Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Google & Media: Biting the Hand that Feeds You

A few days back, before I left for China and before the holiday season descended upon us, we tackled a key question: "What's the Biggest Mistake Media Companies Make Online?"

I received several solid answers from followers of this blog, including Frymaster who immediately took sides in the ongoing war between Traditional Media and Google. Wrote Frymaster:  "I reject out-of-hand the assertion that Google is profiting from others' content. Rather, I say that Google profits from connecting users to content. It is a service that most web publishers appreciate greatly. Google, unlike any other search engine ever, goes to great pains to deliver the least-skewed results possible. Google is constantly on the hunt for people who game their system. That's why they succeed. There is a direct connection between Google's user-centric, community-oriented approach and their financial success."

Rupert Murdoch's protestations aside, there is no doubt that Google is driving vast amounts of traffic to websites run by traditional media companies. In recent years, most of BusinessWeek.com's growth came from search optimization and direct traffic. Up until only three years ago, the number one referring domain at BusinessWeek was always a portal until Google's popularity replaced Yahoo Finance and MSN Money as the top referrer. Search--largely Google--now accounts for some 45% of the traffic  at BW.com, up from less than 20% in 2006. That simple little box is driving vast amounts of advertising inventory (and therefore revenue) to the site and it's no coincidence. In common with every other media brand, we did lots of things to make our site search friendly. We rewrote headlines, simplified URLs, hired an on-staff SEO expert to lead seminars in search optimization. In other words, we courted Google and the search traffic we achieved. It's a similar story everywhere else.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

I'm liking this logo design done by my incredibly talented podcast producer Jaime Beauchamp. Jaime worked on our design group at BusinessWeek for many years, designing one of my favorite covers years ago. What do you think?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Off to China

I'll  be taking a break from my blog this coming week for an exciting reason: I'm off to China to meet with Chinese entrepreneurs, government officials, artists and non-profit leaders. Most of my time will be spent in Beijing, the cultural soul of China, and Shanghai, the financial go-go capital of the country. This will be the first time I have ever ventured to China so I'm very much looking forward to a deep dive into the country's culture, economics and people. A full report to come.

Friday, December 4, 2009

My Final Podcast for BusinessWeek

I left our 46th floor multimedia studio for the last time this week after recording my 209th "Behind the Cover" podcast as BusinessWeek's executive editor. It feels like only yesterday when I walked into that studio for the first time in September of 2005 to begin these weekly podcasts in which I interview the author of the magazine's cover story. Since then, more than 12 million of these podcasts have been downloaded and it has consistently ranked among the top business podcasts in the world on iTunes. For years, I have been honored to receive countless letters, emails, and phone calls from listeners who told me how much they enjoyed these recordings. Dozens of fans also have approached me at conferences, seminars, and panel discussions at which I have participated, each of them going out of their way to say thank you. So let me (yes, that's me above in the studio) return the thanks to all of you for listening.

The Biggest Mistake Media Companies Make Online

Yesterday, Media Industry News asked me three questions, one of which I shared with my Tweeps: What is the biggest mistake media companies make online? Nearly two dozen people weighed in with their own answers--and almost all of those responses are very good. Yet, I have my own take on this question that differs from most of the answers I received.

For all the talk about the importance of digital media, most traditional brands boast cultures, people, and processes that protect their dying assets (ie. print) at the expense of what is growing (ie. digital). There are a lot of reasons for this, and some of them are good ones. Print still brings in the vast majority of revenue. It somehow feeds in a more satisfying way the ego of editors and writers. And because the most resources are always devoted to the print product, the digital side remains a stepchild to the so-called main act--even when that act is unprofitable and dying.

As John Gardner once observed, most of the things that prevent the renewal of an organization can be found in the mind. It's not a matter of new ideas. "There is usually no shortage of new ideas," wrote Gardner in Self-Renewal. "The problem is to get a hearing for them. And that means breaking through the crusty rigidity and stubborn complacency of the status quo." Yet the rules, customs, and procedures in organizations always favor the past. That's why culture trumps strategy all the time. The cultural cues are that print (the past) is more important than digital (the future).

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Thoughtful Questions: Do You Have Answers?

Next week I'm being honored by Media Industry News as one of its Top 21 Social Media Superstars. I'm flattered to receive this award, especially after having been inducted into MIN's Digital Hall of Fame a year ago. But want to make clear it was my BusinessWeek team that really made the difference in using social media to deeply engage our audience on blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Ning, and other social media tools. I'm disappointed that I won't be able to pick up this award in person at the Grand Hyatt in New York on Dec. 9th, but BW's online news editor, Dan Beucke, will stand in for me.

In any case, MIN just asked each of the 21 honorees to address one of three questions when they go up to accept the award. These are fabulous questions so I want to repeat them here and engage in a dialogue with you about them:

What is the one piece of technology you would bring to a desert island and why?

What is the biggest mistake media companies make online?

What is the biggest game-changing technology or service for media companies in the past several years and why?

The fast answers to these questions might well be the iPhone, the failure to make meaningful changes in culture which almost always trumps strategy, and mobile. But let's be more creative than that. What do you think?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Theme Song for a New Business

My friends and colleagues know well my deep passion for music. The office I packed up at BusinessWeek a few days ago featured large and dramatic black-and-white prints of Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, and Frank Sinatra. So when I told them the name of my new company, C-Change Media, with the C referring to content, curation, and community, they universally suggested that I should have a theme song and it should be David Bowie's Changes. I couldn't agree more. So I found this terrific version of the tune on YouTube. Have a look and a listen and think C-Change Media when you do.

Media's Insurmountable Opportunities

So thank you Mitch Anthony for reminding us of Pogo's remarkably prescient comment: “We are confronted with insurmountable opportunities.” Only days ago, media columnist David Carr reminded us of the promise of these digital opportunities as he was writing nothing less than an obituary for Old Media in The New York Times. To quote:
Magazines intended to help the reader primp for Christmas parties are, in many cases, half as big as they were just a few short years ago. Pages are down, spending is down, revenues are down, and the biggest feature of this holiday season in the media kingdom has been layoffs and buyouts at Conde Nast, Time Inc., The Associated Press, and yes, The New York Times.

Sadly, Carr could have added BusinessWeek and Fortune to that list and God knows how many other magazines and newspapers who have had to dump payroll because of increasingly losses and bloated cost structures. The cutbacks are hardly new. Some 60,000 jobs in communications have been lost in New York alone since 2000, according to New York's comptroller. Having witnessed so much of this devastation up close at BusinessWeek this past week, I have to tell you it's heartbreaking. But there is another side to this molting of the media.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

About My New Company

There are all kinds of questions I'm getting about my new company from friends and colleagues. So I thought it might be helpful to lay out my answers for everyone to see.

Why C-Change?

For the past five years, we’ve been witnessing nothing less than a sea change in the media business. The media monopolists are dying. More nimble, low-cost models on the web are quickly replacing them. Readers are increasingly abandoning print and moving to digital—on the little screen of your mobile device, the bigger screen on your laptop, and the biggest screen in your home. There’s nothing in the short-term future that will slow this trend down. If anything, analog media brands have only begun to feel the pain. What’s next will be truly devastating and those changes spell unprecedented opportunity for new media entrepreneurs.

Why are you starting your own company?

I passionately believe that the future of media is digital and that newcomers have tremendous advantages over incumbents. Most of traditional media remains in a complete meltdown, dragged down by high costs, old ways of thinking, and legacy work processes. As tough as the past three years have been for traditional media, the next three are going to be nothing less than brutal: more closures, greater losses, increasing layoffs of highly talented journalists and editors.

That’s also why we’re going to see a media boom in the next three years, the launch of tens of thousands of new media entrepreneurs on the Internet. Many of them will fail, but many more will flourish and replace the brands our fathers and grandfathers grew up with. The success of Huffington Post, Politico, Drudge, GigaOm, TechCrunch, and other media enterprises on the web have shown us a path forward. But it’s still very early days and the new followers are going to have lots of advantages over the first movers. I’m thrilled and excited to be part of this revolution.

What makes you so sure you or anyone else can succeed at this game?

I have three fundamental beliefs that inform my thinking: 1) Print advertising will never come back. There are just too many options for advertisers today and too much pressure on rates. Sadly, success in print will be measured in single-digit declines, forever. 2) Online advertising will never offset those declines nor save print. There’s far too much competition online and far too much available inventory; and 3) Users will not pay for content, unless they’re convinced it has immediate and tangible value. Very little journalism meets that standard today. Do we really need 57 versions of a story on Bernie Madoff pleading guilty?

If you agree with these absolutes, they can liberate your thinking about what’s going to happen next in media. Why? Because they tell you that nothing less than radical transformation is needed to survive and to thrive in the analog space. And there’s precious little revolutionary thinking among the traditionalists. That’s why newcomers have great advantage at this time of transition. The great management guru Peter Drucker said it best: "The problem in our lives is not the absence of knowing what to do, but the absence of doing it.” I’m going to do it.