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Revenue Model Breakthrough?

Micro-payments are an old idea, some say a bad fantasy. Chief, we’re rich: I found a way to get a millicent per page view…

So far, not much has happened. Unless you look at a tidy, not tiny, little billion-dollar business called iTunes. Three years ago, in February 2006, 1 billion songs served, sold, cashed in, since 2003. July 2007, 3 billion. June 19th, 2008, 5 billion songs. January 2009, 6 billion. Tidy it is at 99 cents for every song. A little so now, with three stages, 69, 99 and 129 cents, without DRM, without copy protection.

But, you’ll justifiably object, this is a unique phenomenon, it doesn’t replicate elsewhere. How can we draw lessons from Apple’s idiosyncratic, proprietary, ferociously monolithic, militantly anal practices? True when it comes to Apple’s style, but less so when it comes to substance, to the replicability, to the potential for use elsewhere. Apple’s competitors are rushing to build their own App Store; for their smartphones, they yearn for their own applications distribution platform. This certainly makes the case for the idea’s replication.

But what idea?

What Apple did was lowering the mental cost of the transaction. More

Advertising: real change must happen

The brutal recession reveals how flawed the current Internet business model is. As advertising-only business models are falling apart, even the Google ecosphere is under stress. The search giant’s preservation of its margins at the expense of its media partners’ revenue stream could be shortsighted.  –First of two parts.

Sorry to be blunt, but Internet advertising sucks. Most campaigns are an incentive to install AdBlock software, the most popular Firefox plug-in (45m downloads in 3 years).  “Splash”, “pull-down”, “sliding block”, all sorts of ads suddenly invade your screen. They are nothing but a nuisance. If you’re fast enough, you close the ad before it finishes loading.  And we have the most irritating form of banners, the ones with the sound always loudly on when you inadvertently mouse-over over them. More

Pixels: Size vs. Number

OMG, says the blogger, the next iPhone’s camera will have 3.2 million pixels instead of today’s measly 2 million! The blog entry gave me the final push for an occasional, meaning at irregular intervals, series of columns on digital photography. The idea is to find insights into what’s really going on in this very dynamic industry, to extract a few useful ideas from the flow of markitecture BS coming from hardware and software vendors on a daily basis. As you’ll see, these columns are intended for the ‘interested’ digital camera user and, on occasion, for the technophobe, but not for the pro – they use cameras to make money, not to have fun like we do. More

Creative cost cutting: focus on value

It sounds like the perfect oxymoron: Isn’t cost-cutting the enemy of creativity? True if your main cutting instrument is Excel, one that works pretty well for near-sighted managers.  First, rip questionable positions (some are always to be found) and, presto, your P&L looks healthier. Next, human resources problems: summon the victims, hand the letter, follow the procedure, bargain a bit, and you’re done. Such procedures result in post-traumatic stress, survivor’s guilt for the ones who have been spared and a confused organization that will waste precious time struggling to regain its previous performance level. More

The Future of Netbooks

You the attentive reader might ask why VCs like yours truly are interested in netbooks. Hardware made in Taiwan, running Linux or Windows, low prices, even lower margins…Where are the opportunities for entrepreneurs, and for those of us who invest in their creations?

This is a different question from: Why are netbooks successful? We know the answer to the latter: price and, to a smaller degree (no pun intended), size. This picture and this list show how this new incarnation of the personal computer has proliferated. Because of the recession, yesterday’s manly “must-have” features are now suspect frills. Small has become virile. Users who wouldn’t be seen with less than a “plus-size” keyboard have now received cultural permission to travel with a 10” netbook, perfect for flying (the rediscovered) Coach class. More

Opening the News

Warning: religious debate here. Should a news web site be open or closed, free or paid-for? There is no simple answer, of course, as hybrid models are a likely part of our future. But, first, let’s review the paid-for model I addressed in previous issues of the Monday Note as well as in the French version of Slate.
In a nutshell, paid is likely to become fashionable again under the following conditions:
-    Big brands are more likely to erect tollbooths and balance what needs to remain free, in order to retain large audiences, against what they must monetize: the value-added part on their content.
-    Transactional systems morph into aggregated micro-payments for quick and seamless few cents purchases or subscriptions renewals. The “mental cost” of the transaction must match its low monetary value.
-    Tech platforms improve their performance: in two or three product generations, gizmos such as the Kindle, PlasticLogic tablets, or future iPhones finally do the job thanks to wireless connections, long battery life and resistance to everyday abuse. Just to get an idea of what’s looming, watch last week’s presentation of the new iPhone OS 3.0 features (go here and begin the show at time code 10:00 minutes) all is here: eBookstore, eNewstand system dedicated to publishers, iTunes powered subscriptions, etc.
News organizations will find a sustainable model here — and with Apple’s competitors.

Let’s turn to point #2: closed versus open. More

Somber Sober Energy Thoughts

This is what happens with looooong conference calls: you’re sitting in front of your speakerphone, on mute so other participants can’t hear your typing or other asocial activities; your PC displays the PowerPoint under discussion.  You get bored, distracted, or, in the best cases, antsy.

So, as I was listening to one more paean to the electric car, I decided to do a little bit of math and googling. Specifically, I wanted to get an idea of the electric power required to recharge electric cars instead of pumping gas into today’s tanks.  This because, for years, I have harbored a vague, undocumented feeling that electric cars would create interesting problems for today’s antiquated, frail electric grid. (Europeans might not realize how often we experience brownouts or outright outages, even here, in the Vatican of high-tech – I used to write Mecca but, you know…) More

Innovation is recession-resistant

Guess: which tool all of us use everyday was invented in the United States in 1947? The mobile telephone. A year later, a wireless telephone service became available in almost 100 cities and highway corridors. Most early adopters were truck drivers. Now, there are about 3.5 billion cellphones in service across the world, thanks to another invention, that very same year: the transistor — both coming from AT&T’s Bell Labs. More

Google Voice: Did Carriers Miss An Opportunity?

Let’s start with what Google Voice is: Grand Unified Telephony, as in physics Grand Unified Theory. Imagine all your phones (home, mobile, work…) linked together to one number, and all data (calls, voicemail and SMS) also “webbed” together.  Add a few wrinkles such as transcribing your voicemail into text, personalized greetings for your mother or the boss, when different, conferencing, cheap international calls and you have a quick list of Google Voice’s features.  For more, see David Pogue, the NYT’s always articulate and fun gadget exper. More official: Google Voice’s “About” page with many example while we wait for the service to open to all comers “in the next few weeks”. More

Raw Data: Comparing ARPUs

This week, back to basics. Forget about complex financial ratios, Ebitda, KPI, even costs. Let’s consider one simple element: for our news businesses, how much are they actually making in revenues, and how do they compare?  Let’s go the way of the cell carrier, let’s use one credible metric, the ARPU (Average Revenue per User): yearly revenue divided by the number of users or subscribers. This index is de rigueur for the mobile industry or for pay TV.  Applying it to media is a tad more complicated. More