The anachronic survival of Monocle

The survival of the monthly Monocle is a kind of anachronism in the current digital frenzy. Tyler Brûlé, creator of Wallpaper magazine, launched Monocle just a year ago. Brûlé, is a kind of modern global dandy, splitting his sophisticated life between London, Stockholm and Zurich. In the magazine world Monocle is a kind of UFO, with conceptual photos, detailed stories about tourism in Greenland, the new economics of Zimbabwe or innovative infrastructure in modern cities. Nobody was ready to bet an euro on this venture. One year after, it’s still alive. And that’s good news.
> story in the Independent
> the Monocle strange website{

Marc Andreessen’s NY Times Deathwatch

The following has to be seen, not as a particularly acute media analysis, but as an interesting barometer of the perception of the press by the digerati. In that instance, Marc Andreesen, co-founder of Netscape with Jim Clark, remains quite a voice. And it was noteworthy when he said : “…I hereby inaugurate my New York Times Deathwatch, which will continue until the last Sulzberger [family who owns the Times] has left the building”. Asked by Fortune Magazine what he would do if he were running the Times, “Easy, Andreesen said. Kill the print product immediately, and deliver the base line, for news online. (…) Take acute pain in order to avoid years of chronic pain”.
> read this opinion on Marc Andressen’s blog

Emerging economies — In Baltic States, foreigners import their ethics

This is an unexpected consequence of globalization: foreign investments in media companies have positive impact on their ethics. Take two of the Baltic States: Lithuania and Estonia. Two young democracies, two palpable desires for freedom. A visit of newsrooms in Vilnius and Tallinn shows the same demographics: the average journalist there is at least 10 years younger than in France or UK. As the (27 years-old) foreign editor of the main Estonian paper Postimees puts it : “…in this country, there is no such thing as old journalists”. In the two countries, senior journalists from the Soviet era have since been diluted in politics or public relations, clearing the stage for hungry young journalists.

Then come the differences. In Lithuania, the press remains largely owned by local investors. The result is a great coziness with the new power, once the enthusiasm of the immediate post-communist era has faded. Several local editors explained to me that to get a positive story printed about your business — or to get a negative one about a rival — you just have to pay. This doesn’t go as far as Russia, where, until a few years ago, the website Komsomolskaya’s Pravda (formerly dedicated to the Young Communists) had a price list for customized journalism.

Estonia is different. For cultural as well as geographical reasons, the country has always been under greater western influence. When its independence was re-declared in 1991, the new elite of the country welcomed foreign investors such as the Norwegian group Schibsted (1) and the Swedish Bonnier, which in the same stroke, imported their journalistic practices and ethics.

One weird thing, though. In a booming country like Estonia, you would have thought that a large number of well-educated young people would embrace ja ournalistic carrier. That’s not happening. I was told by the editor-in-chief of Postimeees, that among few dozens of last year’s graduates in communication from Tartu University, only one chose journalism. Amazingly enough, the shortage of journalistic talents could lessen the development of the press a young democracy like Estonia should be entitled to.

(1) Schibsted is the majority shareholder in the Eesti Media Group in Estonia. This group of companies publishes Estonia’s two largest newspapers, Postimees and SL Ohtuleht, as well as several local newspapers, and owns 50% of the Estonian Magasin Group, which publishes a number of magazines. Schibsted controls also two newspapers in Lithuania, LT and 15 minutes.

The booming E-Stonia

This 1.4m people Baltic state is actually one of the most wired countries in the world. Online banking, penetration of news websites like Postimees, uses of cell phone to pay for parking spaces, free wi-fi everywhere, the infrastructure is amazing. This makes also the country vulnerable to attack. In April 2007, when the country decided to distant itself further from Russia, riots triggered by Russian nationalists erupted. In retaliation, Russian hackers launched one of the most severe cyber attack suffered by any sovereign states.
> Wired magazine published an excellent account of the incident
> Speaking of hackers, read this story in ArsTechnica about the strong demand for multilingual hackers

Google and Apple are robbing us!

That’s the cry of anguish heard in the executive suites of cellular carriers, poor things. Why the sorrow?

Nuances removed, it boils down to this:
. ISP (Internet Service Providers) don’t sell content, they bill at a flat rate regardless of what you download, music, e-mail, video. ISP don’t decide which computer you can and cannot connect to the network.
. Cellular carriers charge a different price for voice, SMS, data; they play all sorts of games to sell content. In addition, they lose their customers in an impenetrable jungle of agreements and billing plans. Cellular carriers decide (this is much less true in Europe) which computer, pardon, phone you can connect to their network.
Yes, but why the anguish? Because Google and Apple are two reasons why the future of cell carriers is to become ISP — of the wireless kind. Flat rate, no content games, no control over devices. All this “converging”, to use a fashionable word, towards smaller profits.

A Silicon Valley wag suggests we build seven statues to Steve Jobs: for the orignal Apple II, the Mac, Pixar, coming back and reviving Apple, iPod/iTunes, Apple stores and the last (latest, we hope) one for the iPhone. Steve’s feat here isn’t so much the phone as it is showing how to break the control US carriers still exert on what paying customers can connect to their network and what the phones are allowed to do. For example, in order to maximize profits, Verizon forced Motorola to remove one Bluetooth feature, file transfers.

The result? No way to transfer music from your laptop to your Verizon phone, use the network and pay us. Another (more fortunate) result is Verizon and Moto lose a class action lawsuit.

With the iPhone, Steve wrestles control from the carriers and dictates how things work. And, an unheard feat, he gets a piece of the carrier’s revenue. To be fair, knowing our Steve, dictate is the right verb here. We’ll see in a few days how Apple decides the future of third-party applications on the iPhone. We also remember how tightly Apple controls iTunes content – much to the chagrin of the previous generation of extortionists. In any event, Apple shows how carriers can lose their grip.
Next, Google. They bid for open spectrum, spectrum where you decide what you connect. And they show an operating system for smartphones, Android. The result within a year? Tens of different Android-based phones, hundreds of applications. Smartphones become cheaper and richer at the same time. The result is pressure on carriers to offer flat-rate plans, something they do already, sort of, reluctantly, with dissuasive rates.

Google reveals a striking statistic: the iPhone performs 50 times more search traffic than the next brand, a number initially viewed as a mistake. But no, the numbers are correct and show the iPhone is the first real Internet smartphone. Others, many, are ready to follow. With their help, cell carriers won’t be able to avoid their future: wireless providers of Internet connections.Voice is but one of many types of Internet data. Cellular carriers have no choice but to embrace that fact. Wired ISP already did.

- JLG

Privacy — Europe to fight the printer “secret watermark”

For several years (it seems it started around 2000) most printers and photocopiers sold in the US have marking every page with an almost invisible set of yellow dots. This wartermark can be used by law enforcement to identify the owner of any machine. What could be useful to track down Al-Qaeda can also be used against political dissidents. Last week, a European Union commissioner issued an official statement questioning the legality of such practice. This, he states, is a possible violation of privacy rights guaranteed by the European Union’s Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
> story in ArsTechnica
> The Electronic Frontier Foundation is leading the campaign against the yellow dots.

Top 30 Most Popular Newspaper Sites

Now let’s have a look at the raw data, i.e. the US newspaper’s performance in January. It remains impressive.
On the table below, the first number is the audience in unique visitors for the month, the second is the year-over-year change in % :

NYTimes.com 20,461 — 45.1%
USATODAY.com 12,314 — 19.4%
Washingtonpost.com 9,902 — 14.6%
Wall Street Journal 6,962 — 81.4%
LA Times 5,715 — 4.7%
Boston.com 5,194 — 23.7%
San Franc Chronicle 4,255 — (-3.9%)
New York Post 4,027 — (-3.5%)
Newsday 3,764 — 59.2%
Chicago Tribune 3,185 — (-15.7%)
(…)
Village Voice 2,686 — 116.4%
The Politico 2,371 — 253.4%
(…)
Int. Herald Tribune 1,789 — (-15.0%)

As for the magazines, in Q4 2007, guess the ratio between the growth of their Web sites traffic and the growth of the internet audience in the US. Magazines grew three times as fast as the US Internet audience.
> details in the Magazines Publishers of America.

Are US newspapers doing so well online ?

Well, US papers are doing good in absolute numbers, confirming a shifting model (not necessarily for the best since an online readers brings a fifth or a tenth of the revenue a print readers does). Now, if we put the Internet in the picture, American newspapers are not doing so well. In 2007, the average Web user loaded 51% more Web pages in 2007 than three years earlier, and spent 23% more time online. The equivalent increases for newspaper Web sites were just 24% and 20%, respectively. So newspapers were losing share of the average reader’s total Web activity says Carl Bialik, the “Numbers Guy” columnist of the Wall Street Journal.
> story here

MainStreet, biz site, too “people”

When it came out, TheStreet.com Network’s new spin-off had a promising baseline : “Where Life and Money Intersect”. Good idea, in theory, to inject tabloid distance into dry business news coverage. So far, something’s not working in MainStreet.com, however: too light, too “people”. Let’s see how much time they need to find the right balance. The site’s mother company is a very clever one. You can judge by yourself.
> MainStreet.com here{