Big Media is at the mercy of the tech giants and it’s their own fault

How are changes in technology and audience behaviour affecting news values, shapes and structures?

This is a question I have been asked to answer. Well, not answer, but at least research the issues enough to stimulate some debate. So over the course of a few blog posts I intend to share some of what I uncovered and solicit some feedback. Am I on the right track? You decide.

I think the best place to start is where technology in journalism is, and where it could or should be. I really liked this extract from Jeff Jarvis’ new book Public Parts and I think it gets to heart of the problem with what most media companies are trying.

Today, publishers as a breed have so far tried little more than reproducing their old content and business models in new forms, from CD-ROMs to the web to iPads. It was the same in the Renaissance. The earliest publishers made books to mimic the work of scribes, even designing their typefaces to look like scribes’ handwriting. Printing was promoted as automated writing. “They appear not to have perceived the printed book as a fundamentally different form, but rather as a manuscript book that could be produced with greater speed and convenience,” Leah Marcus says in “Cyberspace Renaissance.” They didn’t yet see the possibilities.

Matthew Ingram at GigaOM remarks on the pride media companies are taking in creating new Facebook applications.

But there’s another aspect of these launches that’s troubling, and that’s the pride so many publishers seem to take in having produced a Facebook app, as though it’s the pinnacle of media innovation.


But if all you are doing is creating widgets for people who live inside a specific walled garden, then I think you are missing the boat.

This is part of a larger worrying trend.  Media companies are relying on technology companies for solutions to their problems. There were no doubt “Hallelujahs!” from media proprietors  as Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad and Jeff Bezos the Kindle. But where is the innovation from within?

Amazon did not sit around and wait for the decline of its book selling business. It took the initiative and created its own hardware and content ecosystem, ensuring its own longterm future. Where are the media companies doing this?

By relying on technology companies, media companies are setting themselves up for a great fall. This was perfectly illustrated when Apple decided it wanted to take 30% of the subscription revenue for publications on the iPad. Companies had to pay up or remove subscriptions and in-app purchases from their apps.

This video from 1994 was produced by American newspaper giants Knight-Ridder (now McClatchy Company). They had their own design lab working on technologies that are remarkably similar to the tablet devices of today. What happened to this innovation and foresight?


Archive article – May 8 2009

Kindle: Can it save newspapers?

On Wednesday Amazon announced the newest version of it’s ebook reader, the Kindle DX. Taking the second generation’s improved design and increasing the screen size to 9.7” Amazon has targetted newspaper and textbook readers.

To complement this Amazon announced partnerships with the New York Times, Washington Post and Boston Globe. Kindle owners can pay for subscriptions to the newspapers’ content, which is instantly and discretely downloaded to the device via an over-the-air network Amazon calls “Whispernet”.

Amazon also announced special deals with several University text book publishers and thousands of books, often weighing a considerable amount, will be available on the device which weighs just over 500g.

The problem is, for all the convenience and elegance of the device, it costs $500.  There’s very little economic incentive for students to adopt the device when they may only need $100 in text books, which are relatively easy to sell back when finished with. Newspaper readers can either pick up an inexpensive newspaper from a newstand/newsagent or in many cases access identical articles online, for free.

For the device to be a success Amazon needs to work on subsidy deals with content providers or academic institutions.  If the device cost $150 or £100 many people would be keen to pick one up and I think a subscription cost of around £10 a month for a newspaper is not a lot to ask, especially for ad-free quality content.

Undoubtedly, the price will come down as time goes by and component prices fall but it needs to happen sooner rather than later.  Rupert Murdoch yesterday called for an end to free online content from newspapers, and while he’s a hard character to warm to he makes a valid point.  Ad revenues for online content are just not enough, and are not a sustainable model for the newspaper business.  One doesn’t tear out the ads from a physical newspaper but it’s relatively easy to do that online with utlities such as AdBlock Plus for Firefox.

Quality journalism should be paid for.  The question is whether it’s too late for media outlets to start charging for their content, but a device like the Kindle could be just the device to change people’s ideas of how they access written news. Just make it cheaper, and available to the UK please Amazon.

Archive articles from Tumblr

Here’s a selection of articles from my now partially retired Tumblr account.

Jun 10 2009 We Were All Witnesses

May 11 2009 Burnley 1 – 0 Reading

May 9 2009 MPs’ Expenses: Rights vs Right

May 8 2009 Burnley: Are we the favourites?

May 8 2009 Kindle: Can It Save Newspapers?