Businessweek columnist Jon Fine talks about the importance of showing up on people s radar screen, the challenges for different kinds of publishers and what is good media.
Transcript: Businessweek's Jon Fine on Creating Compelling Content
There are a lot of ways to segment the question, the idea of what challenges publishers face because it s different sector by sector. If you re a newspaper publisher, you re basically trying to hang on as much as you can to revenue streams that are in fact slipping away and slipping away fast. We ve just seen a year of 10% ad declines month to month, pretty much across the board, which is astonishing. I think that s pretty much unprecedented. Maybe in the great depression it was that bad but that was 75 years ago. If you re a magazine publisher you re trying to make sure that what s happening to newspapers doesn t happen to you. If you re a magazine publisher, you re lucky in that you don t have classified advertising, which is obviously the most endangered form of newspaper advertising. But you have a lot of general ads, and you are still sort of swimming against the fact that a) most of your advertisers are interested in doing as much stuff on the web as possible. And b) to be frank about it, I mean most magazine publisher s websites kind of suck. They have been very late in developing them, they ve been very late in sprucing them up, it s as if they only figured out that they needed to do this a year or so ago, which is too late. There s people who lead that, there s people who have done a better job, but by in large that s been an issue. If you re a web publisher your struggle is to get noticed, because there is essentially infinite inventory out there and you have to get on someone s radar screen. There are just so many small plays, so many content plays, and really if you look at it, there are very few pure content plays that draw any significant amount of ad revenue, like tens of millions of dollars, they barely exist, still, this far down the line, which is the charm of it as a consumer but if you re trying to build a business out of it it s a major challenge.
There's a running joke at Businessweek, at least in my own cubicle, about create your own name for a --- forgive me --- Web 2.0 company. My personal favorite is Squinks. It's this one-syllable, 8 letters, and nobody knows what it means. I go to a conference, I come back with 15 cards with names on it that are very amusing and I have no idea what any of it is. So this is supposed to be a great opportunity for them to brand themselves, but they have to get noticed, I don t know how you get noticed. I know, of the stuff that I actually deal with on a daily basis, what I notice. I know that if I go to a website 3 or 4 times I ll probably remember it. I'm guessing that if there's a widget that I like enough to at least stick on my Facebook page for a day or two I'll probably remember what it is. But, you have to be seen, and in a world where there s infinite access, it just makes it really, really difficult, I m not really sure what the answer is to that.
The most crazy, creative stuff doesn't necessarily work. My colleague, Bert Helm, did a really good column for Business Week where he was talking about the editorials least skipped and often they re like the most boring, almost direct response kind of things, I mean the Bowflex ads, were really high up. Everyone likes to make fun of the Head On ads ( Head On, apply it directly to your forehead, Head On apply it directly to your forehead ), but people remember them. So I can say what I think is cool, but I mean I m someone who consumes way too much media, who has a certain cultural bent, I mean I'm a certain kind of guy. I'm not sure I can say because I like this therefore it's going to be huge.
A really good example is Babycenter, which is a Johnson & Johnson owned company. It's a massive site for parenting and it's not easy to tell that its Johnson & and Johnson. That's not to say that they're inherently sleazy, They're not claiming that they're an impartial magazine or newspaper article and saying buy Johnson & Johnson products, buy Johnson & Johnson products, quite the contrary, actually they have done a pretty good job of keeping it separate. But you know, you may not know. My gut feeling is that number one we all like the idea of transparency, that's pretty apparent. There isn't a real obvious pound me over the head thing, I don t mind that much, but number three, if I m going to something, and I think that it s an actually media property or an individuals blog, and it turns out to be sponsored, I m going to get pissed off, I m going to get pissed off. We've seen a lot of examples of that in the past year. There was a kind of guerilla campaign on billboards in New York and L.A. where this woman was claiming that she found her husband cheating and she was taking out these huge ads and she had a blog and of course within a week and a half it was completely picked apart, it was a Court TV promotion. It was kind of a brilliant promotion, except that my take-away from that as a consumer is like well you guys kind of lied to me, and it was kind of un-artful, and I m not really that into it. A year ago, I got very caught up in what is Lonely Girl 15, and eventually that got picked apart, that took a long time, and I d be lying if I said that I paid a lot of attention to it now, but I stuck with it after we knew that it was fake, because I knew that they weren t going to be doing product shots of Dr. Pepper or Microsoft.
Creating good media is actually quite hard. There are people who have been doing it all their lives and are still not very good at it, and so the idea that you can just kind of do it, you can just kind of flick the switch, that is not necessarily the case, and people figure that out.