The Self-Media Decade

November 18, 2009

We’re almost at the end of the first decade of the 21st century (yes, it went by really fast!) and it’s probably time to reflect on what characterized the last ten years. Each decade gets its own descriptive “brand” and this one won’t be different. The seventies were all about “the peak of hippie culture“, social change and related values. The eighties were all about the individual, economic liberalization and some would say money and greed but it also saw the end of the Cold War. The beginning of the 90’s was very nihilistic with the grunge movement but finished on a high note with the start of a long period of economic growth, an amazing era of technology innovation and the dotcom boom.

So, what defined the 2000’s? We obviously could talk about September 11, the dotcom bust and the recent worldwide financial crisis but those are punctual events. They definitely influenced the zeitgeist but they are not the zeitgeist. I believe the decade that’s ending was all about “me” and the extreme democratization of media. I call it “The Self-Media Decade”.

It all started with the reality television phenomenon in 2000. Survivor, the famous TV show, ignited the genre and there’s been no looking back since then. Every time you watch television today, you see “real” people in “real” situations. In parallel to that, blogging and blog platforms arrived on the market (LiveJournal in March 1999 and blogger.com in August 1999). Throughout the decade, millions of people took up blogging. Some blogs became a real alternative to newspapers and magazines, journalists started blogging and the line with mainstream media started blurring. In the newspaper industry also, Craigslist democratized classifieds, allowing anyone to post a classified ad online for free. Their first real expansion out of the San Francisco market happened in 2000.

Another parallel was the arrival of Napster, also in 1999. By enabling downloads of individual songs, Napster was allowing everyone to become their own radio programmer (or CD mixer). Why listen to radio (or buy packaged music CDs) when you can just download your favorite songs and get instant gratification. We all knew at the time that television and movie distribution would be impacted in the coming years. Tivo became a phenomenon in itself and created the personal video recorder product category. No need to sit down at a fixed date and time to watch a television show. Can you guess when Tivo launched? Yup, 1999.

On the shopping side, the birth of Epinions (again in 1999) was the first signal of the important role consumers would play regarding merchant and product recommendations via user reviews. Up until then, directory publishers were pretty much the sole gatekeepers in a very advertiser-focused world.

With the introduction of these new sites and tools, the only thing missing was a solid broadcast ecosystem. Facebook (and later Twitter) created those much needed amplifiers starting mid-decade. By building your social graph, you’re creating your own media network. I quickly clued in to this when I wrote my “Robert Scoble is Media” blog post. We were all becoming media (production and broadcast) including myself.

I’m actually a good case study of the power of social media tools. Up until I started blogging in 2006, I had an excellent professional reputation but in a very small circle of industry colleagues and peers. By blogging extensively since then and by using broadcast mechanisms provided by sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, my worldwide reputation has grown tremendously. I now have thousands of monthly industry readers on my blog and I’m often invited to speak at conferences. I’ve become an important influencer in the directory publishing industry and I’m amazed at the speed at which it happened.

So, what did we gain as a society? We now have more transparency, democracy and meritocracy. What did we lose? We lost common “experiences” (traditionally focused by media) and we’re not always sure who we can trust out there. There’s a lot more noise. But clearly, we’ve all become media by participating, with everything good and bad that comes with it and this will continue in the next decade.

Excerpts from “How Much Ads Cost” – eMarketer.

(…) broadcast TV had the highest cost-per-thousand (CPM) rate of $10.25, with syndicated TV at $8.77. Magazines, cable TV, newspapers, radio and outdoor advertising round out the space. (…)

US Advertising CPM by Media 2008 eMarketer

As for spending in the online sector… it’s a little more complicated. (…)

For display advertising, Credit Suisse estimated that in 2009 the average CPM will be $2.39, down from $2.46 in 2008. (…)

As for paid search, JPMorgan projected that for every 1,000 searches, $75.33 would be generated from ads in 2009. (…)

What it means: always interesting to compare the CPM of various media. It gives you a good benchmark to calculate revenues needed to counter offline to online revenue migration. Again, no Yellow Pages CPM to compare though. I wonder if someone has made the calculation before for the directory publishing industry.

“ESPNChicago.com Launches Monday” via Mediabistro.com.

The Chicago-focused online sports destination will feature original content from some of the most familiar names in Chicago sports including former Bears wide receiver Tom Waddle and former Bulls announcer Chuck Swirsky.

ESPN Digital Media is also launching new technology that allows for geo-targeted content and ad insertion in both live audio streaming and downloadable audio. ESPNChicago.com will also make use of existing ABC/ESPN properties in the city including ESPN Radio 1000 and WLS-TV and abc7chicago.com.

Mini what it means: I’m seeing more and more “national” media brands (television, magazines, newspapers) deploying local strategies online. Makes sense. They leverage a powerful and trusted national brand online but they make it locally relevant. It’s something that’s usually very expensive to do offline but is cheaper to do online.

I recently wrote a message on Twitter saying that I was “thinking that newspapers are looking more and more like magazines. And magazines are looking more and more like books.” That thought came out of the following realization:

  • Newspapers are trying to stay relevant by doing more in-depth analysis and longer articles (the Focus section of the Globe & Mail is a perfect example). They’re slowly morphing into magazines.
  • Magazines are still focusing on long articles and analysis but are also doing special topical issues. For example, Philosophie magazine recently published an amazing issue on twentieth-century philosophers. Monocle magazine’s about us section says its “More of a book than a magazine, Monocle’s designed
    to be highly portable (it’s lightweight and compact) and collectable (it’s thick and robust)”. They’re slowly morphing into “books”.
  • For many people, microblogging is replacing blogging. I had detailed that new phenomenon in a recent blog post.

I also received a couple of responses to my Twitter message. Bruno Boutot said.. and tweets like blogposts?”. Dylan Fuller added I
expand blogs R now newspapers or niche ‘zines… thus newspaper to mags to books. what R books becoming? perfect & timeless”. To which I replied that I agreed and that “books are permanent reference markers in time.”

A typical reaction to new competition is to add value to your product, to avoid becoming a commodity and having to fight on price only. I think we’re seeing that reaction on the whole “news” value chain.

  1. Microblogging is replacing blogging (expressing your thoughts)
  2. Blogging is becoming newspaper-like (more reporting)
  3. Newspapers are becoming the new magazines (more analysis)
  4. Magazines are becoming book-like (more permanent reference material)
  5. Books are still relevant as reference material

Have you seen the same thing?

Monocle Magazine Logo 

Monocle magazine is great!

But first, some background story…

In September 2007, I lamented the demise of Business 2.0,  probably the favorite magazine of the business/technology tribe. Following this death, I went back to my old flame, Wired Magazine, whom I felt at the time had improved drastically since the dark 1999-2002 period.  Recently, I got tired (again) and canceled my subscription (again).

Back to Monocle. I had picked up issue 15 last July, the City issue, as the theme really appealed to a local media guy like me. I had enjoyed the read but I believed it was because of the subject matter. Fast forward to last week, I picked up issue 19, the 2009 Forecast/Predictions issue. Again, a topic that’s really attractive to a strategy guy like me. Since then, I’ve come to the conclusion that this magazine fits perfectly in today’s social/local zeitgeist.

Split between headings called “Affairs”, “Business”, “Culture”, “Design” and “Edits”, Monocle covers a variety of subject like sociology, anthropology, city trends, design/ideas/new technologies and politics. The mix of business and society creates a group of stories that’s very stimulating.  I would say the only thing missing is a larger dose of technology-oriented articles.  Business 2.0 was very good at covering bleeding edge tech business ideas. But I definitely recommend Monocle to everyone who liked reading our favorite business magazine.

BTW, if anyone needs more convincing arguments, Alain de Botton, currently the best young philosopher in the world, is a regular contributor. If you don’t know de Botton, you need to read “How Proust can change your life“, “The art of travel” and “Status anxiety“.

Nielsen just released the results of their Nielsen Online Global Consumer Study (found via Eric Baillargeon’s blog). In it, “Nielsen (…) surveyed consumers on their attitudes toward thirteen types of advertising – from conventional newspaper and television ads to branded web sites and consumer-generated content.” Excerpts:

The Nielsen survey (…) found that while new platforms like the Internet are beginning to catch up with older media in terms of ad revenues, traditional advertising channels continue to retain the public’s trust. Ads in newspapers rank second worldwide among all media categories, at 63 percent overall, while television, magazines and radio each ranked above 50 percent. (…)

Nielsen Online Global Consumer Survey - all media

Although consumer recommendations are the most credible form of advertising among 78 percent of the study’s respondents, Nielsen research found significant national and regional differences regarding this and other mediums. Word of mouth, for example, generates considerable levels of trust across much of Asia Pacific. Seven of the top ten markets that rely most on “recommendations from consumers” are in this region, including Hong Kong (93%), Taiwan (91%) and Indonesia (89%). At the other end of the global spectrum, Europeans, generally, are least likely to trust what they hear from other consumers, particularly in Denmark (62%) and Italy (64%).

The reliability of consumer opinions posted online – which rated third, at 61 percent overall – also varies throughout the world, scoring highest in North America and Asia, at 66 and 62 percent respectively. Among individual markets, web-based opinions such as Blogs are most trusted in South Korea (81%) and Taiwan (76%), while scoring lowest, at 35 percent, in Finland.

What it means: a few weeks ago, I blogged about the fact that word of mouth might actually be the biggest opportunity directory publishers have seen in the last few years given that the Web was becoming a big word of mouth machine. These numbers clearly show that i) traditional word of mouth is still the most trusted source of advertising and ii) online word of mouth is not far behind. It’s also interesting to note the differences in the various geographical areas.

Well, we tried but it looks like Time Inc. has decided to close down Business 2.0 magazine. One of my favorite magazines will be gone after the October issue and I’m not sure what will fill-in the gap. There was something about the portability/usability of a print magazine covering the intersection of Web and business and Fast Company does not work for me. It’s too marketing-oriented and not geeky enough.

One major insight: Business 2.0 in print format mattered to many people. If you look at the some of comments appearing in blogs today, you’ll see that many readers will miss the magazine. For the first time in a long while, the blogosphere is not saying “Print is dead!” (except for the Print is Dead blog…). It’s asking “Why?” In this case, print media is its own worst enemy… If you’ve managed to create a strong brand with opinion leaders, don’t kill it! Embrace online and combine it with print to create a stronger entity.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.