedicated to the highest standards in journalism, primarily through the further training of journalists and media professionals. Follow @ejcnet for Twitter updates, here on Facebook and on the EJC Online Journalism Community.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

April 14 2012

18:46

Live Coverage of the 6th Annual Logan Investigative Reporting Symposium

BERKELEY, CALIF. -- Once again, I am covering the Logan Symposium on the UC Berkeley campus, a gathering of some of the top investigative journalists in the country. I'll be covering the day's panels and talks via ScribbleLive. I can add in your coverage or tweets, just let me know if you're at Logan via the comments below.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

18:46

Live Coverage of the 6th Annual Logan Investigative Reporting Symposium

BERKELEY, CALIF. -- Once again, I am covering the Logan Symposium on the UC Berkeley campus, a gathering of some of the top investigative journalists in the country. I'll be covering the day's panels and talks via ScribbleLive. I can add in your coverage or tweets, just let me know if you're at Logan via the comments below.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

April 10 2012

14:00

Pew Survey Shows How E-Books Are Changing the Equation for Publishers, Readers

More Americans are reading e-books than ever, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project.

The most impressive stat from the study is that 21 percent of adults had read an e-book in the past year, but adults are still more likely to read a printed book. Seventy-two percent of adults (age 16 or older) turn the pages the old-fashioned way.

However, the reach of e-books is growing, increasing from 17 percent of adults before the 2011 holiday season, during which thousands of e-reading devices appeared under Christmas trees, to 21 percent immediately after. The poll, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, captured Americans' attitudes toward reading and digital reading in mid-December 2011 and January 2012.

The data showing that e-books are on the rise will not surprise anyone who's been paying attention to the rapid adoption of e-readers. But what the study really sheds light on is how quickly our relationship with reading is changing in the digital age.

Reading is still in decline, but not by much

Thumbnail image for ebook_flickrcc_by_shall_be_lifted.jpg

According to the study, 22 percent of Americans said they hadn't read a book in the previous 12 months or refused to answer the question. That figure was 12 percent in 1978, 19 percent in 1990, 15 percent in 1999, 14 percent in 2001, 17 percent in 2005, and 22 percent in 2011. Fewer people are reading than ever, but the percentage of people who don't read has been hovering around 20 percent for 20 years now. Increasing use of the Internet since the mid-'90s and ever more available tech gadgets haven't radically changed the percentage of Americans who read books, especially when the study's plus or minus two-percentage-point margin of error is taken into account.

Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Richard Eoin Nash is a forward-thinking publishing veteran who ran Soft Skull Press, an independent publisher, from 2001 to 2007. He wasn't surprised by this result. "Frankly, this 'reading in decline' business struck me as a bunch of hokum," he said.

Nash currently wears several hats as the founder of Cursor, offering what he describes as a "new, social approach to publishing," the publisher of Cursor's Red Lemonade imprint, and the vice president of Community and Content for Small Demons, a startup that tracks the rich content inside of books, including songs and places referenced in them.

"There is absolutely no sign that reading is in danger," he said. "As a rule, these things tend to get exploited by people looking for stories about how the sky is falling, whether it's because they're looking for funding, or whether it's because every establishment institution that purveys culture in the end is looking for ways to preserve its status. Changes in technology, all other things being equal, tend to undermine its status. So, whether it was Socrates complaining about books or the great comic book scares of the 1950s when four-color printing came about, every time there is a new technology that allows more and different culture to be created, the guardians of the status quo announce that civilization is over."

E-Books Result in More Reading, Even in Men

On the other hand, despite the continued slight decline in reading overall, e-books are increasing the rate of reading among some people. According to Pew, "30 percent of those who read e-content say they now spend more time reading, and owners of tablets and e-book readers particularly stand out as reading more now. Some 41 percent of tablet owners and 35 percent of e-reading device owners said they are reading more since the advent of e-content."

Many studies have found that men read less than women, and this poll supports that general trend -- 14 percent of men are frequent readers, reading 21 or more books in the past year, while 20 percent of women are frequent readers. However, men who own e-readers report they are reading more now, and men are more avid readers than women of certain categories of material. Men are slightly more likely to read a newspaper daily. Men are more likely than women to read about current events daily (53 percent vs. 46 percent), and men are more likely to read daily for work or school, while women are more likely to read for pleasure. Men are more likely to own only a tablet computer, such as the iPad or Kindle Fire, while women are more likely to own only an e-reader, such as the Kindle or Nook.

Teachers and librarians have often lamented that it's more difficult to interest boys in reading than girls. Could e-books provide a way to interest more boys in reading?

Samantha Becker, research project manager of the U.S. IMPACT Study at the University of Washington's Information School, said, "I think it may be too soon to tell whether e-readers are making readers out of non-readers. But it certainly has the potential to be a hook for boys and other reluctant readers if they are enticed by being able to use technology. The other thing that e-books provide is the ability to link to other resources beyond the print, including videos and other enhanced content that will make reading more fun and interesting. This is an underutilized capability of e-books, particularly for tablets, but I think it will be a growing area of development as the market expands, and eventually there will be books written with enhanced content in mind."

E-Book Enthusiasts are Superlative Readers

E-book users earn a gold star for reading more avidly than any other group. The Pew study finds e-book readers are "relatively avid readers of books in all formats: 88 percent of those who read e-books in the past 12 months also read printed books. Compared with other book readers, they read more books. They read more frequently for a host of reasons: for pleasure, for research, for current events, and for work or school. They are also more likely than others to have bought their most recent book, rather than borrowed it, and they are more likely than others to say they prefer to purchase books in general, often starting their search online."

Significantly for publishers who feel the ground shifting under their feet with recent developments such as the demise of Borders and some other traditional bookstores, e-book readers are more likely to buy the books they read, while other readers are more apt to borrow.

"Is this part of a CD moment?" Nash wondered. "We had this moment in the music business where people embraced the CD player over their cassette player, and they started acquiring a significant amount of CDs. At a certain point, that plateaued as people acquired a critical mass of stuff, and then shifted to a more sedate degree of consumption. By consumption, I mean purchase. The amount they listened to remained the same, but the amount they purchased started to taper off. This is highly speculative. I'm not saying this will happen. But as Nassim Taleb (author of 'The Black Swan') always points out, every straight line going up at a diagonal stops some time."

Given that e-book readers are more likely to purchase books than non e-book readers, every publisher will have to cater to them to stay afloat in the rapidly changing book marketplace. Nash observed that figuring out how to do this is the publishers' problem, not the readers'.

"The interesting thing is the reader doesn't have a problem here," he said. "Because for so long, people could only read what a fairly small group of publishers picked for them to read. Readers were living in an oligopolistic world. So we didn't really have to think very much about readers. They were only peripherally part of the equation. From a cultural standpoint, they were absolutely central. But in terms of talking about the industry, they were an abstraction. They were helpless. Now they have power. Now they can choose not just from a much larger group of publishers than existed before, but also from a bigger chunk of publishing history, as books stay in print longer and books that were out of print get put back into print."

He added, "I would emphasize how significant it is that books are no longer going out of print. Most books published in 1986 were not available in bookstores in 1990, so there was this forgetting. We're sort of living in a science-fiction movie where no one forgets, where everything published stays published. That gives readers tremendous power."

pewchart_better.jpg

Do E-books Contribute to the Digital Divide?

The Pew poll, which was conducted in English and Spanish, found Hispanics read less than white or black people, and that lower-income Americans read the least: "A fifth of Americans (18 percent) said they had not read a book in the past year. This group is more likely to be: male than female (23 percent vs. 14 percent), Hispanic than white or black (28 percent vs. 17 percent and 16 percent), age 65 or older (27 percent), lacking a high school diploma (34 percent), living in households earning less than $30,000 (26 percent), unemployed (22 percent), and residents of rural areas (25 percent). Those who did not read a book last year also tended not to be technology users."

Do e-books contribute to the digital divide in which those without access to technology are being left behind in a tech-centered world? Becker said, "I don't know that e-books contribute to the digital divide right now, though that's certainly a possibility in the future if e-publishing overtakes traditional publishing and readers are shut out of participating because of excessive restrictions in borrowing and lending, or prohibitive costs for accessing devices and content.

"I think there is some more interesting research to be done around the intersection of reluctant readers and people who also don't use much technology. It seems likely that those folks are probably living on the margins generally, and lack of reading and use of technology is a symptom of their circumstances rather than a cause. Ensuring that rural, poor, unemployed, and other marginalized groups have access to reading and self-improvement has always been a core value for public libraries, and it continues in ensuring access to technology and digital literacy skills. Librarians see this as part of their mission, and e-book access is becoming part of that mission, too."

Looking Toward the Digital Future

The Pew study shows that Americans have begun to move toward reading books, newspapers, and magazines digitally, without waiting for the publishing industry to figure out how to survive this shift.

Nash reflected on the history of the publishing industry to frame the current moment. "In the last 150 years, publishing became a weird artifact of the industrial revolution," he said. "With the industrial revolution, you tend to have this really stark separation between producer and consumer, because you make money off of scale. In an analogue, mechanical reproduction situation, the primary way you're going to make money is because your marginal costs always decline. It starts high and always it declines. So the more you can print of something, the more money you're going to make on each additional unit. With digital, the marginal cost of reproduction is virtually zero. What we're witnessing most clearly is the slow demise of the industrial revolution model. It's interesting because books began it. Books were the first mass-produced object."

As Pew's research shows, only a few years after their introduction, e-books have arrived as an important part of reading in America, whether publishers and booksellers are ready for them or not.

Photo of e-reader by Anders Hoff on Flickr

Jenny Shank is the author of the novel "The Ringer" (The Permanent Press, 2011), a finalist for the Reading the West Book Awards. Her fiction, essays, and reviews have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Alaska Quarterly Review, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Poets & Writers Magazine, Bust, Dallas Morning News, High Country News and The Onion.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

February 28 2012

14:00

How Social Media, E-Books, Self-Publishing Change Writers Conferences

At first, you came to the San Francisco Writers Conference to learn the craft of writing, to hear famous writers describe how they became famous, to learn the secrets of how to create a winning book proposal, to become enlightened by publishers about what they want and, most of all, to pitch literary agents, those elusive creatures who seem always to be heading the other direction.

Today, it's a different story. Today's conference is about all the traditional basics, but also about topics from blogging and tweeting to e-books and self-publishing. I asked four longtime participants in the 2012 San Francisco Writers Conference earlier this month to describe how this and other writers conferences have morphed to include technical content relevant to today's writers.

You can listen to their takes below.

I started with San Francisco Writers Conference co-organizer Laurie McLean, who told me that the core teachings are still there, but two entirely new tracks have been added to handle tech topics relevant to writers today, and the previously unmentionable option, self-publishing.

Laurie McLean
lauriemclean.jpg

For more than 20 years Laurie ran a public relations agency in California's Silicon Valley. Then she became an agent at Larsen Pomada Literary Agents representing adult genre fiction and children's middle grade and young adult books. As Agent Savant, she works with authors to create their author brand, then develop a digital marketing plan to help them promote that brand online via social media, blogs, websites and more. Laurie is dean of the new San Francisco Writers University and on the management team of the San Francisco Writers Conference. In 2012, Laurie started two e-publishing companies: Joyride Books (for out-of-print vintage romance novels) and Ambush Books (for out-of-print children's books).

Listen to McLean on adding two new tracks to the conference offerings here.

Listen to McLean on still sticking with the basics here.

Kevin Smokler
kevinsmokler.jpg

In 2007, Kevin Smokler founded, with Chris Anderson (editor in chief of Wired Magazine), BookTour.com, the world's largest online directory of author and literary events. Kevin now serves as the company's CEO, regularly speaking at industry conferences and book festivals throughout North America on the future of publishing, books, reading and legacy media in the 21st century. His regular topics include print and digital publishing, legacy media, social media and the web for writers, and business skills for artists and creatives. In April of 2008, Amazon purchased a minority stake in BookTour.com.

From Smokler's vantage, despite all the changes, there are some things that are still, and always will be, basic to publishing -- namely, the need for a quality book and connecting that book to readers.

Listen to Kevin Smokler talk about that here.

Patrick von Wiegandt
patrickvonwiegandt.jpg

Patrick von Wiegandt is a musician and sound engineer in charge of making each session at the San Francisco Writers Conference available in audio formats for sale immediately at the conference and online after the event.

He's seen big changes "backstage," as in the transition from tape to CD to MP3, but because he also hears all the sessions, he has some interesting insights about how the content of the conference has changed since the Internet came to be important to writers.

Listen here to Patrick von Wiegandt talk about the changes he's seen.

Joel Friedlander

joelfriedlander2.jpg

Joel Friedlander is a self-published author and a book designer who blogs about book design, self-publishing and the indie publishing life at TheBookDesigner.com. He's also the proprietor of Marin Bookworks, where he helps publishers and authors who decide to publish get to market on time and on budget with books that are both properly constructed and beautiful to read.

One of the biggest changes Friedlander sees is the massive shift in how books are being publicized (authors now being asked to do promotions themselves) and how writers conferences are adapting to reflect that change.

Hear Friedlander talk about that change and others he's seeing here.

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. The newest version of her e-book, The Self-Publishing Boot Camp Guide for Authors, was released in August 2011 and is available on Smashwords, Amazon Kindle, and for the B&N Nook.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

January 19 2012

15:20

How Social Media, Collaboration Fueled Reports on Australia's Refugees

An innovative Australian public journalism project has partnered student reporters and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation with a refugee support agency and a social media startup.

The aim of the project, #ReportingRefugees, was to tackle problematic media coverage of asylum seekers and refugees in a volatile political climate in parallel with educating students to connect with a "citizens' agenda." The result was a student takeover of the airwaves in Australia's national capital and a fundamental shift in attitudes.

MediaShift correspondent Julie Posetti anchored the project at the University of Canberra where she teaches journalism. This is the first in her two-part series on #ReportingRefugees.

Problem: Divisive & Xenophobic National Debate

For the past 15 years, racist and xenophobic political memes have dominated public discussion of refugees and asylum seekers in Australia, with asylum seekers who arrive by boat demonized as threatening aliens by politicians whose divisive messages are fanned and fed by inflammatory headlines and tabloid TV.

Reporting Refugees Husseinis.jpg

In this climate, and on the back of involvement in a substantial national research project on the reporting of multiculturalism (which led to me theorizing about the potential transformative impact of minority encounters on journalists), I decided to embark on a public journalism project with my final-year University of Canberra broadcast journalism students.

The end result was two hours of radio journalism, fueled by collaboration and social media, that gave a much-needed voice to refugees, a better understanding for the public of the complicated issues surrounding them, and important lessons for those of us working on the project.

Journalism Partnerships For Change

#ReportingRefugees was built on partnerships that I forged with 666 ABC Canberra, the ABC's radio station in the Australian capital; Canberra Refugee Support, the city's best-known organization for refugees and asylum seekers; OurSay, an innovative crowdsourcing startup; and the School of Music at the Australian National University, also based in Canberra.

Reporting Refugees CRS.jpg

I made my first approach to CRS, and their initial response reflected the impact of xenophobic political campaigns and media stereotyping: They were reluctant to get involved. CRS President Geoff McPherson said concerns about resourcing the project were also paramount. But I persisted, pursuing meetings and arguing the merits of interventions in journalism education and public journalism approaches in tackling problematic reporting of marginalized communities. The proposal was for CRS to facilitate contact between student journalists and asylum seeker-refugee clients and provide advice on relevant policy and community programs, with the aim of minimizing any potential harm to vulnerable interviews and assisting in the development of culturally intelligent reporting on a complex and often poorly reported issue.

Ultimately, just a fortnight before the project kicked off, CRS agreed to participate. "The judgment of the CRS board was that the potential return on this project far outweighed the risks and (we) decided to proceed," McPherson said, reflecting on the project at its conclusion.

Collaborating with Australia's Public Broadcaster

By contrast, the ABC was keen to be involved from the outset. They were even prepared to hand over two hours of airtime on their main Canberra radio station to the students. They agreed to allow the students -- under the joint editorial supervision of the ABC, me and my tutors -- to report, produce and present a radio special devoted to #ReportingRefugees which was scheduled for broadcast on November 27 last year -- three months from the start of the project.

Reporting Refugees ABC.jpg

Jordie Kilby, ABC 666 Canberra content director, explained the network's motivation for involvement: "We hoped for an insightful look at the local community of refugees living in the Canberra region; we wanted to build on our relationships with local refugees and asylum seekers and the community groups that help and support them. We also hoped the project would give us an opportunity to look at some future journalists and their ideas and work."

Original Student Compositions Score #ReportingRefugees

By this stage, my ANU School of Music collaborator, Jonathan Powles, had agreed to offer his students the opportunity to produce original scores to accompany my journalism students' stories. Apart from being an interesting cross-disciplinary education collaboration and a potentially rewarding creative merger for broadcaster, teachers and students alike, the provision of original music for the planned radio program meant that the ABC would also be able to podcast the show. (Copyright laws in Australia prevent the podcasting of commercial music broadcast on radio.)

Giving Citizens a Say

Finally, I decided to approach OurSay -- a Melbourne startup which partners with media organizations, universities and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) to crowdsource questions designed to address the "citizens' agenda." They jumped at the chance to be involved, and we launched the project's OurSay page which asked the public to identify the questions they most wanted answered by a panel of experts on asylum seeker-refugee policy during the ABC broadcast.

OurSay's CEO, Eyal Halamish, explained the role of the platform in the project: "Especially on such a contentious issue as that of refugees and asylum seekers, where the mainstream media latch onto sensationalist, short-termist news instead of taking a broader view, a social tool such as OurSay can help set the agenda more effectively and help express what the public feels about an issue, as sourced from their own questions and comments." It worked like this: Over the course of a month, OurSay users were asked to submit the questions they most wanted put to the panel, and the top five questions were selected by popular vote on the site.

The #ReportingRefugees Curriculum

With these #ReportingRefugees building blocks in place, I was able to finalize the structure of the project within the syllabus. This was no easy task! Trying to balance learning outcomes and university assessment policies against real-world media deadlines is always tricky. But doing so on a project seeking to break new ground through multiple public journalism partnerships, on a complex and sensitive reporting assignment, proved to be the most challenging teaching project I've ever been involved with. Fortunately, it also emerged as the most rewarding experience of my journalism education career.

Zoe Daniel.jpg

#ReportingRefugees became the foundation of the Advanced Broadcast Journalism unit (a class of 50 students) I convene at UC. I gave lectures on public journalism (featuring the work of professor Jay Rosen and others) and reporting trauma in the social media age. I also devoted a lecture to a live Skype interview with the ABC's South East Asia correspondent, Zoe Daniel, whose beat includes the massive refugee camps and asylum seeker communities of that region.

The major assessment required students to work in reporting duos networked via loosely themed production units, on original, long-form audio or audio/video stories about refugees-asylum seekers (or policies and programs pertaining to them) which would compete for selection in the final radio program. Additionally, they had to produce images and text to accompany their stories for online publication. They were encouraged to speak with, not just about, refugees-asylum seekers and to explore personal stories and angles that the media had largely overlooked. Some reporting duos were assigned to refugee-asylum seeker families and community services facilitated by CRS, while others independently identified stories and sources.

Assessing Audience Engagement and Reflective Practice

Additionally, the students were required to maintain Twitter feeds (with a focus on community building around content, crowdsourcing and content distribution) as part of an "audience engagement" assessment. They also needed to participate in Facebook groups dedicated to editorial management. The final assessment involved publication of an academically grounded reflective practice blog which required the students to critically analyze the project, their involvement in it and their experiences of it, with reference to scholarly readings.

Students' Perspective

So, what did the students think of the project at the start? Many have admitted they were daunted by the theme and the workload when they first heard about it. One, Ewan Gilbert, conceded he was initially a tad perplexed: "I went into the assignment thinking it was all a bit over the top." But Gilbert, now a cadet journalist with the ABC, clearly understood the project's purpose in retrospect: "I think one of the biggest barriers people face when it comes to understanding refugee issues, is that most Australians have probably never met one," he blogged. "Putting a face to an issue was so important to helping my understanding of the problems. You learn to treat the issue with humanity. You learn to see refugees as people and quite often extremely vulnerable people at that. If the whole refugee debate didn't have any relevancy to me before, it certainly does now."

Another student, Grace Keyworth, who was already working in the Canberra Press Gallery as a videographer when the project began, wrote that #ReportingRefugees was an important and timely intervention.

"I have been present at countless press conferences this year where the discussion of asylum seekers and refugees was completely dehumanized. There was a lot of talk of numbers, figures and 'processing' them like they're a piece of meat, but hardly any of names, occupations or their reasons for leaving their countries," she lamented. "It shows that as a society, we haven't progressed beyond the racial discrimination towards immigrants that has plagued our country since federation."

Opening Up Journalism -- Critical Reflection via Social Media

The students were encouraged to openly reflect, through their social media activity, on their pre-conceived ideas about the refugee-asylum seeker issue and broadcast reporting conventions as they worked on their stories. They had to navigate very complex issues -- such as balancing the need to avoid re-traumatizing refugee interviewees who'd survived torture against the need for editorial transparency and independence. Many encountered significant journalistic obstacles -- from paternalism within some organizations which led (inappropriately) to one service provider refusing its refugee clients permission to speak, to nervous interviewees backing out of stories close to deadline. But in every case, these experiences delivered important learning outcomes -- about the need for sensitivity and informed consent in reporting on refugees-asylum seekers, and about the need for journalistic perseverance and resilience when confronted with problems that threaten to derail stories in which many hours work have been invested.

There were logistical hurdles to mount, too. The collaborative editorial management of the project with the ABC meant that assessment deadlines had to be interwoven with ABC production deadlines. And multiple classroom visits by the busy ABC content director needed to be scheduled across four tutorials, which were timetabled for only three hours each per week.

Once the students had filed their rough-cut stories for assessment, the difficult process of selecting the content for broadcast and web upload commenced. I shortlisted stories from each tutorial with my tutors (Phil Cullen and Ginger Gorman, both of whom are experienced ABC broadcasters) but the ABC's Jordie Kilby was responsible for selecting the final line-up of 10 stories. Meanwhile, we auditioned potential student presenters, and student executive producers attached to each tutorial began wrangling students to deliver final cut radio and web stories.

Putting #ReportingRefugees on Air

Ultimately, the students broadcast two hours of moving, human radio with a focus on personalized stories, situational reports on community programs such as a psychological service which treats traumatized child refugees, explanatory journalism that unpacked highly complex and sensitive themes, and an intelligent panel discussion, featuring the former Commonwealth Ombudsman and the UNHCR's representative in Australia, that addressed the questions crowdsourced via OurSay in a way that allowed misconceptions to be powerfully countered.

As the program aired, students, listeners and ABC staff participated in a lively Twitter discussion triggered by the stories, aggregated by the #ReportingRefugees hashtag.

Additionally, the ABC website continues to host a bundle of additional student reports produced for the project, along with a podcast of the radio special (Hour 1 & Hour 2).

I'll focus in more detail on the impact of the project on those involved, its reception by audiences, and the implications for journalism education in part two of this #ReportingRefugees series, but this quote from international student Linn Loken, sums up the value of the project and makes my own very substantial investment in time, energy and effort in its execution seem worthwhile:

"Knowing a few refugees now, this is not just a word to me anymore. When I hear the word REFUGEE mentioned, I think about the people I talked to during this project and I can see their faces."

Julie Posetti is an award-winning journalist and journalism academic who lectures in radio and television reporting at the University of Canberra, Australia. She's been a national political correspondent, a regional news editor, a TV documentary reporter and presenter on radio and television with the Australian national broadcaster, the ABC. Her academic research centers on journalism and social media, on talk radio, public broadcasting, political reporting and broadcast coverage of Muslims post-9/11. She's currently writing her PhD dissertion on 'The Twitterisation of Journalism' at the University of Wollongong. She blogs at Twitter.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

January 18 2012

15:20

Self-Published Authors Still Rarely Make the Jump to Publishing Houses

For many self-published authors, a traditional publisher is an elusive dream. It means a team of professionals taking over marketing, advertising, publicity and the mechanics of publishing one's own book on paper and electronically. It means already forged relationships with booksellers, critics and other writers - and it means more time to write, rather than haggling over the costs of a book cover design or editing.

While both the self-published fantasy writer Amanda Hocking and CIA thriller author John Locke show that independent authors can succeed in attracting big publishers and contracts, it seems, for now, that they are the exception, not the rule.

using the Kindle Store as a talent pool

The rise of e-books and self publishing has certainly enlarged the talent pool for publishers and made it easier to find authors, but that doesn't mean publishers are all taking advantage of the emerging talent.

Debra Dixon, president of Bell Bridge Books, a small press based in Memphis that publishes young adult, science fiction and fantasy titles, said, "I know that we have seen agents trolling Kindle lists . . . But our authors tend to come to us based on reputation."

"I know a lot of folks in the industry and I just don't hear anybody saying, 'I got the greatest author this week -- got her on Kindle,'" Dixon said.

Trina MacDonald, a senior acquisitions editor for Pearson Education, said she discovers authors by finding experts in the field, doing research and hearing from people in the community. "We ask what types of books they would like to see and who would write them," she said. "And then we would make direct contact."

MacDonald said she has heard of publishers contacting writers on Kindle and isn't against the idea.

"I have not approached any authors, but I think it would depend on the book and the author," MacDonald said. "But if they are already self-published you can see what kind of writing they're capable of."

The Truth About Amanda Hocking

AmandaHocking.jpgAmanda Hocking, a 27-year-old independent author who sold more than a million copies of her books, signed a reported $2 million-plus, four-book deal with St. Martin's Press earlier this year, making her an indie success story. The news of her book deal flooded the Internet, sparking reports that publishers are looking for the next Hocking.

But Hocking wasn't a passive participant in the process. She sent numerous queries, manuscripts and book proposals to traditional publishers and agents, only to be turned down repeatedly. Hocking was also a prolific author with nine self-published titles to her name and her popular Trylle Trilogy, had already been optioned for a motion picture. According to her blog, she even had an editor, cover artist and acted on feedback from publishers and agents. By the time she was offered a contract by St. Martin's she had negotiated foreign language rights in Hungary and sold 1 million copies of her books.

She said she chose to go with a traditional publisher because, "I want to be a writer. I do not want to spend 40 hours a week handling emails, formatting covers, finding editors, etc. Right now, being me is a full-time corporation."

The new independent author has to be able to market and advertise a book in nontraditional ways on a minuscule budget. That usually means blogs, social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook, and a lot of phone calls and email. That publicity, often called "discoverability" or a "platform," is what sells books and propels them up the e-book bestseller lists. And for most self-published e-book authors, that means making their downloads available at the Amazon Kindle store.

Clearing the Way

Erica Sadun, an author who previously wrote technical manuals such as "The iOS 5 Developer's Cookbook," decided to work on an independent e-book to stay ahead of the technological curve.

siribook.png

"My friend Steve [Sande] and I were sick to pieces of the 101 days of production before books can get out," she said from her Denver home. So she and Sande decided to pen a how-to for the iPhone 4S's virtual assistant Siri, called "Talking to Siri" and had it out within two weeks of the iPhone 4S launch.

After selling well for six days, it was picked up by a publisher - as it turns out, Sadun's own publisher Pearson wanted it for its Que imprint. "It isn't the normal story," Sadun said.

But Sadun's story isn't uncommon either. Several successful authors have started independently publishing for higher royalties or using it to test out new genres. One successful author that advocates and guides new Kindle authors into self-publishing e-books, J.A. Konrath, had six books published by Hyperion since 2004.

But lacking a following or any exposure, unknown independent authors still have to garner interest however possible.

The Hybrid Author

Dixon said she met self-published urban fantasy author John Hartness in the usual fashion, at a science fiction and fantasy convention.

"When I began talking to publishers and eventually signed with Bell Bridge Books, they were as attracted to my stories as they were that I was media-savvy and self-promotions savvy," Hartness said. "But I don't know of any publisher who would be willing to put out bad stories because their authors are a whiz at promotion."

Dixon signed Hartness in September, about two years after he uploaded his first independent e-book to the Kindle Store.

"We saw what he had done and his platform, which made it more attractive because when you relaunch an author it's a big commitment," Dixon said.

Traditional publishers do shoulder the price of editing, promotion and publicity, and they usually recoup those costs with higher asking prices than 99 cents or $2.99. With self-published authors, the costs for publishers are the same as for a new author. "We treat (the book) as if it has never been published," Dixon said. "One of the strong reasons writers come to publishers is to elevate their book."

While Hartness loves working with his publisher and the process, he continues to self-publish his own work. "I think you are going to see many more hybrid authors," he said.

Barbara E. Hernandez is a native Californian who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has more than a decade of experience as a professional journalist and college writing instructor. She also writes for Press:Here, NBC Bay Area's technology blog.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

December 30 2011

15:20

The 5 Tenets of Open Journalism

I'm not a middle-of-the-roader and wasn't aiming for a compromise position with my discussion paper, "The Case for Open Journalism Now: A new framework for informing communities," published early this month by the University of Southern California's Annenberg Innovation Lab. Instead, I sought to identify and propel a culture shift that might build a healthier relationship among those who produce journalism and others who consume news and information.

Yet the values and emerging practices I call open journalism stand apart from the polarizing intramural debate on whether quality journalism in the future will come from institutions, information networks or individuals. (Answer: yes.) This intermittent fight, which broke out again following a recent Dean Starkman piece in CJR, forces people into corners. After a recent USC Annenberg event at the National Press Club where I gave a talk on this paper, a young journalism academic told me he hadn't read "The Case for Open Journalism Now" but added, "I'm probably against it -- the whole thing."

Open journalism should be up for debate, like any idea, but it's built squarely on some of the traditional journalism values we're so quick to protect. "Open journalism" just gives it a name and now, a better roadmap for two-way journalism in the digital era (see the five tenets below).

My open journalism idea sees journalism as acts that provide service in the larger context of Internet-era communication. It recognizes that communities gain from skilled and expert journalism (there never has been enough) and that such work has the best hope of success through robust connections to sources, citizens and other contributors in a networked information universe.

Public affairs journalism, especially the time-consuming work of investigative reporting and accountability coverage that relies on accumulated knowledge and expertise, is indeed a public good and must be responsive to those it serves. Those who provide it need to build trust as well as tangible support such as digital subscriptions, e-book payments, organizational alliances, donations or philanthropic grants. In 2012 and beyond, in the communication age that has blossomed post-Internet, such support involves not blind faith but open and active connection.

Explore transparency

Consider the new "Explore Sources" tool unveiled by ProPublica last week as part of a story by Marshall Allen on a Texas woman's efforts to learn how her husband had died. Explore Sources (which readers can turn on or off) allows web viewers to click on highlighted information and view primary source material. News applications developer Al Shaw's blog post explained both the function of the tool and how it was built, concluding: "While Explore Sources is just an experiment, we look forward to finding new ways to use it to make our reporting process more transparent and accountable, and when we can we'll open-source the code so other newsrooms can show their work, too."

carswell-plaque-630.jpg

I began my work at USC Annenberg in June intending to focus on how journalism contributes to community engagement in public life and to spotlight experiments that seemed to be working. I quickly learned that Joy Mayer, a Reynolds Journalism Institute fellow, was finishing an academic year's work on this topic and that many interesting experiments were too young to assess in any fair way.

Rather than repeat Mayer's work and other recent explorations, I wanted to build on it. Away from the front lines of most mainstream news flow, I found a web-influenced culture responding in new ways to journalism values of serving community needs and making a difference. Peer-level collaboration was sparking invention and problem-solving, especially involving data journalism and investigative methods. Social media tools were enabling more direct dialogue among news providers and their sources, contributors and customers.

In a small but significant number of exceptions to the norm, and in the ideas of a number of writers and practitioners, I glimpsed a nascent but potentially transformative approach to journalism that could build trust and support (moral and practical) for informing communities in key ways amid media upheaval. Alan Rusbridger and The Guardian called their strategy "open journalism on the web."

Open journalism struck me as the right headline for framing journalism as a true public endeavor: accountable, responsible and accessible, like open government or an open kitchen or "Open Leadership," the title of a book by social media consultant Charlene Li.

My experience leading newsrooms in North Carolina and California taught me that ideas need both support and structure to turn into improvements. I wanted not just to argue for direction, but to offer useful guidance to practitioners -- in any size of newsroom, nonprofit or commercial, and to individuals -- on how open journalism can and does work for quality as well as relevance. I highlighted journalism action, not theories, demonstrating creative and often effective new approaches to the core mission of providing timely, accessible and high-quality coverage.

You can find examples and references linked throughout the discussion paper and highlighted in a sidebar element called "100 Ideas, Arguments and Illustrations for Open Journalism." Additionally, I offered "Action Steps for News People" in the five key categories I identified for open journalism to emphasize:

5 tenets of open journalism

  • Transparency: Buzzword or not, this is a contemporary cultural value that connects deeply to journalism tradition. Yet it's a value news providers must more openly embrace in the processes and the presentation of news coverage. For instance, established media sites rest on "brand" and rarely explain their missions or practices. New information and news sites, perhaps because they're introducing themselves and working to build brands, routinely tell users who they are, what their editorial mission is, and how they're funded. The best of them provide easy links to staff at all levels and take the next steps to embracing "show your work" tactics such as posting original data, using blogging to explain how journalism is made, and inviting others to make use of resources. News organizations here and there are opening up or webstreaming news meetings, sharing working story lists, soliciting questions and input, and explaining how corrections are handled.
  • Responsiveness and engagement as central functions rather than add-ons: Open journalism makes newsgathering and dissemination two-way practices that ask and answer questions and invest trust even while expecting to be trusted. This matters for community value but also has benefits as business practice. The Internet has changed the expectations of viewers and readers -- more broadly, customers. Companies learn the hard way about failing to monitor or respond to user input, which now often happens via social media. In this environment, providers of news and information suffer when lines of communication are unmonitored (online story comments being the case in point) or miss opportunities when these lines operate as one-way channels (e.g., here's our story, what do you think?) By seeing engagement as part of newsgathering rather than as link promotion, journalists can pick up on news tips and promising sources and, in turn, make their work more useful by delivering on requests for certain information.
  • Substantive and mutually rewarding participation: The interplay among news providers and others who exchange and supply information gets more attention than other aspects of open journalism and fuels the most debate (over citizen journalism, for instance, a term almost no one likes). Yet notable experiments such as HuffingtonPost's OffTheBus presidential campaign crowdsourcing effort in 2008 (back for 2012) are being joined by a rapidly expanding menu of ways that news and community information sites are tapping contributions and knowledge. On most news sites "user generated content" gets little respect or attention, and again the vandals who troll online comment sites consume far too much of the resources newsrooms have for interaction. We're ready for the next steps in understanding that people want to participate in life, not news sites. Some news sites are improving interaction tools, using forms and other mechanisms to streamline participation and engaging in more active social media dialogue with contributors.
  • Collaboration: This is an overused word, perhaps, because true collaboration is less common than an expanding list of cross-promotion and content sharing. Yet the open-source ideas infecting some newsrooms via the influence of programmers and technology have produced direct benefits for some kinds of journalism. Practitioners working to analyze data and to map and graphically display their findings regularly share knowledge and software via traditional channels (such as Investigative Reporters and Editors) and new ones including the GitHub software website.
  • Networked presence: Information-sharing happens online through many crisscrossing networks, from fan communities and social media to highly specialized knowledge blogs and discussion forums. It also happens in person, often in conjunction with digital community-building. News sites may be where most people, in one way or another, pick up headlines and traditional news, but other networks supply a vastly greater variety and style of information. By understanding the greater context and looking for ways to carry out their service missions, news providers can make an important leap forward from the gatekeeper role that defined journalism for so long. The next conceptual leap involves community-level collaboration around the goals of information as a service.

"The Case for Open Journalism Now" is one of the first "Future of Journalism" efforts by the Annenberg Innovation Lab, built as a simple website with a response function. Please add your thoughts, criticism and links. However far the Internet has taken us already, those who believe in quality journalism as public service have only begun to comprehend the opportunities ahead.

The only thing certain is that we're building journalism's future now through our actions and our omissions. I prefer the former.

Melanie Sill is the Executive in Residence at the USC Annenberg School of Communication & Journalism. Before joining USC Annenberg Sill was senior vice president and top editor at the Sacramento Bee in California and The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. Raised in Hawaii, Sill earned her journalism degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard in 1993-94.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

December 27 2011

15:20

Public Media: A Wish List for 2012

What's the No. 1 innovation that's needed in public media in 2012?

I posed that question to the public media group on Facebook, as well as to some additional colleagues via email. The responses ranged from a focus on cultivating a culture of innovation, to calls for more innovative content approaches, to the need to grow public media's audience to provide greater support for our existing innovations. And according to some, what's needed more than anything -- more than any individual innovative approach -- is a shared, collective vision of where public media needs to go next.

Here's a selection of the responses I received:

"I think what's still needed most is a change in the culture so that innovation and risk-taking are supported and encouraged." - Ian Hill, community manager, KQED

Several people agreed with Ian, only some of whom were comfortable being quoted in this piece. Adam Schweigert, who recently departed public media (a temporary hiatus, he insists!) after 7-plus years in the system, said creating a culture of innovation "will do a lot to help recruit and retain new voices, increase diversity, (and) lead to further innovation in content and technology ..."

Cacas1.jpg

Need for Resources

Veteran journalist Max Cacas, currently defense editor at Signal Magazine, but with long ties to public media, argued that a culture of innovation is well and good, but we first need the resources to support such a culture. He offered a specific recommendation:

"I think what is needed is an 'innovation seed bank' that public radio/TV/media outlets in smaller markets can tap into so that they can make efforts to serve new audiences without compromising their existing and ongoing services."

Which raises a great question (one that was still being debated on Facebook, last I checked): Does building a culture of innovation create resources to support said innovation ... or do the resources indeed need to come first?

Kelsey Proud, online producer at St. Louis Public Radio, noted, "Some things can be done without money, but others, like equipment purchases, simply cannot."

Yoonhyung Lee, director of Digital Media Fundraising at KQED, feels that we have plenty of innovation in the system ... What's needed are bigger audiences to help translate innovation into sustainability:

"(Innovations) don't necessarily pay the bills. And they don't necessarily garner the kind of audiences that ONE prime-time program, ONE hour of drive-time listening would. Innovations are great, but if we can't find the audiences to support them ... well, does that falling tree make a sound if no one is listening?"

Tech Not Always the Driver

Of course, when you ask a question about innovation, people tend to respond with their own definitions of the admittedly broad term. Some emphasized that while "innovation" often connotes "technology" in this day and age, technology should not necessarily be the driver:

"While it is a significant driver of change, technology for technology's sake has little meaning. Our imaginations must lead technology. Media makers must first decide what difference they want to make, and for whom -- then figure out the tools to get them where they want to go." - Sue Schardt, executive director, AIR

On Facebook, producer Stacy Bond agreed, voicing her opinion that we should be using technology "to innovate on-air (and in ways that are truly cross-platform, not just safe ways of paying lip-service to cross-platform)." Scott Finn, news director at WUSF in Florida, wants to see expanded digital reporting and original investigative reporting at the state and local level; "then," he said, "we need to develop the digital infrastructure to share stories across stations and with NPR."

Public media veteran Michael Marcotte agreed that sharing was key, but wants to see it on an even broader scale. While he agrees resources and culture change are key issues, he thinks the main innovation needed in 2012 is a shared vision, and a plan to go with it:

"We share the mission of public media, but we don't act in coordinated fashion for the long-term success of the entire system. I think 2012's innovation should be a national, collective, shared effort to define and refine the vision that drives strategy, policy and investment approaching 2020."

In a recent piece for Current, Melinda Wittstock -- founder of Capitol News Connection, a startup that recently closed its doors -- called public media a "cozy, clubby world," where "risk is a four-letter word." What do you think? Is public media risk-averse? Do we need to begin taking more risks in 2012? If so, which risks should we take?

What risks will you be taking in the new year?

Amanda Hirsch is a writer, online media consultant and performer who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. The former editorial director of PBS.org, she blogs at amandahirsch.com and spends way too much time on Twitter.

ima-logo.png

This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared on the Integrated Media Association's Public Media Innovators Project, a weekly blog series about the people and projects that are helping make public media a relevant and viable media enterprise for the 21st century.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

December 21 2011

15:20

December 20 2011

15:20

7 Ways Salespeople Can Better Understand the Editorial Side of News

There was quite a reaction to my previous column, suggesting editors learn more about, and cooperate with, the business sides of their organizations.

This time, I'd like to talk to people on the business side about how they can cooperate with the editorial side to work effectively to keep a news organization solid while also increasing revenues and ensuring the organization's survival.

First, though, let me respond a bit to the critics. A lot of the comments, on Facebook, Google+, blogs and elsewhere indicated people had read the provocative headline, "Tear Down the Wall Between Business and Editorial," perhaps a subhed or two, but not the piece in full, or even half. Some were nasty, political or ad hominem attacks (one called me Mr. "Bank Oil," the kind of play on my name I hadn't heard since elementary school), others were amusing, and a fair number were supportive and thoughtful.

One careful and considered rebuttal came from the liberal Common Dreams site, which called me "oblivious to the dangers of basing your business model on giving the sponsors what they want."

I'm not. But I have seen multiple news sites struggle to survive, including ones where I've had to cut staff.

Common Dreams asks for donations, and I hope they get enough to support their operation. Most news organizations, though, cannot survive on charity. Many are in deep trouble and have gone out of business or are struggling to survive.

News media executives and entrepreneurs -- including one who praised the previous column -- have told me how pained they were at their inability to financially sustain sites they considered superior editorially.

Overcoming Skepticism from Editors

timr.png

"With many news publishers, the online brands haven't had the revenue to support the reporting and editorial operations, let alone the rest of the staff and infrastructure that's needed for a modern news organization," Tim Ruder, chief revenue officer of ad optimization company Perfect Market, told me last week.

Ruder has often faced skepticism and even the ire of editors at major news companies when offering his company's technology, which optimizes page layout and links to get more readers in and serve them higher-value ads. The editors, understandably, don't want their pages changed in any way.

But, Ruder continued, "If these type of revenue opportunities can support the newsroom without compromising reporting, that's not to be ignored."

The news is not all glum, either. I have seen entrepreneurs make a business out of news while cultivating their ability to do great work.

Part of the reason is their keen focus on what matters most. Which leads me back to the point of this column: How the business side can intelligently do its work to sustain and enhance the organization over time.

1. Remember, It's the News Business

Your product is news. News is nothing without credibility -- and that credibility can be damaged by the wrong kind of ads or sponsorship. I spent a lot of my time at ABC News explaining to the sales side why we couldn't do one thing or another while trying to suss out the advertisers' goals to reach them within the bounds of editorial tenets.

After all, the credibility and association with your site is a good part of the reason advertisers want to be on it. Without that credibility, they'll lose the venue to get the word out about their products.

If something you're proposing calls the reliability of the organization -- its credibility or trustworthiness -- into question, that damage is very hard to recover from.

2. Know and Advocate For the "Product"

I've worked with salespeople who seem to see a news page as an array of ads, with the text and pictures simply filling up the space in between.

Even if you think of the business as only a business, not a special public trust, you have to respect the product and not bastardize it in the name of making quick money. Part of your job should be to help sustain the business over the long-term.

You can't really sell the news unless you have a powerful, abiding respect for what it is and can do, the ways it serves, informs, motivates and even impassions a community. You'll be much better able to intelligently sell the advertiser on that community if you understand what motivates the people in that community, in addition to their demographic profile.

3. Get At The Client's Real Goals

Sponsors will sometimes try to push the envelope, or get something they've envisioned that's not on your site. They'll ask if they can put this extra doodad here, get that ad size or flashy thing there.

When it's not possible, any intelligent sponsor or media buyer should be able to tell you something of what the goals are. Maybe you can offer that special something in another way, or achieve their aim with an offering you already have in your arsenal.

Sponsors who are considering your organization are doing so not only because you offer them exposure to a certain user base or group, but also because of the environment they get to be in.

It can be a bit of work, especially when you're dealing with media buyers who are trying to fit you into a spreadsheet model as part of a larger buy. But I've found that more often than not, there's a way to help them understand, then reach an accommodation.

4. Understand the Line, Then Help Hold It

It's very tempting when there's money on the table to say "yes," then run to try to get the request fulfilled. Cultivate and listen to the voice in the back of your head that will tell you when something goes a little, or a lot, too far.

A sponsor may request something you are pretty sure won't fly. First you have to understand why. It's not enough just to know the rules. You have to grasp the reason you can't do something a sponsor is asking.

I give a flat "no" when asked if sponsorship would guarantee news coverage of a given client and am ready with very clear reasons for giving that answer. I also then work to get at the client's underlying goals to find a way to reach them within the strictures. (See the previous point.)

To salespeople, editors can seem like "no" machines. If an editor objects to something you're proposing to offer, he or she may seem obstructionist, but there may be a legitimate reason.

Just as I called on editors to work with the sales side, the sales side has to understand the editorial imperatives and try to work within them. It helps, too, if the business side works with the editorial side to devise the strictures.

5. Work With the Editors, and Let Them Help You

Having a strong relationship with editors can beget other benefits. Mike Orren, founder of Pegasus News, a site that serves the Dallas-Fort Worth area, put the newsroom and sales teams in the same room.

MikeOrren.jpg

"Our ex-newspaper restaurant critic was yelling across the room saying there was a review coming, and the sales team might want to pitch them," he said, noting that the critic didn't say whether the review was good or bad. Either way, the sponsor might want to be there -- if the article is negative, the sponsor may want the opportunity to counter that perception. But "never was she [the critic] going to let somebody tell her how to review a restaurant," Orren said.

The sales team also helped the editorial side. "Sales would tip the editorial team that someone wasn't paying bills and maybe were going to go out of business," Orren told me at the Street Fight Summit earlier this fall. "We got more scoops out of our sales team than probably anywhere else."

6. Don't Underestimate How Hard It Is To ...

  • Get a story. The text and video you see that magically appears day after day takes a lot of time and effort to gather, edit and produce -- especially in a reliable and trustworthy way. A lot of reporters work all hours and sacrifice health, sleep and social life to get a story. Understand and respect that dedication. It can be a lot harder than it looks.
  • Get people to look at it. A lot of the work of getting people to discover a story once it's been produced falls on the editorial team, especially in the digital realm. That, too, takes time, effort and understanding of the community.

7. Now, More than Ever

For a few decades, news in America had a heyday of nearly unsurpassed profitability brought about by advantages such as high barriers to entry, limited distribution channels, and advertisers with few other ways to reach consumers. Salespeople could literally sit and wait for the phone to ring.

"It's like printing money!" one publisher gleefully exclaimed to me, holding up a classified page on which every column inch represented more dollars.

Those reliable and hefty profits supported all kinds of editorial efforts that, unfortunately, can no longer be sustained in the same way.

As the industry restructures, I have suggested editors learn how the business works and how far they can go to help it without compromising the operation. Sales needs to understand that "money talks" but the people making "the product" are ultimately responsible for whether it's worthwhile for those who consume it.

I want to see news organizations survive and do great work, and I believe that today, the only way to ensure that is to take a more holistic approach to the business of news.

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+.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

December 19 2011

15:20

Getting a Tablet Is Easy; Getting Digital Magazines Is a Pain

Buying that new iPad, Kindle or Nook for Christmas is just the first step to becoming a digital magazine reader. While shopping for books and movies is a fairly straightforward process, getting your favorite magazines onto your new e-reading device can be trickier.

The ways you can buy a magazine are rapidly multiplying, making it harder for readers to evaluate their choices. Major magazine publishers, digital newsstands and magazine customer service companies are trying to simplify the process of setting up digital magazine subscriptions, but so far, it's still sometimes a confusing process. Here's one strategy to get your digital magazine subscriptions set up for e-reading enjoyment.

Check Subscription Expiration Dates

It's helpful to know when your print magazine subscriptions expire if you really want to switch fully to digital-only subscriptions. If you have only one or two print issues left, you might wait until the print subscription ends to sign up for a new digital-only subscription, if that's offered by the publisher. The reason for delaying the move is that the "midstream" print-to-digital subscription switch is challenging for publishers right now. Some magazines can immediately convert your subscription to digital and stop your print issues from arriving in the mail; some can't.

zinio.png

Zinio, one of the major newsstands for digital magazine subscriptions on iOS and Android, is developing a way to make this conversion easier, but it's still in the works.

"For example, if you had Men's Fitness and you wanted to switch it midstream, you would let Zinio know, and Zinio would contact the publishers to handle it for you," said Jeanniey Mullen, Zinio's global executive vice president and chief marketing officer.

Mullen said magazine publishers might model this process on Canada's epost service, which provides a centralized location for consumers to request e-bills instead of paper bills from a variety of billers.

For now, don't count on being able to immediately go all-digital for your existing magazine subscriptions. Depending on the magazine's policies, you may be better off waiting until the end of an existing print subscription, or may have to continue the print subscription to get digital access. You may also find that some of your favorite publications don't even have digital editions yet.

Investigate Your Options

When you're ready to pursue digital subscriptions, your first step should be to review -- thoroughly -- each magazine's website. Information about digital editions and magazine apps can sometimes be hard to locate, so rather than sifting through the magazine's website, opt for a Google search for its title and "digital edition" or "tablet edition."

strategicss.png

"Over time, I'd like to see a standard way of communicating what formats are available and a standard way of getting to them," said Tony Pytlak, president and chief operating officer of Strategic Fulfillment Group, which provides fulfillment services to a number of magazine publishers. "Right now, even a lot of the newsstands that are coming out don't provide things clearly."

You might find that you can access a digital edition for free as a perk of your existing print subscription. For example, subscribers to the print editions of The New Yorker or Wired can immediately get access to their tablet editions for free. Later, when you renew your subscription, you might seek a digital-only option if you find you're enjoying the digital editions more than print.

Publishers are experimenting with package deals, meaning offerings will vary widely among different magazines.

"Our publishing partners are trying to find, for their unique audience, what's the right combination of print/digital, at what price points -- and what does a subscriber to one or the other, or both, actually have access to," Pytlak said.

SFG gathers customers' responses to various print and digital subscription package deals in its database so that publishers can analyze their success. "If you're going to test print only, or digital only, at one price or another, or digital at a slightly higher upsell, capturing the customers' responses to those kinds of offers will help our partners understand them," Pytlak said.

Some magazines have chosen dedicated apps as their only digital content option (other than their websites). That means you'll have to visit the app store for your device (such as the iTunes Store) to download the app, and then likely will purchase the subscription to the magazine's content through the app. You'd then revisit the app on your device to access new content as it's made available.

Additionally, some magazines' digital editions are offered through a newsstand-type app like Zinio, which serves as a storefront for digital magazines. Amazon also sells digital subscriptions for Kindle devices through its Kindle Store, just as Barnes and Noble does on its website for the Nook.

Make the Switch

Once you know what subscription choices a magazine offers, you can either attempt to switch your print subscription to digital by using the magazine's website, if that's an option available online, or -- more likely -- you'll need to call customer service to get help.

"The best proactive approach is to contact the publisher directly, and let them know what they're trying to transfer to digital, and let them know what digital platform," said Zinio's Mullen. "If they've got an iPad, they can say, 'I want to transfer my print subscription to the digital version you have on [the iTunes] Newsstand' ... It will be extremely helpful for the customer service team to know that."

Still, there's no guarantee that customer service representatives will be able to help you. Pytlak said your success may differ from publisher to publisher.

"It varies in how they let their service providers help them," Pytlak said. "Some service providers are not able to handle the transition from print to digital. It's a function of the publisher and the service provider working together to sync those things up and make it easy for the customer to do that."

Form a Digital Magazine Habit

Once you've successfully made the switch to digital subscriptions, it can be hard to remember that you have new issues to read without the physical reminder of a new issue arriving in the mail.

Some magazine and newsstand apps will provide a notification on your device that a new issue is available to read. Those notifications can pile up and become easy to ignore, however. If notifications aren't available, you'll have to remember to reopen the app and see what's new. It can be easy to forget about apps, especially considering app users' habits: 26 percent of apps downloaded are never opened again after their first use. If you're paying for a subscription, though, your motivation to revisit an app might be higher.

Some magazines' digital editions will give you the option of receiving an email notification whenever a new issue is available, which -- depending on your email habits -- might be a more effective reminder to read your magazine.

Improving the Process

Clearly, making the switch from print to digital magazine subscriptions isn't always an easy process. And not everyone is choosing to switch completely just yet.

"I'd call it a shift in consumers' media habits, but not necessarily a transition from print to digital," Pytlak said. He said today, SFG receives more requests from readers to change subscriptions "either print to print, or print to digital and print, more so than print to digital."

Mullen said that rather than just converting existing print subscriptions, many new e-reader users are trying out magazines that are new to them, especially when promotional offers are available.

"They'll buy a single issue of a magazine they've never bought in print before," she said. Additionally, using Zinio, "a very high percentage of people will subscribe to magazines they've never subscribed to in print."

Both Pytlak and Mullen say that standardization of print and digital subscription management is necessary both to make subscribers' lives easier and to improve publishers' ability to gather and analyze data about their subscribers.

"I see 2012 as a big year of change around subscription management on the back end and in fulfillment processing," Mullen said. "It's a very consumer-oriented challenge that we all need to address. A lot of publishing houses are interested in making the midstream switch as easy as possible. The lack of standardization is really the challenge, and where I think we will see advancement in 2012."

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.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

Older posts are this way If this message doesn't go away, click anywhere on the page to continue loading posts.
Could not load more posts
Maybe Soup is currently being updated? I'll try again automatically in a few seconds...
Just a second, loading more posts...
You've reached the end.

Don't be the product, buy the product!

Schweinderl