Just finished watching President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech and Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s response.
For some reason, this reminds me of the annual honors ceremony at my daughter’s school. Why? Because at my daughter’s school, when they award a plethora of awards to students in each grade, they ask the audience to hold our applause to the end. Why? Because applause prolongs the ceremony interminably.
Sound familiar? Members of Congress imitate Jack-in-the-Boxes springing up and down at appropriate applause lines. Democrats sprang up at appropriate applause lines relevant to the president’s agenda. Republicans sprang up too, when the president praised small business or said said he wanted more nuclear power plants. President Obama expected applause from Republicans when he listed his tax cuts, but he was disappointed and then joked about it. If you watched the speech on TV, some members of Congress seemed to be applauding with a look on their faces that said they didn’t quite know why they were applauding. The Joint Chiefs of Staff finally stood up and applauded when Obama praised veterans. Vice President Joe Biden has perfected the “sage” look, though sometimes he looked grumpy enough to be mistaken for a Republican!
Republicans have finally cottoned to this phenomenon. Instead of presenting a solo speaker in a sterile environment, they presented Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell with an audience in the Virginia State Capitol. Like the president, the governor was interrupted by applause from legislators and others in the audence. Rhetorically, I thought it added an extra “oopmh” to the governor’s speech — both because it showed he has folks who agree with him and because he highlighted the state perspective. Given the rules of the political game, it was a smart choice.
But that doesn’t mean a change in the rules wouldn’t make everyone better off. It’s friggin’ 11:50 at night, and I’m wiped out from a day of simultaneously working at home to get something written and running multiple scans on the home computer to get rid of the friggin’ Security 2010 virus, or Trojan, or whatever that thing is. I would have appreciated shorter speeches that simply told me what each party wanted to accomplish.
So here’s my suggestion. For the State of the Union Speech and the opposition party’s response, they should make the same request made at my daughter’s school awards ceremony: “Please hold your applause until the end.”
Now … anybody got any interesting technological solutions that would accomplish this goal?
Over the July 4 weekend, relatives and friends kept asking me: Which mobile phone should I buy? There are so many choices.
I told them I love my iPhone, but all kinds of new devices from BlackBerries and Samsungs to Palm’s new Pre make strong showings, and the less well-known HTC, one of the biggest innovators of the last couple years, is churning out cool phones across the price-point and capability spectrum. Several days before, on Wednesday, July 1, I had made a mid-afternoon stop at the local Apple store. It was packed. A short line formed at the entrance where a salesperson was taking names on a clipboard. After 15 minutes of browsing, it was my turn to talk to a salesman, and I asked: “Why is the store so crowded? Some special event?”
“Nope,” he answered. “This is pretty normal for a Wednesday afternoon, especially since the iPhone 3G S release.”
So, to set the scene: The retail stores of Apple Inc., a company not even in the mobile phone business two short years ago, are jammed with people craving iPhones and other networked computing devices. And competing choices from a dozen other major mobile device companies are proliferating and leapfrogging each other technologically so fast as to give consumers headaches. Continue reading →
Yesterday was a big day for any business, nonprofit organization, or fundraiser that relies on affiliate advertising that depend upon Internet advertising for important revenue and fundraising efforts: Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed the nexus tax and calls up Overstock.com to invite to reinstate their affiliates in California.
As we’ve written previously, all sorts of organizations depend on Internet advertising. Online companies are experimenting with new ways to deliver products, services, and content, and business of all kinds are going online to reach consumers and advertise to receptive audiences. The Gov’s veto sends a strong message that this growing business model is welcome in California.
It is important to note that the proposed budget legislation was indeed a tax increase. Contrary to the statements of nexus tax proponents, in no event would new money flow into California. Any incremental sales tax collected from online sellers just moves from the California purchaser to the state treasury, at a time when households are being squeezed by a struggling economy. The result: fewer advertising dollars would flow to California publishers and websites who employ and serve California’s residents today.
And this is one tax increase that would have serious unintended consequences. An affiliate advertising tax would harm California businesses, nonprofit organizations, and even public schools that depend upon Internet advertising for important revenue and fundraising efforts.
My friend Megan McArdle has a sharp post on the causes of the newspaper’s imminent demise:
Journalism is not being brought low by excess supply of content; it’s being steadily eroded by insufficient demand for advertising pages. For most of history, most publications lost money, or at best broke even, on their subscription base, which just about paid for the cost of printing and distributing the papers. Advertising was what paid the bills. To be sure, some of that advertising is migrating to blogs and similar new media. But most of it is simply being siphoned out of journalism altogether. Craigslist ate the classified ads. eHarmony stole the personals. Google took those tiny ads for weird products. And Macy’s can email its own damn customers to announce a sale…
We’re not witnessing the breakup of a monopoly, in which more players make more modest incomes providing more stuff, and everyone flourishes (except the monopolist). We’re witnessing the death of a business model. And no one has figured out how to pay for hard news. Hard news stories take a great deal of time to write–more time than most amateurs can afford, which is why blogs tend to do opinion rather than journalism. Moreover, they are at least greatly improved when their authors are not worried about losing their jobs if what they write pisses off a local power broker.
I think there’s a lot to this: a key part of the newspaper’s business model was that economies of scale made them one of the very few efficient ways of distributing small pieces of printed information to a lot of people. So lots of different kinds of content—classified ads, personal ads, display ads, and various kinds of news reporting—got bundled together and sold as one package. The Internet makes it cheap to distribute information of all kinds, and so the newspaper is getting disaggregated. And so some of the cross-subsidies that supported the traditional newspaper are going away.
So the death of the classified is one important cause of newspapers’ worsening business model. But it’s also true that newspapers are “being brought low by excess supply of content.” The websites of mainstream media outlets run display ads, and these ads generate revenues. They don’t generate enough revenue to cover the costs of producing content, but that’s simply a function of supply and demand: if there were fewer online news sources, the ones that were left would be able to command higher rates. This is easy to see with the following thought experiment: imagine if the government granted the New York Times a monopoly in the news reporting business, so that no other media outlet were permitted to provide news online. Under those circumstances, the Times would be insanely profitable. They’d have tens of millions of daily readers and be able to charge outrageous amounts of money for their display ads.
Each traditional outlet that goes out of business makes the others a little more profitable. Eventually, the market will reach an equilibrium–if necessary, with dramatically fewer news outlets and higher revenues for each one. But there’s no “death of a business model” here. The newspapers have always given away content in order to sell ads. The news websites of the future will do the same thing. There just may be fewer of them than there were in the past.
The part I think Megan is ignoring is that the while it’s often true that hard news stories take a “great deal of time to write,” the Internet has made the process much easier for many types of news. Most obviously, the laborious process of editing and typesetting stories on strict deadlines is being replaced by much more flexible editing using web-based content management systems. Many primary sources (court decisions, regulatory filings, government data) that once required a physical trip to obtain can now be downloaded off the web. Reporters also have access to a vast new universe of primary sources from user-generated media that simply didn’t exist in the past.
It’s possible that the absolute number of reporters doing “hard news” in the future will be lower than it was in the past. And certainly the next decade will be a tough one for print journalists. But there’s nothing fundamentally broken about the “give away content, sell ads” business model. And we’re not heading toward a dystopian future in which no one produces hard news.
I’ve been reading many critiques of Wired editor Chris Anderson’s new book, Free, after first reading Malcolm Gladwell’s review in The New Yorker. Gladwell’s piece is fantastic as it illuminates just how wrong Anderson’s central claim really is. Anderson writes that:
In the digital realm you can try to keep Free at bay with laws and locks, but eventually the force of economic gravity will win.
Gladwell quickly dismisses this by pointing out that YouTube, one of Anderson’s case studies, is set to lose $500 million next year. As Gladwell puts it ” If [YouTube] were a bank, it would be eligible for TARP funds.”
But Anderson’s wrong-headedness goes beyond this one case. Gladwell likens Anderson’s naivete about online distribution to that of Lewis Strauss, the former head of the Atomic Energy Commission, who Anderson himself quotes in Free. Straus famously—and as Gladwell points out, quite inaccurately—predicted that “our children will enjoy in their homes electrical energy too cheap to meter.” Gladwell points out that just as Strauss failed to realize that fuel was just one of many inputs to the distribution of power, Anderson fails to realize that while the price of transistors may be plummeting at logarithmic rates, other costs associated with digital distribution remain fixed or are increasing.
Anderson’s responds to this critique in a post on Wired.com that fails to answer nearly any of Gladwell’s points, but instead asked why Gladwell felt “threatened” by Anderson. I doubt he does.
Check out today’s Wall Street Journal editorial on the affiliate nexus tax that North Carolina is considering — aptly titled Tarheels vs. the Internet. This comes on the heels (pun intended) of news that Amazon will terminate its affiliates in North Carolina. It also talks about the tickets tax, which is blatantly in violation of the Internet Tax Freedom Act because it only applies to the Internet resale of tickets.