Posts Tagged ‘guardian’

Five reasons why Facebook Credits will save newspapers

December 6th, 2010

First things first, I hate seeing the phrase “can save newspapers” thrown around all over the shop whenever a new techy idea comes out.

But, chances are you’ve found this via Twitter and, if you’re anything like me, seeing someone claim they know what will save newspapers is enough to make you click just so you can tell me why I’m so very wrong. Go ahead.

This post is going to simply outline what I think is a massive development for the potential of selling content on the web.

For years, the industry in-joke has been this formula for online publishing success:

1. Publish content
2. Get traffic
3. ????
4. Profit!

Hopefully the following points can explain why I think the ‘????’ in that horrid equation is now obvious: Facebook Credits.

Before we begin, let me add that I’m not proposing all newspapers become Facebook apps instead of standalone sites. Rather, in a similar way to the ‘Like’ button that is appearing all over, it should be a system which is implemented neatly with the individual sites.

1. Social gaming is the new crossword puzzle – and it’s worth $6bn worldwide

Last year, report the NYTimes, the Daily Mail made £12 million through digital content revenues. Meanwhile, Zynga – the company responsible for Farmville – is set to net $500 million from sales of virtual goods.

Virtual goods are every business’ dream. Imagine being able to sell something that essentially doesn’t actually exist. Take roses, for example. Josh Halliday reports in the Guardian that Flirtomatic, a social network which is barely even heard of, sold more virtual roses last year than Interflora sold real ones.

Not only that, but it convinced 100,000 people to pay to ‘attend’ a virtual fireworks night.

But what does this have to do with newspapers? An awful lot.

Jim Tucker, a very good friend and former editor of a national newspaper in New Zealand, once told me about a cunning experiment he devised when he first took over as editor at a newspaper. He took his staff to the streets to find out why they buy the paper. If they said they loved the features, they could put more money into it. If it was more sport they craved, then at least now they’d know.

What did they find? Crossword lovers. Serious crossword lovers. You see, a lot of people who bought the newspaper didn’t give two hoots about the news but, once their beloved crossword was done, they’d give the rest of the paper a read. It was a model that suited everyone, even if it did shatter the egos of Jim and his staff.

Social gaming is the new crossword.

Am I telling everyone that newspapers need to start deploying farm-based games across their sites? No, don’t be silly. What I am saying is that people’s desire to have Facebook Credits in order to play online games is, for editors, a gift from the gods. Suddenly, we’ve got millions of people – young people, don’t forget – who have credits. Credits which they didn’t buy to read news but, now they’ve got them won’t give much thought to spending a couple on content.

The newspaper would, on current rates (dictated by Facebook), take 70% of each credit’s monetary value.

I believe, ladies and gents, that’s what we call a business model.

2. No self-assembly required: let Zuckerberg worry about it

A little while ago, I blogged this:

When you by The Times, do you have to go to a special newsagent which just sells that paper? Do you then have to cross the road to get the Telegraph? No.

My point then was that we need a central payment system which deals with every newspaper and content provider on earth. Problem is, who exactly would do it? If NewsCorp tried, there’s no way the other papers would collectively think “Oh, Rupert’s got a good idea…” and sign up.

But it needed to happen, and Facebook has got there first. This is good for newspapers. Think about The Times, and the money spent on the following:

  • Designing, developing and implementing the paywall software (and the new look site to put it all on)
  • Setting up the systems needed to securely and reliably handle the influx of sensitive data now coming their way
  • Establishing a new customer services team to handle queries (“It doesn’t work on my computer”,”I want my money back” and so on)

I’m sure that’s just the tip of the iceberg. If you use Facebook as your model you can just, erm, sign up. As Gordon Ramsey would probably say, “Payments: done.”

3. Wall? What wall? It may be paid-for, but it’s certainly not hidden

One of the criticisms levelled at The Times is that, due to the paywall, their content is hidden. You may be reading it, but you can’t share it with your friends or colleagues.

Potential customers can’t get to the opinion section of The Times’ site – so it would be a very trusting person indeed who’d take a risk on it, even if it is just a quid. No surprise, then, to see many of The Times’ opinion writers gleefully sharing their links on Twitter when the paywall momentarily stopped working.

With Facebook Credits, the potential to have the best of both worlds is a real possibility. Would “Dave Lee just bought Charlie Brooker’s latest column from the Guardian” look so out of place on your Facebook feed? The entry would have quick, enticing kicker which could potentially lure in a few extra punters.

If a friend of mine pops in to leave a comment – something along the lines of “I loved this, one of Charlie’s best!” – the power of social recommendation will then transform into profits.

Where with The Times you’re presented with a locked door, by using a payment system so tightly incorporated with the world’s dominant social network, you’re working behind a pay window, not a wall.

4. Your mum could do it

I’m not insulting your mum. But I do know she’s statistically unlikely to be able to get her head round something like a pay wall. Or rather, she’d be put off by the technical oddity of it all that she’d be reluctant to even try.

As a person who has their very own mother, I know that the less computer-literate out there want things to be as simple as possible.

Simplicity, in this case, means familiar. It means “set up by my son so I can use it from now on”.

Facebook Credits are going on sale in Tesco. Even if you’re not convinced in my argument so far, that move by the supermarket giant should at least tell you a little bit about why this is going to be massive. Get your head round that for a moment: Tesco expect people to physically go to a shop, buy an actual product (a voucher) and then take it home to buy something virtual.

If someone like my Mum, or my Dad, or even my newspaper loving Nan knows that she can get all the great stuff on her computer just by popping to the shops to get it, they will. Trust me, buying vouchers to use online from the local supermarket is much less hassle for some people than filling in an online form. To you and I it may seem absurd, but I’m right.

And that’s before you get into the promotional possibilities. Every time you spend £20 or more on petrol you get 100 clubcard points and… some Facebook Credits? Automatically deposited into your account?

The disconnection between all our content providers mean this couldn’t happen now. “Spend £10 on beans and get a free day’s trial on The Times’ new website” sounds dull and, ironically, as old media as getting a free CD-ROM on the front of a mag.

Facebook Credits being in Tesco offers the first real breakthrough in which the concept of online currency – something to buy quality goods with online – can hit the mainstream.

5. Selectivity breeds success – without subscription, you can concentrate on added-value

It could be argued that if the Guardian had a paywall, they wouldn’t have got the Wikileaks scoop. Its openness (and political stance, of course), spurs much of its success.

But with Facebook Credits, the Guardian could use these big, unique moments to earn money without killing their audience numbers.

Asking people to pay for hard news is a bad idea, and one that will fail. Information wants to be free, and it always will be. But while you wouldn’t ask someone to pay for this: WikiLeaks cables claim al-Jazeera changed coverage to suit Qatari foreign policy, would it be so unreasonable to ask for a few credits for added value like this: US embassy cables: browse the database? Or perhaps this: Julian Assange answers your questions?

It’s this judgement that makes the difference for me when it comes to successfully encouraging people to pay. Facebook Credits – by nature of being a one-off micropayment – would allow editors to establish which stories would be paid-for, and which ones wouldn’t.

It’s a freedom which would herald the birth of quality, multimedia journalism to our media industry. An in-depth investigation, for the first time in the history of online journalism, would become more profitable than SEO-friendly stories about celebrities. Who doesn’t like the sound of that?

Video Journalism will save newspapers in 2009

January 15th, 2009

In the past twelve months we’ve seen the amount of people watching online video go through the roof. But, unlike the YouTube boom that potentially signalled the end for professional journalism (citizen this, citizen that!), this new round of video habits has one crucial factor: length.

The success of the BBC iPlayer has shown that people are prepared to watch video online for a long time. Half an hour or more. And, in the same way the blogs took off once people were used to writing and conversing on the web, I believe that long-form online video will have a similar such boom, where masses consider half an hour spent watching something on their PC a good use of their time.

What’s more, sites such as the brilliant Vimeo show the eagerness of viewers to lap up some full-screen, HD-quality stuff. There’s no sitting around for big downloads, or trying to keep your eyes strained on an awful, grainy clip so tiny you could put a stamp over it.

Video journalism has finally come of age.

As I write this, the Guardian has no less than three pieces of video on its homepage. The NYTimes led with video earlier today — and has a HUGE video section. So too does the Telegraph. Soon, I’ll predict we’ll see video blossoming into the primary content on newspaper sites. Lead headlines always complimented with a video.

Why? Because for the reader, it’s easily digestible, engaging and interesting.

But more importantly, for the publisher, it could prove to be the money-maker they have long been searching for

Many have written about David Carr’s ludicrious statements suggesting an ‘iTunes for news’. Most are saying it’ll never work — and I agree. Why pay to read news on NYTimes, when I can read the same news in the LA Times? Or the Chicago Tribune? Or ANYWHERE?

But wait a second. What if there was a way to make your news better than everyone else? What if there was a way you could cover the same stories, but cover them so well and in such a way that people come flocking to your site; not because they can’t read it in other places, but because they really want to get your coverage.

Video journalism offers this chance. It doesn’t allow for lifted quotes, for recycled copy or for blind churnalism. It promotes good, inventive journalism.

And the reward? Advertising. Loads of it. Think of it like this: When I was in New Zealand, I regularly logged on to the BBC website to catch up. Of course, being abroad, I got, the international, advertising-laden edition. When clicking to watch a short (<30 seconds) clip, I was presented with an advert.

I clicked away. The advert was almost as long as the clip.

But on the other hand, when I’m at home, I watch a lot of 4-on-demand, Channel 4’s catch-up service. Before and during the show, there’ll be adverts a plenty. Do I turn away? No! Because in a half an hour show, two minutes of adverts is more than acceptable. Just like in traditional media, it’s all about ratio. 30 min programme = 1 break. 1 hour programme = 3 breaks. A film = 30 minutes of trailers. Or more if you go to Cineworld.

Video journalism finally solves all the problems:

- How to stay unique — no-one has your pictures

- How to save money — no big production projects here, folks. One man, a camera and a laptop

- How to make money — people don’t mind watching adverts when it comes to long content

In time I’ll be posting my plans for how I aim to get stuck in to video journalism. I drawing inspiration from the likes of David Dunkley Gyimah, and hopefully by utilising my job at the BBC as a means for getting training an experience.

Over the next year, me and a friend will be testing the water. Baby steps, if you will, with the aim of selling two pieces of video journalism to the world’s press. Two isn’t a big number, but it idoesn’t make it any less of a task. All in good time.

The Guardian in Katine: An analysis

January 14th, 2009

Say what you will about the Guardian, but you have to admire this effort: Katine, it starts with a village.

The idea: partnering up with Barclays and AMREF to raise awareness and — don’t forget this bit — lots of money to help develop a village in Uganda. For more info, check our their site.

Very brave. This is a potentially boring story. Not because the subject isn’t important — of course not — but from a story-to-story point of view, there will be little going on. This is a story that will develop over time, hopefully leading to improved life for the villagers. But, even if it is a success, it will never provide a headline grabbing scoop — such is the nature of charity.

The project was the subject of discussion last night at a Polis Media event. Read some very interesting — and honest — accounts of the success of the Katine project from Charlies Beckett (Director of Polis) and also from’s Laura Oliver.

Let’s decide: Newspapers or democracy?

January 5th, 2009

This morning’s Media Guardian was a belter. It really was. Loads of great comment, useful insight and candid opinions.

It is of course the month of predictions. What’s the next big thing? Obesity, if last year is anything to go by. Heh.

But seriously, it’s one thing having willy-nilly comments featuring slightly educated guesses, and another thing all together to bring together some very progressive minds.

Step forward, Clay Shirky. His predictions are hardly groundbreaking, but he puts them in terms that doesn’t belittle anyone. Often, pro-print people dismiss online too aggressively. Likewise, pro-onliners lay into print folk as if they were mentally backwards for not wanting to blog their balls off. What Shirky manages is to hit a very logical middle ground. All parties should be reading this and thinking: “Yeah… that makes a lot of sense.”


The great misfortune of newspapers in this era is that they were such a good idea for such a long time that people felt the newspaper business model was part of a deep truth about the world, rather than just the way things happened to be. It’s like the fall of communism, where a lot of the eastern European satellite states had an easier time because there were still people alive who remembered life before the Soviet Union – nobody in Russia remembered it. Newspaper people are like Russians, in a way.

Perfect point.

An hour or so ago, Martin Stabe tweeted an age old newspaper problem:

Spent cramped flight wrestling with FT, WSJ, IHT and Die Welt. Broadsheet print is a rubbish format.

Somehow in the midst of tradition, we’ve forgotten that the reason for broadsheets being broadsheet was simply that it was easier — when printing presses had to be painstakingly put together with big old plates — to print a few massive pages, rather than a lot of smaller pages.

I’d assume the broadsheet size was deemed as big as it could possibly go before it became unreadable.

And yet, papers like the Telegraph still insist on broadsheet in the name of tradition and, unbelievably, journalistic value.

What Shirky is saying, is that newspapers are important to the democratic world (and even the un-democratic world, I guess) because of the journalism that’s in them. The fact it’s on paper means nothing at all.

In the same way that Town Criers became obsolete when printing came along, newspapers are now obsolete because the internet has come along. What exactly are newspaper publishers fighting? Give up already. Become web publishers — and then work on producing quality journalism once again.

Sooner or later there’ll be an invention that will bring print-style journalism back to our hands. Foldable LCD screens, whatever. But until then, the web is where we all are — so publishers must put every resource they have into making their site absolutely bloody brilliant. Because if they don’t, they won’t survive when the print/LCD resurgence happens.

So. Don’t be proud of your newspaper. Be proud of your journalism. If you don’t acknowledge that clear fact then there is no future for your print edition — then there’ll be nowhere to put your journalism anymore.

Ask yourself, which is the greater tradition to protect: newspapers… or democracy?

Guardian ‘Message for Obama’ project is published

November 26th, 2008

It’s projects like this that make me sure that the Guardian is indeed the best newspaper in the UK.

On November 5 we started a photographic project, with users of and of Flickr, entitled A Message for Obama. The essence of the idea was to see if we could capture reaction to Barack Obama’s presidential victory in a creative way. It started with a few of us taking pictures around the Guardian offices, and snowballed into a Flickr picture group which you can see here.

Just to push the boundaries of collaborative social media and new publishing technologies a little further, we wondered if we could produce a rapid Message for Obama book (a handy inauguration gift for the new President?), using a selection of photos from the pool.

Guardian: Eastern promise

November 22nd, 2008

If you are looking for tax-free wages and a luxury lifestyle in a booming economy after university – a job in the Gulf could be a great place to start your career, explains Dave Lee

Read it here!

From newsroom to mailroom

November 21st, 2008

Redundancies are terrifying. Right now, all the news reports are focusing on statistics. 90 lost here, wage freezes there.

Soon we can expect to learn of the human side. The personal losses, the mortgages not paid, the ‘Christmas is cancelled’ stories of once great journos assigned — wrongly — to the scrapheap.

It’s getting so bad, in fact, that blog software company SixApart is offering free Typepad accounts to any journos who have recently been given the chop. They’ll be signed up to the advertising scheme too, meaning they can potentially blog their way into a little money. The emphasis on little.

And I’ve just spotted this on the Reuters Mediafile blog. They quote from Editor and Publisher:

But as The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. slowly says farewell to 151 newsroom folks who took buyouts last month, at least two longtime journalists have been reassigned to the mailroom.

Reporter Jason Jett and Assistant Deputy Photo Editor Mitchell Seidel have been filing, sorting, and delivering mail for more than a week, according to sources.


For an idea of just how bad it is around the UK, take a look at this neat interactive timeline the Guardian has patched together:

Guardian praises the licence fee

November 21st, 2008

It’s becoming a bit cool to slag off the licence fee since Brand/Ross. Thankfully, the Guardian has come out in support with an editorial. Don’t expect the Daily Mail to.

“Mr Moore would no doubt be ready to unleash a columnist’s fury on any peacenik who dared withhold their income tax payments until Britain scrapped Trident, or pulled troops out of Iraq. He probably objected, too, to all those rebels who refused to pay the poll tax introduced by his beloved Margaret Thatcher. This fogeyish wheeze is both selfish, since he will now benefit from services that others must pay for, and unnecessary, since if he really wanted to stop funding the BBC he could do so by getting rid of his television.”

Simon Amstell takes on Davis Cup Tennis

November 8th, 2008

Thank you to Media Monkey for this stunner from the archives. May I present to you, appearing on the brilliant GamesMaster, the one and only Simon Amstell:

Fantastic. Thankfully Simon dropped his geeky exterior and became possibly the funniest presenter on TV, no?

Russell Brand: Analysis or overkill?

October 30th, 2008

Wowzers. Take a look at this list of stories on the Russell Brand fiasco, all taken from Media Guardian. There’s 49 in total — and that’s before the inevitable truckload of posts that will follow now that Brand has resigned. I predict we’ll hit the 100 mark by the end of the week.

None of the links I’ve added here have been online for more than four days. Can anyone honestly say there has been this many developments? I don’t think so.

There’s analysis, and then there’s just anal. Enough of this madness.

Web-savvy standup with a licence to thrill and offend
Puerile prank that left BBC stars and executives on the ropes
Suited and booted: fall and rise of a showman
Patrick Barkham on Russell Brand’s ‘Hare Krishna’ chant and temple visits
Georgina Baillie: the Satanic Slut at the centre of the Ross-Brand controversy
Video: Russell Brand quits as BBC radio host
John Harris: What they did was grotesque
Andrew Sachs: profile
Russell Brand resigns from BBC as Jonathan Ross apologises for ‘juvenile remarks’
Video: Andrew Sachs on Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand: ‘I’m not collecting apologies’
Maggie Brown: Suspension is not enough for Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand
Broadcast rules should have saved BBC
In pictures: ‘Sachsgate’ – who’s who in the BBC hierarchy
Media Monkey: more from Sachsgate
‘Sachsgate’ – who’s who in the BBC hierarchy?

Loads more after the jump…
» Read more: Russell Brand: Analysis or overkill?