Publishing/Writing: Insights, News, Intrigue

09/28/2013

Great Publishing: What Is Its True product?


And, have publishers lost sight of it?

Can Jeff Bezos, who just bought The Washington Post, eighty years owned by one of America’s great publishing dynasties: the Graham family, redefine the newspaper publishing business and reintroduce the true publishing product?

Given his success in redefining the book selling and publishing arena — I would lay odds on his success.

The Graham family ran the paper with dignity, grace and a commitment to public service — but, time had passed them by.

In the past newspaper world they always kept the business side of the biz separate from the editorial side; this served the industry well, insulating journalists from pressures that would undermine their objectivity — But, as financial pressures came to the fore and the cult of shareholder value took hold—a notion increasingly becoming known as the dumbest idea in the world—publishers lost sight of the true purpose of the industry—to inform, excite and inspire.

Also, in 1989 a lone revolutionary working at the CERN laboratory in Switzerland named Tim Berners-Lee wanted to free content from the confines of technology platforms. He built a World Wide Web on which access became universal and distribution free.

Key excerpt from tonight’s source article:

“For too long, media executives have gotten it backwards.  Great publishing comes not from marrying content with distribution.  It is the product itself that attracts distribution.  So enough talk about “eyeballs,” “native advertising” and all the other buzzwords.  To build a great business in media, or any other industry, you need to put the product first.”

So, how does all this tie together to give us publishing’s true product — mainly, content that attracts distribution?

Read this Forbes article by Greg Satell to find out:


How Publishers Lost Their Way

 

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01/14/2013

Writing, Like Art, Is Very Subjective


Writing, like art, is subjective

Writing, like art, is subjective

Well of course it is — since writing is art — in this writers opinion.

I’m writing on this subject tonight because of a comment a friend and colleague wrote in response to a post (excerpt provided below) I posted on my Writers Welcome Blog yesterday:

“I guess I’m the eternal idealist because I feel the content (quality of, likability, timeliness, entertainment value, etc.) should drive the cost of books, in whatever format, and not just the manufacturing and distribution costs (or lack of) — which so many are using to justify why e-books should be cheaper than their  printed counterparts.” — John Austin

He responded and said something to the effect that I was referring to content being driven by subjective values like “likeability” “entertainment value” and he didn’t see how that was remotely possible because different people like and/or are entertained by different things.

I thought that the following very entertaining piece by Keli Goff in HuffPost would be of interest to him and many others as it delves more deeply into this subjective (?) subject:

Does Lena Dunham Prove Writers Are as Toxic as Investment Bankers?

Despite the romanticized images portrayed in film, television, and of course books, being a writer actually means spending most of your time doing one of six things: writing, thinking about what you want to write, thinking about what you actually have to write to make money, chasing payment for what you have written, agonizing over the fact that another writer is possibly being paid more than you are for his writing and, obsessing over whether that writer is more, or less, talented and deserving of said payment than you are.

This means that thanks to her multi-million dollar book advance, not to mention her hit television show Girls, (which just began its second season), Lena Dunham has driven plenty of writers to a level of resentment bordering on mania that makes Salieri, the mediocre composer driven to an insane asylum by the not-at-all mediocre talents of Mozart in the film Amadeus, look sane by comparison.

Even though writers and artists are generally thought of as the emotional and temperamental opposites of those who inhibit hyper competitive fields like professional sports, law or investment banking (which is so competitive studies have deemed it physically unhealthy), the truth is plenty of artists are even more competitive. After all, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a tennis player ranked number 10 in the world complain in interviews about how incredibly overrated that Roger Federer is. Of all of the lawyers I’ve met, I can’t think of one who’s talked my ear off about how insane it is that another attorney with celebrity clients is pulling in a ridiculously unfair hourly rate. Yet these kinds of conversations consume writers. I’ve had them with writer friends. They’ve had them with other friends. We’ve all had them with our agents, husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, or parents. And many have had even more of those conversations in the last year, and a lot of that has to do with the success of Lena Dunham.

A google search of “I hate Lena Dunham” now produces more than a million results, (summarized here) which is quite a lot for someone who entered the public consciousness less than a year ago. The question is why? I asked a mental health expert. Dr. Jeff Gardere, said in his experience professional jealousy among writers, and other people in the arts and entertainment can be more common than in other professions, because the same traits, and ego, that attract people to fields in which their work will be the center of attention are the same traits that drive someone to intense competitiveness that can manifest as professional jealousy. (Ouch. But, hey, this writer did ask.)

Now before the eye rolling and angry comments from my writer colleagues begin, I want to be clear: not every person who is a critic of Lena Dunham is jealous. But the level of vitriol she has inspired in some corners signals that there is more to the story than some simply not agreeing her talents are up there with Tolstoy — and Dunham is not the only writer to inspire such reaction.

When literary wunderkind Jonah Lehrer’s career imploded the undertone of glee with which some in the media seemed to be celebrating was palpable. For some it wasn’t just celebrating, but a sense of relief, like a baseball player learning that his teammate who was breaking records, while he was stuck hitting singles, had actually been using steroids. (At the height of the Lehrer scandal writer Jonathan Shainin tweeted: “Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice knows that he’s actually in the schadenfreude business.”)

Danielle Belton, a former print journalist who launched a successful career as a blogger before transitioning to television as head writer for the BET talk show Don’t Sleep, with T.J. Holmes said of professional jealousy among writers, “A lot of this stems from what measures a ‘good’ writer is really rather abstract… Writing isn’t like sports. It’s very subjective, like art.” Belton went on to note that because the definition of what constitutes great writing (and other art) is essentially indefinable, writers will always resent certain writers who receive more critical acclaim or financial success because no matter what others may say, that writer might consider his or her peer less talented than he is. To her point, even his competitors who loathe him (I’m looking at you Isiah Thomas) can’t say Michael Jordan had no talent. His professional record beating them speaks for itself. But there is some writer out there who is convinced Ernest Hemingway was a hack and Mark Twain was an amateur.

As a black woman who has written about diversity in the media and entertainment, I am certainly sensitive to legitimate criticism of Dunham’s work, particularly the lack of cast diversity in the first season of Girls. (Something Dunham herself appears to have discovered a newfound sensitivity about as well since she is attempting to remedy that this season.) But the most vocal criticism of Dunham has boiled down to this: Dunham is from a privileged background (she is) and the cast is comprised of other people from privileged backgrounds (they are.)

The thinking goes: privilege is the only reason she got a show in the first place. Oh and by the way her book advance is too big.

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03/08/2011

Inside the Numbers of Digital Content…Making It Pay


I’ve always thought (hell, make that knew) that ‘content’ was king…and, therefore, the basic ingredient to any successful writing/reporting venture online OR off.

The trick in the new online, digital paradigm was making it profitable…Therein lies the rub. 

It’s not too often that an insider gives up any real tangible figures or metrics highlighting just how their business is doing…where it started from and how it is becoming successful. 

Surprise!  Henry Blodget (pictured), CEO of financial news and analysis site Business Insider (which was just named a Top 25 Financial Blog by Time.com) has done just that in this article for FOLIO magazine by Matt Kinsman:

At FOLIO:, we’re used to having to cajole publishers to share metrics to back up the case they’re making for their own success. But every now and then someone lays it all out, understanding that solid revenue, net income and EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Tax, Depreciation and Amortization) figures go a lot further than phrases like “synergy” and “relationship with our audience.”

Kudos then to Henry Blodget, CEO of financial news and analysis site Business Insider (which was just named a Top 25 Financial Blog by Time.com), who shared the type of proprietary financials that keep most PR heads up at night in a post making the case for the viability of “digital news” as a business. (The admissions come on the heels of Huffington Post’s $315 million sale-or as one talkbacker to Blodget’s post wrote, “The headline on this post should be: Dear AOL, For your consideration, we’re an excellent Web property too!”)

The stats: Business Insider generated $4.8 million in revenue in 2010 (up from $39,495 a couple years ago), mostly from advertising. The company was profitable in 2010 (making $2,127), but Blodget warns it will dip back into the red over the next few quarters, due to aggressive investment, spurred in part by New York State’s capital tax. “Making $2,127 feels about 2,127 times as good as losing money,” he writes. “And it makes us confident that, if we keep working hard, and we keep getting better, we’ll be able to build a successful business and a truly great product someday.”

The Costs Of Making Online Content a Real Business

While we’re definitely in the “aggregation”-oops, sorry, I meant “curation” age-many online startups are investing in staff and resources in creating original content (which is more than can be said for many of their peers coming from traditional media).

Blodget [pictured] acknowledges the knocks against HuffPo’s content (paying a few big name writers while plucking content from low-or-unpaid bloggers, generating SEO-bait) but he also says that with HuffPo expected to grow another $20 million to $50 million in revenue that it “will likely hire a lot more New York Times staffers to go with the ones it has already got. In other words, HuffPo will keep getting better.” (HuffPo did just snap up political writer Jon Ward from News Corp’s The Daily).

Blodgett doesn’t reveal what he’s paying to generate content, but says “We didn’t make that profit because we’re a sweatshop, by the way.” He claims a 25-person newsroom, (which is larger than many magazines which are generating far more than $4 million and splitting four or five people-if they’re lucky–across print AND digital).

He writes

“Our newsroom salaries for full-time employees, for example (which include bonuses and benefits) are now higher than at many companies in the traditional news industry. Because the digital news business is quite different from the traditional news business, we often promote from within, and we’ve had the huge pleasure of watching folks who joined us as interns grow up to take leadership positions. True, we can’t yet toss around the $300,000-$500,000 a year per brand-name columnist that Huffington Post and Daily Beast are now reportedly tossing around. But, in future years, if we keep doing what we think we can do, we should be able to pay our top people a lot more than we do today.”

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02/16/2011

Is Content King or Pauper? Value or Valueless?


Some are trying to redefine what content REALLY is…or isn’t. They are doing this by trying to separate content from any measurable value of it’s own and essentially saying that the mass availability of any content somehow makes it valueless.

 Au contraire! In this writer’s humble opinion, content CANNOT be separated from it’s own inherent value…which is simply what the content portrays to each of us. Some peoples dislikes are others love affairs.

Look at basic content (say raw data and facts alone) as a blob of clay (to be shaped later into a unique sculpture) or a painter’s blank palette (to be transformed into a work of visual art)…the content blob has inherent value on its own because it is the substance or heart of what will be (refined content, if you will). Basic content is like the living cells of a larger being. The ability to create this larger literary being is talent loaded with value.   

It’s how the content is structured, analyzed and presented that adds more overt value, insight, viewpoints, education and entertainment to the basic content. It becomes a living, breathing piece of readable gold…And this is the intellectual capital of the author-artist and it is literally PRICELESS!…And deserves proper compensation and copyright protection.

Jeff Jarvis of the HuffPost seems to harbor a different view (if I’m interpreting this correctly) even though he is restricting his comments to news and media…Hell, content is content:

Please read my yesterday’s post on the Writers Welcome Blog  (Is Copyright a Relic?) for more background on what Jeff Jarvis is referring to in his featured article here:

It’s Not All About the Content    

In his New York Times column complaining about Huffington Post and the new economics of content competition, I think David Carr makes two understandable but fundamentally fallacious assumptions about news and media: that the value in journalism is in content and that making content must be work. Because that’s the way it used to be.

In their op-ed the next day in the New York Times complaining about copyright losing its hardness, Scott Turow, Paul Aiken, and James Shapiro extend the error to entertainment, assuming that content is entertainment and content is what content makers make.

Not necessarily.

Pull back to view the true value of these things: information, knowledge, enlightenment, amusement, experience, engagement. Content can be and has been a vessel to deliver their worth. But it is not the only one. That is the lesson of the internet — indeed, of Huffington Post itself. I have argued that the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, the BBC, and other media should have but never would have started the Huffington Post because they, like the gentlemen above, still see content as value in itself and further believe that content is their own franchise (granted by their control of the means of production and distribution). So the benefits of content cannot come from others — bloggers, commenters, citizens, amateurs — as new wine in new casks. They instead want to put their old wine in the new skins (witness The Daily). (John’s note: I do believe good content can come from others — bloggers, commenters, citizens, amateurs, etc.).

That is why old media people are missing new opportunities. It’s not about the content (stupid). It’s about the value.

We can be informed now by many means: by our neighbors telling us what they know, enabled to do so by the net, at a marginal cost of zero, doing so not because it is work (and work must be paid) but because this is what neighbors do for each other (John’s note: This has always been the case, even before the net…nothing new here). We can be entertained by many means: by clever people making songs and shows and telling stories because they love doing so and because they are compensated in attention rather than royalties (and that attention may well lead to money when they can finally detour around the gauntlet of old media’s closed ways to find audiences on their own). (John’s note: Again this has been the situation since the beginning of time).

Why do people write on Huffington Post? Because they can. Because they give a shit. Because they like the attention and conversation. Because they couldn’t before. Why do they sing their songs on YouTube? Same reasons.

Is there still a role for the journalist, the professional, the artist in this? Perhaps. I think so. That’s why I am teaching journalism school. But I’m not necessarily teaching them to make content. (John’s note: you can’t “make” content, it already exists due to human existence; you can only interpret and write about it). That is now only one of many, many ways to meet the goals of adding value to information, time, and society. Some of my entrepreneurial journalism students are, for example, creating businesses that will use data to impart information; they will add value by gathering and analyzing it and making it possible for you to find the intersecting points that matter to you. Other of my students are creating platforms for you to get more value out of your own data. Others are creating platforms for people to connect around interests and make and find their own value. Others are finding new ways to sustain reporting and the making of content. They are all valid if they bring value.

If you concentrate on the value, not the form — content — then the possibilities explode.

Turow et al shut down the idea that opening up information can yield greater value that protecting it. Sharers are…

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05/11/2010

Are eBook Price Increases on iPad Hurting Business?



According to Publishers Marketplace research by Michael Cader, as spoon-fed by other publishing indies, the higher prices charged for ebooks on iPad’s iBooks app (the so-called agency model, where the publishers set price rather than the retailer, e.g. Kindle)…has NOT resulted in any loss of customers! On the contrary, business is booming with iPads selling approximately one million in April and the iBooks app of iPad quickly becoming the most popular feature…some books on iPad even outselling the same books on Kindle!

The fact that higher prices on iPad are successful is VERY BIG because I (badly pictured at left above) personally feel that the new, fledgling agency model (and it’s future offspring) will positively affect future worth of content…and subsequently authors’ pay. When the public domain & hashed over content being used as fillers for these devices today wears thin and/or gets a little boring…new, fresher content will be in high demand to satisfy the ever-hungry-gadget-reading public…which is GROWING by the way…day by day!

I predict content demand and price, and therefore authors’ pay, will increase in the future! There are industry professionals that disagree with me on this point, but, I feel it’s the only way things can shake out and be true to the creative process.

Just let the dust and uproar settle down a little bit more due to “newy” e-devices and rapidly changing business models…More people are reading content faster on faster delivery systems today than ever before and will be demanding evermore content faster…What’s that old axiom about supply & demand?

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