Category Archives: Digital Content

And they said it wouldn’t work: Digital subscriptions are a thing now

Farhad Manjoo has some good news for those of us who want this internet experiment to work out: People are paying for stuff .

This paragraph caught my eye:

“Apple users spent $2.7 billion on subscriptions in the App Store in 2016, an increase of 74 percent over 2015. Last week, the music service Spotify announced that its subscriber base increased by two-thirds in the last year, to 50 million from 30 million . Apple Music has signed on 20 million subscribers in about a year and a half. In the final quarter of 2016, Netflix added seven million new subscribers — a number that exceeded its expectations and broke a company record. It now has nearly 94 million subscribers.”

Netflix has nearly 94 million subscribers.

That’s an amazing number. Those aren’t “users.” Those are people who pay for the service.

For years I’ve joined the chorus lamenting the impending doom of creativity, content, and culture. No one will ever pay for anything .

I think back to that moment 10 years ago when I realized that online advertising was a race to the bottom for all but a few massive companies. I was distraught. Really, I was legitimately upset. I was fascinated by the internet’s possibilities, yet it seemed to be built on a pile of sand. I wondered how it would all play out. I wondered if I needed to find a new line of work.

And yet, here we are.

When I consider my own digital subscriptions I’m struck by how easily and naturally they’ve arrived. At a certain point, each one just made sense and just fit in.

I guess I’m not alone.

This video won’t save book publishing, but it sure is creative

The magazine industry might want to consult the following video the next time they’re fighting for consumers’ hearts and minds.

Be sure to watch the whole thing. It’s not what it initially appears to be. And you might want to gird yourself for the inevitable torrent of copycats to come.

Heads up, traditional media! Pay very close attention to what OK Go just did

It’s rare when you see such a clear example of the Internet’s disruption: OK Go, the band best known for its clever music videos, has severed ties with its record label, EMI. The reason? The label is caught in old-think and wants to disable the embed function on the group’s web-based videos.

OK Go … God bless ’em … told EMI to politely bugger off. The band knows embedding is an absolute must-have if you want to harness the web’s power.

Speaking of which, here’s the group’s latest masterpiece:

Want to know what Google is up to? Here you go

GoogleI’ve seen lots of hand-wringing and sweaty prognosticating about Google. What will it do? What does it want? Is that don’t be evil mantra for real?

Funny thing is, Google’s strategy has always been in plain sight. There’s no obfuscation. There’s no misdirection. Heck, this New York Times piece spells it out:

Google has used a similar approach — immense computing power, heaps of data and statistics — to tackle other complex problems. In 2007, for example, it began offering 800-GOOG-411, a free directory assistance service that interprets spoken requests. It allowed Google to collect the voices of millions of people so it could get better at recognizing spoken English. A year later, Google released a search-by-voice system that was as good as those that took other companies years to build.

See what Google did there? It released a free service so it could gather huge amounts of data that could then be used in another product. That’s what Google does. Free leads to data, data leads to another product. Repeat over and over and over and over again.

Ebook pricing gets even more interesting: Apple’s model vs. Amazon’s subsidy

iPad and Kindle

Tablets and devices will get all the coverage, but I believe ebook pricing is going to be 2010’s biggest issue for publishers.

To illustrate … this New York Times piece explains how Apple’s $12.99-$14.99 range represents the outer limit for iBooks pricing. Those price points aren’t set in stone. From the Times:


… Apple inserted provisions requiring publishers to discount e-book prices on best sellers — so that $12.99-to-$14.99 range was merely a ceiling; prices for some titles could be lower, even as low as Amazon’s $9.99. Essentially, Apple wants the flexibility to offer lower prices for the hottest books, those on one of the New York Times best-seller lists, which are heavily discounted in bookstores and on rival retail sites. So, for example, a book that started at $14.99 would drop to $12.99 or less once it hit the best-seller lists.

Sounds like Apple and Amazon are closer than we initially thought, right?

Nope. Not at all.

The single most important sentence in that Times article is buried at the very end:

Under the agreements with Apple, both the publishers and Apple should make money on each book sale. [Emphasis added.]

Ahh, there we go! Whether the price is $14.99, $12.99, $9.99 or $1.99, Apple will take its 30 percent. Set the price lower and sell more books? You betcha! Jack the price up and sell fewer? Absolutely!

What Apple won’t do is subsidize a price point.

The Long Tail and iPhone app usage: Nothing surprising here

From The New York Times:

The average iPhone or iPod Touch owner uses 5 to 10 apps regularly, according to Flurry, a research firm that studies mobile trends. This despite the surfeit of available apps: some 140,000 and counting.

I’ve seen the same stat mentioned before. Heck, I referenced that stat in a piece I wrote. But what I find surprising is that anyone is surprised by this. It’s the behavioral equivalent of the Long Tail: a few apps get frequent use — the blockbusters — while the others wane after post-installation popularity or, even worse, don’t get downloaded at all.

Instead of this broad-based stuff, what I’d really like to see is data that links up people’s interests/professions with their most-used apps.

Maybe it’s a Scottish thing

I’ve always wondered why I’m so obsessive about using every last bit of content. A post from Steve Forbes suggests heritage might be the culprit:

In essence my grandfather B.C. Forbes, a penniless Scottish immigrant who founded our company, was a blogger. He hated the idea of not being able to use all of the material he gathered while reporting. That was one of the reasons that propelled him to start Forbes magazine in addition to his column — so that he could publish all of the information he compiled.

I like that. It’s a far better conclusion than pure psychosis.

And since you’re here, you might want to check out my Twitter feed, my FriendFeed account, my Tumblr, my Google Reader Shared Items page, and my LinkedIn group.

Hey Amazon, this is what you need to do with the Kindle

Books lock content into a container by default. There’s no easy way to excerpt or share or disseminate. But digital sets that content free, and that means hardware that delivers digital content needs to facilitate that freedom. False obstacles that seek to duplicate the limitations of print are ridiculous. Hear that, Amazon?

Thankfully — seriously, thank God for this — it looks like magazine publishers are getting the message. From the New York Times:

Sports Illustrated’s demonstration version — developed with the Wonderfactory, a design firm — lets readers organize the magazine by subjects like baseball or football. They can circle photographs or articles and use a toolbar to e-mail an article, print it, view comments, view related items, see relevant Twitter posts or save the article to a favorites file. They can rearrange the order of the issue, see dozens of photos that don’t make it into print and pull live scores from all the teams they follow. [Link and emphasis added.]

One last thing. I try to include a source link with all of my tweets and excerpts; just a little something that allows people to go deeper if they’re so inclined. That’s why tablet editions need a link-to feature. It could take the form of a web-based version of the article (with advertising and marketing all around it, of course). Perhaps it’s some sort of intermediate, email-to-a-friend edition. Maybe it’s an iTunes-esque redirect. I really don’t care what the links look like. They just need to be there.

What we need is a good-better-best approach to digital content

Paramount is out with a new online service that lets customers purchase clips from films. As this New York Times article notes, it’s initially aimed at advertisers and marketers who want to use the clips in campaigns. Consumers will be let in on the action later.

I have a couple thoughts on this:

1. Kudos to Paramount for giving this a shot. It certainly can’t hurt, and we need all the experimentation we can get.

2. I think this is a fantastic opportunity to test good-better-best quality levels. I’ve long thought there’s a way to service different segments of the audience through resolution, features and convenience.

For example, writers, bloggers and others who simply want to reference a clip could grab a lower-resolution version for free (as many already do through YouTube). This boosts awareness and creates branding opportunities for the content provider.

One sidenote: The Times piece suggests folks on the low end — consumers, mostly — may have to pay a low per-clip fee. That’s the wrong move. These aren’t ringtones. Ringtones are a public expression of personality linked to an always-on, always-available device. Embeddable movie clips require placement within media forms, be it a website or a DVD. The all-important personality element is muted. I’m not going to shell out cash if that so-bad-it’s-good movie clip only broadcasts my ironic sense of humor to a limited audience. I need exposure, dammit!

But I digress …

Moving up the scale, companies that want to aggregate clips or make them available as part of another content product could pay a reasonable amount (likely a flat rate for a certain number of clips) and gain access to DVD-quality content. I can see utility here for the education world. A one-stop shop for clips could take a lot of the pain out of the copyright quagmire law-abiding teachers currently face.

On the high end, marketers and advertisers who need full-resolution (1080p, if available) and the absence of co-branding would pay a premium.

What won’t work is an “everyone must pay” declaration. I’m assuming that since this got written up in the Times, and given that a consumer option is part of the longer-term gameplan, Paramount wants this to be more than a back-channel marketers’ tool. Otherwise, why publicize it? This is clearly a public-facing product. As such, it needs to properly service the unique needs of all audience segments.

The Kindle is a big, shiny, distracting object

Hey book people: don’t be fooled by the Kindle. Amazon has no interest in hardware.

That’s the conclusion Joe Wikert reaches in an excellent bit of analysis. I couldn’t agree more. The Kindle is a big, shiny object that’s distracting everyone from Amazon’s more subversive (and smart) move: It’s trying to become the source of ebooks. It doesn’t want to own that market. It wants to rule it.

It’s entirely possible that Jeff Bezos and Co. originally sought to duplicate Apple’s iPod-iTunes model. But take a look at the evidence Joe presents: At some point in the last two years, Amazon realized it’s not Apple. The hardware gambit only works if you create something miraculous. The iPod and iPhone certainly qualify as technical marvels. Spend 30 seconds with an Apple product and you’ll come away deeply impressed. Spend 30 seconds with a Kindle and you’ll want your 30 seconds back.

Amazon just can’t cut it in the hardware game. I bet the higher-ups don’t particular care, either. This is a company that redefined retail efficiency. It’s masterful at satisfying consumer demand, more so than Apple or even the big daddy of the retail chain, Wal-Mart. Publishers need to realize — and the smart ones already do — that the Amazon threat doesn’t lie in a device. It’s in the distribution.