The Media Oxpecker: The Future of News Will Not Be Frictionless

may 11, 2012  12:35 pm
Tatiana Popova/Shutterstock

Every week we round up industry news you may have missed while you were busy working the clown beat.
  • Remember social readers, which served as daily reminders that your Facebook friends tend to read really embarrassing Yahoo News stories ... while broadcasting it to everyone? This week we awoke to the possibility that "frictionless sharing" might not be the future of news.

    New stats from AppData show that the Washington Post Social Reader lost nearly half of its users over the past month. Can someone please put this into dramatic context for us? Forbes media reporter Jeff Bercovici obliges:
    It would be hard to overstate the importance and centrality of the Social Reader to the Post's strategy … It's in large part the promise of social-powered distribution that has induced Post chairman Don Graham to keep the paper’s digital editions free. This even though other newspapers are having real success with various types of paywalls, and even though Warren Buffett, the company's biggest and most influential outside shareholder, has made it clear he thinks papers must charge for their digital content.

    Enter BuzzFeed theatrics under the headline "Facebook Social Readers Are All Collapsing," (!!!):
    They're falling off a cliff right now …
    … they're quitting in droves …
    … These are some fairly devastating numbers! …
    … disaster for WaPo …
    … The Guardian's drop-off has been just as severe …

    So did users simultaneously decide to abandon frictionless sharing? Don't give them too much credit. This was likely the result of a top-down decision by Facebook's gatekeepers, said TechCrunch:
    The user loss is likely due to the transition to "trending articles", a new way of surfacing recently read articles in the news feed that Facebook is testing … Previously, Facebook had been driving huge numbers of installs and re-engagements to news reader apps with a "recently read articles" box that would often appear at the top of the news feed. But in mid-April following a massive reader app user count spike it replaced this with a redesigned "trending articles" box that shows fewer articles, and that seems to appear less prominently.

    Can someone please wrap this in bow, preferably drawing a connection between the decline of the social reader and how it relates to Google's constant tweaks to its search algorithm?
    It shouldn't be a surprise that Facebook wields that much power, but it does make for a good reminder of the pact media companies make when they attach themselves to any third-party platform in an effort to help reach new audiences or just increase traffic. Google isn't the only tech giant who can, with a simple internal decision, send a site's traffic soaring or dropping.

  • Bonus link: "Oh Look, My Friend Is Reading About Vibrators. Thanks Facebook!"

  • So if frictionless sharing isn't the future of news, what about the pageview-inflating slideshow? This week brought news of a "secret meeting" at the Washington Post that didn't involve a red flag in the flowerpot:
    Over sandwiches around the dining room table, the journalists expressed concern about the loss of newsroom resources. Accounts of the evening that are making the rounds suggest it was hardly comforting to their journalistic souls. [Post president and GM Steve] Hills was said to have shocked with remarks that awards "don't matter," urged more traffic-driving slideshows over original Post photos, and compared the Post to Ohio’s Dayton Daily News, a paper with one-fifth the circulation of the 508,000-circ Post.

    Child please, says The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal:
    Readers may click through your slideshow, but they'll hate you a liiitttle bit more than they did when they got to the site. And I bet they'll feel the same way about whatever advertiser was unlucky enough to get stuck on the page with some stupid thing that a reporter did with a little bit of hate in his heart and fingertips. You can get a page view spike that's actually a negative for your brand.

  • But everyone still likes apps, right? Not publishers, says Technology Review editor & publisher Jason Pontin. "Like almost all publishers, I was badly disappointed. What went wrong? Everything."
    Apple demanded a 30 percent vigorish on all single-copy sales through its iTunes store. Profit margins in single-copy sales are thinner than 30 percent; publishers were thus paying Apple to move issues. Many responded by not selling single copies of their magazines. Then, for a year after the launch of the iPad, Apple could not figure out how to sell subscriptions through iTunes in a way that satisfied ABC, which requires publishers to record "fulfillment" information about subscribers. When Apple finally solved the problem of iPad subscriptions in iTunes, it again claimed its 30 percent share.

  • With apps, slideshows and social readers all falling out of favor, what's the new darling of future-of-news prognosticators? Paywalls, says Ken Doctor, who writes that news companies are coming around to the idea of charging for content. The burning question, he says, is how much to charge? A course in newsonomics ensues.

  • Of course, not everyone agrees in the concept of paying for what you consume online, as evidenced by some of the hate directed to Emily Gould when she said she was happy to pay $2.22/month for a newsletter she enjoys and encouraged others to do the same. (Example: "I love it when middle class bitches are all like LOOK HOW INEXPENSIVE IT IS. Yeah cuz you can afford food normally you stupid fuck.") To which Choire Sicha responded (in the totally free Awl newsletter):
    If you're not the customer, and you're also not a vendor, what are you? (Well, you're a free spirit, at least, so bless you.) How are we going to have our all-barter, post-capitalist, totally equitable economy if you have nothing in the marketplace that isn't consumable except for the cost of $0?

  • Ongo, a paywalled aggregation startup backed by Gannett, The New York Times, and the Washington Post, will close at the end of the month.

  • Gawker's Nick Denton is betting that the future of advertising is in user comments:
    We all know the conventional wisdom: the days of the banner advertisement are numbered. In two years, our primary offering to marketers will be our discussion platform.

  • Wondering what's the best time of day to post on Twitter, Facebook & Tumblr? Bit.ly has some stats on that. To get the best response on Twitter, it's best to tweet earlier in the week, during the afternoon, and "Specifically, don’t bother posting after 3pm on a Friday."

  • On balancing personal and professional on social media.

  • Storify, which launched less than two years ago, is now ubiquitous: "22 of the top 25 U.S. news sites use Storify as do the Obama and Romney campaigns as well as brands including Dell, General Electric, IBM, Adobe, Virgin America and Samsung."

  • Los Angeles Times developer Ben Welsh has launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund PastPages, "an online archive that hourly takes screenshots of dozens of newspaper home pages and other online news sites and makes them searchable by date and time." (Disclosure: We think it's a great idea, so we donated.)

  • The making of a brand-new iPad magazine that's already sick of the internet.

  • Why The Atlantic no longer cares about SEO.

  • How journalists and newsrooms can use Pinterest.

  • The best newspaper ad buyers are at risk, says Alan Mutter.

  • For digital video to live, the 30-second pre-roll ad must die.

  • Will Facebook's new offers product appeal to merchants?

  • And finally, "Why Don't We Teach Kids How to Use CTRL+F"?
    Every school district in the country has strict standards for the essential English, math, science, and history content students must master. As early as elementary school, students also are expected to develop basic research skills, like how to use a book's table of contents or index. But many schools don't mandate knowing how to use a computer, word processing and database software, and internet research tools. Yet those just might be the most important skills they can learn.

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