Breaking News: People Who Like Print, Like Print

There’s been a minor buzz this week in B2B circles about recent survey results suggesting that paper magazines and newsletters remain extremely important to business professionals. I’m sure it’s true. I’m also sure it’s not very meaningful. Just because you like something doesn’t mean it’s not dead.

Results from Readex Survey showing print publications rank second among professionals.The findings are from Readex Research, and are based on a series of media usage surveys conducted over the last year or so. The results show that when asked what forms of media these professionals use in their work, 74% chose print publications, just three percentage points below the top choice, search engines, and tied with e-newsletters. These results, according to Readex sales director Steve Blom,  “help publishers prove to advertisers—whose own ideas regarding usage may be terribly wrong—that professionals haven’t replaced one media form with another.”

Now before I say anything more, I should mention that in my previous career in publishing I was a Readex customer for 20 years or so. I have nothing but admiration for the company and its staff. So anything I say here is not intended as a criticism of the company.

But the thing about Readex is that much of their work is for publishers. Those publishers usually ask Readex to survey their readers. And the readers who bother to reply are usually those who, first, recognize the name of the publication, and second, like it enough to bother replying.

In most of our magazine surveys, we asked our readers to rate us in comparison with our competitors.  We always found that our publications were generally liked the best and read the most frequently. No surprise, really, because the readers who responded were generally the ones who knew and liked us.

The Readex press release doesn’t give much detail on the demographics of respondents, but I’d guess that most of them are existing readers of legacy publishers. In addition, a significant chunk are probably older white males—the last bastion, I’d also guess, of committed print users.

So in essence, you’re asking people who subscribe to print publications and who are more familiar with print than any other medium, which media they prefer. It would be shocking if print didn’t come out well.

That doesn’t mean advertisers shouldn’t keep advertising—the numbers of print readers are still substantial. But it also doesn’t mean that print is particularly vital or that it has a bright future. Yes, many people still love print. But in the end, economics and technology will prove more powerful than emotion and habit.

Publishers and the iPad: No Future in Control

Control. Magazine publishers love it. Especially B2B publishers (why do you think they call it “controlled circulation”?).

Or at least they love it until someone else has it. Then it’s evil.

To a cynical eye like mine, this seems to be the back story to the ongoing tussle between periodical publishers and Apple over the management of magazine app subscriptions. The publishers want to control the subscription process and have full access to subscriber data; Apple wants to keep that control to itself, skim off 30% of the subscription price, and give publishers limited access to the data. As aptly summarized by Peter Kafka, “Magazine publishers used to salivate over the iPad. Now they’re a lot more reserved. ”

What was it that got publishers drooling in the first place? The opportunity to reassert control.

Let’s face it, most publishers have never really embraced the Web. Its openness is a direct challenge to their traditional models of operation. It makes it too hard to control who gets their product, how much they can charge for it, and who they have to compete against. The iPad seemed to offer them a chance to grab back a big chunk of the control the Web was taking away from them. It gave publishers, as Cory Doctorow put it, “a daddy figure who’ll promise them that their audience will go back to paying for their stuff.”

Of course, daddy figures have a downside: if you want complete control, you probably shouldn’t do business with them.

So should publishers turn their back on the iPad? Or should they simply accept Apple’s conditions? Not necessarily. The iPad and other tablets are really distinct new forms of media that offer users a new way of experiencing content, and to the extent that Apple is putting up hurdles to that experience, publishers are right to fight back.

But the future of publishing is openness, not walled gardens; sharing, not limiting. If their main motive for battling Apple is simply to increase their control, publishers may ultimately find they have no future at all.

Another Nail in the RSS Coffin

The default Paper.li view

The default Paper.li view (click to enlarge)

When I first saw the details on the Flipboard iPad app (via Rexblog, I believe), I figured my days of using NetNewsWire on a daily basis were numbered. By creating a newspaper out of the Twitter users you follow, Flipboard offers an incredibly convenient way of reading what they recommend. But since I’ve been holding out for gen 2 of the iPad, the death of my RSS habit was strictly theoretical.

Now that I’ve seen Paper.li, a new Web-based product similar to Flipboard, I think I can hear the nail being firmly hammered into NNW’s coffin. (Yes, I know that the underlying technology of RSS is alive and well; I’m just talking about my use of an RSS reader.)

By drawing its content from a Twitter feed, Paper.li applies a personally meaningful filter to my reading. Rather than subscribing to unmoderated streams of content from sites that only sometimes have articles that interest me, I can now directly read what the Twitter users I follow write or recommend.

The site does a reasonably good job of categorizing the Twittered recommendations into content-based buckets (technology, education, arts & entertainment, business) and types of media (video, stories). It also picks up hashtags like #prodmgmt, adding an invitation to read a paper based on that tag. Since hashtags are, for me, hit or miss, I’m not too impressed—but that could change.

The Paper.li list view

The Paper.li list view (click to enlarge)

Wisely, the site also allows you to view all your articles in a list format, which looks less interesting but offers quicker access to linked content. I have a feeling I’ll tend to favor this view over the default one.

You don’t even need a Twitter account to use Paper.li. You can enter the user name of your favorite Twitterer, like Jeff Jarvis or Mark Schaeffer, to see a newspaper based on their feeds.

The site is supported by Google display ads, which to my eye fit in fairly well with the content. In theory, the ads should be related to content, but my particular Twitterfeed seems to be too ill-defined to produce ads I might actually click on (although I wonder if it is just coincidence that the EasyCloset ad showed up a day after I visited the site).

Since this is my first look at Paper.li (I only learned of it today as I listened to Net@Night while treadmilling), it may turn out to be one of those flash-in-the-pan nice ideas that I quickly abandon. But for the moment, it looks like the real thing.

Apple’s iPad May Help Save Publishing, But Not This Way

iPad from Apple Inc.Of all the publishing-industry reactions to the debut of Apple’s iPad so far, the strangest may be a suggestion that the iPad and other e-readers will allow magazines to give up the Web. In a brief blog post on Folio: today, Donald Seckler proposes that as e-readers soar in popularity, they will offer an attractive alternative to the Web. Rather than give away content free on your Web site, he says, offer it only on e-readers. And of course, charge a bundle for it. Print-publishing saved, case closed.

Seckler’s post appears to arise from a traditionalist print-publisher view of the Internet as a refuge for thieves and brigands, who “easily grab and reuse your content.” So the obvious solution is to “take away the free content” on the Web and make sure that “there is only one place for people to turn for your brand’s expert content.”

Seckler doesn’t share his views without trepidation. “I know that sounds a little crazy,” he says. “OK, a lot crazy.”

No, Donald, not crazy. Just dumb. A lot dumb.

At the risk of belaboring the obvious, let’s quickly review a few key precepts of the new-media reality:

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Prediction: Apple’s Tablet Will Change Publishing

Ihnatko:  Apple tablet will spark digital publishing revolution

Ihnatko: Apple tablet will spark digital publishing revolution

Of all the predictions for 2010 I’ve read—or hope to read (Paul Conley, how about  B2B predictions as lullaby lyrics?)—the one that has me most excited is that Apple will come out with a tablet computer. This isn’t just because I’m a serious technophile, but also because an Apple tablet will have the potential to remake magazine publishing.Until earlier this week, I entertained only idle thoughts about Apple’s rumored tablet in development, mostly when experiencing one frustration or another with my Kindle. But after hearing tech journalist Andy Ihnatko talk about the tablet on the Macbreak Weekly podcast yesterday, I’m persuaded not only that the “iPad” is real, but also that it will be revolutionary.

Ihnatko was responding to news reports that an Oppenheimer analyst expects a March or April launch of the tablet and that it will squarely target the Kindle.

While Ihnatko doubted that Apple’s tablet would “own the e-book marketplace,” he did agree that the device would transform it.  “The amount of excitement that it’s going to generate just for e-publishing in general is already phenomenal.” As he noted in his Chicago Sun-Times article last week on a rival tablet computer, the erstwhile “CrunchPad,” computer makers are all preparing for “what happens after Apple releases the Tablet.” He compared their state of mind to that in a year before a world war: “No, it hasn’t been announced, it hasn’t been scheduled, but everybody’s anticipating that the world will be fundamentally different this time next year. They are making arrangements to make sure they are in the best position to survive and thrive in that new landscape.”

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