NB: This starts out as a long story about publishing medical books, but I intend it as a way to illustrate the pace and degree of change in the media for the blog’s usual readers at the end. --DH
This spring I married a physician who has written or edited a fairly large number of medical books. Her background is both in clinical practice and research, she has an appointment as full professor at an area medical school, and she has way, way more letters behind her name than do I. Her most successful book is a sort of how-to manual for procedures in her area of specialty, the most recent edition of which came out in 2007.
So a few weeks ago, we were discussing a call she received from her publisher asking her if she wanted to do a 5th edition of the book. The last edition had a companion DVD that contained videos illustrating seven of the 53 procedures in the book. The videos are good, including some basic animations, but require a physician to go to a computer, find software that will play the odd format (with some trial and error, one of which crashed my PC, I discovered that RealPlayer could handle it), and hope that the procedure you need to do is one of the 13% in described in the book (the book does have helpful drawings and photos). You shouldn’t have to call the IT department before trying to bone up on intubations.
As a new iPad owner, I’d been very impressed with how tablet apps are creating a whole new category of book – or is it a whole new category of video – or is it some new medium we haven’t yet named? I’d heard great things about two such apps, so I downloaded them and they blew me away. One is Alice for the iPad by Atomic Antelope, a presentation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. The other is Theodore Gray’s, The Elements: A Visual Exploration by Element Collection, Inc., a mesmerizing way (I kid you not) to visualize and learn about the periodic table of elements.
I showed these to my wife and her co-editor, and they got it instantly. In The Elements, not only do you get text and video but computations are also included in the app. The ability of a “book” to include text, audio, video, animation, and computation totally blows away the traditional atom-based professional book (imagine being able to enter patient parameters and instantly determine medication dosage). And the tablet format frees you from having to retreat to your office (perhaps at a different location), boot up a DVD through problematic software, and find the right video in multiple indexes. You can do all this in the hallway or even the OR if you want.
That led the three of us to have a conference call with the publisher, a leading company for this type of book. To give them the benefit of the doubt, they hadn’t viewed the same iPad apps that we had, and perhaps we weren’t the most articulate advocates, but it was clear that they were in the business of making books of paper and perhaps they could add some additional procedures to the DVD that’s bound into the book. If there was recognition that the whole conception of a professional book has changed, it wasn’t evident on the call.
Enough of the book publishing story. I don’t want to be too hard on them because those of us in other traditional forms of media are too often not much better at re-envisioning our products. But we must do that and, indeed, there is very good creative work being done toward that end. Let’s do more. --Dennis
Hope isn’t exactly “busting out all over,” but two examples of at least guarded optimism for the business model of mainstream media came to my attention in as many days.
In an article in Columbia Journalism Review, “A Second Chance,” Curtis Brainard says that mobile devices might just be the key. He writes:
… Media outlets are still having a tough time seeing beyond their own dwindling print runs, and it was only three years ago that electronic paper helped incite what has been called the “e-reading revolution.” It’s not much of a revolution yet, but what is increasingly apparent is that mobile devices have the potential to offer the journalism business that rare and beautiful thing: a second chance—another shot at monetizing digital content and ensuring future profitability that was missed during the advent of Web 1.0. ¶ I use the word “potential” because there are many ifs and unknowns undergirding this notion of a second chance. But I use it also because so much of the hype about how e-readers could save journalism that has poured forth since the release of the iPad in April (actually, such articles have been appearing since the launch of the Kindle in 2007), ignores—or fails to grasp—what’s really going on. …
Then I got a link to an On The Media [WNYC for NPR] program on newspaper economics from 15 July that I’d missed. It had a variety of opinions about the economic future of newspapers, some of them unfashionably optimistic. I liked their approach to the topic. Toward the end, though, they quote from Clay Shirky’s March 2009 essay, Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable:
… Ancient social bargains, once disrupted, can neither be mended nor quickly replaced, since any such bargain takes decades to solidify. ¶ And so it is today. When someone demands to know how we are going to replace newspapers, they are really demanding to be told that we are not living through a revolution. They are demanding to be told that old systems won’t break before new systems are in place. They are demanding to be told that ancient social bargains aren’t in peril, that core institutions will be spared, that new methods of spreading information will improve previous practice rather than upending it. They are demanding to be lied to. ¶ There are fewer and fewer people who can convincingly tell such a lie.
In previous posts here and presentations I’ve given, I’ve stated that my own view is pretty close to that of Kevin Kelly, who asks in his by now classic “Better Than Free” essay, if content can generally be freely copied on the internet, what is it for which we can charge? You sell things which cannot be copied, which he calls “generatives” and lists eight of them in the essay. He writes:
… A generative value is a quality or attribute that must be generated, grown, cultivated, nurtured. A generative thing cannot be copied, cloned, faked, replicated, counterfe3ited, or reproduced. It is generated uniquely, in place, over time. In the digital arena, generative qualities add value to free copies, and therefore are something that can be sold. …
I’ve spent my whole professional life in public media and his generatives resonate particularly well, but they would seem to for other mainstream media as well. That’s not to say that some forms of paid content won’t be successful. I’m a happy Netflix subscriber, for example. But smart people need to apply as much thought to those eight and other “generatives” as they do to resuscitating the legacy business model of their medium.
Thanks to Steve Rathe for the CJR link and to David Liroff for the OTM link. --Dennis
Frédéric Filloux reports on a French study of the media usage habits of about 100 18-to-24 year olds, “Digital Natives.” He opens:
They see life as a game. They enjoy nothing more than outsmarting the system. They don’t trust politicians, medias, nor brands. They see corporations as inefficient and plagued by an outmoded hierarchy. Even if they harbor little hope of doing better than their parents, they don’t see themselves as unhappy. They belong to a group — several, actually — they trust and rely upon.
Link: Monday Note. The results aren’t directionally surprising, but the intensity is. Fascinating reading. --Dennis
There have been a number of national-level efforts to create a digital distribution platform for public radio and/or television since the late 1990s. I’ve led a couple of them and had peripheral or no involvement in others. They’ve all had one thing in common: they didn’t get off the ground – sometimes they didn’t even get out of the conference room. The Public Service Publisher collaboration with I led with Open Media Network at least got to several revs of beta release, but it didn’t survive the tragic death of its founder, Silicon Valley legend Mike Homer. Digital distribution has happened anyway, of course, through podcasting, mobile apps, various video and audio players, and streaming.
The multi-organization Public Media Platform effort is coming out of NPR’s Digital Media division (not in my bailiwick), and in my view has a very progressive approach to the problem. So I’m excited about this latest effort. Here are some press reports:
... In the news business, we have a rule of thumb: an electronic
reader brings 15 to 20 times less in advertising revenue than a print
reader does. I’ll stop short of saying this dire state of affairs is
only attributable to advertising. Between inadequate interfaces, poor
marketing, and the certainty that, just by itself, intellectual
superiority entitles to success, medias carry their share of
responsibility in this situation. But, for the most part, it is the
advertising community who missed the digital target. ...
But wait, you say, there's Google. True, though as usual, Filloux is compelling.
Frédéric Filloux shares some fascinating data in a Monday Note post from awhile back (just discovered it in my blogging tool’s open drafts area). Look at the scary paragraph on the shifts in advertising spending. He writes:
Forget Joe Average, he’s dead. Ten or twenty years ago, analyzing audiences was much easier. Medias enjoyed well-defined and relatively unchanging target groups. For television, networks had a precise idea on who was watching what, and specialized cable outlets knew their viewers pretty well. Newspapers had their content structure sliced to fit various audiences by center of interests, age groups and opinions. At the time, contents were bundled together, delivered on a unique platform for a flat fee, on a per copy or subscription basis: the popular sport section, or classifieds did subsidize the expensive but more elitist foreign section, all for a dollar or the equivalent of a euro. ¶ In today’s marketplace, every single piece of information lies the open, naked, stripped of a set value. People don’t buy contents by the bulk, they peck at it, leaving to a third party (the unstable advertising market), the burden of financing it. As the content scatters on the internet, so does the audience. … ¶ … Coming back to the title of this column, analyzing trends has become more complicated: audiences are no longer monolithic, their breakdowns are hard to ascertain. This uncertainty makes an average a less and less relevant notion. For an online newspaper, what is an average reader? Consider two readers and focus on their different level of engagement. One is glued to the New York Times, Le Monde or Aftonbladet on his/her iPhone during a 30 minutes daily commute. The other, at 7 pm, casually glances at headlines while sipping a glass of chardonnay with TV providing the ambient noise. In this particular example, the level of engagement makes a crucial difference to the value of a reader. …
A new study, Wireless Broadband and the Redlining of Rural America [pdf], by Gregory Rose for the New America Foundation,
…suggests that 8-to-10 percent of rural America is likely to be permanently redlined by the incumbent wireless broadband providers because in those areas population density, median household income, and levels of commercial activity are too small to permit efficient aggregation of demand and too much of its geographic area is too remote from primary infrastructure (Internet backbone, internet highways) to permit cost-effective deployment….
Kevin Kelly has a good post introducing what he calls “The Shirky Principle.” Clay Shirky states:
Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are a solution.
Shirky made his quote in a recent talk, a bit from his upcoming book Cognitive Surplus. Shirky also referred to a similar idea in a recent blog posting about the ways in which media companies and the media industry are often constitutionally incapable of changing because they are still solving the last problem.
… In the future, at least some methods of producing video for the web will become as complex, with as many details to attend to, as television has today, and people will doubtless make pots of money on those forms of production. It’s tempting, at least for the people benefitting from the old complexity, to imagine that if things used to be complex, and they’re going to be complex, then everything can just stay complex in the meantime. That’s not how it works, however. … ¶ … Some video still has to be complex to be valuable, but the logic of the old media ecoystem, where video had to be complex simply to be video, is broken. Expensive bits of video made in complex ways now compete with cheap bits made in simple ways. … ¶ When ecosystems change and inflexible institutions collapse, their members disperse, abandoning old beliefs, trying new things, making their living in different ways than they used to. …
According to Borrell Associates, in 2009 there was $13.2B in money that originated in the local marketplace and was spent on local online advertising. You’d think that local businesses were enterprising most of that, but in 2009 for the first time it was “pureplay” web companies, with Google as the largest player, who took over half that revenue – this is revenue that’s leaving the community in which the advertisers operate.
Terry Heaton (@TerryHeaton) has a thoughtful on the implications of this called We have met the enemy, and he is “pureplays”. Link: Terry Heaton’s PoMo Blog.
The Borrell pie charts also show that local radio and television have a miniscule part of this $13.2B, and that the share of local newspapers is shrinking rapidly. --Dennis