August 12th

Tear down the paywall and build a pay maze

In an interview with NiemanLab, the CEO of paywall tech company Tinypass gave some insight into how digital paywalls are being re-engineered to resemble something more like pay mazes, directing potential subscribers down different payment paths depending on all sorts of metrics.

Now, I think, publishers are getting more sophisticated. They have lots of different levels of engagement and commitment, and their job is to maximize value at every stage of the funnel and figure out how to move users through.

Sounds like a more sophisticated, digital version of the direct-mail targeting that’s long been used by print publications.

August 5th

The Rubiks Cube of book publishing

The recent, high-profile ebook pricing battles between the likes of Amazon and Hachette, or Apple and competition regulators, have shown how market forces are alive and well in more ways than one. Big publishers now have ultimate control over ebook pricing. No more massive Amazon discounts and, apparently, no more ebook sales growth as a result, notes industry consultant Mike Shatzkin.

It appears to be a classic example of price elasticity, made all the more obvious by the fact that Amazon’s own ebook business continues to thrive with its discount prices. But is it really?

This is not a zero-sum game and it isn’t simple. It’s Rubik’s Cube complicated.

The entire publishing world is changing, says Shatzkin. Reading patterns are evolving, new business models emerging, and self publishing is growing. Traditional publishers might also be pricing ebooks out of the market to protect their more glamorous and high-profile print businesses.

As long as the proposition “we put books on shelves” has value, so do publishers.

Catching typos might get a whole lot harder

Designer Masato Nakada has a plan to help us say more with less by chopping letters in half. Apparently the idea is not as half-baked as it sounds. Masato claims writing is still legible when composed of split letters and reading speed is increased because words use half as many letters. Maybe it’s all part of a grand plan to take communication back to the era of hieroglyphics.

Emojis are replacing texts so we need letters to be that much more robust and up to snuff with these dynamic icons.

Reports of the death of newspapers are greatly exaggerated

The traditional newspaper industry is slowly dying as advertisers and readers go digital. At least that’s the conventional wisdom. But according to the latest Newspaper of Association of America report, newspapers are not going out without a fight.

The industry’s print circulation revenues are up as smaller, more loyal readerships pay more for their newspapers. Circulation expenses, meanwhile, are down thanks to better subscriber targeting, outsourcing and partnerships.

I think we haven’t told the story very well of how the industry has managed to stay profitable after five to seven years of declining ad revenue.

August 4th

Scottish fingers are a little less inky

Shocking news from north of the border — fewer Scots read dead-tree newspapers now than at the turn of the millennium. Could this lead to a shortage of newsprint to wrap fish’n’chips? Probably not.

According to the Scottish Social Attitudes survey, only 41% of Scots regularly read at least one daily newspaper compared to 76% in 1999. Not surprisingly, there’s a link between income and who reads their news online instead of in print:

42 per cent of those from the least deprived areas read news online at least once a day – compared with 23 per cent in the most deprived areas

The trend is clear. The data less so. Another survey last year suggests there’s a slower decline in the prevalence of newsprint-stained fingers. The National Readership Survey found that 71% of British adults and 75% of Scots still read printed newspapers.

July 30th

Press a button, consume some news

Another day, another news app. Tap For News is simple in practice. Almost too simple to take it seriously as a news source. Every time you tap the big red button you’re served up with a 15-30 second news video.

If you think the link between a big red button and real news seems a bit tenuous, you would be right.

This could be the best way to fall asleep with your favorite book

Capsule hotels, cat cafes, underwear vending machines… the history of slightly nutty yet totally awesome Japanese social inventions is long and illustrious. Next month a new chapter begins with the opening of the library hotel.

The owners have partners with Shibuya Publishing & Booksellers, a publishing house that has agreed to provide all the books and other reading materials that will make up the walls of the hotel.

Privacy be damned! This will easily be the best place to start a library romance.

July 29th

Facebook is giving us all eye strain

As if any further proof was needed that social media is a mobile phenomenon (beyond seeing legions of commuters squinting at tiny screens), Facebook’s second quarter results drive home the point.

Mobile advertising revenue represented approximately 76% of advertising revenue for the second quarter of 2015, up from approximately 62% of advertising revenue in the second quarter of 2014.

Now perhaps Facebook can do something to improve its battery-eating Android app.

Poopayee bee do bee do bee do tulaliloo

I occasionally build websites and often used Lorem Ipsum filler text on pages still awaiting final copy. This sometimes confuses clients who are not well versed in the baffling genius of rambling Latin blurb, so I took to using other random text generators that at least give me something in English.

There are many of them. Corporate Ipsum is my current favorite, but it might soon be usurped by this fabulous new generator of utter incoherence — Minion Ipsum, inspired by the babbling little yellow creatures from the movie Minions.

Minions ipsum bappleees para tú baboiii butt bananaaaa gelatooo wiiiii uuuhhh. Bappleees aaaaaah la bodaaa para tú tatata bala tu po kass pepete me want bananaaa!

July 27th

The price of taking a leaf out of Apple’s playbook

That Nikkei was willing to shell out £844m for the Financial Times Group, or about three times more than its true “worth” based on profitability, is a testament to the value of a digital news and marketing strategy done right, as Frédéric Filloux explores in his Monday Note.

Over the last years, the FT has not deviated from a digital strategy based on limiting as much as possible its reliance on intermediaries.

No Facebook. No Apple. No help needed. Just a well-respected news product delivered directly to the right people (who have expense accounts to pay for it). In fact it’s a delicious irony that the FT pulled out of Apple’s ill-fated Newsstand app only to exert a positively Apple-like control over its own content and delivery mechanisms.

July 24th

A paywall paradise lost

The sale of the Financial Times this week and potential sale of sister publication The Economist highlight how successful newspaper paywalls can be.

But those two belong to a small group of (mainly business) news publications that have had success transitioning from print to digital subscriptions, helped by having readers with expense accounts and a strong business need for timely news. Most newspapers that have set up paywalls need to convince fickle, freeloading consumers to cough up. It’s a strategy that’s not working as well as they might have hoped, as NiemanLab illustrates in a story about the digital struggles of two Hawaiian newspapers, the Honolulu Civil Beat and Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

The trajectory of each publication’s paywall appears to be mimicking industry-wide trends of slow paywall growth: It looks as if there’s a limit in the number of people who are willing to pay for news online.

The AAM audit reports of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser doesn’t just highlight the trend of stagnating subscriptions, however.

You’re tweets are terrible, but Freud can help

If you’re reading this then the cognitive dissonance created by the headline did its job. It’s an example of how we’re increasingly subject to psychological manipulation online, something that Lanya Olmsted explores in a blog post about the psychology of twitter engagement.

I’ve noticed that certain types of tweet copy elicit higher numbers of clicks and engagement — and these types of copy align with several prominent psychological theories.

Successful clickbait headlines or tweets are essentially about the art of preying on a reader’s insecurities and, while I respect their evil genius, I truly loathe them. They’re the content equivalent of junk food advertisements, convincing the gullible to consume nutrition-free empty calories.

July 22nd

The virtuous cycle of aggregation

Once upon a time, the supply and distribution of news was a simple affair. We decided which newspapers or magazines we wanted to read, then went out and procured them. Then the interweb came along. We no longer needed to choose what to read because the news just started coming at us. A tidal wave of it. Now we have to sift through the clickbait flotsam to find anything of value. That makes us, the consumers, our own suppliers of our daily news and gives us the controlling position in the relationship between publisher and reader.

It’s a fundamental shift in the dynamic of the publishing industry that Ben Thompson ponders over at He calls the new paradigm Aggregation Theory. It creates a virtuous cycle of content supply begetting supply that show no signs of slowing. The tidal wave will keep coming at us.

The best distributors/aggregators/market-makers win by providing the best experience, which earns them the most consumers/users, which attracts the most suppliers, which enhances the user experience

July 15th

Rise up, mobile editors, and conquer

No, this is not a story about forcing lazy editors to leave their computers and walk around the office more, but a call to action by media consultant Mario Garcia for publications to acknowledge how many people now read news on their phones and hire editors focused solely on enhancing the small-screen storytelling experience.

No doubt he’d also like to get a nice consultancy fee for telling them how best to do it.

So it is natural, with 30-60% of audiences now consuming journalism on mobile, that there is a push to create mobile editor roles and dedicated mobile swat teams

I wonder when 30-60% of newspaper revenues will come from mobile? I’m certainly not the poster child for monetizing mobile. I already read most news on a 4.7″ screen. I pay for none of it and successfully ignore the ads.

June 20th

Is this the new blogging?

There’s apparently one corner of the travel publishing world that’s fighting the death of print, according to the FT (subscription). Glossy, expensive and slightly esoteric travel magazines are booming in the UK, even as traditional travel monthlies continue their slide toward the level of popularity of paper maps.

More seem to be coming out every week… Someone said to me the other day that it’s becoming like the new blogging

With names like Cereal and Avaunt, what better retro coffee table decorations could there be?

April 23rd

If anyone’s going to get rich here, it’s not you

That’s the rather depressing message to digital journalists from financial blogger/journalist/whatever, Felix Salmon, speaking at the International Journalism Festival in Italy earlier this month.

If you’re… a young journalist coming into digital journalism in particular, your earning prospects are very low. And more to the point you don’t have hope for… a career.

Feeling hopeless yet?

April 21st

20 years old, student, enjoying life

That’s the profile of one Twitter follower I’ve gained in the last few days. Laura is probably not her real name. In fact she probably doesn’t exist at all. Laura might well be one of millions of social media personas generated by click farms.

Her current order is the most common: Facebook profiles of beautiful American women between the ages of 20 and 30.

Maybe the NSA is good for one thing after all

Vacuuming up the vast amount of online digital data and storing it for future reference is something one US government agency is apparently very good at. The rest of the world is not, according to Dutch researchers.

We are emerging from the digital dark ages. Much of the information from the early days of internet has gone for ever.

All those beautifully crafted tweets and Facebook posts, the modern equivalent of historic diaries so beloved of social researchers, could be lost to future generations (except maybe in the US where, alongside the NSA’s nefarious activities, the Library of Congress is now archiving all Tweets from US citizens).

Not terribly tragic, one might think while scrolling past the millionth Facebook photo of a cat. But consider that the Arab Spring played out to the world on social media and one’s perspective changes.

April 17th

This is where millennials get their news…

… everywhere. This is the unsurprising conclusion from an American Press Institute survey that examined the news-reading habits of the most connected generation of Americans. It does help dispel the myth that those aged 18-34 are too self-absorbed to care what’s going on in the world. It does not, however, give insight into what millennials actually consider “news”.


The ‘A’ word that dare not be spoken

That’ll be A for Advertising. As in Native Advertising, which former Buzzfeed writer Mark Duffy rails against in light of the recent Buzzfeed disappearing articles snafu.

But hasn’t this generation already figured out that brands have all the “hand” in this relationship and that brand hand strength is only going to increase?

Advertisers pressuring editorial is not a new paradigm. Print publications were grappling with it long before Buzzfeed was a thing. What’s arguably changed post-Buzzfeed is that the amount of worthless lifestyle fluff and pointless opinionating that’s published has increased exponentially, making conflict between editorial and brand advertisers far more likely.

I’m no great fan of native advertising, but I’d be happy to see half the editorial fluff blow away. Problem is, they’re locked in a depressing sort of symbiosis as advertisers demand clicks that only fluff seems able to generate in enough volume.