Friday, May 15, 2009

Told You: it's all the BBC's Fault

From the "new" Evening Standard.

But the prospects for American journalism seem better than those of the British variety for one reason: the BBC. The corporation has a fantastic website.

That's hardly surprising, since it spends £145 million a year of licence-fee payers' money on it. According to Paul Zwillenberg of OC&C consultants, all Britain's national newspapers put together spend around £100 million on their online efforts. And the BBC's website is, of course, free, which makes it tricky for less well-funded competitors to start charging.

If the BBC is allowed to go on dominating online news it will undermine other news providers' ability to survive on the internet, and thus threaten the diversity of news sources that is crucial to a democracy.

If its freedom or funding is cut, the quality of its service will decline, but others will have a chance to grow.

Everything is in freefall, so cut the beacon of quality? The author is this piece begins:
When I first went into journalism it was a leisurely business steeped in tradition and alcohol.

The lunches were heavy, the duties were light, and in most newsrooms older members of staff snored the afternoons away over their typewriters, their slumbers undisturbed by the philistine notions of efficiency and shareholder value that elbowed their way into the business in subsequent years.

Philistine notions? The author continues:
Journalism helps society to hold politicians to account; molecular biology, or hairdressing, or whatever it is you do, doesn't.

Remind me who holds journalists to account? And who missed the credit crunch? And who watched without comment the Politician's Expenses for the last - what is it? - twenty years? (Kevin Maguire in the Daily Mirror now says that it is all Margaret Thatcher's fault):
Maggie Thatcher inflated expenses in the late 1980s to pad out MPs' pay packets with a nod and a wink.
The Rusty Lady's greater crime was to unleash a greed-is-good culture and trash the noble ideal of public service, civil servants required by the Tories to be One Of Us. The grocer's daughter knew the price of everything and value of nothing, fatally undermining the quality of public life.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Swedes File Share Less since Legislation

The Swedish Association of Video Distributors (SVF) commissioned a survey of some 2,700 people asking what their file-sharing habits are now in comparison to before the April 1st passage of the controversial new copyright law that gave copyright holders the power to obtain court orders forcing ISPs to divulge the personal information of suspected file-sharers.
It found that some 20% of Swedes aged 15-59yo have "cut down on or completely stopped file-sharing."

Perhaps more revealing is that a startling 36% of file-sharers aged 15-24yo said the same. This is the group that’s known to usually be the most prolific file-sharing demographic.

Interesting: as it this from May 4.
Last week Swedish ISP Tele 2 announced that as result of demands from it customers it will stop storing their IP addresses in a bid to fight back against the country’s passage of a law making it easier for copyright holders to go after individual file-sharers.
“In certain cases, this will make an investigation impossible,” said Stefan Kronkvist, the head of Swedish police’s internet crime unit. Passed on April 1st, the law allows copyright holders to seek court orders forcing ISPs to divulge the names associated with IP addresses suspected of sharing content illegally.

Both from ZeroPaid.

Kindling for those pulp things

So the gap between what the Kindle as is and what it needs to become to be viable for newspapers is even larger than I thought the other day. It would take even more ads at high rates, even higher subscription prices and a big shift in the revenue pie toward the content provider to make it even approach viability.

The maths of not quite giving it away.

Ryan Chittum at the CJR runs through the Kindle/Newspaper thing.

Tablets of Clay

Many, many more people are reading and writing now as part of their daily experience. But, because the reading and writing has come back without bringing Tolstoy along with it, the enormity of the historical loss to the literary landscape caused by television is now becoming manifested to everybody. And I think as people are surveying the Internet, a lot of what they’re doing is just shooting the messenger.

From a cracking Clay Shirky interview with the CJR.

Cool (Reading) Aid Test

New e-readers: wait ages and then two come along? This one is the Cool-er

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

You Can YouTube if You Want To, Minister

The Cabinet Office is to appoint a new "director of digital engagement" to oversee the Government's online communications strategy.

Andrew Stott, a senior civil servant and one of the Government's most experienced press officers, will carry out the role. His appointment is expected to be announced at midday today [Wednesday 13th, May].

Stott has been the Government's deputy chief information officer since 2004 and also oversaw the government's network of websites as head of service transformation at the e-government unit.

In his new role, he is likely to concentrate on improving the government's use of new technologies, including social networking sites and blogs, in an attempt to reach the audiences that use them.

From The Guardian.

The Future of Publishing

is safe.

"There's been so much written about and spoken about in the mainstream media and in the anonymous blogosphere world, that this will be a wonderful, refreshing chance for me to get to tell my story, that a lot of people have asked about, unfiltered," the Alaska governor and 2008 vice presidential candidate said during a brief telephone interview Tuesday with The Associated Press.

Yes, the Sarah Palin memoir is slated for 2010 publication. Wonder if Jamie Byng will be buying it for Canongate?

Trusts - the future of the "free"?

Yes "free" has been out there, so why the change in tack: advertising revenues are under severe recessionary pressures.

This is from Measurement Matters: "How Do You Escape From Free"

A recent study of around 5,000 people in the US and Europe showed that readers were not adverse to paying for online content. Consumers would be willing to pay for coverage they where particularly interested in such as business and sport, provided there were no free online products of equal quality on the market.

And there’s the caveat – provided there were no free alternatives. On the internet there is always a free alternative, and that free alternative is only a click away. And when it comes to Free!, quality may not be as strong a differentiator as you might think. Look at the success of Metro, London Lite the London Paper compared to the “quality” paid for alternative, the Evening Standard. The Standard is under such attack that it is responding with a risky poster campaign ‘apologising’ for being out of touch with its readers.

Recently the Harvard Business School investigated the Guardian newspaper - as an example of journalism enabled, to an extent, by the "Trust" that sits above it. This is a big discussion: but as increasing numbers of creative industries are badly hurt by the "free" there is - obviously - the question of new business models (and the Can Spotify work? meme) and perhaps the debate about the philanthropic/governmental investment required to support our creative industries - from music and film through computer games, publishing (and academic publishing) and news itself.

News on News: how do we keep the quality?

A few key points from Price Waterhouse Coopers Newspaper Outlook 2009. The issue here, as in so many industries, is what will consumers pay for? There's no doubt they will - if the content has enough value.

Although there is a huge potential for growth online, print
remains the largest source of revenue generation for
newspaper publishers, and will continue to be so for
some time.

Newspapers have a long-term future and will coexist with
other media. However this is unlikely to be either in the
formats or volumes seen today and there will some
casualties and losses of well-known papers along the

Consumers place high value on the deep insight and
analysis provided by journalists over and above general
or breaking news stories.

Consumers see breaking news and general interest news
as commodities, but there is always a market for high
value online content in specific topics. Our consumer
research indicates that consumers are willing to pay for
this content, but newspapers need to develop strategies
for monetising their content and intellectual capital.

As the Nieman Journalism Lab noted:
PwC found that 62 percent of consumers are willing to pay for online news. But the report itself qualifies this finding as well:

This does not mean that they would actually buy online content at this amount however. Free content is abundant online and consumers would choose free content when the quality was comparable or sufficient for their purpose. On average, respondents expressed no willingness to pay for general news and background information on e-paper or mobile devices, and they do not see them as alternatives for full newspapers.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Better Late Than Never

Chris Anderson, editor of wired, on "free".

An Advert

Mais, non. France goes on downloading offensive

French MPs todaypassed a bill that would cut the internet connections of those who repeatedly download music and films illegally, creating what may be the first government agency to track and punish online pirates.

The bill passed 296 to 233 in the lower house of parliament in a show of force by President Nicolas Sarkozy's governing conservatives after an initial failure last month.

From AP.

Yours for $99

From O'Reilly. 23 pages

Book publishers have long used free content as part of their marketing and selling efforts, with the vast majority of free content distributed in printed form. Digital distribution of free material, either intentional or via unauthorized availability through peer-to-peer sites and other Web outlets, offers a fast and expansive connection to consumers, but content can also be copied and disseminated without publishers' control. Some publishers are torn between the efficiencies digital distribution provides and concerns over piracy and print-sale cannibalization. This research report is part of an ongoing effort by O'Reilly Media Inc. and Random House to test assumptions about free distribution, P2P availability and their potential impact on book sales.

Buy it here.

e-books do furnish a hard drive, don't they?

A surge in book piracy has followed hot on the heels of the growth in ebooks, the New York Times reports. Publishers trying to stamp out unauthorized editions online say the ease with which books can now be copied online make their efforts little more than a game of "Whac-a-Mole," and hope to learn from the lessons of the heavily pirated music industry.

Unbelievable, eh? Who ever would have thought it?

From Newser.

Several publishers declined to comment on the issue, fearing the attention might inspire more theft. For now, electronic piracy of books does not seem as widespread as what hit the music world, when file-sharing services like Napster threatened to take down the whole industry.

Publishers and authors say they can learn from their peers in music, who alienated fans by using the courts aggressively to go after college students and Napster before it converted to a legitimate online store.

From the NYT.

Tomorrow, we hope to be publishing the full report of Copycats? Digital Consumers in the Online Age. A major review of online behaviours and attitudes and their implications for Intellectual Property. But the bottom line is that the sweetshop is always open; and its been created by a consumer electronics industry - hardware and software - that makes searching, copying, sharing and saving a one-click operation for all half-way savvy digital consumers in the age (except perhaps for Rupert Murdoch) of "free things". If Pirate Bay, then what about Google? If RapidShare then what about DVRs and Sky+? The UK IP Minister, David Lammy, talks of "one in four" having file shared (our report highlights 29 ways that we found to file share, it's not just P2P). That's 10 million people in the UK.

Much more tomorrow when our commissioning body, SABIP, launches the full report. Return here for the link.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Michael Wolff sits on the fence again

The Wolff is at the door.

Defending newspapers is just a nostalgic act. But what about journalism, the kind that’s produced, in Frank Rich’s self-congratulatory description, by “brave and knowledgeable correspondents?” Rich wants people to pay for that sort of newsreel-sounding journalism. So does Rupert Murdoch, who just announced a micro-payment system at the Wall Street Journal.

“It’s immaterial,” says Rich about whether that journalism is “on paper, a laptop screen, a Blackberry, a Kindle or podcast.”

But that’s nostalgic, too. Of course it’s material. The form and the means of delivery always change the content, for better or worse.

We’re in the middle of one of the greatest transitions in the history of news. There will neither be newspaper nor, for that matter, the television evening news.

There will neither be Frank Rich nor Rupert Murdoch nor cheap, crabbed, slow-to-respond, protect-their-own-ass, news organizations

Michael Wolff in Newser.

...Unique Visitors to increased to 19.4 Million in April, surpassing the New York Times for the first time...

From Compete.

You Think You Have Traffic

...I think that at the moment, just for streaming, iPlayer uses about 60Gbps of bandwidth (that's about 7.5GB downloaded every second) in an evening peak. I think about 15Gbps for downloads and about 1.5Gbps for iPhone. So overall on a particular peak day we may hit 100Gbps (about 12.5GB per second) although typically it'll be somewhat less than that. That turns out to be up to 7PB of data transfer a month.

BBC iPlayer boss Anthony Rose, in an interview with CNET UK.

Really Local News

...newsrooms-cum-cafes are part of a new venture in so-called hyperlocal journalism, which aims to reconnect newspapers with readers and advertisers by focusing on neighborhood concerns at a neighborhood level: think garbage collection schedules, not Group of 7 diplomacy.

Hyperlocal publications have been springing up across Europe and North America as newspapers seek a formula for survival. But the Czech plan, the project of PPF Group, an investment firm, goes unusually far in its goal of weaving journalists into the communities they serve.

NYT on coffeehaus journalism.

The Three Rs

Reading, Writing & Arithmetic?

Typing and Reposting?

What will happen to us when we stop reading books not because we don't want to, but because we can't?

That day seems to be approaching for me. But I don't want to go down without a fight, so even though I knew I was doomed, I checked out that doorstop of a novel (Roberto Bolano's "2666," a mighty 912 pages) and took it home.

I made it through no more than 10 pages before I had to put it down and skim a magazine, but I was glad I tried. It seemed like a good book. So good, in fact, that I later consumed it the modern way:

I read the plot summary on Wikipedia.

From "Technology and books: Is the novel too much for our technology-addled brains?" in the cash-strapped Chicago Trib.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Meme: The Death of the Free, part three already

Consumers who have grown up during the past 15 years are completely at home in a world where much of what they want to hear, see or read will cost them nothing. True, in the case of some films and TV shows, the practices involved may skirt around the law a bit. Generally speaking, though, culture has become a happy free-for-all. Now may be the time to pay the bill.

Chris Anderson, a leading American commentator on the web and editor-in-chief of Wired magazine, puts the matter concisely: "Somehow an economy had emerged around 'free' before the economic model that could describe it." Anderson's next book, Free: The Future of a Radical Price, will both celebrate and analyse the effect of all this giving-away.

The author of influential 2006 book The Long Tail, Anderson is to suggest that few of the conventional rules of commerce, such as "supply and demand" and "economies of scale", apply any longer. While some suppliers, such as Sky Sports, might still get away with charging their audience, they would have to be pretty sure they offered a unique product.

From The End of the Age of Free in today's Observer.

This is really interesting.

Doesn't this play out so that Competition Lawyers "go" for the BBC? Or am I missing out too many connections along the way?

Terry Heaton is on the case, as ever:
...Murdoch can throw up pay walls and make legal moves to end the “wild” distribution of his content, but he faces two enormous problems in so doing. One, he gives up journalistic relevancy, for without the organic “spread” of information in the “current days of the Internet,” an institution of journalism cannot expect to be player in the world of cultural power. Two, regardless of what media companies do to increase the “value” of their content, the disruptions in the world of advertising will continue unabated

More tomorrow.

The Tourist & France Gall

France Gall, a central image in Olen Steinhauer's great new spy-thriller, The Tourist.

Strangely ignored in the UK to date, The Tourist has been in the NYT best seller lists recently, and it is easy to understand why. Perhaps it is too sophisticated for our British times.

I've just put The Tourist down, on a second read (I read an early manuscript version last year) and I feel sure we have the start of something big. Imagine if The International had a plot, or if Three Days of the Condor had a global canvas, rather than merely a New York-ish backdrop, and you'd be getting close to the richness of the text. Family is never far away, even when identity is vague, obtuse or simply impossible to understand.

Olen leaves us hanging in a triangle of paternity but in the apparent certainty that anti-hero Milo Weaver (played by Clooney, perhaps, in the film: he's optioned it, anyway) will be back. Blurbs evoke Le Carré's world, but if this is true it is to the early Smiley Le Carré, not the tone-deaf romantic of recent times, that we find in Olen's terse, dialogue-driven, tale of murders-within-murders; networks within networks; and Homeland v. the CIA.