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Without fail, the first question anyone asks when you’re talking about a new business concept is:

Is it scalable?

A couple of my favorite blogreads have been discussing this issue of late:

Jeff Jarvis says that scale doesn’t scale anymore. He applies that to several industries we know and love:

: News: As a producer, why depend on the 300 (expensive, snarky,
recalcitrant) reporters you pay for when you could have 3,000
aggregated reporters to get more news less expensively than ever

As a consumer, why depend on one or two sources of news a day when you can aggregate the best of 200?

: Media: As a distributor, when you can no longer use your
stranglehold on channels to guarantee you an audience, you will have to
aggregate audiences to reach scale.

As a creator, you’re going to have to establish your own direct
relationship with your audience: You have to do your own aggregating.

As a member of the audience, why adjust your schedule and taste to
the distributor when you can aggregate your own entertainment from
anywhere, anytime?

: Advertising: They simply won’t have the easy and inefficient
option to buy network soon; they will have to aggregate niches of
consumers to create a new and more efficient scale — with far better
targeting, better advertising, better service, better sales.

Fred Wilson agrees, and explains why the new world is more collaborative than competitive:

You cannot collect all the pieces of a marketplace in a centralized
way and control all of it.  The technology won’t allow that to happen.
You can’t "get to scale" that way.

You must be open to others owning pieces of the equation.  You must
let the users get the value of scale however the choose to create that
scale.  You must facilitate the creation of virtual scale.

Ravi Dronamraju thinks aggregation is dripping with Kool-Aid, and touches on how we plan to provide what aggregators can’t (yet).

All that aggregation solves is comprehensiveness problem. But the real factor that would distinguish one aggregator over the other is relevance. The concept of relevance can be extended really to Matching
in case of some verticals. The way i explain matching is that it’s two
way relevance. For a job, it’s not enough if the job is relevant to my
search criteria, the candidates applying for a job have to relevant to
the employer’s criteria.

I argue, that just simply aggregating
solves a minor component of the problem. The true winner will solve
relevance/matching problems in their space in a very
effective/protected manner. To be able to beat ebay or google, these
aggregators should have enough traffic of buyers (job seekers, partner
seekers) and enough sellers (ok, we crawl the web and identify sellers)
and have proper matching (two-way relevence).

Matching is really the killer problem to solve.

Tom Watson says that scale still scales:

Because this is a media verity: Tiger scales. Old media,
new media, slightly damp media, short tail media, long tail media.
Tiger scales big-time. Tiger doesn’t require aggregation, or citizens
media, or RSS feeds, or a new path. A simple network television
contract with the very old-school CBS Sports will do just fine.

The Masters final round this Sunday past was about the
best sports spectacle since the Red Sox made their amazing comeback.
(The Red Sox also scale, fellas). Stunning, mesmerizing, fascinating…

…And it wasn’t aggregated; it was a single buy. Sure, I’m a
fan of the widening landscape of digital media. This blog is proof of
that. But I reject the notion that the digital Bastille is anywhere in
sight, that Sumner Redstone’s head will be set on a pike on West 57th
Street. The big media boys aren’t going anywhere. We still love
spectacle, and celebrity, and the shared experience. And Tiger Woods
still scales – big-time.

This touches on a sticky wicket for media today — I would argue that far fewer things scale. Pre-cable, when there were only four things to watch, a championship event scaled. Heck, even a regular-season game scaled. But those truly common experiences are fewer and further between.

Remember Roots? Heck, remember The Day After? They were common media experiences that everyone shared. I doubt the same can be said of Revelations. Sure, a lot of people may watch, but you can’t be sure that everyone around the water cooler will even know it aired.

So you get scale three, maybe four times a year with championships and mega-stories. That reminds me of my early days in the city magazine business when we’d pull big, "scalable" special editions out of our hats to stay afloat. That’s a risky way to live. Sooner or later you have to make money day in and out.

Note also Fred’s posts on VC cliches traction and space.

DATELINE — Obsolescence

We’ve made reference before to vendors who could feel the pinch as the media world changes. In response to Jay Small’s questions about AP’s strategy vis-a-vis Google News, Adrian Holovaty makes an interesting point:

What, really, is the point of the AP in the age of the Internet? My
(quite possibly incorrect) understanding is that it did two things for
print newspapers:

1. Gave them filler content to put between ads when there wasn’t enough local copy.

Gave them access to coverage of out-of-market news, so that the local
newspaper could be a one-stop shop for all news — local, national and
international. So the paper in Smalltown, Nebraska, could have
front-page stories about the Pope.

Seems to me both of these
things are just not that valuable to news operations on the Web. Does
it make sense for a local news site to have national news coverage when
the Web sites for CNN, the NYT, et al, are a click away?

Precision includes accuracy

If precision is key and we’re moving into the world of "every ad a wanted ad," then there’s nothing worse than getting some personalized piece of marketing that is just dead wrong.

I just received a letter from Dick Cheney thanking me for my support of the Republican Party. He thoughtfully enclosed a very fancy and official Certificate of Appreciation acknowledging my personal and financial commitment to the principles of the Republican Party. I am apparently a Sustaining Member of the Republican National Committee.

The mystery here is that I KNOW that I’ve never given them a dime. I also KNOW that I’m currently registered as unaffiliated. I’m fairly sure, but not certain, that I’ve never been registered as a Republican. I certainly haven’t been in the last three years while I’ve been living in my current home.

A cautionary tale for those of us who think targeted marketing is the future of advertising. It’s really cool if you can send someone a time-sensitive special for the local churrascaria. If they’re a vegan? Not so much.

Where the readers are all strong,the ads are all good looking,and the newspapers are all above average

Via Romanesko comes a Hartford Courant interview with Garrison Keillor. Interesting stuff on newspapers and culture, that reveals Keillor as an unwitting member of the electronic fedora club:

Whatever the NEA report says – "Maybe cellphones are taking the place
of the portable book," he suggests – Keillor has what some might
consider a dumbly optimistic view of the future of the classics vs. the
future of, say, David Letterman. But it’s a firmly held view.

"In the course of doing `A Prairie Home Companion’ we try to avoid
pop culture references," he says. "We don’t refer to things like
`American Idol’ – we wouldn’t do jokes about it because you can no
longer assume that the majority of people have seen this or know what
you’re talking about. The entire world of popular entertainment has
become so fragmented that there are no longer uniting figures."

For example, despite Britney Spears’ status as a recognizable
celebrity, he says, few people would recognize her music as they still
recognize Frank Sinatra’s.

Keillor touches on the cultural shift that I think is being enabled by the enabling of the Long Tail: There are precious few "common experiences" for broad, national media to deliver. There’s no Ed Sullivan show.

Check that– there are thousands of Ed Sullivan shows, all with different lineups. You can’t count on anyone knowing all the songs in the top ten anymore. So, how to unify through common experience? Go local.

… But I think that American newspapers have taken a very serious
wrong turn, and that aside from a few newspapers the quality of the
product is in decline, especially for the reader, and I think that
newspapers have forgotten that their readers are readers and love
writing – writing is what people want. They don’t want a sort of
concept of journalism; they want writers. And writers are always

"This is what people turn to newspapers for. They don’t turn to
newspapers for advice and for personal service and for sort of glossy
pieces about lifestyle and home decor and cooking and how to bring up
your children. They’re really looking to newspapers for the same thing
that people looked to newspapers for back before television –
television didn’t change anything and USA Today didn’t really change

I suspect there may be some context missing from Keillor’s quote here, but here’s my take: TV and USA Today didn’t change the need that newspapers filled. Newspapers, however, were born and bred in the world of dominant broad media, and adapted unnecessarily. "Hmm. USA Today is popular. TV talk shows are popular. We have to be like them."

But in the Long Tail aughties, you don’t. Technology enables you to serve readers in the same way you did back in the day. Sure, you may not be serving a certain segment, but that’s OK. Your former mass is now a niche. And they’re hungry for you to come back. I’ve seen the numbers.

Again, it's all about precision

I’ve been saying for some time that while there’s a sea change in content and distribution, the real mind-blowers are coming in terms of changes to traditional advertising models.

Exhibit: "Our ratings, ourselves" from todays NYT Magazine. Ostensibly about changes in Nielsen measurements, but touches on the core issues of precision in advertising. Some key excerpts, emphasis mine:

”Television and media,” Luff said over the noise of five sets tuned
to five different channels, ”will change more in the next 3 or 5 years
than it’s changed in the past 50.”…

I’ll buy that.

Finding out whether ”C.S.I.” beats ”Desperate Housewives” is just
the beginning. Change the way you count, for instance, and you can
change where the advertising dollars go, which in turn determines what
shows are made and what shows then are renewed. Change the way you
count, and potentially you change the comparative value of entire
genres (news versus sports, dramas versus comedies) as well as entire
demographic segments (young versus old, men versus women, Hispanic
versus black). Change the way you count, and you might revalue the
worth of sitcom stars, news anchors and — when a single ratings point
can mean millions of dollars — the revenue of local affiliates and
networks alike. Counting differently can even alter the economics of
entire industries, should advertisers (thanks to the P.P.M.) discover
that radio or the Web is a better way to get people to know their brand
or buy their products or even vote for their political candidates.
Change the way you measure America’s culture consumption, in other
words, and you change America’s culture business. And maybe even the
culture itself.

And change what you count, like say reader purchases instead of readership or paid circulation, and then you’ve really mixed things up.

Some P.P.M. tests in Philadelphia have already indicated that wearers
tune into twice as many radio stations on a typical day as they ever
note in their diaries.

So perhaps the Long Tail phenomeon is less new than it seems — we just haven’t been able to measure it.

There is a dream within the counting industry that has been around for
decades, called single-source measurement, but it has never been
successfully realized. Recently, thanks to the P.P.M., this goal has
been resurrected under the name Project Apollo, which is a joint effort
between Arbitron and VNU (Nielsen’s parent company). ”Apollo is
basically something that’s been the holy grail of measurement since
people were drawing woolly mammoths on the side of caves,” David
Verklin said. It’s a closed-loop system that will measure the media
people absorb — and then what they buy.

To this end, Apollo will track 70,000 people across the country
who wear the P.P.M. all day. But not for the sake of ratings. The
advertisements and messages these 70,000 people see, hear, read,
encounter will be matched to the purchases they make…

At the moment, representatives of Arbitron and VNU are making
presentations around the country to encourage big companies to sign up
for the service, which should be available sometime next year. The
price is high (up to $1 million per company)
, and many businesses are
reluctant to invest in an untested product. So Arbitron and VNU are
trying to stress the practical appeal: Apollo should allow companies to
understand which advertisements get consumers to buy their products,
but could also offer insights into the connection between their
tactical approach to advertising and the urge to buy…

Um, wow. Two kneejerk reactions:

  1. Media outlets would be smart to put a pay-for-performance mechanism in place before a scheme like Apollo takes hold. The last thing you want is an outside service busting up all your voodoo ad space schtick. Better to bring it to market on your own terms.
  2. What about smaller businesses who can’t afford $1 million in fees? Does this widen the Wal-Mart’s advantage over small retailers?

The market is demanding more precision. (Note that I said precision, not perfection.) Precision may well be the divide that separates the haves from the have-nots in the coming decade.

At least that’s our bet.

Pitter patterRainy-day bullets

Newspaper wars, ca. 2005

Fun article in this week’s New Yorker about the ongoing spat between the News and the Post. The catalyst was an error in the News’ reader sweepstakes:

A plaintiff’s lawyer, Steven Gildin, addressed the crowd as his
partners handed out business cards. “How can a company that publishes
information make mistakes?” he said. (The
the following morning, misspelled Gildin’s name.) Then City Councilman
Charles Barron called on everyone to boycott the Sunday
News. The crowd began marching and shouting, “Boycott the Daily News!,” which turned to “No pay, no readers!” and, eventually, simply “We want money!”

Paying your readers? A revolutionary concept.

Defining 2.0

There’s a hodgepodge post on Jay Rosen’s blog that contains a nice start on a succinct definition for Journalism 2.0:

In Journalism 2.0 (the way I explain it to myself) the People Formerly
Known as the Audience, safely considered "consumers" during one era,
are more involved in production. Interactivity makes daily journalism
into a better, faster learning machine, which means it can improve its
accuracy many times over. And in the 2.0 era new ways to pay for good
work emerge from a variety of directions– the media industry is only
one, and not the most likely solution.

He touches on an idea that I’m beginning to see flourish amongst those thinking about the future: The "former audience" has to become a part of the conversation, but someone still needs to facilitate that conversation, to provide the salon and all its furnishings.

As Dan Gillmor says:

The people we’ve called the audience play a key role, in several
ways. As consumers (I hate the word) of news they have to make some
choices. I believe they
will pay for quality, to start with.
But young readers have changed media. We in the journalism sphere need
to innovate on new forms and delivery mechanisms as well as the
journalism itself.

We also need, as I’ve said again and again, to involve the audience
in the process. This is crucial. And I want to do it in a way that
gives us all a stake in the outcome.

I don’t know what it’s going to look like in the end. I have some
ideas. But I’m in the process of bringing together some smart people
I’ve met in these travels, from the new and old worlds. They’re
passionate about their communities, the world and journalism. They know
that journalism (real journalism) plays too big a role in our checks
and balances to go quietly into the night.

This will become a combination of the old and new. I know that I (or
anyone) can’t figure it out alone.

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