Should publishers censor their content to further social goals?

A lot of interesting currents in popular culture are raising questions about the ethics of publishing. The two most obvious are (1) free speech issues, and (2) whether profit or management drives content in the daily news.

The main free speech question is whether a publisher should censor what it publishes based on some moral or social rules. This isn’t a new question, but it has a new importance in an era of “social justice warriors” (aka “cry bullies”) who throw tantrums if a contrary view is given a platform.

An example along these lines is the conflict over Simon & Schuster’s decision to publish Milo Yiannopoulos — a self-described provocateur.

It’s an interesting question, mostly (to me) because the politics of censorship seem to have flipped. Speaking broadly, it used to be the left that advocated free speech (e.g., the dispute over Lady Chatterly), and now it’s (parts of) the left that want to shut down speech — albeit by private protest and not usually with the strong arm of government.

The success of some conservative writers has incentivized many publishers — whose staffs usually skew liberal — to (perhaps cynically) decide that the money is more important than the message. So … Yiannopoulos and Coulter and others may have views the publishers hate, but they love the sales.

Publishing is a business, after all.

The second issue is similar in that it gets to the motive that lies behind the publishing decision.

This article, for example, raises the specter of a rich, globalist elite at war with the common man.

China’s president will preach the advent of a new world order in Davos next week before the high priests of globalisation, who are facing an uprising from voters against their orthodoxy of open markets and borders.

Some people believe that a cabal of globalists is trying to force a new attitude on the public to help the globalists with their transnational business interests. The trouble — for the globalists — is that a lot of people aren’t buying it. Brexit and Trump are taken as signs of the revolt.

How does the media fit into this picture? Is Big Media a tool of the globalists and the purveyors of elitist propaganda?

The question reminds me of other conversations about the news. Does the media answer to the public (e.g., how many clicks on an article) or to the boardroom (e.g., the people who pay the salaries)?

As with most things, it’s certainly some combination of both. But it’s interesting to see how it plays out in popular opinion, where we seem to have two competing memes going on.

The first is that the media is being pulled in one direction by the tyranny of clicks and advertising. As I like to say, “All’s well, details at seven” doesn’t get eyeballs on the evening news, but “the new threat your kids face at the bus stop” does. That well-established reality pushes news coverage towards the sensational and the scary. (Along the lines of Dirty Laundry.)

Fear sells papers. So does sex. So do crazy conspiracy theories. And if that’s the stuff that pays the bills, that can become the yardstick by which journalists are measured.

“How much traffic did your story get?,” not “was it accurate?” (or helpful).

The second meme is that these media empires — and their content — are controlled by rich people with an agenda. I see this stuff all the time on Facebook. People try to discredit a source because it’s funded by Soros, or Big Oil, or whomever.

Which is it? Does the globalist cabal control the media, or is it all “give the public what they want”?

Perhaps that’s too either/or. Why can’t it be both? E.g., the globalist elite doesn’t care what the public thinks about most issues, so … fine. Let extremism and sex and crazy ideas drive that part of the business, but when it comes to trade deals, or immigration, or … whatever they talk about at Davos … then the Big Boss steps in and tells the editors how to cover the story (if they know what’s good for them).

It would be an easy thing to believe, but I don’t buy it. At least not to that extent.

I’m sure there are journalists who would sell their soul to get the 8:00 spot, and I’m sure that when some rich guy with an agenda buys a media empire, he hopes to use it to push that agenda. But there are also plenty of decent people who would blow the whistle on such editorial control, and it’s no longer possible for the Big Boss to control all the sources of information.

For good or ill, we have this crazy, wild-west thing called the Internet — and, for that matter, 10,000 cable channels — where anybody can say (or read) what they want. Sure, Twitter and Facebook censor people from time to time, but it’s not as if they’re able to stop anybody. Milo Yiannopoulos seems to have survived his Twitter ban. In fact, it might have helped him.

The Big Boss might control the big platforms, but (1) his ability to shape the news is limited, and (2) there are plenty of other sources not controlled by the Big Boss. And these other sources are growing daily.

All of which has to be enormously frustrating for this alleged conspiracy of globalists who want to fashion the world to suit their business needs. They think they should be able to sway public opinion with all their power and influence. Just buy out the media and get some bubble-headed beach blonde to ridicule the opposition (with a twinkle in her eye).

But … it doesn’t seem to be working, does it? The swarm warfare of the public is overwhelming the carrier-based approach of the elite.

Which leaves us with an important question. Do publishers have a responsibility to police their content?

I’m not talking about accuracy, or grammar. I think that goes without saying.

Rather, do publishers have some sort of social responsibility, or mission? Or do they just publish whatever the people want?

Is news a commodity, like the candy bars in the vending machine? Stock the ones that sell. Or is journalism a calling to something more significant?

I think it is and has always been both. You’re going to have organizations that want nothing more than a fast buck, and you’re going to have organizations that stick to principle. And it seems to me that is a very good thing.

“Grow or fall behind” says Hearst’s David Carey

Successful subscription publications usually have a life cycle that resembles a flattened out bell curve. They start off growing, reach a comfortable plateau, then decline — mostly because markets and interests change.

The decline can be postponed by frequent re-imagination and re-targeting. But without new titles, or revised old titles, the trajectory is pretty straight forward. Grow or decline.

David Carey mentions that in a very interesting interview with Mr. Magazine.

We believe that if you don’t grow; it’s not a question of just standing still, you actually fall behind. And so we are happy to keep pushing ahead with the growth agenda ….

Carey and Michael Clinton — two successful executives from Hearst — note that they are still heavily into print. Perhaps they've plugged their ears against the siren song of the digital disruption chorus. Says Clinton …

We like to say that we’ve been through every media revolution possible. When the telephone was born it was going to displace magazines. When the radio was born it was going to displace magazines. When the television was born it was going to displace magazines. (Laughs) So, we’ve been through every media revolution imaginable ….

Right. The "it's different this time" stuff gets old.

And speaking of print, Ryan Dohrn, the founder and CEO of Brain Swell Media, and publisher of Sales Training World, sent some great comments inspired by last week's Krehbiel Report. If you don't recall, the subject was how to make print advertising more relevant in the digital age.

1. It is imperative that sales people are trained in today's language to sell print. Most are using old school techniques taught for generations. These outdated approaches are killing the sale. One of the biggest sales techniques to master is the understanding that print advertising drives the "Familiarity Factor." People are more likely to click on products when then are familiar with the product or brand. Thus, print boost ROI on digital advertising.

2. Do not let your advertisers force you to become a direct response magazine. Most advertisers are wanting to run a direct response ad in your magazine when they do not offer a product that is direct response by nature. For example, an advertiser is running an ad to come in this week and save 10% on a sofa. That sofa costs $3500. The sofa is not a direct response product. Yet the ad design is 100% focused on DR. A $3500 purchase requires social influence, price comparison and personal validation. Print does all of these things! Your sales team needs to be trained to point this out in vibrant way to your advertisers.

3. Unique ad content drives ROI metrics. Ad agencies are notorious for running the same ad in 10 magazines. This is a huge mistake. The ad content needs to be very unique and very special. This idea needs to carry over to the magazines website and all the eNewsletters, etc that the advertiser has bought from you as a Publisher.

4. Training is the key. Sure, that is my business, I get it. But, this is the truth. Millennial account executives often kill old media sales dogs because they are speaking the sales language of today's media buyers. Print is not dead. Sellers are just irrelevant in how they communicate how to use print to drive ROI.

Interesting stuff.

The bottom line, to me, is that we have to get over this either/or thinking. It's not print or digital, or print vs. digital. The future is very clearly print and digital, working together.

On a related note, James Wildman is trying to coin a new word: printism.

The preconceived opinion not based on reason or actual experience of the print medium; bias, partiality, unreasoned dislike, hostility or antagonism towards, or discrimination against, print – accelerated by those closest to it being too afraid to properly defend it for fear of being tarred with the career-stunting ‘dinosaur’ label.

I'm mostly with you, James, especially the "not based on reason or actual experience" part. But I'm not sure "printism" is going to stick. It certainly won't jump up there with racism and sexism. I think you're better off slipping a notch down the scale and going the "phobia" route. E.g., "he's a printaphobe."

Print isn’t dying. Print advertising is dying.

In the on-going arguments about print and digital and the future of publishing, I see a growing disconnect between what readers want and what advertisers wants.

According to lots of research, readers still like print. Even young people. (See links below.) But advertisers are no longer enamored of print advertising and they keep trying to convince us that print is dead.

Advertisers prefer digital ads for a lot of reasons, including that they’re more trackable and that you can divide audiences more precisely.

So the dearth of print advertising is causing some publishers to pull away from print, which is often not what the reader wants. (And is probably self-defeating for other reasons.)

The digital cheerleaders will say the solution is to get all those print-loving Luddites to give up their dead tree editions and start acting like modern people. That’s not a fair representation of what’s going on, but it’s also not the way to run a business. You’re far better off serving people’s needs than trying to change their behavior.

A better solution to this print-digital dilemma would be to find a way to bridge the gap between these different interests and satisfy both sides. That is, to offer advertisers the tracking and audience segmentation they want, and to allow people to read their magazines the way they want to read them.

So … how’s that done? How do you make print more appealing to advertisers?

Here are a few of my ideas

  • Encourage your print subscribers to create digital accounts so you have more data on your web users. This won’t solve the problem of getting more print advertising, but it will use the leverage you have in print to get more customer data so you can charge more for digital ads.
  • Work with advertisers to create more trackable print ads, with custom URLs.
  • Look into better segmentation of your print edition so advertisers can target the group they’re interested in.

I also asked a few publishing colleagues for their opinion on this topic and got a few interesting ideas.

  • From Lev Kaye: Allow your print-loyal readers to READ your content in print, but then offer them ad-sponsored value-add products which can only be delivered digitally, such as a ‘solution configurator’ or ROI calculator or some other interactive piece that takes input from a PC or smartphone and spits out a customized recommendation or solution.
  • From BoSacks: You should look into the progress of high speed digital variable presses. Very impressive.

    It creates a personalized/localized edition on the fly. I have seen samples that show that the fidelity is so good that the cosmetic companies have bought into the process. That means reproduction of high speed toner and paper has reached offset standards and that is very impressive indeed.

  • From Donna Jefferson: An advertiser wants their brand to be seen in a publication that represents their (the advertiser’s) brand in a positive way.
    Most readers still believe that print represents brands that can most afford to be there and the reader is more apt to have faith in a brand represented by print. Print reinforces, or even introduces digital campaigns (we sell lots of bundled packages that include print and digital).

If you’ve got other ideas to add to the mix, please let me know.

P.S. — In support of my general argument about print and digital, see this article. And for more on the non-death of print, and how publishers have completely misunderstood the trends, see this and this.

Getting “media” right

My friend Ronn Levine with SIPA sent along this very interesting article. The tech/editorial culture clash

It’s a good article about the conflict between social media and news organizations, and it’s worth your time to read. But be careful about drawing the wrong conclusions.

What I’ve seen time and again with this sort of article is that people confuse “news” with “media,” or even with publishing in general, and as a result they get the wrong ideas about trends in publishing.

For example, consider this quote.

Every major news event in the world, from bombs raining down on Aleppo to the late night tweeting of presidential candidates, is broken through social media and seen through our luminous mobile phone screens.

That’s very true. People get their daily news from other sources these days, and often largely from social media.

But that’s news, which is only one part of the media, or of the publishing industry as a whole.

Most of the bellyaching about “the death of print” and the decline of “publishing” conflates and confuses these things.

Yes, news is in decline. When news was printed on paper, delivered by truck to newsstands and then by local kids on bikes to houses, there was a geographical limit to the reach of any given newspaper. As a result there was a market for lots of different papers in different cities.

That need doesn’t exist any more.

There’s simply no reason to have a Washington Post, a Chicago Tribune, an LA Times, plus 45 other localized newspapers — all covering basically the same stories. Most of them will have to fail in the modern environment, and the remaining few will have to consolidate.

But that’s an entirely different thing from Vogue, or Brew Your Own, or American Rifleman. Or, for that matter, Oil and Gas Daily or (dear to my heart) The FERC Practice and Procedure Manual.

National news is a horrible place to be right now. But local news and niche publishing are entirely different and live in another ecosystem.

The point is that structural changes to the publishing industry will affect different parts differently, so don’t buy into any rolled-up analysis that tries to explain everything from daily news to paperbacks.

Facebook is not the place for serious news

At the recent BIMS conference in Ft. Lauderdale I got a chance to catch up briefly with Lev Kaye, the Founder and CEO of Credspark. We expressed our mutual disdain for the latest silly craze that publishers are falling for — viz., putting their content on Facebook.

Lev sent me this very interesting video on the subject.

The Death of the Advertising Industrial Complex.

If you can’t watch the whole thing, watch the section from 19:50 to 21:55. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

If I were to summarize …

The problem with the ad model, simply stated.

We spend lots of time and money creating an audience that we then rent to other people rather than using it to promote our own business.

The problem with Facebook, simply stated.

We spend lots of time and money creating great content so Facebook can use it to expand its platform.

Pardon my French, but publishers need to learn to be their own bitch.

Create an audience for your own benefit. Create content to build your own platform and your own customer base. Don’t give stuff away. The great material you pay your professional staff to write has value. Act like it.

Publishers have to quit getting suckered by these big platforms. It started with Apple and the tablet craze.

Remember how everything was going to be on the iPad? Remember the derision that was heaped on those backwards, curmudgeonly Luddites who didn’t immediately forsake print and pour everything into an iPad strategy?

Are you buying an iPad for anybody this Christmas?

And in case you didn’t notice, the Apple newsstand doesn’t even exist any more. The revolution sputtered. I think it took a ride on a Segway.

But don’t just take my word for it.

7 Ways Facebook’s Big Algorithm Change Will Affect Marketers and Publishers makes the case decently well.

Publishers keep falling into the same ditch over and over again. It would be amusing if my career wasn’t at stake.

I would love to see a debate on this topic: Facebook, friend or foe?

Please note, I’m not talking about your personal use of Facebook. Go ahead and catch up with your nieces and nephews. I do. Share pictures of your latest catch and watch Mary’s cat jump into the Christmas tree. That’s all great fun — so long as you can stomach the hashtag activism and collective freak outs over faux news stories.

Just don’t put your serious journalism in that environment. Why in the heck would you? It’s like submitting your review of the latest DOJ ruling to the Weekly World News, right next to bat boy and revelations from Area 51.

Facebook was created as a way to find dates in college. It’s marginally more serious now, but still not the place for your paid, professional content.

And speaking of paid content, your kids would love a copy of this for Christmas: Escape to Mars.

Some thoughts on the 80-20 rule, aka the Pareto Principle

The Pareto Principle is the idea that small causes often make outsized effects. It’s sometimes called the 80-20 rule, because the numbers often (but not always) work out that way. For example, 80 percent of the traffic is on 20 percent of the roads, or 80 percent of a company’s revenues come from 20 percent of their products, or 80 percent of a company’s productivity is from 20 percent of the employees.

This principle can help companies to optimize their business. For example, if 80 percent of product defects come from 20 percent of the manufacturing errors, then if you can eliminate that 20 percent you have dramatically improved quality.

On the other side of the equation, if 80 percent of the work is done by 20 percent of the employees, why not fire the less-productive 80 percent and try to get more of those 20 percent types?

Jack Welch famously did something like this at GE. Each year he fired the bottom 10 percent of his managers, and required them to do the same with their workers.

Conceptually, you could dramatically improve the performance of your organization if you did this on a continuing basis — always keeping those top performers and getting rid of the stinkers. I’m sure it would work, but I wonder if there’s a limit.

There’s something about this 80-20 optimization concept that nags at me. Some of the books and articles I’ve read on 80-20 act as if it’s some kind of law of the universe. As if 80-20 is right up there with gravity and quantum physics. So, if the ratio is so universal, so built into the nature of things … does it fight back?

Here’s what I mean. If you get rid of the low performers and continually hire more high performers, does the 80-20 rule come and re-assert itself, causing some of the former high performers to become low performers? Is it possible that the super-effective 20 percent somehow need the less effective 80 percent?

Or think of it this way, in the context of the roads example — that is, 80 percent of the traffic is on 20 percent of the roads. So what if some too-clever-by-half social engineer decided to get rid of the 80 percent of the roads that weren’t “performing” as well? No neighborhood streets, for example, or back roads. Obviously that would be ridiculous.

Imagine that a publisher decided to eliminate 80 percent of his titles, and focus all his attention on the 20 percent that made the majority of his revenue. Would that work?

It certainly does to some extent. That’s how a lot of big box retailers make their living. They only carry the big sellers.

Still, I suspect it can be a mixed bag. In some cases you might be hurting yourself — by, for example, eliminating the long tail of titles that give people a favorable impression of your brand.

Another way to cast a skeptical eye at 80-20 is in the context of investing. Let’s say 20 percent of your investments make 80 percent of your revenue, so … gee, why not put all your money in that 20 percent?

Because that’s either a quick ticket to lots of wealth, … or poverty. It’s not a prudent investment strategy.

The 80-20 concept promises great opportunities for optimization, but you also need to apply a little common sense and not expect it to work magic.

Tech and Creative People Working Together?

[These are speaking notes from a SIPA conference in San Francisco. They’re a little cryptic. I’ve tried to expand a little for context, etc., but if you need clarification on something, please ask.]

When you talk about creative people and technical people, it’s not just marketing and IT, but fulfillment, accounting, business development, sales, production …

I’m going to address why these groups need to work together, how to do it, and what’s going to happen if the industry doesn’t learn this lesson.

Why creative and technical people have to work together

Very simply, there’s a right and a wrong way to do things.

There are good and bad offers, web design, seo, server management, programming, project management, content creation, and yes, marketing.

Anecdote: Story of bad emails I get all the time (can we “jump on a call” and waste my time) vs an email that addresses a problem I have and offers a solution (e.g., I noticed that you use WordPress and your site loads slow, I can help with that).

Forrester Research reported that fixing an IT issue post launch is 30 times more expensive that fixing it during the design phase. (Gerry McGovern article on LinkedIn)

In the modern working environment, jobs aren’t precisely divided up. Everyone is doing everything, but some people specialize. Which is why we have to work together across functional teams.

Some people are creative, some are technical, and some are both. These things can’t necessarily be trained. Sometimes it’s just the way people are.

Anecdote: IT: We don’t have renewals, but we do have automatic billing
Marketing: On a new 1-year order, set the bill to be issued after 9 months.

Anecdote: Sales guy: design us a prototype.
Tech: what technologies can we use?
Sales guy: it doesn’t matter, use what you want, we just want to see what you’re capable of.

“Technical” doesn’t just mean coding. Marketing has its technical requirements too, like reports. You need to establish tracking and reporting requirements early with the tech guys or they might have to rewrite their whole system later.

Tech doesn’t always mean computers. Your A-B test might be messed up by other technologies — different colors on different devices, printers, etc.

Anecdote: Story about stock codes and mailing house desire to be flexible with inside or outside equipment. We lose the ability to track what went wrong.

The lesson is to bring in the people who know the details, and do it early.

Understand the conflict between systems (templates) and infinite flexibility. Make sure you understand the programmers’ desire to systematize with templates and when that won’t work.

Example: Email signatures in Alerts (with Twitter or without). Product pages that assume every product will have a sample issue. You have to understand how templates work to avoid creating problems later.

Example 2: Content templates for online learning — make them specific enough that they become a form to fill out.

Bring in finance in up front as well to make sure your business model and payment plans will work.

Anything can be done, but there’s a cost.

Low tech workarounds can seem like a good idea but they eat up staff time, and accumulate. Once they accumulate you have a rube Goldberg mess.

A project might look simple to the editors and marketers and cause the IT folks fits, and vice versa. Get everybody involved and use spiral development to avoid this. Start with the big picture and work down into details.

But … explore several different options at the same time because some niggling little detail can totally derail your project — e.g., an email system that can’t attach PDFs or an e-commerce system that can’t do recurring payments.

How creative and technical people can work together

Learn what you can, but stick to your role. Don’t tell the technologist how to do things, and vice versa. Respect other people’s expertise.

Example: VP v my programmer re login information and security.

People do what they want to do. Get to know what assets you have, what they like to do, what they’re good at, and deploy those assets appropriately.

Get the operational people in the room when you discuss something. Supervisors and salesman often don’t know what can really be done and how things work.

For large projects

Get on a train …

One person has to take the point and do the initial research on the project. The idea is to understand the breadth of the issue and all the systems and departments that may be affected.

For meetings, let people know what you’re going to discuss ahead of time and let them sleep on it. Require them to interact with the agenda before the meeting. Nobody should come to the meeting expecting to wing it.

Anecdote: Yes vs. No programmers. The cigarette break.

Make sure the people actually doing the work are the ones creating the estimates.

Bring the technical people in early so the whole team spirals their way from the overall concept to the specific requirements.

Back and forth is inevitable, embrace it. Don’t think you’re going to write a perfect, static requirements document.

Requirements change – during development and afterwards.

Example: Programmer’s issues with ad sales and changing requirements. If you don’t build in flexibility up front you’ll be redesigning a lot.

For requirements docs, it’s very different whether working with inside people (involve them early and let requirements develop) or contractors for a specific task or new vendors. Also big vs. small projects.

Write complete sentences in your requirements document in addition to bullet points to make sure you get your point across. Choppy, abbreviated language can lead to misunderstandings.

Agree on testing upfront. Who does it, when, and how it affects the schedule.

In a big project, establish small goals and deliverables. Don’t let a developer go on for a month without some review / status update / demonstration.

Sometimes it’s best to bypass your own tech people.

Example: WordPress for Kiplinger Alerts.

Just because it can be done technically doesn’t mean it should be done in your organization.

Example: segmentation.

If your tech team has sales people, make sure their incentives aren’t getting in your way.

Example Preferring ad sales over collecting an email address.

Good enough really is good enough.

Perfect is the enemy of done, but you don’t want to send out crap.

The bottom line is to try to understand and respect one another, and never trust somebody who isn’t actually doing the work.

The Looming Threat that will leave us all flipping burgers

The old strategy that most of us grew up on was acquiring the customer and monetizing that relationship. Cf. book of models

Under most of those models “reach” has value. You want to get the word out broadly.

But we know that’s not exactly true. Reach is only cost-effective when you have well-qualified people. But if reach is free to you ….

This is how Facebook is tricking publishers. They promise us reach so they can get data. It’s a bad bargain.

1. It devalues our content and perpetuates the idea that content should be free.

2. We put our content in the same context as cat videos and hashtag activism.

3. They’re using us to build their business.

Reach is only valuable if you’re still acquiring the customer. But if customers think they can get everything they need in their Facebook feed, they won’t have any reason to come to us.

Apple tried this with the newsstand and the iPad. Foolish publishers fell for it, but fortunately (and predictably IMO) that failed.

Facebook is doing it right. They’re going after data and aren’t forcing anybody to use certain hardware.

Don’t fall for the trick.

Computers seem to promise centralization — we’re bringing everybody together in one place, so they don’t have to use multiple devices, diff. accounts, etc. But the reality is often the opposite. Platforms are not interested in helping you have all the data you want. The platform’s first concern isn’t helping the customer, but acquiring the customer.

The high-minded promise of the platform is that people will have one place to go to get everything, but it’s not true.

Example: Magazine subscription

My two prescriptions.

1. Leave Facebook to cat videos. Starve it of serious content.

2. Get publishers to cooperate to create a true platform that addresses the needs of the publisher and the customer — not Zuckerberg.

3 main takeaways

  • Respect other people’s expertise and allow them to have a voice at the table.
  • Make procedures that require people to think about an issue before they discuss it.
  • Consider the possibility that somebody else is eating your lunch because they’re working at tomorrow’s business model and you’re looking at yesterday’s business model.

***

If you’re not familiar with SIPA, you should be. If you’re interested in practical advice on how to prosper in your publishing business, meet me at their next major event: BIMS 2016. I promise you’ll learn at least one thing that will make the trip worthwhile.

Publishing lessons from fishing on the beach

I was on vacation last week down at the beach. While I was watching the sun rise over the Atlantic, putting the same bait on the same hook, casting it into the same ocean in roughly the same place, I thought about that saying you hear from time to time that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

People who say that need to go fishing.

Was I, in fact, doing the same thing over and over? Each piece of shrimp was slightly different than the last. Each time I cast my line the sun was a little higher in the sky, the tide had come a little higher up the beach and the current had moved everything a little farther south. The fish had moved around too. And sometimes, mysteriously, they just start biting for their own reasons.

It’s virtually impossible to do the same thing twice when you’re fishing.

Heraclitus was one of those old Greek philosophers. He said change is the fundamental nature of the universe, and one of his famous sayings is that you can never step into the same river twice.

He appears to have been somewhat of a grump and said some other strange things, but … his basic point is valid. The landscape is always changing.

This is just as true with your market as it is for the fish on the shore. Tastes and preferences are changing all the time. What worked last year might not work this year. You have to stay creative and try new things. But at the same time, something that didn’t work last year might work now.

You have to be willing to fail, and to not take your failures too seriously.

I can recall many promising new project proposals that were killed because they reminded the boss of something that had failed a decade ago.

“Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results,” the boss might say.

Okay, obviously there’s some wisdom in that saying, but as with all proverbs the hard part is understanding how and when to apply it. Your new effort might not actually be the same thing, and it’s not going to the same market in the same world. People are different now.

Many years ago I was involved in developing an online tax service that failed because it was too early. People were scared to death of putting their financial information on this new and weird thing called the internet. Now everybody does it without thinking twice.

So if everything’s changing, and the things you learned last year might not apply this year, what do you do?

Two things.

First, you need to be testing things all the time. The tests need to get results quickly, and you need to give less weight to tests you did a while ago. Fashions and opinions and tastes are always changing.

Second, you need to have a sense for the changing landscape. Or you need to hire someone who does.

You know those people who are always in style, always know the latest lingo and how to use the latest slang? Some people just have a knack for understanding the popular mind. The will of the people. What the cool kids are up to.

Those people are very valuable — if you’re marketing to the cool kids. Of course you have to be careful with that. Your plugged in millennial might have exactly the wrong sense if you’re marketing to 60 year olds.

The real point is, know your market. Know the words and fears and hopes that resonate. And they might not be the same today as they were last month.

And don’t let anybody kill a project because of something that didn’t work ten years ago. Let go of your failures. The world is a different place now.

Ad blocker rage is the chickens coming home to roost

Congratulations, publishers. We’ve trained the unwashed masses on the Internet quite well. They are convinced that it’s their God-given, constitutional right to get free access to all the analysis and reporting we produce at great expense. A growing number of people are offended at the idea that publishers should be compensated for their work.

Sensible people realize that the ads they see in a magazine or on a web page pay for the content. Putting up with those ads is the price the reader pays for getting free stuff online.

But the world is not populated by sensible people. The way they see it, it’s natural and ordinary and right for the information to be free, and publishers are money-grubbing bastards for littering the public’s online safe spaces with crude things like advertising.

Well … what did you expect? This is one more consequence of the awful, bad, horrible decision publishers made when they chose to put their valuable work online “for free” — that is, ad supported.

Someone is going to say, “But Krehbiel, you’re writing all this stuff for free.”

Yes, and that’s precisely the point. There should be a distinction between the free stuff — some guy like me jawing about whatever — and real journalism, real research. real data, real analysis.

When you publish your work for free you’re telling the world that it’s no better than a blog.

Recently I have been on the receiving end of some terribly nasty complaints by readers about the paywall policy where I work. We’ve set a strict standard. Paying subscribers can use an ad blocker, others can’t. If they go elsewhere, that’s okay with us because we’re not getting any revenue from them anyway.

That policy is a step in the right direction, but you wouldn’t believe the rage it generates from the snowflakes who think they have a right to read for free all the material we pay a lot of money to produce. It’s pretty amazing.

Publishers are now in the awkward situation of trying to put the genie back in the bottle — or, perhaps, taking the candy back from the baby — and trying to re-establish the idea that quality content isn’t free.

Just in time postal delivery?

I’ve been investigating electronic paper recently. It looks like a very interesting technology that will have lots of helpful applications. Imagine, for example, a piece of fabric sewn into the bag you carry to work every day with a constantly updated train schedule.

I was hoping it would be a good option for Kiplinger Letter subscribers. Our people love to read in print, and only a small percentage take advantage of the digital option — despite the fact that digital readers get the letter a few days earlier.

Maybe electronic paper can bridge that gap, I thought, since electronic paper is a little more like reading on paper. I can envision a situation where we simply deliver the latest edition straight to a piece of electronic paper sitting on the subcriber’s coffee table or desk. It would have some of the haptic benefits of print, but it could be updated digitally.

Alas, it’s too expensive for now.

In the meanwhile, it seems there should be better options for getting good, old-fashioned paper to people a lot faster. After all, Amazon can deliver things more complicated than a newsletter, and often they can deliver it on the same day.

Why can’t every post office — or maybe even every postal delivery truck — have a printer, and insert mail directly into the letter carrier’s bag? It should be possible to have same-day delivery of something as simple as a four-page newsletter.

No doubt there’d have to be some standardization, since these printers wouldn’t be able to offer many options. The publisher may have to limit himself to 8.5 x 11 white paper in #10 envelopes, for example.

(We print on cream-colored 11×17 paper, folded to make a 4-page letter and stuffed in a cream-colored envelope with our logo.)

Adopting standardized format seems like a small compromise to get same-day delivery.

So … why hasn’t this happened? Here are some ideas.

1. To offer it nationwide, they’d have to have this equipment — and somebody to man it — at every post office, and some post offices are little places out in the boondocks. They might not get much use out there, so it might not be cost-effective.

Okay, but why is that a problem? If you can get same-day delivery at most post offices — or even just some — and regular delivery in other areas, what’s wrong with that?

2. Most mail isn’t as time-sensitive as a subscription publication, so there wouldn’t be a lot of demand.

That, I think is the main problem with the concept. How many people need same-day delivery of a printed piece of paper? For most of us, if we need something immediately we just email it.

So … while this would be a great thing for some very niche publications, I don’t think it has broad appeal. Which is too bad.