Home Improvement

In the continuing stream of independent publications springing up in the area, we have the emergence of The Maryland Home Improvement Guide.  This new entry is a sharp-looking, all glossy, freely distributed magazine about all things involving fixing up or dressing up our homes.  In my opinion, it’s a very good idea in a market that, to this point in this region, has been largely unexplored in such a high-quality way.

Best of all, to me, it’s being done by some people I have had long-standing working relationships with, so I know that their goals and intentions are beyond reproach.  Heading this new mag is Dave Bielecki.  I worked with Dave when he was a salesperson for The Mariner during my first term of service at that magazine back in the late ’90s, and then later on at Nor’easter Magazine before my departure in 2007.  The editor of The Maryland Home Improvement Guide is none other than Wendy Gilbert, who has worked with me and for me at Nor’easter, my own publishing venture of a couple years back, Pet Companions Magazine, and most recently, during my last abbreviated stint as Editor of The Mariner.  After a conversation I had with Dave yesterday, I am certain he’s got the right approach (I was very happy to hear that he was avoiding some of the missteps I myself had made with Pet Companions) and is on to something good.

It’s always encouraging to me to see new competition arise as it keeps everyone on their toes.  There is no more taking your audience or your market for granted, plus, one of my pet peeves, as I’ve repeatedly stated, is the over-corporatization of publishing.  In today’s atmosphere, and for the foreseeable future, those large chain publishers have a problem that will have to dealt with sooner than later.  With every new entrant that comes along, the overall market pie gets divided more and more.  And where a small independent publisher can survive and thrive on 10 or 15% of the pie, these great corporate chains with their massive overhead need to keep 75% or more or they starve.

It’s been said that nature abhors a vacuum.  Well, free markets abhor a monopoly, and as the costs and barriers for entry continue to fall, the publishing market is getting more and more free every day.

The Maryland Home Improvement Guide is available monthly at drop locations in Harford and Baltimore Counties and in select locations in Cecil County.  If you see one, pick it up.  It’s worth a look.  They also have a digital version of the magazine online here for you to check out.

NBA Playoffs: One Week In

After the first week of the playoffs, a few things seem clear.  One is that Dwayne Wade has in no shape or form, any kind of roster in Miami that can can compete in playoff basketball with anybody.  If they get swept, this goes one of two ways:  The Heat clean house, get 9 or 10 new players, some of whom named Stoudemire or Bosh; or Wade is playing for the Knicks next year.  I’m betting it’s choice two.  Boston, meanwhile, could really use the sweep and the time off before a sure-to-be battle with Cleveland.  Don’t sleep on the Celtics.  Say what you want about Garnett, Piece and the gang, but they won’t fall easily.

The Spurs are who I thought they were.  Dallas, as I said, can win it all but they need to get past San Antonio first.  This is a seven game series won in the last two minutes if I’ve ever seen one, similar to the one Dallas won a couple years back when they got to the Finals.

Last season, in the second round, the Lakers got blown out not once but twice by the game Houston Rockets, and still won the series en route to the title.  So, getting blown out on the road in OKC isn’t the end of the world for the champs.  Or is it?  Unlike last year, L.A. hasn’t blown out the Thunder in any game like they did Houston.  In fact, it’s likely that the ease of the Laker wins in that series led to a lack of focus that allowed the Rockets to sneak in with the big wins.  In this series, after a miserable first quarter of game one, OKC has gotten better and better while the Lakers have all the look of a team collapsing.  Because of the broken finger, Kobe can’t shoot a high percentage, no matter how many he chucks up there, and that’s not going to magically heal.  Plus, did you catch his act in game four?  This is precisely why I’ve never really believed Kobe was the best player in the league.  Coach Phil Jackson called him out before the game for taking too many shots–justifiably so, I think, as Kobe was 28 for 76 (a putrid 37%) in the first three games.  So how does Kobe respond?  He tanks it, not taking his first shot until 3 minutes into the second quarter, and only 10 shots for the game, pouting the entire time.  Grow up.  Can anyone envision Michael Jordan pulling that in a key playoff game?  Or Lebron James, for that matter?  The Lakers are in legit trouble, and Kobe’s attitude and injuries may not allow him to save the day this time.

I thought Charlotte would be more of a challenge for Orlando, but they don’t really have that go-to scorer to close out games, and that’s killing them.  They could have won two of these games if they had that kind of player, but they don’t.

Milwaukee’s putting up a decent fight, despite no Andrew Bogut, but I get the feeling that game 3 win was the only one they ultimately get.  Same goes for the Bulls.  They’ve played hard and been more competitive than I’d thought they’d be, but the Cavs just have too much.  Next year, though, with an influx of talent sure to come through free agency, Chicago is going to be very difficult to beat.

In Portland, Brandon Roy has some seriously good doctors.  Phoenix still should win this series, but it just got a whole lot harder.  Still, this team is second round fodder for the Spurs/Mavs winner before Amare finds a new home.

Utah is playing way over their head, especially after losing Mehmet Okur to injury.  Denver is in dangerous territory.  George Karl’s not there to light a fire under this team, and if they don’t win game four on the road, you can pack this season away, as well as Chauncey Billups’ streak of Conference Finals appearances.  At best, the Nuggets are looking at a six or seven game series win that is longer than it should have been, and a second round matchup with a battered Lakers team or a hot, confident OKC club.  If they beat Utah, I’d bet they’re actually hoping to meet the Lakers.  How the mighty have fallen.

Published in: on April 25, 2010 at 5:07 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A Little Bridge Work

Having lived on the South side of the C&D Canal Bridge in Chesapeake City, having to commute North over it everyday for the better part of eight years now, I’m a little bit used to lane blockages and routine bridge work.  That being said, I’m more than slightly concerned about this most recent, ongoing repair effort.  Namely, why is it that it seems to be perfectly acceptable to leave rows of bolts sticking up an inch or two above a raised steel plate stretching completely across the northbound lane, placed just over the peak of the bridge so you don’t see it until you’re on top of it?  At least the first couple days, there were signs warning driver’s to slow down, use caution, tire damage.  Well, they aren’t even there now, but the bolts still are.

Now, I’m not an expert in the laws of physics, nor am I a traffic engineer, but each time I pass over that bridge in the past four days, I can’t help but imagine the one guy with balding tires, not quite paying full attention, hitting that plate and those bolts too fast, or worse yet, hitting it while locking up his brakes because, if you don’t already know its there, it comes up on you in a hurry.  I can see an edge of one of those bolts jamming into a weak spot in a tire wall, blowing a hole in it, the car losing control in the tight confines of the peak of the bridge and taking out one or two cars heading up the bridge southbound.  It doesn’t seem all that far-fetched to me.  And the risk of a blowout can’t be totally unrealistic, otherwise why would the work crew have listed “tire damage” on their warning signs to begin with?

Maybe the signs are gone now because something about the way the plate was secured eliminated the tire damage risk?  Maybe it’s the little mound of asphalt lining the plate’s front edge, maybe it works like a ramp and your car just bounces over it if you hit it too fast?  Of course, that doesn’t sound too comforting, either.  I would love for someone to explain it to me.  Seriously, I would like a explanation as to why my feelings that each time I go to cross that bridge in the past week have seemed to be tempting a gruesome death aren’t justified.  Anyone?  You have an open platform here, anything you want to say.  Please?  I’d apprecitiate it.

Published in: on April 23, 2010 at 3:51 pm  Leave a Comment  
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NBA Playoff Preview 16 Through 1

Yesterday, I went series by series with how I thought things would turn out in the first round of the NBA playoffs.  Today, I’m going to do an overview, from 16 to 1, of the teams with the best chance to win it all.  Let’s start at the bottom.

No Chance

16.  Chicago Bulls-  Unlike last season, Chicago is neither playing well enough, deep enough, talented enough or has a favorable first round matchup to do anything but win more than a game or two, if they’re lucky.

15.  Milwaukee Bucks-  If only Andrew Bogut were healthy and playing.  One of the hottest teams down the stretch could well have caused some serious problems for Atlanta and made some noise in the next round.  But, alas, he’s not and they won’t.  There’s always next year.

14.  Miami Heat-  Sure, if Dwayne Wade is spectacular every night, this seriously under-manned team could upset well-aged Boston.  But there’s no way they can handle the much deeper teams they’ll meet later on if they do.  Honestly, without the great late-season push, the Heat really are little better than a .500 team led by one superstar and a high lottery pick of a roster.  They won’t get past Boston.

13.  Oklahoma City Thunder-  This team made great strides this season, but they are too young, too inexperienced and, despite winning 50 games, got the unenviable task of facing the defending champs in the first round.  Kevin Duarnt is heading for superstar territory, but these guys need a little more talent and a lot more experience before he makes the playoffs his playground.  One and done.

12.  Portland Trailblazers-  With Brandon Roy, maybe they had a long, outside shot of pulling this off, but he’s out, possibly to return in later rounds hobbling around after knee surgery.  Not a good thing.  Still, Portland is game, and they got a good first round opponent in massively over-rated Phoenix.  They could possibly struggle out a seven game series upset, but I think they are just too thin to get it done.  Again, wait ’till next year.

11.  Utah Jazz-  If not for the injuries, to Andrei Kirilenko, Mehmet Okur and Carlos Boozer, Utah could have been dangerous.  But their first round matchup with Denver is not a good one for them, even at full strength.  Even if they somehow manage to get past the Nuggets, and they won’t, they simply don’t have enough to stay with the top teams out West.  A little off-season restructuring is in order.

Slightly Better Than A Snowball’s Chance

10.  Charlotte Bobcats-  Charlotte is deep enough, focused enough defensively, and playing a team that will eventually need to rely on consistent playoff choker Vince Carter at some point in this series.  If they do manage to pull the upset, they match up favorably with either Boston or Atlanta in the second round, and they played Cleveland very tough, perhaps tougher than any other team in the league all season.  It’s a reach, especially if Stephen Jackson is seriously hurt, but not altogether impossible.

9.  Phoenix Suns-  Steve Nash has been playing great, Amare Stoudemire really wants a big free-agent contract, and they’ve been playing better defense than they have in years.  Still, they lost game one at home to an under-manned Portland team, giving up 105 points.  So much for that defense.  They should ultimately beat Portland, but they are set for a thrashing in the second round.  Say what you want about the Suns enjoyable style of play, but you just don’t win big in the playoffs that way.  The second round is about as good as it will get.

8.  Atlanta Hawks-  The Hawks have depth, talent, and not enough size, or defensive intensity to overcome Orlando or Cleveland in the East, let alone whoever emerges from the West.  A little more size and a little more defense, and these guys could be serious contenders next year.  This year, a better performance in the second round after getting swept by Cleveland there last year  is progress to build on.

Puncher’s Chance

7.  San Antonio Spurs-  You’ve all heard it–the Spurs are too old, they can’t hold up, they don’t play stifling defense like they used to.  All are valid points, still, if Duncan, Ginobli and Parker are right, they can beat anyone.  They caught a bad break drawing Dallas in the first round, as I think the Mavericks depth will be too much for them, but an upset is definitely a possibility.  If they do get past them, a matchup with the Phoenix-Portland winner can punch their ticket to the West Finals against the winner of what will certainly be a Denver-L.A. slugfest.  Would you count out the Spurs at this point?  I wouldn’t.  Possibly the best number 7 seed ever.

6.  Boston Celtics-  Just like San Antonio, a lot depends on how healthy the core parts are, and if Ray Allen can avoid the prolonged playoff disappearances that have plagued his years in Celtic green.  The playoffs, especially the later rounds, slow down considerably, and Boston still has the personnel to play shut down defense for long stretches.  The real question is can they score enough to overcome deeper teams in Orland and Cleveland.  It’s entirely possible they put on a warrior’s show of it and fight their way through some seven game series to advance.  Then again, Garnett and/or Pierce could go down tomorrow, and they could lose to the Heat.  My guess is that will be a very serious challenge to whoever they play, and if someone does beat them, they will have earned it.

5.  Denver Nuggets-  Still too whacky, inconsistent and defenseless for my taste, but the Nuggets have most all of the raw materials to end up hoisting the trophy at the end.  A big part of it will depend on whether they can be the aggressors against L.A. this time out, unlike last season when the Lakers cut their heart out late in the series and ended up cruising to the Finals.  They can get the job done, but they could implode, as well, especially if George Karl isn’t there when the going inevitably gets tough.

Gold Standard Contenders

4.  Orlando Magic-  I wanted to put them higher, but I just can’t get past the fact that Vince Carter will eventually kill them when they need him the most.  They may be deep enough that they can win despite some of his well-established playoff mediocrity, but then it will be a dogfight in every series.  Still, they should be able to dispatch a game Charlotte team, they should be able to battle past Boston, and, as they showed last season, Cleveland is no lock to defeat them.  This season, they are deeper and more experienced, so the Finals blowout of last year won’t happen again.  The entire key is V.C.  I’d still rather have Hedu Turkoglu.

3.  Los Angeles Lakers-  What, third, you say?  Yes, I do.  L.A. won game one against OK City, but they didn’t exactly light it up in doing so, even at home.  Plus Kobe was very, very average.  I have to wonder if he’ll be able to carry the load against the much better, and much more physical teams they’ll face later.  My first instinct was to have them lower, maybe even outside of the Gold Standard contenders, but they are still the defending champs until someone beats them.  It is completely possible that they pick up the slack and end up winning another title, but it won’t be nearly as easy as last year, and every extra game they play (even at their best, the Lakers always played more games than they had to) is an added risk that Bynum will go down again, or Kobe’s problems will get worse.  If those things happen, they might not make it out of the second round.

2.  Dallas Mavericks-  This team is getting little or no love.  After the trade with the Wizards that netted Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood, the Mavs have possibly the deepest roster out there.  Plus, they are largely healthy, unlike some of their other playoff competitors.  So long as they make it past San Antonio in the first round, I think they’ll roll right intro the Finals.  In fact, don’t be surprised if their first round series is the toughest one they face.  And this time, they’ll be the underdogs in the Finals, a much better position to play from that the prohibitive favorite role that ate them up against Miami a few years back.   Dirk Nowitzki winning the title may not make the pundits who have long discounted his fantastic, Hall-of Fame play happy, nor will Mark Cuban lording over that trophy likely bring a smile to David Stern’s face, but this could very well happen.

1.  Cleveland Cavaliers-  Barring some serious injury issues, I just don’t see Cleveland losing to anyone.  Unlike last season, their roster is much deeper and more versatile, they can play any style and beat anyone.  And don’t underestimate the sense of urgency for all involved with the pending free-agent madness surrounding Lebron James.  If the Cavs have any chance of keeping Lebron, they need to win now, and they know it.  Another disappointment might ultimately be the impetus for him to take his constantly improving game to another city.  Still, I think this is the year Cleveland gets it done.  It won’t be easy, and they will be tested, but unlike last season when Orlando sucker punched them and they couldn’t recover, this is a much different, and infinitely better Cavs team.  Title number one for Lebron.

Published in: on April 19, 2010 at 8:21 pm  Leave a Comment  
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NBA Playoffs Underway

I love the NBA Playoff Tournament.  In my opinion, it’s the best post-season of any of the major professional sports.  The NFL playoffs are great, don’t get me wrong, but there, the games are one-and-done.  In the NBA, playoff matchups last up to two weeks, and are frequently roller coasters of momentum.  It’s much more interesting.  Anyway, here’s how I see the first round going.  I also included where I picked the teams to finish before the season started, where I did passably well, getting 13 of the 16 eventual playoff teams right while making my fair share of completely off-base predictions.  Yes, I actually said the Wizards would make the playoffs.  At least it wasn’t the Nets.

Eastern Conference

4. Boston Celtics vs 5. Miami Heat

Before the season, I picked Boston to be the top seed in the East.  Well, age, injury and performance issues made that call just a bit wrong.  And why is Ray Allen still here?  He didn’t exactly fit when they were true contenders.  Miami, on the other hand, I had pegged for a mid-40s win season (they had 47).  Without a 12-1 stretch to end the regular season, Miami likely doesn’t end up this high in the standings.  Dwayne Wade is great, but this team simply isn’t deep or talented enough to get very far.  Can they beat Boston?  Yes, if age and injury keep wearing the Celtics down as it did during the regular season.  Will they?  I also said Miami would lose in the first round, and Boston can still play lockdown defense in the slower, more deliberate post season.  I see no reason to break from that prediction.  Boston in 6.

3. Atlanta Hawks vs 6. Milwaukee Bucks

I picked the Hawks to Finish third in the conference, win 50+ games (They won 53), and said that if Jamal Crawford fits in, they’ll be explosive offensively.  Check, check, check.  Milwaukee, on the other hand, I said would be absolutely lousy and be nowhere near the playoffs.  Well, who knew Andrew Bogut would start looking like a good player?  Who knew Brandon Jennings would emerge from Europe as one of the best young guards in the league? Who knew John Salmons would once again get traded and carry a mediocre team on a big late-season push?  I sure didn’t.  Still without Bogut, these guys have no shot.  Atlanta in 5.

2. Orlando Magic vs 7. Charlotte Bobcats

Before the year, I said Charlotte didn’t have enough to make the playoffs and would need a big trade to get there.  Hello, Stephen Jackson, Tyrus Thomas and Tyson Chandler.  If they would have had this roster before the season started, I never would have picked Washington to make the playoffs.  They also play great defense.  Orlando I picked to slip a bit from last year, saying that Vince Carter was a bad choice (still remains to be seen, in my opinion) and that they wouldn’t approach 60 wins.  Well, they won 59, and a much deeper and more talented team than I had given them credit for.  Still, if VC doesn’t improve on his previous playoff disappearing acts, The Magic won’t be getting back to the finals.  To me, this is best chance for a major first-round upset.  Sure, the Spurs could beat the Mavs, but does anyone really consider that an upset?  No one, and I mean no one thinks Charlotte can win this series.  But they can beat on Dwight Howard, close out on their shooters, and force VC into a jump shooter.  Given a break or three, and this could happen.  Tougher than most expect.  Orlando in 7.

1. Cleveland Cavaliers vs 8. Chicago Bulls

I picked Cleveland number two in the East, primarily concerned by whether Shaq’s impact would be good or bad.  Turned out OK, I suppose, as they finished with the best record in the regular season for the second year in a row.  But this team is much deeper and more talented than last year’s version.  I thought the Bulls would be better than this, and after trading away Salmons and Tyrus Thomas for basically nothing, I’m as surprised an anyone that they’re even still playing.  Of course, if not for the end-of-season injury to Toronto’s Chris Bosh (the other team I picked to make the playoffs in the East that didn’t) they might not be.  Still, here they are, about to be stomped by the far, far superior Cavs.  No repeat of last season’s battle with Boston.  Cleveland in 4.

Western Conference

4. Denver Nuggets vs 5. Utah Jazz

Is there any more over-performing team in the league than Utah?  They have some talent, to be sure, but there is just no way they belong among the league’s elite teams.  I picked them to finish 6th out West, and to have traded Carlos Boozer by now.  Boozer seems to have been granted new life by the Jazz fans, and there’s actually serious talk about re-signing him in the off-season.  I sincerely hope they don’t make that mistake.  They may yet regret not finding a taker for him and getting something in return.  Denver, on the other hand, is exactly who I’d thought they’d be, good, sometimes great, sometimes frustrating.  Still, it’s going to take a better team than Utah to knock them out, even if the Jazz were 100% healthy.  They’re not.  Denver in 5.

3. Phoenix Suns vs 6. Portland Trailblazers

Phoenix has been much better than I’d thought possible, especially defensively.  And don’t believe that it’s a coincidence that Amare Stoudemire has been playing like the best power forward in the league since the All-Star break, after it was clear he wasn’t going to be traded and would be testing the free agent waters.  The second half was a resume builder of sorts for Stoudemire and he’s going to be well motivated to continue that through the playoffs before a big payday in Miami, New York, Chicago or wherever.  Even healthy, I didn’t think Portland would be among the conference’s elite teams.  They were far from healthy.  Now, they are seriously undermanned playing a hot and explosive Suns team.  They’ll be lucky to win one game.  And how many Portland fans will watch the Lakers-Thunder series with a bad taste in their mouths every time Kevin Durant makes a shot thinking of what might have been?  Is it really too early to start equating the Oden-Durant decision to the Bowie-Jordan one?  I don’t think so.  Phoenix in 5.

2. Dallas Mavericks vs 7. San Antonio Spurs

I picked these two teams to finish second and third in the West behind the Lakers.  In fact, San Antonio was my preseason pick to win the title.  Despite all the injuries and age, and despite Richard Jefferson apparently falling off a cliff, the Spurs won 50 games, and Manu Ginobli looks ready to go.  As any San Antonio fan will tell you, if Ginobli isn’t 100%, the Spurs aren’t going to win.  Dallas was a good team before they traded knucklehead Josh Howard for Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood.  Now, they are one of the deepest and most talented teams in the league, one that I believe has a very real shot of winning it all.  San Antonio is going to be a tough test, however.  Can the Spurs three big guns stay healthy in what could be a long, physical, grinding series?  I don’t think so.  If Manu, Tim and Tony do, they can win this series in 7.  You have to feel for Dallas.  Second best record in the conference and by far the most difficult first round matchup (sorry, Utah fans).   Dallas in 6.

1. Los Angeles Lakers vs Oklahoma City Thunder

Oklahoma City has come together much faster than anyone anticipated, and they’ve done it with defense as much as with Kevin Durant’s emergence as a genuine superstar (you don’t win a scoring title without being a superstar in this day and age).  Still, while they may be game in this series, they’re playing the Lakers.  If the tiebreaker had worked out differently, and they were playing someone like Phoenix, I might give them a better shot, but that didn’t happen.  Still, 50 wins for this franchise is nothing to sneeze at.  The Lakers, obviously, I picked to be the best team in the West (I also said they’d lose in Conference Finals).  Injuries have hit them hard of late, especially Kobe and Bynum.  But what concerns me more is the inconsistency.  If they aren’t completely healthy, I don’t think they make it out of the West.  But this is just the first round.  Los Angeles in 6.

Published in: on April 18, 2010 at 8:08 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Musings on the Future of Advertising

So, in my contemplations of upcoming events, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about advertising; namely what exactly is it and how does it work?  We have this long-standing image of advertising as little boxed-off squares printed in the daily paper or your favorite magazine, or as the sometimes annoying-sometimes amusing interruptions in our favorite television shows.  There are other forms of advertising; billboards, radio, bumper stickers, tee shirts, flyers tacked up on telephone poles, etc.  Some work better than others, and some cost significantly more than others, but it’s the image of the print ad or the TV commercial that has reaped the lion’s share of the reward for providing marketing possibilities to people and businesses.  Unfortunately for both of those platforms, the emergence of the internet as a competing platform for information–and infinitely more expansive, convenient and, in many cases, cheaper competitor–has eroded the audience for their core advertising platforms.

With all the talk of the poor economy, and it’s responsibility for the fall-off in revenue from these two groups, among others, there’s very little talk from within them that the reason revenue is declining may have more to do with the fact that their products simply don’t attract the same number of people as they used to, and as such, the marketing advantage they used to sell so extensively–and often, exclusively–has eroded.  Certainly, some people are walking away from advertising because of the poor economy, and being bank-account challenged, but a large portion may well have more to do with the basic reality that your print ad just isn’t making the phone ring like it used to.  Looking to complicated explanations for the decline, like trying to gauge the economy, can be a convenient excuse to avoid a truth you don’t really want to hear.  All along, advertising only sells at the price structure it does because the people paying for those ads had the expectation of gaining that money back in sales, and significantly more over time.  But what happens when the results no longer meet the cost?  This is the question publishers should be asking, instead of whether paywalls that will further cut the number of people in your viewing audience, or an iPad app that, if designed to, will keep the paying user confined within the little slice of the internet the publisher wants them in, are the keys to the future.

I talked about this a bit last week here, where I essentially challenged the notion that replicating advertising from the forms of existing media, as in video snippets and boxed chunks of space with a logo and an address in it, are really the best way to take advantage of this new medium, be it at the desktop or on you phone.  After all, while the marketers revel in their targeted metrics, technology that keeps their well-placed ads at bay keeps progressing, as well.  And exactly how much annoyance will people put up with if alternatives sans the crush of ads continue to exist, which they undoubtedly will.  And if there’s any single trait that we should be aware of in 21st century America, it’s that people will go along with anything they think has some value at the moment just so long as they aren’t inconvenienced.  Make those special ads too intrusive or too much of a pain, and people will walk.

Some very intelligent people are working on this problem, but still, we haven’t seen the revolution in the forms of advertising that we’ve seen in the means of distributing information.  The smart money should be on the folks who figure this out, how to provide the traditional benefit of advertising using the new realities and tools we possess, which are far, far different from the previous platforms, in a way that can turn a sustainable profit.  Someone will get it, eventually.  I see bits and pieces of progress nearly every day.  But the days of selling the equivalent of that 3 column by 5 inch block who’s most difficult decision is whether to buy spot or process color have passed.  Slightly adapting that form to new media isn’t getting the job done.  We need to throw out the forms altogether and invent new ones.  Then, and only then, will we see truly viable online business models for much of what publishing does so well.

Published in: on April 17, 2010 at 4:20 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Buy a Book, Get Free Shipping

From now until May 1, anyone that orders a copy of my book, Legends of Everyday Lunacy, can use this special coupon for free shipping.  The book costs $9, and with this coupon, not a penny more to have it delivered right to you.  It’s spring, the weather’s warm, and perfect for sitting out in the sun with a good book.

To order yourself a copy, click here. Don’t wait, get the free shipping while it lasts!

Published in: on April 16, 2010 at 6:02 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Future? Who wants the future, we’d rather stay in the past

So let’s talk a bit about the future.  There’s a few things going on today in the publishing world.  One is yet another convention of talking heads discussing the how’s and why’s of what we should do next.  This might have been a practical exercise five years ago, but at what point do you shut the hell up and actually do something?  And what’s this twirling landscape of redundant talking heads called, you ask?  Well, it’s the ASNE NewsNow Big Ideas Summit. What’s the old joke about the term “military intelligence” being a contradiction in terms?  A newspapers editor’s group meeting with “big ideas” in the name probably meets that same level of skepticism for most.  After all, if the newspaper industry had any genuine big ideas, you’d think they’d have rolled them out before losing half their business in the past four years.  Besides, the only big ideas I’d heard from newspaper people lately have been about cutting expenses and holding on until the economy gets better.  That’s not a big idea, that’s business model suicide.

One highlight of the conference so far was Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s speech.  Google, as we all know now, is the great Satan to the news industry because, according to them, linking steals our business.  Of course, it’s a business the newspaper industry wasn’t really trying to get in the first place before Google and others  started making big money on it, but don’t let that get in the way of a good scapegoat.  Schmidt had lots of fine and complimentary things to say about newspapers, of course.  After all, if he had said what he really thought, this group might have stoned him to death.  Even still, you can practically hear the snickering underlying his comments.  Here’s a couple good ones:

“I love newspapers. I love of reading them — that when you’re finished, you’re done, and you know what’s going on.”

Translated:  You’re done, and then you can get online, do a Google search and find out what’s been going on in the 24 hours since you printed your limited and outdated info.

“We’re not in the news business, and I’m not here to tell you how to run a newspaper. We are computer scientists. And trust me, if we were in charge of the news, it would be incredibly accurate, incredibly organized, and incredibly boring. There is an art to what you do. And if you’re ever confused as to the value of newspaper editors, look at the blog world. That’s all you need to see.”

Translated: That’s all you need to see, because with a Google search, people can be their own editors and find all the info they want in far more detail than you’re shrinking news-hole allows.  Sure, you’re an artist.  A soon to be starving one.  And I’m not going to tell you how to run a  newspaper because we make billions of dollars, and newspapers are a sinking ship.  Why in the name of all things holy would I want to do that?

“A Ralph Waldo Emerson quote is, “Don’t be too timid and squeamish about your actions; life is an experiment.” On the Internet, there is never a single solution…. The fact of the matter is there are no simple solutions to these complex problems. And in order to really find them, we’re going to have to run lots of experiments.”

Translated:  So quit bitching about me, get off your lazy asses and do something already.

Not to be outdone, and never missing a chance to chime in with some anti-Google rhetoric of his own, everybody’s favorite media mogul Rupert Murdoch made an appearance at the National Press Club where he threw out this little gem:

“When asked how he would overcome public attitudes against paying for most online news, Murdoch replied: “I think when they’ve got nowhere else to go they’ll start paying and if it’s reasonable—no one’s going to ask for a lot of money.”

Uh-huh.  Okay.  And given the fact that the amount of information being generated independently from traditional news organizations on the web is growing exponentially by the day, when exactly will that rosy online world where you’re the only game in town come about?  This should tell you all you need to know about how Rupert views the internet.  If he had his way, he would limit available information to only a few sources, thereby forcing all of us to pay for it.  By the way, if that did, in some mythical fantasy land where it was even possible, come to be, does anyone actually buy that a news publisher like Murdoch with an online monopoly wouldn’t be charging as much as he possibly could, being that, as he puts, you don’t really have a choice?

I’ll close here with some more excellent analysis from Alan Mutter. In this piece, Mutter shows have newspaper’s online sales have grown at a much smaller rate than online spending overall.  Worse still, being the self-professed bastion of news to the world, their percentage of the online ad market is a measly 11% and, much like its print counterparts, falling.

The entire piece is well worth a read, as it discusses the ways in which the industry largely missed the boat on virtually every possibility to get into a market that they seemingly should have dominated from the get-go.  He closes with this, which, to me, sums things up nicely:

“Given that there is no shortage of intelligence and talent at America’s newspapers, the only explanation for the industry’s failure to embrace the new paradigm is that it really did not want to change.”

Of course, given the massive cutbacks and layoffs, some might question whether that intelligence and talent he refers to is still in abundance, but his conclusion is dead on.  And it wasn’t the people with those traits that led them down the garden path to irrelevance, anyway; it was the management structure protecting past glory over what is increasingly looking like any possibility of a future at all.

Published in: on April 12, 2010 at 4:52 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Just Shut Up And Let Them Play Golf Already

Is anyone else sick of Tiger Woods?  Admittedly, he’s the most successful golfer in the world, and likely will be until the day he decides to hang up his clubs.  Notice I didn’t say “the best golfer in the world.”  I’ll get back to that point later.  Anyone tried to watch The Masters, or should I say, The Tiger Woods Memorial Comeback Tournament?  If I didn’t know better, I wouldn’t have realized that there actually were other golfers playing in this thing.  We’re constantly inundated with cut-aways to Tiger’s most recent shots, replayed over and over and over again, commentators trying to assess every little twitch and curl of his face and what that means for the future of the sport.  Quite frankly, it’s sickening.  Last I checked, some guy named Lee Westwood was actually winning this tournament at the moment.  And in second place, there’s this little known guy named Phil Mickelson.  All he’s done is win three majors himself, including two Masters.  But I can count the number of times I’ve seen a cut-away to one of his shots on one hand.  One hand with no fingers.

Look, I understand that Tiger is this larger-than-life personality.  I understand that the entire planet has been saturated in his recently exposed transgressions.  I understand that it’s always a big deal when Tiger is in contention at a tournament, especially a major, but this is way over the top.  First off, let’s drop all of this comeback nonsense.  Tiger’s last tournament was five months ago.  Five months is a typical off-season in virtually every major sport.  It’s not like he was dramatically injured, or hadn’t played in years.  He’s an athlete in his prime who took some time off due to self-inflicted injuries to his image, the most painful of which have been to his bottom line.  Sure, the press has been all over him during those months, but this isn’t a comeback in any sort of meaningful sense.  Unless, that is, you’re one of the bunches of large corporate entities (Augusta National, ESPN, Nike, etc.) who has millions of dollars tied up in his exploits, on and off the golf course.

Back to Tiger being the best in the world, statistically, he is that.  He wins much more than anyone, and he’s seemingly always in contention.  Any time Tiger misses a cut in a tournament, it’s a major shock, although most golfers have that happen somewhat routinely.  But still, as good as he is, I honestly don’t believe that he’s that much better than the before-mentioned Mickelson or any of a dozen other high-level golfers.  What Tiger does have that most all of his competitors lack is the commitment to be the best, the single-minded drive that keeps him consistently on his game.  Golf is a somewhat lackadaisical sport.  The pace is sometimes agonizingly slow, players gracefully stroll from shot to shot.  Certainly, it takes an immense level of concentration and attention to detail to play championship-level golf.  Most golfers are only able to muster that competitiveness on few select occasions.  Tiger, to his credit, brings it every round.  That’s what makes him the most successful golfer, not a level of skill or talent abundantly in excess of his peers.

But that drive is also what causes his little outbursts and temper-tantrums.  Every time Tiger showed a little of that fire this weekend, someone always chimed in about him needing to change his ways, controlling his emotions.  Well, one comes with the other, folks.  How happy do you think ESPN, Nike or any of the plethora of other sponsors and media outlets that make boatloads of money covering his every hand gesture would be if he does, indeed, control his emotions, and becomes just another really good golfer, maybe winning two or three tournaments a year, possibly a major every three years or so?  Tiger is what he is; a supremely driven competitor who likes to blow off steam with whatever ladies he could find.  Was Michael Jordan any different?  Would the NBA have wanted MJ to “control his emotions” on the court and settle for anything less than being the best player in the league, the one holding up the MVP trophy and the NBA Title year after year?  Of course not.  Control the gambling, maybe, but that’s another story.

Most of the criticisms I’ve heard about Tiger’s behavior have been along the lines of hypocritical moralizing, “He needs to be true to his family.”  You mean the “family” that’s a marketing sham?  The one designed and carefully crafted to sell more Escalades?  How realistic is a marriage in which the wife is forced to sign a contract actually requiring her to be “a dutiful wife”?  Sure sounds like the fairy tale, true love to me.

None of this coverage has anything to do with Tiger, the human being.  It’s all smoke and bluster, both from the press hounding the man’s every sexual exploit and from his own handlers and their one-sided, hand-crafted attrition of a press conference, and the Nike commercial that, rather disgustingly, used his dead father’s words to help repair the image that sells more golf shoes, shirts, hats and clubs.  Certainly, Tiger is largely complicit in a lot of this.  He strikes me as being an arrogant ass, with little in the way of social graces and respect for anyone that doesn’t immediately service his needs, however base they may be.  But so was Michael Jordan, and that didn’t stop me from reveling in his every amazing move on the basketball court, or cheer for his every championship moment.

Tiger is just a man; a deeply flawed man with but one thing that makes him special: a drive to be the best.  Forcing him to temper that drive just because its side affects make it more difficult for the corporate  parasites leeching cash out of his wake are uncomfortable with them is wrong.  Just let the man play golf.  And show somebody else once in a while.  In that too much to ask?

Published in: on April 11, 2010 at 3:03 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Publishing Links For Today: Ad Annoyance and Litigation Abounds

Here are a couple themes for today:  One is the premise that improving ad spending online is simply a matter of changing the conditions.  And the other is increased legal challenges that protect larger media companies but work to the detriment of the rest of us, their customers.

Right upon the heels of unveiling the largely popular iPad, and a new operating system for the iPhone, Apple has rolled out an ad service platform called iAd. Basically, this is a pretty self-serving attempt to eat away at Google’s dominance in online advertising dollars.  Here’s a quote:

“In his presentation, (Apple CEO) Steve Jobs expressed a sentiment that even many mobile ad evangelists concede as well: “We think most of the mobile advertising really sucks. We thought we might be able to make some contributions.”

But the main contribution Jobs is talking about involves making the iPhone app experience a little less vexing. As Apple explains in its release, when users click on mobile ads, they’re almost always taken out of their app to a web browser, which loads the advertiser’s site. Most of the time, that process completely cuts users off from what they were originally doing in the app. So, iAd’s solution is to offer advertisers a full-screen video and interactive ad content without ever leaving the app, and letting users return to their app anytime they choose.”

Makes sense, but leaves out the one little sticking point that I have never been able to get past:  Readers actually have to click on an ad for it to be of any use.  As we’ve seen with so many of the advancements in technology over the past decade or so, people don’t like ads.  And they especially don’t like them we’re they’re shoved in your face.  DVR’s became so popular so fast largely because it allowed viewers to cut out the commercial breaks.  Personally, I’ve moved on to watching TV shows on DVD or in other digital means simply because the experience is far, far superior without the intruding block of ads every ten minutes or so.

We also saw it with pop-up ads, as web browsers starting building in blockers specifically to head off those annoying little things before they even opened.  The reason the cost rate for online ads has been steadily dropping is not because of a lack of possible customers, but because very few people actually click on the ads, or even recognize that they are there.  Advertising worked so well in outdated models like print because we couldn’t avoid it.  The new platforms allow us, the reading, consuming public, before-unheard of power to stay away from annoying advertising.  Like most industries today, the internet has forced what should be a shift from the way things used to be done for advertisers.  But has it?

Read any article anywhere about online advertising, and all anyone is talking about is better targeted ads, that is companies harvesting your personal browsing data so they can throw ads for things they think you might want at you at every turn.  Does anyone out there really think people want that?  How many people are going to leave an iPad app they are currently using to click on a full page distraction of an ad, no matter how flashy and interactive it is?  Superbowl commercials are the holy grail of advertising, sometimes seeming almost a bigger show than the game itself, but if the audience actually had a choice between watching a random camera sweep over the crowd or the newest Pepsi commercial, what percentage do you think would actually choose the commercials?  This is a major problem.  Times have changed.  When people want a product, they’ll look for it.  Experience and technology have proven time and again, that when given the opportunity, people would avoid ads in a far larger percentage than will welcome them, no matter how targeted they are.  Advertisers, like publishers, had better adjust and soon, or else they’ll end up spending large amounts of money on promotion that really is just going in the pockets of the people selling you the platform.

My second point for today is about lawsuits.  There are two that caught my attention recently.  The first is a legal challenge ensuing over Great Britain’s recently passed Digital Economy Act.  I’ve touched on this previously here. To it’s credit, a major ISP in England, Talk Talk, has come out strongly opposed to some of the provisions in the new law, specifically those requiring the disconnection of service for people accused of copyright infringement.  I had a problem with this as well, primarily because it puts the burden of proof on the accused to show that they are innocent.  Here’s a quote from Talk Talk:

“If we are instructed to disconnect an account due to alleged copyright infringement we will refuse to do so and tell the rights holders we’ll see them in court.”

Here, here.  If only all companies had the balls to stand up to this kind of legislation bought and paid for by industry to protect its own interests at everyone else’s expense.

Speaking of which, the movie rental kiosk operator Redbox has recently filed suit against Universal Studios and Twentieth Century Fox on the studios’ new policy of requiring the $1 rental places to withhold new releases for 28 days, ostensibly to support flagging DVD sales.  The online, mail-order rental company Netflix, unfortunately has acquiesced to this demand, making me glad I canceled my subscription a while ago.  The wait for new releases was bad enough as it was, but adding an extra month to it, when you can still, inexplicably, rent them same day at actual brick and mortar stores like Blockbuster, makes that monthly subscription fee a whole lot less useful.  Reportedly, Netfilx negotiated a big discount from the studios, on the level of 50%, for agreeing to the delay.  No word on whether they’ll be cutting their subscription price, though, to accommodate the real victims of this policy, their customers.  Don’t bet on it.

At the heart of this matter is the belief that the inexpensive rental places are undermining DVD sales.  Like the music industry before it, the studios don’t seem to get the shift in how people consume their products.  They seem to believe that forcing people to pay high DVD prices will suddenly bring back the profits they’ve lost due to the changing habits of its customer base.  Not only won’t this work, but as happened with music, it’s likely to alienate their own customers, leading to further sales declines.  But then, they’ll find someone else to blame.  As is the case with all media companies in the face of declining profits and revenue, it’s everyone else’s fault but their own.

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