News, media & communications

We like hyper-local news

It’s unfashionable to admit it, but we like reading our local paper because it has names and places we recognise – and it’s free. One now elderly entrepreneur, Sir Ray Tindle, is still betting on this as a business model. He runs over 220 regional papers in Britain and declared back in 1987: “No cat should have kittens in Tenby without us knowing about it”. He was describing hyper-local news, but that word did not exist then.

All regional papers have been hit by competition from the internet but, while its profits have fallen 60% since 2007, the Tindle Group launched 17 titles in the past four years. It even rescued the ailing South London Press by splitting it into seven local editions based on boroughs. Sir Tindle says it is pointless for a local hardware to try and sell screwdrivers to someone on the other side of London – and he is right. (The internet is not good at that either.) His Group also takes a cautious stance on debt, compared to other regional media like Johnston Press and Trinity Mirror.

While other media want to become digital businesses that, for example, become marketing consultants to small and medium size businesses, Tindle Group wants to keep the news coming. The Newspaper Society says 33 million people a week read local papers and 42 million visit them online each month – and as parents and home owners, they want to read about schools, crime and planning decisions (and surely what their homes might be worth).

It is easy to forget that, before 1980, newspapers rarely made more than 10% of their profits from advertising. The lucky times in the 1980s until the early 2000s were unusual. So perhaps local papers are returning to what they are meant to do – tell you who’s had kittens. Seems like some media owners might have too.

Ref: The Economist (UK), 21 July 2012, 'The Kitten Press.'
Source integrity: ****
Search words: Tenby Observer, hyperlocal news, South London Press, advertising, readership, schools, crime, planning, free sheets, regional media, local media.
Trend tags:

You don’t need a library bag for an e-book

It has to come one day – a library with few actual, physical books – but will people want to borrow e-books? Random House and HarperCollins are the only publishers of the top six who license e-books with most libraries. The others are wary of piracy and lost sales, after all, the people who read e-books are the same people who love books and buy them.

Pew in the US found more than half of Americans who use libraries prefer to buy their e-books. Yet, few people even know e-books are available for lending. They are often popular and there are long waiting lists for e-versions, prompting borrowers to become buyers.

The process of lending e-books is much easier than lending physical books. They do not need to be checked out or returned to a physical place, there is less chance of damage, and the book cannot be late because software can just remove the file. Readers don’t need a library bag or a card – just the usual username and password.

But the matter of technological compatibility, as always, rears its head with different formats, devices and licences. Most libraries used OverDrive, a global distributor, but the company partnered with Amazon last year to entice readers into buying the book they just borrowed. Penguin believes Amazon ultimately wants to control the library business (and many others, of course). For example, Amazon Prime members of the Kindle Owners Lending Library can borrow free thousands of popular books each month.

It all sounds suspiciously like the mayhem caused by Napster among the big record labels and illegal downloaders. The record labels tried to keep their monopoly but failed. In the end, the music lovers decided how they wanted their music and, in publishing and libraries, it will depend on what you, the reader, read into it.

Ref: The Economist (UK), 28 July 2012, 'Literary labours lent.'
Source integrity: *****
Search words: library, publisher, e-books, e-readers, electronic borrowing, damage, OverDrive, Amazon, Penguin, Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, Random House, HarperCollins.
Trend tags:

In defence of Fleet Street

John Steinbeck said every good writer needs to be a journalist first (he also said ideas are like rabbits…). Journalism seems to be in a crisis of confidence, as the internet, falling sales, and various high profile scandals dent its previously noble reputation. Journalism is one of the “parents of democracy”, and journalists are the “champions of public interest, defenders of critical good faith”, according to John Tiffany, National Theatre of Scotland. So what is needed to defend Fleet Street?

His answer was to team up with London Review of Books to create a play, based on interviews by journalists with 45 journalists about how they felt about their industry. It is one of those plays where the audience follows the cast through various rooms, rather than sitting uncomfortably on hard chairs in front of the stage. The idea is perhaps to be more intimate with the subject.

Tiffany fell in love with newspapers while at university and, in that sense, he sounds nostalgic. He bemoans the fact that media empires, like Murdochs, are more powerful than the governments they serve (someone said Rupert Murdoch was like the 23rd member of the Blair cabinet). The Daily Mail, the Guardian and the BBC have failed Tiffany’s higher aspirations for British journalism. On the other hand, he considers London Review of Books an example of the kind of writing that we so badly need in the internet age – and its quadrupled circulation suggests other people agree with him.

It is debatable whether putting on a play will change the course of history much but writers, unlike politicians, work their magic with gentler grace. They draw attention to the problem and they get people talking. We hope that, somewhere along the way, Fleet Street will find a new place for good, solid journalism and leave the flaky stuff, the celebrities and the hubris to the internet where it belongs.

Ref: The Observer (UK), 7 October 2012, 'Newspapers are in crisis. But just what have we lost – and what can be saved?' J Tiffany.
Source integrity: *****
Search words: broadsheets, truth, journalism, history, bias, tabloids, Murdoch, ethics, civilization, National Theatre of Scotland, London Review of Books, Enquirer, independence, newspaper, Samuel Johnson, public interest, democracy.
Trend tags: -

Social media feed the hyper-famous

The internet can make somebody famous in a day and you might think it’s much harder to stay famous – easy come, easy go. But according to researchers at Google News, while more people become famous these days, the true celebrities stay famous for longer.

The study looked at 1,000 celebrities and how often their name appeared in the news between 1895 and 2010. First, it looked at spikes in public attention and the interval around that spike and second, it measured the longest continuous period where the celebrity was mentioned each week. By each measure, the average person was famous for one week. For the top 1,000, the first measure was three weeks until 1990 expanding to five weeks by 2005. The second measure was half a month before 1940 increasing to two months in 2005.

What does this say about human nature? According to one psychologist, it shows our deep need to connect with people by sharing common ground, such as celebrity gossip. Thanks to social media, these celebrities can connect more intimately with their fans, for example, by sharing holiday photos or their own ‘private’ thoughts directly, without a magazine intermediary. It seems likely that celebrities who do this will stay in the news longer.

It’s interesting how we can be so interested in local news (see We like local news, above) and simultaneously fascinated by people who are far beyond our immediate circles. Perhaps social media give us the illusion that the celebrities are just around the corner. Oh, and perhaps they really are just like us.

Ref: New Scientist (UK), 28 April 2012, Stars play the fame game. J Aron.
Source integrity: *****
Search words: Twitter, blogs, fame, Google News, celebrities, headlines, social media, Andy Warhol.
Trend tags: -

DIY fiction for the rest of us

You do everything yourself these days – banking, checkout, research – so why not publish your own e-book? The internet offers everyone a taste of fame (see Social media feed the hyperfamous) and many passionate new writers have published their novels as e-books. They bypass the high-cost, demanding publishers, save paper and ink and, if they are lucky, the good ones shoot to the top as they always have.

One fantasy author, Ben Galley, wrote most of his first novel, The Written, on his iPhone while working at a pasty shop and a pub. He is selling tens of thousands of books through Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), a dream idea of Amazon that allows anybody who has written an e-book to put it into its Kindle store. Galley says he uses crowd-editing (often English teachers) and for other pesky services like design.

For every self-publisher who makes money, there are hundreds of others who make very little, but at least the internet gives everybody a turn. Some liken this to the age of punk rock in music; others think it is similar to the MP3 revolution that dented the fortunes of vinyl and CDs. However you look at it, you can get every type of book, whether it is Catholic erotica or narcotic schlock-horror. The restrictions of the traditional publisher, whether warranted or not, no longer apply. Anything goes – and you may even be signed by one of them.

Clearly, Amazon is fuelling the e-book trend and this article serves its interests. (See Big Tech is just like Big Finance for an idea of its power and its monopoly in the book market.) It is curious that self-publishers are effectively rejecting the corporate publishing houses (who may reject them) while embracing a bigger corporation that is turning publishing upside down.

Ref: Sunday Times Magazine (UK), 11 November 2012, 'The new face of fiction.' T Barrell.
Source integrity: *****
Search words: E-books, paperbacks, Amazon, self-publishing, Kindle, Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), royalty, crowd-editing, promotion.
Trend tags: