The Good, The Bad & The Ugly — The NY Times In Action.

Last Thursday, I wrote a piece on the New York Times paywall announcement. In short, my take was — good strategy, bad execution. I opinoned that:

Strategically, I break ranks with most digital strategists — I think a pay-wall for the NY Times is smart. The NY Times has one of the best brands, and one of the best websites, of any newspaper or news organization. If anyone can take a content type, in this case news, that has been devalued and commoditized, and build value back into it — it’s the Times.

But tactically, I think this New York Times roll-out is a disaster.

 

Since then there has been a maelstrom of commentary, scuttlebutt and conjecture about how this will all play out. The last 24 hours have been particularly fun:

The Good:  The Times did a very clever deal with Lincoln. The Times identified a target list of frequent visitors to their website, and is partnering with Lincoln to offer free access to their site for the rest of the year. I love this deal — The NY Times gets Lincoln to pay for behavior they are trying to kick-start, while Lincoln targets a presumably well-heeled and aspirational consumer segment. This is smart, and good.

The Bad: SAI put together a brilliant chart (see below) on just how out of whack, The NY Times pricing model is. Again, with Pandora at $36 a year, and Netflix at $96 a year, The NY Times model of $455 a year defies credulity. This is wacky, and bad.

The Ugly:  Peter Kafka just tweeted that Arthur O. Sulzberger, Publisher of the Times, just offered that “paywall hoppers will mostly (be) high school kids and people out of work”. Oh my, now that is incredibly dumb, and ugly.

 

The Final Take: As I often say, you couldn’t make this stuff up if you tried. The Times has so many things going for them — they are a legendary brand, producing high-quality work, with a tremendously loyal and influential customer base. They committed to the web years ago, and have turned their site into an interactive and vibrant destination.  And as the local newspaper business continues to be disrupted, they actually gain opportunities through their strength and girth.

Yet, daily it seems, they make bad and ugly tactical and PR mistakes, that make my head spin.

 

 

 

Apple & The Magazine Publishers: Hot Rhetoric From Anonymous Sources

Adweek has a interesting piece this morning on magazine publishers and their reactions to Apple’s recent subscription tweaks.

Here are some of the more noteworthy quotes:

“The brands who submitted to Apple on day one are the equivalent of France in World War II” — anonymous publishing executive.

“They’ve chosen to make it as difficult as possible to execute. They’re frenemies, for sure. You have to hope at some point the FCC or someone here begins to look at it.” — anonymous publishing executive.

“The terms we currently have are terms that we can live with. It’s going to evolve and we wanted to be there as early as possible.” — Gregg Hano, vp and publisher of Popular Science.

“The reason many people find this a hard pill to swallow is they were running around believing the iPad would save the business. It’s a reality check that says, ‘Look, if you want to reinvent your business, you’re going to have to do it yourself.’” — anonymous publishing executive.

Read the full piece here.

Read All About It — Radiohead Announces New Album, Sends Valentine to Old Media?


Last time, Radiohead tried the Sting approach — if you love somebody, set them free. In Rainbows, the bands seventh studio album and first as free agents, was initially offered in October 2007 in a “pay what you wish” distribution model.

Today, Radiohead announced a different approach for their new album The King Of Limbs:

  • The album will be released digitally this Saturday, February 19th.
  • Radiohead is calling The King Of Limbs “the world’s first* newspaper album”. (Radiohead shows they know their Jethro Tull, by adding the caveat “*perhaps”).
  • The record will be available as a download on Saturday, then released physically on May 9. The “newspaper album” package will contain The King Of Limbs’ on CD, two 10-inch vinyl records and artwork sheets. Those who buy the set will also receive the album as a download on Saturday.

Did You Notice: The execution on this release is a interesting marriage of old school meets new realities. After making some noise through 2009-2010 about possibly not making full length albums, the roll-out of The King Of Limbs screams album-as-event.  And the somewhat mysterious inclusion of  “worlds first newspaper album”, underscores this old-school positioning. Newspapers, huh? Perhaps Radiohead is being cheeky in emphasizing old-media so directly, but I suspect they simply like the idea of lots of tangible physical value as part of the album equation. In any case, the announcement has me dreaming of Pink Floyd styled post-cards and gatefolds.

On the other hand, both the timing (only six days from announcement to release) and the digital — ahead — of –physical release is very 2011. Radiohead knows the realities of marketing albums in 2011 — A.D.D. attention spans, instaneous news cycles, and pirates who move way faster than physical pressing plants ever could.

Again, maybe the newspaper analogy is a head-fake but my bet is, instead, that it’s a wry nod to the ambition and appeal of the physical formats of their childhood.

Stay tuned.

Will.i.am. is the anti-Prince — Just Ask Intel

The times are indeed a changing.

Business Week magazine reports today that powerhouse computing company, Intel, has appointed Will.i.am of The Black Eyed Peas their new “Director Of Creative Innovation”.

Nearly everything I do involves processors and computers, and when I see an Intel chip I think of all the creative minds involved that help to amplify my own creativity,” said will.i.am. “Teaming up with the scientists, researchers and computer programmers at Intel to collaborate and co-develop new ways to communicate, create, inform and entertain is going to be amazing.” – Will.i.am

Quite a contrast with last years comments on the internet from Prince:

The Internet’s completely over. I don’t see why I should give my new music to iTunes or anyone else. They won’t pay me an advance for it and then they get angry when they can’t get it. All these computers and digital gadgets are no good. They just fill your head with numbers and that can’t be good for you.” –Prince

DMI Tip: In an era of rapidly decreasing album AND concert ticket sales, diversifying your brand a la Will.i.am makes a lot of (dollars and) sense.

The Week That Was: Facts & Scuttlebutt 1/21/2011

Here, then, the week that was.

The week started with a think piece from Ann Powers of the L.A. Times on “real time” artist release cycles, Trent Reznor’s gracious Social Network acceptance speech at the Ricky Gervais roast (aka The Golden Globes), and then a plethora of Apple news, most of it heavy.  iTunes quietly launched a webpage counting down towards their 10th billion App download, a page which also detailed the most downloaded Apps of all-time. This kept Mark Zuckerberg in the news, not that he needed it, as Facebook’s free App topped the Apple list, and Mr. Zuckerberg did the meet and greet shuffle with Katy Perry.

Next we digested the double-whammy of: 1- the announcement of Steve Jobs’ medical leave, and 2-Apple’s incredible fiscal quarter results. Tuesday brought us some good back & forth with Jay Frank, on his prescription to save music retail. I dove deeper into the quarterly Apple numbers, and decided that an Apple iDevice in every hand might just be the silver lining for music companies who no longer can count on radio, retail, or even a Kanye/Jay-Z collaboration to save their quarterly scorecard. Tuesday night we encountered a Simon Cowell-less American Idol without a clear-cut villain, but then again, it’s just show #1.

On Wednesday scuttlebutt built on the rumour of Sony licensing Spotify for the U.S, which was no doubt amplified by the sobering news of the worst-selling #1 album in Soundscan history — Cake’s aptly titled “Showroom Of Compassion” — which barely managed to break 44K units sold. On Thursday AOL played the potty humor card, and I (mostly) cheered MTV’s announcement of an upcoming “mess”, (their description, not mine), of a Digital Music Awards show.

Finally, we limped into Friday bloody but not beaten, with news that WMG was both being vetted for a possible sale, and still circling EMI as a buyer. “He who’s not busy being born, is busy dying” Mr. Dylan once said. And as we break for the weekend, word comes from Billboard of 62 layoffs at Universal, where our sympathies reside for all affected.

Luke Lewis (NME) Makes 10 Provocative Predictions — I Respond.

Here are 10 Digital Music predictions from Luke Lewis, the sharp as a tack, and highly entertaining, NME scribe.

I respond in kind. And in italics.

LUKE LEWIS — 10 DIGITAL MUSIC PREDICTIONS FOR 2011

1. Streaming will stop looking like the future.  I disagree. I think in 2011 will see a significant rise in legal streaming. Here’s just the tip of the possibility iceberg: Spotify gets to the U.S., Apple & Google enter with streaming models,  Mog, RDIO & Rhapsody do meaningful distribution deals,  and/or Pandora wins on the car dashboard.

2. Piracy will flourish. Only half disagree.  I think we will see Piracy levels, stay more or less the same this year.

3. Bands will stop using Myspace. Agree. Abandon ship.

4. Gig-going will become more social.  Agree. Foursquare and company are real.

5. Google Music will arrive…and won’t make a difference. Agree. Google will arrive. Disagree, that it won’t make a difference. YouTube is arugubly the biggest music site in the world. Already. Google matters.

6. Corporate tie-ins will abound. Disagree. I think we are actually seeing some brand fatigue with traditional music sponsorships. Corporate money for music is way tighter than 4-5 years ago, and will continue to be tight until the economy improves.

7. Music videos will get more interactive. Agree, agree, agree. Here comes creativity.

8. Fan funding will go mainstream. Disagree. Obama on Facebook..now that was mainstream. Fan funding will grow, but more the way D2C or vinyl has grown. Incrementally.

9. Music Apps will suck less. Agree. Could they suck any more?

10. Downloads will get cheaper. This is a great closer. Agree, for the first three quarters of 2011. The Amazon Daily Deal and their $5 album customer acquisition strategy alone will drive pricing down. Also, note iTunes’ steady promotion of  69 cent songs.  But watch the end of this year and the affect of streaming. Things could shift radically, making the download a relatively expensive option, targeted for only the most engaged digital consumer.

So, don’t take my word for all thisI urge you to read Luke’s full piece here.

He’s a great writer, with a unique POV.

Friday Afternoon Quickhits…Verizon Skuttlebut & Ian Rogers On A Skateboard

Rumors swirling on a Verizon/Apple announcement of the Verizon iPhone on Tuesday. This one already trending Top 5 on Twitter and being covered by All Things Digital as a done deal….RDIO adds Merlin collection of labels to its mix for the first time, bringing Vampire Weekend, The Pixies, and host of other indie heavyweights onto the service….Look for former Blender and Billboard Editor In Chief Craig Marks to soft launch his Popdust music website early next week….lastly Hats Off to Ian Rogers and Topspin for the nifty coverage in today’s LA Times.

What Is Facebook Really Worth?

(image ceobiz.com)

Meaty piece on Facebook from Henry Blodget (yes, that Henry Blodget) on SAI this morning.

Spolier Alert: the answer is — “no one really knows”. Blodget argues, among other observations,  that since any company’s market valuation is a reflection of its present value of future cash flows, balanced against risk….it is way too early to tell.

Read the full piece here: http://www.businessinsider.com/so-now-that-we-know-facebooks-numbers-is-it-worth-50-billion-2011-1

People Listen To Music In Cars?– CES 2011 Scorecard (So Far….)

Let’s take a look at the early happenings at CES 2011. Who is up and who is down, as Digital Music intersects with Consumer Electronics around the biggest trade show of the year.

CES 2011: The DMI Scorecard so far:

PANDORA:-UP: With Joe Kennedy, a CEO with deep automotive experience, at the helm, Pandora Radio makes the biggest noise so far with a meaty Toyota deal and a BMW integration, hot on the heels of their previous Ford announcement.

MOG-UP: After announcing the roll out of “Mog Fusion” (easy API integration for any interested automotive 3rd party), Mog quickly unleashed the news yesterday of a pre-bundled Verizon deal. Mog will come preinstalled on all Verizon Android 4g phones, with a billing option directly through consumers’ phone bills.

RDIO-UP: RDIO announced a deal that integrates them with the  SONOS MUSIC SYSTEM, the elegant home streaming play.  Sonos already encompasses offerings from Rhapsody and Napster; now RDIO joins the party.

CLEAR CHANNEL -UP: Late last year Clear Channel announced their Toyota in-dash integration for the iheartradio App, now they are showcasing a play with the iHome clock radio player.

SONY– UP: The Sony  QRIOCITY Music service, which is notably integrated into 2010 and later versions of Playstation, Bravia Televisions, and Sony Blu-Ray players, is picking up attention. After the disaster of Sony Connect, there is a long road ahead for Sony, but the impressive Sony hardware base and its more open ideology, is picking up coverage.

RHAPSODY – DOWN: Conspicuously quiet. So far.

SPOTIFY – DOWN: Conspicuously absent.

TRADITIONAL TERRESTRIAL RADIO-DOWN: With the notable exception of Clear Channel (see above), terrestrial radio sits and watches as the dashboard is taken away from them.

Final Take: So far, Hats Off to Pandora and Mog for making the biggest noises on the front end of CES 2011. Panodora’s 1-2 punch of Toyota and Ford announcements is fueling good free PR, and is making sure that Pandora is prominent as the bigger “Battle for the Auto Dashboard” story unfolds. And Mog has impressed, especially against direct competitors Rhapsody and RDIO, with a high-profile Verizon deal on top of their Mog Fusion announcement. The Mog/Verizon deal is especially interesting to label & industry partners, as it features preinstallation and the holy grail of monetization…..automatic carrier billing.

This isn’t the final take for CES 2011. Look for more announcements, skuttlebutt, and PR positioning in the days to come.

Update: Veteran media and radio consultant Fred Jacobs weighs in on Pandora and CES. Fred  makes interesting points around investing in infrastructure ahead of other choices, and quantifying cool. He also touches on my point regarding just how much ground terrestrial radio is ceding. Read the whole piece here.