Brands are arbiters of quality on the Internet

June 29, 2009

Knowledge, news, music, opinion shall be free (as unfettered). That was the promise of the Internet, and bloggers were expected to deliver on that promise.

What followed was utter chaos, irresponsible reporting, plagiarizing without batting an eyelid, and an overload of information. The dark underbelly of society was showing on the Internet.

Wikipedia suddenly became less reliable. People very often edited entries on Wikipedia to suit their personal agendas, and the users’ only hope for accuracy is that some other guy got there before him and corrected the inaccuracy.

Folks, even bloggers, now need help to negotiate the labyrinth of the Internet to find information that is quotable and credible. Hence most bloggers now quote what are considered long-established credible sources, such as The New York Times, CNN, and The Wall Street Journal, and a few new online credible sources of information.

A lot has been written about Twitter. Like email when it started, Twitter is a great way to get the message out. But as spammers and frauds started using email, the message was increasingly questionable.

That is happening to Twitter as well……I don’t know who is my source of information on Twitter, whether he is reliable, whether he was at all in Iran while updating me on the youth unrest in that country after the elections.

Most of the time it is not hard core information I get on Twitter, but some vague reports from equally diffuse people on what they are eating now, how they are feeling at the moment, or what car they are driving.

Many times people themselves are filtering information to put them in a good light, or promote themselves. After all this is the age of personal brand building, and any channel is useful.

In 2007, I had written that although the Internet had made expression free, whether the expression was in the form of writing, art or music, there would still be needed gatekeepers to the Internet who would separate the wheat from the chaff.

See article titled ” Finding gold on the Net is a long shot”.

It was expected then that new brands would emerge to play counsellors and guides to Internet users. The “Long Tail” had created opportunities of all sorts of online purveyors of music, news, and other forms of art, by lowering the cost of inventory, distribution, and marketing.

But the gold rush to the Internet left people gasping for some guidance on how to avoid the trash. Already they were suffering from clutter and information overload.

eMusic, for example, focused on the “Long Tail”, and tried to build a music download brand around that. Leading newspapers set up blogs aiming to be arbiters of quality in both formal news reporting, and the more informal world of blogs.

The upshot is that a mix of new and old brands have emerged as gatekeepers to the Internet. That makes navigating the Internet for quality and reliable stuff more reliable.

But to a large extent it has also robbed the Internet of its fierce democracy. Once again the big brands – a few – will decide what goes through its filters. Once again smaller purveyors of content will have to kow-tow to the big brands or go unnoticed, and end up in some corner on YouTube.


Advertising in print newspapers on the decline

September 19, 2007

As more people go online, and news is available for free for multiple sources, will it be a matter of time before print newspapers go the way of the dinosaur ? Will newer sources of news, including blogs, replace the online editions of traditional newspapers ?

Advertisers seem to think so.

Data available from the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) in Arlington, Virginia suggests that advertising in print is on the decline. Spending for print ads in newspapers in the second quarter of this year totaled US$10.5 billion, down 10.2 percent from the same period a year earlier, according to the NAA.

This data seems to bear out the forecasts by many pundits that as print gets less popular, advertising dollars will move away from print editions. But it hardly provides conclusive evidence that print newspapers are dying. It could be just that some advertising is moving to other newer opportunities, including online. It may be just the same as when TV advertising started cutting into newspaper advertising decades ago.

However whatever advertising is moving away from print editions of newspapers is not necessarily going to their online sites.

Advertising expenditures for newspaper Web sites increased by 19.3 percent to US$796 million in the second quarter versus the same period a year ago, according to preliminary estimates from the NAA.

This sounds great in isolation. But the newspapers that saw a decline of about US$1 billion in advertising in the second quarter, witnessed an increase of less than $200 million in advertising from its online properties.

As a result, total advertising expenditures at newspaper companies were $11.3 billion for the second quarter of 2007, an 8.6 percent decrease from the same period a year earlier, according to NAA.

The NAA puts down the reduced advertising revenue for newspapers to cyclical swings in the U.S. economy, as well as structural changes in the businesses of major advertisers, which continue to affect print advertising revenue.

NAA is a nonprofit organization representing the newspaper industry and more than 2,000 newspapers in the U.S. and Canada.

Online editions of established newspapers appear to have established their popularity, perhaps because of their strong brands as print newspapers. More than 59 million people (37.3 percent of all active Internet users) visited newspaper web sites on average during the second quarter of 2007, a record number that represents a 7.7 percent increase over the same period a year ago, according to custom analysis provided by Nielsen//NetRatings for the NAA.

As print newspaper move online, they are going to need to learn a new bag of tricks, including embedding video, and offering podcasts from their sites. These technologies would require a totally different set of skills than are what are currently found in traditional print newspapers. All of a sudden reporters, whose faces we rarely saw, and whose voices were never heard, are going to have to metamorphose into sleekly dressed and groomed TV reporters.

Already as print advertising looks shaky going forward, and reader’s preferences shift, a number of publications, including IDG’s Infoworld, have moved online.

A caveat about the NAA data. It is primarily about newspapers in North America. Print newspapers are far from declining in a number of markets, including India, where there has been a sudden rush of new print publications. Established publishing companies, and start-ups have also set up online news sites.

In India, for example, the current transformation appears to be less about the transition by users from print to online reading, and more about more readers getting into the mainstream. As long as Internet usage is limited to urban elites, and is cheaper than buying a print publication, the outlook is very positive for print, analysts say.

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