Erik Sherman's WriterBiz
A spot about the business of writing as seen by a freelance writer. That includes marketing, sales, contracts, copyright, planning, research - in short, the business end of writing.
- Name: Erik Sherman
- Location: Massachusetts, United States
I'm an independent writer and photographer who covers business, food, technology, books, media, general features, and pretty much anything appealing that results in a signed check. My work has appeared in such places as the New York Times Magazine, Newsweek, Newsweek Japan, Fortune, Inc, Fortune Small Business, the Financial Times, Advertising Age, Saveur, US News & World Report, and Continental
Friday, September 4, 2009
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Writers Mill: Digital Media Buzz
What They WantIn-depth news analysis of the digital media technology industry, including business practices, online ad/revenue technology, software development, SEO, e-commerce, and mobile technology.
What They ExpectPeople with journalism experience, whether in paid positions or as interns.
What They Offer$30 per 500 to 1000 word story. As the ad read: "Yes, it's not exactly $1/word, but we need a ton of content written and promise a steady stream of income to anyone looking to make a name for himself or herself."
What That MeansYou get paid between 3 and 6 cents a word as often as you'd care to and probably have to write the analytic pieces with precious little time to read or think before grinding it out. Sausage never had it so good.
Monday, August 24, 2009
(Not) Making It at Gawker
I'm actually inclined to think that it wasn't theft. Yes, Gawker should have properly credited the post in addition to giving the link, but there is a difference between the two pieces. The Post had the reporting; Gawker had a critical take on how silly the entire thing sounded -- something the Post wouldn't let its writers say, even if it should be necessary.
But I'm not actually interested in this issue so much as another. In Ian Shapira's piece, The Death of Journalism (Gawker Edition), he mentions that the Gawker writer, Hamilton Nolan, who freely used his work is actually a freelancer paid $4,000 a month by Gawker. That's $48,000 a year. Freelance. Without benefits. Before taxes.
Pathetic if you consider, as I've always heard, that the work load to do a blog at Gawker is punishing -- long, long hours for the flat fee and whatever passes for page view bonuses these days.
There are better online opportunities, I've found, and ones that don't effectively require you to plan your entire career around the convenience of a single client.
Saturday, August 15, 2009
Two more Writer Mills: Voyage.tv and Trails.com
Voyage.tv calls itself "is a newly launched travel and lifestyle media company" with a focus on luxury travel:
The cornerstone of the Voyage experience is our original lifestyle and destination video programming, which inspires, informs and entertains. Shot in vivid High Definition, our Hotel & Resort Profiles, Activity & Tour videos, and Signature Series deliver content that is unbiased, current, accurate and above all, personal. Original feature articles written for the discerning traveler supplement this video programming.They want articles that don't exceed 600 words. And how much does this video-oriented, luxury pursuing site pay per article? A flat $25. Don't look for the zeros to the right of the five unless they fall after the decimal place. Instead of not exceeding 600 words, how about not exceeding 25 words? That would be at least be a buck a word.
As for Trails.com, apparently it has outsourced editorial to Demand Studios. Assignments vary in length and pay ... wait for it ... $15 each. And it gets better, "with some rates higher or lower depending on the length and format of the assignment." Lower than $15? That's even worse than the numbers I've been hearing about Demand Studios in general, though at $30 or so, they are also risible.
At least this ad and the one from Voyage.tv said up front how much they wanted to spend, which means you can keep moving on to other ads. That's better than most Demand Studio ads or anything I've seen from Helium.com. When a company typically (and incessantly) trolls for writers without saying what they're paying, it might be that they know what the reaction would be.
There's a sales psychology at work - and, yes, someone is trying to sell you because they want something for next to nothing. When you've invested time into checking out an opportunity, you become more open to it because you don't want to feel as though you were suckered. Just remind yourself that you're not really suckered unless someone gets you to spend the time writing for such a laughable amount. I don't care how many damage-controlling writer mill executives come leaving comments or emailing me and I don't care how many writers want to say how they can make a living doing this. There is no way that at a freakin' $15 -- or even $25 or $30 or $50 -- an article you can make a living -- or even supplement one.
Maybe some people who want to be writers don't have the drive or the skills to do better. In that case, they should simply recognize that fact and enjoy writing for its own sake. Guess what? I'm not going to appear on the stage of the Met singing a lead in a Handel opera, nor dance in a professional ballet, nor be made the CEO of some large company. That's fine. We all have to learn where we can excel. And there's nothing wrong with singing in the shower, if you enjoy it. However, grinding out intellectual sausage for the sake of money that wouldn't even buy a hardcover book is nuts.
Thursday, July 2, 2009
Demand Studios Responds
I want you to consider this argument.Now I'll address the various points in his post:
I freelanced for too many years in my twenties. As a writer just out of college and with no (or few) clips, I hustled to get as much writing experience as possible and as many bylines on different topics in multiple publications. I did not make a lot of money, but it did lead to a good career in publishing.
Looking back, I came across a number of parasites and just generally bad people along the way in the freelance world. There were many publications that paid nothing. There were many publications who checks arrived months late or never. There were many publications I pitched tirelessly for years w/o ever having any article see the light of day. There were many publications with untrained or tired copy editors who butchered my content and sometimes even added wrong facts - but kept my name on the article. Those are just some of the bad experiences - there are plenty more.
We can argue whether or not we are paying a fair wage at Demand. It is a valid point. But, consider all the other time sucks and hurdles Demand cuts down or removes: 1) You don't have to pitch, if you remain qualified you can grab work at any time, any hour; 2) you get constructive feedback on every article you write. We invest in making the writer better because it also makes good business sense; 3) we pay every single Friday for all work done through the Wednesday of that week -- yes, that means you can get paid as early as two days after turning in work; 4) we've offered the chance to get your original work - video and text - published on LIVESTRONG.com, Trails.com, GolfLink.com, and eHow.com -- both also third parties like the Atlanta Journal-Constitution; and 5) we are smart about how we've built this so you can expect more work (and have) as opposed to less work from week to week.
I do agree it is not for every writer or even for certain ones at different points in their careers. But, it does fill a need for a writer who wants a steady paycheck, who wants to get better at their craft, and who wants unlimited amounts of work at any hour of the day.
Thanks for considering my thoughts. I only took the time to write because I respect the points you made.
SVP, Content at Demand Studios
I freelanced for too many years in my twenties. As a writer just out of college and with no (or few) clips, I hustled to get as much writing experience as possible and as many bylines on different topics in multiple publications. I did not make a lot of money, but it did lead to a good career in publishing.Certainly when you have no experience, you need to get some, and I understand that you see yourself as having a background in freelancing. But to assume that a new freelancer cannot make money is an invalid assumption. Yes, you need a few clips to get started, but as those in the business know, you can almost immediately start moving up the value chain, to use some business-speak. Each piece you do goes to leveraging your knowledge, talent, skill, and craft into better markets. To that end, low-paying and low-prestige markets have to go to the wayside quickly. These are the simple mathematics of the business.
Looking back, I came across a number of parasites and just generally bad people along the way in the freelance world. There were many publications that paid nothing. There were many publications who checks arrived months late or never. There were many publications I pitched tirelessly for years w/o ever having any article see the light of day. There were many publications with untrained or tired copy editors who butchered my content and sometimes even added wrong facts - but kept my name on the article. Those are just some of the bad experiences - there are plenty more.Yes, there are many bad, incompetent, insensitive, and untalented people in the business. One of the best ways out of such experiences is to generally move up the value chain as quickly as possible. The more people are paying you, the more they value you and, paradoxically, the better they tend to feel like they need to treat you. Markets that require more capable reporting and writing cannot afford to develop a bad name, or they risk alienating the writers they need to create the content that will attract the proper reader demographic and advertising that follows.
We can argue whether or not we are paying a fair wage at Demand. It is a valid point. But, consider all the other time sucks and hurdles Demand cuts down or removes: 1) You don't have to pitch, if you remain qualified you can grab work at any time, any hour; 2) you get constructive feedback on every article you write. We invest in making the writer better because it also makes good business sense; 3) we pay every single Friday for all work done through the Wednesday of that week -- yes, that means you can get paid as early as two days after turning in work; 4) we've offered the chance to get your original work - video and text - published on LIVESTRONG.com, Trails.com, GolfLink.com, and eHow.com -- both also third parties like the Atlanta Journal-Constitution; and 5) we are smart about how we've built this so you can expect more work (and have) as opposed to less work from week to week.I am glad that you acknowledge the criticism of low pay. However, your arguments as to the benefits of Demand Studios are actually incorrect, for the following reasons:
- When you are paid little, you must do much more work to try to keep afloat. This keeps you from putting proper attention into marketing that can help you move up the value chain. So, effectively, you become an indentured servant or a worker who must live in company housing and shop at the company store, because you don't make enough to walk away.
- Pitching ideas is one of the key ways to establish additional value to publications. Yes, it's nice if someone hands you a story topic, but it's far better to create your own and develop your own market. That way you are less dependent on the kindness of strange editing. Or something like that.
- The best feedback generally comes from the best publications. Given the rates you pay to copy editors, you aren't paying enough to get the amount of attention required for really solid insight into copy. And given the volume of articles in which you traffic, your in house people cannot have the time, either, to provide really useful feedback on any kind of a consistent basis. Either your entire operation is based on massive volume, or you're marking up the work of writers to an unconscionable degree. Given the markets on which you seem to focus, I strongly suspect the former. And so the entire operation is trapped by the need to churn out copy. In effect, it also lives in company housing and shops at the company store. There are no resources to improve things.
- You say you invest in making the writer better, but that is also contradictory, because you only survive through writers getting starvation wages - and given the rates I've been hearing, and you seem to acknowledge them - I'm not indulging in hyperbole. You can't afford for the writers to improve to the extent that they can make a living elsewhere.
- Quick payment is nice, but given that you lose maybe 2.5 percent value for each month delay, even a three month wait, which would be 7.5 percent, still leaves you far ahead if the assignment is paying at least 10 times more than Demand Studios will pay. That would still leave the writer making 9.25 times as much, including the time value lost.
- When you talk about the chance to have work on a number of sites that apparently are your own as well as third party sites, that's a variation on the "do it for the exposure" argument. As I've demonstrated in the past, working for exposure is foolish. You need exposure to the right markets (that is, editors who might pay), and that comes in the greatest degree from the highest prestige publications in your given niche. Exposure value is roughly directly proportional to pay, and the better paying markets don't have to mention the exposure value because it is an added benefit.
- Of course you are smart in how you've done this, because you're getting copy at dirt cheap rates and presumably selling it at a good mark-up. But smart for you isn't smart for writers.
- To say that this fills a need for writers who want a steady paycheck is disingenuous. It's not a steady paycheck, which would mean guaranteed work, like a job. It's a steady flow of absurdly priced work that leaves you stuck where you are. In business and marketing classes I've taught to writers, I've seen people get stuck in this way at even 25 cents a word, and that would be a huge step up from your rates.
- Unlimited work doesn't exist, because people have limited time. Better to do one piece well than to rush through and do crap jobs on ten pieces for the same amount. You have more time to think, to market, to live. And, to avoid the anticipated argument, getting $300 for a single article is still chicken feed.
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
No Demand for Demand Studios
I had the same experience when Demand launched the Livestrong site. They asked for cycling and/or medical experts. I was offered work: 10 articles, $300. I wrote back asking if that was a typo and nope, it was not. Not worth it, and at least to me, the low pay puts into question the quality of the site.A thought that might proceed through the mind of a skeptical journalist could be as follows: "I don't know the poster, so how do I know the observation is accurate?" Good question. I did a quick search on JournalismJobs and found a copy editing ad that mentioned rates. Although I can't guarantee that it will be up indefinitely, I can quote some of what I found:
We are looking for dedicated editors who can deliver quality work in a timely manner and are comfortable occasionally communicating with writers. Some fact checking is also required.The copy editor must have five years experience, do some fact checking, and receive $3.50 per article. To make even $20 an hour, you'd need to do between five and six articles an hour. That's ten minutes per ... what, maybe 300 to 500 words I'm guessing? From times I've edited and had to hire copy editors, the going freelance rate I found was between $45 and $55 an hour. If the writing rates are equally bad -- and why wouldn't they be? -- the editing must be painful and far closer to mass rewriting.
We will only accept candidates with 5 years of demonstrated editing or copyediting experience with a newspaper, magazine or book publisher.
This is a part-time freelance position and all work is done online. While your schedule is flexible, we do require our editors to commit to working a minimum of 12 hours per week, every week.
We pay a flat fee of $3.50 per article, with most editors averaging $20-$25 per hour, paid on a weekly basis via PayPal.
This type of rate is nothing more than intellectual sweat shop piece work. I'd be surprised if the business owners don't laugh over after hour drinks at the gullibility of those who actually agree to such terms. The scary thing is, this is still better than what you might get at a place like Helium.
[Note: Demand Studios responded.
Monday, April 13, 2009
Why Low Pay Is Bad Pay, No Matter What the Hourly Rate
I've written about one of the reasons before, the overhead inherent to obtaining, scheduling, and managing assignments, comparing long assignments to shorts:
But say that you are accurately monitoring your time. Why not then do a lot of shorts to make your income? Because there's another consideration - the time for marketing, billing, and overhead. If you make $500 for a short, then four of them pay as much as one 2000 word article paying $1/word. The amount of writing time might even be comparable. However, figure that a 500 word piece really needs two to three sources to come across as sold. You're now booking 8 to 12 interviews, versus the 6 or 7 that might be all you need for the longer piece. That means more time interviewing and scheduling your time.Instead of shorts, substitute low-paying assignment and the point is even more applicable. Not only is there the overhead, but, presumably, you still have to do a credible job on what might be running 1,500, 2,000, or more words.
You're also going to spend about as much time writing a query for a short as you would for a longer piece, plus you have to generate the ideas and pitch editors. So your marketing and sales time has just quadrupled. If you make a lot of your income from shorts, then you're probably spending many more of your hours marketing, interviewing, managing your time, and billing (and collecting). Now you see the real drawback - not the hourly rate, but the time you must invest to do enough shorts to make a living.
That leads me to my other major point, which, I'm sure, will tick off some people. To make money at a low rate, you generally have to cut corners. You don't undertake the extra interviews and research, put in the extra draft and polishing, nor do the other things that let you create better pieces. I know this because much of the language I hear from those who tout the high hourly figures of their low pay rates is how they "knock these assignments off."
If you're depending on speed to make a good hourly rate to make up a bad word rate, then you'll have to cut corners eventually. That's because the client doesn't value the higher level of work enough to pay for it, and you can't provide it without subsidizing that work out of your own earnings pocket. But if you do too much of this, then all of your clips are of those 1,000 word pieces with one or two sources, which are probably not going to get you the higher paying work because it's not just about how well you write, but how well and how thoroughly you research and report. On those occasions when I assign and edit, I wouldn't consider someone whose samples were filled with pieces like that, because I assume that the person isn't willing to make the effort to do something better. In the past, I've found that when someone has spent time wanting to quickly get articles done and get out the door, they start to lose the work ethic necessary to produce higher quality results.
For those who want to disagree, start by asking yourself how many sources you use for a normally reported piece (not a Q&A). The lower the number, the less you bring to an article, and no amount of clever writing can make that up. And those who stress that they make money with low-paying assignments should look at two figures: their annual income and the percentage that these low-paying assignments represent of their total assignments. All the writers I know who make reasonable amounts of money (enough to support you and your family if necessary) focus on higher paying work and not rationalizing why low pay is really not that bad.
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
The Tyranny of the Going Rate
There are a few ways in which going rates can hurt the marketing and business planning of writers. The first is that without a number of qualifications, they are illusory because there is no single market. Here are some of the questions you would need to ask before knowing whether the money one writer received was applicable to your situation:
- What is the level of experience or specialized knowledge necessary to do an assignment?
- What are the expectations of the clients?
- What are the demands of the work?
- How large is the client and what will it demand in working processes?
- What is the industry?
Focusing on a going rate can take writers out of the necessary consideration of their own personal rates. Do they have the experience to charge higher numbers that more seasoned colleagues might command? Have they even calculated their own bottom-line hourly figures to know the smallest amount they can accept while adequately funding their own businesses? If the going rate for a type of work is smaller, then it won't matter unless you're already making the money you need and you're taking the assignment for other reasons, like getting clips on a new-to-you topic.
Immediate attention to the going rate can also play havoc with your negotiation. In negotiation theory, you first look at what you need and want. By starting with prevailing rates, you assume that the rates are as universal as you think, allow others to set your business model, and put yourself at the mercy of a general atmosphere in which supply has so outstripped demand that the average pay is ridiculous. This can subconsciously bias your negotiation strategy, even when you're absolutely sure that you're a clever negotiator and that you wouldn't be adversely affected. Not only could you, in all likelihood, you will because it changes your emotional state.
One major reason that people ask about a going rate is that they don't want to leave money on the table. In a well-conducted negotiation, you look at what I call the value equation -- what you want, what the other person wants, what each of you can offer, and the value you each hold for what the other has. No seasoned businessperson is going to pay you more because others are getting more. That line of argument is no more useful today than it was when you said to your parents, "But everyone else gets to do it!" You can only get more by showing enough value that the client is motivated to pay to get it.
Finally, even if you do get answers from writers, it's generally two or three, and they may be repeating some numeric mantra that they have heard in the past. That does not make a representative sample, so you still don't know the going rate.
Can you use going rates? Absolutely, but only when you can precisely determine them, your negotiation practice is solid, and you are confident in your abilities to ultimately please a client. Ironically, at that point you have far less need of market rates because you know your own worth and are confident in asking for it.
Thursday, April 2, 2009
Warnings on Outside Magazine and Web Site
To be fair, and the article does mention this, Outside has long had the reputation of being slow to pay. According to the article, as well as contributors to the magazine that I've spoken with over the years when reviewing contracts and counseling on negotiating, that includes expense reimbursement, which can be painful because a writer having to travel for research will generally front the money and get it afterwards. (Hint, if you're still planning to pitch Outside, consider negotiating for front money on expenses, with any extra something you will either reimburse or that will be counted against a fee.)
Some people we spoke with question the continued publication of Go earlier this year, especially given the battered market. (Best Life, a similarly themed book, folded earlier this March.) Ironically, Go is reportedly paying its writers more quickly than parent Outside -- although still months late -- but many within the company wonder why the money-hemorrhaging magazine still exists. It may be that there are no problems financially, but then you have an even thornier question for a freelancer: If they have enough money, why do they think so little of their writers that they are unwilling to pay invoices in a timely fashion? It suggests an enormous degree of disrespect, and if they're going to act that way over money, how many other needless hoops are you likely to be asked to leap through? If they don't have enough money, why trust them? Woudln't that make them liars? In fact, if a magazine says it's going to pay in a given timeframe and consistently doesn't, for whatever reason, isn't it already lying?
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Moody's Warns on Media Companies
- Cumulus Media (operates radio stations in mid-sized and smaller markets)
- Freedom Communications (many daily and weekly newspapers and eight television stations)
- GateHouse Media (big newspaper publisher of dailies, free and paid weeklies, and shoppers)
- MediaNews Group (operates 54 dailies in 11 states, a television station in Alaska, and radio stations in Texas)
- Morris Publishing Group (13 dailies, 28 weeklies, four city magazines in Georgia and Florida, and Skirt! magazine)
- Radio One (various media focused on African-American audiences, including radio stations, a television cable channel, GIANT magazine, and online/interactive media)
- The Reader's Digest Association (besides the obvious, many magazines, online properties, and book publishing to boot)
- Spanish Broadcasting System (radio stations, television programming, and online)
- Univision Communications (Spanish-language television, radio, and interactive media)
Continuing the bad news, if you write for newspapers, you need to click on that link to David's piece, because he also has Time's deathwatch list of ten major metropolitan dailies, including the Boston Globe and the Miami Herald.
Doing work for a company in dire financial straits is a gamble. The company could become increasingly slow in paying, might go into bankruptcy (tying up any invoice you have outstanding), or might even simply go out of business. In writing for such a company, you have to go in with your eyes open and treat the income as "extra," and not something critical to keeping food in the fridge and a roof over your head.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Southwest Spirit Not Taking Submissions
Monday, November 24, 2008
Why No One Should Write for HuffPo
There are people trying to start companies on a shoestring and who aer looking for the time equivalent of investors who want nothing in return. The problem with wanting something for nothing is that generally you get exactly what you pay for. And then there are people like Arianna Huffington. The Huffington Post has just raised a third round of investment money: $15 million. That brings the total to ... $40 million.
As the Wired piece notes, a major challenge is "to sustain or increase its traffic numbers under a friendly administration." But there is another challenge. How can a publisher claim a "progressive" market position and the moral high ground, attacking "selfish" special interests when it wants to build a commercial enterprise using mostly unpaid help?
Though most of HuffPo's 2.5 million contributors are unpaid, the site still has a good deal of overheard (especially compared to the 1.5 man operation at The Drudge Report). Most of the money raised to date has been reinvested to hire editors, reporters and advertising representatives, according to The New York Times.Look at that number again: 2.5 million contributors. Of course there is overhead. Web hosting companies cannot afford to write for free. Utilities cannot provide free power. Owners of buildings must charge rent to justify their investment.
Most of the money has been "reinvested?" It's called paying the necessary bills. Hiring reporters and editors? Maybe a handful, but how many? Five? Ten? Twenty? Even if it were 50, that would still mean that not "most" but "virtually all" contributors worked for nothing. So why does HuffPo think that contributors to the site, the very people that help make it possible, should be greatful for the chance to be read?
Huffington wants to grow the site and plans to use the funding to expand its local coverage and investigative reporting — two areas that may be hard to monetize. Scaling local content in a shrinking ad market will be tough, and hunting down scoops can be a costly pursuit, especially for a site that specializes in commentary rather than breaking news.Ah, so the company - it is a company, not an individual, not a movement - wants local coverage. Undoubtedly for free, and probably hoping to take audience from local newspapers in the process.
Even notedly impoverished advocacy publications like The Nation manage to scrape up something to pay contributors. (Calvin Trillin has spoken of being paid in the "high two figures.") Couldn't Huffington manage even a Starbucks card with the cost of a latte on it? For those who tell themselves they are getting great exposure, remember that it is exposure suggesting that you can be had for nothing. (Or should that sentence have ended "you can be had?") Once a company sets its practices early on, it is very unlikely to significantly change the model, for those holding out hope that one day HuffPo will pay. But why should it? There is no reason to change your ways if the people on whose backs you ride don't stand upright and say, "No."
Monday, November 17, 2008
State of Fashion Magazines
Thursday, November 13, 2008
NYT Debt and Watching Clients
The long and short of it is that the company owes $453 million more than it has in assets in the short term. In the long term, it actually has about $33 million more than it owes, but that counts current market rates for things like land and buildings. That would mean the company would essentially have to liquidate itself to have that much left:
When a company like NYTCo is healthy and generating cash, none of this really matters. The New York Times's value isn't in buildings or land--it's in the value of the brand and ongoing business, which aren't reflected on the balance sheet. Now that NYTCo has gotten itself in a financial pickle, however, the balance sheet and current cash flows matter a lot.That doesn't count the potential cash value of such properties as the Boston Globe, which it's been trying to sell off, but who wants to buy a newspaper these days? The short term view is the real killer, because by May it could be facing this big deficit in a tough credit market.
The NYT's "current ratio"--current assets vs. current liabilities--is now about 1 to 2, which is horrible (In the next year, the company will be required to pay out more than twice as much value as it has on hand). For comparison, a robustly healthy company, such as Google, has a current ratio of 8 to 1. Even General Motors has a better current ratio than the NYT.
I'm not inclined to write for them in any case given the contracts and my back being up over retroactive provisions. Heck, even the NYT Magazine insists on joint copyright ownership these days. But even if I were inclined, this would make me concerned about whether a day might come when I wouldn't get paid.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
One More Point on an Ad Slowdown
How the dollars flow—or rather don't flow—in any downturn can shape events in ways obscured until much later. As strange as it sounds today, the tech bust that started in 2000 meant that total dollars spent on online display advertising declined 21% between 2001 and 2002. And as strange as it sounds today, many established media organizations used that decline as a rationale for deemphasizing the Web in favor of their traditional businesses—and underinvestment allowed all manner of Web-only startups to outflank them in the one medium that's still growing. While online display ads will still be up in '09, says BMO Capital Markets analyst Leland Westerfield, that growth rate will likely slow. Look for search advertising to hold up, so Google should be hurt the least.In other words, the reaction to a business slowdown sometimes takes some time to manifest. Don't expect the web to escape, though given the more favorable economics (no paying for paper or print) it could be that publishers will emphasize online even more than they are now. One analyst is predicting a 5.5 percent pullback in ad spending, which is worse than it sounds because markets expect business to increase, so the perceived drop from expectations could run closer to 10 percent, causing executives to worry (stock performance being seen as a reflection of their efforts) and cut expenses even more.
There's nothing you can do about ad slowdowns themselves. Just look for alternative work or sectors that aren't likely to be hit as hard. The main thing is to start pushing now to find alternatives. If you know that things might slow down more significantly in a couple of months, that gives you some time to react.
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
Good Read on Custom Publishing
- Custom content can be cheaper than traditional advertising, particularly for b-to-b when you're considering the difference between producing a white paper and taking an ad. The former probably has a longer shelf life and the company is freer in how it distributes the content.
- Companies have greater ease in creating different versions of content for different demographics. (Wouldn't surprise me to learn that if a company actually included an ad for itself that it might test different versions, and then use what it learned for a national roll-out.)
- Digital media has become a big growth area. (If you don't have credits writing for the web, get them now - and better if you learn some HTML and other pertinent technology as well.) Clients are also treating digital largely as additional activity, not as replacement for print, particularly as they have to use regular marketing to drive people to the digital.
- Search engine optimization is becoming increasingly important, because that's how companies get people to know about the content. (Getting this right is far more complex and subtle than adding a handful of keywords, so find some references to the subject and learn about it.)
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
What Will Become of Professional Photography, and Why Writers Should Care
I'm not suggesting that there is something inherently wrong in developing multiple skills and making use of them all. Far from it. However, it's easy to fall into the "I'll do it for next to nothing if necessary" mind frame in what one sees as a sideline endeavor. Each of us is gaining an advantage from becoming a single source of story-telling, and so is the buyer, because there is only one set of expenses. However, take a look at the bargain you're making and with whom, because, done wrong, it could come back to haunt.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Market Analyst Suggests Explosive Growth for E-Books
Pacific Crest analyst Steve Weinstein argues that global e-book sales at Amazon could reach $2.5 billion by the year 2012.MP3 music and e-books aren't exactly the same. People had wanted to buy single tracks for years and not be forced to purchase an entire album for one or two songs. However, they are analogous and the logical is reasonable, I think. Read the article and pay particular attention to the projections he's making for Amazon's profits. Part of that comes out of far lower costs (no manufacturing, warehousing, or shelving), but I wonder how much would come out of the pockets of publishers and authors.
To figure this, Weinstein starts with the handiest analogue: iPod and MP3 player sales. He notes that between 2003 and 2008, digital music sales grew from 2 percent of the US market to 33 percent, largely on the back of Apple's ( NSDQ: AAPL) twin offerings. He doesn't expect the Kindle/e-books to track as fast, but he does think the market is off to a strong start already, and that the cycle will pick up steam as the Kindle comes down in price (that's already started) and the ecosystem matures. He also suspects the consumers will be drawn to the instant gratification aspect of Kindle titles, as well as the lower price per book.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
What's Black and White and Red All Over: the Newspaper Industry
On top of long-term changes in the industry, the weak economy is also hurting ad sales, especially in Florida and California, where the severe contraction of the housing markets has cut deeply into real estate ads. Executives at the Hearst Corporation say that one of their biggest papers, The San Francisco Chronicle, is losing $1 million a week.If you're still writing for newspapers as anything more than a hobby or outlet of self-satisfaction, it's time to rethink your business model - quickly.
Over all, ad revenue fell almost 8 percent last year. This year, it is running about 12 percent below that dismal performance, and company reports issued last week suggested a 14 percent to 15 percent decline in May.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Outlasting the Amateur Onslaught
- Amateurs give away their work.
- Amateurs have "regular" jobs that let them give away their work.
- Publishers trying to reduce their operating expenses turn away from pros.
- Photographers are seeing rates plummet, at least in the lower and mid-tier markets.
- Many photographers are frustrated and don't know what to do.
I'm one the amateurs you describe and I'm surely not gonna give up just because of a rant of an unsuccessful pro.There is a lot of smart observation in that remark. Complaining won't make the problem go away, and complacency will wind up in your professional diminution and possible financial ruin. You need to find ways to accomplish a few objectives:
I earn my living elsewhere, can afford professional equipment, can take pictures that get published, and enjoy doing it. It's not about what you studied or whether you decide to describe yourself as a "pro" - it's about the photos and about contacts with people.
> They will work for discount / free or the honour of having their work
Yes, that's me. Face it or go play somewhere else.
- Know that value delivered begets success. People do business with service providers because they are trying to gain some value from the exchange of money for work. If you cannot deliver quality - that is, what the customer expects in the way the customer expects it - then you cannot succeed. Business is a series of exchanges in things valued, and you can only do well if you have something with perceived value.
- Improve your quality. I know many writers take umbrage when I or others have suggested that quality was the root of success. I certainly don't hold myself out as the be-all and end-all of writing. I'm constantly trying to improve my craft, my reporting, and my business practices. But over the years, that effort has turned into more extensive word-of-mouth among clients and prospects, better clips, and greater ease in delivering what clients are really looking for. Everyone - but everyone - can get better, and if you find that the concept stings, you should take a cold, hard look at how you write and how you run your business. I've never known a person who was successful beyond luck or birth to operate in any other way.
- Improve your markets. Amateurs have a difficult if not virtually impossible time in cracking top markets - or in staying there - because they don't have the abilities, experience, and willingness to deliver consistently what those markets require. Conversely, amateurs will gravitate toward lower-end markets because there are lower barriers to entry. In short, the bottom feeding clients want something for nothing, and they see writing as a commodity. You should drop such customers because they keep you from moving forward and destroy a sense of satisfaction in the work.
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
"On the Media" On the Book Business
As you likely know, there are fewer and fewer traditional outlets for book reviews and news. Newspapers have cut back terribly. So you need to find the gowing alternate routes: online reviewers and book clubs (And Oprah if you have any chance, because who else could cause about a million copies of Anna Karenina to fly off the shelves?). The probelm is the volume of books coming out each year is staggering: between 200,000 and 300,000 if you include self-published titles. Twenty or thirty years ago, that number was more like 50,000. It's like being in a room of screaming people. Who will catch your attention?
Jonathan Band, an adjunct professor at the Georgetown University Law Center, had the single-best explanation of what Google Book Search could do for the publishing companies and authors:
It will make books more relevant than they are today. Because right now, a lot of students, when they are given a research assignment, they just go to Google or another search engine. They don't see books, because books are invisible on the Internet.I had never considered that, but that point alone could change my attitude toward books on Google.
The entire dynamic of how people consider books is changing. The show brought up the example of Touching the Void, which had sat around doing nothing for many years until Into Thin Air became hot and Amazon's automated suggested selling promoted the former during sales of the latter. Bang: best seller.
Back to the beginning: if you want to write books, then you need to read this transcript, because you have to get a sense of how far the reality of the book business might be from your preconceptions. That is, unless you have a trust fund or have no life and can afford to write books during all your "free" hours.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Market's Got Me Scratching My Head
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
New Magazine Launches - Up and Down at the Same Time
So what does this mixed bag of numbers mean? Not much. Since I have started tracking new magazine launches, I have witnessed a two or three years’ declines after a very healthy and busy year. 2005 was a very healthy year. 1013 new magazines were launched. The decline started in 2006. We are in our third year of decline. In 2006 we have seen 901 new launches, the number dropped to 715 last year, and if the trend of the previous years continues, we will see another drop again this year before the numbers bounce back. Call it market correction if you please, but definitely it is NOT a sign that print is on its way out. History will tell us otherwise. So enjoy this quarter’s crop and look forward to more titles to come next month.I must agree and disagree. On one hand, no, magazines aren't going to disappear overnight. However, even counting downward economic pressure, this is hardly something to make you feel comfortable. You have to find where the magazines are still strong and forget about any old mainstay that is being hit badly.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Magazine Ad Trends: Products Advertised Equals Topics Covered
Ad salesperson: "This is really a great publication for you to reach your customers."Tough to make the sale if you can't show the natural interest. That's why you should take a look at this article from Crain's New York Business, which discusses the general state of magazine ads and which categories are up and down in the first quarter of this year as compared to the same time last year:
Corporate ad buyer: "But we sell nutritional supplements for older people and you have a magazine for kids. What interest are they going to have in geriatric products?"
Ad salesperson: "Ah, but one day they're going to be older, and think of all the mind share you would have built!"
For the entire industry, rate-card-reported advertising revenue, which does not reflect discounting, came in at $5.2 billion, down 1.2% from the previous year. Ad pages—generally considered the more reliable industry bell weather—fell 6.4%, to 49,167.The top advertising categories that actually showed growth were retail; transportation, hotels and resorts; financial and real estate; and food. "The category that includes the likes of Kraft’s macaroni and cheese and Lay’s potato chips almost single-handedly held up the magazine industry in the first quarter, according to numbers released Monday by the Publishers Information Bureau of the Magazine Publishers of America."
The categories getting hammered were led by automotive, which is no surprise in the combination of economic downturn and tightening credit market. It dropped 17 percent. Home furnishings and supplies lost 12%. The reporting is based on numbers from Publishers Information Bureau of the Magazine Publishers of America.
You might also check the numbers for how individual magazine titles did. Some of the big winners were All You, Backpacker, Cookie, Ducks Unlimited, Every Day with Rachel Ray, Family Fun, Field and Stream, Medizine Healthy Living, OK Weekly, Quick and Simple, ReadyMade, Remedy, Ser Padres, Transworld Snowboarding, Womens Health, Wondertime, and Relish.
Some of the big losers: ABA Journal, Auto Week, Boating, Businessweek, Coastal Living, Cycle World, Endless Vacation, Entertainment Weekly, Fortune Small Business, Golf for Women, Gourmet, Hemispheres, Kiplingers Personal Finance, Motorboating, National Journal, Reader's Digest, Rolling Stone, Scientific American, Tennis, US News & World Report, and the Los Angeles Times Magazine.
A caveat: these are all based on rate cards. But discounting is common, and there's no telling for sure whether the magazines that had gone up might have effectively dropped their price. (However, generally when you're selling a lot of ads, you don't have to drop rates so much.)
Tuesday, April 8, 2008
B&N Offers Web Site with Free How-To
“Quamut.com positions Barnes & Noble as a leader in digital how-to publishing,” said Dan Weiss, publisher and managing director of Quamut.com. The company simultaneously publishes all content in two formats: as HTML content and as downloadable PDFs. In some cases, Weiss said, Quamut guides are also available as a four-to-six page laminated printed charts, available for purchase at Barnes & Noble stores and BN.com.This can't be good news for the many authors who write for the how-to series books. Even if the pieces are short (the downloadable PDFs generally run from 2 to 8 pages, many people buy how-to books to learn something specific. Break it out and you suddenly don't need the entire book - and I'd bet that the Quamot authors aren't getting royalties on either advertising or downloads. Or maybe I'm getting it wrong, and the free material online does just the opposite - sets up an interest in buying the book. B&N advertising full titles on the pages with the how-to content.
The business is supported through three revenue streams: advertising through display ads and Google AdSense, the sale of full-color PDFs ($2.95), and the sale of laminated printed charts ($5.95 each). Many ads on the site are for books related to the subject at hand; for instance, the guide to stretching features an ad for books about stretching, with the line “Learn more with these titles from Barnes & Noble.”
Monday, April 7, 2008
More on HarperCollins Move Away from Advances
To be headed by veteran publishing executive Robert S. Miller, the imprint also likely won't pay for more desirable display space in the front of bookstores, a common practice. Instead, the as-yet-unnamed unit will share its profit with writers and focus much of its sales efforts on the Internet, where a growing portion of book sales are shifting.There's been some discussion in the writing community about whether the huge advances to a few end up causing the problem - and they may trigger it. But most publishers try to gauge advances by expected sales in the first year or two and the attending royalty payments to authors. If a book doesn't earn out its advance - and most don't - then perhaps it's not even selling enough to pay for the advance. Assuming that, then is splitting profits going to be better for authors? ON reflection, I just don't see it. This is part of a cost-savings measure designed to lower risk, so why would the publisher do this if it were going to pay out more money on the average? I suspect that most authors would end up with even less than usual under the arrangement.
Now consider that the publisher is going to focus on Internet sales, and not sales from stores. Oh? As in, let's depend on all our sales from Amazon, B&N, and Borders online? Sure, it's an important channel, but, alone, not enough. Amd then they'd also be changing the return policy to those resellers as well, so figure that they might have the same reluctance to do business that way.
Trachtenberg also points out that Harcourt Brace Jovanovich tried eliminating returns in 1980, offering higher discounts instead: "Orders fell off, however, and the publisher reversed itself." Then again, he notes that B&N CEO Steve Riggio said several years ago that he'd rather be able to mark down books than return them - whatever that means. Retaiers in other industries do that, like clothing, but they also get much higher discounts on products and, so, have more room to discount without an absolute loss.
All this will depend on the economic market in the book industry, and where that comes out isn't completely clear, even though the Journal article tried to paint an overall negative picture. On one hand, Borders has put itself up for sale, and the WSJ noted that Hyperion's operating income (pre-tax profits) is down a bit. B&N saw a 9 percent drop in its earnings in its fourth quarter in comparison with the previous year, but that's only half the story, as it earned more and paid out more dividends to investors than analysts expected and also said that its first quarter this year would be profitable, rather than the loss that analysts had predicted. Then again, many on Wall Street are ambivalent on Amazon. In short, there is too much going on that could be written off to a shaky general economy, I think, to get resellers to embrace big change in the way they operate, which means that the new Hyperion group could find that sales will be largely limited to the Internet. In short, even if dropping an open return policy could cut by 30 to 40 percent the number of book copies they have to print, I'm betting that the overall hit on sales would more than make up for that, meaning that the prospects for authors just don't seem that hot.
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
Newspapers Fold Sections, Drop Coverage
Newspapers went through their glycogen a long time ago, with huge profits that would make pharmaceutical companies envious. Then came the fat. Now we're down to burning muscle and bone. Look at the signs:
- Late last month, the Boston Globe sent a note to advertisers saying that Living/Arts will get combined with Sidekick and Food, depending on the day (with weather moving there as well). Business&Money gets mashed in with Careers. In other words, they don't have the ads to support all the pages.
- The Village Voice recently fired 40-year dance critic veteran Deborah Jowitt for economic reasons, along with film critic Nathan Lee. As the New York Times story noted, "Lichtenstein, a spokeswoman for the paper, said in an e-mail message: 'Financial constraints force us to convert two full-time positions to freelance jobs. Both Deborah Jowitt and Nathan Lee have been asked to continue writing for The Voice.'"
- As the Times notes in a separate story, movie critics are also on their way out - "laid off, reassigned or bought out in the past few years" - at a dozen dailies.
- If things weren't bad enough with ads, newsprint prices are risingas the Wall Street Journal notes. "The drop in supply has pushed prices up $60 from their October 2007 low to $620 per metric ton, raising yet another hurdle for newspaper publishers already grappling with declining circulation and advertising revenue." Paper manufacturers, long beneficiaries of their association with newspapers, are trying to keep their profits up for now, because they know it's only a matter of time until they're in major trouble.
I understand the sense of professional grief that can arise in writers, but you have to get over that quickly if you're making your income from newspapers. They aren't going to last. You need to find other ways of making a living now. It might be magazines, at least for a few years longer. It might be corporate. Or have you considered working with others in your area, maybe putting together a review site for local activities, maybe with some of the other writers getting squeezed out, and eventually looking for ad money to support it?
It's painful to think that you must give up what you love. But the end is coming, and you have to think about yourself on a very practical level. If you're not eating, you won't be writing for long.
Whatever course seems good to you, if you've been putting off walking away from newspapers, what you're seeing is the bow of the ship dipping beneath the waves. There are lifeboats to the side, but for them to do you any good, you have to walk over and climb in.
Monday, March 31, 2008
Newspaper Ad Revenue Takes a Tumble
There are signs that online revenue is beginning to slow as well. Internet ad revenue in 2007 grew 18.8% to $3.2 billion compared to 2006. In 2006, online ad revenue had soared 31.4% to $2.6 billion. In 2005, it jumped 31.4% to $2 billion.It is true that growth rates will, eventually, slow as the pot gets bigger. However, when online advertising is jumping by 20 percent according to Jupiter Media, you really don't want to see newspapers lagging behind.
As newspaper Web sites generate more advertising revenue, the growth rate naturally slows.
Friday, March 28, 2008
Watching the Writing Markets During a Recession
Traditional media gets hurtThere's something you could have predicted easily. The credit markets are down as is consumer confidence, and there are "lower sales in the automotive, technology, and packaged goods categories." That means pressure on ads and ad agencies - and the places that the ads run:
TV and consumer magazines should be able to hang tough, say industry observers--but it's not a pretty picture for radio and newspapers.
TV limps alongThere might be a little loss of ads on television, but not overwhelming. Not like most freelance writers get directly affected by that.
Magazines are a mixed bagSamir "Mr. Magazine" Husni, chair of the University of Mississippi journalism department, and one of the leading experts on the magazine market, thinks that successful titles targeting luxury markets will probably be fine. (UPDATE: I added the successful with the intent of noting that some luxury market magazines simply won't make it. And here's a blog post at the Wall Street Journal making the same point.) Mass market magazines will see a drop in ads and might well increase news stand prices - meaning a 6 to 12 month slump in news stand sales, which, I'll note, can affect how much advertisers are willing to pay. So, expect many titles to get thinner or push shorter article lengths. However, in an interesting twist, Hasni expects new titles to launch. Surprised? Apparently Fortune, Esquire, and Entertainment Weekly all launched during recessions. It's easier for new publications - if they have the funding, I'd think - to compete with established titles. Then when the market improves, the new magazines float upward as well. But I would emphasize my well-funded addition. If ad markets are soft, it's much harder to bootstrap to success. Be sure that new titles are from well-heeled companies.
Newspapers in painThey were having trouble before, and the recession is just going to make it worse. I'm already hearing stories from some writers who are finding that their newspaper clients are reducing freelance budgets and even asking the writers to reduce their fees. This will only get worse with the ascendancy of Internet publishing and ads. If you've been doing work for newspapers, now is really the time to reconsider your business model and see whether there might not be a better way for you to go.
Radio markets sound badThe market for freelance writing on radio is pretty poor normally, so as radio stations take a downturn along with papers (though maybe not as extreme), it's going to get worse. Funding for NPR is tighter as well. I'd classify this as a "
OnlineAnalysts figure that the Internet is going to scream along even more strongly during a recession. According to Jupiter Media, so says an Ad Age story, alternative media spending has jumped 22 percent over last year. The analyst firm is forecasting another 20 percent jump by next year. Part of that is because advertisers have less confidence in traditional media - and part of that is because marketers cannot easily show how effective particular outlets or campaigns are. However, what the heck does alternative markets mean? That gets tricky: interactive marketing; banner ads; behavioral targeting (following someone's activities on the web); and even branded entertainment, which includes "event sponsorship and marketing, paid product placement, advergaming and webisodes." As MediaDailyNews notes, it's unclear exactly where any of that money will end up - and so, it's unclear how much will translate into sponsoring content that needs writing. Much of it goes into search advertising, and that only drives content indirectly. But it's important, and even people doing straight editorial online need to understand the basics of search engine optimization as it applies to writing. That means a lot more than "stuff in as much keywords as you can."
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Newspaper Publisher Facing Interesting Economic Times
Last week, [hedge fund Harbinger Capital Partners] said it is nominating a slate of candidates for the company's board because Media General "has lost strategic, operational and geographic focus in recent years," according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.When a hedge fund wants to place directors on a board, it's generally because it doesn't see enough short term profits from the company, which could turn into return on its investment. The changes the directors might push for could run from smarter strategic directions to cost cutting and even selling off properties.
Media General owns The Tampa Tribune; the Richmond Times-Dispatch; the Winston-Salem Journal; 22 daily community newspapers in Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Alabama and South Carolina; and more than 100 weekly newspapers and other publications. If you are writing for a Media General paper, then I think it would be prudent to assume that there will be continued belt tightening, incluidng smaller freelance budgets and all the joys that brings to people like us.
Monday, March 17, 2008
The Memoir Market
Michael Cader, who tracks book deals for his electronic newsletter, Publishers Lunch, counts 295 memoirs signed by publishers last year, compared with 227 debut novels and 214 memoirs in 2006.Cader tracks deals, so while this may not be complete representative, I would look at that data as important and informative. The article also mentions, without providing the source, that "most memoirs sell modestly with first printings between 10,000 and 30,000." That number seems pretty damned high for an average.
Memoirs accounted for 12.5% of non-fiction deals, up from 10% in 2006 and 9% in 2005.
Thursday, February 28, 2008
Crossover Market Strategies
- Write music pieces for magazines devoted to classical music lovers.
- Pitch and then write an article that looks at the business life and realities of a free-lance classical performer.
- Pitch a story to a small business magazine about a small album label that is trying to go against the conventional wisdom that classical music is dying out.
- For another business magazine, write a story about the economics of niche music at retail establishments, and how that affects what you can hear.
- Pitch some retail stories.
Another crossover strategy is to create a strong enough relationship with an editor that he or she has a level of trust in you. The editor may know that you don't have specific expertise in the area, but understands that you won't get involved in something where you can't deliver. The first assignment or two may be shorts, because that reduces the exposure for the editor; if something goes wrong, it's easy to recover.
You could do so much research up front that you demonstrate some expertise, even though you haven't officially had any. Infuse the query with insight that builds confidence on the part of the editor. Then you complement the research with compelling clips. There are a three major tactics, in general, for choosing clips. You can focus on writing technique, expertise, publication prestige. You can use any combination of them. Because you don't have the expertise (otherwise this wouldn't be a market crossover situation), you take a mix of clips with great writing from the biggest publications to which you've contributed. (This is difficult to pull off when you don't have good national clips.) Mix the topics of the clips so you convey the impression of being able to cover a lot of different things.
Entering a new market is one circumstance under which pitching poorly paying publications can make strategic sense. If you have strong clips in other areas and want to build a track record for a new one, the editor with little budget might jump at taking a chance on you. Then you start to get your legs underneath you, without asking a mainstream pub to underwrite your learning curve at its usual rates. You get a clip or two on the topic, then quickly start moving up to the level of publications that you want.
It's vital for writers to understand ways of moving from one market to another. Not only can an infusion of new material keep you flexible so you can respond to changes in the economics of the industry, but it can shake up your usual beats, adding depth and insight that comes from making the intellectual and emotional connections among apparently disparate topics.
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Planning for the Recession
The difference is that, whether consciously or not, the ones that profit have business strategies matching the conditions. Those that lose have incompatible strategies. Really economically successful writers are aware of changing conditions and adapt their approach as needed. To do that, you have to see that things are changing and then find what will work. That may take some experimentation, but in the end, you can do it.
As an example, let's look at just some of the things happening now. The whole world seems to be slipping into a slump. Banks and other lenders are taking a beating; look at Bank of America, which saw a 95% drop in earnings. The home housing market is slow. Hollywood writers are still on strike. Just these few facts would suggest the following:
- Trying to diversify by going after foreign markets won't necessarily be a help, though Americans might still intelligently make some efforts in this direction because of the current exchange rates.
- Financial services companies may be a poor choice, because many will be cutting corners to restore earnings and regain their stock prices.
- Covering consumer real estate will be tricky, because those in the area will be spending a lot less, which means they will be less interesting for the time being to advertisers, making it difficult for advertisers to justify spending too much on advertising.
- Hollywood has pretty much ground to a halt because of the writers' strike. But signs are that talks may soon restart, and if the two sides come to an agreement, there will be overtime work to get projects moving again. And then, maybe a year down the line (possibly more, depending on how long it takes productions to move from one stage to the next). If you write about entertainment, you might start a particularly heavy marketing phase in a few months. (After the obligatory article on the What The Strike Meant.)
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
Newspapers and Goodwill
Goodwill exists because the world wants to account from where the value of a company comes. It's clear why; without financial attribution, charlatans would be free to claim any value of a company, pulling the wool over the eyes of many. The problem with goodwill is that it can be fickle. As the opinions of those in the market change, so can the goodwill, and the value - and financial solvency - of the company. Some companies, like Google, have a great deal of goodwill value. But the danger is when you see too much value in goodwill, you must wonder how stable it is.
As the article's author, Jonathan Weil, notes, many publicly-held newspaper companies have a great deal of goodwill on their balance sheets. That might mean that the values are artificially high and that companies will ahve to write down their book value, which means it will be harder for them to get credit, raise money, and do other things that will hinder their competitiveness. Here's Gannett as an example:
Even Gannett, the largest U.S. newspaper publisher, looks ripe for a balance-sheet hit. Its market value is $7.9 billion. By comparison, its $8.98 billion book value at Sept. 30 included $10.06 billion of goodwill and $818 million of other intangibles. Tara Connell, a spokeswoman for the McLean, Virginia-based company, says Gannett is evaluating the matter.If you're going to do business with an industry, it's important to gain some financial literacy so you can see where trouble might be brewing.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Newspaper Industry Boasts Online Ad Growth
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
More Market News for Magazines and Newspapers
So take a look at this Media Life article, reporting on its own survey of media buyers. In particular, look after the discussion of House & Garden to the categories of magazines perceived as most in danger, where some titles might end up closing:
- business and general interest
On the newspaper front, we have an article from Rich Edmonds, a media analyst, at Poynter Online. He notes that while newspaper online advertising revenue growth has been the bright spot of the industry, it has been feeling a significant slowdown. As he notes, part of it owes to the calculations of growth percentages: as the total gets bigger, the percentage any addition represents is smaller.
But this so-called “law of large numbers” is not the whole story. As for the rest, "it is all to do with classified upsells," analyst Paul Ginocchio of Deutsche Bank Securities, wrote me in an e-mail. Classifieds are the leading edge of the bleeding in print advertising, with losses substantially worse than even pessimists had forecast for 2007. Unfortunately, as Ginocchio notes, classifieds typically make up about 70 percent of the typical newspaper site’s online ad revenue.In the view of Edmonds, newspapers will need some significnatly new strategies - not more porting paper to pixels. He has some observations and recommendations worth reading. As always, no single piece of information should determine your business strategy. But, put together, they help to give some view of the near and mid-term futures of your industry.
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
Australia Becomes Viable Market
Now add another market - Australia. A few years ago, the Australian dollar was running at about 50 cents American. Yesterday, it hit a 23-year high - just over 90 cents - according to the Wall Street Journal. The trick here, as with Canada, is to find a publisher paying a reasonable amount in native currency. That means you'll bee seeing the same here, so long as you don't get quoted a lesser rate in dollars.
Another consideration is any country on the euro. At about US$1.40, you could get a premium. Something interesting is that a strong job report did nothing to boost US currency. This could mean that the dollar will continue to drop, making foreign markets even more attractive. Ironically, you'll be using the same business strategy as major investors: find where the return on the money (or time, research, and writing) you've invested is more, and take your profits from there.
Before using such a strategy, though, check with your bank. You want to be sure that wire fees and possible charges for converting currency to the US dollar doesn't put a crimp in the deal.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Don't Try Breathing Helium - A Foolish Predatory Freelance Market Concept
But a few weeks ago Helium began offering a new product simply called “marketplace,” in which publishers and editors can advertise for certain types of stories they need.In other words, company CEO Mark Ranalli expects publishers to tip their hands about coverage, professional freelancers to send in spec work, and "victorious" writers to fork over 20% for Helium's doing nothing more than essentially acting as a classified ad site. Oh, and they money? From "$20 to $200 for each selected article." Ooh, ooh, I'm soooo excited.
They post a description of the article, the expected price, length and deadline - and wait for writers to submit articles for consideration.
I'll give it a month and then start looking to the eastern horizon for a giant plume of smoke from the crash and burn. I don't usually take pleasure in listening for the ascending engine whine as the vehicle plummets, but I'll make an exception in this case, bad enough to pass insulting and enter the realm of laughable.
Usually people who get commissions actually do some selling and don't expect payment for standing around. This sounds like a proposition that belongs with ones you might hear in seedy bars. Oh, wait, now I know why: Pimping is still pimping.
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
Exchange Rates and Other Markets
I was traveling in Canada a couple of weeks ago and was surprised to find that the US dollar was trading almost at par with Canadian currency - perhaps at a 5 percent premium, but no more. I've never thought that much about approaching Canadian publications because they had the reputation of relatively low pay further discounted by the exchange rate. However, if the two currencies are almost even, that opens some possibilities. A publication paying $1.50 Canadian would be roughly $1.42 in US. Now extend the concept. Is there a UK publication that pays maybe 60 cents a word? The pound is about double the value of the dollar, which would turn that pay into $1.20.
There are some additional considerations - possible bank fees in processing foreign checks or wire transfers, and possibly some loss in the currency conversion process. But there are a lot of doors now open that may have been closed before.
The big lesson is to take a corporate view and the news and see how it could affect your business on a global basis. Now is a good time to explore other markets, while it is economic to do so.
Thursday, July 12, 2007
Three Marketing Approaches When Things Are Good
- Replace clients. Because you're in a strong position, seek replacements for your least desirable clients. You aren't in a rush, so begin testing a few new clients, see which ones provide the most satisfaction, and then begin weaning yourself from the ones that aren't worth the time you spend on them.
- Think long term. Different companies or publications take various amounts of time to bring into your business fold. When things are going well, you can begin developing relationships with the ones that take longer. These are often the greater prestige and better paying prospects.
- New areas. You might have wanted to move into new areas - whether subjects, industries, or types of writing. When you go into something new, you often can't prove the value you can in more established areas. So when things are going well, you're in a position to take some lower-paying work, if necessary, to establish your credits in the new area so that you'll be in good shape to get the better pay. When things are leaner, you may be more dependent on the revenue from each assignment, and so won't necessarily have this opportunity to develop your business.
Monday, April 30, 2007
Blogs - Backdoors to the Minds of Clients
I just read a story in a publishing trade magazine called Circulation Management. The topic was how many publishers are running blogs on their sites. According to a study, three-quarters of all newspapers run blogs on business-related topics.The Magazine Publishers of America has an online list of 400 blogs of member companies - go there, click on a publication title, and you get a list of at least its top blogs (though possibly not all). Highlight the blog and you see recent post headlines with a first paragraph available by selecting that story. Blogging is also a rapidly increasing trend for many companies that are trying to communicate with their customers.
I'm sure some people think immediately of how this might turn into a regular assignment, and while that might be a possibility, it's actually not the big payoff. What blogs - particularly those written by prominent staffers and top editors - provide is a window into the interests of the publications. You get a real-time clue as to what they think about and what trends they see, by virtue of the content. Forget about only looking at back issues that may or may not represent old editorial regimes or discarded concepts. As things change, you'll see it on a daily or, at worst, weekly basis. Use it well and you'll have a head start to a winning query.