Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Icy blast for old media

THIRTY years ago some bright spark had a great idea for a freebie give-away to promote sales of an aerosol de-icer spray for motor car windscreens.
It was a neat little scraper with three surfaces, one sponge for water, one soft edge for mist and one hard edge for ice.
It worked a treat, so well, in fact that I still have the scraper and never had to buy any spray again, which was good news for the environment, good news for my pocket, but terrible news for the de-icer manufacturer.
I often laughed at the thought of such a self-destructive promotion. Who would be stupid enough to give something away free that worked so well that no-one wanted to buy the main product?
And who would have guessed that my own beloved media industry would make exactly the same mistake?
For de-icer spray, think newspapers. For scraper, think internet.
For ten years or so newspapers have been giving away content for free on the internet, and wandering why their newspaper sales figures have been plummeting.
Even worse, the old media companies have been incapable of raising any revenues from the Internet, despite what they may say.
The new kids on the block, notably Google, have none of the expense of producing newspapers or bulletins, nor any editorial staff who have to find stories.
Instead they trawl the Internet with their spiders and pinch all the material, whether it be advertising or editorial content, from the sites of the traditional media.
Then to top it all, they coin in cash from their own advertising revenue streams. Google alone now garners more cash from advertising than the whole of ITV.
It would be as amusing as the de-icer gaffe, if it had not been for the thousands of staff in newspaper, radio and television offices up and down the country who have lost their jobs as a result, including yours truly.
Not that it has been an easy conundrum for the traditional media industry to solve. How could they have protected themselves from the new wave of technology?
Well, they could have ignored the world-wide web, which would have robbed the search engines of their content and meant that the local media at least could have remained a unique source of news and advertisements.
But that smacks of head-in-the-sand mentality. And it wouldn’t have stopped house, jobs and motors advertisements stampeding to the new platforms.
Alternatively the old media could have invested in ensuring their own web developments stayed ahead of the competition and then charged customers for their internet offering.
This is what Rupert Murdoch is beginning to do. And the regional press is also giving it a try.
Two North West dailies are spearheading the latest experiment in paid-for online content by launching new subscription-only e-editions of their titles.
The Bolton News and Lancashire Telegraph, both owned by Newsquest, are currently advertising electronic versions of the paper costing 10p a copy - compared to the 40p cover price for the print versions.
The papers are marketing the move as a chance for readers to get the news earlier and save money at the same time.
The e-editions will use the 'page-turning' software run by PageSuite which is becoming increasingly popular with many local press companies now using it.
Reaction to the news, on Hold The Front Page, was typical: “Interesting marketing strategy - don't buy our product which costs more - buy this one which comes out first and is cheaper” was one comment. “Surely it’s only going to further affect sales of the printed product?” said another.
But another thought it was the only way to go. “For once I have to agree with Murdoch that ALL newspapers should have paid-for online versions. People are decreasing buying newspapers because you can get the same news more quickly and for free online. Online advertising hasn't proved to be the cash cow it was once thought. It may sound harsh on readers but to stop the endless cuts and decrease in quality of journalism we all need to follow the above examples.”
So even with the benefit of hindsight, professionals in the industry do not agree as to what the answer is.
My suspicion is that the old-style media companies are responding far too late to the threat, and still haven’t worked out how to capitalise on the opportunity.
The intriguing question is: When the traditional media and its journalists have all disappeared, from where will the web-sites get their content?

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

First ship jobs dominate list

THE Sunday Times this weekend had a fascinating extra supplement, as if it needed any more.
Its annual 100 Best Small Companies To Work For was inspiring.
Here were organisations which, according to surveys of their own staffs, engaged in meaningful consultation with workers, promoted their well-being, demonstrated a willingness to give back to the communities they served, and cared about personal development.
A lot were run by self-confessed weird and eccentric entrepreneurs; some didn’t even judge their performance by how much money they made.
But their satisfaction ratings for employees went up to a staggering 96%.
So what could possibly be wrong with all that? Well, nothing as it happens.
Except there was something else revealed by the list of 100 best performers out of the 571 which put themselves up for scrutiny.
That something probably says more about the state of the British economy, and its prospects for the future, than any surveys or dry Government statistics.
Practically none of the companies made anything.
The winner offered what it called IT Solutions. Next came a charity. Then there was a marketing consultancy.
And so on: Professional services, public relations, property management, software development, human resources and management consultancy were the names of the games featuring in the top twenty.
A contractor sneaked in at 21 and a retirement home construction company at 25, but largely the roll-call read like a description of all the jobs described by Douglas Adams in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy as the sort of professions pursued by occupants of the first ship sent into space from a doomed planet before its destruction by an intergalactic goat.
The idea was, of course, that no such goat existed and it was a ruse to get rid of non-productive people. They ended up colonising Earth.
Well, I wouldn’t advocate going quite that far. But it must be of huge concern that so few primary industries (miners or growers), secondary (manufacturers) or even tertiary (retailers) made the grade.
That means either such firms don’t exist, or that they are run by bad employers who care not a jot for the people who work for them.
To extend the system used in my children’s geography classes, the companies who dominated the Sunday Times list could be described as quaternary (marketing, PR and Training) or even quintenary, if there is such a word, for consultants.
As a consultant, I don’t mind admitting that this is scary, and explains why this country’s economy is in such a rut and is taking so long to recover from recession.