State of the News Media in 2010-Newspapers

Last night I had the privilege of attending the DC chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators meeting headlined by Amy Mitchell of the Pew Center on the State of the News Media in 2010.

In our 2007 report covering America’s Newspapers and the Internet, we argued that the Internet does not necessarily have to be a threatening competitor for newspapers. In 2007 the most glaring shortcomings of newspaper websites largely stemmed from a failure to see the benefits of not only allowing, but actually encouraging reader participation and the sharing of content across the web. Rather than worrying about attracting visitors, we sought to establish that newspapers needed to take steps to: 1. Lengthen the amount of time users spend on their websites. 2. Expand the purpose behind website visits. 3. Convert page views and stickiness into revenue. 4. Improve advertiser incentives for purchasing online ads. To achieve these objectives, we argued that newspaper websites needed to become strategically and visually better than that of their competitors.

Some of the key findings from The Pew Research Center’s “State of the News Media 2010” analysis concerning newspapers include:

Digital Audience

“Online audience continued to be a positive counterpoint for the industry. Monthly unique visitors to newspapers rose 14% in 2009, according to Nielsen Online to roughly 74 million."

Economics

“Advertising during the year declined for the first time since 2002, according to data from eMarketer. The firm’s updated August projections put the declines at 4.6%, to $22.4 billion in total revenues."     

"But some categories fared better than others. Search, which flows mostly to aggregators like Google, was projected to grow 3% in 2009 to $10.8 billion, But display advertising revenue, which news sites rely on, was expected to fall 2% to $4.8 billion. Classified revenue was projected to plummet 31% to $2.2 billion in 2009. Accounting for 17% of online ad spending in 2003, classified are now just 9%.”

Are Users Willing to Pay for Their Favorite News Sites?

“A new survey by PEJ and Pew Internet and American Life Project suggests there is a difficult hill to climb in putting content behind a pay wall. Of those that have a favorite Web site (just a third of online news users), only 19% said they would continue to visit if that site put up a pay wall."     

"The prospects for growth in conventional display advertising also look difficult. The vast majority of Internet users, 79%, say they never or rarely had clicked on an online advertisement. They don’t mind them. They simply ignore them.”

News Investment

"Of the top roughly 200 sites analyzed by PEJ, fully 67% are tied to a legacy media outlet, meaning that they are at least partly funded by another platform such as cable TV or newspapers.”

Back to the Future: True/Slant CEO Lewis DVorkin Moonlighting as Redesign Consultant at Forbes

A weird move that also makes sense: Troubled Forbes Media has brought in Lewis DVorkin, a former editor at the business publisher, as a consultant for a redesign of the Forbes Web site “and other editorial areas.”

That’s a bit weird because DVorkin already has a day job: He’s the founder and CEO of True/Slant, a news network/aggregator/publisher he launched last year.

And it makes sense given that Forbes Media is one of True/Slant’s financial backers. Employees there say COO Tim Forbes has been particularly enamored of True/Slant’s low-cost, high-frequency approach to content generation, so you can read into this move what you will.

DVorkin started showing up at editorial meetings this week, I’m told. I’m also told that both Forbes magazine editor Bill Baldwin and Forbes.com editor Paul Maidment are reporting to him. “All I know is that it means we failed to fix our own problems,” an employee there tells me.

Disclosure: I worked for Forbes for 10 years and worked closely with DVorkin for a couple of those years. He’s smart and a bit scary. His former colleagues at AOL (AOL), where he landed after his stint at Forbes, almost always describe him as “quite a character.”

Reached for comment, DVorkin referred me to a Forbes spokeswoman. But did want me to make clear that he’s still running True/Slant. “I’m the CEO and founder of True/Slant, and we’re having out best month ever.”

Here’s Forbes’s statement:

Lewis DVorkin will be consulting on a redesign of Forbes.com and other editorial areas at Forbes Media.

Though he will be devoting time to this assignment, Mr. DVorkin remains the Chief Executive Officer of True/Slant, an original content news network, which he founded in April 2009. Forbes Media is a strategic investor in True/Slant.

Mr. DVorkin brings to this assignment vast experience in both old and new media platforms and a history with Forbes editorial. He was the Executive Editor at Forbes magazine from December 1996 to April 2000. where he spearheaded that magazine’s redesign, managed the annual Forbes 400 Richest Americans list and created the Celebrity 100 list, both internationally recognized products of Forbes magazine.

During his career Mr. DVorkin was Page One Editor of The Wall Street Journal, a Senior Editor at Newsweek and an editor at the New York Times.

After leaving Forbes, Mr. Dvorkin was Senior Vice President, Programming at AOL, where he was responsible for News, Sports and Network Programming and played a significant role in the launch of TMZ.com.

Digg CEO Jay Adelson Steps Out

Digg CEO Jay Adelson has left the company he has run for the past five years, leaving founder Kevin Rose to run the social news site in the interim.

Statements from Adelson and Rose (below) do not shed light on what happened, though I imagine the picture will start coming together in the near future.

But I can start by noting that Adelson has long been said to be restless at Digg and that he and the company’s board of directors have reportedly butted heads several times. Adelson, who commuted for years between Digg’s San Francisco offices and his home in suburban New York, finally moved his family to the Bay Area last fall.

Digg used to be best known as a company that was always going to be acquired but never got acquired. Google (GOOG) got close to buying it in the summer of 2008, and then backed away from the deal during due diligence.

Meanwhile, Digg’s growth has flat-lined for a while. Here via comScore (SCOR) is what it has looked since October 2009 (click to enlarge):

Here’s the official word from Jay Adelson, followed by Kevin Rose.

Hey all,

Got some news. After five years, forty million users, and an amazing ride, I’ve decided to step down as CEO of Digg. With the new Digg getting ready to launch, Digg Ads doing well, our sales force growing, our hiring ramping, and the company maturing well beyond its startup phase, I feel that now is the right time.

The entrepreneurial calling is strong, and I am ready to incubate some new business ideas over the next twelve months. As the economy exits a very deep recession, I believe that it is an excellent time for new companies to develop. Of course, I will continue to serve as an
adviser to Digg. In the interim, Kevin has agreed to step in as Chairman and CEO.

I’d like to thank Kevin, the Digg staff and the Digg community for their support, insight and, most of all, their loyalty in turning Digg into the force that it is today.

–Jay

Update from Kevin:

I want to be the first to thank Jay for the last five years of amazing work. You’ve been a great friend and mentor, we wouldn’t be where we are today if it wasn’t for you.

While I’ll miss working with Jay day-to-day I am excited to be taking on the role of Chairman and acting CEO, driving Digg forward on our promise to enable social curation of the world’s content and the conversation around it. We’ve been super busy on the product side getting ready for the upcoming Digg redesign and delivering our mobile apps for the iPhone and Android.

Thank you very much for your on-going support of Digg, I’m truly excited about the next five years, big things coming!

-Kevin

Can NewsLabs Give Laid-Off Journalists Another Chance?

So you used to write stories for a newspaper and now you’re out of work? Odds are, you are going to have to find something else to do.

But some of you may be able to transform yourselves into one-person news factories, says Paul Biggar, who wants to make money while helping you do that.

Biggar is a co-founder of NewsLabs, a start-up that promises to create a business around the work of individual journalists. The idea is that the writer writes and NewsLabs does everything else: Ad sales, “community management,” promoting the work on Google, Facebook, Twitter et al, and so forth. In exchange, the company wants a 20 percent cut of all revenue.

In other words, Biggar and co-founder Nathan Chong want to become publishers with an all-freelance workforce.

NewsLabs just graduated from Y Combinator’s three-month bootcamp and has been working with a starter group of journalists for a couple months. So it’s still mostly theoretical at this point. My concern is that the help NewsLabs says it can offer doesn’t solve the real problem: The economics of Web publishing are brutal, and in most cases they only work on a Google- (GOOG) or Yahoo (YHOO)-size scale.

Biggar tells me that NewsLabs won’t solely be dependent on ad revenue, so that’s good. But all of the ancillary businesses that can support a Web-based journalist–conferences, job boards, and the like–also require either great scale or a very, very specialized niche. So Biggar and co-founder Nathan Chong have their work cut out for them.

Here’s Biggar’s extended pitch, via an interview I taped with him this week at Y Combinator’s Demo Day presentations:


[ See post to watch video ]

Google (Finally) Finishes Swallowing Up DoubleClick, Announces That It’s Serious About Display

Google announced plans to buy DoubleClick for $3 billion three years ago and finally closed on the deal a year later. Now the search giant has finally overhauled the display advertising company to its liking. Get ready for big stuff.

That’s the translation behind Google’s announcement this morning that it has upgraded its ad-serving platforms for publishers, by combining two related businesses: Its home-grown Google Ad Manager and Doubleclick’s Dart system.

Google’s statement (full text below) doesn’t have a lot of details, and those that are there won’t mean much if you’re not in the ad tech world.

If you are, the news that Google has fully integrated DoubleClick with its infrastructure will be meaningful because you can expect innovations and features to start rolling out in future weeks and months. Neal Mohan, Google’s VP of product management, says his team has already invested “thousands and thousands of engineering hours” in the upgrade.

In the near term, Google’s announcement also has a direct impact on start-ups like Rubicon and PubMatic, whose core business is built on helping publishers sell their inventory to multiple ad networks.

Google (GOOG) has more or less ignored that business for some time, but now the company is boasting that it can handle those duties in addition to a suite of other services. Translation: That’s a cute business you guys have built over there. We’ll be taking it now.

Perhaps it’s not a coincidence, then, that Rubicon made an oblique announcement last week that was more or less an attack on Google.

Here’s the full text of Google’s announcement:

Google releases its next-generation ad serving platform for publishers

Key points

  • Google announces upgraded ad serving platform, DoubleClick for Publishers (DFP)
  • Part of a full suite of products to help publishers maximize online advertising revenues
  • New DoubleClick logo unveiled

Today, as part of its efforts to help online publishers maximize advertising revenues from their website content, Google announced its upgraded ad serving platform for publishers–DoubleClick for Publishers (DFP).

DFP is a single platform that upgrades and will replace Google’s existing ad serving products: DoubleClick’s DART for Publishers and Google Ad Manager. The upgraded DFP combines Google’s technology and infrastructure with DoubleClick’s display advertising and ad serving experience.

For larger online publishers, managing, delivering and measuring the performance of ads can be a hugely complicated process. Major online publishers (including social networks, entertainment sites, portals and news sites) use ad serving to manage the complex process of how and when the ads they have sold appear on their websites.

Neal Mohan, Vice President of Product Management at Google, said:

“Google wants to help online publishers make the most money possible from their content. The upgraded DFP is part of our suite of products that are designed to help online publishers maximize their advertising revenues. Ad serving is the machinery that powers the online advertising world, so improving that technology can put a lot of money in publishers’ pockets. This upgraded platform is another major milestone in our continuing investment in the display advertising ecosystem.”

The upgraded DFP is part of Google’s suite of products–also including AdSense and the DoubleClick Ad Exchange–to help online publishers maximize their advertising revenues across all their ad space, whatever their size and however they choose to sell their ad space.

It includes a wide variety of key features that will help enable publishers to get the most value out of their online content:

  • A new interface that has been completely redesigned to save time and reduce errors.
  • Far more detailed reporting and forecasting data to help publishers understand  where their revenue is coming from and what ads are most valuable.
  • Sophisticated algorithms that automatically improve ad performance and delivery.
  • A new, open, public API which enables publishers to build and integrate their own apps with DFP, or integrate apps created for DFP by a growing third-party developer community (apps under development today include sales, order management and workflow tools).
  • Integration with the new DoubleClick Ad Exchange’s “dynamic allocation” feature, which maximizes revenue by enabling publishers to open up their ad space to bids from multiple ad networks. Dynamic allocation is described in this document [pdf].

DFP comes in two flavors, tailored for different publishers’ needs:

  • DFP–for larger online publishers, to which current DART for Publishers customers will be upgraded over the next year.
  • DFP Small Business–a simple, free version designed for growing online publishers, to which we will be migrating Google Ad Manager customers.

To reflect Google’s continued investment in DoubleClick’s products and the central role of DoubleClick’s technology products within Google’s display advertising business, Google is also today unveiling some changes to the DoubleClick logos–including typset changes, incorporating a new “by Google” theme, and retiring the “DART” brand.