Newsweek Ends Printing. And What Was A Battle of Resources Is Now A Battle of Pure Imagination.

“We are announcing this morning an important development at Newsweek and The Daily Beast. Newsweek will transition to an all-digital format in early 2013. As part of this transition, the last print edition in the United States will be our Dec. 31 issue.”  

Tina Brown, Editor-In-Chief, The Daily Beast & Newsweek

Dennis Ryan, Advertising, OlsonI like Newsweek. But the last time I read it was the last time I was at my dentist’s office. And that pretty much sums up their problems right there.

My changing media habits–my daily use of cnn.com and Yahoo! and The Daily Beast, along with more embarrassing habits like The Superficial and Agency Spy–mirror the media disruption that spelled the end for newsweeklies in general. Newsweek’s circulation dropped fifty one percent in five years. U.S. News and World Report has already gone under. In 2013, only Time will remain in print (note: all titles have digital versions).

The problem is, paper and journalists are expensive. Magazine economics are nigh impossible to manage. Tina Brown says it costs $42 million to print and distribute Newsweek, which aligns dangerously with their $40 million in annual losses. Worse, the magazine’s circulation peaked in 1991 at 3.3 million but fell to 1.5 million by June of 2012.

The explosive tablet adoption has hastened print’s demise. Tablets provide a superb platform for fast, award-winning journalism and by year’s end, they will exceed 70 million users in the US alone, up from 13 million just two years ago.

All of which spells the end of the era. Appearing in print once afforded people a shot at immortality, a chance to live on as a fading but tangible byline clipped to a wall. But today, that feels rather quaint. Google’s total index of web pages equals 23,633,010,000.  Who will notice you there? Unless of course you are porn, memes or cat videos. People who surf rarely choose what they should see; instead, they choose what would be fun to see.

Which puts a lot of pressure on anyone who needs to drive traffic. You have to earn it each and every moment as the notion of a retained subscription audience grows increasingly quaint. Today, the playing field between professional and amateur has been levelled. All that matters is providing popular content and driving traffic–how do you do that in this lolscat era?

That is the battle of the new year. Sad as that may be.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

Apparently, Most People Vacationed In Farmville This August…

Dennis Ryan, Chicago Advertising, Element 79For the first time ever, Facebook took the top spot for total time spent among major sites last month, beating Google and Yahoo.  ComScore reports that collective time amounted to 41.1 billion minutes: a considerable number.  By my always-suspect math, that equals 685 million hours or 78, 296 years online, on Facebook, in August.  We invested that incredible amount of our free time, or time we fat fingered from our employers, posting and poking and mucking about on a site that didn’t exist six years ago.

And the staggering numbers extend beyond Facebook.  Yahoo! led all sites for unique visitors with 179 million, edging out Google’s 178.8 million.  Even more remarkably, recent Nielsen data shows we Americans spend nearly 23% of our free time online just on social networks; that’s up 43% since last year.  Social networking and blogs now outrank online games and email as the top online activity.

So if you’re wondering where the time goes, and why it seems every year passes more quickly than the last, there’s at least part of the explanation.  As a culture, we’ve found a whole new place to spend our time.  And exercise our collective OCD.

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By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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It Might Not Make Sense to You, But The Virtual Marketplace Makes Serious Cents

I don’t play Farmville on Facebook.  I’ve never bought into the Second Life phenomenon or spent any time in World of Warcraft.  And I don’t remotely understand why you would pay to ‘send someone a drink’ on a social network, spending real world cash on a make-believe margarita…

But even though I don’t, millions of people do.  According to Inside Network, the virtual goods market in the U.S. may hit $1.6 billion this year, an estimate that’s a full 160% increase from last year.  Worldwide, that figure could be as high as $10 billion, most of it powered by the confluence of gaming and social networks.  If you need any more evidence that its a new world for commerce, tell that number to Detroit.

Social Network, check.  Busty Cyborg Babe, Check.

Virtual Gaming? Check. Busty Cyborg Babe? Check.

I learned all of this through this Yahoo blurb from Forbes.com, which describes how an Australian grad student paid $26,500 for a virtual island within the virtual world Entropia.  That sum puts him atop the Guinness Book for the most valuable virtual object in the world.  It also put him squarely atop my personal dork-o-meter…

–until I read on and learned that he in turn, taxes virtual hunters who use his virtual island game preserve for real world money that currently equals about $100,000 a year.  Suddenly, he looked like a cagey new economy speculator.

Like so many other aspects of modern commerce, what I think doesn’t matter nearly as much as what the market will bear.  So while it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me to spend a few bucks on a piece of make believe armor or a guernsey cow, to the millions who take part in these onlne communities, spending a few hundred bucks to buy a ticket, park your car and freeze your butt off at a Bears game probably makes even less sense.  All things considered, I’d have to admit they’re right.

These micro-economies are simply updates on old favorites like dropping a few quarters in a jukebox or sending someone a postcard.  Individually, they’re frivolous fun.

But collectively, they can wield serious economic clout.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

You Might Not Understand Word Of Mouth Advertising, But Chances Are You Practice It

I’m a huge believer in word of mouth advertising.  The power of recommendation to close a sale makes the kind of intuitive sense that renders quantitative analysis expensively redundant.

Particularly when you read a story like the one printed in Section D of yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle.  It outlines how Facebook now directs more online users to content than Google does.  What they refer to as “friend-casting” information makes Facebook a huge force in directing the flow of web traffic, particularly to major portals like MSN and Yahoo.

This simply proves that when we make small talk on social media, we like to share what we’ve recently seen, read or heard (“The “My Sharona” guy from the Knack just died! http://nyti.ms/cuVwxD”).  And since we’re talking to friends who know our interests, we’re likely to click on those links (“Oh my gosh–I didn’t know his brother was Dr. Kervorkian’s lawyer!”).

This constant digital connectivity has created a modern world of easy, fast and omnipresent recommendation.  With a few clicks, we can get an opinion about that movie we’re considering, a review of that book we heard of, a friend’s experience at that hot new restaurant.

Facebook, as an increasingly frequent touchpoint of our every day, provides a very convenient marketplace to trade those thoughts and opinions.  All of which leads some pundits to predict that social media will become the internet’s next search engine.  Maybe, but I think social platforms operate slightly differently, as a conversational dialogue.

Google informs you about what you find interesting.

But Facebook informs you about what your friends find intersting.

That’s social.  And it drives an increasing amount of choices these days.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Tiger Woods’ Problems Do All Kinds of Good for Yahoo!

Yahoo! CEO Carol Bartz has a well-earned reputation for being atypically blunt as a corporate leader.  Yesterday, she spoke at a UBS Global Media and Communications Conference in New York, where she addressed the topic of recent site traffic surges and how that will help her company reach their quarterly revenue targets.

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“God bless Tiger.  This week we got a huge uplift…Better than Michael Jackson dying.  Kind of hard to put an ad up next to a funeral.”

Now she said this because apparently, the golfer’s had some sort of trouble at home…

Better still for Yahoo! the Tiger stories around these revelations extend far beyond the sports page to include front page news, media and gossip.  When it comes to analyzing embarrassing, salacious details of one of the world’s highest profile celebrities, we can’t get enough.  And so we all watch the legacy of the world’s greatest golfer crumble down to the level of say, Jon Gosselin.

The news business has long leveraged our appetite for mucking about in humanity’s seamier topics while keeping our own hands clean.  Fox News’ famous “If it bleeds, it leads” philosophy behind it’s early nightly newscasts still sounds horrifyingly sordid some twenty years later.

We may be in the world of new media, but the song remains the same.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Exercises in Obviousness: Harris Interactive Determines Bad Online Advertising Frustrates People

The "O" Stands for "Obvious"     

The “O” Stands for “Obvious”

Last week, the online market research people at Harris Interactive released their latest findings in a pdf titled “LinkedIn Research Network/Harris Poll.”   In findings that will come as a surprise to no one who has ever spent more than ten seconds on the Yahoo! home page, consumers find many aspect of the burgeoning world of internet advertising frustrating.  They resent expanding banners, page takeovers, and video windows without the option to close or skip.  And now the Harris Interactive people have the quantitative results to prove it.

But this is far from news.  Bad is bad, whether it’s bad television, bad product design, or bad recipes for zucchini.  Advertising is no different: to really engage people, it must prove useful or interesting or surprising.  Generally speaking, people recoil at obnoxious behavior.  And uninvited page takeovers qualify as obnoxious behavior.  Too many advertisers believe silly stunts like sending bouncing balls careening from a small space out over the entire home page constitutes innovation, as if unaware that animation has been around since the late 19th century.

Pointlessly interrupting people is rude.  Wasting peoples’ time is rude.  If you are an uninvited drop-in stranger, I’m not gonna open my front door.  However, if you are an uninvited drop-in stranger lugging an inflatable castle and offering free bouncing for the kids, I might open up a bit.  Because that’s a lot of fun.  Marketing works the exact same way, on or off line.

Essentially, this poll confirms a hypothesis most people in marketing should already consider painfully obvious.  It takes great creative wherewithal to escape the bonds of mediocrity, but that’s the goal.  Every day. In every medium.  

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

On The Power of Positivity

I’ve got this friend Dave Butler.  Larger than life, his raw, unfettered enthusiasm makes Dave the guy you always want on your invite list.  He’s that rare type of cool guy who doesn’t hold back his excitement about anything; a night out, a party, a Steppenwolf play. As a result, he attracts people like a bug light and collects memories and experiences where so many others collect only regret.

I thought of Dave over the weekend when I read an item posted at Yahoo.  In a AP human interest piece, Ryan Nakashima cited the popularity of Yahoo’s celebrity-focused site OMG! and credited much of it’s popularity to it’s relentlessly positive tone.  For the past year in the crowded world of online gossip, OMG! has held sway as the leading aggregator of eyeballs.  That’s more visits than Entertainment Tonight or People’s sites, more than the brash emerging celeb news source TMZ, and far more than smarty-pants sites like the often-hilarious What Would Tyler Durden Do and the self-obsessed PerezHilton.com.  Moreover, it leads the competition in overall page views as well.Blog

Of course, OMG! benefits massively from direct links from the 500 million unique monthly visitors to Yahoo, just as the newer and similarly styled Wonderwall does from MSN.  But OMG! does something else I found fascinating: they consciously spin all their items with an upbeat, non-judgmental tone.  Sibyl Goldman, a Yahoo VP says “We just like to tell the happy view on what’s going on in the entertainment world.”  

As a rule, people prefer the ‘happy view’: we love optimism, sunshine and happy endings.  This is the foundation of decades of bubble gum music—those pop songs from our past that even provide a guilty pleasure to innumerable hipsters.

Being positive is a simple game plan for success, but one that’s extraordinarily difficult for creative people to execute consistently.  Few of us strive for a career creating cocktail chatter, we don’t want to develop light and fluffy tones free of personal viewpoints and judgment.  After all, our strongest creative influences take the exact opposite tack.  The brainy irony of Letterman, Stewart and Colbert, the bleak narratives of Cormac McCarthy and anti-glamour songwriting of Tom Waits, the visual sophistication of Scorsese: all conspicuously avoid easy, crowd pleasing actions. 

When instructed to create a positive tone in our ideas, our self-censor inevitably rears its ugly head, concerned that if we get too upbeat, we’ll abandoned intellectual heft and creative integrity.  In the end, determining where that line lies requires empathy.  And empathy doesn’t always come naturally.  We are not always in synch with the largest markets in America; we don’t always watch what they watch or read what they read. 

Further, as much as it pains me to admit, our messages are incidental to most peoples’ lives.  We try to earn attention amidst infinitely more important daily concerns like their health, their family and the White Sox score.   People rarely approach marketing messages and mediums seeking a challenge; they want something easy and fun, even if it’s information.  They welcome the respite of a bright and breezy tone.

So go ahead–post that snarky tweet, write that ironic Facebook status update, and share that obscure German stop-motion animation short with your friends.  But when you need to reach a broad market, strive to be positive.

OMG!  It works for them…

by Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79