The Storyteller


She who tells the best story wins.

The Continued Rise of New Media

Last year I wrote about the Rise of New Media based on this Chart of the Day from Silicon Alley Insider.

At that time I marveld that HuffPo had outpaced The Washington Post. Now it’s ahead of the New York Times. This is no doubt in part due to the paywall model that NYT now uses. Note that the WSJ is way below all of these properties because of it’s paid subscription model.

Doesn’t mean WSJ isn’t still hugely influntial. And the NYT isn’t going away anytime soon. But the pattern seems pretty clear. New properties are on the rise.

chart of the day, huffpo, new york times, wall street journal, uniques, june 2011

Filed under: Media & Publishing

The Rise of New Media

This chart is really stunning.

The Wall Street Journal might be a bit of a red herring in here because of their pay model. But the fact that The Huffington Post has outpaced the Washington Post is really amazing. The media world is imploding and the pace of the implosion seems to be accelerating.

Meanwhile, if you aren’t ready SAI’s Chart of the Day, you really should.  Go sign up now.

Filed under: Media & Publishing

It’s all just media

Did you see Conan on 60 Minutes this week? It was good — go watch it.

Anyway, Steve Kroft asked him about his decision to choose TBS (a cable station) over a broadcast deal.

Conan said:

I do not look down my nose at cable.  And I think anyone who does isn’t paying attention to television these days.  ‘Cause it is– this world is changing very quickly.

He is so right about that.  Cable has been pretty widespread since the late 80s.  Meaning anyone under the age of 25 doesn’t really remember a time before cable.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  What’s the difference between an ebook, a whitepaper, a brochure? Does it matter if you blog versus doing an email newsletter?

It’s all just media, it’s all just content, and we are all publishers.

Welcome to a brave new world.

Filed under: Content, Media & Publishing

The Unknown Future of Big Media

Putting aside the question of whether or not anyone is actually surprised that Ricky Martin is gay, the story behind the story is how he made the announcement.  Unlike Ellen, Clay Aiken, and others, Martin did not use the mainstream media, but instead posted on his blog.

The reason, as explained in this New York Times article, was to better control the message.

I’m completely fascinated by the way the internet’s many publishing platforms (blogs, Twitter, Facebook) have completely transformed the media landscape in the last several years.  It actually seems to be that the changes become more profound every 18 to 24 months.

But for all that change I think it’s overly simplistic to say that mainstream media is dead.  Yes, Ricky Martin chose to bypass all that and frame his story his way.  But, as the article notes, Adam Lambert chose a different route.  While Ricky Martin is an international superstar (albeit out of the limelight of late), Adam Lambert is popular with millions of “American Idol” fans, but less well-known outside that bubble.  He spent the entire Idol season keeping mum as everyone played “Is he or isn’t he?”  He chose to reveal the answer in Rolling Stone.  Because, well duh, it’s Rolling Stone.

I think Big Media will live on.  Some that are now in that camp will go away (bye-bye Gourmet, at least in print) and new properties will join (hello TMZ, Huffington Post, and many, many more).  But the basic concept — big, well-known publications (using “publication” very generically) with a huge audiences will continue to have an outsize influence on American life.

I think the big three unanswered questions are:

  • What will those properties be?
  • Who will run them?
  • How will they be different from the current mainstream media?

Filed under: Media & Publishing

Jonathan Galassi on the Value of Publishing Houses

Last Sunday Jonathan Galassi, president of book publisher Farrah, Straus & Giroux, wrote an editorial for the New York Times about the value that book publishers provide. It’s predictably defensive about publisher’s right to profit from the work of writers and to retain new rights like those for e-books.  Mr. Galassi cites the expenses incurred in bringing a book to market: editing, design, marketing, publicity, sales and so forth.  And he takes it even a step further, writing:

A publisher — and I write as one — does far more than print and sell a book. It selects, nurtures, positions and promotes the writer’s work.

Putting aside for the moment that many writers do not feel very nurtured by the modern publishing industry, I think Mr. Galassi is really missing the point.  I’ve worked as an editor, a marketer and a publicist, so I totally agree with Mr. Galassi that such work has value.  But the days when publishers acted as the cultural gatekeepers is coming to an end and quickly.

As I wrote before, I think the future of publishing puts writer’s in the driver’s seat.  I think it will work a bit like the movie business.  The writer, probably working with and agent, will get financing for a project and will assemble a team of people to bring that book into the world.  Publishers might play a role in marketing and distribution — the way studios do for movies — but possibly not.  I think they will have to think much more radically about their role — and the way books are funded and who gets what piece of the profits — if they are going to survive.

Unfortunately, Mr. Galassi seems to have supreme confidence that writers and consumers need publishers.  He ends his essay thusly:

Even if someday, God forbid, books are no longer printed, they will still need the thought and care and dedication that [Random House] put into producing William Styron’s work for nearly 60 years. Some things never change.

Jonathan Galassi is a smart guy and he’s been at the top of the publishing industry for a very long time.  But the changes that are coming to book publishing are much bigger than this essay suggests.  Publishers need to adapt or die.

Filed under: Content, Media & Publishing

Why Traditional Media Will Die (And Maybe Should)

Through a link on Facebook I got introduced to career blog by Penelope Trunk. It’s quite brilliant and I quickly became obsessed. The writing is fresh and interesting. More importantly the advice is great. Penelope offers truly innovative ideas for managing your career and your life.

Now let’s contrast any random post on Trunk’s blog with this column from the Sunday New York Times. This piece is so insipid it actually makes me a bit angry. I can’t believe the Times wasted resources on it. First, the advice is so obvious that I have a hard time believing anyone who has been looking for a job would find any value here. Second, the advice also feels hopelessly out-of-date. Resumes? Cover letters? Sure, these are still tools that job hunters use — and making them as good as you can <i>is</i> important — but is this what people really need to be focused on to get a job in today’s economy? Finally, the advice is so superficial that it is nearly useless.

Take, for example, this gem:

Not very helpful, right? Contrast that to any one of these four blog posts by Penelope. Fresh, interesting, not-obvious and actually helpful.

Top dogs in old media companies love to downplay blogs and talk about the superior quality of their content. They bemoan the “unfairness” that they invest so much in their content and stupid consumers don’t appreciate the difference.

I think consumers DO appreciate the difference. And, at least as this column shows, new media mavens are winning because — not in spite of — the value difference.

Filed under: Blogging, Content, Media & Publishing

The Future of Book Publishing

In this weekend’s New York Times Magazine, Deborah Solomon interviews Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. This exchange from the Q & A is great and neatly illuminates the real seismic shift that is coming to book publishing:

JEFF BEZOS: We also have a self-service platform where small publishers or even self-published authors can put their books on themselves.

DEBORAH SOLOMON: How does that work?

JB: Basically you submit the book, you set the price for it, we charge the customer and then we give you 35 percent of the revenue.

DS: And Amazon keeps 65 percent? That sounds like a lot.

JB: Does it? You’re an author, what does your royalty check look like? Are your royalties 35 percent?

DS: No. Let’s not have that conversation.

JB: O.K., I think we’re done.

I think the future of book publishing looks more like movie-making where a group of people (writer, editor, publicist, and so on) sign on for a project, get it financed and sell it. Publishing houses still exist, but in very different form than we know them today. They are more like modern movie studios and exist mainly to provide distribution and sales support. The good news for writers is they will have a lot more control over their destinies and will realize a lot more of the revenue from their work. The bad news, for many, is they will need to take responsibility for their own success. Unlike some pundits, I think this points to a real future for smart literary agents. The best agents will morph themselves into producers who can help talented writers get financing and find the best editors, marketers and publicists to work with. Since many writers aren’t naturally good at promoting themselves this will be an important role in a brave new publishing world and one that many agents could excel at.

Filed under: Media & Publishing

Frank Luntz on Healthcare

I am fascinated by Frank Luntz.  I really wish the Democrats had someone like him.

He was interviewed on On The Media this week talking about how to talk about the health care debate.  Totally worth a seven-minute listen.  If you have more time Luntz has published a long memo with advice for Republicans on how to debate the issue.  Lots of interesting polling data, plus his ideas on how to frame the issue.

His ability to distort facts makes me crazy, but he’s not wrong that words matter.  How we talk about the issues matter and changes in tone and rhetoric can make all the difference between success and failure in the political arena.

Filed under: Media & Publishing, Politics

Walter Cronkite 1916-2009

It’s beyond trite to say this, but it does feel like the death of Walter Cronkite is the end of an era.

President Obama’s quote encapsulates this change best:

“He brought us all those stories large and small which would come to define the 20th century.  That’s why we love Walter, because in an era before blogs and e-mail, cellphones and cable, he was the news. Walter invited us to believe in him, and he never let us down.”

It’s true, there just isn’t today that one singular voice that defines the culture.  But I’m not so sure that is all bad.  As Chris Anderson pointed out in The Long Tail, we didn’t all watch the Big Three network because the programming was so good.  There wasn’t anything else on.

I think the future looks more like Seth Godin’s book Tribes.  And in that world there isn’t one Walter Cronkite, there are tons and tons of Walter Cronkites, each leading his own little tribe.

The upside to the old way was a sense of community.  The downside is cultural conformity and a certain level of mediocrity.  (In a three-channel world you only have to be better than the other two.)

So that means the upside to the new way is everyone gets what they want, when the want it.  The downside is a fragmentation of cultural experience.  Life sometimes feels a bit like a modern-day Tower of Babel with everyone having a different conversation.

I think there are two ways to mitigate the downside and actually leverage the upside.  And both involve cross-pollination.

First, no one belongs to just one tribe.  So, for example, I might belong to tribes for Mommies, for communications/PR professionals, for folks in the email industry specifically, for Red Sox fans … Everyone might belong to dozens of tribes or more.  And of course you bring stuff from one tribe to your other tribes.

Second, the big tribe leaders know a lot of other big tribe leaders and they pass information between them, which then passes down to the tribes.

Change is hard.  But it can also be good.  We’ll all miss Walter Cronkite and the singular voice that he represented.  And we will certainly miss his amazing storytelling abilities.  My hope for the future is that more opportunities for great storytellers to have a forum for their stories.  I think Mr. Cronkite would agree with that, too.

Filed under: Media & Publishing, Social Networking

Myth vs. Reality

On The Media had a great episode this past weekend that was all about popular myths.  Myth is a big part of storytelling, both good and bad.  We like to think of certain stories as “true” but this show really puts that idea to the test.  Did people in Queens really stand idly by while Kitty Genovese was killed?  Did war protesters really spit on returning Vietnam veterans?  Is Barack Obama a Muslim?  The episode probes why myths persist even in the face of undeniable counter-facts.  Truly fascinating.

Filed under: Media & Publishing

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