Thursday, September 9, 2010

Picking a Logo

So now that PoetsandQuants is well on its way, we're working on the design of our next website: Slingshots for David. The idea is simple: it's a site to provide tools and ideas to help entrepreneurs. Sure, there are lots of sites aimed at the small business and entrepreneurship market. Our Gypsy Rose Lee gimmick is to examine entrepreneurship from the perspective of the disrupter. So our lens will be disruptive business models and the disrupters themselves: How they think? How they create disruptive models to compete? What we can learn from them?

Which leads me to this: What do you think of the logo above?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Hello Google!

I'm happy to report that Google has finally discovered the needle in the Internet haystack. It seems that the world's biggest search engine began listing direct links to the site yesterday--12 days after PoetsandQuants went live.

Interestingly, unlike Bing, the direct link shows up as the fourth result on page one after you Google "poetsandquants." The first mention? A blogger from India who noted that a post of his was on our site. The second and third results point to the Twitter feed for the site. And then finally, in the fourth place, is the direct link.

Thank you, Google!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Bing vs. Google: Guess Who Wins?

It's now been ten days since the launch of our first website--PoetsandQuants--in the network. Thanks much to everyone who suggested ways to get noticed by Google's mysterious algorithms. There were quite a few very good ideas, some of which I put into effect. Thanks to a suggestion, for example, I have now submitted my URL for PoetsandQuants directly to Google as well as Google News. Several days later, I did the same at both Bing and at Yahoo. Interestingly, Yahoo tries to make this a business, charging newcomers to the web $299 for expedited service, or more if you sell porn.

I haven't heard from any of them, except Google News, which rejected my URL in a computer-generated email on the basis that we don't produce news, even though new stories and features go up daily. Oh well.......

So what has happened since my last post a week ago now that we've been live for ten full days? Type in "PoetsandQuants" in Google's search box and what do you get now? Not a single direct link to the site (see below), at least through the first ten pages of results (I just couldn't put myself through the trouble of digging deeper). You can find PoetsandQuants on the first page of results but only because of our Twitter feed, Facebook page, YouTube channel or coverage of our launch (we were written about by BusinessWeek, The Wall Street Journal, MediaBistro, MINonline, among many others. Strangely, a blogger from Pune, India, who wrote a post on how we published something from him, appears as the fifth item on page one--well ahead the stories by The Wall Street Journal and BusinessWeek. One improvement from the last time we did this a week ago: the weblog link for Viagra fell to page nine from page five and now resides with all kinds of other irrelevant results, including links from

Google the headline of the most-read story on the site to date: "Our New MBA Ranking of the Top 50 U.S. Schools." What comes up? No direct links from Google. The page one results do include a link to Tweetmeme, which obviously swept up Tweets on the story, and there's a section Google now calls "Results from People in Your Social Circle," that grabs posts from Facebook and Twitter.

So let's try Googling the latest article published on PoetsandQuants just this afternoon: "My Story: From an Army Ranger in Iraq to Harvard Business School." You already know the answer. Google has no direct links to the story or the site. Yes, the search engine did pick up our Facebook post along with a tweet that is, respectively, the number one and two results on the first page. So at least you can find it, even if it's not a direct hit.

What about Bing? We tried PoetsandQuants and a direct link immediately pops up as the number one result on page one (see below). We tried "Our New MBA Ranking of the Top 50 Schools" and Bing serves a direct link to the story as its first result on page one, even ahead of the BusinessWeek rankings which have been around since 1988. How about the latest story about the Harvard MBA who was an Army Ranger in Iraq? You guessed it. Bing provides a direct link to the piece, again the number one result on the page. Obviously, Yahoo Search delivers the same results because it's now powered by Bing.

Colleagues have told me that it could easily take Google 45 days to find our site. So perhaps I have at least another 35 days to wait. But somehow Bing already has found the needle in the Internet haystack. I'm surprised by the speed and the quality of their search results as much as I am mystified by Google's inability to deliver on the expectation that it is the world's leading search engine.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Google? Where are you?

Monday of this week was a big day for me. I launched, the first in a network of niche business websites. The site is devoted to the coverage of MBAs and graduate business education. One of the most fascinating aspects of our debut is what Google has been able to discover, or fail to find, about the site. First off, a little background. This is not a blog, but a website chock full of stories, analysis, photographs, and video. It's updated daily. It has been written about by BusinessWeek and The Wall Street Journal. It has been heavily supported via social media with a Twitter feed, a Facebook page, a LinkedIn group, and a YouTube channel.

So what do you find when you Google "poetsandquants?" Not a single mention of the actual website. On page one of Google's results, you'll find links to my Twitter feed, to this blog, to the blog of an MBA applicant who has been featured on the site, and finally in the top five, a link to my YouTube channel. In sixth place is a bogus operation called that offers an entirely inaccurate report on the site generated by an algorithm. In the seventh and eight spots are links to a press release about the launch of PoetsandQuants. In the ninth and tenth places are links to and, sites that track and aggregate tweets. Still not a single link to the actual site I've created.

It gets worse. As you go through the first five pages of Google results, there are all kinds of websites that have essentially highjacked Google, rendering its search product less useful and helpful to users. There's a so-called weblog that is little more than a place to advertise Viagra and Cialis. There's links to TweetMeme, Interceder, tweetcepts, twapperkeeper, rallyclips, and whotechpunditstweet, among many others. Most of them are search traps that have gamed Google. There's even a link to one fool who has no idea who I am yet calls me a "douchebag"  on page three of Google's results for PoetsandQuants. (See the screenshot below to get a real glimpse of how bad Google's results are.) Get through the first ten pages of results and there is still not a direct link to the site.

I then Googled (don't you hate that it has become a verb?) the headline to the most popular story on the site for the past three days: "Our New MBA Ranking of the Top 50 Schools." There's TweetMeme again in the first two results, Friendfeed in the second, Twitter in the fourth and fifth spots, and finally Facebook in the sixth position. Not a single direct link to the site that reported, wrote, edited and published the story.

A lot of the coverage of PoetsandQuants is devoted to MBA rankings due to their popularity and controversy. For the launch, we not only published the new ranking referred to above. We also published a ranking of the top 30 schools outside the U.S., and even an analysis of the rankings cranked out by BusinessWeek, Forbes, U.S. News & World Report, The Financial Times, and The Economist, ranking the rankings. For the debut alone, there were a dozen different stories on MBA rankings. So naturally, I Googled "MBA rankings." Not surprisingly, there's not a single link to PoetsandQuants in the first ten pages of results. I didn't bother to look much after that, I confess.

Now, it's not that I'm unaware of the importance of search engine maximization (SEO). When I was editor-in-chief at, we had a full-time SEO expert on staff. I worked closely with my web developer on SEO issues for the WordPress platform we're built on. As I created the content for the site, I was careful to write simple headlines and multiple tags to allow Google to find all the information on the site.

So where is Google? I don't have a clue. Luckily, our traffic has been impressive out of the gate, thanks to the BusinessWeek and Wall Street Journal mentions, and all the attention we've paid to social media. Twitter and Facebook, in particular, are delivering amazing numbers of people to PoetsandQuants. Every day, the traffic sets another new record. As for Google, nothing. This goes to the quality of Google's primary product: search. If Google can't find PoetsandQuants or any of the stories published on the site, I wonder how many other legitimate, substantive efforts are also going undiscovered because Google's algorithms have been so effectively gamed.

Or am I judging Google unfairly? Does the mother of all search engines take a lot longer to find that needle in the haystack that PoetsandQuants obviously is.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Finally! I'm sending this release to media friends today. Debuts as First in a New Network of Business Websites Created by former BusinessWeek and Fast Company Editor

C-Change Media Co. will debut the first in a network of business websites and social networks with the Aug. 9th launch of, a site devoted to the coverage of graduate business school education.

“With PoetsandQuants, our goal is to become the go-to place for serious applicants to the best MBA programs in the world,” said John A. Byrne, chairman of C-Change Media and editor-in-chief of PoetsandQuants. “It’s also the very first of what we expect to be a network of at least a dozen sites and hundreds of bloggers serving important business niches, from doing business in China, to entrepreneurs who use disruptive business models for competitive advantage.”

Each C-Change site will rely on an editorial approach that uses original content, the curation of must-read stories and blog posts from around the world on the specific topic, as well as a serious community of users. “Those are the three Cs in C-Change that will differentiate what we do from others,” said Byrne. “But the most crucial difference is that we will produce stories, features and information that is highly creative, thoughtful and substantive, as well as meaningful for our readers. The mission of PoetsandQuants is to help people make one of the most important, and ultimately most expensive, decisions in their professional careers.”

PoetsandQuants is a natural starting point for Byrne, formerly executive editor of BusinessWeek magazine, editor-in-chief of, and editor-in-chief of Fast Company. As BusinessWeek’s management editor, he created the first regularly published rankings of business schools in 1988, authored four editions of BusinessWeek’s Guidebook to the Best Business Schools, and built out the brand’s business school franchise on the web in the mid-1990s.

Each site will aggressively employ a social media strategy to attract and retain a large target audience. PoetsandQuants, for example, is launching with pages, feeds and channels on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube. The site also will use targeted advertising on Facebook to attract users.

Debut stories on PoetsandQuants:

# The most authoritative ranking of the top 50 U.S. business schools ever published.

# The most authoritative ranking of the top 30 non-U.S. business schools ever published.

# A ranking of the rankings of the best schools that closely examines and explains the flaws in the methodologies of every major full-time MBA list.

# School vs. school comparisons that highlight the cultural and numerical differences, as well as strengths and weaknesses between schools that compete against each other for the best applicants.

# A new social network for MBA applicants and MBA students at the best schools, with community groups on such topics as social entrepreneurship and post-MBA dreams and hopes.

About PoetsandQuants:

PoetsandQuants is a self-funded venture of Corte Madera, CA-based C-Change Media, although the company plans to raise capital from outside sources as it expands its network of business sites and bloggers. For the launch, C-Change has partnered with San Francisco-based Higher Edge Marketing Services and New York-based Knewton GMAT prep for advertising, marketing and some editorial content. The site was developed by Chicago-based Sandbox Development and Consulting Inc., and designed by Yellow Farm Studios.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Are You A Poet or a Quant?

I've been terribly neglectful about posting on a regular basis. The reason is simple: I've been flat out working to get a series of websites launched as part of C-Change Media. I've been creating a business plan, deck and design brief, talking to partners, negotiating with vendors, assigning stories to freelance writers, testing social network platforms, helping to guide a designer and a technologist to get us up and running. I've also been creating a wealth of content myself (when you're an entrepreneur, you do it all--taking photos, shooting video, reporting, writing, and editing, along with all the business side duties as well.) This gets increasingly complex when you are launching several sites on different business topics. In any case, we're getting close to a debut later this month of Poets& It's a site devoted to an area of business coverage I know a lot about: graduate business education. Back in 1988, as management editor of Business Week magazine, I created the first regularly done MBA rankings. I wrote three guidebooks on business schools and also built out Business Week's online presence in this field in the mid-1990s. For years, I also supervised our coverage of MBA and Executive Education.

I have a confession to make. I really missed reporting and writing. Before leaving BusinessWeek in early December, I had been an editor/manager for more than seven years: four at BusinessWeek as executive editor of the magazine and editor-in-chief of and another three at Fast Company where I was editor-in-chief. I missed the joy of discovery that occurs when you go into the field and interview people, bring back your reporting and insights, synthesize what you've learned and then put it all in writing. I'm hands-on, for sure, having already visited Dartmouth, Harvard, Stanford, and London Business School to get back in touch with the graduate business education market.

Why Poets & Quants? Because it’s part of the language and culture of every MBA school. Poets are MBA candidates with liberal arts undergraduate degrees. Not surprisingly, perhaps, they often struggle with the finance and statistics courses. Quants are students with business, financial or engineering backgrounds who are undaunted by spreadsheets and statistical analysis but may have some trouble writing a well structured, smartly argued paper.  Many MBA programs consciously combine poets and quants in teams so they can take advantage of each other’s skills. At P&Q, our goal will be to help both the poets and the quants make the best possible choice for an MBA education.

We've already put up a Twitter stream @PoetsAndQuants. And we have a very cool logo for the site thanks to the exceptionally talented Kristen Young over at YellowFarmStudios. Tell us what you think of it.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A New iPad Owner--Finally

A few months back, when Steve Jobs introduced the iPad, I predicted it would be just another nail in the coffin for traditional media. Why? Because it would more easily replace print and if media companies still gave their content away, their print readership would erode as quickly as their advertising revenue has diminished.

Well, I finally bought my own iPad last week and have to tell you I am hooked. The iPad makes reading, listening to and watching media better than ever. Frankly, it's hard to put down. When the print edition of The New York Times arrived on Sunday, I just let it be, preferring to use my iPad to access all kinds of information rather than pick up the old newspaper. I wandered through all kinds of content, including the NYT, YouTube, NPR, etc., rather than dive into the physical artifact at my feet. Which only reinforces my belief that the iPad is another nail--if media companies continue to make all their content free. It's simply a preferable way to read journalism.

So far, of course, the media offerings on the iPad are currently few and not that all impressive. Much has been written about the absence of The New York Times' mega-app which is still in limbo. Zinio's newsstand of magazines is a bit of a hit-or-miss mess. As far as I'm concerned, the few standouts so far in media are these:

1) NPR. Designed by Bottle Rocket, NPR's iPad app is the single best news and feature application available today. It has a spectacular carousel interface that is fun to use, and it works like a gem. Bravo to the folks at NPR for getting it out so quickly, but mostly for making an app that is enjoyable to use, that easily accesses the great content produced by NPR, and that makes great use of this media player's sizable audio files.

2) USA Today. There's a wealth of content here and it's highly accessible on this app. This is well-designed and cleverly implemented. For now, it's all free which puts USA Today in the forefront for iPad news junkies.

3) BBC. Not as good as either NPR or USA Today, but pretty damn good, nonetheless, for the great content produced by the BBC. It's also obviously free.

What are your favorites?

Friday, March 5, 2010

An Offer I Can't Refuse

In yesterday's snail mail came an extraordinary offer from a magazine I respect and admire--Inc., the journal for entrepreneurs. It was one of those subscription offers we all get from time to time. But this one offered the lowest price I have ever seen for a mainstream business magazine: $5 for a year's subscription or $10 for three full years. The latter offer provides 30 issues of the magazine for 33 cents a copy, less than the cost to mail the magazine. Add in the costs of reporting, writing, editing, design, art, printing and paper, and it's not hard to see that Inc. is losing quite a bit of money on every issue it sells. My guess is that the cost to produce a single issue of Inc. is closer to $1.50 to $1.75. So Inc., which is owned by Mansueto Ventures, my former employer at Fast Company, is willing to take a loss of well over a dollar an issue to get me as a subscriber. And this is for an exceptional magazine of very high quality, smart writing, and attractive design.

Why? Largely because it's doing what almost all magazines do: it's trying to maintain a circulation or rate base that is higher than it's natural demand. By keeping its rate base at its current level, it can charge advertisers a higher price than it otherwise could. Inc. is hardly alone in playing this game. Pretty much every U.S. magazine has the same strategy. If you're the circulation director of a publication, you have a simple choice: pay large direct mail costs to get new subscribers who really want the magazine, or lower your subscription costs to a point where you're pretty much making an offer that is hard to refuse. Although I have never paid for a subscription to Inc., I'm filling out a check for $10 right now. As a magazine junkie and a new entrepreneur, I simply cannot refuse this offer. Inc., you got me.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Why Digital News Consumers Are So Promiscuous

One of the most surprising stats to come out of the new Pew Research Center study released earlier this week is that 65% of online news consumers say they don't have a single favorite website for news. That number inevitably brings you to one of two conclusions: 1) The web is still a wide open marketplace for new content startups because there are precious few dominant players in the space, or 2) Digital news consumers are far more likely to be promiscuous when it comes to the news. Because the web makes it so easy to sample many media sites (and they are largely free), it's far more likely for people not to have a single favorite website for news. Indeed, the study also showed that only seven percent of Americans get their news from a single source and that 46% of Americans get their news from four to six media platforms on a typical day.

That sounds about right to me. At BusinessWeek, we once asked McKinsey and Co. to study our web users and found to our surprise and chagrin that our brand users were remarkably promiscuous. On average, they visited 18 different media brands--TV networks, newspapers, magazines, and websites--a week to satisfy their news appetites. At first, we thought this was a shocking number, showing little loyalty to our brand. On reflection, however, we came to realize that many of the readers of BusinessWeek are news junkies. They devour information and analysis, and it's obvious that they would seek news from lots of sources on a regular basis. At the time, BusinessWeek was not a news site to be depended on for the most important breaking news, but rather an analysis and insight website, picking and choosing the issues on which to opine and dig deeper. But I digress.

I think the fact that 65% of Americans don't have a single favorite website means both 1 and 2, not either or. This finding tells me there is still plenty of room on the web for new, smart ways to make the news more participatory, personal, and social. New web entrepreneurs who adopt disruptive technologies and business models are likely to prosper. And because of the overwhelming wealth of information on the web, it's unlikely that people might have a "single favorite website" for news. To my way of thinking, that's a good thing, assuring that readers get a wide diversity of opinions and ideas from a wide variety of brands.

A few other fascinating results from the Pew study: Our relationship to news is becoming "portable, personalized, and participatory." Some 33% of cell phone owners now access news on their cell phones; about 28% of people on the internet have customized their home page to include news from sources on topics that interest them, and some 37% of internet users have contributed to the creation of news, commented about it, or disseminated it via postings on social media sites from Facebook to Twitter.

Concludes Pew: "To a great extent, people's experience of news, especially on the internet, is becoming a shared social experience as people swap links in emails, post news stories on their social networking site feeds, highlight news stories in their Tweets, and haggle over the meaning of events in discussion threads. More than eight in ten online news consumers get or share links in emails."

I suspect these numbers will dramatically increase in the near future as news becomes even more of a social activity. The old rule of thumb that only 10% of Internet users are pro-active and only 10% of them participate by writing comments on stories is just that: old. Increasingly, as this Pew study clearly shows, more and more people are contributing to news. It has become a "shared social experience."  It's why I believe deep and meaningful engagement with your audience is an essential ingredient for a news organization.

What do you think?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Are Aggregators Thieves?

Entrepreneur Mark Cuban caused a bit of a stir earlier this month when he said that Google and other content aggregators essentially are vampires that suck the blood of the media. The only way to put a stop to it, Cuban added, was to "put a stake through their gosh darn hearts."

"You guys are always looking for the next thing to save you," he told media players at a conference in New York. "Your core competency is you create news, you create content. You just have to stop offering your necks to the vampires."

It was a good headline for a day or two on most media sites, and the comments drew some fascinating critiques because Cuban is an investor in Mahalo, which leans heavily on aggregation to create content for its own website. Other than the particularly harsh language, there also was nothing new about the complaint. We've heard a similar story from Rupert Murdoch, Sam Zell, and a host of other people in traditional media who want to put pay walls up to prevent their content from being stolen.

But the essential question remains: Are aggregators really thieves?

Truth is, most media brands work very hard to get their work distributed. In my earlier years at Forbes magazine, we had a team of three full-time publicists who worked behind-the-scenes to get media pickup of stories, book writers and editors on radio and television shows, and get the brand maximum exposure. This was also true at BusinessWeek which had (and still has) it's own in-house public relations staff, as well as an external firm to promote BW journalism to prominent bloggers and other media organizations.

As long as aggregators credit the source and even link back to the original content, how is that any different than a media brand's own attempts to gain wider distribution of its stories through PR agents?

Take a look at three major players who smartly use aggregation as a part of their business models: The Huffington Post, The Daily Beast, and Newser. At all three of these news websites, aggregation is a core component of the content mix. HuffPo snatches paragraphs from pretty much every media outlet and blogger that has something worth saying and often rewrites what many say. The Daily Beast wouldn't be able to produce its intelligent and entertaining daily news digest, Cheat Sheet, without borrowing and stealing from other media. Indeed, it's little more than a smart rewrite of the day's most important or sexiest news from The New York Times, The Washington Post, Associated Press, Reuters, and other traditional media brands with an occasional credit to HuffPo or Politico. Yet, for The Daily Beast, it's one of the most prominent features on its home page and it's used to drive daily traffic to the site via RSS feed. In short, The Daily Beast is making money from the best work of other media outlets which invest hundreds of millions of dollars annually creating that content.

Newser, meantime, takes an entirely different approach. It produces no original content, other than the blogged opinions of founder and provocateur Michael Wolf. Everything else is largely a short and snappy two-paragraph rewrite of the day's most entertaining news. Wolf is candid about what he's doing: The "About" section for the site reports that "Newser is a news aggregator with brains. We select the best news stories from hundreds of sources all over the web, read them for you, and summarize them in two succinct, sharply written paragraphs or less." It's stock market coverage on a recent day, posted 35 minutes after the market's close, was a graf and three bullet points, all taken from The Wall Street Journal, which posted its account just 16 minutes earlier. A "review" of the new movie "Blood Done Sign My Name" opens with two short sentences followed by four grafs stolen from four reviews published by The Philadelphia Enquirer, New York Post, Variety, and Chicago Sun-Times. There are links to the original stories in all of these files--if you want them. So Newser not only credits the source, it essentially sends traffic to their sites—at least for the readers who want the full stories.

All of this is perfectly legal, falling within the rules of fair use. But is it ethical or moral? After all, Newser and other aggregators are profit-making enterprises whose business models are essentially dependent on the investment of billions of dollars to produce the content they steal.

I don’t believe its unethical and here’s why: 1) At least in the above examples, there is total transparency to what is going on, 2) The original source is given credit for the article, and 3) The aggregator provides highlighted ink sback to the original content, driving revenue-producing traffic back to the source.

This isn’t exactly what my high school English teacher would call plagiarism. Rather, it’s fulfilling the same aims of a publication’s PR department: getting wider distribution of content to enhance a brand’s image so that more readers will likely either buy the publication or go to its website. Whether those goals are achieved is another story.

What do you think?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Where Great Journalism Still Thrives

Over the past few weeks, I've had the honor and the privilege of judging many of the nation's best city and regional magazines for the annual awards handed out by the University of Missouri's J-School, my alma mater. And after reading quite a few of these magazines, I can say that I've been remarkably impressed, even surprised in some cases, with the magazines that typically report on the best chiefs, bartenders, or cosmetic surgeons in any given area of the country. Time after time, amid the listings of restaurants, clubs and spas, I've come across some of the best journalism in America: gripping narrative, compelling drama, and natural, vivid storytelling that draws you into something you never thought you would be interested in.

If I were teaching narrative writing, I wouldn't hesitate to assign any of these standout stories to my students. More importantly, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend these pieces to readers who cherish and respect the promise of what journalism can be when it is practiced at the highest level. These are pieces that I would have loved to edit myself, or even better, would have loved to had the joy to report and write.

"Soldier of Misfortune," by Beth Hawkins. Here is the highly compelling story of a guy, down on his luck, who went off to Iraq, not as a member of the U.S. military but as a paid private security guard for a contractor. The job ultimately cost him his life. He was captured by Iraqi insurgents, held for ransom, and ultimately tortured. I'll let you find out how this tragic story ends. Published by Minnesota Monthly, the story is a stunning example of great storytelling.

"Trashed: The Death of Michael York and How Heroin has Invaded the Chicago Suburbs," by Bryan Smith. Published in Chicago magazine, this gripping story brings home to suburbia the tragedy of drug use and addiction. It's the tale of a teenager whose body turned up in an alley on the west side of Chicago. The high school student died of an apparent overdose from heroin after a weekend party in a suburban mansion. To cover up the accident, his "friends" dumped the body in an alley in the snow face-down at the foot of a dumpster.

"Free Man," by Tony Rehagen. Published by Indianapolis Monthly, this is the story of a man who spent 23 years in prison, wrongly convicted of murder. The writer catches up with him two years after his release and writes a brilliantly evocative story of how hard if not impossible it is to put your life back once you're jailed--even when you never should have been in prison in the first place.

"The Last Days of My Left Breast," by Viva Las Vegas. Published by Portland Monthly, this candid story is the harrowing first-person tale of a young woman who discovers that she has breast cancer. Because she is a stripper in a city club, the loss of her left breast not only has traumatic emotional and physical consequences. There are economic issues as well. It's an exceptionally honest and well-written account by a non-journalist and it makes for gripping reading.

"Mike Leach is Thinking," by S.C. Gwynne. This Texas Monthly cover story deftly provides a multi-dimensional portrait of a pirate-crazy man who may be the best college football coach in the country. I am no football fan. In fact, as a lifelong rabid baseball fan, I rather dislike football. Yet I could not put this exceptionally-crafted profile down.

"The River Lady," by Linda Vaccariello. This story, published in Cincinnati magazine, is the fascinating tale of a woman whose body was pulled from the Ohio River three years ago. Yet, no one could identify who she was. "No one was missing her," as one investigator put it.

"Wrongful Death," by Jason Fagone. Yet another narrative that is almost impossible to put down, this piece is the behind-the-scenes story of the demise of one of Philadelphia's most famous law firms. Published in Philadelphia magazine, the drama opens when a young lawyer at the firm receives a simple text message from a friend: "sorry to hear about your firm."

"But the Dream Should Die," by Joe Keohane. A highly provocative yet convincingly argued essay that explains why Ted Kennedy should be the last Kennedy we ever elect. It smartly ends a powerful portfolio of stories in Boston magazine on Sen. Kennedy's life and legacy. As the headline of the piece puts it: "The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, but the dream should die."

So even in this age of budget cuts, layoffs, newspaper and magazine closings, journalism that informs, inspires and entertains is being published every day in both likely and unlikely places. Thank God for that.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Why Ads on the iPad & Other Tablets Won't Make a Difference

Karsten Lemm, a San Francisco-based freelance writer who works mainly for the German newsmagazine Stern, makes a convincing case that my earlier post on the iPad gave short shrift to the advantages of tablet reading. As he puts it: "The Kindle is hardly a great device for displaying magazine content, and Amazon's conditions have been less than favorable to publishers. That's likely to change with increasing competition. The iPad, future Google Android tablets, and e-readers like Skiff and Plastic Logic Que give publishers at least a chance to offer a new kind of reading experience that people will be willing to pay for."

I hope Karsten is right, but I have strong doubts. The free genie is out of the bottle, and it will be extremely hard--if not impossible--to get people to pay for what they already get for free. Even an old print guy like myself has to make a confession: Far too often I'll peruse the contents of a magazine at a newsstand. If there's a story I'm keenly interested in reading, I'll pass on buying the magazine and simply go to the website. I've done this for The Atlantic, Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Esquire, and Sports Illustrated, to name a few. There has to be three of four stories I badly wanted to read in a magazine before I'll pay for it on the newsstand.

Others suggested that tablet reading will allow advertisers to reach consumers in new and different ways, creating greater revenue for content providers. The basic problem with this argument is that few advertisers have used websites to smartly do multi-media ads, even though the ability to do so has been there for years. Even if advertisers take greater advantage of the digital space on an interactive e-book reader, it still won't offset the loss of print advertising. So the essential problem confronting old media doesn't substantially change. It's costs are badly out of sync with current revenue.

Yes, it's true that production and distribution costs account for a high percentage of the cost structure bringing down traditional media. Ad Age recently quoted Google's Hal Varian who says that typically 53% of a newspaper's budget goes to printing for distribution--costs eliminated through digital distribution--compared with 35% on the "core" functions of news gathering, editorial and administration. But what he many not know is that in many instances, costs are so out of control in traditional media companies that if every editorial employee were eliminated, they would still bleed red.

As Kathy Gill (aka kegill) smartly points out in a response to my blog post, there are significant cost savings associated with digital distribution. Kathy reminds us of an ugly truth many in journalism prefer to ignore: that readers have never really fully paid for content, anyway. "For newspapers," she writes, "we subscribers have never paid for the content of the paper with our wallets, we paid for it with our collective eyes. We paid for the convenience of having the paper delivered to our door, whether or not that fee actually covered distribution costs." 

Today, we've trained a generation of readers not to pay for anything. With the exception of The Wall Street Journal, ESPN, Barron's and a few other niche sites, no one has cracked the code on the paid formula. Even The New York Times, which has the highest quality content on a consistent basis, hasn't figured out how to get money for its very valuable journalism. So there's little reason to think that the emergence of the iPad and a lot of competitive products will alter this reality.

I'm not trying to view this glass as half empty, as Chris Herot suggests, but I'm not very optimistic here from a financial point of view. I am, however, enthusiastic about the reading experience on a tablet based on my experience using the iPhone. It's a great and convenient way to access quality journalism and participate in community around that journalism. I suspect the iPad and its rivals will really ratchet up digital reading.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Apple's iPad -- Another Nail in the Coffin of Traditional Media

If you're like me, you watched Steve Jobs' extraordinary performance yesterday introducing a new Apple product that is bound to revolutionize the way we use digital media. Even as a commonly skeptical journalist, I was deeply impressed with both Jobs and the new product, the iPad. What impact is it likely to have on traditional media?

Don't believe the folks who see this as a way for mainstream publishers to get rid of their highest costs and produce content at a profit. Some analysts are contending that the iPad platform enables newspapers and magazines to convey information in new and exciting ways. "Going forward, authors and designers will move away from a static presentation of information into one that is multimedia-based with video and other media content," Needham & Co. analyst Charles Wolf told the Mercury News. Great stuff, right?

For what it's worth, I see the iPad as little more than another nail in the coffin for print media. Why? Unless traditional media begins to charge for its content, the iPad, the Kindle, and other e-readers make it easier for users to access and conveniently read books, newspapers, and magazines at well below the costs to produce that content. When I ran BusinessWeek's online operations as editor-in-chief of, we were among the first magazines to offer subscriptions on the Kindle. Now you'd think that was a great idea: we can charge people for our content, without incurring the high costs of production and distribution.

But for every monthly subscription BusinessWeek sold through Amazon for the Kindle, we received 75 cents--about 15% of the $4.95 cost of a single copy on the newsstand or a tiny fraction of the $49.99 price BW is asking on its website today for a year's subscription. That's right. A monthly subscription to a weekly magazine on the Kindle returned less than a buck to our company--far below our costs to report, write, edit, art, and design the contents of the magazine. Amazon sells a BusinessWeek subscription via Kindle for all of $2.49 a month, a rate that is profitable to Amazon but pretty much a disaster for a traditional media publisher. Though Apple has yet to create contracts with traditional publishers for the iPad, you can expect more of the same.

The obvious question is why would a publisher agree to such a low return? Most enter into these deals under the assumption that something is better than nothing. They also succumb to the pressure of agreeing to unprofitable deals to show others that they are "with it." Who wants to be left behind? If your key competitors are buckling under the pressure to give away their content for a pittance, you're likely to do the same.