Monday, October 12, 2009

Rehabilitating Paid Content

:Consolidation and Integration Could Save Paid Media, Online and Off

It goes without saying that when it comes to content, who gets paid for it and how are the issue of the day when it comes to solving the “problem” of the internet. As media continues to fragment and online users become more impatient, log-ins and user names are among the first things to cause someone to click the back button on their browser – forget about asking them to pull out a credit card unless FedEx or UPS is involved.

For news content (music and video as well), the issue for consumers has been framed as cost. They expect it to be free and if it’s not they simply won’t pay. But, psychologically it may not necessarily be money that stands in the way of people paying for content, but rather clutter.

These days even millennials are overwhelmed by the internet. The cohort that grew up showing their parents how to use e-mail and messing around in chat rooms when they were 13 are becoming slower to adopt the exponentially growing number of new online services and opportunities.

From multiple e-mails (personal [new and old], work and/or school) to Twitter to YouTube and Hulu accounts, to the NYT/ Wall Street Journal, a personal blog, an account on a forum and maybe even a porn subscription–even the simplest of online users have a cluster f@#k of information to keep track of just to access information. Moreover, it’s likely that for most their user names and log-ins are all different, as some sites demand specific letter and number combinations and lengths for usernames and passwords–and everyone hates it. AND, even when we do easily remember, we silently groan as we move our hands from the mouse to the keyboard just to read the rest of an article or find that our friend has logged us out of facebook on our own computer.

Online, we want consolidation, simplicity.

Sure people are used to the internet being free, but why do we assume people won’t pay for online content? Just because they haven’t? We pay for cable to see the programs we like when network TV is a free alternative. And we pay even more on top of that for HBO and Showtime. But these channels are just a few options from a media menu we construct and enjoy as a delightful digital meal – all on one bill every month, tip included.

The current internet pay-for-content model we’re rejecting is “pay by channel.” Figuratively, it has us whipping out our credit card to pay for CNN, Fox, MSNBC, CNBC... Comedy Central, Spike, Oxygen, TNT... all separately and forcing us to use a log-in and password any time we’re looking to channel surf. “Uggh, f@#k that,” we all say, and I agree.

What I’m getting at is nothing outrageously new: if costs and access were consolidated online (and off-more below) I think we’d see a very different type of user behavior emerge. People would likely see things very differently if, instead of paying a separate bill with separate log-in information for NYT, the Economist and Esquire, etc., they could purchase a “preferred media package” included with their cable, internet and phone bill.

Further, lets talk offline. Ask any millennial and I highly doubt you’ll find many that don’t enjoy reading magazines and news papers in the flesh, or think that libraries should be online. Sure we want it there too, but it turns out we like books all the same. We do, however, have a problem with print, and it’s directly related to the issue of clutter.

Anecdote alert). I’m always moving to a new apartment every 5 months or at least every year or so. And every time I actually buy a newspaper I think–if only the Boston Globe offered me an easy way to manage my subscription via facebook! If only my Esquire subscription could live in the RFID chip on my credit card and be good for my monthly issue wherever I happen to be that month. And don’t give me reasons why this can’t work. Do you want to sell newspapers and magazines or don’t you?

The other key point here, along with consolidation, is integration. If I could manage my subscriptions on facebook, where I already am, or if I could choose where to pick up my magazines (just an example)–then that’s a whole new world for me. The internet and print don’t have to be opposing forces in my view, rather they have the ability to be complimentary.

In summation: I don’t think people aren’t against paying for the news, we have been doing it for a very long time – and sure we’re against spending money, but I’m willing to bet that what we are more against are log-ins and laundry lists of monthly charges on our credit cards. More against picking apart websites for the phone number to change 5 subscriptions, when we know we’re just going to have to do it again in 5 months.

What I’m saying is that consolidation, integration and simplification, or rather convenience, could be a key ingredient to rehabilitating the feasibility of paid content.

Make my life easier, give me what I want, here take my money.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Vest Week

A hooded sweatshirt might be informal for work, but you cut off the sleeves and now it's fine. As I meditated on this paradox on my way into the city this morning, nervously eying my hooded cut-off, I contemplated the fashion cycle of vests. When they're in they're awesome, and when they are out it's more like: "Is that guy really wearing a vest? Let's leave those for early 90s intro's to Friends, shall we? Thanks." Well right now vests are back* and I'm taking advantage of it all this week! With a warm chestal area and slightly chilly arms I plan to live each sleeveless day to it's fullest. Next week, plaid or argyle, not sure yet.

* Are they? I actually have no idea... the more I think about it I don't think they are.

Update: Had a few questions about the sweatshirt vest, naturally. This is it. Pretty gangster, I know... (PS I did not cut the sleeves off, it came like that).

Thursday, October 1, 2009

We're not as digital as you think

More often than not it’s my peers, not my parents, asking me, “So what’s this twitter thing?” In my circle of friends (all millennials) I am among the most Internet savvy. For anyone working with social media on a daily basis this should concern you. If it turns out that millennials aren’t that digital then what are we doing? And what are they up to?

I may be slightly above average when it comes to my grasp of the “State of the Internet,” and I am literally always learning. I don’t mean that in one of those cute, oh shucks I’m always learning kind of way, rather it’s a frantic, confusing cluster k@#k of learning while I try to drink in new technologies, understand their potential and offer strategies about how best to leverage them for marketing purposes. So if this is me then where are my peers?

The issue here is, to what extent are average millennials engaged with the world of social media. And this is when David Scott and Malcolm Gladwell pop into my head. Most of what I know about the information superhighway highway was gleaned from what can only be described as Mavens. People who sat down at my computer and said back in 2005, “Hey I’m going to put Firefox on your computer, it’s better than IE, just trust me.” They were the ones who pointed me down the "long tail" of new technology literacy. And here’s where Scott comes in, because it seems that while internet literacy is growing wider and deeper, ultimately it’s not common knowledge, but a niche skill to use blogs and navigate twitter.

In the introduction to my thesis on Barack Obama’s presidential campaign I set up the premise that 2007 and 2008 not only had Internet technology advanced, but people’s comfort and literacy with it had finally progressed enough as well (an educated guess). As a result, more people knew not only what the Internet was and how to use google, but they were aware of and engaged with social and mobile technology. Yay, online community coming to fruition. Clicks translated to real life action. Awesome.

And yet, even with twitter as yesterday’s news it still seems to mystify many. Frequently I find myself at social events extolling the virtues of blogging or explain to them that reading and (of course) using twitter is worth their time. While many are happy to hear about it at first, I find the that just the idea of using these technologies are frequently met with misunderstandings, skepticism and more often that one would think, outright hostility – I'm arguing with 20 year olds that the internet is cool. What?

Last year when I saw the new Dentyne ice campaign on the subway I had to smile because it validated the Account Planner in. Someone else had come to the same conclusion I had, that outward disdain for social media could be a good position for a band. That is, even though many people may use social media they are confused by it and what they do use they resent for the time it steals from their lives and for the diminishing direct social contact – it’s tough to share even a football game on a computer, let alone while surfing.

So what do we have? The Internet is confusing and on the whole millennials are just as confused as everyone else. There is a big chunk of mystery, misunderstanding and just plain lack of understanding sitting between a few (million) heavy users and everyone getting on board. The knowledge barrier to hurdle just to use twitter is high, then to use it enough to like it? Most say forget it. Reading blogs? Starting a blog? Most millennials see it as an attention thing or expect to start getting followers within a few weeks having followed no one themselves. On the whole we are skeptical and even pessimistic toward the Internet.

I’m not saying that millennials don’t use the Internet, we use it a lot. Just not where or how you think we do. And I’ll tell you one thing right now – it’s not facebook fan pages.