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Friday, February 25, 2005

Grenades, Miracles and The Post's New Ombudsman 

Howell to Become Next Post Ombudsman

Deborah Howell has announced her retirement from the Newhouse newspaper organization, and her eventual move to The Washington Post to serve as its ombudsman. Deborah knows her stuff, and she is, as she describes herself in the WaPo piece linked above, "feisty and aggressive."

Grab: In fact, Howell wrote, she keeps a dummy hand grenade on one side of her desk, as well as a jar inscribed "Miracles" on the other. "If one doesn't work," she said, "I can always try the other."

This is wistful news to me. Deborah oversees my client, Religion News Service, for Newhouse. She's been a terrific partner in building RNS--which is the only secular newswire which focuses exclusively on religion as a news story.

But what a great gig to move to, especially in this time of serious newspaper readership transition. I believe Deborah will help the Post navigate that transition well.

Deborah, all of us associated with the Newhouse news organization are very proud of you.


Thursday, February 24, 2005

Cleveland B2B Rocks 

Location, location, location

Fellow b2b media blogger Paul Conley has a nice meditation on the unique places where b2b media companies make their headquarters.

Sample grab: Location is the advantage that many trade-journalism companies have in the recruiting battle. And I'm always surprised how few of them seem to understand that.

While it doesn't have the romance of the Berkshires (or much else, really), I'd like to add Cleveland to his list. Home to the headquarters of Penton Media, and the former headquarters--and still major office--of Advanstar, deeply economically depressed Cleveland boasts a cadre of fine b2b journalists and publishers.

I used to enjoy my trips to Cleveland for Advanstar corporate meetings. The office, built for an insurance company, sits on a beautiful piece of land (see the little picture). It was a huge open office, on one main floor, with executive types up a level on a partial floor. To manage the noise, small rivers burbled among the cubicles. (People located near the rivers had to use the bathroom more than average).

Advanstar ended up in Cleveland in a complicated way. Bill Jovanovich, the chairman of media powerhouse HBJ, decided to move the corporate headquarters of the company out of New York City--a controversial move for a major book publisher. HBJ ended up in Orlando, and Bob Edgell, the chairman of the b2b magazine division, took over the Cleveland space. Of course, that was before HBJ ended up hobbling itself in the late 80s in an attempt to fight off a corporate takeover.

And so HBJ Publications became Edgell Communications, which became Advanstar.

Advanstar is also a major employer in sunny, tropical Duluth, Minnesota. For some reason, I'd find myself in Duluth most Februarys--probably the result of some karma issue I have. The Duluth Advanstar team--circulation, production and finance, primarily--is one of the best in the business--if not the best.

As I re-read this, I note that I'm not doing much to support Paul's recruiting thesis here, except maybe for the fact that great b2b opportunities can be found anywhere.


Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Politically Incorrect Pro-Microsoft Screed 

Ross Mayfield's Weblog: The Spy Who Monopolized Me

Sorry, big screed to follow. The kind of kneejerk anti-Microsoft stuff found in Ross Mayfield's link, above, really steams me. Microsoft created the problem of spyware or viruses like a retail store creates the problem of shoplifting and robbery.

Monopoly? I seem to remember--maybe I'm too old--when Americans beat themselves up because we had lost the global economy to Japan. But when we homegrow our own dominant player, our response is to litigate. Cry foul.

Someday, when we're bemoaning the loss of American economic dominance to China, we'll remember the good old days and get misty eyed over ol' Bill Gates.

And to everyone who hates Microsoft because Apple is cool? It was Apple's monopolistic tactics which caused it to lose to the PC. Just as Beta was better than VHS, perhaps the Mac was better than the PC. But Apple didn't let others manufacture Macintosh clones until it was too late. And I believe Apple writes its own proprietary OS--something which Sony, HP, Dell and other PC makers don't. (That seems really monopolistic!) Sony made a similar mistake with Beta, and lost. They learned their lesson on DVDs, and won.

Bill Gates' vision of a computer in every office, and then in every home, revolutionized the world. It wasn't an elitist vision of the coolest system for the coolest graphic designers. It was a populist vision of good enough and cheap enough and it worked. It's why Ferraris rule, but there are more Fords on the road.

The new Microsoft vision of the fully media-center-enabled home and media-enabled mobile devices, is the next wave, which will change how we live. And how media companies deliver their content.

And for Mayfield to quote Sun Tzu in the link above is just simply irritating. Gates' tactics have always been about Sun Tzu. He won, others lost, by executing on the wisdom of the master strategist. Sun Tzu didn't offer strategies for being nice--he offered strategies to dominate, to win. Winners always look unfair to the losers.

I love open-source, and competition...and look forward to how Microsoft will respond. We consumers will only benefit. Let's just not be surprised when they don't roll over and play dead. Microsoft is a fierce competitor, and that's good.

So, I'm steeled for your responses on how wrong I am and what a dupe I am.

Thanks, I feel better now. Screed over.

Disclosure: I own a few hundred shares of Microsoft and Intel, and seriously doubt that this creates a tremendous amount of bias. I bought the stocks because I use the products. I'll sell them when I stop using the products.


Ink-on-Paper Economics 

B-to-b publishers face imminent hike in paper prices

Ok, postal costs are rising again, and so are paper costs. While I'm not prepared to say that print, or even newspapers, are dead (see RexBlog for some thoughts on this point), ink-on-paper as a delivery mechanism is certainly on the decline.

As I posted earlier, we in print media should think of ourselves as "written word" media, in order to distinguish ourselves from primarily visual or audio media. How we distribute the written word--in print, through the mail, on the 'Net, or by email--is an economic decision, based on the cost in money to us and the cost in time and money to our audience.

Our friends at the Postal Service and the paper mills are helping us to make that decision.

Again, maybe I misunderstand supply and demand, but as demand tails off for postal service delivery and for rolls of number 5 coated groundwood, shouldn't prices recede? Nope, because the overheads have to be covered. So magazines shrink in size, and hard printing and distribution costs rise.

I look forward to the day when postal rates and paper prices decrease in an attempt to win back my business. Say, five years from now? But by then, I may have broken the habit of applying the written word to paper.

Note: Received the new Postal Service magazine, deliver, yesterday (2/22). Look forward to reading it on the plane today. Let's see, raise rates, but give magazine designed to show me how to use the mail system. The irony is heavy.


Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Postal Rates 

Lower Postal Hikes Expected

The postal service looks like it will offer a lower price increase to periodical publishers--for now. We should be grateful--the kind of gratitude we feel when someone stops flogging us. (And note the cute 34 cent stamp to the left. Ah, the good old days!)

I completely understand that we have the bestest postal service in the world, and that it's relatively cheap, given its universal service and fairly good delivery record.

But at a time when the underpinnings of what we mean by 'print' are transforming--let's substitute 'written media' for 'print'--increasing our rates isn't going to work. Pure economics will force publishers to continue to seek alternative delivery methods, including electronic--which lowers the total volume of mailed issues, which lowers postal revenues, which then forces another rate increase.

I think the postal service needs to rethink this pattern. They're losing everywhere--to email, FedEx and UPS, and the Internet. They need to cut costs, try new delivery and pricing strategies (should it cost the same to mail a letter from Washington, D.C. to New York as it does from Washington to Nome, Alaska?), and recognize that the volume of direct mail and magazines/catalogs can be increased by lowering prices, not raising them. This volume would translate into higher revenues.

There is a way for the Postal Service to compete, but it's not by jacking up rates.


Hanley-Wood: A Case Study In Dominance 

Real Estate - Local real estate analysis concern is acquired

Hanley-Wood continues to show how to do it. They surround the construction/remodel market with dominant magazine and conference brands, expand the edges of that market with interesting related acquisitions (public works, pools and spas), reach out to consumers with home plans, and go deep into databases and analytics.

This would be their second database acquisition, if I have my facts straight.

Very smart moves from a very smart team.


Monday, February 21, 2005

Sad Day 

Hunter S. Thompson committed suicide.

One of the reasons I continued to renew my subscription to Rolling Stone was for the promise of an occasional Thompson piece. He, like Jon Stewart, found a way to address big issues with humor and over-the-top effect, usually getting it more right than the serious pundits and journalists.



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