Will Google micropayments rescue publishers?

As you know, advertising is in a slump, and it’s hurting many publishers.

While print should be doing just fine, because readers continue to like print, print advertising is not doing very well, except in some small niches.

Most of the ad money is going to digital, so some people want to abandon print and follow the money into digital. But … that’s not necessarily a good idea.

Digital ads have also fallen on hard times. The combination of programmatic ads (with lower CPMs) and ad blockers has been a drag on publisher revenue, but the trajectory of ad spending has been a problem as well. The vast majority of new ad revenue is going to Google and Facebook. Advertisers are often choosing not to advertise direct with the publishers.

Publishers are trying to cling to some of the remaining scraps with ad blockers and — sometimes — with paywalls. So far it’s not been a grand success.

If you listen carefully, you can sometimes hear the collective groan from the publishers. “Who will invent some magic technology and rescue me?”

Enter Google and micropayments.

The headline in a recent Financial Times article is very telling. Google to allow publishers to charge users who utilise ad-blockers. (Link is to search results for the article.)

Isn’t that so very nice of Google, to “allow” publishers to do that?

Okay, I admit it. I’m being deliberately unfair about the headline. They’re using “allow” in the sense of “enable,” not “give permission.” But I find the double meaning amusing.

From the article …

Google will enable publishers to ask readers who use ad-blockers for micropayments….

That’s what we want, right? If we can’t get 10 cents from ads, let’s charge the reader 10 cents for the article. Brilliant, huh?

No, it’s not. Let’s break it down.

Publishers can already do that. Technology to detect ad blockers already exists, so it’s not terribly difficult for a publisher to set up a paywall for people who choose to use ad blockers.

So … what’s unique in Google’s offer?

First, they’re doing the technology lift, and publishers are usually not also technology companies and don’t want to be in that business. Second, people may be more likely to want to create an account with Google than with some small publisher. After all, from the user’s perspective, the prospect of creating an account to pay $0.25 on 17 different web sites is not that attractive. Centralizing it makes sense.

Then what’s the problem?

Since Google will be taking the payment, Google will be getting the customer information, not the publisher. Or, in other words, publishers — who have been repeatedly suckered by the big platforms — are about to be suckered again.

Let me rewrite the headline for this grand new development.

Desperate publishers can now earn pennies on their expensive content while helping Google build its empire.

Or how about this?

Publishers sell the chance to collect their readers’ names — for a pot of lentils.

It’s the same old story. This is yet another sucker play, which means publishers will probably fall for it.

We are way past the time for publishers to abandon this idea of making money off “free” content. At least as a primary revenue stream.

It was a mistake from the start, and it’s not going to get better. Publishers need to use free content to create relationships that lead to a recurring relationship with recurring payment.

But this is the important part. The big platforms do not want to help with that. They want the names, and the credit card numbers. They want the recurring payments. And they want to sucker content providers into doing the hard work for them — i.e., making valuable stuff for people to read. The platforms don’t really even want publishers to exist. They just want “content providers” to keep feeding their model.

What publishers really need is a solution where they get the customer names. If Google wanted to help (hint: they don’t), that’s what they would be offering.

(As a side note, the link above is to the Google search results and not directly to the article because FT has a paywall. If I were to link straight to the article, all you’d get is an invitation to subscribe. But since the FT has implemented Google’s “first click free” policy, you can get the article if you google the headline and click to it from the search results.)

From free podcasts to for-pay audiobooks?

I hate to disappoint my loyal readers, but this is the rare Krehbiel Report where I don’t suggest an answer. Not even a half-baked one. I’m curious what you think about this.

Yesterday I was listening to a podcast a couple of my kids said they liked. It was sponsored by Audible — the audio book company. That struck me as a rather odd choice.

The podcast is called “Welcome to Night Vale,” and it’s essentially a quirky short story. Kinda like The Twilight Zone. (It wasn’t my thing. But if you like Twilight-Zone-ish stories, you might like this book of mine, which is free today on Kindle.)

I found it strange that Audible would sponsor a podcast like that because it seems like such natural competition for audio books. In fact, it seems that sort of podcast is one of the primary free alternatives to the paid product. So why would Audible sponsor it?

Since the two products are similar, people who listen to that sort of podcast might be a good market for audio books, so it makes some sense from that perspective. But people who are downloading free stuff aren’t (in my experience) a good market for paid content. So … again … it’s an odd call.

More importantly, by sponsoring the podcast, Audible is helping their competition. (Or, on the other hand, perhaps they’re encouraging more people to get interested in audio stories.)

I suppose it’s working, because Audible has a standing affiliate deal for podcasters.

If it is working, it’s an interesting model for the free to paid transition.

This question reminds me of something else near and dear to my heart. The old Facebook issue, and whether publishers should participate.

I think publishers who put their content on Facebook are (among other things) selling Stalin the rope he’s going to hang them with. But if Audible can make a living selling their paid content through free channels (like podcasts), then maybe not.

What do you think?

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.