Tag Archives: THE TIMES HERALD COMPANY

Why the Sunday Sun is a No-Brainer

There’s lots of talk now that Murdoch is going to sell up his UK newspapers, all his newspapers, and that he’s not going to launch a Sunday edition of The Sun. They may all be true. But if he did any of those, he’d be throwing money away.

2011 07 Newspapers in UK

Take a look at the readership figures, courtesy of the National Readership Survey – Latest Top line Readership. All the UK newspapers have a Sunday edition, with the exception of the Financial Times. And, with the exception of The Times and the Sunday Times, there’s a close relationship between those who buy the dailies and the Sunday, in terms of numbers, and of their socio-economic group:

To me it’s pretty obvious that the News of the World was, in essence, the Sunday edition of The Sun in all but name. Of course, Murdoch may have bigger fish to fry, but in raw numbers, the way to go is obvious.

Media’s Future: Retail

(This is a copy of my weekly newspaper column, distributed by Loose Wire Service)

By Jeremy Wagstaff

As you no doubt know, Rupert Murdoch has decided to put up a front door on the The Times’ website, demanding a modest toll for reading the online content.

Needless to say this has prompted laughter among those who think that content should be free. This is silly: Someone needs to pay for this stuff at some point. And no one else has any better ideas right now, so good luck to them, I say.

Though I would counsel them to be smarter about the way they make folk pay. Demanding a credit card in the age of PayPal, as well as lots of other personal data is old wave. If you want to make light of the pay wall, make scaling it easy and simple.

(Disclosure: I worked, and occasionally work, for another Murdoch company, The Wall Street Journal.)

But what disappoints me elsewhere is the limited range of options being discussed. For most the question is: how do I charge for what we do? This is not the right question—or at least not the only question.

Think about it. We’re in the midst of some of the most exciting viral experiments in the history of the world. Twitter, Facebook, Ning, flickr are all evidence of the extraordinary effects  of high viral coefficients—in other words, the ability to expand users exponentially.

Now we know all about this, especially those loyal readers of this humble column.

But news organizations seem to ignore it.

They have readers. Lots of them. But the only thing that they can think of using that network for is to give them ads, or make ‘em pay.

A better question, then, is to ask: How can we make use of this network?

Well, one way to would be to sell them stuff.

Some news websites do this. The UK’s Guardian website offers books, CDs, gardening tools and holidays to its readers. Not that you’d necessarily know this to look at the website. The “readers offers” link is buried way down on the right hand side of the home page.

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In fact, I was surprised to find that the Guardian has a dozen self-contained mini websites, called verticals, that try to sell their readers stuff. From mortgages to hand trowels.

But I’m guessing this isn’t making a huge dent in the losses the company has been suffering. I couldn’t find anything in their annual report mentioning any of these websites or their contribution to the bottom line. (My apologies if I missed it.)

To me this is an opportunity lost.

Not least because the Guardian, as many English-language newspapers, are developing huge markets overseas. Of the main British newspapers, for example, more than half their traffic comes from overseas, according to Alexa data. For the Guardian, Telegraph, Times and Independent, a whopping two thirds of their readers are outside the UK.

The Guardian website has a quarter its readers from the U.S. For the Times it’s more than 30%. Even the Daily Mail, not known for its global view, has more than a third of its readers in the U.S.

These foreign-based readers are huge opportunities missed. Not for advertising, but for selling them stuff. After all, if people go there to read stuff, wouldn’t they also be interested in buying stuff?

There are signs that this is the case. The Guardian Bookshop, for example, delivers all over the world, and has more traffic from outside the UK (55%) than from within it, with the United States accounting for 17% of visitors.

But the actual volume of traffic is still tiny for these verticals, suggesting that they’re not really part of the Guardian vision of its future. Still, at least it’s trying. I couldn’t much except wine for sale on the Times’ homepage, and nothing on the Daily Mail’s.

To me it’s obvious that if you’ve got an audience you try to sell them stuff. Especially if you’re not charging them for what they are there to see. And ads aren’t filling the coffers. So somehow you’ve got to sell them something else. And if your audience is overseas then that’s a clue about what they might not be able to get where they’re accessing your site from.

Books is an obvious one. Food is another. More than 10% of Brits live overseas, so it’s fair to assume that a fair few of them miss their PG Tips and bangers. Indeed, there are dozens of websites catering to just that.

But of course it’s expensive. At one website I visited $20 worth of chutney will cost you $60 to ship to Singapore, for example. And many won’t ship to far-flung places that aren’t the U.S.

Which is where we come back to the network thing. Newspapers still don’t really understand that they have a readymade community in front of them—defined by what they want to read. So while I may not be willing to pay twice again to ship the chutney, I might be willing to split the shipping cost with others living nearby.

But whereas I may not be willing to take that risk with people I’ve met on eBay or a porn site, I might be more inclined to do so if they’re the kind of people who read the same paper as I. So it’s both common sense and good business sense for The Guardian, say, to leverage its existing network of readers and to use the data it has to make it easy for that community to make those kinds of connections.

The readers get their chutney at a reasonable cost, the paper gets a cut of the sale.

In short, a newspaper needs to think of itself as a shop. You may go in for one thing, but you may come out having bought something else. Indeed, online shops have already figured this out.

Take Net-a-porter for example. It’s a fashion clothing e-tailer, run by a woman who was a journalist and who wanted to be a magazine editor. Instead Natalie Massenet set up an online shop, but which is also a magazine.

A recent article (in The Guardian, ironically) quotes her as saying: “I hadn’t walked away from being editor-in-chief of a magazine – I’d just created a magazine for the 21st century instead, a hybrid between a store and a magazine that was delivered digitally.”

In other words, Net-a-porter goes at it the other way round: It’s a retailer that also informs. Newspapers could be informers who also retail. Of course fashion is relatively easy, and the road is littered with possible conflicts of interest. But probably fewer than the sponsored editorials we’re starting to see even among serious broadsheets.

There’s nothing wrong with trying to sell your readers something, if you feel that something reflects your brand and your commitment to quality. Indeed, your readers may thank you for it. The power of the network, after all, isn’t just about size: It’s about trust.

Citizen Pundits

Forget citizen journalism. How about citizen punditry? An unnamed taxi driver IT specialist appeared on the BBC’s news 24 after being mistaken for his fare, technology pundit Guy Kewney. Despite the BBC’s apparent efforts to suppress the moment, the Daily Mail has recovered it, according to Guy himself, who is rightly highly amused that his face, and ethnicity, are not particularly well known to BBC staff. You can download the clip here.

As Guy says, “you can watch the classic moment, where the cab driver realises that he is on air, and being mistaken for someone else, here. It’s beyond classic: it’s priceless. Watch his incredible recovery, and his determination to show that this may be a complete surprise to him, but that he can out-Kewney any darned NewsWireless Editor if he has to.”

The Times reports that “it is not the first time that the BBC has been embarrassed by a case of mistaken identity. Last year Rhodri Morgan, the First Minister of Wales, was mistaken for a cast member of Doctor Who when he was due to appear on the BBC Wales political show Dragon’s Eye.

Unfortunately the identity of the cabbie in question has not yet been established. He deserves a medal for his performance and to have his own show. I’m all in favour of this kind of thing. If only more television networks would take a broader, more inclusive view of what it means to be an “expert” we might all benefit.

[Update (thanks, Juha, for pointing out): The cabbie has been found, and he’s not a cabbie, but a data cleansing expert. Not such a good story as the original, but nice to get it right.]

Indian Slumdwellers Protest Biometric Scanning of Impersonators. I Think

Who says that privacy is only an issue in the First World? According to The Times of India residents of Palsora and Lal Bahadur Shastri colonies have demonstrated against “alleged irregularities in the biometric test, which is being carried out in the slum areas to check “impersonation at any level.” The problem, it seems, is that people have been impersonating other people, sometimes twice, to register or occupy property.

A couple of interesting things about this. First off, this is not just any old biometric test. The administration, the story says, plans to test “all those living in slums [who] will have to furnish details of their fingerprints, photographs, face recognition, voice recognition, signature, shape of the hand, and other such details.” This sounds quite advanced. (Shape of the hand? Is this a first? ) Slumdwellers would also be asked to submit the usual stuff, such as “personal details, including date and place of birth, father’s name, number of family members, present address, et al.” All in all, that’s quite a survey. The government is going to have more data on the slumdwellers of Chandigarh than probably anyone else on the planet.

Slumdwellers are now protesting outside the regional government offices, probably as we speak. Well, not today, as it’s the Hindu New Year, I believe. However, they are not up in arms about this apparent invasion of their privacy (voice recognition?), but that “genuine people were being ignored in the survey.” I take this to mean (and I could be wrong) that the survey teams seem to be focusing mainly on impersonators. (Can that be right? – Ed) If true, this might be the first recorded Protest Against A Survey of Slumdweller Impersonators.

India Embraces Blogger Reporters

The Indian government, The Times of India reports, is planning to open doors to blogger reporters:

India is in the process of framing rules for granting accreditation to Internet journalists and bloggers for the first time, taking a reality check on an evolving world of net writers who could shape opinion and who have already been granted access to official corridors in countries such as the US.

“We are framing the rules for giving accreditation to dotcom journalists, including bloggers,” Principle Information Officer Shakuntala Mahawal said.

Good news, and is it worthwhile for other blogger reporters to try to get together to offer guidance to governments and would-be blogger reporters about how to convince officials on this kind of thing? Getting a journalistic visa is a nightmare in a lot of places, requiring extensive documentation and sponsorship. How can bloggers fit into all this?

Phishers Force UK Banks To Delay Transfers

Another sign that phishing is taking its toll on the quality of service banks can offer online customers: The Times reports that UK banks are introducing delays in intra-bank payments to try to combat fraudulent transfers caused by phishing attacks:

This week Barclays introduced a one-day delay for transfers. A spokeswoman said: “This delay enables us to carry out checks that seek to prevent fraud.” Halifax also introduced delays in the processing of payments this week, as have Royal Bank of Scotland and NatWest, The Times reports today.

Interesting. Inevitable, perhaps, but this degradation in service can only force some customers back to the physical banks, or to less appealing and less cost-effective services like phone-banking. Running checks on every Internet transfer is going to be time-consuming and expensive for banks. What does this do to banks’ hopes that online banking would effectively replace the high street bricks-and-mortar model?

Malaysia’s New PDA Phone

Malaysian company Fifth Media (beware: lots of Flash animation) will this week launch the Axia, a PDA phone that is small, and, at $525, ‘arguably the lowest-priced PDA phone’, according to today’s New Straits Times.

The Axia A108 is a GSM tri-band phone using Microsoft Windows CE.NET, with GPRS, MP3 player and 1.3 megapixel camera. There’s no Bluetooth, in case you’re wondering.

It will first appear in Singapore, Bangkok, London and Hong Kong. It will later be launched  in Paris, Mumbai, Jakarta, Manila and Dubai. Fifth Media, the Times reports, plans to launch three more models in the next year: the Axia A208 with a pocket personal computer and facsimile, a A308 with Bluetooth and a 2.0- megapixel screen, and the A338 with WiFi.

Enter Kinja, The New Blog Directory

Here’s another blog directory, going live today (it’s just a graphic at the time of writing this). Is it going to be different, or is it hype?

The New York Times today says Kinja, “automatically compiles digests of blogs covering subject areas like politics and baseball. Short excerpts from the blogs are included, with links to the complete entries on the individual blog sites.” Users can sign up for a free account, enter the addresses of their favorite blogs and generate a digest.

Those behind Kinja include Nick Denton, “whose small blog-publishing empire includes the New York gossip site Gawker” according to The Times, and Meg Hourihan, Kinja’s project director and a founder of the blog publishing service Blogger. (Her blog is here.)

Kinja users can make their customized digests public, NYT says, and that the best digests would be promoted at the site, making the users ”part of the editorial team.”

There’s definitely room for improvement in the way blogs, and RSS feeds, are pulled together for the reader. Reading blogs, even in RSS form, becomes quite a chore, and while there are some great blogs out there, the tendency of the most interesting ones to cover a very broad spectrum of topics makes sifting through sometimes more time-consuming than one would like. Here’s an interesting discussion about what Kinja could be, and what people are looking for.  

Google and The Future Of Libraries

Will all libraries eventually be digital?

Seems a pretty obvious question (answer: yes) but the process is surprisingly slow. I do research online and use databases like Questia but there’s still a hell of a lot that hasn’t been made available. And a lot of what is scanned has not been scanned well, unless the original material contained a lot of misspelled names.

Anyway, here’s a glimpse of what may be happening soon. From the excellent OnlineJournalism.com Newsletter — the daily news Weblog of the USC Annenberg Online Journalism Review — is a link to a report from CyberJournalist.net, which in turn “keyed in on an anonymous tip buried deep inside a Sunday New York Times feature” on Google and Microsoft: “Apparently Google plans to digitize every post-1923 [[correction: should be pre-1923; makes more sense. Thanks Jim]] text within the Stanford University Library, creating an enormous copyright-free resource available solely to Google users. The ambitious operation is codenamed Project
Ocean, according to The Times’ unnamed source.”

Wow. That’s about 18 libraries, ranging from the Art and Architecture Library to the Linear Accelerator Center Library (although that link doesn’t work, which doesn’t augur particularly well…)

This on top of Google Print blurb search and Amazon’s Inside the book search (both are shameless links to postings on this very site.)