OverCoffeeMedia was my first blog, created to track the transition of news media in the United States. Over the past few years, I’ve addressed such matters as the bankruptcies (and resurrections) of various media chains, a whole array of plans for online payments for content, and the emergence of smart phones and tablets.
None of the issues and trends about which I’ve written have been resolved, by any means. We still don’t know how news organizations will be funded for their work in the future, for example. But the convergence has at least taken a shape. In a very real sense, there are no longer print media, online media and broadcast media. TV stations do an excellent job with written stories on their web sites, and increasingly, newspapers are using video created by their own dedicated staffs. In short, the situation has stabilized enough that there’s less to talk about on a day-to-day basis.
Along the way, I created NewMediaRules.net as more of an “end user” blog, but I think we’ve reached a point where any industry information can be addressed there as well. So please join me there.
I know that sounds outrageous, especially coming from a news junkie who probably watches at least an hour of cable news each night. And during a mega news story like the 9.0 earthquake, tsunami and resulting crisis at the Fukushima nuclear plant, people flock to the cable news stations to make sure they don’t miss a beat. I’m no different.
Why do we do it? Because on the surface, cable news makes us feel like we’re plugged in. I spent entirely too much time during the dual crises with CNN, watching anchors ask the resident experts the same questions, getting the same answers, hour after hour. As far as real news goes? Not so much. The reporters in Lybia were holed up in the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli, barred by government guards from leaving. So the truth is that while they were “on the scene,” they were mostly hanging around talking to each other, isolated from the events around them. About the closest thing to real reporting was an occasional shot out the window of tracer fire. After a while, we began getting some reports from reporters behind rebel lines. But in terms of hard information, they didn’t seem to be coming up with much.
Things in Japan weren’t much better. The reporters weren’t locked up in a hotel, but because of the radiation danger, they were pretty much stuck in Tokyo, where they couldn’t really see or hear anything.
In both cases — in Lybia and Japan — the reporters did the same thing the rest of us did: Wait around for official announcements, which tended to come once or twice a day. Which means that in terms of staying informed, you could save a lot of time if you just checked in now and then.
It puzzles me that we want to be so plugged in just as our culture has developed a distaste for auditory and real-time communications otherwise. More and more people refuse to accept phone calls, and it’s becoming a common courtesy to email first to ask, “do you mind if I call?” Most of us hate listening to voice mail, and in some circles it’s now considered impolite to leave one. Instead, we’d rather have an email or text message (which amount to the same thing since most of us can get email on our phones these days). In short, we’ve discovered that we can read a lot faster than we can listen. Reading a text message (especially when you can call back with a single click on the number) is much faster. That’s why services that transcribe voice mail to text — though often horribly inaccurate — have grown dramatically. Vonage, which has been charging extra for voice-to-text, sent customers word this week that the VOIP company will now provide it at no extra charge.
Reading is faster and more efficient.
And that’s especially true for news. When I’m watching CNN, I have to wait through commercial breaks, teasers, promotions and other stuff to get to the actual news. When it comes on, I find that I’m watching for the umpteenth time while CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta shows the gadget that measures how much radiation he’s getting. Meanwhile, actual announcements are few and far between.
Fortunately for the networks — but unfortunately for us — rumors continue to fly nonstop. Before we got addicted to nonstop cable coverage, most of these rumors never saw the light of day, because they could be checked out and dismissed with a phone call or two. But when the camera’s always on, you simply throw it all out there — rumors, uninformed opinions and other silliness. So we end up wasting the time only to be misinformed.
My suggestion? Read it instead. Check a couple of times a day if you’re obsessed, but there’s little value to anything beyond that. Any good international organization — such as Reuters, Associated Press or even CNN’s web site — can tell you what you need to know in a couple of minutes.
There. I just saved you a couple of hours. Go do something useful with them.
For years, one of my favorite indicators of social trends has been the magazine rack — specifically, what types of magazines get the most shelf space. In the 1980s, the shelves were full of fitness, career and personal finance titles, reflecting in large part the obsessions of the Baby Boomers in their peak earning years. What I see now are more magazines about crafts and home maintenance.
But that indicator may be losing its usefulness, because as a whole, we’re buying far fewer magazines on the newsstand. The The Pew Research Center’s State of the Media 2011 report, using numbers from the Audit Bureau of Circulations, shows that for the past three years, single copy sales have dropped an average of 9.5% per year. The good news (if you can call it that) is that the rate of decline has slowed a bit: In 2008, it was 11.15%, and in 2010 it was 8.2%. But there’s no way to describe single copy sales as healthy.
Overall circulation declines have been more modest – 1.05% in 2008, 2.23% in 2009 and 1.5% in 2010. Of the Big Three news weeklies (Time, Newsweek, and US News & World Report), only Time can be described as reasonably healthy. US News has given up on resuming life as a print title, and Newsweek ended up getting sold by $1, though it is still business, being run by The Daily Beast’s Tina Brown.
Ultimately, much of this is about phones. With more Smart Phones and tablets handy, travelers no longer need to visit the magazine rack to avoid being bored on a long flight. A Kindle or tablet (or a phone with a Kindle or book application) can have hundreds of books and magazines available with no added weight, and most of it can be read on a plane with no data connection. Add to that the rising cost of paper copies — $7 or more for most magazines — and it’s hard to see a bright future for them.
While there are a lot of “one-day deal” program skeptics (including me), the success of Groupon and LivingSocial has resulted in the inevitable “me too” services. If you’ve just returned from a year-long stay on a deserted island, you know that these services contract with local stores, service providers and other businesses to offer extremely low prices for a single day.
So naturally, local newspapers want their cut of the action. The New York Times has started a TimesLimited service that provides daily vouchers for special deals. And now, McClatchy has announced that it will begin offering daily specials, joining more than 150 local media in jumping on the bandwagon. McClatchy Press Release.
Countering the Groupon phenomenon is important to local media, because such services siphon off local advertising dollars that might otherwise be used to buy ads in local newspapers.
The reason for my skepticism is that the deep discounts have in some cases caused local businesses to get in over their heads, unable to accommodate the large number of people seeking to take advantage of them. This has especially been a problem with service businesses such as hairdressers and massage therapists.
Newspaper circulation continued its skid in 2010, with newspaper circulation declining another 5% for daily editions. And for the first time, advertisers spent more on online advertising than on newspaper ads, according to the Pew Research Center’s annual State of the Media report, which came out this week.
While newspaper circulation declined at half the rate of the disastrous 2009, when it fell by 10.6%, the drop was still worse than any previous year. Of the top 25 newspapers by circulation, only The Wall Street Journal and the Dallas Morning News showed an increase. The Journal’s circulation grew 1.82%, to 2.06 million. The Dallas Morning News eeked out an increase of just 0.25%.
Where are the readers going? Many are shifting their reading habits to their mobile phones. Nearly half — 47% — report that they got at least some local news and information on a cell phone or tablet computer. This naturally has media looking for ways to charge for handset access to content, either by selling applications (aka “apps”) or charging for content provided through the handset’s browser.
The good news is that a fair number of folks indicate they’re willing to pay for content if they faced the prospect of their local media not surviving otherwise. How much? Twenty-three percent said they’d pay $5 per month to get full access online, and 18% said they’d pay $10. However, three out of four said they’d be unwilling to pay at all. A couple of other data points:
- 28% said the loss of a local newspaper would have a major impact on their ability to keep up with local information. On the other hand, 39% said it would have no impact.
- In local content accessed via handset, 42% access weather, 37% look for local restaurants and businesses, and 30% read local news.
Bloomberg reports that the New York Times’ subscription for full web access will cost less than $20 a month. According to Mashable, the service cited a source “familiar with the matter” that print subscribers will get full web access for free and that users will be allowed to access a limited number of articles each month without subscribing.
Like many other publications, The New York Times has struggled with efforts to sell web content. Its effort to charge for select coverage such as articles columnists fell flat. (It didn’t help that the same articles were available in multiple locations through newspapers to which they were syndicated.)
The Times sells subscriptions for Kindle readers for $19.99 per month. The Wall Street Journal, which gives away very little content, sells its online subscriptions for $1.99 per week.
If The Times can make the new plan stick, regional dailies are likely to follow suit. At least, nobody seems to have a better idea.
When Amazon first began offering Kindle subscriptions to newspapers and magazines, I felt that publishers might have finally found a way to charge people for content they’re currently giving away for free. At prices in the $6-per-month range for most regional dailies, it seemed feasible. For text-oriented magazines, it was even more so, and I’ve been getting my New Yorker on Kindle or Nook (I’m switching back to Kindle, but that’s another story) for more than a year at $2.99 per month.
So if a monochrome reader is a good delivery system, why wouldn’t a more powerful tablet like an iPad or Android be even better?
Quite simply, because the more powerful tablets do too much. They make it too easy to read the news directly on the web, where it’s still free. On my Android, in fact, I’ve deleted all my media “apps” such as those for the New York Times, Washington Post, Slate and Mashable. I’ve found it’s faster and easier just to put those on my iGoogle page (which is really just a very good online RSS reader) and read them through the stock browser.
That means, of course, that the publications lose the opportunity to gain revenues by selling me applications (one of the tablet business models). And as long as I can use my device to easily navigate the full web, they probably can’t sell me monthly subscriptions either. In short, a less powerful gadget in my hand translates into more revenue potential for publishers.
The monochrome e-readers (primarily Kindle and Nook) are very good ways to read newspapers and magazines as long as photos aren’t important. The color tablets provide a better experience, especially for magazines. But if the same content is available on the web, publishers won’t be able to charge for it on color tablets with touch screens. The monochrome readers, on the other hand, are really lousy at web access, so people using them will have more incentive to pay for subscriptions. Another complication is that more and more people have a smartphone that offers a perfectly acceptable way to get to the web for reading the news.
So now, the wild card is which type of product will prevail. iPad/Android or Kindle/Nook? The media have been talking about these products as if they’re all part of the same “tablet” category, but I’m starting to think they may actually coexist indefinitely — especially if the tablets stay in the $400+ range and the readers remain well below $200.
The Internet has solidified its lead over newspapers as a news source and is gaining on television, according to the latest numbers from the Pew Center for the People and the Press. The Internet passed newspapers in 2008 as a primary news source for consumers as a whole. Those under 50 have preferred the Internet since 2006.
Here’s how the results from December shape up:
- Television – 66% (down from 74% three years ago)
- Internet – 41% (up from 24% in 2007)
- Newspapers – 31% (down from 35% in 2008)
- Radio – 16%
Among younger respondents, the Internet has already passed television. For those 18 to 29 years of age, 65 now use the Internet as their main news source, compared to 52% who use TV. Older Americans are far more likely to rely on television. Among those 50 to 64, 71% say television is their main news source, followed by 38% citing newspapers and 34% citing the Internet.
Education & income correlate to more Internet use College graduates are more likely to get their news from the Internet (51% compared to 54% for television). Those with household incomes of $75,000 or more are about as likely to get their news from the Internet (54%) as from television (57%).
For at least three or four years now, local media have grappled with the challenge of offering something that readers can’t get anywhere else. By the time national news from the Associated Press and Reuters makes the local paper, it’s day-old news at best, and people aren’t willing to pay for what they’ve already read elsewhere.
So what can local media offer? Hard-nosed coverage of state and local issues that don’t make the national agenda. And Now they’re taking a cue from the success of national fact-checking sites like www.factcheck.org and www.politifact.com. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Cary Spivak wrote an outstanding article in American Journalism Review on The Fact-Checking Explosion, which is finally beginning to change the behavior of some politicians. Here are some of the regional and local fact-checking initiatives cited by Spivak:
- PoliGraph, a partnership between Minnesota Public Radio and the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota;
- Denver Post’s Political Polygraph;
- the Tacoma, Washington, Tribune’s Tribune’s Political Smell Test;
- the Voice of San Diego’s fact-check blog;
- BamaFactCheck.com, launched in September by the Anniston Star, the Decatur Daily, the Dothan Eagle, the Opelika-Auburn News, the Times Daily of Florence, the Tuscaloosa News and NBC 13 WVTM-TV of Birmingham.
Sixty-five percent of Internet users have paid for online content, according to new report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project. A survey conducted in October and early November asked users whether — and how much — they had paid for 15 different types of content. Here are some highlights:
- Digital music – 33%
- Software – 33%
- Apps for cell phones or tablets – 21%
- Games – 19%
- Newspapers, magazines, journal articles or reports – 18%
- Videos, movies or TV shows – 16%
- E-books – 10%
- Adult content – 2%
In May, Pew had found that 65% of Internet users had paid 66% for tangible goods such as books, CDs, toys and clothing.
While those with higher incomes are more likely to pay for online content, percentages do not appear closely correlated with sex or race. Men are a bit more likely to buy software on line, and users between 30 and 49 are most likely to have purchased most types of content. Males were more likely than females to buy adult content.
In analyzing the 35% who have not purchased online content, Pew found that those with less education and lower income were less likely to have purchased online content.