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Emma Knight

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By now you’ll have heard an awful lot about native advertising. Like the fact that it will save us all (maybe), that news companies see a financial future in it, and that it while it sure can attract a whole lotta love, alas, the time has not come for The New York Times to embrace it.

A quick recap: native advertising is independently compelling content (text, video or other) that is paid for by a brand, and semi-camouflaged in a publication’s natural editorial environment. It should neither stick out like a sore thumb nor dupe the reader, somewhat like how the model in the picture above blends prettily into her bed of leaves, without leading anyone to believe that she herself is plant-based.

“Interruptive” ads, for a bit of contrast, are the opposite of native; clumsy, unengaging and intrusive, these still-lucrative squares and rectangles are like an uninvited party guest who makes everyone else feel uncomfortable. These days, with “turn mobile audience into ad revenue” at the top of many a to-do list, this is becoming increasingly awkward; having an interruptive ad appear on your smartphone screen is like getting stuck with that guest in a narrow hallway while you wait in line for the powder room.

As Digiday’s Jack Marshall has put it, if analogue advertising brings in dollars, and digital advertising brings in dimes, then mobile— for all its famously bar-graphed opportunity— brings only pennies. But a look at the companies that are managing to roll these pennies and take them to the bank reveals an element of common ground: “they’ve shunned standardized smartphone display units in favour of native or content-driven ones,” Marshall writes.

One example is BuzzFeed, a native advertising advocate, whose revenues are apparently “on track to be three times higher than last year,” and which sees higher rates of audience engagement with marketer content on smartphones than on desktop platforms, according to Marshall. Another is Facebook, which went from making almost nothing from mobile ads in the first quarter of this year to bringing in over $150 million in the third quarter – equivalent to a higher-than-expected 14 percent of total ad revenue. Sponsored Stories, the cornerstone of its revenue model, were generating around $500,000 a day on mobile platforms by June.

So native ads blend into content, are more palatable than interruptive ones, and can even work on mobile platforms. But what do they look like? And is it… ethical?

If the publisher is BuzzFeed and the brand is Obama…

In the weeks leading up to the U.S. presidential election, Obama for America had the honour of becoming the first political campaign to give native advertising a go on BuzzFeed. Above is one example of a post. Others involved Jay Z and those notorious binders filled with females.

As is the case with all of BuzzFeed’s Featurd Partners, the Obama campaign had the option of either working with the media outlet's ad team to develop a concept, or of simply posting existing content on the site. They chose the latter. And as is always the case for BuzzFeed, this sponsored content is clearly labeled as such: a yellowish box above the headline marks the video “Paid Political Content,” and another box below the blurb re-emphasizes “Political Ad Paid For By Obama for America."

If the publisher is Atlantic Media, and the brand is IBM…

Above is an elaborate infographic on The Atlantic's website that offers users information about social media adoption by Fortune 500 companies, the prevalence of technology in the marketing sector, and the use of data in police work. The mentions of IBM, the sponsor, are sparse: an IBM SmartCloud plug here, a quick reference to IBM analytics there… 

Leading to this graphic is a boxed title on the home page that reads, “Sponsored Content: Infographic: Using Data to Keep the Peace,” and whose font and colour differentiate it from the rest of the day’s headlines. Within the sponsored section, a red stripe proclaiming SPONSORED CONTENT in small white text separates The Atlantic’s menu bar from the paid-for post’s headline.

If the publisher is and the advertisers are local businesses…

Thomas F.X. Cole, the Executive Director of Business at and The Boston Globe, has seized an opportunity for sponsored blog posts from local businesses on As he said to Ad Age’s Nat Ives: “Our advertisers and particularly our smaller advertisers have been creating their own content. They need to get it exposed. As much as 50% of small businesses are blogging. The one thing they want is to have people see their material.” Here is how it works:

In this case, too, church and state are firmly divided. “Insights,” as the sponsored posts are called, are in a box outside of the main column of headlines, in different font, and under the label: “Special Advertiser Feature.”

If the ad agency is Sharethrough and the product is Sour Patch Kids...


San Francisco-based native ad agency Sharethrough specialises in sponsored videos for brands that are “equal in intellectual value to ‘real’ editorial on a publisher’s page,” rely on a “choice-based interaction” whereby the user clicks on them very much on purpose, and are visually integrated into publishers' websites. I do not know on which publisher's website (if any) the above clip has appeared or how transparently it was marked (I found it via Sharethrough's site). One publisher that the agency has worked with, though, is Forbes; indeed, Sharethrough and Forbes Insights put together a joint 18-page report on native advertising entitled “Going Native.”

Will native advertising become a common source of revenue for news organisations in the near future, as it already has for several social networks? Perhaps, but there are some complications, even beyond the the many-shades-of-grey question of how integrated is too integrated.

One is scale: creating such content is costly, labour-intensive, and usually requires a partnership between a brand and one publisher; and the finished product does not lend itself well to being run across several different websites. For publishers, additional challenges include the figuring out how best to valuate and charge for custom content, as The Atlantic’s Publisher Jay Lauf has expressed, and the difficulty of striking when the iron is viral, as BuzzFeed has found.

On the bright side, they can bring in a lot of pennies. BuzzFeed, for instance, currently charges $8,000 per day for the slot to the right of the main headline—a price that will increase to $10,000 per day in 2013 due to growth in home-page traffic, according to Ad Age. The stories that fill this slot are visually distinct from the rest, and have headlines like, “13 Animals Who Know It’s Business Time.” From the user’s perspective, let’s be honest— invited or not, he'd be great fun at a party. 

Sources: Ad Age (1) (2) (3), Nieman Lab, Digiday, Poynter, Pando Daily, Forbes, Media Post


Emma Knight


2012-11-16 17:48

Lekiosk, the French virtual newsstand app that lets readers subscribe to several magazines for a flat rate, has just been refuelled, and is ready to grow. The company is moving forward with €5.6 million in second-round funding, PaidContent has reported— an investment that will serve “to fuel growth and global expansion and to invest in product development,” according to co-founder Michael Philippe.

We last wrote about the startup in June, when it launched an English version for the UK market. There, Lekiosk partnered right off the bat with publishers such as IPC Media and Condé Nast, offering British users its characteristic bundle of ten magazine subscriptions at the price of £9.99 per month (in France it is ten for €10). Philippe told us at the time that they were off to “a very good start.” He said that they were preparing for further international expansion, with plans to conquer Italy by the fall, and additional European countries in 2013.

The new capital, which should help to make this possible, is coming from two French investors: CM-CIC Capital Privé, which has also backed music-streaming website Deezer, and the state-affiliated CDC Enterprises. The investors were no doubt attracted by Lekiosk’s success; it is France's highest-grossing iPad app, and its revenue has more than quadrupled over the last year, from €1.4 million to €6 million. “We have had over 700,000 downloads of our app,” Philippe told PaidContent; “there are around 30,000 subscribers to our 10-magazine bundle and we have 100,000 paying active users on the platform.”

There is still, however, much room to grow. Besides reinforcing their position in Europe, beginning with the long-anticipated Italian launch, Lekiosk is seeking to broaden its roster of publishers, and to adapt to new platforms. It is seeking to tailor its iOS and Android apps to the screens of smaller tablets (such as the Nexus 7 and the iPad Mini), and to build a Windows 8 version for the Microsoft Surface. It is also planning to “socialise” (Hollande detractors, stop snickering) the magazines it offers. “Putting social interactions into our app is our main development for next year,” said Philippe. Although he declined to go into detail at this stage, Philippe told us that this would likely involve adding features that permit readers to comment on and share magazine articles, and stimulating interaction not only between readers and the magazines, but also among the magazines themselves.

Lekiosk’s model is similar to that of Next Issue in the United States or Piano Media in Eastern Europe: by offering a reasonably priced prix fixe content menu, it allows those readers who may be reluctant to purchase several individual subscriptions at top dollar a much more affordable way to read their fill. According to Philippe, bundling ten magazines also encourages readers to diversify their tastes. “Eighty-five percent of subscribers are subscribing to magazines they would never have read in paper or digital without the bundle,” he said. And where pricing is concerned, 9.99 appears to be the magic number; in the US, Next Issue’s basic pricing plan similarly asks for one penny shy of a tenner.

Sources: PaidContent (1) (2), SFN Blog, Boursier


Emma Knight


2012-11-14 16:45

When aggregation/news-reading apps are first launched, their founders tend to emit a hazily rose-tinted view of future revenue prospects. Flush with venture capital, a fledgling startup’s first priority is not to decide whether a lucrative future lies with a freemium model, paid subscriptions, and/or targeted advertising; its initial goal is to provide the best possible service and to build an “audience of significant scale”– the rest will (hopefully) fall into place. This is no longer the case for Flipboard and Pulse, two major apps in this category, which have each been around for over two years and have attracted 20 million users respectively. No longer hatchlings, these companies are entering the phase of concretizing their revenue plans, and the strategies they have selected are sharply divergent.

Where revenue from advertising is concerned, both companies are having to confront the same off-putting odds: despite a great deal of optimism about the untapped opportunity to be found in mobile advertising, it is projected to represent less than two percent of all U.S. spending on marketing this year (or approximately $2.6 billion), even though ten percent of Internet traffic is now coming from mobile devices, reports the Wall Street Journal. Furthermore, mobile ad space goes for peanuts: while an ad in a national newspaper can be priced at $50-$100/1,000 viewers, it costs an average of $2.85 to reach 1,000 viewers through a mobile advertisement, according to Opera Software ASA, a mobile-browser firm.

Undaunted, both news-reading apps are plunging into different areas of mobile advertising. Flipboard, true to its social, magazine-like approach to aggregation, is opting for magazine-like ads with social elements. An example is this autumn’s Levi’s campaign, which AdAge describes as both a “branded magazine” and a “social catalogue.” The ad lets users browse through— and purchase from— the denim company’s fall collection within the app, and allows them to share images on Facebook and Twitter. The campaign ran within nine publications’ Flipboard feeds throughout October, including Vanity Fair, Glamour, Elle, and Marie Claire. According to the recent GkF MRI iPanel Report, a quarterly examination of Consumers, Tablets and E-readers, this is in line with tablet users’ wants. The study found that over half of tablet owners said they were “very interested” in the advertising that appeared within their apps, with 66 percent of millenials calling themselves “very interested” in the advertising that appeared within at least one genre of app, the most popular being shopping/retail.

Pulse’s approach, on the other hand, eschews invasive ads in favour of sponsored content, which it is embracing as its sole source of advertising revenue. Sponsored posts can come in text, image or video form; an example is an article in the business category entitled “The Next Big Thing in China: Coffee," paid for by global investment management firm T. Rowe Price. Publishers get a slice of ad revenue if sponsored content is posted inside their content feed, or if they bring the advertiser on board. In the near future, Pulse is planning to let advertisers embed sponsored posts that allow readers to purchase tickets for the cinema or schedule test drives from within the app. So far, this approach has been earning Pulse approximately $300,000 a month— a modest sum that co-founder Akshay Kothari expects to see increase considerably, given that the company has just hired its first advertising executive, Jordan English.

“It’s tempting to just put a banner ad at the end of each story,” AdAge quotes Kothari as saying; “we’d be profitable and making real money.” Indeed, banners account for almost $1 of every $5 spent on mobile advertising in the U.S. However, readers tend to consider this “spray and pay” approach to be “cheap, crude, and annoy[ing],” according to the Wall Street Journal, not to mention ill-suited to the mobile experience. “The canvas is getting smaller,” wrote Dmitry Shevelenko, the Head of Monetization Products at Pulse, in an email to AdAge. He added that invasive advertising tactics such as full-page “takeovers” are “largely irrelevant on intimate devices,” asserting that “brands are at their best when they are unshackled and can focus on being powerful storytellers.” However, while they may be less irritating than “takeovers,” sponsored posts come with their own caveat; if insufficiently marked, this form of marketing can be misleading for readers, and potentially damaging to a publication’s reputation.

As for subscriptions, Flipboard and Pulse are once again on different tracks. The former announced a deal with The New York Times in June that marks the first time The Times is feeding its metered paywall protected content through a third party, but sees the app pocket none of the revenue from subscriptions. Pulse, meanwhile, almost simultaneously struck a deal with the Wall Street Journal, allowing it to offer three low-priced packages ($0.99-3.99/month) of highly specified content (editor’s pick, technology or politics). In this case, the revenue is divvied three ways— between the platform provider, the publisher, and Pulse. So far, the sales are “decent,” said Kothari, who expressed a desire to expand to an entire category of paid content on the app within a year.

It is too soon to tell which elements of these strategies, if any, will allow Fliboard and Pulse to successfully dig into mobile news’s mythical revenue potential. Still, anyone with an eye on the mobile news landscape would do well to pay close attention.

Source: Wall Street Journal, AdAge (1) (2), GigaOM, Business Insider


Emma Knight


2012-11-12 18:29

A Streetcar Named WiredThe Real Inspector Horse & Hound? In San Francisco, periodicals are leaping off the page and onto the stage with Pop-Up Magazine. Last night at Davies Symphony Hall, the 7th "issue" was performed before a privileged and proactive audience— the 2,740 available tickets sold out in around half an hour.

The men and women on stage were not actors, or even “well-known literary performers,” but the architecture critic for the Los Angeles Times, a technology writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, an illustrator whose work has appeared in The New York Times, an international correspondent for Vanity Fair, and… you get the point.

Pop-Up Magazine is journalism, performed. In each issue, contributors who have made careers out of writing, producing radio, taking photographs, or making documentary films present “short moments of unseen, unheard work” before a live audience.

It calls itself the “world’s first live magazine,” and while the set-up may sound similar to a more dynamic, quirkier version of TED, with a dash of Walrus TV— a Canadian initiative whereby original documentaries are created around feature stories from The Walrus magazine— there does not appear to be anything else quite like it.

“It’s kind of the experience of reading a great general interest magazine, only live there in the room. And then we have a party afterwards with drinks,” said Editor-in-Chief Douglas McGray as he introduced the concept during the Southern Exposure "Art Publishing Now" summit back in 2010.

McGray, a past editor of Foreign Policy magazine and radio producer for This American Life, who has written features for the New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine, first came up with the idea to stage a live magazine in late 2008, against the backdrop of a publishing industry in turmoil, according to Mother JonesMichael Mechanic.

The plan came together with the help of collaborators Derek Fagerstrom, Maili Holiman, Evan Ratliff, and Lauren Smith, and by April 22, 2009 the curtain was going up on the first issue of Pop-Up Magazine at the Brava theatre in San Francisco. “We thought it was a ludicrously huge space,” McGray told Mechanic of the theatre— but all 350 seats were filled, and three years later Pop-Up Magazine remains one of the most coveted tickets in San Francisco.

Each evening is different, with each new lineup kept secret. The features— which start out short and get longer, as in a magazine— can include music, interviews, demonstrations of strap-on pregnancy suits for men, and even a recipe for pickled mustard greens complete with a grandmother-singing-gospel impression— are not rehearsed. More astonishingly, “everybody gets paid,” according to Mechanic. There are even ads— “which tend to involve cocktails” (Skyy Vodka and Anchor Brewing are sponsors). In the lobby after the show, audience members and contributors are invited to sip and mingle late into the night.

Along with tangibility, one of the major differences between Pop-Up Magazine and its print (and mobile) counterparts is transience; audiences are forbidden from filming, photographing, or live-tweeting the performances. As Fagerstrom puts it in the following video: “You’re there, or you miss it.” 

Sources: Mother Jones, SF Gate, Pop-Up Magazine


Emma Knight


2012-11-09 16:31

Britain’s Telegraph Media Group (TMG), publisher of The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Telegraph, has instated a metered digital subscription model for international visitors to its website and users of its apps. The new system, modeled on that put in place by The New York Times last March, lets readers from outside the UK view 20 free articles per month before they hit the wall. Here’s what we know so far:

Who: Readers situated in Britain, you may breathe a sigh of relief— TMG claims that it has no plans thus far to charge you for content. The new modus operandi affects only far-flung Telegraphites.

The Telegraph is the most widely read quality daily national newspaper in the UK, according to the latest National Readership Survey, with 9.23 million readers across print and online platforms.

What: International readers who have exceeded their 20 article quota are offered two options.

1) The £1.99 ($3.20) /month “Telegraph Web and Mobile Pack,” including unlimited website and mobile app access, or

2) The £9.99 ($16) /month “Digital Pack,” offering the same plus iPad access to the Daily and Sunday Telegraph.

Readers will be given a month-long free trial before having to commit to either plan.

When: The paywall was introduced at noon GMT on November 1. Plans to charge for digital content had been in the works for two years, according to the Guardian.

Where: TMG claims that two-thirds of its digital readership comes from outside Britain. A quick scan of home page (“New York: How to live with climate change;” “Boost for Barack Obama as US adds 171,000 jobs”) shows that, like the Guardian and the Daily Mail, the Telegraph is courting American readers. Some wonder whether it will take a hit, now that it is playing hard to get.

Why: Several hypotheses have been circulating, such as:

“Today’s move is no more than a litmus test ahead of an expected roll out across UK  users and grabbing a large slice of the holy grail: customer data. What TMG wants-in the long term-is transactional data on its UK readers so it can start flogging them as many products as possible. And any boost in revenues from the venture is just a welcome byproduct.” John Reynolds, Media Week

“International markets, particularly the US, have become a major new battleground for British publishers including the Guardian and the Daily Mail in attempting to expand and generate revenue from online news.” Josh Halliday, The Guardian

It also bodes well that The Times, which has a more restrictive paywall applicable to Britons and foreigners alike, increased its number of digital subscribers by 56 percent in its first 13 months, and the Sunday Times by 66 percent, according to Press Gazette. And the Financial Times, which also charges both locals and overseas readers for digital content, reported last week that it now has 313,000 online subscribers—up 17 percent from last year.

The Independent, on the other hand, is considering knocking down the paywall it erected in the path of readers in Canada and the U.S. claiming that it “has not delivered on the ambitions from a revenue standpoint,” reports PaidContent.

Finally, it is worth noting that the Daily Telegraph’s print edition had an average circulation of around 584,000 in August 2012— down 7.6 percent from last year according to the Audit Bureau of Circulation. Print circulation for the Sunday Telegraph was down 7.2 percent. The website, meanwhile, attracted an average of 2.7 million daily unique browsers in September— up 34 percent from last year.

Will it be possible for the Telegraph to improve upon the Independent's score and capitalize on this growing readership? It appears that Britain's best-read quality paper is trying to find out by testing the international waters before rocking the boat at home.

Sources: The Guardian, Media Week, PaidContent, Marketing Week,


Emma Knight


2012-11-02 16:26

Digital subscribers are accounting for an ever-more-generous slice of American newspapers’ circulation pumpkin this Halloween, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC)’s latest biannual study of 613 daily newspapers and 528 Sunday titles.

Overall, daily circulation has remained flat in the six months ending September 30, dropping by a mere 0.2 percent compared to the same period last year. But behind this placid mask, digital circulation— encompassing paid and restricted-access websites, mobile apps, PDF replicas and e-reader editions— rose as a proportion of total circulation by over 5 percent. It now accounts for an average of 15.3 percent of newspapers’ total circulation, up from 9.8 percent a year ago.

Leading the digital pack is The New York Times, with a circulation of over 896,000 across its digital platforms (with the data measurement caveat that one user accessing NYT content from multiple digital platforms may be counted more than once). Over half of subscriptions to The Times are now for digital editions.

The New York Times Media Group reported in its quarterly earnings results last week that it had seen an 11 percent increase in paid digital subscriptions from the end of the second quarter; the silver lining in an overall sombre report. This helps to explain why the newspaper’s Monday to Friday circulation has jumped by 40 percent between March and September, even while quarterly results showed that weekday print circulation had dropped by 6.9 percent in the same period.

Close behind The Times in digital circulation is the Wall Street Journal, owned by News Corporation subsidiary Dow Jones & Company, whose paywall-restricted digital content has a circulation of nearly 795,000. Following The Times and the Journal by a several-hundred-thousand gap are the News Corporation-owned New York Post (178,000), and Digital First Media’s Denver Post (176,000). In fifth place is Tribune Company’s Los Angeles Times (152,000), which implemented a paywall in March.

When print and digital are combined, the Journal rises to the top of the podium as the country’s most widely circulated daily newspaper, with an overall average circulation of nearly 2.3 million— up 9.4 percent since March. The runner-up is the recently redesigned USA Today, with almost an overall circulation of 1.7 million—down 3.9 percent. The Times is in third, with a total circulation of 1.6 million.

Meanwhile, across the pond, digital subscriptions at the paywall-protected Financial Times are “growing strongly,” according to parent company Pearson, which earlier this week reported a 17 percent increase on last year’s figures. The salmon-coloured daily’s digital subscriptions outpaced its print circulation in July of this year, and have now reached 313,000. However, like its American counterparts, the FT is facing rough financial times: its CEO John Ridding sent an email to staff today headed “Cost control/profit protection” that outlines austerity measures, from a recruitment freeze to a ban on non-vital travel, the Guardian reported today.

So paid digital circulation may account for a growing proportion of circulation’s neutral jack-o-lantern, but it is not enough to compensate for losses elsewhere. Fortunately, for the Americans at least, it will all be pie by Thanksgiving.

Sources: ABC, Poyner (1) (2), Bloomberg, Huffington Post, Guardian


Emma Knight


2012-10-31 17:30

It’s official: Penguin and Random House are betrothed, their parent companies Pearson and Bertelsmann announced today.

As is often the case with arranged marriages, it is hoped that this union will allow the two houses to consolidate their power: together, the book publishers are expected to control over one quarter of the U.S. and British markets, and to generate approximately £2.5 billion (or $4 billion) in annual revenue.

And as with so many weddings these days, theirs is “subject to regulatory approval;” if all goes well, they will likely tie the knot in the latter half of 2013.

The idea of huddling together was no doubt influenced by the increasing need for publishers to puff out their chests against retailing giant Amazon, which has cornered 90 percent of the UK ebook market, and nearly 40 percent of the market for all books, according to Quartz.

Analysts are saying that this could be the first of many marriages among big publishers. "We have already seen a bit of consolidation, for example [French group] Lagardère buying [UK publishers] Orion and Octopus, but it is likely to accelerate as publishers need all the buying power they can get," said media analyst Theresa Wise, according to the BBC. "Amazon is so big that [at the moment] they don't have much power."

“Together, the two publishers will be able to share a large part of their costs, to invest more for their author and reader constituencies and to be more adventurous in trying new models in this exciting, fast-moving world of digital books and digital readers," said Marjorie Scardino, the outgoing CEO of Penguin parent Pearson, which also owns the Financial Times.

The deal will give Pearson, a British company, a 47 percent stake in the new entity; German company Bertelsmann will take 53 percent. The new group’s Chairman will be John Makinson of Penguin, with Markus Dohle of Random House assuming the role of CEO.

This deal represents the first time that two of the book publishing world’s “big six” have shared ink, although a third may still try to speak now rather than forever hold its peace: Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, owner of big sixite HarperCollins, apparently was eying Penguin to the tune of £1 billion over the weekend, according to The Sunday Times.

While the title of the new joint venture – Penguin Random House – is less original than some Twitter users had hoped, we know better than to judge a book by its cover.

Sources: BBC, Quartz, The Week

Images from meme masters via Media Bistro


Emma Knight


2012-10-29 18:24

The New York Times Company’s share price experienced its furthest one-day drop in three years today after the company released third quarter results that showed an 85 percent decline in net income on the period a year earlier.

While analysts had predicted an average third quarter profit of 8 cents a share, the company reported a loss from continuing operations (excluding severance and other costs) of 1 cent a share.

During the quarterly earnings call today, Twitter users noted under the $NYT symbol that the company’s share price had fallen by 11, 13, and then 17 percent. (The decline stood at 14.6 percent at time of publication. View current price here).

On the call, Chairman and Interim CEO Arthur Sulzberger Jr. listed video, mobile and international expansion among growth areas for the company, and spoke of its engagement with Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google +, its new presence on Flipboard, and its experimental HTML 5 app for the iPad as crucial elements in its strategy.

“We are delighted to welcome Mark Thompson,” Sulzburger added, stating that the new CEO will assume his role on November 12, and expressing confidence that Thompson, the former head of the BBC, bore no responsibility in the Jimmy Savile sex scandal. He said that Thompson “possesses high ethical standards and is the ideal person to lead our company.”

After Sulzberger’s remarks, the call turned down a bleaker corridor as the company’s third quarter results were read out. Released several hours before the call began, these included an 8.9 percent overall decline in advertising revenue. Print ad revenue dropped 10.9 percent, and digital ad revenue by 2.2 percent.

Digital advertising revenues allegedly trended low in the quarter due to droopy business confidence, pressure on the national display advertising sector, and the falling price of online ad space due to a glut of available inventory. Denise Warren, the company’s Chief Advertising Officer, also said that “efficient buying methods such as programmatic buying” by Google and Yahoo were helping to drive ad rates downward. Digital ad revenue now makes up 24.4 percent of the company’s total revenue from advertising (up from 22.8 percent last year).

But the news was not all bad. The company’s total revenue dropped by only 0.6 percent in the third quarter thanks to a 7.4 percent rise in circulation revenue, propelled by an impressive 11 percent increase in digital subscriptions from the end of the second quarter.

The New York Times Media Group (encompassing The Times and the International Herald Tribune) now has 566,000 digital subscribers. Adding in the Boston Globe’s 26,000 subscribers, the company has reached 592,000 paying online readers. This more than compensated for a 7 percent decline in weekday print circulation and a 2 percent decline in Sunday print circulation (figures offered in answer to an investor question on the call).

In terms of sustaining this level of growth, management expressed optimism that it was possible. Warren outlined three areas of investment:

1. The journalism – the core of the business

2. New platforms – with a “New York Times everywhere” strategy they plan to make the product available to more people

3. Expanding the portfolio – including meeting “untapped demand” in areas such as corporate education, international expansion, and higher-end products and suites of products

“We are still in the very, very early innings of this initiative, and we believe there is a lot of opportunity to come,” she said of the company’s digital strategy. “You really have to peel back the onion in terms of what you’re offering.”

Source: The New York Times Company


Emma Knight


2012-10-25 17:54

Today, Apple CEO Tim Cook is expected to show the world the iPad’s mini me, following (as ever) months of hypothesising and (for once) the competition: Amazon and Google have already achieved success in the tiny tablet market with their Kindle Fire and Nexus 7 devices.

The Apple keynote will take place at 10 am PST in San José, California. “We have a little more to show you,” read the invitations, sent one week ago, seemingly substantiating the speculation that has been ricocheting across the web at least since February, when “the first credible rumour” of a mini iPad came from the Wall Street Journal. Taking place at the California Theatre, the unveiling event will likely be modest relative to Microsoft’s “no-expenses-spared” launch of its Surface tablet in New York, scheduled for Thursday, October 25.

Indeed, the fact that Apple should be biting into the bit-sized tablet market at all is a show of modesty. A mere two years ago (an eternity in iTime), on October 18, 2010, Steve Jobs famously asserted that the seven-inch tablets of Apple’s competitors were “going to be DOA, dead on arrival.” He labeled them “tweeners;” in between the size of the smartphone and the iPad, and thus unfit to compete with either.

“One naturally thinks that a seven-inch screen would offer 70% of the benefits of a 10-inch screen,” he said. “Unfortunately, this is far from the truth. The screen measurements are diagonal, so that a seven-inch screen is only 45% as large as iPad's 10-inch screen. You heard me right; just 45% as large,” he continued. “It is meaningless, unless your tablet also includes sandpaper, so that the user can sand down their fingers to around one quarter of the present size.”

He went on: “This size isn't sufficient to create great tablet apps in our opinion.”

Has demand for Amazon and Google’s seven-inch tablets, the Kindle Fire (which has sold 5 million over the past year) and the Nexus 7 (which has sold 1 million in the past quarter) proven the oracle wrong? Or does their success merely signal consumers’ desire for similar devices to the iPad at a lower price-point (they are both priced under $200, undercutting the iPad 2 by half)? Either way, the time has come for Apple, still the dominant player in the tablet market, to enter the ring.

What does this mean for content-creators who are responding to rising mobile news consumption (and ad spend) by pinch-and-zooming in on the tablet experience?

1. More tablet owners = more tablet readers

While Apple has remained predictably quiet on the pricing front, the mini iPad is expected to be the least expensive iPad yet, with a price-point “somewhere between the $199 Nexus 7 and $399 iPad 2.” This means that younger and/or less solvent Apple aficionados who have been patiently waiting for the price to drop before becoming tablet-owners (I know several) might take the plunge this holiday season. This will allow news oranisations to reach a wider range of readers with their tablet products.

2. Less mini = less sandpaper required

The Kindle Fire, Nexuz 7 and Barnes & Noble Nook all have screens measuring 7.0 inches. The iPad mini’s screen is predicted to measure 7.85 inches. This may seem marginal, but actually represents nearly 40 percent more space, as a Twitter user called Trojankitten has pointed out. This could be good news for app designers. For example, it allows enough room to comfortably present apps using the "carousel" prototype, which 50 percent of the tablet readers observed in Poynter’s recent eye-track survey preferred over the "traditional" (35 percent) or "flipboard" (15 percent) app designs. It could also be good for revenue (more space = more space for ads). Rumour has it that the display will be lower quality than that of the iPad2, with a screen resolution that is half that of the current iPad. While this would be a shame for image quality, it would also mean that "developers wouldn't have to rewrite apps to size correctly on the tablet," reports the Verge.

3. One-handed reading = different ball game

The eye-track survey further found that there were two distinct groups of tablet news readers: the highly focused or “intimate” ones, who were in nearly-constant physical contact with their devices, “touching, tapping, pinching and swiping to adjust their view,” and those looking to relax into their reading, who “carefully arranged a screen of text before physically detaching as they sat back to read.” The majority of the people studied fell into the first group (61 percent). This is unsurprising, given that the average time a person spent on the first article selected was a minute and a half (93 seconds).

Consider this in light of the fact that the new iPad is expected to be a lighter device: the Verge's rumour round-up has calld it a “safe assumption” that the new iPad will be “a thin, light, and inexpensive reading device for those who find the current model too heavy for one-handed use.” This could change the way readers interact with a story, either by making them more physically engaged, or by allowing them to settle into a deeper state of physical comfort that could be conducive to longer articles. I put my money on the second group.

Tablets are often framed as the eventual usurpers of paper’s crown as the rulers of the lean-back experience, but there is a limit to how relaxed you can get with both elbows up; on the full-sized iPad, my hunch is that only a quite serious shot-put practitioner would feel comfortable reading an entire New Yorker feature one-handed.

The mini iPad, then, could be big news for long-form-loving occasional golfers, croquet-dabblers, and ping pong dilettantes everywhere (and the news organisations they adore).

Follow the Apple Event with the Verge at 10 am California time/7 pm Paris time.

Sources: Guardian (1) (2), The Verge, Poynter (1) (2), L'Express


Emma Knight


2012-10-23 15:53

Flash quiz: what is the highest-circulation English-language newspaper in the world?

(Hint: Rupert Murdoch doesn’t own it.)

The correct answer, as you are likely aware, is the Times of India, which has a circulation of 4.3 million, and reaches an average of 7.64 million readers with each issue.

While money may not exactly be growing on trees in the news industry these days, the 174-year-old title, published by family-owned media conglomerate Bennett, Coleman & Company (B.C.C.L.), is planted in fertile soil: it is the most widely read English-language daily in a country where newspaper circulation is rising by 8 percent per year overall, and 1.5 percent per year for English-language newspapers.

But for the company’s senior leaders that’s not the point, or at least not all of it. “We are not in the newspaper business,” Managing Director Vineet Jain told the New Yorker’s Ken Auletta in a recent interview; “we are in the advertising business.”

Auletta’s comprehensive article on India's flourishing newspaper landscape (Citizens Jain, Oct. 8) is filled with similarly revelatory statements from the straight-talking younger Jain brother (Samir Jain, the group’s pious Vice-Chairman, remained silent) and other members of the group’s management.

“If ninety percent of your revenues come from advertising, you’re in the advertising business,” the younger Jain continued. Indeed, while readers are asked to pay very little for a copy of the Times of India (about 3 U.S. cents), the preferred status of English-speakers in the eyes of India’s advertisers means that English-language titles draw 70 percent of the country’s available advertising money. Much of this goes to the Times of India and fellow B.C.C.L. paper the Economic Times, which after The Wall Street Journal is the highest circulation English-language business daily.

This does not always enter the conglomerate's coffers in the most conventional ways. “Both of us think out of the box,” said Vineet Jain of himself and his brother Samir. Here are some examples of their creative (and controversial) thinking:

  1. Private Equity: A solution for smaller businesses competing with multinationals for ad space is the “private treaties” or “brand capital” programme, whereby the newspaper will run ads in exchange for equity in a company. According to Auletta, this accounts for up to 15 percent of B.C.C.L.’s advertising revenue, and it owns stakes in more than 350 firms.
  2. Paid Content: Through a programme called Medianet, the Times of India contains articles marked "advertorial, entertainment, promotional feature" that are penned by the newspaper’s editorial team, and paid for by movie stars and their publicity teams. Vineet Jain told Auletta that he came up with the idea while reading an interview with Richard Branson, in which the Virgin owner said that he performs high-profile stunts for free publicity. “When I read it I said, ‘Oh my God, eureka-- I’m stupid!’” Jain said, describing how he realized that his newspaper was covering potentially lucrative events like fashion shows and film premières for free. “They’re promoting a brand, pay me for it.”
  3. Vanity Mastheads: Not only can an advertiser buy the entire front page of the newspaper for $450,000, but the Times of India sold its masthead to Toyota this summer. A partial flap like the New Yorker’s obscured the first part of the masthead on July 21, replacing “The Times of-” with “Wakudoki-” India, Wakudoki being something (perhaps onomatopoeic) that happens to one’s heart when one beholds a Toyota automobile (according to the ad campaign).
  4. Financial Blockade: When the Financial Times began trying to move into India’s market 20 years ago, rather than letting it encroach on the territory of B.C.C.L.’s similarly blush-coloured Economic Times, Samir Jain simply registered the trademark “Financial Times” in India. “Two decades later, the case is still winding its way through the Indian court system,” writes Auletta.
  5. Competitive Pricing: To trump former circulation leader the Hindustan Times, Samir Jain knocked a third from the price of the Times of India. It worked. Later, noticing that the Calcutta zoo had managed to attract long lines on Mondays by slashing entrance prices on that traditionally sluggish day, the elder Jain did the same thing with the newspaper, slashing the price on Wednesdays, and then three days a week in certain areas. Again, circulation rose.

Price wars may be seen as poor sportsmanship where colluders are concerned. Registering another publication’s name as a trademark may be a dirty trick, and selling one’s masthead may seem, to some publications, akin to selling one’s soul. But these last three are not the tactics that critics of India’s news industry find most corrosive.

Far more dangerous are the first two. Sponsored content runs the risk of being mistaken for straight news, especially when the disclaimer is in small print, thus holding the potential to mislead the reader by having him imbibe a paid message, blindfolded. In 2010, a reporter from the UK’s Sunday Times got in touch with the Times of India's Medianet, pretending to be a PR representative for a firm about to throw a party in Delhi. The Medianet executive reportedly said that 27 pounds per centimetre would buy the firm front-page coverage of the party in the Times of India’s society section, and that the attendance of enough celebrities (provided at an extra cost) at said party would allow the coverage to be “dressed up as a genuine news story.” Hmm.

For a news organisation to exchange ad space for equity in a company, moreover, is to take a vested interest in that company’s success, thus compromising the editorial department’s ability to report honestly about said company. This was exemplified in 2008, when an elevator crash on a construction site in Bengaluru killed two workers and injured seven. Sobha Developers, the company in charge of the site, did not figure in the Times of India’s reporting of the incident, while it featured “explicitly” in the reporting of its competitors, media criticism site the Hoot reported. A possible explanation? Sobha Developers was one of the Times' “private treaty” partners.

Where press freedom is concerned, these breaches are capital sins. Or in this case, sins brought on by the excessive sway of capitalism.

“Before him, the newspaper business was run almost like a nonprofit,” said Hindusian Times Editor-in-Chief Sanjoy Narayan of Samir Jain, whom he credits with making the industry a profitable one. “He’s been emulated by everyone else.”

In India’s booming world of English-language news, the Times play the role of the Joneses; other newspapers are swallowing their pride and trying to keep up. Aroon Purie, the CEO of India Today Group, suggested to Auletta that B.C.C.L. had spurred a race to the bottom of sorts, which empowered “brazen advertisers” to ask other newspapers, “If the Times of India does it, why can’t you?”

In a talk titled “Indian Media’s Dickensian Age,” TN Ninan, Chairman and Editorial Director of BSL, which publishes the Business Standard newspaper, put it neatly: “We have never had such a vast audience or readership, but our credibility has never been so tested," he said, according to FT. "The quality of what we offer to our public has never been better but that same public can see that the ethical foundations of our actions have plumbed new depths."

"It is unquestionably the best of times and it is also, unfortunately, the worst of times.”

Sources: New Yorker, FT, Guardian, BBC, Hoot (1) (2), Indian Readership Survey

Photo of a newspaper vendor courtesy of Samer Mereani via Flickr Creative Commons


Emma Knight


2012-10-22 17:34

My account


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