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The Google detour

February 26, 2010

Is Google hijacking our traffic?

An Orwellian Big Brother is a lot closer than I thought.

Let’s see, you want to visit the Miami Seaquarium…

Courtesy of Michael Grey

You’re Google search will give the above result, which shows you their hours of operation and a link to More information… which takes you to a Google maps page with more Google ads.

Google is adding detours to allow for more billboards in this extended new road —while hijacking and denying the traffic and potential up sell at the website motivating the search.

As shown, the parasite behavior of Google, Yahoo, Gawker, Newser and other aggregators is  more pervasive than expected.

This kind of ruse should be contested in court. Intent, and damage to the commercial value of the work voids any “fair use” exemption to (U.S.) copyright law.

According to Brad Templeton’s essay:

The “fair use” exemption to (U.S.) copyright law was created to allow things such as commentary, parody, news reporting, research and education about copyrighted works without the permission of the author. That’s vital so that copyright law doesn’t block your freedom to express your own works — only the ability to appropriate other people’s. Intent, and damage to the commercial value of the work are important considerations. Are you reproducing an article from the New York Times because you needed to in order to criticise the quality of the New York Times, or because you couldn’t find time to write your own story, or didn’t want your readers to have to register at the New York Times web site? The first is probably fair use, the others probably aren’t.

Fair use is generally a short excerpt and almost always attributed. (One should not use much more of the work than is needed to make the commentary.) It should not harm the commercial value of the work — in the sense of people no longer needing to buy it (which is another reason why reproduction of the entire work is a problem.) Famously, copying just 300 words from Gerald Ford’s 200,000 word memoir for a magazine article was ruled as not fair use, in spite of it being very newsworthy, because it was the most important 300 words — why he pardoned Nixon.

But it’s not all negative news for content providers, Google has joined the Apple and Amazon group vying for the distribution of books. In the ensuing competition, publishers have been able to lock-in better deals, distributors are now getting a 30% agency commission and Google cannot break apart nor search these books.

The New Normal: high unemployment

February 19, 2010

In taking another stab at our world view, to suggest what the media may need to survive, we cannot dismiss the toxic recession we’re in, and its aftermath effects on our society.

 
(Obama’s view, pessimists see 2020 as the year we reach 5% unemployment)

According to Don Peck’s “How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America“, the current recession is expected to extend itself into a prolonged slow recovery, snail pacing the creation of jobs, a daunting task if we consider the millions that will have to be (re)employed to achieve normalcy, at 5% unemployment.

The jobless and their disintegrating families will be left with deep scars. The young from the poor neighborhoods, whom after losing all hope, lose their opportunities by caving into drug dealing or addiction. Those suffering from the trauma of an extended spell of job loss, even if employed later on, will feel that they have no hope, nor their children, of ever recovering their past opportunities.

What does this all mean for us?

First of all, we have to recognize that the future will look dimmer for most of us mortals, but it also means, that the recession is undoubtedly accelerating the Darwinian process of eradicating the ill adapted (media) institutions out of this rapidly changing environment.

Welcome to the New Normal“, as John Mauldin so fittingly coins this new high unemployment era.

Interview with Mish Shedlock
Second, we have to recognize and persist in reporting the big story of our time: China.

The story is simple. China has cheap labor, by now probably around 15% of the cost of US wages. This imbalance, which is fostered by the Chinese government through currency manipulation, will continue to wreck havoc in the west until wage equilibrium is achieved.

That’s why the recovery will be slow. Ask yourself, where is investment likely to find a home? Not in the west, but in China, where their own government attempts at stopping the incoming flow of investment, to avoid overheating their economy, have failed.

Next, the highly corrosive environment leaves little time to mend our ways and find solutions.

Finally and most importantly, journalists will have to find in their (hearts and) voices a way to raise the west’s broken spirits.

A digital new world

February 12, 2010

As an introduction to how media content is evolving, I will begin by looking at the effects of technology on our own lives. Are there any dangers in this brave new world?

Jack made me do it.

In our lively Linkedin discussion, each time I would point out a certain feature which I feel needs to be addressed to get “newspapers out of the mess they’re in”, Jack would quickly respond that if we delivered good content, the rest would fall into place…

I think the best way to introduce ourselves into the vast subject of content, is to take a peek at how technology is affecting us all today. Douglas Rushkoff’s Frontline digital nation (90 minute) presentation is an excellent starting point.

It feels like we’re taking-off on our first flight to a Ray Kurzweil world, where changes accelerate at a breathtaking pace, forcing us all to desperately adapt to survive the turmoil of information overload.

On the positive side, technology’s attractiveness is helping to raise students’ levels at under-performing schools. On the negative, it’s distracting, it’s addictive, and multitasking dumb the contemplative, and highly focused endeavors.

We, the immigrants to this digital new world, also learn that our young natives will not read more than 200 pages, nor concentrate for more than a snippet at a time, a paragraph, then they’re off to their facebook, e-mail… And, that the not for long natives, in the ever evolving turmoil, have no need to memorize since they can find anything at fingertip reach.

 

This evokes Ray Bradbury‘s science fiction novel Fahrenheit 451. Bradbury stated that his novel was not about censorship, but a story of how television destroys interest in reading literature, leading to a replacement of knowledge with “factoids”, partial information devoid of context.

As in Bradbury’s book burning dystopia, we are not only dumbing ourselves down, but we have also allowed search companies —the Orwellian big brother— to watch over (and record) all we do. We have let them stand between our work and our clients, through the aggregation of all sorts of information, as in the case of newspapers and news aggregators.

Let me repeat. We’re dumbing our kids down… We’ve allowed the search companies to have our precious personal information, and… they’re becoming the intermediaries distancing ourselves from our clients, or readers.

Am I getting too paranoid?

Do the exercise yourselves with the Google phone number giveaway. Ask yourselves: who will control the telephone business, if Google is successful with their feature-laden numbers?

Will a doctor or plumber suffer too, if he is not listed in the directory which everyone will be carrying in their pockets?

I’ll be back soon with more… free content.

Design shaping communications and media

February 5, 2010

Will Apple’s irresistible design give it a chance at controlling —through the Ipad— the book, newspaper, magazine, radio, TV, and movie industries?

Behind the scenes with Terry Richardson and model Angela Lindvall as they shoot the Spring 2009 ad campaign for Jimmy Choo in NYC.
Courtesy of Vogue TV.
I realized not long ago that designers have this marvelous power to make products irresistible. Many of us fans suffer long lines to buy a product at its launching. Don’t we all have our own favorite stuff?

Design is an innate ability, I guess it can be honed, but not too many of us are going to be the Andy Warhols of design…

And, it’s incredibly powerful.

Tamara Mellon exemplifies this ability. While working as accessories editor for Vogue at their London office, she would sketch and order shoes from a Malaysian artisan to dress Vogue’s model shootings. After a couple of years, the requests for these shoes grew to such an extent, that she started with Jimmy Choo a company to supply the demand. In 2001, Tamara bought Jimmy’s 50% stake in the company. Since then, she has been manufacturing and opening stores to sell her beautiful shoes all over the world, with $2,000 plus sticker prices.

Jonathan Ive, is an English designer and the Senior Vice President of Industrial Design at Apple. He’s been the gifted hand behind the eye catching Imac up until the recent Ipad.

Apple’s Iphone is one of those products that has millions of followers, who wouldn’t bat an eyelash to move away from ATT, if Apple made a better deal and decided to offer the Iphone through another carrier. In other words, the minutes don’t count, nor the cheaper plans, nor the reliability of the carriers’ networks. It’s the —beauty of a gadget— that could allow Apple to take control of the carrier industry. Isn’t it amazing?

Sports Illustrated on an Apple Ipad.

And, it’s this same beauty attribute that could allow Apple to have a chance at controlling —through the Ipad— the book, newspaper, magazine, radio, TV, and movie industries… through subscriptions, with an Itunes morphed offering.

It hasn’t been all peaches and cream for Apple, though. The WSJ reports that the latest 2009 fourth quarter shows that the Iphone has lost market share, as Motorola introduced its first devices on Google’s Android platform.

My bets are on beauty over the beast, or beauty before aggregation.

What do you think… 2:1, even, 1:2?

News agencies content leaks

January 31, 2010

It’s the craziest thing. Why would any reader pay for a magazine or newspaper when he can get his news for free?

Currently, news agencies, like AP, AFP and Reuters, still charge for the rights to republish —while… they give away their news content to readers for free!

Associated Press Chairman of the Board
William Dean Singleton

It’s easy to see how this is directly related and hurts the dwingling circulation of magazines and newspapers.

Of course, some of you might argue that broadcasts from television and radio have always aired for free. But, there’s a huge and priceless difference: the web allows us to get what we want instantly, with the razor sharp granularity of a search or a link.

With the advent of the web, news agencies saw an opportunity to add a new advertising revenue stream by publishing directly to readers. In doing so, they foolishly sabotaged their wholesale business model, by undermining their traditional newspaper and magazine customers.

To simplify, I will only continue reviewing AP.

Few visit AP to browse for their daily news, mostly, their visits are search and link originated. News aggregators, —like  Google News, Yahoo News, Newser, Digg, Stumblr and others—, provide AP with a publisher shell, feeding visits to AP and other news agencies.

Has AP arrived at the final decision to go retail, with publishing shells from Google, Yahoo and others?

The recent layoffs at AP show that it’s not doing too well. Apparently, their publishing venture is not working for them. Or, they’re destroying more revenue from their wholesale business, than what they’ve been able to realize by building their retail publishing ad supported venture.

Dean Singleton, MediaNews Group vice-chairman and Associated Press’ chairman, made the following remarks four years ago:

The big challenge, he says, is figuring out how to make money from the Web, where most news is free and ads are cheap. “If we don’t start getting paid for news, we can’t continue to afford to produce it,” he said.

Mr. Singleton wants to help steer the industry collectively toward a solution; no one paper, he says, can do it alone.

Apparently, –either getting a consensus hasn’t been easy, or AP hasn’t been trying that hard.

AP made public in 2009 its efforts (April, July, September) to police and enforce their content copyrights, meeting much ridicule from the IT community, whom stated that there was no technical teeth in the enforcement method.

But incredibly, no word from AP on keeping their content behind a pay-wall.

I’m surprised. Why aren’t Mr. Singleton and the newspaper members of AP, watching over their interests?

Is “Fair Use” law testing in court holding them back? No, a healthy fair use of content in other publications should send readers back to content originators for more.

Is it the search engines’ almighty control of the ad networks, making originators yield their content to them? Yes, –if it quacks like a duck… it must be a duck. The evidence is in the contracts between Google and publishers, –the search engine’s commission is nowhere to be found. Google determines on its own, the 70 to 75% commission it charges, and mails an arbitrary check to the publisher at the end of each month.

It’s also noticeable in a few other publishers’ mistakes, –not worth mentioning.

Publishers are leaving at least an alarming 65% of their advertising revenue on the table. If we take something from this discussion, it should be that if publishers can agree to something, it must be to have their own ad placement platform, by building or buying an existing system, their take could increase to 95% of the price of an ad (5% would cover the expense of running a client order entry system).

Under these improved conditions, I’d still consider necessary to charge an agreeable monthly subscription to further improve online and print advertising revenue: under $3 for newspapers, more for magazines. It would compensate the inevitable thinning of advertising revenue throughout the ever growing number of publishing venues.

Will publishers ever agree to these two improvements?

The Ipad launch

January 28, 2010

A quick peek at the much awaited Ipad launching.

Kara Swisher from the WSJ, checks out the action at the launch of Apple’s latest device, the iPad, at an event in San Francisco —I loved it, made me feel like I was there. Thank you Kara.

Some were disappointed at the lack of Flash and multitasking… others thought it lacked a camera. Was this a compromise to get a lower $499 price?

I do know that a reporter can write his article and mail it, though. I guess we’ll have to wait to see what the public’s final reaction is.

BTW, I just read that Bernanke was confirmed for a second term on a 70-30 vote —phew!

Search Engine Optimization and the news

January 27, 2010

Google Trends, an excellent source of news?

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Brent Payne interview
Brent Payne, director of search engine optimization for Tribune Interactive, explains Google Trends, a great source of news, on this You decide, we report npr interview.

Google trends shows the most popular searches at any given point in time, alerting news sites on potential leads, and also giving a general feel of the topics people are interested in.

Barely a tweet.