What do we really value online and can traditional publishing companies adapt quickly enough to save themselves?
Earlier this week I and a group of social media ‘influencers’ were invited to a briefing by News Ltd of their, two years in the making plans to move to Australia’s first big Freemium news content model. Basic freemium model – a range of teaser online news excerpts leading to fuller, more in-depth news stories behind a pay wall at subscription prices starting at $2.95 a week to $7.95 including the daily printed paper.
Ross Dawson, Richard Freudenstein, Tim 'Mumbrella' Burrowes - photo garyphayes
Firstly hats off to the large News Ltd operation for taking this ‘if we don’t were damned’ and ‘if we do were also damned’, step. Also for setting up a no-mans land, bridging site, looking at the Future of Journalism. It is really the only thing they can really do at this juncture – so it all comes down to ‘how’ they do it. I and others pointed out during the session that regardless of the mammoth ‘back-end’ production, business and editorial systems upgrade, it really boils down to IF users like the taste of this particular flavour of digital content. Is there a demand for your ‘paid for’ product?
Some heritage news orgs are starting to turn the corner of this ‘experiment’ of course while others have just crashed and burned. Yesterday AdAge reported on New York Times just keeping it’s head above the water with it’s 324 000 and climbing, digital subscribers. It announced that, as it’s print ads decline by 10.4% a quarter it’s digital ads (up 6.2%) and increasing subscribers online are balancing the books, just.
Within the company’s news media division, which includes The New York Times itself as well as the Boston Globe and other newspapers, digital-ad revenue increased 6.2% — slower growth than in the second quarter — while print-ad revenue dropped 10.4% — a sharper decline than last quarter.
In a world of scarcity asking people to pay for ‘information’ or stories about themselves and the wider world makes sense. Get that. But in a world where digital, to a growing number, means free access, open re-distribution, self-publishing and outright plagiarism of those same stories, will ‘paid for news’ ever work?
Lets step back from the granularity of price points and production challenges covered by others for the moment and without getting bogged down in journalistic integrity or endless ‘manipulative’ stats, lets get back to basics.
col·labo·rate (kə lab′ə rāt′)
1. to work together, esp. in some literary, artistic, or scientific undertaking
Almost 13 years ago I recall evangelising to various groups of top BBC exec producers, writers & creatives that the internet is an important new medium. “Lets be clear” I would say “audiences will have unlimited choice not only to watch what they want, when they want but to create content themselves for each other. You will need to change your relationship with them and find ‘time’ for this new relationship, to make any kind of impact in their lives in the future”. Time is the operative word. Is there time to win audiences back? Do you have time to spend collaborating with them and creating meaningful vs flash-in the-pan viral, transmedia content? Is there time before you become mostly irrelevant? I am still saying the same things to today’s generation of producers.
Traditional providers – it’s very simple. You no longer control distribution or dictate what gets consumed. Apart from a few mass produced, live, appointment to view episodics, reality shows & hyped box office the rest is in competition with people-produced, personally relevant media & conversation.
What does it mean to be real online? One of the biggest issues facing individuals and organisations in the new order that is social media (and web 2/3.0) is the problem of being human, appearing real, having personality and authenticity. Add to this the fact that we all ‘lie’ in real life and the issue of this manifesting online. The question of authenticity is at the core of social media and one that causes much disagreement between old school media/marketing types and those who are attempting to engage more ‘deeply’ online with communities and customers. Whether it is about the integrity of your blogging, the energy of your tweeting or how your overall package of Flickr, YouTube, Facebook etc: this post addresses some of the philosophy and asks practical questions which will hopefully get you thinking about the true value of authenticity.
“so please don’t forget to support artists like myself who have never had a fair chance in the record industry” guess who…
I have talked endlessly of the best ways for corporations or brands to engage with communities inside social media and it is always fascinating to watch the first baby steps of ‘old school’ celebs or real talent (mixing metaphors) dip their first toes in. But there is also an uneasy feeling watching those ‘media enhanced’ celebs of yesteryear showing their human (everyday?) side and here are a few I stumbled across in the last week or so. Good ones, regular and keeping the punters interested with little morsels cast over the side, ugly ones (just why bother!) and bad ones (they don’t quite get it do they?).
One of the best ways for talent to engage with an audience is to carry them along through their normal daily ‘glitzy’ activities. We see this happening more obviously on twitter. Following Stephen Fry as he travels the world getting fit, making films or eating at nice restaurants. Or Richard Branson’s appearances at Virgin terminals around the globe and many more (lots on Laurel Papworth’s post Famous Twits 50 Celebrities-on-Twitter. It is even more profound for fans when they talk back and give the sense that they read ‘some’ of the many thousands of responses expectantly flying into the usual vacuum. I do wonder though whether this entry into social web by celebs is more to do with a sense that their ‘celeb’ status is decreasing – as the attention for eyeballs is democratised and top YouTubers, Flickerers, Tweeters and MySpace/FB stars mean there is much less time spent on ‘them’. So it becomes a little of, lets go down to their level? Perhaps.
One artist I have mentioned before who is trying to engage across many ‘richer’ social media channels is Imogen Heap. She has kept at it as well with a regular vlog about her new studio fit-out and 4th album. She has at least done 500+ updates on twitter, plus music/travel writing blog, social networks and so on. Here is her latest vlog (which incidentally talks about the ridiculous YouTube/Warners fiasco – them taking down fan videos with her songs on) and more positively about her ‘tweeting’ and charity twestival project.
“On a less fun note…what I actually wanted to say re: youtube videos with my music in, is that it’s been a right nightmare trying to sort out why it’s been happening coz it’s NOTHING to do with me! Total cock up, like I said. My camp is (enjoying) slapping wrists as we speak and trying to sort this mess out. I am not guilty on all counts.. so those of you blaming and bad mouthing me (you know who you are) QUIT IT! I’m one of the good guys, OK?”
It is hard for artists and celebs to bring thousands of adoring fans into their world, so like the L Word Fanisode (I wrote about many moons ago) (where the fans helped write episodes of a high quality soapy) Imogen is bringing her muso fans into the mix, literally by allowing them to add ‘music tracks’ to her raw vocals – a sort of remix but affording much more creativity on the part of the co-creative audience. (BTW re: the quotes above and below – nice to see unfettered personality here vs the measured tones of the older school celebs, who still think they are on Letterman or Parky?). Remember this is for the water charity run via Twestival FM.
“Due to legal crap and crossed wires the song never ended up being in the movie. So… rather than it go to waste.. and just sit around, I thought, for a bit of fun some of you might like to throw some music at it so it lives. A bit like that game where you draw the head on the paper, fold it over and give it to the next person to draw the body. So I’ve drawn the head. You’re turn!”
To explain the mix thing simply. Imogen has provided…
isolated vocal tracks that together sound like CLICK HERE TO LISTEN. Pretty dry, incomplete and using basic tracking software any style of music can be integrated
So a little fun while writing this blog and few minutes later – some apple loop quickies, here is a ‘world music’y’ one CLICK HERE TO LISTEN
I will actually do a proper version which involves playing tracks in! and even add some machinima (like the one I did to Speeding Cars at the bottom – but that’s another hat and another blog 🙂
Looking at other celebs joining in the social media fray it is worth comparing those with a real passion to communicate and share vs those just pushing product or perpetuating an existing image. Below we see the much more famous (perhaps) Annie Lennox doing what Imogen does but without the trappings of Imogen’s ‘work in progress’ narrative arc and Annie strangely comes across as aÂ ‘fish-out-of-water’? – nervous, not quite sure how to talk to a broader audience? I must say just sitting and talking straight at camera, regardless of who you are, exposes your human frailties – and perhaps that is what is going on here. Celebrities who were cast up by old school scarcity of distribution now trying to show to the world they are indeed real? Annie brings the music biz ‘implosion”, jokingly (but many a true word said in jest) front and center, quoting from this YouTube…
“My album the Annie Lennox collection is coming out on the 9th March, so please don’t forget to support artists like myself who have never had a fair chance in the record industry, and as its all imploding now I am really begging you to buy my album and keep me in luxury and comfort. Thankyou”
Even Francis Ford Coppola has joined in recently. Here he is, camera attached to one arm, showing us around his house and talking about his new film Tetro. Not sure of the reasoning behind it beyond the likely scenario of a younger relative saying “it would be cool if you did a vlog dad/uncle/grandad etc – it’s what all the trendy celebs are doing”
David Lynch is creating an episodic series on YouTube which is far more engaging than some of his feature films 🙂 The David Lynch Daily Weather Report sees him giving 30 second enthralling insights into the state of the sky and temperature (celcius and farenheit!) in LA. In this excerpt he takes it even further and tells us that it really is him on Twitter…remarkable stuff.
There are lots more examples no doubt (you will tell me in comments of course!) and I really wonder if we are indeed deep inside the transition now from distribution scarcity = celebrity to distribution plenty = 15 days of fame? As more and more ‘normal’ folk (those with talent who wouldn’t have been given the time of day by traditional A&R, TV or film studios) rise up to the surface – we can expect enlightened talent to meet them coming from the other direction. As media form and channels equalise a twitter star may one day be the equivalent of Shakespeare, known for writing 140 character tweets that make millions laugh and cry – in fact I do that, but for very different reasons 🙂
ADDITION: Hattip to Tanja (missglamourpuss) for the link to this video looking at the case of Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails) who beyond just dipping his toes in social media decided to seriously burn all bridges with the Music Biz hand that used to feed him (with the morsels they had left!). The speaker here exploring what he did (not rocket science: Connect with Fans, give them a Reason to Buy – sales 101) is Michael Masnick (Editor/President & CEO, Techdirt Blog/Floor64 and more from Wikipedia below.
“In May 2007, Reznor made a post on the official Nine Inch Nails website condemning Universal Music Groupâ€”the parent company of the band’s record label, Interscope Recordsâ€”for their pricing and distribution plans for Nine Inch Nails’ 2007 album Year Zero. He labeled the company’s retail pricing of Year Zero in Australia as “ABSURD”,concluding that “as a reward for being a ‘true fan’ you get ripped off”. Reznor went on to say that as “the climate grows more and more desperate for record labels, their answer to their mostly self-inflicted wounds seems to be to screw the consumer over even more.” Reznor’s post, specifically his criticism of the recording industry at large, elicited considerable media attention.In September 2007, Reznor continued his attack on Universal Music Group at a concert in Australia, urging fans there to “steal” his music online instead of purchasing it legally. Reznor went on to encourage the crowd to “steal and steal and steal some more and give it to all your friends and keep on stealin’.” Wikipedia
Oh and as promised a quick machinima I did to Imogen‘s ‘quaint’ track, Speeding Cars