Thursday, June 10, 2010

Are the iPad and the iPhone leading publishers astray?

Despite all the excitement for publishers over the iPad (and no doubt the excitement to come over the iPhone4 - well the screen resolution should improve the reading experience) I remain sceptical about the long term benefit for publishers - particularly publishers of 'news'.

In fact you could make the case that by encouraging them not to adapt, it puts their survival at greater risk.
The issue is that news - at least what we understand as news in the current lexicon - is not a best fit with the networked world.

It's lowest common denominator - the fat end of the long tail. And we all know more value exists in the long, long, skinny end - and that the fat end seems to keep on getting smaller.

That approach to news suits a broadcast world. If you can only make one TV news show, with a limited amount of items, then you'd best try include news that appeals to as many people as you can muster.
It has always been the fact that more people weren't interested in each item than were (fact - more people won't watch the World Cup this month than will - you'd be hard pushed to believe that if your guide was traditional broadcast news and programming).

But until recent times there was no alternative to this model. They'd have had to broadcast a million versions of the TV news with a never-ending range of news items to meet the needs of all the people who weren't interested in the main agenda.

Now of course that's pretty much exactly what does happen and is possible. Say hello YouTube.

In a networked world we produce for niches (for ourselves), distribute peer-to-peer and get value from relevance rather than quality (we like both, but we'll always take relevance over quality).

News, as I have often said, is now less about when it happens and more about when it's relevant (matters) to you.

So, back to that iPad and iPhone4. Too many traditional news vendors, it seems to me, see Apple's open hand as a way of reformatting/repackaging exactly what they've already done on the assumption that the reason we have been buying less newsprint is because it wasn't available in a beautiful digital format.

That doesn't make sense to me. I don't sit on the train each morning pining for a copy of the Guardian to read. I get on with participation and interacting with other people discussing stuff that's way more relevant to me than the vast majority of stuff in ANY newspaper. At least any they've come up with yet. Yes, some of it comes from newspapers. Shotguns hit targets, too.

Even the personalised rejigging of the content they have, to respond on individual use patterns, only delivers the more relevant stuff from their pile of 'not-quite-the-right-fit-with-me'. And it's individual. We are social.

There are two options. Invest like crazy in quality rather than scale. Think less mass and more about serving a niche of people who value the specific and otherwise unattainable. There are, after all, still people who will hand illuminate a leather bound Bible for you some many centuries since the invention of the printing press.

The other is to be the filter; the curator for specific niches. Prove you are a better filter of what's valuable to me than my peers and you win that game.

That is no easy task - and one that's a million miles away from decanting your current offering into the latest digital formats.

The networked world demands new models, new approaches - not just new technologies.

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The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?