Category: Uncategorized

Mobile Media

Since the project officially launched a month ago (Jan 23) I thought it was time to mention I am now writing over at for their new Mobile Media blog.

‘Writing’ may be too strong of a word in this case. What we are doing is aggregating and briefing (as the tagline says) news about mobile & its applications & implications for media. The blog is co-authored by Poynter’s Regina McCombs with massive support and direction from Julie Moos and Steve Myers.

Needless to say mobile is the next big thing for journalism and the Web in general. Many of our posts so far have been focused on the iPad, Kindle and the coming war between Apple, Google and Microsoft. The first one to hire Arnold Schwarzenegger to go back in time to destroy the original iPhone prototype wins.

We are also looking for examples of media companies (large and small) doing cool things with mobile devices. This could include streaming live video from a cell phone, writing stories with a Blackberry, using location-based social media or creating a great mobile ad sales strategy. Basically anything journalism (or news revenue) related that does not involve a desk and a PC.

So, please go right now to and bookmark the site, or subscribe to the RSS feed and the daily email newsletter!

And, if you have any great mobile journalism story ideas that have yet to hit Gizmodo and Techcrunch email me: damon(at) The help is appreciated.

The meter is running

Metered reading is apparently the new ‘black’ in journalism business circles.

In evidence: The New York Times‘ apparent move in that direction; two Ottaway papers this week; and the forthcoming launch of the Journalism Online project.

The bet is by allowing a small number of ‘free’ page views before instituting a registration or paywall, the respective sites can have their cake and eat it too. Ad impression levels will be supported by the large number of fly-by visitors and subscription income will be enhanced by a smaller but dedicated number of loyal readers.

No doubt the newspaper execs involved have sat through a year’s worth of Powerpoint presentations trying to guess how these thresholds would impact reader behavior and newspaper revenues.

Good luck to them. Isaac Newton created calculus to help predict the laws of motion and gravitation, but at the time there were only five planets. I doubt he would try his hand at predicting reader behavior on the Internet.

The problem is there is no ‘average’ reader with ‘average’ behavior. Predicting the potential loss of traffic following a metered plan involves knowing the frequency and pages-per visit for any number of reader cohorts.  Most news sites have a large number of one-time visitors and a smaller number of loyal visitors, and each group may be worth about the same number of monthly page views.

So, while loyal visitors may have a good incentive to convert to registration or subscriber status, those that do not extract a significant toll on the bottom line. And, since loyals will hit the page view threshold early and often, their reaction to it will make or break the strategy.

In blue and red a 10 page view threshold looks something like this:

(click to enlarge)

The shades of blue represent fly-by, occasional, weekly, daily and loyal visitors and the typical days of the month of their return visits to your Web site. The height of each bar represents their percentage contribution to total page views for the day.

In the chart ‘loyals’ (in the lightest blue) visit on Jan 1 and Jan 2 before hitting the ten page view limit. ‘Daily’ readers visit on Jan 1 and then return on Jan 3 and Jan 5 before hitting their ten. After that they turn red meaning they are over their limit for the month.

So, assuming a zero conversion rate, the red bars indicate current page views that would be at risk under a metered reading strategy. Obviously a few more then ‘no one’ would either register or pay for access.

That’s where the calculus comes in – and it is still just a guess. If you run the numbers, a five page view threshold with no conversions puts about 50% of your traffic at risk. At the other end of the spectrum a 30 page view threshold with a 75% conversion rate might translate to only a 13% decline.

So if the answer lies somewhere between a 13% and 50% loss of traffic and your likely total conversion rate for an online subscription is less than 5% – how much do you need to charge for that subscription to make up for the resulting loss in online ad revenues?

Testing the waters

Two Ottaway / Dow Jones papers in New Bedford, MA and Stockton, CA launched paywalls this week. This creates a great opportunity for the rest of us to watch the impact on reader traffic through the magic of Quantcast.

Both sites went live with subscription access on January 12. Each is offering metered access to for non subscribers and registered users, topping out at 10 pages per month.

Basic details on their plans are here (the plans look to be identical for non-print-subscriber access):

Kindle why?

I love gadgets. If I was in a higher tax bracket I would live at CES and buy everything there that would allow me to record and stream and time-shift and sift and mashup and share my news and TV and music and photos and movies. Hey, last week I installed open source firmware on my Wifi router, so don’t tell me I don’t love gadgets. Did I mention I want two of these new iPhone controlled helicopters?

But, I don’t care for the Kindle.

Being in newspapers (as opposed to being in a higher tax bracket) means I typically wait a bit to take the plunge to invest in new tech.  As in getting a refurbished iPhone for 50% off a year after the 3G launched. Or getting the 6″ Kindle this week, just ahead of the release of the Kindle DX next week. (And actually the Kindle belongs to work, so it doesn’t really count.)

We purchased the Kindle at work as we are finally getting around deciding if we want to produce and deliver a version of the newspaper for it. After just an afternoon of downloading, reading and testing I am tempted to ask, why would we?

Compared to the iPhone it has an irritatingly limited user interface. The display is about perfect for a paperback book, but nowhere near big enough to browse through a newspaper’s worth of daily content. Not to mention the screen is black & white and of a resolution that makes images feel more akin to lithographs.

That is the long way to say that it is a good tool for reading books: 6 inches of black text on a white screen that requires simply turning the pages to go from chapter to chapter. Yes, I do intend to download a few e-novels to see how it fares.

But from a newspaper business perspective, it is not the interface or the screen that is the problem. The issue is the thing is an expensive closed box.

You can only get content onto the Kindle in three ways. One: Through the store. Two: Emailed to your device through a dedicated account. Three: Via a USB cable attached to your computer.

As we found out in a wave of stories on the topic last year, selling through is an quick and efficient distribution system that returns 70% of the subscription revenue to Amazon and 30% to the publisher. So that $10 a month for the Chicago Tribune returns $3 per customer to Chicago. Not a great revenue builder.

Emailing content directly to the Kindle sounds like a great alternative. But, that process will cost the customer .15 cents per megabyte downloaded, rounded up to the next MB. I sent myself a small PDF this afternoon as a test. It cost me 30 cents. Talk about your micropayments.

So, for a publisher interested in publishing to the Kindle, your choices are either give up 70% of your subscription fee; convince your customers to pay .15 cents per MB to read your content; or choice number three, get readers to manually download and sync your publication using a USB connection. Given the fact that that wireless connectivity is a major selling point of the device, I would wager most customers don’t even know they have a USB cable.

It is hard to begrudge Amazon their business model. Their constant sync (which works like magic) is made possible through the ‘Whispernet’ system, a wireless connection to the Internet over the Sprint cellular network. That arrangement with Sprint can’t be cheap and the connectivity charges are covered as part of your subscription fees. But seriously, .15 cents per MB for the personal document delivery service is less meant to cover costs and more meant to destroy the business model for purchases.

One would guess that is also why there is no WiFi on the Kindle. WiFi would allow publishers to circumvent the store and most likely they all would. Immediately.

So, are we going to create and publish a Kindle version of our newspaper? Maybe, leaning toward probably. I certainly would not bet all my money on the Kindle to ‘save’ newspapers, but it does have an audience and is a good platform for us to experiment with. Hopefully as open standards and storefronts develop the market balance will tip back a bit more in the favor of publishers. Until then we need to learn as much as we can about the technology and how readers want to use it.

But what I wouldn’t give to see a nice color tablet with touch screen controls, Wifi and 4G connectivity, open document standards and a variety of e-commerce options for downloading content including text, photos and video. If we could get that in a flexible plastic form and for say $99 that would be great too.

The three percent problem

I read the Harris Poll on ‘time spent online‘ with some interest a few weeks back. The average Web user spent 13 hours per week online in 2009 – nearly doubling the average from the beginning of the decade.

That same week E&P reported via Nielsen the top newspaper site in November for time spent per visitor was about 6 minutes per week ( Skip the math – that is less than one percent of the average netizen’s total time online.

To be fair six minutes is the average for all visitors including fly-bys which skews the results a bit low. So, taking those industry reported averages, along with the reader cohort behaviors we see on our own site:

Click to see a larger version of the chart.

These numbers are rough guesses but I don’t see any scenarios that change the result substantially.

The bottom line is that even your most loyal readers, those who likely visit your site every day, are only worth a half-hour per week. That is three percent of their overall 13 hour web use window.

Is three percent enough to convince most people to pay for your news? No matter how unique it is or expensive to produce, readers right now are voting with their mice.