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What Demand Means for Media and Journalism

Michael Hurtig | March 17th, 2011

By Evan Leatherwood and Eric Hurtig

As print media moves to e-publishing, publishers are still unsure of how radically readers’ needs and preferences will continue to shift.

Demand Media, which launched its IPO last month to much fanfare, seems a good indicator of how to make money off of free informational content online while catering to readers’ habits. Demand’s business model engages readers by writing answers to exactly what they’re looking for. For example, if one hundred thousand people are shown to be searching for information on how to care for a bonsai tree, Demand will write an article on it. This is a surefire way to bring readers answers they’re looking for.

Pundits have latched onto Demand’s  IPO (in which purchase of common stock valued the company at $1.5 billion, $0.4 billion more than the New York Times’ similar valuation in November 2010) as sign of the new media’s victory over the old. If the Times makes less than a five year-old ‘content farm’, then the game is up for legacy media, or so the argument goes. But anybody who thinks newspapers and content farms are in the same business is either a journalist looking for an easy lede, or has never actually been to a content farm’s site.

The question remains: what are the real stakes in the success or failure of content farms?

It can’t be the battle for journalistic supremacy. As of this writing, a search on Ask.com for the question “What is going on in Egypt?” links first to the Huffington Post, then to ads for Egyptian tourism, then to a brief, anemic comment thread by Ask.com users, and finally to a long list of established news outlets. It should be obvious that “amybug25” or “liloldfanny” at Ask.com aren’t going to parse international politics for us. For that, we still trust news organizations like the New York Times, so we shouldn’t be worried about Demand style content taking over the news media landscape.

If not newspapers, what’s the right legacy media analogue for content farms? Before the internet, people went to books and specialty magazines for information on how to fertilize your lawn, stitch a Halloween costume, collect beanie babies, or get a discount on a cruise. This is the territory that content farms could someday take over from print media, but by any comparison they aren’t even close to doing it yet. Demand, which produces the internet’s biggest content farms, hasn’t outmoded comparable brands like Health or House Beautiful Magazines (which respectively saw 16 and 20.6 percent increased in their single copy magazine sales in the second half of 2010) or one of the ultimate publications in legacy media, Reader’s Digest, which was taken private in 2008 for a purchase price of 2.8 billion.

The thing to pay attention to is Demand’s business model, which plugs new values into the old publishing equation, and may present a new paradigm for publishing. Instead of custom market research, they have Google analytics. Instead of print advertising and subscription by mail, they need only the Google search portal to target their potential readers. For content, they still hire writers and editors. Demand’s sites are a publishing imprint and can’t be compared to news organizations. Whether they or somebody like them becomes as trusted as the Farmer’s Almanac is not something any pundit can reliably predict.

Media News Briefing for Thursday, March 17th

Michael Hurtig | March 17th, 2011

Is Hollywood “Chronically Overestimating” its Losses to Online Piracy? LATIMES

The Columbia Journalism Review Looks at Content Farms and the Situation in Japan. The selective news service that a search bar provides may not be to our benefit CJR

Viral Video Engaging Viewers in New Ways – Possibly Outmoding the Traditional Format Direct Advertising Model NYTIMES

Prairie Home Companion’s Host, Garrison Keillor, Plans to Leave in 2013 NPR

Google Launches Product Aimed At Nonprofits LATIMES

Spinning Stories With Video Bites. Time Magazine’s review of the full length version of the controversial NPR video released this month reminds readers of the selective nature of video editing. TIME

How Close is the New York Times’ Pay Model to Launch? Yahoo’s Cutline Reports, Possibly April 1st YAHOO

Media News Briefing for Wednesday, March 16th

Michael Hurtig | March 16th, 2011

2tor, an Internet Start-Up, Raises 32.5 Million. The company aims to improve higher education online. TECHCRUNCH

Local TV Finds Success As It Goes Mobile TVNEWSCHECK

Former FCC Chairman, Michael Powell, to Lobby for Cable TV LATIMES

The Conversation on Internet Privacy Practices Continues. Concerns over what data is gathered, and how it is gathered will soon be addressed by the Obama Administration as they plan to present a ‘privacy bill of rights’. WSJ

Is Netflix Going to Become a Premiere Distributor? Netflix first departed from its traditional rental business with Red Envelope Entertainment, which licensed and distributed films – now it’s apparently in talks to premiere a television series with big names attached. This business model seems contrary to the recent commentary by Comcast that what used to be called re-runs is now called Netflix. WSJ

Media News Briefing for Tuesday, March 15th

Michael Hurtig | March 15th, 2011


Will Libraries Be Able to Keep Up With E-Book Commerce? Publishers are considering that a one-off sale of an e-book to a library may become a thing of the past NYTIMES

In Washington, the Push to Defund NPR Continues WSJ

Dow Jones Announces Wall Street Journal Now Has 200,000 Paying Mobile Platform Subscribers GUARDIAN

More People Got News From the Web Than Newspapers in 2010. PEW’s State of the Media 2011 reveals that the internet is now second only to television as a source of news for the general public. Meanwhile, if newspapers like the Wall Street Journal are beginning to show paid subscription numbers, there may be hope for the stabilization of quality newspaper organizations in the next few years. LATIMES

Nielsen Releases Top Online Video Brands Report for February 2011 NIELSENWIRE

Media News Briefing for Monday, March 14th

Michael Hurtig | March 14th, 2011

Photo: Summit270

Twitter has turned 5 (LATIMES), and its popularity is still skyrocketing.

Sites like Twitter and Facebook have inspired a long list of tech startups which many have likely never heard of, and may never hear of. Whether or not new media is in a ‘tech bubble’ moment, Twitter’s speedy success, matched by sites like Groupon, a coupon delivery site which has managed to grow to a 10-15 billion dollar valuation in only two years (NYTIMES), is indicative of the transitory nature of audiences and users in the new media landscape. How will well established brands from newspaper publishers to TV Networks fare in the future?

British Prime Minister, David Cameron, Seeks to Amend Copyright Laws – Meeting Opposition GUARDIAN

American News Media Shows Improvement in Some Areas, Newspapers Still in Decline PEJ

Gadgets May Be Causing Americans to Lose Sleep DIGITAL TRENDS

Media News Briefing for Friday, March 11th

Michael Hurtig | March 11th, 2011

French Court Orders Google to Pay for Copyright Infringement DIGITAL MEDIA WIRE

Future Uncertain for Federal Funding of Public Media USA TODAY

Photo: goxunureviews

As news outlets struggle to design portals adapted to developing reader habits and preferences, the quality and impact of journalism may be shifting.

Does a news story have less of an impact on the reader if it is delivered as a brief passage? How is the trend toward shorter reader immersion with news stories going to affect people around the globe? In this discussion on the Neiman Lab’s site, Gerald Marzorati and Mark Danner comment on the future of ‘Long Form Journalism’ NEIMANLAB

Media News Briefing for Thursday, March 10th

Michael Hurtig | March 10th, 2011

Charlie Sheen’s record-breaking Twitter numbers may seem baseless to some, as many people are likely to dismiss commentary by celebrities in the search for more useful, meaningful storytelling to include in their daily media mix. Regardless, Twitter sees the Charlie Sheen phenomenon as yet another indicator of how stars can build an audience without a dependence on traditional media outlets. Although the idea that Sheen’s audience numbers on Twitter are independent of larger media outlets is debatable given Sheen’s wide, recent exposure on CBS’s Two and a Half Men, it is clear that this shift has potential to carry over into other arenas beyond the cult of celebrity. Read today’s article on Sheen’s new records in the LATIMES


In Light of Recent Controversy Surrounding NPR, The Denver Post’s Television Critic, Joanne Ostrow, Writes About Why Americans Should Still Support Government Funding for Public Media DENVERPOST

Media News Briefing for Wednesday, March 9th

Michael Hurtig | March 9th, 2011

NPR’s President and CEO, Vivan Schiller, Has Resigned NYTIMES

The Federal Trade Commission is Reviewing Alcohol Marketing Guidelines in the Context of Social Media MEDIA POST

Local Television Station Operators Oppose FCC’s Push to Re-purpose Part of the Television Band for Wireless Broadband Delivery RBR

Gotham Gazette’s Councilpedia Will Monitor New York City’s Elected Officials and Track City Dollars MEDIASHIFT

Media News Briefing for Tuesday, March 8th

Michael Hurtig | March 8th, 2011

Youtube Makes its Expansion Into Content Creation Official With a 50M Acquisition of Next New Networks NYTIMES

Some Radio Call-Ins Scripted – A Fascinating Look at How Actors Are Sometimes Paid to Call Radio Shows and Deliver Interesting Stories, Posing as Average Callers TABLETMAG

NPR President and CEO, Vivian Schiller, Spoke at the National Press Club Yesterday in Support of Government Funding for Public Media HUFFINGTON POST

Today Show Broadcasts Two Separate, Simultaneous Shows On TV and Online VARIETY

To Study the Effectiveness of Advertising, Disney Has Set Up a ‘Disney Media and Advertising Lab’ VARIETY

Your Favorite Movies Coming Soon, On Facebook? HOLLYWOOD REPORTER

Media News Briefing for Monday, March 7th

Michael Hurtig | March 7th, 2011

Public Media Remains Focused on Delivering High Quality Investigative Reporting With its Investigative Reporting Unit, Local Journalism Initiative KANSAS CITY STAR

The Difficulty of Defining Quality Content on the Web CJR

Used to Seeing Ads Targeted to You in Your E-mail Account? TV Advertising is Next. The Wall Street Journal Looks at the Role of Data Gathering Companies in the Equation WSJ

Libya’s Internet ‘Flatlined’ as of This Morning LATIMES

News Corp’s ‘The Daily’ Downloaded by “Hundreds of Thousands” of Users BUSINESS INSIDER

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