Archive for the ‘Convergence’ Category

Beginning today, Sunday, October 6, 2013, USA Today has begun to publish a new edition called USA Today Local Edition.  It’s published in a partnership with the local papers who belong to our parent company, Gannett Corp.  We are piloting this project in four cities for the next several months.  It involves USA Today publishing an edition within our local papers, in which we supply our coverage of national and foreign news, life, money and sports.  At the same time our local papers are significantly increasing coverage of their local markets.  We are thrilled they are hosting us as part of their report.  

Together we are presenting an unbeatable package of USA Today’s unique coverage of national and international news and each of our partner paper’s fantastic local reports, which has been increased at the same time.  

For USA Today it’s a unique way to grow our audience thru daily exposure to the millions of people who read our local papers every day and will now have access to our coverage as well.  

For the local papers, there is a significant boost in coverage of local news, entertainment and sports, and the full support of USA Today’s team to bring the right mix of national and international content for their local readership.  As of tomorrow we will have launched the pilot program in four of our local papers:  The Indianapolis Star, The Appleton (WI) Post-Crescent, the Fort Myers (FL)  News Press and the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.

Here are four different pages from our first day in the Indianapolis Star:

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Today we launched the new USAToday.com.
Thank’s to the magnificent and tireless work of an army of engineers, designers, programmers, product managers, editors, etc., under the direction of Gannett Digital president David Payne, we are taking a huge step into the future, not without risk, by creating what we believe is a major step for our viewers and advertisers.
The new USAToday.com is a dramatic change for both.

For our readers and viewers it represents a significant step toward visual storytelling, but one that respects the fact that no two readers are alike, especially during times of significant technological change. We give you several options on how to view news, information, entertainment and advertising but all involve significant curation by our editorial staff, the heart and soul of the value we bring to this storytelling process. This creation is truly a collaborative work between dedicated technologists and equally dedicated journalists.

We give the reader the ability to use visuals or words in varying degrees in their consumption process. And we will do it in varying degrees. If the reader wants, for example, he or she can view each story by starting with a photograph or a video. They can even use a device we call “Cover Mode” (see the little book-like design at the top of the page) that allows them to see each story via a full-page photograph, the most dramatic use of still photography in the storytelling process we have ever seen on the Internet.

We give you the ability to view by our definition of importance or by anyone’s definition of timeliness. By merely scrolling over a visual reference to a story they can also see more text to put that story in context. And by viewing our “Right Now” column along the right side of the page, you will see relevant social media reactions to the ongoing story in real-time.
Our horizontal navigation, inspired by the growing and already massive use of tablets, allows the reader to “peruse” the sections or the stories on the site by turning pages, re-imagining the “discovery” process we so love in the print media. It allows you to be surprised by content you didn’t know existed, but to do so at your own speed, depending upon your time and inclination.

Cover View: A new way to peruse stories through their most dramatic images

The horizontal “page-turning” experience also allows our advertisers to reclaim the full-page ad they so dearly want and need. We allow those advertisers the chance to use the entire palate in whatever way they want to grab your attention, all the time giving you the same ability you had in print to turn the page. But watch out, you are going to see some wonderful ads that use dramatic visual tools from interactivity to video to draw you in.

Advertising in general has also changed in a big way on this site. Gone are the many small units that appears in different places on the page, frequently below the “fold” or unavailable until you scrolled down. We listened to our readers and our advertisers, and we have reacted by giving both a better experience. We have limited the advertisers to fewer but much more dramatic positions, giving them the same chance we are giving ourselves of telling their stories better and reaching more people with increasingly dramatic tools.

This is truly a major step into the new world of digital storytelling, one that empowers them, as storytellers with their own story to tell, to use every tool available: video, audio, text, photography, interactivity and more to tell his or her story. This is a step in the reinvention of storytelling, it’s also a step in the reinvention of how news will be created and consumed. We’re extremely excited to be part of that process.

Much more to come. Watch over the next few weeks as we roll out our new tablet and mobile apps, and if you haven’t recently, take a look at our print newspaper, too. It has also begun to embrace the strengths of a print product in today’s media mix and you will be surprised. And we are making it easier on all platforms for you to contact us. In the spirit of this new era of communications, please send us your comments, ideas and suggestion.

Now, we know we have made it.  Stephen Colbert revealed our new logo treatment to the world, in a way only he could. Turns out USA Today is his favorite newspaper, and he’s not a fan of change.  But in the end, he embraces change…..er….sort of, by using the logo itself to tell the story of how hard the USA Today  graphics department will be working to execute our “living” logo each day.

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Well it’s been two years and three IPads, so its a good time to step back and look at how my life as a heavy consumer of news has changed.

Much has changed.  But there is no question that I have come to use both the IPad and IPhone for a great deal of news consumption, though I still largely depend on traditional brands.  The latest IPad and IPhone have been particularly good to the news companies that embrace the tablet and mobile formats.  The speed of downloads has improved dramatically,  and the quality of video continues to improve.  And, finally, advertisers are at least trying the platforms.

Let me start with the The Daily, the first IPad native news business.  I use them more today than I did in the past.  The faster download times, the far better indexing and  briefing features and the quality of the journalism  have all made a difference, and as always, the application makes terrific use of the IPad’s true value to display beautiful photography.  It’s slickness still makes it hard for me to grasp how timely the information is — it’s almost too pretty to make you believe it’s very current — but that may just be my problem associating beautiful design with magazine journalism.  There isn’t enough video or interactive storytelling to make this a total home run yet, and too much of the video that is there  is a talking head.  I am a paid subscriber, but I don’t have the sense of urgency that I must have this product.  It think still needs some defining and exclusive content. I do love the new “Breaking News Alert” (see left) that blasted in front of the cover when the news of a foiled Al Qaeda plot was reported.

I still use the NYPost App, after it has moved into Apple’s newsstand.  It’s easy to navigate and a terrific digital manifestation of the paper’s look, feel and content, capturing much of the personality that the defines the Post.  I have subscribed and I rarely buy or see a print edition anymore.

For the several months I have been using a terrific App called “PressReader” from Newspaper Direct, which offers access to “replica” versions of hundreds of newspapers around the world in real time.  You can, for the price of a single subscription, get all the papers you want to get on the service.  Or you can buy single newspapers when you want them.  It’s a nifty App that shows the exact newspaper that is printed, but then allows you to drill down and navigate digitally by clicking on the stories you want to read.  Hard to explain, easy to use.  I have been able to keep up with the San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post,  and several other publications including some British papers, on an as-needed basis.

I still read my old standby national newspapers:  The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and USA Today via their apps.  The Times is now part of the Apple Newsstand, but to me the application, while clean, loses too much of the look and feel of the times, and just seems less urgent and complete.   Too many stories are first presented with a headline and a couple paragraphs, with no graphic stimulation.   It’s easy to use, but has no soul and I frequently miss stories that I see in the Print Edition.  I still get the NYTimes printed paper at home on the weekends, and I much prefer it.

The Wall Street Journal app is a much better translation of the newspaper and its feel.  It also gives the reader a version of the journal that is updated to the time the reader has signed on.  It’s a great mix of a daily newspaper of record and updated news since printing. There is growing use of photos and video that shows real promise.

Finally the USA Today Ipad App is also very clean.  The good and the bad news about the USA Today app is that it is a close cousin to the look of the paper.  While it captures some of the design feature of the paper, some have become tired.   The site loses a sense of urgency and  news judgement by stacking stories with essentially the same look and feel as each other.  The larger layouts in the print version of the paper are often the most attractive devices in the newspaper, and they are not translated to this platform.  Photos dominate the visuals, and the reader gets little interactive or even passive, graphic presentation that approaches what is so great about the print paper.  The page looks the same every day.  USAToday’s IPhone app is slicker and faster to use.

Broadcast news outlets have become a large part of my news consumption through digital platforms as well.  On the financial news front,  I love Marketwatch, but hate that there isn’t a better presentation of it’s news product on the IPad.  There is a data app, which was recently updated, but while it’s clean and efficient, I hate that it is a fixed horizontal app, and when my IPad is in the upright position (I have a charger that leaves it vertically on my desk) the content is sideways and useless to me.  I have the same problem with the Wall Street Journal Live App.  So I have shifted to CNBC’s RT (Real Time) App, which is easy to use, gives me the most graphic depiction of Indexes, My Stocks, News (easy and efficient access to all news) and Videos and has the added bonus of being in Real-Time, not delayed data.  And, there are much better and more timely videos, which you would expect. This is CNBC’s first major success on digital platforms.

CNN’s IPad app is very visual (It should use more words) and allows the viewer to watch CNN live.  The ABC News, NBC News and CBS News Apps are all too visual, showing photos and a few words for every story, and linking to work they have largely done on TV.  They will, someday, discover that words are also important to the storytelling process on digital platforms.

All in all, I am spending a lot more time on my IPad, including the time spent on News sites.  My habits are changing…so are everyone else’s.  Clearly the transition is taking place.  But it still feels like we have some more changes to go and some new software and hardware to lead the way.

The latest tombstone in the “old media” cemetery is Kodak. Once the most powerful name in photography, Kodak stands out as a company that took too long to understand what its real purpose was. It wasn’t to make film, it was to take “pictures” that allow their customers to preserve images.

If Kodak understood that they were in the business of helping people preserve memories or create art, the would have been in the forefront of the digital revolution. It’s the same issue the newspaper industry faced because they were so busy protecting a newspaper business model that was dying in front of them that they forgot their real business, as defined by their customers, was to deliver news and information.

This isn’t a problem that has reared its head only in the media world. Remember trains? If the huge railroad companies saw themselves as transporting people and freight rather than running trains, they would have been more involved in the development of cars, trucks and airplanes than they were. And they would still be huge companies today.

It all comes down to a single simple point: As a business, define yourself through the customers you serve, not through yourself. In the end, if you are in business, you are in business to serve customers, not just yourself.

It’s not widely known here that most of the highly-discounted fashion sites in the US, like Gilt,  HauteLook, Beyond The Rack, Rue La La,  Fab.com and others are really copies of a site that began in France almost a decade ago,  called vente-privee.

A fascinating company with nearly a billion dollars in revenue,  vente-privee began the process of daily sales of luxury products that were generally remnant inventory from high fashion designers discounted by about 70%.  its sales were generally posted at 8 in the morning, and enormously popular in France.  

The business soared because it offers a totally different experience than a direct sale from the brand itself.  The prices is considerably cheaper, yet doesn’t threaten the relationship between the brands and their best customers, who look for the latest and hottest fashions.  Vente-privee makes the brand accessible to a more mass audience because that audience is willing to concede certain things in order to own products from the brand at a more affordable price.

Vente-privee’s founder Jacques-Antoine Granjon had, until now, avoided the American market, making the case to me in an interview in 2010 that it was different and now more competitive.  But he found a way in.  He found a partner, American Express (NYSE: AXP).  By partnering with American Express he avoids the huge costs of having to build his brand here..they will do it for him.  And because of his relationships with the European designers, he might be able to bring more exclusive products to this market, which otherwise has become very crowded with copycats.

This international move is another example of the power of the internet to remove barriers to doing business everywhere.  Vente-privee is now able to bring its size and pricing power into the US Market without huge upfront costs because American Express, like so many US companies looking for pathways to grow, is expanding it’s presence into e-commerce.  This is a perfect opportunity to test the e-commerce marketplace with a successful partner.  By working with an established business from another country, American Express is able to extract value from the relationship in the form of a learning process in exchange for something it can trade with little incremental expense, branding and exposure to the US Market.  It’s a smart move for both companies.

The impact on the US competitors is yet to be seen.  It could make life more difficult, but it could also serve to expand the market for everyone by making this kind of shopping more acceptable.

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The choice of Scott Thompson is another roll of the dice by the Yahoo Board, which hasn’t been winning a lot at the craps table lately. But to be fair to Pay Pal’s extremely successful boss Scott Thompson, everyone deserves a chance to rise to the occasion,

The problem is that Yahoos board continues to see the company in their image as a technology company when it clearly has to become a media company to succeed. The last CEO was also hired for her tech creds, though shortly after arriving she admitted that her own assessment was that the company had to become a media content company. She just didn’t know how to do that.

Hopefully, Thompson will be a quick study and will learn what it takes to become a content creator. But it is a big bet, and the choice reflects a board that is still unable to see the future clearly enough to make the changes necessary. They hired one of their own, leaving the task of deciding the company’s future in the CEO with little or no help from the board.

It can be done. But it’s not easy.

A clear message that the board understood the direction the company had to take would have been to appoint a true media executive. I’m thankful that Thompson has deep consumer experience. But it remains to be seen whether or not he has the vision to become a great media executive.