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Using a virtual world newspaper to enhance in-world community September 1, 2008

Posted by jeremyliew in culture, mmorpg, newspapers, virtual worlds.
4 comments

The LA Times notes the popularity of the Club Penguin Times:

The Club Penguin Times … is more widely read than New York’s Daily News, the Chicago Tribune or the Dallas Morning News. And it’s not even 3 years old.

But this weekly “newspaper” isn’t tossed onto driveways or sold at newsstands.

Rather, it’s an online publication distributed to the estimated 6.7 million monthly users of Club Penguin, a snow-covered virtual world visited by more than 12 million kids, who adopt a colorful penguin persona and waddle around, playing games and meeting new friends.

Though no one would suggest that the Club Penguin Times provides Pulitzer Prize-worthy coverage, it nonetheless attracts 30,000 daily submissions from children, who pose questions to Dear Abby-inspired “Aunt Arctic,” compose verse for the poetry corner, tell a joke or review a party or event…

As the main source of information about events within Disney’s icy, penguin-populated virtual world, it boasts the kind of reader penetration that mainstream newspapers would envy. At least two-thirds of the players turn to the Times each week to find out what’s happening, Merrifield estimates.

Club Penguin’s CEO., Lane Merrifield, notes:

…he was looking for ways to incorporate learning — what he called educational “fiber” — in the game. Publishing a “newspaper” seemed an obvious way to encourage reading by offering information that users care about, such as the latest igloo upgrades.

In addition, the Club Penguin Times helps create social norms and shared experiences for players – an important facet to creating and shaping a culture in the world. Most online worlds develop discussion boards where the world’s creators have limited ability to shape the discussion. By creating a user generated (but company edited) newspaper for the world, the world’s creators give themselves a powerful tool for controlling and shaping the conversation. People building MMOGs and virtual worlds should read the whole thing.

(Found via via Paid Content.)

News can’t be an online only business September 19, 2007

Posted by jeremyliew in advertising, business models, newspapers.
2 comments

Sometime a picture is worth a thousand words:

Newspaper advertising revenues

From the WSJ today as they self referentially discuss if they will go from pay to free.

The rate of growth of online-newspaper ads dropped to 19.3% during the second quarter of 2007, down from a growth rate of 33.2% during the second quarter of 2006, according to the Newspaper Association of America.

The slowing growth online coincides with accelerating declines in newspapers’ print-ad revenue, casting doubt on whether newspapers will ever be able to offset their losses in print with gains on the Internet. Online ads still make up a small portion of total newspaper revenues, just 7% of the $11.3 billion total print- and online-newspaper ad revenues during the second quarter.

“Audience Communities” differentiate Online Media Publishers July 5, 2007

Posted by ravimhatre in Digital Media, media, newspapers, social media, social networks, start-up, startups, web 2.0, web design.
2 comments

Some of the more interesting new online media sites are perfecting the art of harnessing the audience to author content and in many cases to be part of the content.   The emerging model is between pure social media site UGC (user generated content) – random example I picked off Bebo – and traditional publisher sites such as CNN, Vogue,  and People  that produce highly edited material with almost no mechanism for user engagement. 

Sites such as YelpTeamsugar and Stylehive (LSVP Portfolio company) can be seen as new breed of publisher combining topical reader submitted text and images, information about audience activity,  and profile and reputational information about individual audience members to synthecitally develop media content.  In some cases, editorial content is also injected directly or derived by harvesting and combining select audience content and activity information.

This can result in a far richer experience than a typcial online media site which features published articles. It also stands apart from generic community or social media sites with UGC because of the automated editorial overlay that continously derives or “authors” many of the heavily consumed content pages on the site(ie “Most popular new restuarants”,  “today’s most viewed celebrity photo”, “hottest new undiscovered fashion brand”, “most active product reviewer of the past week”).  The net result is hybrid media publisher model that not only “speaks” to a target audience but also embraces and reflects the audience directly and in real-time. 

In a sense, Publishers 2.0  are harnessing their audience to do much of the work for keeping the site content fresh, enabling common interest groups to form, and generating non-portable rewards and validation for active users who do much of the “authoring”  traditionally performed by staff writers and editors.  We’ve labeled this  the “audience community”.   

We think there will be lots of new publishers who refine and perfect Web 2.0 mechanisms for becoming truly interactive with a target audience while still providing value-added editorial overlay.  We’d love to hear from you about other innovative ideas in this area.

Contrarian viewpoint on the future of newspapers May 8, 2007

Posted by jeremyliew in business models, Consumer internet, local, media, newspapers.
20 comments

Walter E. Hussman Jr., the Publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (the major paper in Little Rock), wrote a fascinating opinion column in today’s Wall Street Journal (subscription required) entitled “How to Sink a Newspaper“. He take a contrarian view to the prevailing trend for newspapers to embrace the web and make their content free to drive more online users. Indeed the Newspaper Association of America recently released a report saying that newspaper websites are growing twice as fast as other websites.

Instead, Hussman defends his paper’s practice of keeping the majority of his content behind a pay wall. Because the article require a subscription, let me excerpt a few key passages:

One has to wonder how many of the newspaper industry’s current problems are self-inflicted. Take free news. News has become ubiquitous, free, and as a result, a commodity. Anytime you are trying to sell something that becomes a commodity, you have lost much of the value in providing that product or service….

All of this would be fine if newspapers generated lots of additional revenues from offering free news. But the fact is newspapers generate most of their online revenues from classified advertising, not from news….

It turns out that a Web site is a very different medium from a newspaper. While consumers often find pop-up ads a distraction and banner ads as more clutter, readers often seek out the advertising in newspapers….

Our newspaper, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Little Rock, does not offer our news for free on the Web site. We offer free headlines. On a few selected stories, we offer a few free paragraphs, designed to get people to read our paper. We also offer free classifieds…

So what are we doing with our Web site? We have hired a videographer to complement our text coverage in the newspaper. We have added photo galleries to increase the number of photographs beyond what we can publish. We offer an electronic edition where you can search the entire edition by keywords, something you can’t do in the print edition. And we offer breaking news email alerts, something else you can’t do in print. In other words, we are offering value on our Web site that complements, rather than cannibalizes, our print edition.

Collectively, the American newspaper industry spends $7 billion on news and editorial operations. This includes everything from copy editor salaries to sports travel expenses. In addition, the Associated Press spent about $600 million world-wide in editing and creating news. By offering this news for free, and selling it to aggregators like Google, Yahoo and MSN for a small fraction of what it costs to create it, newspaper readership and circulation have declined.

…it is not just the newspaper industry that gets hurt. Journalism will be diminished in America with less investigative and enterprise reporting; indeed, less reporting of state houses, city halls, school boards, business and sports. Clearly a lot is at stake.

It is time for newspapers to reconsider the ultimate costs and consequences of free news.

Hussman provides some data to back up his contentions, citing growth in his newspaper’s paid circulation against industry wide declines, and showing relatively better performance than the Columbus Dispatch (a comparable paper) in the 6 months after the Dispatch switched their website from free to pay.

Before reflexively dismissing Hussman as an old media dinosaur that “just doesn’t get it”, its worth while considering another newspaper transaction that is in the public eye, News Corps bid for Dow Jones and the Wall Street Journal. Since Murdoch bought MySpace, a move that earned him first ridicule, then praise, it is hard to accuse him of being an old media dinosaur. And as Hussman points out about the WSJ online, it has almost one million paying subscribers, more than all but three US newspapers (USA Today, WSJ and NY Times). Even the opinion piece that I’m quoting can’t be read unless you’re one of these one million!

Hussman gets to the core of an important point, but I disagree with him on the nuances. I don’t think that news has become a commodity because newspapers make it free. Rather, I think that news is free because its a commodity. In a world of wire news, where you read the story hardly matters. For most breaking news, a rewrite of a wire story by a staff reporter is not enough to differentiate one newspaper from another. One could argue that the wires shouldn’t sell to outlets other than newspapers, but that cat is well and truly out of the bag.

The important thing that allows papers like the WSJ, and like the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, to continue to charge for subscription is that the content that they have is NOT a commodity. The journal covers business news to a depth and breadth that no other US paper does. It adds insight and analysis. What you read in the journal you often CAN’T read elsewhere. Similarly, I imagine that readers/subscribers of the Democrat-Gazette online are not turning to it for news on Iraq or the election, or topics that are well covered elsewhere, but rather news about local issues in Little Rock and in Arkansas that are NOT covered elsewhere. Its the local paper’s coverage of local news that allows it to hold its audience – not its coverage of commodity news.

What this gets to is one of the core premises of business – find your unfair advantage. For now, the Journal and the Democrat-Gazette have an unfair advantage; for the former in the coverage and analysis of business news, and for the later in coverage and analysis of Arkansas news. One could argue that over time these too could come under threat from bloggers both national and local, but for now their news is worth a premium. (As an interesting aside, the free daily BostonNow is now including some local bloggers in its print edition.)

The advice I would give to Huffman would be to take all the rest of his content, the commodity news (International, National, Business etc) and put that outside the pay wall and see what happens. He might be pleasantly surprised.