Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Recent technological history lets us understand where we are going

Belleville, March 2011
The nature of digital communications media always means a constant change business model 
by Tom Thorne
There was no hint in the middle to late 1960’s of the World Wide Web (WWW) when I was an undergraduate studying broadcasting and journalism at Toronto’s Ryerson University. We learned our journalism craft on ancient clunky Underwood typewriters. The Age of Gutenberg was still in ascendency and the upstart worlds of radio and television were still growing and developing. Most media had satisfactory market shares and could rely of the stability of their markets to make a reasonable living. 
Then broadcast media companies began to build their first microwave networks and subsequently added satellite distribution of their signals. Later print publishers created satellite distributed national newspapers. In Canada The Globe and Mail took advantage of satellites to fully become Canada’s national newspaper of record. USA Today appeared in the United States also using satellites to distribute their newspaper. Satellites gave birth to the likes of Cable News Network (CNN) utilizing Ted Turner’s local Atlanta TV outlet which quickly became a national “super station”.
Super stations squeezed local market shares into more highly targeted specialty channels delivered by cable. This phenomenon created the first inkling of financial stress for local and regional media barons who were not as astute as Ted Turner. It meant less revenue for their local radio, TV, and newspaper businesses. The first layer of benefits went to cable companies who could provide more and more choices for ever increasing monthly fees. The economic model of broadcasting had been altered by innovative technological developments. Local financial stresses resulted in buyouts by chains of broadcasting stations and newspapers. Ownership became concentrated as local broadcasters and publishers fell to large media conglomerates often with centralized content services.
Enter personal computers: a radical idea
Layered on satellite distribution another technical innovation began to develop . Personal computers had not yet entered the popular experience. However in some minds the promise was a big one. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were about to enter their urban legend garage and develop the Apple 1.  Bill Gates was about to drop out and start Microsoft. The Information Age  had not yet hatched but clearly the egg had been laid. 
The birth of personal computers in the middle 1970s was due largely to the invention of relatively inexpensive large scale integration (LSI) and later very (VLSI) central processors and circuit boards spurred by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) mammoth technological innovations needed to get them to the moon and back. 
This technology provided the opportunity for stand alone desk top computers to appear for a reasonable cost. It was soon discovered that there was a rather unique economic formula that went with VSLI: it gets cheaper as it gets better. This led quickly to the development and marketing of commercial personal computers.  
Stand alone desk top computers appeared and had the effect of lessening expert control over large corporate computing systems and networks.  The first wave of personal computing was truly stand alone. Then when it was realized by managements and bureaucracies that this technology creates independence of thought and action, personal computers were quickly networked and wired into the mainframe world. Corporate information processing types viewed personal computers as a threat. Imagine someone actually capturing their own data on their desk top. Imagine what could happen if that “personal computer” was not hard wired into the mainframe so its processing could be controlled. 
So it’s a wonder that personal computers even happened. Information systems experts working the large centralized installations didn’t endorse the concept of personal computing at all. It was considered risky and “without standards”. Today, personal computing is so normal and ubiquitous it goes unnoticed as normal but in the 1970s and throughout the 1980s it remained a very radical idea teetering on the edge of a notion.  
The World Wide Web appears 
There was little hint of what was to develop in the late 1970s and through to the 1990s when experiments in Videotex and Teletext edged us about 1985  towards the inevitable birth of the World Wide Web and platform independent HTML along with data transfer protocols which enabled all the delightfully uncontrolled development that has taken place over the past 20 years. The WWW is truly a freeform network that is difficult to tame. It is networked computing as a communications medium.  The glue that holds it together is insatiable demand for useful content and knowledge. It is both tribal and inherently social.
When the WWW finally got rolling classic print and broadcast media company managements began to talk of Web “economic models” that could or might make money in the future. They wanted to corral the new medium into a traditional media revenue producing streams. Newspapers and many communications media companies began to “experiment” with this new medium. 
In the worlds of newspapers and network television the fragmentation caused by the web based content services pressured old media into new forms also distributed digitally on the WWW. How could this make money they wondered? Give free access to the base pages and then sell subscriptions to get the detailed story. That was the current business model used by traditional media companies. Now we are seeing other  web site traffic induced revenue streams develop from the inherent networking nature of the Web and the placement of promotions and advertising on sites that perform.
The telecoms and cable companies saw their business opportunities by remaining in their traditional roles as “common carriers” of the WWW as they had done for television’s fragmenting expansion. They always make money from the content of others and dabble in content production only as an experiment as the medium develops.
What is particularly interesting about current WWW developments is the pull to the centre by new web companies interested in mastering the new digital media for profit. The classic media companies that are trying to concentrate control and ownership. The real control that is emerging with the web-based organizations such as Google that understands the intense cross promotional nature of this medium and the tiny micro-markets that emerge to be cost effectively served by Google controlled advertising and other services that attach promotional messages to content websites. 
New business models will be ones that fully grasp that good editorial content is what always drives new media development whether it is Gutenberg movable type technology in the fifteenth century that gave birth to affordable books, periodicals, new literary forms, and eventually led to mass print publications that developed through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and into our time. Print techniques only made sense because they enabled content to be distributed cost effectively. When radio and television developed it was also content driven for the same reason. All previous mass media have been supported by advertising revenues or direct purchases of content by consumers.
The digital media are probably no different. The WWW business models will develop because as usual good editorial work attracts readers, viewers and users. However, there is a main difference.  Increasingly work on the WWW will come from individuals rather than organizations. The Great Fragmentation is now possible as the authors of content have the means of high quality editorial production and distribution on their desktop for low cost. Blogs are a manifestation of this phenomenon.
Google type companies main content comes largely from automated dynamic systems that massage data into maps, searches or place advertising on sites with popular or useful editorial content. The sites receiving this advertising revenue will see tangible dollar results for their work.  However the bulk of the money generated will likely go to the Googles and other similar companies who really provide defining pathways into the WWW maze. However they are in a way the new common carrier with a difference over cable and telecom companies. They are also interested in controlling content.
The nature of personal computing and personal publishing is to fragment pyramid shaped organizations and create an opportunity where the individual with a computer and an internet connection can own the means of editorial production. The natural resistance of bloggers to central control may well define a new business model where writers commentators, educators and knowledge providers are compensated for the value of their knowledge and content by a yet to be defined business constantly changing models. The more likely scenario is that content will be filtered as useful or not useful by large automated search engine systems that are setup to ensure the success of the business plans of their masters. 
© Copyright 2011, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Selling wine is really selling pleasure.

Prospects buying wine need help
By Tom Thorne
If we first ask the question “What are prospects really buying
in a wine shop?” we may be surprised by the answers we
come up with and what the prospects tell the sales people.
Some answers to the question might be: pleasure, enjoyment,
or perhaps prestige or the building of confidence and social
savvy and food matching. Buying for someone else’s taste
which is always a difficult sale. 
You may come up with your own ideas for what prospects are 
actually buying when they purchase wine. It’s certainly a product 
with many product intangibles and it always requires sales people 
to sensitively engage prospects to convert them into loyal returning
customers. Wine buyers always want information without the
embarrassment of displaying their lack of knowledge.
Levels of buyer involvement
A more marketing type of analysis of what prospects do during
a wine purchase can be useful. First there is the level of
involvement in the purchase. Under high involvement a
prospect could go through a very complex procedure sifting
the differences between brands and types of wines available
and how the product array interfaces their own biases.
If there are a few choices then it is a much simpler process as
it may be in a boutique winery. The anxiety that they may
have selected less than they hoped for always exists. This is
one of the issues of prospects and new customers not
knowledgeable about Ontario high end wine products versus
competing wines from around the world can experience.
Prospects and even those considered a customer entering a
store with a wide and deep selection may face a lot of choices 
and therefore will do lot of sifting to reach a choice. They may 
also be mesmerized by the selection and find their learning 
curve frustrating. That’s why they need sales help.
Low involvement buying is when customers seek a simple
answer to their need for a wine. They will naturally be
attracted to a low involvement solution probably taking them
to what is on sale or asking “what’s popular”. Low
involvement is also often about saving face over a lack of
wine knowledge. It creates habitual buying of known entities
and a cessation of any learning and excitement about the
pleasures of wine. Using this analysis of two main customer
segments may take any retail customer service program a
step further. It becomes obvious that all needs and wants are
not the same.

Adding marketing to sales techniques
 Adding marketing elements to retail selling can go a long way
to sensitize staff to how purchase decisions are really made
and how their questioning is perceived by prospects at their
level of involvement in the purchase.
The five steps to a purchase  Buyer decisions are made in a five 
step process. The first four steps of this process can take 
15 minutes or becompleted in 10 seconds depending on the prospect’s
involvement level and the importance of their decision or price
point-value considerations. The prospect’s purchase steps
after they have been greeted and welcomed to the store are:

Need Recognition: Can this store and its products fill the
prospect’s needs? This is the one reason why they want to
browse. They want some space and time to size up what is
there. They also are surveying your price points.

Information Search: Even while they are being questioned
by a sales person they take down bottles and read the
information on the label and compare potential choices.

Evaluation of Alternatives: Observe while prospects
consider choices. Is it this wine? Yes? No? Then they put it
back and consider another. Often they look at something else
and then go back to the first choice. At all of these prospect
stages a well designed sales training and wine knowledge
program will help sales people to genuinely help a prospect
make choices.

The Purchase Decision: At this moment the sensitive sales
person to this process can sense the cue to close and move
the prospect to the cash. They will be looking for confirmation
of their choice of wine. If their wants and needs have been
probed then this is a simple process to reinforce the choice.

Post-purchase Behavior: This last point is why it is
important to ask customers back and if you see them again
ask how they enjoyed the wine they bought the last time.
Done well and consistently this stage can create loyal
returning customers. Was their choice reinforced when they
pulled out the cork and poured out a glass?
How do sales staff help The Buyer Decision Process? First
they must realize that this process always goes on when
anything is being purchased and if they are truly listening the
cues for each step always emerge. That takes us to listening skills. 
Anyone who sells wine must learn to listen carefully for cues 
about when to interface the sales process (Greet, Qualify, Match 
and Close) on the prospect’s buying process. 
When all this is done well the outcome is always satisfaction. 
Good service is memorable to the prospect and always builds
the reputation of the winery or wine retailer. It also goes a long 
way to make and keep them as a customer while enhancing 
their wine knowledge and appreciation.
© Copyright 2011, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved   
The author sold wine for nine years and these observations are a result 
of that experience.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Bureaucrats love certainty.

Bureaucratic Life 
Why political correctness is so appealing to bureaucrats
By Tom Thorne
Bureaucrats like certainty. They dislike and even hate any form of uncertainty. They are not very fond of criticism or people who present analysis of problems.  Bureaucrats are, at their core dictatorial and do not live in a democratic world. Political correctness is a dictatorship of the mind and attempts to denigrate or control rational thought or argument that might exist or be surfacing in an organization by implementing a set of rules to control behaviour. 
Political correct rules set up and delineate how everyone relates to everyone else but within an inflexible set of parameters. Implementing rules of political correctness is appealing to bureaucrats because it sets up rule bound behaviours that are predictable. The result is the use of administrative rules for employees to follow blindly.This process does not encourage discussion or contrary opinions. 
The peanut allergy example
Lets examine a typical political correct ruling set up to control any problem that might surface that could rock the status quo. Admittedly, there are people when they taste peanuts go into an allergic shock reaction that could be life threatening. Fortunately, these people are few and far between. For the bureaucratic mind the principle of serving the needs of the few over the many is not done to keep children with peanut allergies safe from coming into contact with peanuts. 
When they impose a total ban on peanuts and peanut butter in a school (or in some cases an entire school board), the real reason is avoid any problem that might occur. Avoiding problems no matter how remote the problem is a singular feature of bureaucratic political correct thinking.  
It simplifies any need to manage the situation by simply employing an administrative rule. Management on a case by case basis is seen by bureaucrats as having the potential for involvement in messy human interactions. This is the appeal to bureaucrats of administrative rules. Rules overcome any need to ever deal with a real problem.
Separation not an option
Separating the allergic person from the general population at meal times is not an option to the politically correct mindset. That might be messy and have the potential for a human crisis.  It would also not be “inclusive”. There is lots of angst worrying that the person with the allergy will feel somehow “different” when set apart from the other students. A management would realize that the person with an allergy to peanuts is de facto different from the general population.
In the meantime the rest of the student body is not allowed to bring peanuts or peanut based products in their lunches. To the bureaucratic mind the problem is solved when there are no peanuts anywhere in the school. Appeals by parents, teachers or students will not change this administrative ruling once it has been imposed.
The principle in this situation is what bothers me because it is applied to much more important things than peanut butter sandwiches. The greater good has to be sacrificed for the exception. In an attempt to make one kid feel OK and be included everyone else is denied the use of peanuts. 
Some argue that this a small price to pay for safety but I argue that the principle of the exception becoming the rule is a position that comes from ideas of arbitrary dictatorships and is a threat to normal human interaction and common sense which is usually what is at the core of values of the common good. 

© Copyright 2011, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Checking facts?

Development of the on-line journalism markets...

Award level journalism provided for free
I now feel that with all the blogging and opinion pieces on the web it is time for personal journalism to develop and hopefully flourish with some professional standards and of course some revenue. 
This morning I heard a radio program tear apart the Huffington Post. com management for making profits on the back of journalists, bloggers and commentators who post their work for free on that web site. The journalists who were interviewed thought that if their work is used by a money making web based publications like the Huffington Post  then they should get paid since the publisher has been allegedly doing quite well financially of late. One of the free contributors was apparently put up for a Pulitzer Prize for her story by the Huffington Post management. The Post benefitted but there was no payment for the original work even when the work reached Pulitzer’s lofty standards.
Welcome to Dodge City and the Wild West
This raises the general issue of how new digital media pay or don’t pay for freelance content. Publishers perhaps believe in these early days that getting published is reward enough especially if they are seen as a creditable publication. The Huffington Post maintains its own regular paid staffers but relies on the generosity of other journalists to freely flesh out their daily content offering to their readers.
The truth is many bloggers and journalists simply use their stories as a cross promotion to get attention for other activities they are engaged in such as book or film they have recently completed. So it isn’t one sided that the Huffington Post is a grasping greedy outfit exploiting journalists. They may provide a useful promotional service and get good editorial into the bargain. 
It will only be exploitation if the reputation of the Post is built on the backs of journalists who at this juncture are making the transition from fewer jobs in print and broadcasting to the new on-line media. It is also dangerous to publish unpaid work if hidden in the content the writer has an ax to grind. In that sense web journalism resembles the worst excesses of wild west as editorial standards are developed and livings are starting to be made . 
© 2011 Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

What is epublishing?

The dying world of print journalism is making its way painfully to the web

There is a certain Darwinian aspect to how journalism and print publishing are being rationalized and recast by the birth of new web based media, as they morph old print forms into new media versions of themselves. The evidence is everywhere. First is the development of profitable publishing on the web itself. Many previous print publications are making the transition with a survival of the fittest mentality as they embrace web distribution and let their print empires (mostly chains of newspapers) wither away.

Genetic advantages
They have some genetic advantage it seems because they have been instinctively in the web game for the years of poor profits and low returns that are now anxiously turning the fiscal corner. They had the right stuff to hang on. They have developed new web survival tools. Local broadcasters have also moved from the airwaves to on-line and expanded their market for local stations worldwide.

The transition from desk top computers to hand held smart phones and now tablets and simultaneously the growth of ubiquitous wireless reception is also changing the way new web based media are distributed. This creates the mobility needed to fully replace paper distribution and capture the time of the readers when and where they want their content. It can also shift broadcasting to narrow casting markets. It also extends a broadcaster’s reach endlessly.

Easy software
The third aspect of this evolution is software driven. It is simply painless to build and distribute this page you are reading. Editorial software that is as easy to use and distribute will generate more and better content at lower cost and the world of personal journalism will begin the interface of established publishers already on the web and generate content.

It will be all paid for by the attention it gets from readers. If I produce content that is useful someone  somewhere will want it for a fee back to me or through sponsored link or brokerage something like the old news services of the old dying print world will spring up.

Advertisers are also trying to understand and make sense of the web’s development as a distribution and cross promotion medium. Already we see Google ads placed on content by matching the needs of the advertisers as they troll for definable and therefore exploitable markets in the morass of web content. Now you can expect to experience the growth of full digital distribution of content.

© 2011 Tom Thorne All Rights Reserved