Posts tagged ‘publishing’

computing gets consumerized

Oh, oh, oh
Spending all my time buying stuff
When I’ve more than enough
More than enough
Cough, cough
Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh
Neo consumer
Neo consumer
Consumer

Consumerized – sounds like a badly made up word, reminiscent of a presidential past.

The wordplay is only for effect, the idea is real…

Previously, in computing utilities cometh I discussed the inevitable move to utility-focused computing. A large, simple, ubiquitous and all encompassing information utility.

Well, what use is a ‘grid’ or ‘network’ without appliances? You may well argue that the PC, smartphone, small business datacentre of today are ‘appliances’ for just such a utility. Its job is to provide a common information infrastructure for sharing, backup and transfer – instead of moving current, it moves bits. Probably not far from the truth.

But.

When I was growing up, washing machines, although they had an electric motor, were beastly devices. They agitated the clothes, but to ‘wring’ those newly washed clothes, you swung the rollers into action, disengaged the agitator motor, and fed the clothes ‘through the wringer’. These appliances did the job, but they required skill on the part of the operator. The process was manually integrated. This skill was eventually replaced with mechanical, then electrical, and subsequently computer-controlled timers. Not to mention, pre-defined wash cycles (or workflows). How many of us cherish those halcyon wash days, where you intimately got involved in the process of making clothes clean?

Today’s washers do all manner of things, even steam clean clothes. What they don’t really allow is for dad or his friend to get a wrench and start into fixin’ the darn thing when it breaks, like they used to.

And so it is with the iPad.

I have been observing the pre-launch rumors, launch critiques and release reviews, along with a whole array of comments across that same time continuum. Interestingly, this is a highly polarizing device, even more so than its Apple product brethren. And I think I know why…

Every commenter who hates the iPad is religiously attached to:

  1. It is an Apple product and therefore is sex without substance
  2. Has no screws, heck, cannot even change the battery, and therefore as a technical person, this is bad engineering
  3. Lacks features – e.g. flash, usb, not e-ink etc. Therefore it is technically inept.

Most interestingly, these observations have been made in the absence of ‘actual product’, and are highly reminiscent of those strange people in NYC who bear tacky, grammatically challenged signs implying that the ‘end is near’. Seemingly warning us of the impending doom about to befall modern computerdom.

Those that gush over the product are equally religious (particularly those who believe without having seen!), wanting stuff that ‘just works’… and prepared to wait in line for hours to do just that.

Funny how we’d expect consumers not wanting stuff that ‘just works’. Vertically integrated appliances enable consumers of all ages to focus on what they want to do, without fear that they may get their hand stuck in the ‘clothes wringer’. For those that want to tinker with technology, there are plenty of things to play with… I for one, one who works in this business, am not threatened by the impending ‘lack of technical sophistication’.

I think that the iPad is really the consumer marketplace bellweather for the information appliance of the future. Yes, computing is getting consumerized – at both ends of the spectrum, the utility and the appliance.

Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening.

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April 8, 2010 at 1:00 am 1 comment

history repeats itself

History repeats itself
I didn’t learn, I wouldn’t listen
I couldn’t see the books were on the shelf
For my good sense, I never missed ’em

In the early 1800s newspaper production was extremely slow. They received news by post. Some were reports from correspondents, but most stories were copied from other newspapers as part of an exchange system.

In may of 1845, James Gordon Bennett, the editor of the New York Herald predicted with some gloom, that the telegraph would put many newspapers out of business. “In regard to the newspaper press, it will experience to a degree, that must in a vast number of cases be fatal, the effects of the new mode of circulating intelligence.”

While entrepreneurs and commerce at large created the demand for ‘fast news’, prompting Bennet to pay one of his sources $500 for every hour by which he beat other papers in getting news from Europe, he also once declared that “speculators should not have the advantage of earlier news than the public at large.”

Then along comes the telegraph… with its promise of instant information.

The following dreaded scenario was painted among the publishing Technorati of the day…

Raw news and market information arrived first at the telegraph office. Newspapers, along with merchants and everyone else, queued for it. Telegraph firms established a monopoly over news delivery, selling early news access to the highest bidder.

In this environment, papers would be unable to compete. Circulation would decline and advertisers would flee. Benett’s democratisation of news would be undone.

There was hope. Bennett believed that those few papers which provided commentary and analysis would survive. The proverbial ‘value-add’.

The telegraph did reshape newspapers and the outcome was different to the prognostications. It was a simple result of the technology itself. Although the telegraph could deliver news more rapidly than ever across the backbone, they had a “last mile” problem. Messages were point to point – unicast as it were. The telegraph was not a broadcast medium, it could not disseminate news quickly to thousands of ‘subscribers’. Instead  of putting papers out of business, the telegraph actually made them more attractive and increased their sales. The role of newspapers became focused on delivering the latest news.

As the speed of information increased, there were growing concerns that the freshness of news, and its abundance from far away places, was saturating column inches and decreasing it’s relevance to the consumer.

Writing in the Atlantic Monthly in 1891, W.J. Stillman lamented the changes in his profession. “America has in fact transformed journalism from what it once was, the periodical expression of the thought of the time, the opportune record of the questions and answers of contemporary life, into an agency for collecting, condensing and assimilating the trivialities of the entire human existence,” he moaned. “The frantic haste with which we bolt everything we take, seconded by the eager wish of the journalist not to be a day behind his competitor, abolishes deliberation from judgment and sound digestion from our mental constitutions. We have no time to go below surfaces, and as a general thing no disposition.”

Add about 160 years to these dates, replace the names of the characters and technologies; except for the money part, the story and the apprehensions remain the same. But let us be very careful. While we may see the demise of printed media, we will not see the decline of the ‘news business’. We may be simply seeing the transfer of information from ink and pulp to another medium.

Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening.

February 25, 2010 at 1:00 am 1 comment

newspaper apocalypse

Monday morning’s paper told me the world is gonna end
I don’t need time to gather up my friends cause I haven’t any
Things I read the things I hear, it all seems so incredible
You’d think by now I’d learn my lesson

If you read the press, online or print, you already believe that newspaper and print publishing is all but dead. Is this industry self-fulfilling itself into oblivion?

According to the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers in its annual world press trends update, at no time in the foreseeable future will digital advertising revenues replace those lost to print, making the search for new business models, including paid-for online access for news, a pressing concern for the news publishing industry.

So where is the money, that was originally spent on print, now going?

The circulation drop in Europe, for example, is less than 3% over five years. In fact, according to Timothy Balding, co-CEO of WAN-IFRA, “The survey showed that newspaper circulation grew, on a global scale, by 1.3% in 2008, the last full year for which data exists, and almost 9% over five years. The data shows consistent newspaper growth in Africa, Asia and South America, a long-term slowdown in the US and European markets. Over five years, according to our survey, newspaper circulation increased in 100 of the 182 nations for which we have reliable data.” And, “…newspaper companies in the ‘old’ markets have embraced digital platforms and new forms of print publishing and, in doing so, have actually grown their audience reach and revenues, even while their print circulations have come under pressure,” Mr Balding observed.

So where is the money, that was originally spent on print, now going?

Some of the highlights from the update:

  • Globally, 1.9 billion people choose to read a newspaper every day, or 34% of the world population, while 24% use the internet.
  • The biggest newspaper market in the world is India, with 107 million daily sales. India, China and Japan account for more than 60% of the world’s newspaper sales, with the USA taking 14%.
  • In terms of sales per 1,000 adult population, Japan leads the world with 612, followed by Norway with 576, and Finland with 482. In terms of reach, 91% of Japanese continue to read a newspaper daily, remarkable in such a technologically advanced and wired society.
  • Advertising revenues fell an estimated 20% in North America, 19% in eastern Europe, 16% in western Europe, and 11% in the Asia-Pacific in 2009, according to PwC.
  • The US market has been hardest hit, with advertising revenues in the third quarter of 2009 falling nearly 29% in print and nearly 17% on digital platforms over the same quarter in 2008. But revenue declines mirror declines in other industries. Take a look at this map which charts US press layoffs in 2009.

So where is the money, that was originally spent on print, now going?

Why has the US been hardest hit? Why the difference? Have we over-embraced digital gadgetry while the rest of the world still believes that newspaper is the best medium for wrapping physical content? Or, is it simply that internationally, content is not re-purposed to the degree that it is in these newer economies?

I think it is the latter. One of the promises of digital content was the dream of re-purposing. Of re-using and re-monetizing already created content, about making more money. If I have a selection of news feeds, then do I need as many journalists? But if those news feeds are also aggregated by other sources, websites and search engines, then how competitive is my print version? If news generation is trustworthy, sourced and verified, and adds value to a reader’s daily experience of life, then it has value, and it will be compensated. If that information is ‘commonplace’ and can be sourced anywhere, then why would a reader pay?

I think that’s what the US newspaper industry has forgotten. They have come under the spell of economic rationalists, and have handed their golden goose over to the bean counters who obey only the Golden Rule*. And those bean counters are now trying their hand at growing the beans instead of counting them…

Find your readers, listen to them, create relevant content and remember that not everybody has e-ink yet.

There is a place for incisive relevant analysis… I believe. Or, perhaps as a society gets more affluent it necessarily evolves into a faster paced era of 30s news bites, headlines and tweets. Perhaps understanding detail is too much work, work which affluence abhors. Maybe we’re just glimpsing humanity’s new gestalt and this trend is simply reflecting emerging cultural expectations and communications patterns.

Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening.

*The Golden Rule in accounting speak is “He who controls the gold, makes the rules”.

December 17, 2009 at 1:00 am Leave a comment

simplify and go back to paper

I won’t tell your secrets
Your secrets are safe with me
I will keep your secrets
Just think of me as the pages in your diary

Everyone has a Luddite moment. Be honest with yourself, even you.

How many business plans have been sketched out on a napkin? Have not some of the most powerful and personal presentations you’ve ever witnessed been done on a whiteboard?

Why is that?

With all of the rumors about a new mac iTablet, the releases of Kindles, new Nooks etc. one would naturally expect that we’ll all soon be sporting communications tablets that have all of our media, our documents, our communications in one simple form factor. As long as we keep them charged up, we’ll have access to our data. As long as we back them up, and keep those backups up-to-date, we’ll have access to that ever-growing personally duplicated library of stuff forever.

Yet somehow paper and pens do not seem to go away.

Surely everyone has an electronic diary? …and surely all our diaries talk to each other and help schedules our daily lives in perfect digital harmony and sync with our other devices and personal variables and variabilities?

PIC-0012How many of you still jot stuff down on good old-fashioned, environmentally unfriendly paper pulp? You know, the kind that uses less power and employs the most humanly evolved stream of consciousness indexing system? The kind that if stored reasonably well, will last hundreds of years without power, and will retain that memory as it was produced and laid-out by the original author cum publisher?

How many hard drives, flash drives, CDs and DVDs will last that long? How many software packages will last that long? And more importantly, how many will be compatible with future technologies? To be a little more specific, how many of you can still read your original WordStar documents? Or those original MSMail messages? Or…? My guess is that most has been tossed away (or lost) years ago. At some point we inevitably, intentionally or accidentally, de-clutter our lives. Much like an evolutionary process for information brought about by external environmental factors.

The digital archiving dilemma ensures that we’ll be forced to keep converting our ever-increasing digital content to constantly changing new technologies. Each iteration of such new technology will consume new resources and energy to be manufactured, but to also to convert bits to new formats, only to repeat the cycle again and again. Brings a whole new meaning to recycling doesn’t it? Meanwhile, paper and film still stay the same, in the same underground limestone vaults, stored without laying claim to increased resource utilization.

Are old analog formats less convenient? Usually, they take more time to handle and search. Are they less accessible? Generally. Are they more personal or authentic? Always. Are they more secure? Generally so, because it takes more work to copy millions until they’re digitized.

And the quality, generational loss etc… perhaps it’s not worth saving giving the resources it will waste over its lifetime?

I think I’ll start investigating the comparison of archival costs for documents on paper vs. electronic for say the next 250 years. No, I do not hope to live that long…! My guess is that paper (and its analog cohorts) will still win.

Oh, and by the way, I don’t need a touch tablet to draw and write freehand. Paper works for that too.

Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening!

November 19, 2009 at 1:00 am Leave a comment

$0 media

I want to break free
I want to break free
I want to break free from your lies
You’re so self satisfied I don’t need you
I’ve got to break free
God knows God knows I want to break free

Just over 25 years ago at the first Hackers’ Conference, Stewart Brand the pioneering publisher of the legendary Whole Earth Catalog*, delivered his “Information wants to be free” manifesto. He then continued, “Information also wants to be expensive. Information wants to be free because it has become so cheap to distribute, copy and recombine — too cheap to meter. It wants to be expensive because it can be immeasurably valuable to the recipient. That tension will not go away. It leads to endless, wrenching debate about price, copyright, intellectual property, the moral rightness of casual distribution, because each round of new devices makes the tension worse, not better.”

A quarter century later and devices are approaching $0. Smartphones and netbooks are being subsidized by carriers, Kindles are being promoted as a low cost alternative to paper pulp and bulk, and the tension is starting to concentrate on the distribution and the content. In relative terms, devices and bandwidth are approaching assymptotically approaching $0.

So has content won?

No, it is still being copied. At a much faster clip than photocopiers, audio cassettes and VHS tapes.

How is this tension going to be resolved?

Monetization. I hear it all the time. ‘Monetization’. Thrown freely about without meaning, used as a verb, adjective and noun as, when and how convenient.

But what does that mean? In reality, it means that somehow, somewhere a deal needs to be struck. A deal between between the content owner, the publisher and the technology ecosystem. Somewhere, someone has to pay. We have a ton of experts saying that the system is broken. Yes, the past is broken, but the future is yet to be invented.  It is just that the way everyone gets paid is changing. And the way they get paid may mean that traditional business models cannot sustain their current cost base and/or modus operandi.

This is a time of change. But it ain’t going to be ‘free’ folks. As I have already said. Somewhere, somehow, someone has to pay.

Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening.

*The Whole Earth Catalog was an American counterculture catalog that granted “Access to Tools” published by Stewart Brand between 1968 and 1972, and occasionally thereafter, until 1998. Apple Inc. founder and entrepreneur Steve Jobs has described the Catalog as the conceptual forerunner of the World Wide Web.

June 18, 2009 at 1:00 am Leave a comment

why molten lead?

As bits to the screen, so are the days of our lives…

In the late 80’s and early 90’s I was involved with a publishing startup. We produced the first full color ‘vogue quality’ magazines targeted specifically at verticals within the computer industry. Starting in a spare back room and outsourcing stuff we didn’t know how to do, we quickly progressed from typesetting to an early version of Ventura (running on GEM), though to a network of PC’s running Quark. Yes! wincrazy eh? We should have been using Macs, but they were too expensive and we loved VMS, unix and they were a bit more interoperable than MacOS at the time, and certainly PC’s that we built ourselves were a heck of a lot cheaper. We went from one solitary magazine to five, and by the way, the magazines were free!

A couple of things we learned. Mr. Packer and Mr. Murdoch had just replaced legions of typesetters and presses with digitally enabled .pdf based printers that signaled the end of printing as we knew it. They were starting to produce color newspapers! We also learned that ‘desktop publishing’ (remember that cute phrase) for the masses really meant trying to see how many fonts and colors could be crammed onto a page. We also learned that you could take a skill, like good page design and repackage that skill with a different tool and you could start a new ‘cheap as chips business’ and make some very good money. Targeted advertising for an industry segment leveraging free content!

So… adding that experience to my varied experiences in media leads me to the following conclusion. A conclusion by the way that I have been espousing since October 2003 (if you’re interested I can tell you why that date).

Here it is. The world of video is changing. Captain obvious you say! But just as printing went from molten lead to bits, so video moves from BNC to bits and from video engineers to IT engineering. Still obvious. Printing evolved through this transition almost 20 years ago and is now losing serious money as a segment. We know that too. This time, video will meet the same fate, but it will not take 20 years! Look at the news. The content owners and distributers want your identity, not because they want to see what you’re ripping off, but rather because they want to prop up their model. Too little too late?

Why and How? This, I’ll explain in forthcoming blogs.

Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening.

March 5, 2009 at 10:23 pm 2 comments


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