Where Is the Reader?

My write-up of Tools of Change for Publishing Conference, over at the Book Oven Blog:

I’m back from TOC and still mulling over the problems, and maybe some solutions to problems in the publishing business. There are lots, but a fundamental problem seems to be that most publishing houses have never had much to do with their readers. Their clients, traditionally, have been book stores. And outsourcing relationships with the people who are your reason for existence is a bad idea.

If you look at the talk around the perilous state of the publishing business, and the challenges of ebooks and DRM and digital and the web, it ends up being this old sad story of: “How do we maintain our financial viability when fewer people are reading?” And not, “What do readers want and how can we best provide it?” [more…]

Categories: media, web

WaPo Political Browser

I wrote a long post a while ago about the newspaper business and the challenges for media and knowledge institutions in the digital age. One of my thoughts was that the real role of a newspaper is not so much producing content (though that is important), but more fundamentally helping readers make sense of the world. And so part of their role is filtering content well. Applied to our connected world, that means that newspapers should spend serious time combing the web and providing a filtering service to their readers — by pointing to other sites, even competitors.

The Washington Post has taken my advice, and just launched the Political Browser, which points to important stories around the web.

More of this to come, no doubt.

[via Publishing2.0]

Copyright conflicts & Canada’s media

You know one of the problems about this whole copyright debate is the massive conflict of interest in reporting it in our media companies, which also happen to be our ISPs. Canada’s top 6 ISPs, in order of customer base, are: Bell Sympatico, Shaw, Telus, Rogers, Vidéotron, Cogeco. Looking at what these companies do other than provide your Internet:

So between them, UPDATE: the owners of Bell Sympatico, Rogers and Videotron, probably own three quarters of Canada’s non-CBC news media; the balance owned by CanwestGlobal (which owns Global Television, the National Post, and, of course, Dose Magazine).

All in all not very healthy. The Canadian mania for, and regulatory approval of, consolidation not just in the media business, but in merging media and technology, means that our ISPs are our news providers. So any discussion of Net Neutrality and Copyright will be filtered through the lens of Big Content Providers.

Which, I guess, just means that we have to keep getting the word out.

Categories: media, web

10 questions for media entities

Jeff Jarvis asks 10 questions of newspapers… Probably these should be asked of anyone who has anything to do with:
a) information
b) the webbernet

Here are the questions, and some teasers… see more here.

1. Who are we?
“I’m going to start with an existential question. It’s a fairly ridiculous one but I don’t think any newspaper has really decided what they are,”…

2. A new relationship?
Jarvis said news organisations need to decide on the appropriate relationship with their audience…

3. Are we generous?
Generosity could take many forms, according to Jarvis – sharing technology, supporting people with the Guardian ad network, allowing people to be stars in the outside world…

4. Do we know who’s smart?
“I’ve changed my mind – I used to be Mr Everything Should Be Open but I have read CiF comments too,” Jarvis said, adding that he was not picking on CiF in particular. “We need to figure out who the smart people are – it’s not just about creating content but also curating people.” …

5. Are we findable?
The idea that people will come to us is changing, and news websites “can’t be findable enough”, according to Jarvis…

6. Are we a platform?
The Guardian had already moved towards becoming a platform with the launch of Comment is Free and the fact that commenters have their own profile, Jarvis said…

7. Are we inventing new narratives?
Jarvis said reporters should go out with audio equipment all the time just to capture what might happen….

8. Are we in data layers?
“Data can tell you things if you find a way to listen,” Jarvis said…

9. Are we having fun yet?
Jarvis said it was essential to experiment and “play” with new ideas in order stay ahead of the competitors…

10. Are we agile?
“The Guardian is the best in the world but others are catching up,” Jarvis warned….

Categories: media, neutrality, politics, web

CRTC’s new media consultation

This looks pretty important: CRTC, Canada’s communications regulator, is doing a consultation on “New Media Broadcasting.” Here is a CBC story on it. Here is the consultation overview doc. Here is the e-consultation site.

[via Michael Geist]

Categories: cbc, media

CBC to Torrent?

Via Michael Geist:

Sources indicate that the CBC is set to become the first major North American broadcaster to freely release one of its programs without DRM using BitTorrent. This Sunday, CBC will air Canada Next Great Prime Minister. The following day, it plans to freely release a high-resolution version via peer-to-peer networks without any DRM restrictions. This development is important not only because it shows that Canada’s public broadcaster is increasingly willing to experiment with alternative forms of distribution, but also because it may help crystallize the net neutrality issue in Canada.

defining what you are for (just like porn)

All sorts of institutions are in big trouble because of the internet, and they’re scared as hell. Newspapers can’t figure out how they’ll keep making money; the music business is terrified that its business model is evaporating. Britannica has faded to irrelevance for anyone with an internet connection. I think that’s the tip of things, and anyone who has anything to do with information (schools, governments, book publishers, television, public broadcasters, among others) are all going to see their apple carts upset with fruit rolling all over the place in the next decade.

I’ve been thinking about this particularly in my role as President of the Board of Directors of the Atwater Library, where we are struggling (as many libraries do) to try to articulate why we are important, why we should get funding.

The big problem, I think, is that institutions tend to be wrong about what they are actually for.

That is, they have defined their existence by various functions they perform within a given ecosystem. In the context here, these institutions grew up in an ecosystem where information was scarce, and information distribution limited. The ecosystem has changed (info distribution & access is abundant), and institutions are having a hard time adapting. So: music labels think they sell CDs to people; newspapers think they get writers to make news articles, and get people to read them; libraries think they give people access to books and computers; universities think they provide a place for people to learn and do research; governments think they try to improve society by implementing policies wanted by the people … etc. But I think they are all wrong.

All those kinds of definitions get you tied up in the functional stuff you do, and they don’t really get to the core of what’s important, what the real thing is that you are doing. I don’t have answers, but any business/institution that thinks like this is going to get creamed in the next ten years, unless they take a look at what they are really for.

It seems to me the porn business, one of the most profitable businesses in the Universe, gets this in a way no one else does. Because the porn biz understands exactly what it is for:

Pornographers don’t sell pornography; they provide orgasms.

Looking at it that way, they don’t seem to care much about how they do it – they’ll just find ways to give people the orgasms however people want them given. Dirty postcards, magazines, prono theatres, VHS and Betamax, phone sex, online photos, online videos, chat lines, webcams, cybersex and God knows what else. You don’t hear the porn business whingeing about Intellectual Property and illegal downloads, and consumers as thieves, because they don’t have time: they’re too busy trying to give the world what it seems to want, more orgasms.

So, stepping out of the peepshow and back to the respectable world, why are newspapers, for instance, having such a hard time? I think it’s because they have a fundamental misunderstanding of what they do.

The value of a newspaper is not that it gives me information; the value of a newspaper is how it selects information – what it puts in and what it leaves out.

So: Newspapers are not for providing information; newspapers are for selecting what information I should get. (And maybe: for helping me make decisions? – not sure about that one).

And the problem is that newspapers, for the most part, are in a tizzy because they ask: how can we compete as information providers in a world where there is unlimited information available on the web? And the answer, I think, is that they should stop competing as information providers, and start focusing on their real skills and usefulness, which is information selection. Note, by the way, that this does not mean that newspapers should stop providing information, but rather that that task might necessary in order to do a good job of selecting information.

I keep coming back again and again to something I heard Joi Ito say a couple of years ago on some podcast or other:

mp3s are just metadata associated with a musician.

That’s pretty big, pretty heavy. I don’t think I quite have it fixed in my brain yet, but the idea is that a thing’s value is defined by how well people know it, and how highly they consider it. Mp3s are meta data that allow people to “find” an artist, and allow them to determine how much they value that artist. (What that means for the music biz I’m not sure, but we’ll find out in the next ten years).

For newspapers, you might say the same thing: news articles and columns are just metadata associated with the newspaper. But the real value a newspaper performs is not giving me good articles, it’s putting it all together. The mere provision of information is worthless now, because anyone can do it (even me).

This is why blogs – at least in the techno-intelligencia – win. Blogs are excellent selectors of information, while newspapers are pretty clunky at it – because for the past 300 years they existed in an ecosystem where information was scarce. Now information (and access to it) is abundant. So a site like BoingBoing becomes one of the most popular on the net: their craft is not providing information, it’s selecting it. And they’re good at it.

And given the huge overabundance of information on the web, we need all the help we can get in selecting. So newspapers need to work harder at providing that service, bringing that core skill (which they have always had – the Editor is the God of the newspaper) to bear on the web. Have a flip thru the Gazette, or, God help you, visit their web site, and is it any wonder they’re having a hard time? Half of it is the same generic wire-service information that’s in any other paper or news site on the web. That’s not giving me much value. It’s lazy selection and boring, and lazy and boring are a dime a dozen these days. So work harder at finding and selecting interesting content (from the web, there’s tons of it), take down you stupid registration system down, put up a decent navigable web site designed by someone who understands the Internet, and get on with things and stop whingeing.

This was the idea behind earideas: that what’s missing is not good audio out there, but a really good way to find and hear the good audio. (I hope we’re succeeding … anyone have any comments on earideas? Have you checked it out yet? Do you like it?).

There is lots of work to do, and I guess you and I and many other people will be busy for the next few years figuring this all out.

Oh, and any ideas about what a library is truly for? Some help would be much appreciated in deciding that – I’ve got some suggestions, but it hasn’t quite crystalized in the old brain yet.

UPDATE: Interesting proposition about wordpress and learning, that suggests a way education might start changing. [via blogsavvy; via bentrem twitter]

UPDATE II: Stemming from a debate about the value of political groups on Facebook, Mat’s started thinking about political platforms on the web.

public broadcasting & podcasting

I’ve been listening to tons of great public broadcasting on earideas.com.

And here’s a different view about why “good” public broadcasting is important: with the web, and podcasts, the CBC becomes a calling card for Canada. Ditto Deutsche-Welle for Germany and ARN for Australia etc. The broadcaster becomes a marketing tool and a builder of prestige. This is becoming more important in the networked world, where – for many of my peers, for instance – we can be anywhere in the world to do the work we do. Ditto businesses, scientists, writers and other “elites.” We want them here, in Canada, in Montreal, because really smart people make a country more vibrant and innovative.

I believe that a strong public broadcaster with excellent, thought-provoking content, helps build Canada’s image in the world.

While this isn’t all a public broadcaster should do, this is a new kind of rationale, I believe, brought on by the web; and one that might be more compelling to the business-only decision-making that runs our governments these days.

Note, this applies as well to universities: all universities should put a chunk of their marketing budget towards producing a weekly, high-quality podcast that interviews professors doing exciting research (whether in arts, humanities, or sciences and professional disciplines). I’m thinking of a weekly podcast with content as varied and wonderful as the TEDTalks. That is the gold standard for thought-provoking web content … and should be emulated by anyone who wants to build an image as a place of exciting innovation.

I was just talking with Mitch and Julien about this at lunch the other day; and commented on Mat’s blog to this effect.

Categories: friendsprojects, media

regret the error’s 2007 round-up

Craig’s Regret the Error blog does a round-up of 2007 media screw-ups, and their usually insipid apologies. Number one:

Following the portrait of Tony and Cherie Blair published on 21 April in the Independent Saturday magazine, Ms Blair’s representatives have told us that she was friendly with but never had a relationship with Carole Caplin of the type suggested in the article. They want to make it clear, which we are happy to do, that Ms Blair “has never shared a shower with Ms Caplin, was not introduced to spirit guides or primal wrestling by Ms Caplin (or anyone else), and did not have her diary masterminded by Ms Caplin.”

See the rest here.

Categories: cbc, media, web

finding the core

Just posted a comment on Dan Misener’s blog (Dan now runs CBC radio, from what I can tell), that I thought was worth repeating here. Dan’s post was about connective tissue, says he:

On Spark, we’re trying really hard to make the show’s connective tissue live up to its content. That comes in the form of story treatments, editing techniques, music choices, sound design, scripts, segues, and all the other tiny little bits that go into making a radio program.

My comment was about the need to find the “core” of information-provision institutions:

i’ve been thinking about this lately: the changes on the web mean that many prized institutions are afraid of becoming obsolete. but i think the real problem is that the function they serve is not the one they thought they served … and they haven’t figured that out yet.

for instance, “providing information” is just one thing that say britannica, and mainstream media, and universities do. but it is not the *core* of their existence – and the core is where their importance and relevance lies. these institutions were fooled in the past century into thinking provision of information was the core of their existence, because information used to be scarce, and it’s distribution limited. now info is cheap and plentiful, and distribution ubiquitous … it turns out they aren’t all that valuable as providers of information.

and yet I feel deeply that professional media, britannica, and universities etc still have crucial roles to play in the world, they just haven’t adjusted yet to what that is.

they have to stop thinking of themselves as “providers of information” … they are something more (not sure what) and when the can confidently figure that out, they will find solutions to their angst about the future.

maybe your ideas here touch on something about where that core might be for radio.