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

Greening our houses

I’ll start with a gadget story but we’ll end up with saving energy, with greening our houses, I promise.To save another kind of energy, patience, I tried a Logitech Harmony One “universal” remote.  Again.  A few years back, two previous experiences with Harmony remotes had been frustrating and, ultimately,  abandoned.  It could be me, I am a certified klutz with a gift for pushing the wrong button at the wrong time.  Or my combination of devices couldn’t be “unified”, made to work together.  And/or the Mac version of the software was too painful to use.  Still, my Logitech friends kept insisting Harmony remotes were an extremely successful business of theirs.  I decided to try again three years after the second attempt. More

Press is bleeding faster than ever

“Tomorrow will be the final edition of the Rocky Mountain News. (…) You all did everything right, but the business model of the press changed, the economy changed and the Rocky became a victim of that”.  Last Thursday, these were Rich Boehne’s (CEO of EW Scripps) terse words when announcing the end of the 150 years Denver-based newspaper.

By any measure, the fate of the Rocky Mountain News epitomizes the evolution of the American press: heavy reliance on advertising and strategic paralysis.  The latter demonstrated by the inability to transfer declining classifieds revenue from print to online and by keeping large staffs in spite of a steady readership erosion. Under those circumstances, expect no mercy when the recession hits. More

Enough with the cell carriers’ games

I write this both as a consumer and as a VC: Enough with the cell carriers’ games, we need a Carterfone decision. We need to connect what we want to today’s and, even more, to tomorrow’s wireless networks.  Carriers abuse the airwaves We The People licensed to them.  Or, perhaps more to the point, our elected representatives, instead of protecting our interests, let carriers pick our pockets and strangle innovation.  Speaking of Change We Can Believe In, transparency in government and respect for the citizen’s hard-earned and vanishing buck, how about the Obama administration getting carriers to open their wireless networks the way landlines are?  How about me, having the freedom to connect what I want and run whatever applications I want – as long as I respect rules similar to the ones for ordinary telephones, modems and fax machines? More

The Future of Print Could be… Digital Presses

Before we “stop the presses”, and acknowledge the extinction of newspapers, as many pundits suggests, let’s take another look at the future of printing. In my view, within four years, newspaper production will become radically different from today’s process. We’ll enter an era of small print runs, highly decentralized printing units and above all, customized papers. More