With iPad (and Kindle), it’s about the content

The idea of newspapers (and others?) bundling subscriptions with a free portable device is gaining traction. Here’s Joe Zeff:

Love it or hate it, the iPad remains the publishing industry’s best chance at resurrection, but only if enough consumers buy in. The price tag is the biggest obstacle — $499 for an iPlane Jane model or $629 plus monthly service for 3G-powered Pad. But what if the publishing industry helped to defray that cost, bundling an iPad with a multiyear subscription to hundreds of newspapers and magazines? It’s a short-term investment that could pay off handsomely, and one of many options that should be considered in order to lure a new generation of readers to a new world of possibilities.

Stan Schroeder at Mashable.com noted that the iPad is all about what’s IN the iPad, not the device itself. “The iPad “shouldn’t be sold in Apple stores, it should be sold on newsstands (together with a 24-month subscription to some newspaper), in video clubs, in libraries.”

I honestly expected a lot of subsidized options for the device if you agree to buy some content with it, but Apple hasn’t really delivered that — yet. If I’m right, and if Apple starts doing that, most of iPad’s shortcomings won’t matter.

A few weeks ago, I made the same suggestion via Twitter.

My tweet on newspapers and Kindles

The response to my tweet was mixed. Some thought it spot-on; others thought it was foolish for an industry already limping due to lack of funds. I think that’s an empty argument.

And, as Poynter’s Damon Kiesow notes, this isn’t really “new” thinking.

The New York Times and others have already started down this path, selling subsidized Kindles in return for annual subscription packages. The advantages of this model were proposed a year ago when the Silicon Valley Insider calculated it would be cheaper for the Times to buy its subscribers Kindles rather then print and deliver them each a daily paper.

I feel pretty strongly that this is going to happen, and as a Kindle owner, I would welcome it. The device is fabulous for the treadmill, the bathroom and other places where the size of the font makes multitasking much easier. I promise to keep it out of my car.

Will marry for health insurance

Move over, “Pants on the ground.”

You think you’ve seen everything until something new pops up. Terri Carlson, 45, of San Diego has launched a website and YouTube videos advertising for a husband. The criteria? Health insurance! While I’m not sure it’s intended to be funny, Terri is quite a character. Take a look.

Of course, we’ve no way (yet) of knowing whether this is a put-on, but the story is already getting some media attention. Next up? The talk shows and yet another unexpected 15-minutes of fame.

C’mon, folks. It’s not about content!

At the risk of being labeled “Johnny 1-note,” let me repeat this truth about media and the future. Paid content concepts divert media company attention from the real issue, which is the revolution in advertising. This keeps going through my mind this morning, as I read reaction to Apple’s iPad announcement and ponder the future.

Let me repeat: focusing on paid content concepts diverts our attention from the real issue, and that is the disruption to traditional advertising. The problem here is that media companies think they’re in the content business, but they’re not. Perhaps it was true in centuries past, but today the “business” of media is advertising.

The rise of content marketing and “advertising as content” in the Media 2.0 world are permanent disruptions in the way businesses sell their wares. Enabling commerce is the new mission of media, not serving ads, and the sooner we get going with it, the better.

I don’t doubt that there will always be a place for subscriptions and advertising, but those are not the kinds of growth categories that public companies need to impress investors. Yes, broadcasting has “matured,” but it will still make money (and lots of it), but media companies keep staring at red herrings instead of attacking what really matters.

Will the iPad help media, especially newspapers? I think it will, but not to the extent that newspapers especially need the help. So let’s all smile, but let’s do so with an eye on creating apps that enable commerce, especially locally.

One-third of U.S. adults post to the Web

When Nokia predicted two years ago that, by 2012, one-fourth of all entertainment would be created and consumed within peer groups, a lot of people just rolled their eyes. It was a laughable notion, after all, that people would turn away from Hollywood to entertain themselves, but that was a misinterpretation of the prediction. And evidence continues to mount that suggests we are indeed moving in that direction.

To “make” media, you have to begin somewhere, and new data by Forrester Research sheds light on where that’s taking place. One-third of U.S. Web users now post status updates once per week via social media, and Forrester has created a new Social Technographic term for them, as Josh Bernoff explains.

When we created the Social Technographics® ladder of behaviors, we anticipated most categories of social behavior that continue today with one exception: the rapid conversations that take place in tweets and Facebook status updates. To reflect the new behavior, we’ve added a rung to the Social Technographics ladder: Conversationalists.

Forrester's Social Technographics Ladder

Bernoff adds that the new category, Conversationalists, reflects two changes. “First,” he wrote, “it includes not just Twitter members, but also people who update social network status to converse (since this activity in Facebook is actually more prevalent than tweeting). And second, we include only people who update at least weekly, since anything less than this isn’t much of a conversation.”

Conversationalists are 56% female, more than any other group in the ladder. While they’re among the youngest of the groups, 70% are still 30 and up.

The new data from Forrester also confirms earlier trends spotted, that Spectators are maxing out at around 70%, Joiners are still growing rapidly, and Creators are still growing slowly. One-fourth of U.S. Web users are in the Creator category, and they’re the ones who are leading the revolution in personal media.

Of course, the greatest threat to traditional media from all of this isn’t the creation of competitive content, but rather that the people formerly known as our advertisers are participating on all rungs of the ladder, including making their own media. The Web has lowered the barriers to entry to any media business, and that includes everybody from kids to professionals, writers to film buffs, and, of course, those former advertisers.

Forrester has done us a favor by categorizing all of this and publishing it, because the sheer enormity of what’s happening tends to escape those who don’t wish to see it.

Leno needs to take responsibility

I realize this is a bit off-topic, but I do not like Jay Leno. I especially dislike his “I’m a victim” stance in this whole late-night talk fiasco of the last many weeks.

So Jay went on Oprah this morning to begin repairing his image. A great many people think he’s responsible for what’s happened to Conan O’Brien, but he doesn’t.

It all comes down to numbers in show business. This is almost the perfect storm of bad things happening. You have two hit shows — ‘Tonight Show’ No. 1 and Conan No. 1. You move them both to another situation. And what are the odds that both would do extremely poorly? If Conan’s numbers had been a little bit higher, it wouldn’t even be an issue. But in show business, there’s always somebody waiting in the wings. Being me.”

As he has before, he blames Conan for poor ratings for The Tonight Show, even though he takes responsibility for his poor ratings at 10pm. But here’s the thing: Leno’s show killed late news ratings for most NBC affiliates, which, in turn, killed The Tonight Show. Lead-in program ratings impact any show on TV, so it was Leno’s crappy talk show that gave Conan O’Brien’s show lousy ratings, and it’s hypocritical of Leno to blame O’Brien’s demise on O’Brien.

If Jay Leno wants to repair his image, he needs to begin by taking responsibility for everything, including not being honest in 2004 when NBC suits first proposed moving Conan to The Tonight Show five years later.

If this is where news content is heading, what about the Web?

The iPad featuring the New York TimesAs I predicted last week, Apple’s big announcement is more about the content providers and the infrastructure for moving that content than the device itself. The game-changer for media companies — both local and global — is that they are now seemingly assured of that vaunted “second revenue stream” in the form of subscriptions. It’s enough to make front office types drool all over themselves.

But if this is where that “content” is heading, what about the Web — that already established ecosystem of free, albeit advertiser-supported content? To rightly answer the question, we must first get past the obvious: will this work? Will people pay for something they’re accustomed to getting for free? Sensing artificial scarcity, the copyright owners are now faced with the opportunity to shut the spigot and create a demand for their products. That’s a very dicey proposition, but just for the sake of argument, let’s assume the answer is yes.

For the answer to the original question, let’s go back to an old theme: news is a process, not a finished product. For the past couple of years, my “solution” for the newspaper industry has been to charge for their finished product efforts (the newspaper) and create a free, advertiser-supported continuous news Web offering. As the Web shifts to real time, this is the logical move for the news industry as well. Save the analysis for your finished product; follow the news in real time. This would be a 100% Web-native offering.

The Apple tablet also allows newspapers to provide an end of the day finished product, which they can then use the continuous news stream to promote. This puts them in the same position as local TV, for whom the concept of continuous news is perfect. Speaking of television, there’s nothing to prevent local TV from competing for eyeballs on the tablet computer as well. This should be on the front burner of any interactive division across the industry.

The point is that the Web has never been a newspaper, although newspapers have tried to make it so. Perhaps this new development from Apple (with others soon to follow) will alter front-office thinking to the point where all professional media can compete online in real time. That’s where the future of a hyper-connected universe is heading.

We’re going to hear MUCH more about all of this in the days and weeks to come, and we will certainly be following the developments for you. The love affair between Apple and media providers is sure to sparkle with intensity up front, but let’s see what happens when somebody has to do the dishes.