“Digital revolution” or “digital transformation”?

Just a short one this week, folks.

I think we need to stop talking about “the digital transformation.” It sounds too much like “the death of print,” or “everything’s going digital,” and all that misguided talk. If you’ve been paying attention to the publishing industry for the past few years you know that’s not how it worked out.

We have to embrace reality and avoid getting caught up in theories. The theory — oft-promoted by the digital whiz kids, conference speakers and such — was that everything would go digital. The reality is that print continues to have a place in the market because it turns out that it’s better for some things.

The vacuum cleaner didn’t eliminate the broom and FM didn’t eliminate AM. Digital didn’t replace print so much as create more options.

I read on my iPad and on my phone every single day, but I prefer flipping through the pages of a print magazine. There’s simply no digital equivalent, and we have to quit pretending there’s a digital replacement for every print publication. There isn’t, and we need to stop trying to make it happen.

The Economist recently did a study of millennials that should make us reconsider all the dubious claims about “digital natives” and the other stuff people have been telling us for years. It turns out millennials aren’t exactly the way the experts predicted. What a surprise.

Here are a couple things that caught my eye from that report.

  • they like print subscriptions
  • traditional media brands played a significant role in their lives

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all unexpected.

  • They consumed more online news media than any other generation before them

The point here is not to write about millennials, but to remind everyone that when facts and theories collide, go with the facts.

Yes, print has declined, for obvious reasons. But it’s not going away. At least not any time soon. So we need to embrace a publishing strategy that includes print and digital options.

Why publishers should abandon Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Google

At first I was going to name this post, “How publishers can beat the Evil Empire,” but that title requires some explanation.

“The Evil Empire” is my label for the big platforms — Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google, mostly. I like each one of those companies for certain things. I love Amazon prime, for example, and I read and publish books on the kindle. But when it comes to my professional life in the publishing industry, they’re evil.

The evil is somewhat subtle and it amounts to this: they’re looking out for the long-term benefit of their platform and not the long-term benefit of the reader.

Yes, I know, that doesn’t sound terribly evil. In fact, it just sounds like good business. But the more you think about it, the more you realize its destructive capacity. (I don’t honestly think they’re evil, of course. But “Destructive Empire” doesn’t conjure up the right images.)

One practical example of the bad influence of the “platform first” approach is the confusion it creates with digital editions of magazines.

If I subscribe to a print magazine, and I also want to have the digital edition on my kindle or iPad, those two subscriptions live in completely different places – all because of the misguided policies of the platforms.

The print subscription is managed at a fulfillment house, which is where it belongs. Fulfillment systems are incredibly complicated things that benefit from decades of experience dealing with all the intricacies of subscriptions and subscription marketing. But the digital edition is managed through Amazon, or Apple or some storefront that thinks a subscription is not all that different from buying a lamp.

This causes innumerable headaches for the publisher and for the subscriber. The subscriber thinks of the whole thing as his subscription to the magazine. He doesn’t care about all the back-end nonsense or Apple’s silly rules. So when he has a customer service complaint, or wants to change his address, who does he call?

The sensible thing is to have all the customer data reside with the fulfillment company, and have the platform access that information through an API. But the platform’s first concern isn’t helping the customer, but acquiring the customer. The Evil Empire wants to convert all the publisher’s customers into their customers.

The problem isn’t limited to subscriptions. The big book publishers also faced problems with the platformers. Amazon and Apple wanted to set the price for ebooks. Why? Because they had data to show that their take of sales at $9.99 would be more than their take of sales at $19.99 — or whatever price the publisher wanted to charge. So in the interests of the platform they intervened in setting prices. Courts had to step in and untangle the mess.

And what about news? We’ve recently heard accusations that Facebook prefers news of a particular ideological persuasion. Whether or not that allegation turns out to be true, there’s no question that sort of bias will happen, for one of two reasons. Either people with an agenda will impose that agenda on the news, or profit-seeking will.

Think about it. If articles that express View A get more clicks (and generate more advertising revenue) than articles that express View B, then View A will be preferred. It doesn’t require a partisan editor to make that happen — just math, and the normal variations in what’s popular.

Today the news may favor one view, and tomorrow it may favor another, but there’s simply no question that there will be bias.

Does that serve the reader? If I’m looking for information on some topic, are they serving me the best information on that topic, or are they serving the links that’re most likely to make then money?

How does this sort of bias serve the publisher or the reader of the out-of-fashion view? Are his articles at a disadvantage because the platform has determined that the other view will generate more ad revenue?

I’m not naive enough to believe there will ever be a level playing field with the news, but dumping all of the news into one or two platforms will distort the viewpoints that readers get to see. I don’t mean to sound too dramatic, but … is that good for the country?

Again, not to be dramatic, but remember what happened to Microsoft’s artificial intelligence app on Twitter? Social media tends towards the lowest common denominator. It turned that Microsoft app into a Nazi in a few hours.

You’ve seen the effect of social media with LinkedIn. What was supposed to be a business networking site has taken the predictable path towards pictures of attractive women showing some skin, cat videos, religious opinions and so on.

It’s simply the way social media works, because “crowd sourcing” is done by crowds.

The bottom line is that the big platforms are not good for anybody — except the big platforms. And for people who want to see pictures of pretty women, argue about the minimum wage or watch silly videos.

Put it all together and then ask yourself: is that where you want your content to live?

But … what else is there to do? Aren’t we stuck? Hasn’t Zuckerberg won the field, and publishers are left hoping to get some scraps from the leftover spoils?

Join the revolution

Join the Revolution

Let’s stop here and take the question from the other direction. Let’s imagine a platform that would be good for the reader.

For example, it’s not to the magazine subscriber’s advantage to have a print subscription with Hearst, but a digital subscription with Apple. It’s not to the book reader’s advantage to have some books on Kindle, some on Nook, and some on Google books. And it is not to any reader’s benefit to have all these things – magazines, books, news, newsletters — on separate apps and devices inside competing walled gardens. It’s not to anybody’s advantage for serious content to be surrounded by and twisted by the downward spiral of social media.

The reader doesn’t give a hoot who publishes his favorite magazine, or who owns the platform he’s reading it on. And he certainly doesn’t want his content filtered through some algorithm that’s calculated to maximize ad revenue, or that’s distorted by the dumbing down effect of crowd sourcing.

Most readers are willing to pay to read things they value, but it’s an annoyance to feel as if you’re being forced into the Amazon (or Apple, or Facebook, or Google) ecosphere. The reader is willing to compensate the author and the publisher, and is willing to pay a reasonable convenience fee. But what the Evil Empire has done is to twist the market around so that everything works to the benefit of their platform. That platform is the locus of their attempt at domination of the market and control of all the customers.

The problem publishers face today is that no individual publisher can compete with any of the platforms, so publishers have felt trapped. They don’t want Facebook to control their content, but … Facebook has all the people!

It’s time for turnabout.

No individual publisher can compete with Facebook, but Facebook can’t compete with the entire publishing industry. Except maybe with cat videos and hashtag activism.

So leave that stuff to Facebook, but stop feeding it your expensive, professional material so they can make money off it and steal your customers. Instead, publishers should join together to create a new place where customers can read serious content. It should be a place that puts the reader first, the publisher second, and the platform last.

Publishers: quit being suckers, before it’s too late

If you’re a publisher, I’m sure you’ve been tempted to post your valuable content on Facebook to get more audience. That’s short-term thinking. Don’t do it.

Let Facebook keep the cat videos and the hashtag activism, and let publishers create their own communities around meaningful, professional content.

“Facebook … gets an unequal share of the value when publishers use it as a platform.” So says Tony Silber in Facebook as a Publishing Platform Isn’t Good For Publishers The social network is becoming a news and content network, thanks to your content..

Well of course they do.

If you’re a publisher, Facebook is not your friend and it’s not trying to keep you in business. Quite the contrary. Facebook wants all your customers to become their customers, and they want to relegate publishers to being their contract writers, vying for attention on a platform that Facebook controls.

“Facebook is playing chess, while publishers are playing checkers,” Silber continues. Or as I’ve said before, Facebook is happy to help publishers play yesterday’s business model — selling ads against articles wherever you can — while Facebook plays tomorrow’s business model, which is data. And they want the game to be played on their field.

“Facebook … [is] now more a source of news and information, grafted onto a platform that’s ideal for that purpose.”

And publishers are willingly playing along, planting the seeds of their own demise.

So if Facebook is transitioning to a content company — “quality” content in the feed has long been rewarded in the algorithm, and live video is a new priority — what does that mean for content producers? Well, yes, the audience is there, and that audience needs to be engaged. But is the loss of direct contact with the audience, the ceding of ad dollars, and the movement away from individual websites except for referrals really a good thing when considered in the long-term, secular sense? I say no.

Silber is right. Publishers have to quit being suckers and helping their opponents beat them.

Are ad impressions killing serious journalism?

This is a very interesting and challenging article. What’s Really Killing Digital Media: The Tyranny Of The Impression.

If you support your content with online ads, that means you have to play the ad impression game. You need to re-jigger your content to get more ad impressions for each word for each visitor. What does that do to your content strategy?

It makes you chop up your content into little bits, and it makes these little bits of content more valuable than serious, long-form articles.

But … more valuable to whom? It’s not more valuable to the reader, and probably not to the advertiser. It’s more valuable to the website owner, but only because of the distortion caused by the ad impression game. And it might not be good for the publisher’s brand.

What’s the solution?

[A] growing coalition of publishers and advertisers, especially those who make high-quality stuff, want to ditch the impression altogether. Rather than try to sell ads using metrics that reward lots of clicks, these publishers, and a number of marketers, want to start selling their ads on something very different: time.

You’re already aware of the “visibility” problem with ads. A website ad that is served outside the viewing area of the page isn’t doing the advertiser any good. So there’s been a lot of work to change the metrics to only count visible ads.

But what about an ad that’s visible, but flies by so fast that nobody sees it? Is the amount of time the ad is displayed a better measure of the ad’s worth to the advertiser?

“The only way you can actually look at the amount of value someone’s placed on content is how much time they’re spending with it,” said Brendan Spain, the U.S. commercial director of the Financial Times, one of a growing number of publishers that has begun selling ads using time-based currency; it uses cost per hour.

I’m sure you noticed the slight switch in the topic in that quote. Spain is speaking about the value of the content, but the advertiser is interested in the impact of the ad. Do the two correlate?

[T]ime spent is still a kind of proxy for the thing that marketers really want, which is readers’ attention. “It is very hard, without elaborate and expensive neuroscience, to measure attention,” said Sherrill Mane, senior vice president at the Interactive Advertising Bureau. “Time spent,” she noted, is the best available proxy.

Is that enough? Is measuring how long the ad is displayed a better measure of attention?

Web designers have trained web visitors to ignore ads. We all know where they appear on the page, and we simply skip over them. So while time spent might be a better measure of attention to the content, is it a measure of attention to the ad? There’s still the issue of the “ad blindness” of the reader.

There are other issues addressed in this very fascinating article, and I recommend that you read the whole thing.

The illogical thinking that plagues digital publishing

This article — Publishers: Weigh The Risks Of Platform Content Distribution — makes a lot of good points about the dangers publishers face when they put their content on a platform.

Unfortunately, it starts off with a very common but fundamentally misleading argument.

First, nearly two-thirds of digital media time spent in the US is on a mobile device. Second, most of that time is in apps. That’s not all. Most consumers spend that time in only five different apps.

While the apps vary by person, the trend is clear for publishers: In order to achieve scale, their content needs to be accessible through the apps that people use every day. This means that there is a strong incentive to partner with digital companies that dominate the top five for a critical mass of people.

Do you see what’s happening here? “Digital media time” is presented as the pool that publishers need to be in. Once you accept that premise, the rest follows — e.g., most digital media time is on a few apps on mobile devices, so that’s where you need to be.

The thing that continues to amaze me about this line of argument is that it completely misses what people are doing during this “digital media time.”

Sure, people spend half their life on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or whatever useless time suck appeals to them. But they’re on Twitbook to find out what their high school friends are up to, or to get the latest gossip, or to rant about some political topic. They’re not involved in serious reading.

If you publish data on commodities transported by rail, Facebook is irrelevant to you. It doesn’t matter if your market fritters away 90 percent of their day on the thing. What matters is where and how they expect to consume your information.

“Everybody’s on Facebook, so your content needs to be on Facebook” makes about as much sense as “everybody’s watching the Superbowl, so you should sponsor the halftime show.”

People at the Superbowl aren’t in the mood for serious content. They’re in the mood for beer and jokes and whatnot, but probably not for what you’re selling.

Some publishers are doing the sorts of things that fit with the Facebook ambiance. That is, they’re simplifying complex stories and making mock of things they don’t understand. The Onion should make a killing with Facebook. The Journal of Neuroscience probably not.

And it doesn’t matter if every neuroscientist in the country is on Facebook for half the day. The question is not how much “digital time” that group spends on social media, but whether that’s where they want to consume the information. It’s entirely possible they want to catch up with their nieces and nephews on Facebook during the day, but read about neuroscience out of a print magazine in their arm chair at home in the evening.

The logic behind digital publishing has been skewed for years, and publishers need to make distinctions and parse out what’s really being said.

It doesn’t matter if 90 percent of web traffic is on smart phones if that includes third world data, and you don’t publish to the third world. It doesn’t matter if 86 percent of “digital time” is spent on apps, if that means Angry Birds and chatting with friends. (And yes, I just made up those numbers.)

The question is not “where do people consume content these days?” because “content” is a ridiculously broad term. It includes reading tweets and recipes and social media silliness.

You need to find out where your market expects to get the kind of information that you’re selling. Don’t be distracted by other things they’re doing just because it can be called “consuming content.”

Marketing can’t be replaced by software …

… but some tech companies have tried.

That’s part of the message in this fantastic article: Everything the tech world says about marketing is wrong.

I’ve explored the same general theme before, but Samuel Scott has gone wide and deep with it, explaining that analytics and algorithms can’t replace creativity and basic marketing know-how, and that marketing has suffered as a result.

The quest to measure everything — and the fact that computers are, as my brother likes to say, glorified adding machines — has caused an influx of technical people into marketing, and they don’t know the basics of marketing. Rather, they’ve “fallen into an echo chamber of meaningless buzzwords.”

Among these “meaningless buzzwords” is a very trendy one: “Content marketing.”

The use of these and other buzzwords has caused a new generation of marketers to enter the field without knowing even the basic terms and practices that underpin our industry.

But there’s no point in me rehashing it all. Just go read the article. It’s long, but it’s worth it.

Challenges marketers face: Identifying the right technologies

Last week I took a look at issue #1 in 8 of the Top Marketing Challenges Marketers Face (And Their Solutions). This week I’m going to discuss #4, “Identifying the right technologies for my needs.”

Obviously there’s no single answer to this problem because everybody’s needs are different, but here are some general guidelines.

1. Ask if technology is really the answer.

Technology is great and allows us to do amazing things. But remember that when your only tool is a hammer, you want to bang on every problem, and when your only tool is technology, you want to program it all away. Sometimes the solution lies elsewhere.

For example, if you’re having trouble getting web visitors to sign up for your premium content, you may need to do A-B tests on your sign-up form, or you may need a better registration process, or you may need technology to target the offers more carefully.

Or maybe your content stinks.

Before you sign on with some whiz-bang technology answer, make sure somebody on your staff takes a hard look at the problem the old-fashioned way. It’s too easy to believe that the new gadget will solve your troubles. Sometimes there’s no substitute for doing the hard thing.

2. Hire a marketing technologist.

Somebody on the marketing staff has to understand technology. I’ve written about this before, and at the bottom of that article you can see links to some rather awful videos where I reviewed my notes for a German friend.

3. Write an incredibly detailed requirements document and go over every single point.

When you decide that you do need a technology solution to a problem, download 100 white papers, product comparisons, blog posts and various mind dumps that deal with the issue, get on an Amtrak to some city that’s three or four hours away, and read every single word. Get one of those fancy pens with a highlighter on one end and a regular pen on the other and note issues, features, problems, difficulties, questions, etc.

When you get where you’re going, have a sandwich, review your notes and take a long walk. Let the stuff settle in your brain for a while.

On the trip back, sit in the dining car and get a couple beers. Start organizing your notes into an outline.

Yes, I’m serious about the beers. At this point you’re trying to think creatively. How will this thing fit in with your system? Where are the likely problems? What are you going to do about Alfred in IT who insists on programming everything himself? How will this interface with your other technologies and vendors?

Go home and sleep on it. Every day for the next week you’ll come up with new things you didn’t think about. Jot them down. Incorporate them into your outline.

On Friday, set the thing aside and try not to think about it all weekend. You’ll fail. When something occurs to you over Sunday breakfast, email it to yourself and go on trying not to think about the topic. On Monday, look it over again and prepare something close to a final document.

Now, and only now, you’re ready to talk to vendors. Send them your document and ask what you’ve missed.

They’ll try to snow you. They’ll try to sell you 10 times more than you need. They’ll tell you it’s easy, that they’ve done these integrations before, that they can work with everybody, etc.

Don’t believe a word of it. Get past the sales guy and talk to one of the operational people — the ones who know how the system works. Get them on the phone with your operational people. Talk through every single detail of your requirements document. Don’t accept “yes, we can do that.” Probe. Find out how they do it, because the devil is still in the details.

After you’ve done all this and you’re pretty sure you’ve got it all figured out, realize that the devil is one sneaky fellow. He’s still hiding in those details, and he’s gonna get you.

4. Have a workaround.

Despite your best efforts at figuring out every possible glitch, there will be glitches. If possible, have a way to work around them.

For example, if the data doesn’t flow from vendor A to vendor B the way it’s supposed to, make sure you can download and upload it yourself. If it turns out that widget #3 actually isn’t compatible with the server software you’re running, have a back-up option for that process.

Think creatively. Don’t get boxed in. And don’t believe anything anybody says.

What, … you thought it was going to be easy?

Troubles marketers face — calculating ROI

This article is worth your time: 8 of the Top Marketing Challenges Marketers Face (And Their Solutions).

They compiled their list of challenges from a survey, and this is what they came up with.

  1. Proving the ROI of our marketing activities
  2. Securing enough budget
  3. Managing our website
  4. Identifying the right technologies for my needs
  5. Training our team
  6. Targeting content for an international audience
  7. Hiring top talent
  8. Finding an executive sponsor

Today I’m going to comment on #1.

ROI is very important, but you have to remember that it’s a bit of a myth.

It’s tempting to think that ROI should be easier on the internet. After all, websites run on computers, and e-stores use databases, and we can track links and clicks and such, that when you boil it all down it’s just binary math stuff. We should be able to link A to B to C with mathematical certainty.

Not really.

ROI matters. You can’t go investing in marketing efforts without knowing that they’re doing any good. At the same time, you’re kidding yourself if you think you can tie costs to results with very much precision. Despite the best technologies, there’s a whole lot of fuzziness to the equation.

Consider retargeting as an example.

Retargeting works by displaying your ads to people who have visited your site. It’s what causes ads for cordless circular saws to follow you around the internet after you did some online browsing about cordless circular saws. Yes, that can get annoying, but the idea is that the constant reminders will make you come back and buy.

The trouble is, linking a specific purchase to your retargeting ad campaign isn’t easy. In an ideal world, the sequence would go like this.

  1. A visitor comes to your cordless circular saw page and gets a cookie that will identify him across a broad ad network.
  2. Your non-buyer goes hither and yon on the internet, sees your retargeting ads and thinks, “You know, I need to finish that fence in the back yard, and a cordless circular saw would make it easier.”
  3. Your now re-engaged prospect clicks on the ad and goes to your landing page.
  4. Your now reclaimed visitor completes the purchase.

That sequence is very trackable. The trouble is, that’s not what happens in the real world, mostly because people don’t click on ads. What they often do is see the ad, then google the thing all over again. If you’re running an Adwords campaign, you may now have two marketing efforts that want to take credit for the same transaction.

There are other common practices that mess up retargeting, like when people delete cookies and when they use different devices. E.g., I may casually search for cordless circular saws on my tablet, so the ads might follow me around there, but I might complete the purchase on my desktop (because it has a real keyboard).

The messiness of actual human behavior can foul up your ROI calculation.

There’s another thing to bear in mind with retargeting, which is that some portion of the people who visit your site are going to come back and buy anyway. So how do find out how much of a lift you get from the retargeting ads?

A few years ago I tried to answer that with an A-B test. We split our website visitors into two groups. The first group got our retargeting ad while the second group got a public service announcement. We then compared the behavior of the two groups.

What we found was that the retargeting ad provided a 33% boost in conversions. That is, some of the people in each cookie pool came back and purchased, but 33% more of the people in the retargeting pool did.

That means the retargeting campaign did have an effect, but the number of conversions reported by the retargeting campaign were wildly exaggerated, since only a third of them should have counted.

With careful experimentation and planning you can make your ROI calculation better, but you’re never going to get it exactly right. It is, at best, a good estimate.


cordless

Q: How is the printed page like a tombstone?

A: Probably not the way you’re thinking.

Today’s BoSacks email has this curious headline: “On PRIMEX and the Proven Haptic Power of Print.”

Haptic has to do with the sense of touch, and the lesson in the email is that touch does more than you think — on an interpersonal level, of course, but also with learning.

Not only is there a physical permanence to print, but also our brains perceive print as permanent. Both the fact and the perception of the physical permanence of printed products increases our ability to learn and remember.

By contrast, things online aren’t permanent, they’re just part of a flow. They go by and they’re gone.

He continues …

… the part that I don’t/didn’t understand is the haptic feeling regarding holding a digital substrate. … I am holding, touching and feeling the weight and presence of a physical product in my hands when I read on my smart phone or tablet.

That is, you touch print, but you also touch your smart phone, so why is the one more “haptic” than the other?

My guess is that it relates back to the perception of permanence. When something is carved in stone, you take it seriously. When it’s written on paper, less so, but there’s still a perception of permanence. When words are streaming by as lights on a device, they seem far less weighty.

If this is true, it raises interesting questions for publishers. Perhaps we shouldn’t view delivery method as simply a question of convenience. To some extent, the medium is the message.

A long time ago — before smart phones or any of that — I was studying to be a pastor in a small Presbyterian denomination. The church’s “book of order” was published in a 3-ring binder.

I like 3-ring binders. They’re very convenient, and I often use them. And at that same time I was studying to be a pastor, I was the editor of several loose-leaf services that were published in 3-ring binders. That format was incredibly convenient for the subscribers because we could change out the pages as new regulations came along.

It was precisely that lack of permanence that made me think it inappropriate to have a church’s books of rules published in a 3-ring binder. It sent a message that everything is up for grabs and likely to change.

As another illustration of the idea, you probably wouldn’t think much of a digital tombstone that flashed your final stats to the world. There’s something very fitting about having such information carved in granite.

Print vs. digital, hardbound vs. softcover, or … dare I say it … etched in stone …. It’s not a superfluous detail. It says something about the content and how seriously we should take it.

Newsprint is just for today, and it’s flimsy stuff. A paperback is a little more serious. A hardbound book with gilt edges is for stuff we cherish. So … what are we saying about our content when we publish it digitally?

I don’t mean to imply that there’s only one answer, or that serious things should never be published in a digital medium, but I do think it’s something to consider.

P.S. — I couldn’t find a link to today’s missive from Bo, but you can sign up for his email service on his website, bosacks.com.

Wanted: Suckers to provide content for Facebook

I’m still in Facebook detox right now, so take all this with a grain of salt, but I predict that in a few years publishers will look back on “Instant Articles” the way many of them currently look back on their decision to put content online for free. Both decisions will be seen as sucker moves from desperate and short-sighted execs who were fighting yesterday’s battles.

The lure of Facebook instant articles is a big temptation for publishers, and now this: Facebook Will Likely Open Instant Articles to All Brands, Publishers, Grandmas

Isn’t that so very nice of them? They’ll take your surrender on gentle terms, and they’ll provide you some very nice cat videos to watch when you retire because your publishing business is gone.

Think of the logic here. Publishers aren’t getting enough advertising revenue from their content, so they load up their web pages with more and more ads that make their sites look like animated NASCAR. That sends their visitors scurrying off to other sites, or to find a good ad blocker, which hurts their revenue even more. Publishers then wonder if they can support a paywall, but … usually they just wonder about it.

But there is a ray of hope, they think. One of the sites people run to (having been scared off by NASCAR) is Facebook, which is taking over the internet. Everybody (except me — I’m in detox) is on Facebook, and they have lots of genius programmers who can make things fast and simple and furry and lovely, even on smart phones.

The other good thing about Facebook is that they have the volume and the demographic data to make ads more sensible. They can be targeted more precisely, and publishers have the possibility of reaching a wider audience.

And … how could it be any better … Facebook offers to host the publisher’s content and (they’re so very nice) they allow the publishers to sell their own ads to be displayed with their own content.

Gosh they’re generous.

In any event, Facebook is kindly offering publishers a flashy version of yesterday’s business model (selling cheap ads against expensive content) so the publishers can give Facebook the raw material it needs to pursue tomorrow’s business model, which is user data.

Once again, publishers will be the suckers and kids with keyboards will take their lunch.

I showed this article to my son and explained a little of the background, and he asked, “Well, what should they do?”

There’s a relatively straight-forward solution that I’ve discussed before, but … let’s set up the case a little bit.

Here are some of the problems publishers are facing.

  • Declining ad revenue.
  • Difficulty attracting and keeping audience.
  • Difficulty selling their content (e.g., through a subscription or a paywall).
  • Competition from the screaming crazies.
  • Difficulties with scale.
  • Difficulty maintaining the publisher – subscriber relationship.

Facebook is a phony solution, because while it helps with some of those problems, it exacerbates others.

The true solution is for some entity — a large publisher, an alliance of publishers, or some independent organization that actually works with the publishers rather than against them (such as, for example, a fulfillment bureau) — to create a content distribution network that allows publishers to get the benefits of scale and still maintain their relationship with their customers.

I realize that probably isn’t going to happen, so publishers will continue down the well-trod road to complete suckerdom.