Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Attention Economy

Michael Erard has a great post up entitled "A Short Manifesto on the Future of Attention," which deconstructs the advertising market and media saturation from an orthogonal perspective. It's particularly timely in light of recent news, namely:
A) Murdoch is serious about news content going behind a paywall. He's appointed a Chief Digital Officer to look into the matter.
B) The blogosphere is awash in commentary about newspaper paywall collusion.
C) The ad market remains soft (too many ads, not enough audience to sustain multiple media outlets.)

What I particularly like is his thinking about products and pricing organized around how much attention you care to spend on them:

A quote:

Imagine attention-based pricing, in which prices of information commodities are inversely adjusted to the cognitive investment of consuming them. All the candy for the human brain — haiku, ringtones, bumper stickers — would be priced like the luxuries that they are. Things requiring longer attention spans would be cheaper — they might even be free, and the higher fixed costs of producing them would be covered by the higher sales of the short attention span products. Single TV episodes would be more expensive to purchase than whole seasons, in the same way that a six-pack of Oreos at the gas station is more expensive, per cookie, than a whole tray at the grocery store.

Perhaps an idea whose time has come.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Crazy Like Fox

As if the AP strangeness wasn't enough, now Rupert Murdoch wants to put all FOX content behind a paywall.
(blink. blink.)
I have two reactions to this:
a) Being a lifelong Democrat, I'm perfectly happy to watch all of FOX news disappear into walled-garden irrelevance. It hasn't enhanced the political dialog, much of it is wrong/jingoistic/wing-nutty, and frankly those who rely on Fox News for "news" are doing themselves a vast disservice.
b) My fear, however, is that others (CBS/CNN/NBC) will copy Murdoch out of desperation, or benightedness.
But again, this supports the theme of my last post: media companies tried paywalls in the late 90s. Only the WSJ was able to pull that one off successfully. Most others gave up.
So, this is how far we've come. In 2009, we're willing to try the SAME thing that DIDN'T WORK a decade a go.
Please, shareholders: It's time for executive regime change at the networks, and newspaper chains.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

AP Idiocy

In July, the Associated Press announced they would create a system to track where their content ends up, with an idea of charging for it. It's been roundly criticized by the blogosphere (here's a good example from the Laboratorium, a blog run by James Grimmelmann) and now AP has released a statement noting how its relationship with iCopyright is not targeted at billing bloggers for using quotes.
The bigger issue is how AP can charge for content it doesn't own. The statement doesn't address it, and Mr. Grimmelmann calls them out on it. Tip of the hat to him.

What defines fair use and what is and is not public domain have been taking a beating lately. First, fair use was thrown out as a defense in a Boston music downloading trial -- although I suspect this will be looked at again on appeal. Now this silliness from the AP.

I understand that record companies are looking at a dying business model and are lashing out with lawyers rather than innovation. I understand that the AP wants to make sure it doesn't get gypped. But how record companies are measuring their losses doesn't pass the laugh-test. And how AP is defining fair use of their content doesn't pass the smell test.

What this boils down to has been true since Bubble 1.0. Media companies (and I've worked at a LOT of them) are not software companies. When they build software, or new media products outside of their traditional scope, they fail more often than not. They fail to anticipate what their new audience will want. They fail to experiment aggressively to see what works and what does not. They tend to try to shovel their old approaches onto the new platform (just like in the early days of television).

Furthermore, this defensive posture about content that lives in a walled garden just won't work on the Internet. The understanding must be that the global Internet audience (and its hockey-sticking mobile component) wants what they want when they want it. DRM just turns everyone off. And they've turned a blind eye to the possibilities of the new platform as a marketing opportunity for their other (just fine thank you) products. And after nearly 15 years, the mossbacks in the boardrooms are showing few signs of waking up. The only solution I can foresee is a shareholder revolt, and some new management talent as a result. There's plenty of folks in Seattle, Silicon Valley, and New York who would love to take on the manifold challenges of bringing record labels, newspapers, radio conglomerates, and broadcast networks into the 21st Century. Lord knows I've tried. But invariably one encounters resistance at the topmost levels, products and platforms get nerfed, and the failure begins anew.

Which is sad for me, and a lot of other media guys who've bled to save these institutions.