Publishing/Writing: Insights, News, Intrigue


A Declining Market for Printer and Publisher Alike? Maybe, Maybe Not – But Changes Are Afoot

Boy on Toilet Reading Paper - f5a5fe54-5e44-45c0-accd-0af459edc30aAll of us are biased in some way. Most of our biases come from two root causes: One, our need to make a living and provide for our loved ones and family. And two, our comfort zone – which is created by our upbringing and what we are familiar with or used to – like mom’s home cooking or our workplace routine and procedures.

So, when our way of making a living is disrupted in some manner or our workplace routine is changing due to, say, newer technology that threatens our very existence and forces change, our ‘biases’ kick in. These biases are deeper in some than others and actually prevent those affected from more immediate acceptance of needed changes.

These types of biases are prevalent in the publishing industry today.

Tonight’s research article comes from BoSacks of The Precision Media Group.

Key excerpt: ‘The lineal, multi-article, traditional experience is changing to a non-lineal, three dimensional collection of editorial material organized by both humans and algorithms that change for the individual person by the second. Every editorial offering will be delivered as a unique and ever-changing personal assortment of information and entertainment. The only exception to these new rules of publishing will be books. They are exempt from this observation, as the book format demands traditional styled and numbered pages, be they print or digital.’


BoSacks Speaks Out: The Answer to Publishing’s Enigma of Survival

All of us show bias when it comes to what information we take in. We typically focus on anything that agrees with the outcome we want – Noreena Hertz


Many of the people who read this newsletter are in one way or another devoted to the process of print. Some of them are printers, some of them are publishers and most of them have a strong and deep bias, which is clearly and understandably centered around making a profitable living. In fact, we all, regardless of what our profession is, have a biased point of view that is skewed by our need to make a living. In this discussion, I am not in any way saying a bias is wrong, just that it exists and aids us in forming our opinions.

Actually this bias comes twofold. Not only is it based on our need to make a living and feed the family, but also to be in our comfort zone. This comfort zone is, for the most part, like Mom’s cooking. By that I mean that the things we learned early when we were growing up are filled with a nostalgia that makes us feel most comfortable with what we knew and experienced then, something along the lines of Mom’s cooking. If you didn’t grow up in an internet era your comfort in it is less than the screenager who has never experienced lack of instant access to any and all information.

My friend Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni, Ph.D. who is the founder and director of the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi’s Meek School of Journalism,

is filled with bias and exuberance about the printed magazine. He finds and counts every new magazine he can and declares the wonderfulness of the magazine business. His love and bias for the product is infectious and fun to watch. And it is the grand diversity of the ever diminishing magazine product that will continue to keep Samir and my printer friends busy for many years to come.

In fact most of my printer friends are doing quite well, even in an age where the printed magazine is in decline. And that is one of the main points of this essay. A fair and honest profit is still achievable in a greatly declining market for printer and publisher alike. I say bully for them that can continue to stay afloat and be at the top of their game when page counts are in a steady and predictable decline.

But, you knew there was a “but” coming, didn’t you? The majority of the reading public is leaving print behind. Even major magazine media associations are focused on the digital future of making a profit from reading and not on the ways in which we operated in the past.

I have said many times that print and printed magazines are not going to go away, but their numbers will increasingly become smaller. I am starting to think that the very format of the magazine whether print or digital is also in decreasing demand by the public.

Five years into the venture of offering digital magazines, Next Issue Media’s Morgan Guenther, the company’s chief executive officer says, “No one has heard of us.” Guenther suggests that the number of subscribers is “well into the hundreds of thousands.” I am very suspect of that comment and wonder, how much of those are actually paid by the consumer and how much of the “hundreds of thousands” are sponsored? We don’t know. It is surely worth reporting that Next Issue just raised $50 million from the private equity firm KKR and is preparing for a big marketing push. This will perhaps help, but I expect the resulting numbers to be underwhelming.

It seems that the mobile platform is increasingly the platform of choice for most readers, and it will continue to alter the future of the magazine format. The magazine industry will by necessity sell their product by the single article and not by the curated group of reading materials as in the past. The single article sales platform will include audio, video and reading components once known as articles. It is possible to foresee subscriptions to total niches that include articles from multiple publishing sources and not the traditional magazine concept. This would align with formats like Google news, a listing of articles from multiple publishers offered as a one source shopping spot for news, entertainment, and instructional/enthusiast “articles”.

So, now back to the bias discussion. Is it possible that we publishers have a bias for the format of a traditional magazine? In the 21st century is it possible that curation of reading materials will be distributed in an other than the old-style magazine format? From my observations that seems to be a strongly developing trend.

Take your pick from Facebook to Buzzfeed, from Circa to Upworthy, from Printerest to the web pages of People and Time – these reading experiences are not formatted as traditional magazines. Facebook has a billion people reading without pagination as we understand it. There are indeed pages in those reading platforms, but not a single folio.

These observations do not in any way sound a death knell for print or for printed magazines. But they are a suggestion that the predominant way we will read and gather information is not only digital, but unhinged from the concept of continuous pages. Is it possible to imagine that, for the most part, the public’s reading will not be as our forefathers read?

The lineal, multi-article, traditional experience is changing to a non-lineal, three dimensional collection of editorial material organized by both humans and algorithms that change for the individual person by the second. Every editorial offering will be delivered as a unique and ever-changing personal assortment of information and entertainment. The only exception to these new rules of publishing will be books. They are exempt from this observation, as the book format demands traditional styled and numbered pages, be they print or digital.


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More on Algorithmic Creativity — Also, Predictive Algorithms and Psyche-Assessing Bots

Brian Stauffer
In the future, it may be that only exceptional human talents will be able to defend our claims to creative superiority.

“Powerful new computer programs are doing tasks once reserved for composers, writers and policy-makers.”

Algorithms are now writing creative content at warp speeds and for pennies on the dollar. Some sport TV networks are spitting out stories just seconds after game completion with program apps containing these creative algorithms — with witty and colorful vocabulary, I might add. 

Other algorithms are predicting hit songs (useful to songwriters and music producers) just from the structure of a newly written song.

Still other algorithmic programs are predicting hit movie scripts and box office grosses!

Not to mention algorithms that can assess your personality over the phone in a few words and connect you with a customer rep that almost guarantees faster closure.

And, of course, the intelligence analyzing algorithms that can affect our national security.

Damn! Is human creative talent even needed anymore?

Of course it is! — My humble opinion, of course. Who the hell writes all the ‘stuff ‘ that the programmers put into the algorithms’ database that allows them to be creative and predictive in the first place?  Human writers, that’s who.

And future algorithmic written books, although fast and cheap and useful to a degree, will really just be second-hand ground beef made from the original ‘filet mignon steak’-creativity of a feeling human writer/thinker with a heart. 

Interesting topic, no?

Now, this from CHRISTOPHER STEINER reporting in the Wall Street Journal, for more details and actual companies that design and sell these subject algorithms’ services:

Automatons Get Creative

Creative types tend to think of themselves as doing work that is beyond the reach of automation. Computers can’t parse nuance, the thinking goes, or summon the imaginative powers that are required of writers, artists, technological innovators and policy-makers. As it turns out, however, this flattering assumption is mistaken. Computers can be creative after all.

The more we understand about creativity, the more we are able to distill it into the language of algorithms—the “brains” behind computer programs. An algorithm takes a series of inputs and then, moving through its own decision tree, issues an output or an answer. The gears can be as simple as binary questions of yes/no—or they can be a series of complicated differential equations that draw on outside databases.

The point, ultimately, is that algorithms are fast, repeatable and easy to use at massive scale. They are already determining some of the music that reaches our ears, movies that reach the big screen, decisions regarding national security and even the kind of people we often reach on the phone.

Music would seem an unlikely entry point for algorithms, but they have arrived. In 2004, the New Zealander Ben Novak was just another guitar-strummer songwriter hoping to crack into music with a record deal. On a whim, he paid $50 to upload one of his songs to a website that claimed to have an algorithm capable of finding hits. The algorithm gave Mr. Novak’s song a rare and lofty score, putting it on par with classics such as “Take it Easy” by the Eagles and Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild.”

The algorithm belonged to Mike McCready, who connected Mr. Novak with a label. The single, “Turn Your Car Around,” eventually landed near the top of the European charts. Mr. McCready now runs Music Xray, a three-year-old start-up seeking to democratize the music business. Comparing the structure of a song to tunes of the past, the algorithm grades it for hit potential. Mr. McCready’s algorithm rightly predicted the success of Norah Jones and of the band Maroon 5 before they were major artists.

Still, the creative class won’t bend easily to such challenges. The people who guard the gates of big music labels guffawed at the prospect of a hit-picking algorithm, but Music Xray has now secured recording deals for more than 5,000 artists. The music industry can no longer ignore the algorithm.

Movies, too, can be sorted quantitatively. Analyzing only the script, an algorithm from Epagogix, a risk-management firm that caters to the entertainment industry, predicts box office grosses. Epagogix broke into the business when a major studio allowed the firm to analyze script data for nine yet-to-be released films. In six of the nine cases, its predictions were spot-on. Algorithms have since become an essential tool in Hollywood.

Read and learn more

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My related post on algorithms: 8/13/12 post Combinatorial Publishing and Algorithmic Content

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