- Recycle Journalism – This was the year that recycle journalism came to the fore. It’s been a trend for a long time, already when I was writing for the magazine Space in the 90’s, I was experimenting with it, and Sweden’s Nojesguiden had a fun tradition of creating interviews using questions from other magazines’ interviews, but this year, it was everywhere. New media outlets such as Buzzfeed, Business Insider and Gawker are in large parts based on recycling and reshuffling material, but this year even more traditional magazines such as Bloomberg Businessweek had pieces which were made up of lists of articles from other outlets, such as their year-end jealousy list. Slate capped the year by doing a list of (social) media outrages for each day of the year. This trend is perhaps inevitable given the vast and increasing amount of content creation, which means that not all of it can be original content (as with this article itself!). Perhaps it can even be useful given the impossibility of keeping up with everything (unless you’re Jason Hirschhorn of Media Redef who seems to have 25 hours in his day!)
- Snowdenification – One of the outcomes from the NSA leaks has been the rise of apps that promise anonymity or not storing data. Two of the most talked about apps of the year were Secret and Whisper, which lets users share sentiments anonymously. Snapchat, with its self-destructing photos, continued to gain in popularity, and recently, we saw the launch of Confide, which lets users send self-destructing text messages.
- Long tail in analog – The creation of digital content was supposed to enable the long tail, i.e. with a distribution cost of zero, we could all enjoy whatever niche content we wanted. That ended up not being the case, with mainstream music/films/videos still dominating digital. Instead, it’s in the analog space that we are seeing extremely niche products, with the success of magazines like Brot (a German magazine dedicated only to bread!) and Modern Farmer (which I can only imagine is, as its name suggests, for modern farmers). Likewise, we saw Serial blow up and reach mass audiences that podcasts earlier could only dream of.
- Fights for digital distribution and pricing rights – Taylor Swift picked a fight with Spotify, and Hachette picked a fight with Amazon, and all over, music labels, artists and film studios were worrying about how to price their products for digital distribution and how to maintain control.
- Algorithms beats curation – Another highly visible fight this year took place between Spotify, the reigning master in the algorithm corner, and Beats Music, the newcomer in the curation corner. We’ll have to see how much focus is given to curation when Beats is relaunched by Apple next year, but for now Spotify has the lead, with steadily improving algorithms.
- Corporate Content – Benetton has long had its own magazine, Colors, which received praise this year for its World Cup issue, but this year, corporate content has become one of the main trends. One aspect of this is native advertising, which has become the buzzword du jour in digital advertising. Other advertisers took it even further and launched their own magazines with quite limited branding, such as GE.
- Data journalism – Big data is making its mark on all industries, and the news industry is no exception. The launch of Nate Silver’s 538 heralded an onslaught of data journalism, and there were suddenly infographics wherever you looked. The belief in data as the ultimate objective source was quickly questioned, however, and it turned out that data journalism has biases just like regular journalism, it just has more graphs to back it up with. That’s not to say that some of it wasn’t great, though, NYT’s The Upshot did great work around the US midterm elections.
- Explanatory journalism. The other surprising trend this year was explanatory journalism. Alain de Botton published his book News: A Manual, where he called for news to be kinder to the reader and function more like an oracle helping the reader navigate life. Whether or not as a response to Alain, Ezra Klein this year left Washington Post and launched Vox, which became the torch-bearer for explanatory journalism. Again, it was a worthwhile aim, and some of the pieces served to provide much-needed background, but in order to maintain the 24/7 flow of a digital news site, some explanations proved a bit silly, and “Vox explains” could seemingly be attached to anything from ISIS to Easter Eggs.
- Drone journalism – The rise of affordable drones and cameras provided journalists, and especially photographers, with a fantastic new tool to investigate and report. There are still many question marks, not least around FAA regulations, but this is clearly something that will only grow. A related phenomenon is the launch of mini-satellites which can be used to provide high-definition images in close to real-time.
- Google’s Right to be Forgotten – A scary trend in Europe was for Google to remove links to websites under the court ruling dubbed “Right to be forgotten”. This could potentially be admissible for individual websites that are defamatory, or simply out-of-date, but it was applied to stories on many news sites, such as BBC stories about specific CEOs, etc, where it has no right at all. That is called editing history, and has no place in a modern society.
With Amazon unveiling its plans for drone delivery, they’re upping the stakes in their fight with Google, both in terms of autonomous vehicles (Drone delivery versus autonomous cars), as well as in the ongoing fight over which company fulfills the most of our geeky, utopian fantasies. Bezos continues to fight the good fight, soon to dominate print innovation through Washington Post and retail innovation through Prime Air.
Although, we mustn’t forget all the regulatory hurdles this has to pass.
The video Bezos unveiled can be found here. I talked about delivery by drones in China in an earlier post. Another earlier post talked about Google being the most utopian of the current big tech companies, which I might have to revisit. This post discussed other new delivery mechanisms.
I just hope this will be included free of charge in my existing Prime subscription! Amazon doesn’t care about profits, right?
Following on from my earlier post about how drones are starting to show potential to be used as delivery mechanisms, there has been some other interesting examples recently of using existing delivery mechanisms in a new way, or creating new delivery networks.
In terms of the developed world, when Jeff Bezos bought WashPo, there was some speculation that he would try to leverage their superior (albeit local) delivery mechanisms for the paper to deliver Amazon goods. In the absence of any further news about Bezos’ plans, that remains an interesting idea.
An interesting idea in the developing world is piggybacking on existing, dominant networks. A recent documentary described how an NGO used Coca-Cola’s network to distribute rehydration kits in Africa. This is a brilliant idea, which turns on its head the previously accepted notion that Coke should be available everywhere, but medicines not. Similar initiatives have been done before by the foundation or CSR arms of big companies, such as Unilever in India, but it’s a brilliant idea for an NGO to do the same thing.
Lastly, Fast Company recently had an article on a social enterprise creating a whole new network, also in Africa. This takes the US model of Avon ladies, training women to be rural, travelling saleswomen, armed with small sales kits and support networks. This idea seems to have the potential to really flip industries that have struggled to build businesses that sell to the bottom of the pyramid, hopefully opening up huge new markets.
Photo credits: Wikipedia
Following my post on Twitter’s upcoming IPO yesterday, there were several good articles today on how they’re going about preparing for it. FT reported that Twitter had appointed their first head of commerce, to generate revenue from e-commerce, probably driven by the “cards” they use already. The Washington Post had an article on how Facebook’s stock price resurgence has opened the door to Twitter and how Twitter will be judged by Wall Street in a similar way as Facebook (i.e. the slightly formulaic if you don’t have mobile revenue, your stock is worth less than a cup of coffee).
Another story that shows further experimentation with Twitter as a media channel came on The Next Web, which described an experiment that the Times is running, of letting users tweet specifically chosen highlights from a story. This kind of ready-made tweet has long annoyed me on other websites, since it never seems to say the same thing that I’d like to say. It’s a diametrically different approach to the one I mentioned earlier that Gawker was testing out, of letting the users even change the headline of the story as they forward it. Both might be valid for different kinds of stories, however. The only thing that is for sure is that we’ll continue to see a lot of experimentation from Twitter in the lead-up to the IPO.
If you have any other examples of interesting Twitter experiments you’ve seen, please let us know in the comments. Follow me on Twitter (of course) for more updates.
Bezos buying The Washington Post seems to have been the kind of divisive, watershed event that surprised everyone enough and enticed or infuriated everyone enough to weigh in on its pros and cons.
I’m not sure Bezos knows exactly what he wants to do with the Post yet, but if he needs inspiration, he doesn’t have to feel like he’s lacking ideas, given all the reasons that the media have offered for why he made the purchase.
Here is a round-up of some of my favorite explanations:
- He bought the Post for its distribution network. People get their newspaper in the morning, and he is going to start distributing Amazon products with the paper. Likelihood: This seems farfetched. WashPo has scaled back their distribution network over the years, and besides, Amazon is already doing same-day delivery in the locations where it can do so. Monocle’s The Stack discusses some of this. Even if he will not use it per se, it could be a model to learn from.
- He bought it as a lobbying-on-steroids effort, to get more clout with politicians and lawmakers in Washington (as mentioned in Time). Verdict: Even if tech companies have stepped up their lobbying efforts over the last years, and Amazon has been obsessed with sales tax legislation, this seems a round-about way of doing it. And the WashPo brand would deteriorate if Bezos applied Murdoch-style influencing over it and it ceased to be neutral.
- It was a content play, like Netflix doing original programming. He needed more content for the Kindle, and the Post came up as a potential cheap acquisition (and the Post delivered digitally could be a nice freebie for Prime customers).
- Since Amazon doesn’t have any news content on its own website, if they would start getting information on what news stories users like to read, Amazon could make more targeted purchase recommendations.
- He sincerely believes in the brand, and thinks it can grow with the right investment. Even if he has earlier said that the newspaper industry will be dead in 20 years, maybe he realizes that the Post has the kind of brand that could be monetized much better in the digital space and globally.
- He believes he can disrupt the newspaper industry, like he has done with the retail and publishing industries. By implementing some Amazon tactics such as delivering high value for very low cost to get customers hooked (BusinessWeek suggests the paywall will definitely go), new kinds of subscription models, or global replication, or any other kind of successful experimentation, he could upset the industry. HuffPo talks about Bezos’ focus on the customer and MediaWeek what that personalization could mean for an old media property such as a news organization.
- Or if for no other reason, perhaps he did it for purely philanthropic reasons. According to BusinessWeek, he is a lover of the written word, so it might just be a case of having enough money and wanting to own a newspaper. Fast Company talks about him thinking about his legacy. But that seems slightly out of character for him, given that his other investments (Long Now clock, space exploration, etc), all have been very different in their nature. Not to mention potentially more significant for his legacy. It’s not the same as Chris Hughes buying and running the New Republic, since Bezos kind of has a day job already.
Whatever the reasons, I think we should see it as a very positive testament to the value and business opportunities in a strong news media brand. Let’s look forward to see what a newspaper with a strong brand and good financial backing can do, it’s sure been a while.