March 30, The genius app idea that will make you millions, don’t let Facebook steal your demographic data, and “trust, not traffic”

Combine SubscriptMe with Evernote …

I saw this from Subscription Content. SubscriptMe Takes the Hassle Out of Managing Subscriptions.

It’s awful to admit this, but I don’t have very many subscriptions. Managing the few I do have is not a big deal, so this new app doesn’t do much for me.

For a person who does have a lot of subscriptions, something like SubscriptMe may be a good idea.

Now … of course what they should do is combine this with a reader app so that the user can get all his subscriptions information as well as the content in one place. That would be a good service.

Here’s the idea. I think the genius company that decides to do it would (1) brand themselves as a forward-looking advocate for publishers and readers, and (2) create a new source of revenue.

As everybody in the subscription publishing industry knows, selling content on Apple and Amazon isn’t the greatest deal because those companies want to keep the customer information — and the customer. That undermines the publisher’s business model.

(Note: this is a problem for subscription publishers. Selling books is another matter.)

The trouble facing publishers is that magazine consumers expect to be able to access their subscriptions on any device. This creates conflicts and tough decisions for the publisher. It’s good for the consumer to let them get their subscriptions on iPad and Kindle, but it can be bad for the publisher because Apple and Amazon steal the customer.

As they wrestle with this decision, many publishers wonder if they should create dedicated apps for their content. This also has problems, including (1) putting the publisher in the technology business, and (2) the problem of “app fatigue.” Or, as a friend expressed to me one time, there’s a growing chorus of “No, I don’t want your stinkin’ app!”

Many consumers don’t want to have a Sports Illustrated app, a Kiplinger app, a Time app, a Better Homes and Gardens app, etc.

Large publishers could streamline this a bit by having one app that includes all their titles, but … consumers don’t know or care who the publisher is. A Hearst app, or a Time app, would mean nothing to them.

Rather, the consumer just wants a reader app. I.e., this is where I put all my stuff that I read.

Consider Evernote as a starting point. A user can clip articles from the web to read later in their Evernote app. They can forward an email, or a pdf, to their Evernote account and then read it on their iPad, on a desktop, or on their smart phone. There’s lots of things an Evernote reader can read in Evernote — except for subscription content!

Well … at least not directly. They can clip content into Evernote, but that’s asking the user to take extra steps, and it might not be in the publisher’s interest, because it’s easy to share content from Evernote.

Imagine if Evernote had a tab for “my subscriptions,” which used an API to connect to the publisher both for authentication and to pull in the latest content. To satisfy Apple’s app requirements, there would be no sales in the app. The sales would take place with the publisher, but the content would be available in Evernote.

This provides a great benefit to the consumer because he has one place to read all his stuff. He stores his SI login, his Kiplinger login, his Time login, etc., and he can get all his subscriptions — plus other things he likes to read — in one place. The terms of the sale are set with the publisher. All the app is doing is providing a place to get the content. It’s a super-charged reader app.

I pitched this idea to a guy at Evernote a little while ago. He liked the idea for a couple reasons. First, it would increase usage of Evernote because people would be using it for even more content. Second, it would give Evernote a lot of exposure, since publishers would be pushing their readers to them. Evernote would become the default app for access to subscription content.

I thought it was a no-brainer, but they declined to pursue it because (I’m pretty sure this is the reason) they feared it would sour their relationship with Apple.

I can understand that, but I think they were catastrophizing. There’s nothing about this app concept that would violate Apple’s terms.

So, here’s the idea for you app developers out there. Create your own reader app, somewhat like Evernote, that provides a platform for free and paid information. You might consider partnering with SubscriptMe to handle that side of the business.

The developer of the app would charge the publisher a small fee for delivery of the content, which would cover the costs of keeping the technology up to date. This would get the publisher out of the technology business.

Such an app would be like Flipboard, but better. Like Evernote, but better. Like a dedicated reader app, but better.

So … what’s stopping you?

Facebook says “All your user data are belong to us”

(Search “all your bases are belong to us” if you don’t get the reference.)

Years ago, Amazon and Apple told publishers “all your subscribers are belong to us,” and naive publishers said, “uh, okay then.” Now Facebook is getting in on the act. Will publishers wise up?

I doubt it.

A couple weeks ago I mentioned this article, and how it should transform your ideas about content. What We Got Wrong About Books says that data about readers is valuable.

If you publish your content straight to Facebook, guess who’s getting that data?

Publishers — don’t be suckers yet again!

Build trust, not traffic

This is worth your time: Why You Should Be Building Trust, Not Traffic.

March 23, Social media mania, don’t believe statistics from advocates, and try fewer images in your emails

Is there at least one social media outlet that does not have a marketing angle?

Every time some new social media thing catches on, some marketing genius is going to tell you how you can use it for your product or service.

At a certain point it gets a little ridiculous. I just saw an article about using snapchat for marketing. Give me a break.

People don’t get on social media to shop. They’re trying to chat, or read about cats, or catch up with old high school friends or something like that. Each social media outlet will have a different focus, but generally speaking it’s about people, not about products. Hence the word “social.”

Most of these “marketing implications of social media” things seem like nonsense to me. Or, rather, they’re ways for young marketers to try to make a business case for their social media addiction.

Don’t fall for it.

Lies, damned lies and the push for mobile apps

“People spend 86 percent of their time on apps, therefore you need to build an app for your magazine!”

Have you ever heard something like that before? It makes about as much sense as this: “People spend 1/3 of their time sleeping, therefore you need to make a dream version of your magazine.”

How to Lie with Statistics was not supposed to be a guidebook!

Yes, people spend lots of time on apps — those apps being Facebook, Twitter, Angry Birds, Candy Crush Saga, etc. They are not reading news or other professional content!

Never try to base your publishing strategy on rolled-up stats about general internet behavior because the vast majority of internet behavior has nothing to do with publishing!

Don’t ask “how many pages are viewed on mobile?,” or “how much time is spent on mobile?,” or “how many people have a mobile device?” People who use such stats are trying to deceive you. Often they’re trying to get you to buy their app-making software or service.

Rather, ask questions like this.

  • “How many of my customers (and people like my customers) who read the kind of content I produce read it on a mobile device?”
  • “When my customers, or people like my customers, read on mobile devices, what kind of stuff do they read, and can I re-target my content to be like that?”

Those are the most important questions. After you’ve addressed those two (and only after you’ve addressed those two) ask this.

  • “When other people (who aren’t my customers) read content on mobile devices, what kind of stuff do they read, and can I re-target my content to be like that?”

The mobile-first, everything digital, “we love disruption” crowd will try to do this completely backwards. They’ll tell you to do new content for a new audience on a new platform.

Sure, do that. But do it last. First, only change one thing, e.g., new content to your current audience on your current platform, or your current content for your current audience on a new platform.

You can’t go to new people with new stuff in a place you’re not known and expect to do well.

Here’s an article that makes some similar points and is worth your time: News Media Should Drop Native Apps.

More images, fewer clicks?

Here’s an interesting study from Constant Contact. Study: More Images Means Less Clicks for Email Marketers. (Argh. It’s “Fewer,” people, not “Less.”)

… the Constant Contact study found that when an email has more than 3 images, the click-through rate greatly drops.

March 16, A few outside the box ideas to rev your creative juices

What if everything fell apart?

Every once in a while it’s a good idea to ask yourself how you would keep your company going if all your existing sources of revenue disappeared.

So, for example, let’s say you publish a magazine and all of a sudden nobody buys magazines any more. What assets do you have, and how can you create a new product to keep your company going?

You may not be in the magazine business, but the concept applies to any revenue stream. What if advertising dries up, or subscriptions disappear completely, or …. You get the idea.

Here are some crazy thoughts to get you started.

Email search — Provide a service where your subscribers can send an email with search terms and you reply immediately with an email that contains articles related to those terms.

Why would a subscriber want such a thing? Why can’t they just search google?

Google gives all sorts of results — the good and the bad, the trustworthy and the garbage. You’re offering carefully researched articles from a trusted source.

So then, why can’t your subscriber just log in to your website and do the search there?

Who wants to do all that? Open a browser, type in the URL, find the search function (which your web designer moved last week), enter the terms, sort through your crappy search results page and then click on individual articles (that are cluttered with ads)? No thanks.

Sending an email is simply easier.

Imagine that Kathy is one of your subscribers, and she’s an HR manager. She’s sitting in a boring meeting and some personnel topic comes up. She knows there are HR implications, but she’s not positive she has all the details right. She quickly sends an email to your service. Five seconds later she has well-researched, professional articles that address her situation. And she didn’t even have to get out of her chair.

Short guides, formatted for the smart phone — The tablet is becoming old news. People are doing more and more on their smart phones. But so far the smart phone hasn’t been a great option for reading — mostly because documents aren’t formatted for that size device.

Change that. Create short, easy-to-read and easy-to-skim articles formatted specifically for the smart phone.

But how will you make the sale and deliver the content? Forget about Kindle and iTunes and all those guys. They keep the purchaser’s information, and you need that as an asset to grow your business.

Sell these reports yourself, deliver them by email and give your customers extensive help on how to get the documents into their preferred reader –whether that’s Kindle, iBooks, Nook, Evernote or whatever.

(Yes, you can get documents into those readers without going through the vendors’ walled gardens.)

Give away content, but track how readers use it — This article will challenge your ideas about the value of content. What We Got Wrong About Books.

What’s more valuable, a $10 magazine subscriber, or the fact that you know he reads every one of your articles about DIY home repairs, and he lingers on photos of Italian sports cars?

Imagine a future where all content is free, and then imagine ways you can still monetize your content by collecting data on the people who are reading it.

I know it’s creepy, and I’m not comfortable with all that data collecting either. I’m just trying to stretch your mind here.

March 9, Why the cool kids misunderstood the actual kids

Newsflash: College kids don’t like e-textbooks

The “everything’s going digital” crowd must be very confused. After all, for years they’ve been telling us that all content is moving to digital. Yes, they’ll admit there are a few Luddites who still cling to print — because of some deranged emotional attachment, perhaps — but sooner or later their numbers will dwindle and everyone will be reading everything on shiny little devices.

Why then are so many young people reading printed books? See Why digital natives prefer reading in print.

Textbook makers, bookstore owners and college student surveys all say millennials still strongly prefer print for pleasure and learning …

I suspect there’s a lot of hand-wringing and … shock, actually … that this could be the case. Aren’t these “digital native” folks the very ones who were supposed to usher in the Age of Digitarius? Why are they turning aside from the mystic digital vision?

Perhaps we need to reconsider the “everything’s going digital” mantra.

The digital advocates figured that since kids are on devices 24×7 they would naturally want to read on those devices. The reason the predictions of lots of new digital readers haven’t panned out as planned is that the conclusion doesn’t follow from the premise. There are lots of reasons for this, but one of the main reasons is quite simple. For some purposes print is simply better.

There are other factors, too, like the very low price of used (print) books, and the fact that a used book can be helpful — especially when key sections are already highlighted. (If you’re in potions, you really want the half-blood prince’s book, right?)

I read on my iPad just about every day, but I would never want to study for a test on one because I know that memory is tied to other senses. I can picture myself, sitting for the exam, thinking, “The answer to this question was in the front of the book, on the bottom right of an odd-numbered page, and I highlighted it in yellow. There was a picture of barchans right above it.” (I studied geology in school.)

Those things help.

Think of the time you tried to remember someone’s name and you got to it by remembering around it. You started to think of things close by in your memory, like where you met the person, or when you last saw him, and somehow your brain circled in and got back to the name — because memory is tied to associations.

The physical position of words on a page can help you remember the content on that page. The feel of the paper even helps, and the heft of the pages to the left and right.

Also, a book doesn’t beep at you when some app wants to update, or when you get a text, or … a hundred other things. Digital devices can be annoyingly distracting. If you want to hunker down and study, print is better.

Maybe some day we will have digital versions of textbooks that will actually be better than print, but we’re still a very long way from there. And even at that, Jean-Luc Picard will still read printed books. (In the Greek, if I remember correctly.)

Publishing has been plagued by a group of people who promote a simplistic digital good, print bad mindset. We need to get beyond that and start thinking about serving a need with the appropriate tool. Whatever that tool might be.

This article makes some similar points, and is worth your time: 8 Lessons From the Failure of Digital Magazines to Revolutionize Publishing.

March 2, Don’t believe the media about media, and why subscription revenue will save magazines

Not even the media gets the media right

Remember when the iPad first came out and some magazine publishers were rushing to get their product into the iTunes store? There were stories of disputes between the publishers and Apple, especially about the rules for approval of their apps. Many of those stories said the problem was the remit — i.e., the percent of the purchase price that the publisher gets.

Nope. That wasn’t it. Apple’s 30% cut of the purchase price is quite fair. The dispute was (and is) about who gets the customer information.

Pimping your brand to advertisers is a losing game

Magazines are losing ad pages to digital, so they’re scrambling to come up with new ways to please advertisers, which is why there’s so much attention on “native advertising.”

I think it’s the wrong way to go.

I don’t like to use this kind of language, but in this case it simply fits, so please pardon my French.

Magazine publishers need to be their own bitch.

Rather than trying to find new ways to please advertisers — who are always fighting to get more and pay less — find new ways to please your subscribers. And charge them for it. People will pay for good content they can trust.

Along those lines, this otherwise depressing article has a kernel of truth in it: Time Inc.’s Q4 and Full-Year Results Show a Company in Decline.

Somewhat promising though, are subscription revenues. Although they were down 7 percent in Q4 2014 versus Q4 2013, YoY revenue only fell by 1 percent. That’s critical considering chairman and CEO, Joe Ripp, recently stated at the American Magazine Media Conference that he expects subscription revenue to become a big piece of the pie.

Publishers made a huge mistake when the Internet first caught on. They put their content out there for free, hoping that digital dimes would make up for subscription dollars. Then digital dimes became pennies. It was a fool’s errand, as most people realize now.

Or … you would hope they realize it. Unfortunately, many publishers are making the same mistake with apps and Facebook and Flipboard and various other free internet services. They keep selling their birthright for a dish of pottage.

My opinion: quit feeding the beast! Stop giving away your valuable content for flighty ad revenue.

Create something of value and charge for it. Make the digital version of the magazine an upsell. Get more revenue per subscriber by charging for “all access.” Quit allowing companies that don’t create any content to profit off of your content.

I mean that as a preference, or a mindset, not as a fixed rule. The ad-supported model does work for some things. But publishers need to resist the temptation to make ad-supported the default. Rather, make subscription revenue the default, and don’t be afraid to charge for valuable content.

Feb. 23, To expand your business, play to your strengths

If it works, do it again

I’m not a golfer, but I heard an old guy talking about the advice he used to get from a friend who was a golf pro. He’d see the pro in the locker room, and the pro would ask, “Is it working?” The old guy would say, “It’s working,” and the pro would say, “Keep doing it.”

Obvious, right? Along the lines of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” (The old golfer’s point was that Americans are practical and are more interested in results than methods.)

There’s an analogy in publishing, which my friend Ronn Levine mentions in this post: Taking a Publishing Cue From Hollywood Sequels.

If you have created a successful initiative — be it a webinar, white paper, daily publication, etc. — it makes sense to offer people some sort of part 2 or next chapter.

This reminds me of a chart I prepared for a talk about product development.

likelihood of success with new product idea

The idea is that your best customer is your current customer, and the best topic to cover is something you’re known for. If you launch a new product on a new topic, people who know and trust you are better prospects than people who don’t know you. And if you launch a new product, on a new topic, to a completely different audience, you have very little going for you.

Or, as Ronn would put it, write a sequel.

Your best options for product development are spin-offs from existing publications. Dig deeper into the topic you already cover, or branch out … but not too much. The closer you can stay to your current customer and your current expertise, the more chance you have to succeed.

Feb. 16, Why publishing companies will survive

Can self-published authors really do all this?

If you want to know why book publishers will continue to survive in the era of the Kindle, self-publishing and ebooks, just read this article: 55 Digital Branding Tips for Authors. It’s a lot for an author to take on.

And if that’s not enough to make the point, read David Gaughran’s Let Get Digital and see the list of all the things he says self-published authors need to know. Here’s a partial list.

It’s a lot of stuff. Some of it is technical, but some is the sort of thing that you either like or you don’t like. It’s stuff that pushes people out of their comfort zone. Some writers will jump right in, while others will read a list like that and say, “ew. Never mind. I just want to write.” So if being a Twit-face-insta-tumblr pro is the entrance fee, they won’t pay it.

Some few people will be good authors and will also be able to do all that social media and branding stuff. I suspect those people are the current rock stars of the self-publishing world. They can write, and they can also play the game.

But there is no reason to believe that those two skills — good storyteller on the one hand, and good social media / Amazon whiz kid on the other — will go together in most or even in many cases. Rather, it’s almost a dead certainty that these skills will specialize. And when they do, where will they specialize?

In publishing houses, of course.

The publishing house can afford to hire the guy who hates social media but knows cover design like nobody’s business. And across the hall from him is the analytic expert who knows how to beat the Amazon algorithms, but would never be caught dead on Twitter.

This is the way things go. As time goes on, skills specialize. For example, there was a time — maybe 200 years ago — when a man could be pretty well educated in most subjects. Somebody like Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Jefferson could keep up with intellectual developments in a wide variety of fields. But as knowledge increased, people had to specialize.

Today, a scientist may be an expert on one very small area and know almost nothing about anything else, or a historian may know all there is to know about farmers in 1820s France, but know very little about the rest of history.

Early in the ebook revolution a few talented souls could know enough about a lot of different topics and become self-publishing rock stars. As digital publishing evolves, that will be less and less possible, and that’s why we’ll need publishing houses that can hire experts in all the little specialties.

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Feb. 9, Amazon goes to college, the hubris of the digital first crowd, and the “shift from print to digital”

Ramen noodles in two days!

It’s very interesting that Amazon — the unquestioned leader in the e-commerce and digital publishing space — isn’t trying to force college textbooks onto Kindles. Instead, they are taking a shot at the college bookstore market, but they have the sense to know what that means — which is textbooks (in paper), hoodies, and Ramen noodles.

It’s all well and good to have a digital strategy, to imagine what the future might be, etc., but if you’re trying to run a business you need to sell the products people want, at a good price, with good service. Amazon excels at that.

“But it’s different now!” gets tiresome

I had a nice conversation with a publishing industry colleague who is trying to work with some of the digital cool kids to sell his magazines.

It’s almost as if the Woodstock mindset has been merged with e-commerce. “Don’t trust anybody over 30″ has become “dismiss any business practice that wasn’t invented on an iPhone.”

In the early days of digital newsstands I thought the evil empires (chiefly Apple and Amazon, but there are others) were just ignorant about magazine publishing. As time went on that seemed less and less likely. Certainly they had somebody on staff who was supposed to learn about the industries they’re trying to pillage. Certainly they’ve had conversations with industry experts who had told them — probably multiple times — how publishing actually works.

I realized that a charitable way to understand the conflict is to see Apple’s and Amazon’s strategies as an attempt to make the buying experience as nice as possible for the consumer — because, as I said above, they’re good at that. (At least Amazon is.)

The purchaser on Amazon doesn’t want to send his information to Hachette, or Time Inc., or whoever (most people have no idea who publishes their magazine anyway), they want to buy the thing (on Amazon or Apple) and be done with it. The relationship is with Apple or with Amazon, not with the publisher.

Well … that works with a book or a box of Chinese tea, but there are lots of reasons it doesn’t work with a subscription publication. A subscription is an on-going relationship, and it has to accommodate things like changing an address, suspending service while on vacation, or linking up print and digital subscriptions. These things require the publisher to have the customer’s information.

It’s almost impossible to believe that it could have taken the people at Amazon and Apple more than a couple weeks to learn that. Publishing is not rocket science. Simple people can learn it pretty easily. It seems horribly unlikely that these digital whiz kids were incapable of understanding how subscription publishing worked.

We know they’re not stupid, but we also know that they are arrogant. They know better, you see, because they’re reinventing the world. So when a publisher says “but that’s not the way it works,” what the cool kids think is, “yes, we understand that you old fogies are stuck in the past and can’t change, but we’re not bound by your old traditions. We’re re-creating business models. It’s different now.”

In some cases that’s true. Some things are different and need to change. But somebody has to have the intelligence (seasoned with a little humility) to distinguish them. And it seems that humility is very slow coming.

Here we are, many years into this “digital revolution” that “changes everything,” and the cool kids still don’t understand some very fundamental things about subscription publishing. I’m no longer surprised by it, but I am frustrated, as are my industry colleagues who have to work on these issues.

Progress is taking place, but it’s very slow. It may be that we’re going to have to wait until a higher percentage of the cool kids are over 30.

The idea of a “shift from print to digital” is a source of confusion

I saw that phrase in a headline — “the shift from print to digital” — and it conjured up all the wrong-headed ideas the publishing industry has been suffering under for the last several years.

It’s not that there is no shift going on, properly understood. There clearly are more people doing things on digital devices. The problem is that the phrase “shift from print to digital” feeds a mindset that everything currently in print has to “shift to digital,” which is a mistake.

It’s a mistake for two main reasons. First, some people like print and will continue to use print, but second, the idea that a product is “shifting” from print to digital assumes a commonality between the two products that might not be appropriate.

In some cases it’s relatively easy to make a digital product from a print product, and the two products are quite similar. A digital book is a little bit different than a printed book, but they’re substantially the same.

A phone book, on the other hand is a very different thing in print and digital versions. Also, the concept of an “edition” is necessary in print and unnecessary in digital, so “digital magazine” is a little weird.

Rather than thinking in terms of a “shift from print to digital,” we should be thinking of how to make good products for discrete audiences — in whatever format, and with whatever product assumptions, are appropriate for that audience.

Feb. 2, publishing in the digital age, and what is a magazine (reprise)?

Publishing in an era of Digital Fragmentation

Greg Krehbiel talks on digital publishing

I recently gave a talk to some Chinese businessmen on digital publishing. The slideshow (with some notes) is available here.

The main theme of the talk is that the digital revolution is not consolidating things onto digital — as if everything is moving to the iPad. Rather, it’s fragmenting things — creating more and more places where content can be served and consumed.

There are more and more reader devices using their own specs (epub, mobi, KF8, etc.). Then there are apps for those services on other devices (iPads, android tablets, smart phones). Then there’s the web, which can be different on desktop, tablet and mobile.

There is no perfect solution, but there are some practical things publishers can do to mitigate the harm.

“Digital” is not replacing print. It’s simply adding more options. That’s why I call it “digital fragmentation.”

What is a magazine?

Toward the end of my Dec. 1 edition I ask what is a digital magazine. D.B. Hebbard weighs in from a different perspective in this article: What is a magazine?

Mr. Hebbard is answering people who say that there’s no need for a Netflix for magazines because it already exists, and it’s called the internet. Hebbard correctly responds that a magazine is a different thing from a website. He says the mistake is a matter of “equating brands with products.”

The Atlantic’s 10-time a year print product is a magazine, its website is – need I say it – a website. They are not the same thing, even though they share content and a brand name. The reading habits of its loyal customers are different, as is the product.

He’s right. They are very definitely not the same thing.

For me, a magazine is a collection of stories (articles, essays, etc.) put together by an editor for the reader in one publishing package. It is complete unto itself. While it can have additional material through references to past issues, links and the like, it is meant to be read as a whole – either at one time, or over an extended period.

In this way, it is NOT like a website, which can have the same content, and be edited by the same editor, but has no beginning, middle or end when it comes to its total content. Stories stay on websites indefinitely, and article appearing in January is housed on the same site as the story that first appeared in December.

I don’t think the reader particularly cares that there’s an editor (that sounds a bit like the mindset of someone who looks at things from the publisher’s perspective), but I mostly agree with the rest, and he makes some other points in the article that are well worth your attention.

An issue of a magazine often (but not always) has a focus that ties the articles together. But there are other things that distinguish a magazine that people forget about, like …

  • You can put it on your coffee table
  • You’re likely to find one at the barber shop
  • It has a cover that is designed to attract your attention
  • You might want to share it with a friend.

I’m not trying to be silly. These are not inconsequential elements of what we expect from the word “magazine,” and they help to highlight why (1) website, (2) digital issue and (3) print magazine are really three very different things.

It has been a meme for many years now that print publishers don’t get digital publishing (and the web, in particular) because print is all they know. But I see many digital publishing people today who don’t seem to get the magazine.

I don’t think it’s a matter of “getting” something so much as it’s a confused question. “Digital magazine” is a term that breeds confusion. It’s like calling a motorcycle a two-wheeled car, and then telling the Harley guy that he doesn’t “get” cars.

We need a new word for digital editions of magazines. Webazines or Tabazines or …. Okay, those are awful, but continuing to call them “digital magazines” is only going to reinforce the confusion.

Jan. 26, Will Google kill gmail?, there’s hope for good content, and the Netflix model won’t work for magazines

Will Google kill Gmail?

This topic is slightly off the beaten track for The Krehbiel Report on Publishing, but it grabbed my attention.

Mike Elgan wrote a very interesting prediction over at computerworld.com on why Google will eventually kill gmail. His argument is that there’s no money in simply being a conduit for information — a “dumb pipe,” he calls it. And that’s pretty much what email is — a service that simply delivers information without adding anything to it. He says Google wants to mediate everything, which is why they keep trying to push people into other services.

I think he makes an interesting case, and he highlights an inherent problem with many online services, which is the disconnect between what the user wants out of the service and how the provider wants to monetize it.

Why, for example, doesn’t Facebook have a decent search engine? I don’t know the answer, but I’m sure it has everything to do with Facebook’s interests in monetizing our cat discussions and absolutely nothing to do with what Facebookers really want.

Email has become a crucial component of modern life, but, if Elgan is right, there is a disincentive for companies to provide it for us without monkeying with it and finding annoying ways to monetize it. Will we eventually have to make email some sort of public utility?

There is hope for decent content

When I was a kid I watched the Popeye cartoon from time to time, and the plot usually went like this: mild-mannered and long-suffering Popeye continues to put up with abuse from somebody (usually Brutus), but there comes a point where he’s had enough.

At that point he’d say, “That’s allz I can standz and I can’t standz no more.” Then he’d eat his can of spinach, his biceps would bulge, and he’d set his sights on restoring proper order in the world — which usually meant pummeling whoever it was who was annoying him.

The lesson is that you can only annoy people so much.

If I might take some liberties with that concept, I’d say it applies to other things as well. For example, when it comes to content, you can only inflict so much unthinking crap on people before they’ll get sick of it and insist on something a little meatier.

Modern art (which, excuse me, but I regard it as unthinking crap) didn’t take over the world. There is still real art out there. “Reality TV” hasn’t taken over our sets. Some new shows are actually worth watching. On that point, see Amazon and the triumph of television.

In the same way, the slide towards clickbait articles and shoddy, typo-ridden journalism won’t last forever. People will get sick of it and will yearn for solid, well-researched, professional content.

Things tend to go in cycles. Hemlines get longer, then shorter, then longer again. People opt for feel-good fluff, then they get more serious, then they get tired of being serious and go for fluff again.

Sometimes I hear a quiet despair among publishers who create good content, as if they can’t compete with the sexy, frilly, fluffy, titilating stuff that’s free on the web.

It’s a problem, and it’s a serious problem, but it won’t last forever.

Magazines are not like TV shows or music

As I said before (follow the link then scroll to “Magazine articles don’t go on a playlist”), efforts to squeeze magazines into a Netflix-type model aren’t going to work.

As of today, there is no evidence that magazine readers are clamoring for Netflix like experience …

See Magzter the latest to enter magazine unlimited subscription business

I’m sure the digital boosters think this is just some kind of lingering Neanderthalishness that will eventually pass and then we’ll all come skipping and smiling into the sunshiny world of “everything on my phone,” but I disagree with that sentiment and that view of the future. I think a magazine is a different sort of thing that, as a general rule, doesn’t translate well to digital, and definitely doesn’t work with this smorgasbord concept.