for business?

July 8th, 2014

Please don’t misinterpret this post. I am not saying the idea I’m going to describe is a good thing, but I do think it’s a possible way to make a lot of money by doing something slightly questionable. Or perhaps despicable. You decide.

I despise personality tests. Myers Briggs, the little online “are you conservative or liberal,” and all that stuff — they drive me crazy.

Or, rather, they fascinate me, but I despise the way people use them. They’re used to put people in buckets. It’s basically an acceptable form of racism. “You’re an ISFJ, you wouldn’t understand.”

In my experience they are always a barrier to understanding people, not an aid. I have never once seen anything good come from one of those things, but I have frequently seen them abused.

Having said all that, they’re clearly the rage, and it’s fairly obvious why. They combine science and narcissism in a way that’s bound to appeal to the modern person. You can imagine somebody who has no interest in finding a date signing up for one of these things simply to find out what kind of a person he is.

So then, here’s the business idea. Invent an easy, accessible way for a company to use something like this in hiring. Sure, there are things like this, but read on.

First, a little background.

I was at a SIPA conference once where a guy told a story about a bunch of people who went for a job interview with Southwest Airlines. About ten people were sitting in a waiting room, and somebody came in and said Southwest tended to be rather casual in their interviews and offered everyone a Hawaiian shirt. They had a dressing room with shirts in every size, and everyone was welcome to go try one on. Some did, some didn’t.

A few minutes later somebody came in and said all the people who didn’t put on the shirts could go. It was a test to see if they were willing to fit in with the corporate culture.

It seems somewhat unfair, but there’s also something to it. Corporations do have cultures, and some people don’t fit. Some large corporations realize this and work that sort of test into their hiring process, but smaller companies typically don’t have the time or the resources.

Hence, (or something like that).

Here’s how it would work. All the owners and the existing employees would take personality tests. Management would indicate which employees are the stars (i.e., more like this please) and which are the duds. The service would determine if there’s a particular profile that correlates well with success at that company. Potential hires would take the test, and the results would be one of the characteristics used in making the hiring decision.

I think such a service could make a lot of money, although I hate the idea. Here’s why.

These tests ask things like “when faced with A, would you prefer to do 1 or 2?” Like everybody else, I have my preferences, but I am also willing and able to do things the other way if that is what’s required, and I’m fairly good at figuring that sort of thing out. I can work with pretty much anybody.

But the tests don’t care that much about flexibility. They don’t want to know if you can lead, follow, or get out of the way, they want to know which one you tend towards. They want to put you in a bucket and tell you what you’re good at and what you’re not good at.

Maybe there are tests that take that sort of thing into account, but in my experience they’re more interested in classifying you than in finding out how flexible you can be.

I went through one of these pop-psych management stupidities one time, and the moderator sorted everybody into four groups, then told us how well we would work with the other groups. My group (according to the magical sorting hat) couldn’t work very well with Hufflepuff — or however he named the group to our right — which had two of my direct reports, who were some of my best friends in the company. I worked with them just fine.

Worst still, the CEO spent the next two months treating everybody according to the little groups they had been placed in. It was awful, until he realized it was nonsense and moved on.

Obviously not everyone is as incompetent as the guy who ran our little shrink-a-doo, but that seems to be the way things work.

So, while I hate the whole concept — I think they are destructive of morale and constitute a “scientific” form of racism-by-another-name — I think somebody could make a fortune selling it.

Uncategorized What do you think?

So much for the tablet saving everything

May 12th, 2014

How many more of the breathless predictions about the tablet are going to fail?

It’s been obvious for a long time now that the tablet isn’t going to save the magazine. In fact, it’s been a money pit that publishers have been all too willing to waste their time on — for very little return.

Sure, some publishers are doing … I wouldn’t say well, but you could say they’re doing okay on the tablet. But overall it’s been a big waste.

Now we hear that teenagers are reading less and less despite the tablet.

But wait! Wasn’t the story that if we put things in a new, more “immersive experience” (add buzz words and such here) that we would be able to reach new digital audiences? It’s not that those young folk aren’t interested in serious stuff, it’s just that you need to add video and chat and social sharing and jelly beans and kittens.

The tablet is here to stay for many reasons. It’s an incredibly convenient device for some things. I check the weather every morning on my tablet, and I often check my email or look things up on the web while I’m watching TV. It’s great for getting recipes (or listening to Pandora) while you’re cooking, and I always use the mash / sparge calculator on my tablet when I’m brewing beer.

It also has serious limitations. It is not a productivity device, and the screen glare does make it hard to read — although it’s convenient to be able to bring along a hundred books on one device.

Tablet magazines are cool for about the first five minutes, but you quickly realize that a paper magazine is simply better.

I’m not anti-tablet. They have their niche. But that niche is not going to save publishing. I don’t even think it’s going to help.

Uncategorized What do you think?

5 wasted years: How the “print is dead” mantra has distracted publishers from the real work

February 19th, 2014

Here’s a hopeful article: 6 Things Digital Natives Should Know About Print

It’s hopeful because I’m seeing more and more articles like this — by people who are realizing that all the “digital revolution” kids were just trying to sell us something, and that print is neither dead nor dying.

2013 was the year print forgot to die. It was the year our industry seemed to reach consensus that, for many years to come, we will derive much of our profit from putting ink on paper.

This post title says “5 wasted years.” I just made that up. I don’t know if it’s five or six or what. But that we’ve been wasting time is indisputable.

The “print is dead” mantra has so permeated our brains that in our meetings, conferences, and publications, we’ve stopped talking about how to be successful with dead-tree editions or the implications of the latest print-related developments.

Right. We’ve been wasting far too much of our time and resources on the 3 percent.

Consider this. Imagine how different publishing would be today if all the time and effort and meetings and talks and agonizing about “digital” for the past five years had been spent on improving renewal rates. Does anyone doubt that the time would have been better spent?

Don’t get me wrong. The world is changing and digital is a big part of the mix. (Generally speaking that means print + web — not tablet editions or apps or any of that “feed the consultants” stuff.)

But we have to keep things in proportion, and it’s my feeling that the hard times the publishing industry has been through the last several years have been exacerbated by losing track of the core business.

Uncategorized What do you think?

The migration from paid print to ad-supported digital

February 3rd, 2014

When it comes to magazine publishing, print revenues have been flat or declining. Mostly declining. There are some exceptions, but overall the industry is losing ground.

The Big Hope was that people would migrate from print to tablet, and that tablet publishing would become a new source of revenue. Or at least something to slow the decline. Or at least worth the effort.

It hasn’t turned out that way. Tablet magazines have been a huge disappointment. A few companies have made a decent go of it, but generally speaking the results are bland, at best. People simply aren’t that interested in reading magazines on tablets. Of course the “it’s a new world” people think that this will change and all of a sudden everybody’s going to be reading magazines on tablets, but I, for one, will believe it when I see it.

There are reports that “digital” revenues are up for many publishers, and sometimes people falsely assume that refers to an increase in tablet subscriptions, but generally it turns out that the “digital” revenue is coming from good old-fashioned ads on websites.

Presumably people used to buy magazines because they were interested in the subject, or liked the pictures, or something. Has the world suddenly lost interest in all such things and is now only interested in videos about cats? I don’t think so.

I have a couple theories about what’s changing and why, and what publishers should do about it.

Tablet development is distracting from real product development: Magazines come and go in the normal course of business because the world changes. People’s interests change, markets change, etc. In the old days publishers would deal with this by changing their content to suit new markets, or starting new magazines on new topics.

The “it’s a new world” folk have convinced publishers that the real need now is to adapt to digital — by which they usually mean “create an expensive app.”

I think it’s very likely that some of the effort that should have been focused on making sure the content is still meeting readers’ needs has been re-purposed and is now focused on trying to move everything to digital. IOW, magazines are losing readers because they’re not paying enough attention to the old-fashioned idea of matching content to a changing market. They’re forgetting tried and true business practices and chasing digital will-o-wisps.

In support of this theory I note that there are magazines that are thriving — yes, even in print — because they’re writing what the readers want.

The solution is obvious. Don’t forget to do the normal business of publishing.

“Always on” consumers don’t think in terms of issues: Like many people these days, I have some sort of electronic device with me almost all the time, so if I’m on the subway and want to read about fishing, I can do that. I don’t need to wait for a magazine to arrive — either in the mail, on Magzter, or whatever. To the extent that people rely on “always on” content, the issue-based subscription doesn’t seem that important.

Note that a digital issue doesn’t solve this problem. The “always on” consumer doesn’t want to wait for a new digital edition any more than he wants to wait for a new print edition.

This doesn’t mean that publishers should abandon the idea of an issue and simply move to constantly updated online content. The solution is to create a link between the issue-based service and the “always on” service. The simplest way to do this is to make the magazine and the website work together so that each one reinforces the other.

The people who want to stay in print can stay in print, and the people who need a daily fix can visit the website. The publisher needs to make it a coherent brand experience so that whether the reader is browsing an issue or browsing the website he thinks of the publisher as the source for his chosen type of content.

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Be careful applying one A-B test to another product or market

January 28th, 2014

I recently did an A-B test on a web page where one panel showed the product and the premium and the other panel showed a picture of our esteemed chief. The chief won.

Then I duplicated the test for a different product on a very similar page. This product goes to a different market, and this time the product plus the premium won.

It would be nice to say different rules apply to different products and markets, and that’s probably the lesson we should take from this. But sometimes I’m tempted to think that the universe is inherently weird and designed to drive us all crazy.

Uncategorized What do you think?

The 25 astonishing ways the internet is changing journalism

January 25th, 2014

Today I clicked on an article about how Stephen Hawking says black holes don’t really exist. It attracted my attention because black holes are cool, Stephen Hawking is smart, and he’s one of the people who got everybody interested in them in the first place.

Unfortunately, Hawking didn’t really say black holes don’t exist. He said we need to understand the event horizon a little differently. Or, IOW, something far less dramatic.

But “Stephen Hawking says we need to understand the event horizon a little differently” wouldn’t have attracted my attention, therefore I wouldn’t have clicked, and therefore the site wouldn’t have earned 1.37 cents from pointing ads at my eyeballs.

Have you noticed? Everything is “dramatic” and “amazing” and superlative in some way. It has to be to grab your attention.

So no, I’m not going to tell you 25 astonishing ways about anything. That’s just a good headline.

Uncategorized What do you think?

Is deceptive marketing worth it? Or, are you listening you jerks at Advance Vehicle Protection?

January 21st, 2014

I just got a marketing solicitation disguised to look like a letter from the Department of Motor Vehicles — demanding my immediate action.

Of course if it was from the DMV I would take care of it right away, but as soon as I found out it’s a deception I wanted to find the marketer who sent this thing and smack him around a bit.

The company name is nowhere on the notice, so I called. The guy who answered said “Advance Vehicle Protection.”


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The silliness of retargeting

January 21st, 2014

I have an old clothes dryer that just keeps going, although every once in a while I need to do a minor repair. Recently I had to get a new idler pulley. It’s a cheap part that’s very easy to replace. I bought it and installed it. I’m done with idler pulleys for another decade.

But now I’m seeing ads for idler pulleys on about every third website. Somebody is wasting a lot of money.

Uncategorized What do you think?

A cynic meets a skeptic

January 3rd, 2014

I expected to like Evgeny vs. the internet a lot more than I did. Although I love technology, I am very skeptical of a lot of the pro-technology talk out there. I wanted to hear some serious take-downs of the b.s. that passes for wisdom in the technology space. Unfortunately, it was slim pickings. I don’t know if that’s because there’s little substance to Evgeny Morozov’s criticisms, or because the article isn’t very good. (It is too long.)

In any event, here are some highlights.

In The Net Delusion, Morozov “calls the idea that technology is the key ingredient to the promotion of democracy ‘cyber-utopianism,’ and shows just how thoroughly this idea has pervaded both the public and political consciousness.”

It’s completely normal for each generation to think “it’s different now.” They cast off the wisdom of their elders because the world has changed. To whatever extent that has been true in past generations, it’s an even bigger deal now. Smart phones and big data and speed cameras and ubiquitous technology are changing a lot of things.

But not everything. Some of the technology nonsense is a matter of confusing things that do change with things that don’t. For example, there are still bad people out there — even if they have a smart phone. And even if it’s an iPhone.

In this world of rapid change, people often fail to question assumptions. In one situation, Morozov was called an “internet scientist,” and then realized his usefulness in that role “depended entirely on the largely unexamined assumption that new media had a coherent and predictable effect on each country (or industry) it touched.”

I hear things like this all the time, and I see companies dumping money into the social media pit because they haven’t used ordinary business sense. They don’t have to, you see, because “it’s different this time.” You can’t rely on “old thinking.”

So-called “internet experts,” or “social media experts,” are often people who have fooled others into believing their promotional literature.

“Part of my job is to raise the cost of producing bullshit in this area, and to make sure people pay for that with shame, with being ridiculed, with harsh reviews, whatever,” he says.

That sounds like a noble calling. I just wish the article gave more examples.

Morozov speaks of “internet-centrism,” “which he describes as the ‘firm conviction that we are living through unique, revolutionary times, in which the previous truths no longer hold.’”

Right. It’s a big problem. Just because the big firms are run by young people doesn’t mean they’re your idealistic friends from college.

It’s just that he considers the larger notions of innate goodness and inevitability that “the internet” has been consciously imbued with to be bullshit. “You think about Big Pharma, Big Oil,” he says. “The mere fact that we use the term ‘big’ to talk about them means we’ve figured out that they probably have interests that diverge from those of the public. Nobody uses the term ‘big data’ in that sense.”

It’s painful to listen to idealistic young people complain about “big oil” and “big pharma” and Monsanto and all the currently fashionable bogey men and fail to realize that Google is probably a far bigger threat to their lives.

“Organizing the world’s information” sounds so intellectual and nice. It’s about as threatening as a librarian. But that’s where our liberties are going to be eroded. NSA didn’t get your personal data from big oil.

There’s a kind of insanity that overtakes people when they talk about the internet. Think about the newspapers that decided to publish their expensive editorial content in exchange for banner ads — which then went south. Or think about all the magazines that have pumped tons of money into iPad editions of their magazines — and almost nobody reads those things.

It’s important to keep up with trends and change with the times, but I have a recurring feeling that “it’s different now” also means that executives aren’t using normal business sense in their decisions.

Uncategorized What do you think?

The end of a publishing delusion?

December 17th, 2013

There was a time when everybody and anybody who knew anything about publishing was hyping the tablet magazine. You simply had to be on the tablet and in Apple’s newsstand. Anything else was “old school,” print-centric thinking. Backwards. If you thought that way you probably dragged your knuckles while eating your Woolly Mammoth sandwich.

The problem is that reality is a stubborn thing and sooner or later catches up with any fad. Tablet magazine sales have been absolutely dreadful and people are finally starting to realize this.

See, for example, The tablet magazine ship is sinking. Fast.

The article almost gets it right. Yes, the tablet magazine — whether PDF replica or the fancier versions you can get out of Indesign — has been a bust. A complete, total bust. A colossal waste of time.

But the article forgets the old “fool me once” wisdom and urges us to chase the next will-o-wisp.

Publishers must break free of the Newsstand and InDesign/PDF trap and invest in their publications as stand-alone, real, honest-to-God apps …

This is another “spend money on consultants” fantasy. Nobody wants to have a different app for each of their magazines. And before someone says “large publishers could put all their magazines in a single app,” please walk through a newsstand and see if you can identify the publisher of each of the titles. Only a magazine geek could get close.

The correct solution is a generalized reading platform into which magazines, books, articles and so on can be fed. Something like Evernote. I would say “or the Kindle app” except that Amazon (along with Apple) is the enemy of subscription publishers.

Evernote should be adapted so that publishers can feed their content to Evernote and subscribers can log in to their subscriptions. That is, the subscription they maintain with the publisher.

Unfortunately, Apple has Evernote by the short hairs and they’re afraid to do something like that. This might be an opportunity for Nook, which desperately needs a way to distinguish itself.

Anyway, that is what has to happen. Somebody with some courage has to create a reader app that responds to the needs of the reader and the publisher. That is, all the user’s reading material is in one, easy to use app, and the publisher continues to have a direct relationship with the subscriber.

Amazon and Apple have been trying to make every customer their customer. Publishers were complete chumps to play along, and the funniest thing about it is that they didn’t even get any revenue out of the deal because it never worked — partly because Amazon and Apple don’t understand publishing.

Uncategorized What do you think?