Paul Fichtenbaum, who has been with Time Inc. since 1989, is stepping down as editor of the Sports Illustrated Group. His last day is June 30.
Fichtenbaum first joined SI as a senior editor. He served as managing editor/editor in chief from 2004 to 2012 then was promoted to editorial director of the SI Group. Fichtenbaum was named editor of the group in late 2012.
“I have been with Sports Illustrated since I was a kid and after more than a quarter century, I decided it was time to explore new challenges,” said Fichtenbaum, in a statement. “We have been talking about this for a while and now is the perfect time to make the change.”
Time Inc. is expected to announce Fichtenbaum’s successor soon.
Having binge-watched this season’s episodes of Bravo’s Million Dollar Listing New York during my recent bout with the flu, I was more than a little excited about today’s lunch with two of the series’ stars, Ryan Serhant and Luis D. Ortiz. Now in it’s fifth season, the show had its best ever ratings last week with a record-setting 1.9 million viewers tuning in to watch Ryan, Luis and Fredrik Eklund negotiate the tricky — and oh-so-lucrative — world of Manhattan real estate. “In New York, buying a 5 to 7 million dollar apartment, is still technically considered middle class,” Ryan told me, fully aware of how completely bizarre that sounds. Alrighty then.
For me, one of the most fascinating aspects of watching Million Dollar Listing New York is when the guys sell a property at some head-spinning sum and their commissions (often in the six figures) flash on the screen. For some Bravolebrities, insta-fame is the big payoff but for these guys, it’s all about the business. “You couldn’t buy this kind of exposure,” said Luis before Ryan interjected, “Well you could, but it would cost you a billion dollars.” Worldwide fame helps, too. Said Luis: “The show is huge in Australia. Fredrik told me when he was there the people at the airport went crazy and [makes Fredrik’s signature sound — Schwee!]”
Clearly, being on the show has been a boon for business. Ryan’s team at Nest Seekers International has racked up $630 million sales just in 2015 (!) and were ranked the No. 1 sales team in New York by The Wall Street Journal. Luis has sold over $100 million in residential real estate in the past three years.
Not everyone thought signing on to do a reality show about selling real estate was a good idea — at least at first. “In the beginning, there were people who were upset about [the idea of a show,]” said Luis. Ryan agreed. “Everyone said, ‘Don’t do it. It will destroy your business. It’s a lot easier being a ‘Housewife.'”
Fast forward five years. Now potential clients come to meetings armed with screen grabs from episodes to illustrate what they expect for their own deals. “The show has changed the way people think about real estate,” said Luis. And it’s not surprising clients want to cast themselves in the best possible light. “They also say, ‘I’m not going to be that guy,'” said Ryan, referring to the guys’ notoriously difficult clientele.
Television has clearly given these guys a huge career boost, but trust me, their hardcore work ethic, desire to succeed (more on that later) and crazy charisma would no doubt have landed them on the top of the city’s food chain eventually.
I first ‘Lunched’ with Luis in 2014 when he arrived a full half hour early (“My father always said if you’re on time, you’re late”) and talked about how he “escaped” his native Puerto Rico when he was 16 and wound up working as a janitor at a community college in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Somehow, he landed in Manhattan real estate. “I’ve always been a guy without a plan,” he told me then. Maybe, but on camera, at least, he’s always on a mission. In a recent episode, Luis stuck his neck out by schlepping out to Brooklyn to track down one of the city’s biggest developers, who was watching a Brooklyn Nets game in a swanky suite at the Barclays Center with Luis’ boss, Douglas Elliman honcho Howard Lorber. While both men were watching the game, Luis somehow got the developer to reinstate the initial lower Schedule A price of 13.8 million (It’s all relative, right?) which had been offered to a prospective (and very difficult) client before the developer decided to up the ante while Luis was still trying to reel in the deal. All that was missing was the theme from Rocky. For the record, he also arrived early today but seemed decidedly more relaxed than at our first meeting — but was still as relentlessly positive and upbeat (“Life is beautiful!”) as he was at our ‘Lunch’ two years ago.
I’d never met Ryan before (he didn’t make it to our earlier ‘Lunch,’) but I was intrigued by the always impeccably dressed (today he was sporting his off-duty casual look and some uncharacteristic stubble) fast on his feet broker, whose deft touch with extremely high maintenance clients has saved plenty of Million Dollar Listings from real estate oblivion. Born in Texas and raised in Massachusetts, Ryan came to New York in search of an acting career. He did some hand modeling (“I held phones for AT&T”) and logged four months on As the World Turns before the writers’ strike stymied the show and he wound up as the in-house rental agent for 99 John Street. In March 2010, his boss encouraged him to go to an open casting call for Million Dollar Listing and that, as they say, was that. “I don’t remember doing real estate before this show,” he told me.
This season, viewers have seen Ryan tirelessly negotiate with unrealistic clients whose certainty that their properties are worth more than the markets says they are (One guess on who usually walks away the victor) and lock horns with Amy, the prickly co-listing agent who lambasted him in one episode for taking a call from a seller without bringing her into the conversation. She now works for Ryan. “I told her I don’t ever want to be on the other side of a deal opposite her again. I want to be able to sic her on other people.” Smart, huh?
I’ve interviewed my fair share of television ‘personalities’ and suffice to say reel life and real life personas rarely match up. I knew the Luis I met was the same laser-focused, sincere guy viewers love to root for on the show. I’m happy to report Ryan is as smart, quick and funny as you’d expect. And today, there was no bickering between brokers. The guys explained when it happens on the show “it’s business.” To hear Ryan tell it the three of them are bonded for life. “We’ve become a family. The three of us understand what this is in a way that no one else does.”
While the show has certainly helped their businesses, I was more interested in how it has affected their personal lives — which it certainly has.
Two weeks ago, the cameras followed Luis, who was in a celebratory mood after his victory at the Barclays Center, home to his empty apartment. His loneliness in the scene was palpable. Luis broke down in tears during his ‘confessional’ explaining that he often talks to an empty chair in anticipation of the woman he’s in love with — but hasn’t yet met. “My mother called me and asked,’ Why did you cry on television?'” recalled Luis, blushing at the memory. “She said, ‘You have to protect your image.’ I said, ‘I’m human.'” A human now in receipt of over 600 letters and emails “from mothers who say their daughters would kill them if they knew they were writing to me to tell me they have the girl for me.” I’m guessing Luis won’t be talking to an empty chair for much longer.
For Ryan, his upcoming wedding on July 7 in Corfu, Greece to fiancée Emilia Bechrakis has given viewers a glimpse into his life beyond real estate and his regular 5 am gym runs. He told me it took a while for him to convince Emilia to be part of the show, but “now she’s okay with it.” Coincidentally, the wedding will take place the same night of the season finale, which I’m told, will have “a lot of drama.” You expected otherwise? “We’ll be huddled together somewhere in the village looking for wifi so we can watch it.” (Ryan told me they only get to see the show’s episodes a few days before they air instead of the longer lead they once enjoyed “because that gave us too much time to complain.”) The couple is planning to have 150 of their family and friends at the destination wedding and have enlisted not one but two wedding planners — one in New York and one in Greece to handle logistics — “We talk to both of them and then they fight with each other.” The church where the ceremony will take place is on a separate island. It all sounds rather romantic, doesn’t it? Sorry, that’s all the dish on the wedding I could score — the rest of the details have been promised to another outlet (I’m sworn to secrecy!) who landed the exclusive on the nuptials.
We hadn’t even gotten our entrees when Luis had to leave (Ryan arrived nearly a half hour late because of traffic so we had some catching up to do and he gamely stayed to chat) so I decided to ask Ryan more about what has motivated to do so well in a career he never planned to have. He told me of his earliest memories of being aware that success was important to him. While other ten year-olds were dreaming of being professional athletes, Ryan knew he wanted something else, even then. Nothing much has changed on that score. “I’m always thinking about the future. Emilia is always trying to get me to be more present.”
Real estate just happened to check off all the boxes. “The American dream is the harder you work, the more successful you’ll become. On Wall Street, you can make tons of money for a company but there’s a base salary and depending on what happens, bonuses change. In real estate, there’s no salary — but there’s no ceiling and there’s no floor.” Freedom to be his own boss is also something Ryan told me makes it a perfect fit for him. “I hate the idea of being changed to a desk. I can sit here and have lunch and talk to you and not worry about checking in.”
But make no mistake about it, selling real estate in Manhattan is no easy job — even with the added bonus of celebrity. “People get their real estate licenses and according to the agency that tracks that, the retention rate for new agents after six months is 15 percent. [They] watch Million Dollar Listing and want to know, ‘Where’s my million dollars?'” And, it should be said, the bigger deals north of 10 million are far trickier than selling less expensive properties. “The lower deals are always easier. No one selling a 15 million apartment is afraid of being homeless. They can sit it out. Want and desire are much harder to deal with than need.”
As the check came, I asked Ryan if he wanted a big family. “Emilia comes from a big family and I have a big family, so probably.” No doubt his dreams for “Little Ryan” will only ramp up his ambition to stay on the top of his game. “My biggest fear in life is wasted potential,” he told me reeling off a slew of movies (including The Kid starring Bruce Willis) that brought home that very point to him. Somehow, I don’t think he has much to worry about in that department.
Perhaps viewers will get to see how marriage and possibly fatherhood will change Ryan’s life beyond Million Dollar Listing New York (and hopefully a newly engaged Luis can make a cameo appearance.) I asked might there might be a reality show about the newlyweds in the future? (Hopefully with a much happier ending than the one Bravo’s reigning diva Bethenny Frankel chronicled after her exhaustively chronicled engagement) Ryan’s eyes lit up at the idea. “Put that in there!” he joked as we said our good-byes. I’m betting there are plenty of fans who’d tune in.
Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:
1.Producer Freddie Gershon and pals
2. Cosmopolitan editrix Joanna Coles and Donna Lagani
3. Accessories maven Mickey Ateyeh with the fabulous Francisco Costa. I was thrilled to stop and chat with the former designer Calvin Klein designer, who told me he’s off to Brazil and the Amazon and “working on his next big move.” Bon Voyage!
4. Author Jay McInerney
5. Politico Ed Rollins and his wife, Shari Rollins, who was celebrating her birthday. Cheers!
6. Dr. Gerald Imber, Jerry Della Femina, Jeff Greenfield, Andy Bergman and Michael Kramer
7. Book seller Glenn Horowitz
11. Bisila Bokoko with a well-dressed gent I didn’t get to meet
12. Producer Joan Gelman (we’re ‘Lunching’ later this month), PR maven Judy Twersky (who has been responsible for some of my dishiest ‘Lunches’) and their pal, Cynthia Tian
14. Star Jones
15. A&E’s Nancy Dubuc
16. United Stations Radio’s Nick Verbitsky
17. Peter Price
18. LAK PR CEO Lisa Linden with Katherine Lemire, president of Lemire LLC, a compliance and risk management firm specializing in investigative due diligence and “complex” investigations for the public and private sectors. A little birdie told me Katherine was a formal federal prosecutor and assistant Manhattan DA. Impressive, no?
20. Beauty Fashion-Cosmetic World’s George Ledes and wife Christine Schott-Ledes.
21. Cablevision’s Charlie Schueler
23. David Blum
24. British Heritage Travel’s publisher Jack Kliger
26. Carl Peterson
27. Ryan Serhant, Luis Ortiz, Imani Ellis and yours truly
28. Gwen Norton (wife of the gentleman responsible for the Norton virus protection for computers, so we’re told)
Diane Clehane is a FishbowlNY contributor. Follow her on Twitter @DianeClehane. Send comments and corrections on this column to LUNCH at MEDIABISTRO dot COM.
But what if the speculative buy-in price was just $175? Per an item by Boston Globe digital reporter Steve Annear, that’s what Ross Connelly, the owner of the Hardwick Gazette, has very ingeniously come up with:
The [400-word essay writing] contest runs from June 11, through Aug. 11, or until the maximum number of entries are received. Connelly hopes to draw enough interest from the public that he and a panel of judges will need to sift through 1,889 essays – a number that reflects the year the newspaper was first published.
Entrants will need to cough up $175 – if 1,889 people step up, Connelly stands to make $330,575 – and craft an essay detailing how they plan to keep afloat a print publication in the age of the internet.
The minimum number of entries required for the contest to proceed is 700 (which works out to the aforementioned total of $122,500). Millennials, start your dream-career-change engines!
Editor’s note: Nieman Lab contributor and Northeastern University professor Dan Kennedy has spent the past semester as a Joan Shorenstein Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, researching the digital and business strategies of The Washington Post under the ownership of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. His paper outlining his findings is available on the Shorenstein Center’s website; here’s an excerpt focusing on what other publishers can learn from Bezos’ leadership.
Bob Woodward, the legendary Washington Post reporter who was one-half of the duo that brought down a president, spoke at the First Parish Church in Cambridge last October to promote a new book. The Last of the President’s Men was about Alexander Butterfield, the aide who revealed the existence of the taping system in Richard Nixon’s White House, thus proving that he really was a crook.
Toward the end of the evening, a member of the audience asked Woodward how the media business had changed over the years. Woodward responded by praising Jeff Bezos, the founder and chief executive of the retail and technology behemoth Amazon, who bought the Post in 2013 for $250 million.
“I think he’s helping us as a business,” Woodward said. “It’s a better website. I find things much more authoritative, quite frankly, than The New York Times.” Times partisans would surely disagree, but Woodward is nothing if not a loyal employee. He continued: “Bezos is good news for the newspaper, The Washington Post. I think he has a long-range view, staying in for 15 or 20 years and making sure The Washington Post is one of the surviving news sources in the country.”
Is Bezos on his way to fulfilling Woodward’s hopes? Nearly three years in, there’s no question that he has infused the organization with a significant jolt of journalistic and technological energy. The Post is bigger, better and reaching more people than was the case before he bought the paper from the Graham family. Less clear is whether that is solely a function of Bezos’s enormous financial resources or — even more important — if his ownership offers any lessons for the newspaper business in general, which continues to lose readers and advertising revenue at an alarming rate.
In assessing the Bezos effect, three factors stand out as unique to the Post and are thus not replicable elsewhere: the newspaper’s location, in Washington, which made the Bezos-directed transition from a regional to a national newspaper relatively simple; Bezos’s deep pockets, which give him the ability to provide the Post with “runway,” as he has put it, affording the paper time and resources to figure out a path to sustainability; and Bezos’s position as chief executive of Amazon. Bezos has already made the Post’s national digital edition part of Amazon Prime and the Kindle Fire. And as the media analyst Ken Doctor told me, Bezos may see having “a lead dog in the news industry” as a competitive advantage as Amazon goes up against other technology giants such as Facebook, Apple and Google.
Given those unique characteristics, it is not readily apparent what other newspaper owners could learn from Bezos. Nevertheless, there are areas — some specific, some more attitudinal — from which newspapers could in fact benefit by studying the Bezos model. Here are a few.There are significant benefits to private ownership.
Before Bezos bought the Post, the Washington Post Company was a publicly traded corporation. As with the Sulzberger family at the New York Times Company, the Grahams had set up their governance structure so that the family controlled a majority of the voting stock. Thus the Grahams were less beholden to Wall Street’s demands for profit than most public companies. Nevertheless, they still had to satisfy shareholders by trying to maximize profits or at least minimize losses.
Indeed, as newspaper after newspaper fell into the hands of publicly traded companies in the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s, cutting costs in order to rack up ever-higher profits led to diminished journalistic capacity even before the internet-fueled collapse of the past decade. Public ownership can also make it difficult for management to invest in needed innovations. Faced with the question of whether to spend on a faster, more attractive website or to return that money to shareholders, too many newspaper executives choose the latter — and may in fact have to choose the latter in order to meet their fiduciary responsibilities.
Insiders emphasize that Bezos is investing in the Post in a disciplined manner. Although he has increased the number of full-time journalists from about 600 to 700 and has added about 35 engineers, the newsroom is still well below the more than 1,000 who were deployed during the heyday of the Graham era.
Still, Bezos, as the sole owner, does not have to answer to shareholders or anyone else, and has the ability to invest as he sees fit. It’s a significant advantage at a time when there is no blueprint for running a newspaper successfully and when the emphasis needs to be on experimentation and long-term thinking.There is value in getting big.
At Amazon, an early imperative was to “Get Big Fast.” That has been true at the Post as well, even as paid print circulation has continued to decline. According to the analytics firm comScore, the Post moved ahead of The New York Times in web traffic in October 2015, attracting 66.9 unique visitors compared to 65.8 million for the Times — a 59 percent increase for the Post over the previous year. The Post’s digital presence has continued to grow since then.
Throughout the news business, though, attempts to monetize online traffic by offering free content paid for by advertising have proved disappointing. The very ubiquity of digital advertising has driven down its value. Indeed, Nicco Mele, the former senior vice president and deputy publisher of the Los Angeles Times and the incoming director of the Shorenstein Center, recently said that a print ad reaching 500,000 people costs around $50,000, whereas a programmatic ad served up by Google reaching the same number of people on the same newspaper’s website might bring in no more than $20. “Models built on scale make zero sense to me,” Mele said, “because I just don’t see any future there.”
So why is the Post pursuing a massive digital audience? For one thing, by opening the top of the customer-engagement funnel as wide as possible, the Post has given itself a larger audience to try to move to the bottom of the funnel — the point at which increasingly engaged visitors are converted into paying subscribers to the Post’s website and apps. In addition, as challenging as the digital advertising environment may be, it’s easier to succeed with a large audience than with a small one. Finally, by building the Post’s brand and reputation, Bezos will be in a better position to take advantage of revenue opportunities that may not currently exist.
Bezos himself has put it this way: “We have historically made a relatively large amount of money per reader on a relatively small number of readers. And we need instead to make a relatively small amount of money per reader on a much larger number of readers.”
The front page of The Washington Post the day after Bezos' purchase, on display outside the Newseum. (AP/Evan Vucci).Do not pursue change for change’s sake.
Bezos, to his credit, retained Martin Baron as the Post’s executive editor and Shailesh Prakash as the chief information officer and vice president of technology. Baron is a major asset both internally and externally: he is an outstanding editor whose increasingly high profile has made him an important part of the Post’s brand.
Baron’s reputation grew substantially because of his and Bezos’s very public and principled advocacy on behalf of Jason Rezaian, a Post reporter who was detained by the Iranian government for 18 months before his release in January of this year. Another, larger factor was Spotlight, the Academy Award-winning movie that tells the story of how The Boston Globe, then under Baron’s watch, revealed that the pedophile priest crisis within the Catholic Church was far more widespread than had been previously known.
Prakash’s retention was perhaps more surprising given Bezos’s own technology background. In fact, not only did Bezos keep Prakash, but they appear to have developed a good working relationship. The national digital app for tablets, a colorful, magazine-like product that has no home page, grew out of conversations between Bezos and Prakash.
Bezos was also the impetus behind one of the most important tech improvements: a dramatic increase in the speed of the Post’s digital products. After a reader complained to Bezos that it took too long for one of the mobile apps to load, Bezos told Prakash that he needed to do better. “We looked at the problem and I told Jeff I thought we could improve the load time to maybe two seconds. He wrote back and said, ‘It needs to be milliseconds,’” Prakash said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. “He has become our ultimate beta tester.”Technology is central to the mission.
The Post these days sometimes seems like a technology company as much as it does a news organization, although the focus is on how technology can serve journalism rather than the other way around. The Post’s website and mobile apps are a pleasure to use; the apps have been designed to serve different audiences depending on whether they are traditional Post readers or are instead interested in a more viral product offered at a lower price and that omits local news.
Technology is used internally in the service of continuing to build the digital audience. Bandito allows editors to publish articles with up to five different headlines, photos and story treatments, with an algorithm deciding which one readers find the most engaging. Loxodo includes tools that allow Prakash to track what he and Bezos call “lead measures” — how readers perceive the quality of Post journalism compared to that offered by other news organizations, as well as the speed, quality and quantity of mobile alerts.
Of course, few newspapers other the Post and the Times can afford to invest deeply in tech development. As it happens, Prakash has a vision of licensing Post products to other newspapers — as it is already doing with Arc, a suite of content-management tools the paper developed.
“I would love it if the platform we built for the Post was powering a lot of other media organizations,” Prakash told me. “That would definitely break down the silos for content-sharing, a lot of the silos for analytics, for personalization. The larger the scale the better you can do in some of those scenarios. But those are still aspirational at this point.”
Although it’s too soon to tell what that would look like, the work being carried out at the Post today could eventually lead to a ecosystem of daily newspapers across the country with the Post in the lead.Embrace change even when you can’t control it.
The Post is publishing all of its content as Facebook Instant Articles and is providing its journalism to Apple News and as part of Google AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) as well. Though using such third-party platforms runs counter to the goal of selling more digital subscriptions and deprives the paper of customer data, Post executives believe they have to be where their audience is.
Prakash told me that he and Bezos have spoken in terms of a “barbell” approach. At one end is the customer-engagement funnel whose purpose is to convert casual visitors into paying subscribers. At the other end is Facebook and other forms of distributed media. With a billion and a half unique visitors dropping in on Facebook every day, Prakash believes there is no choice but to take part.
The Post is making efforts to move readers from one side of the barbell to the other. For instance, people who read Post articles on Facebook receive offers to subscribe to one of the Post’s 60 newsletters on topics such as the day’s headlines, politics, opinion, science and entertainment. Arriving by email, with advertising, the newsletters link to various Post stories related to the topic.
Of course, emailed newsletters are hardly an innovation. But the Post’s efforts are unusually comprehensive and employ sophisticated algorithms to determine which newsletters might strike your interests.
As a technologist himself, Shailesh Prakash has a unique perspective on what Bezos has meant to the Post.
“The money has helped us, of course. I wouldn’t deny it,” he said. “But I don’t think that’s the main thing Jeff has brought. And I don’t just say that because he’s my boss. I truly believe that. Of course he’s helped with money. He’s helped me hire people, he’s helped Marty hire people, and so on. But it’s not like it’s open-check season where we can do anything we want.
“So what has he really done? I personally think that the biggest thing Jeff has done is to set the right tone for our culture — which is one of experimentation, which is one of encouragement, which is one of ‘find the positive surprises and double down.’ We believe we have an owner who respects the past but at the same time wants us to be innovative.”
As you walk through the Post’s bright and shiny new headquarters in downtown Washington, you encounter inspirational quotes from a number of the paper’s legendary figures, past and present. One is from Jeff Bezos. It reads, “I strongly believe that missionaries make better products. They care more. For a missionary, it’s not just about the business. There has to be a business, and the business has to make sense, but that’s not why you do it. You do it because you have something meaningful that motivates you.”
Bezos is smart and tough. In considering his stewardship of The Washington Post, it’s important to maintain a sense of realism. No doubt he wants the Post to succeed, but that success has to come on his terms. Ultimately, that means it has to succeed as a profitable business. Still, we should take him at his word that saving a great newspaper is more important to him than turning around the fortunes of “a snack-food company,” as he has put it. Bezos is someone who cares about his reputation and has spoken eloquently about the role of journalism in a democratic society. As he said at the dedication of the new headquarters this past January, “This needs to be a sustainable business because that’s healthy for the mission.”
No newspaper executive has figured out a way to prosper during the twenty-year era of the commercial internet. As is the case with the Post, news organizations need to be willing to experiment, to abandon experiments that aren’t working, and to keep embracing new ideas in the hopes that some of them will prove to be not only journalistically sound but an enhancement to the bottom line as well.
Dan Kennedy is an associate professor in the School of Journalism at Northeastern University. He was a Joan Shorenstein Fellow in spring 2016 at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy.
Monday is Apple’s big day for software announcements at its annual WWDC conference, but we got an early peek at one of them at The Verge and Daring Fireball today — and it’s one that’ll be of interest to publishers. The Verge’s Lauren Goode:
In a rare pre-WWDC sit-down interview with the The Verge, Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing, said that Apple would soon alter its revenue-sharing model for apps. While the well-known 70/30 split will remain, developers who are able to maintain a subscription with a customer longer than a year will see Apple’s cut drop down to 15 percent. The option to sell subscriptions will also be available to all developers instead of just a few kinds of apps. “Now we’re going to open up to all categories,” Schiller says, “and that includes games, which is a huge category.”
The first part of that is the important one for news publishers. When Apple announced it would bring paid subscriptions to iOS in 2011, it was viewed with much excitement by some in the news business, who saw it as a way to transfer the regular circulation revenue they had in the print business to digital. Combined with the release of the iPad a year earlier, it prompted a flowering of efforts, from big media company bets (The Daily, R.I.P.) to one-person startups (The Magazine, R.I.P.). But over time — as those R.I.P.s might suggest — publishers mostly soured on the idea, for a variety of reasons. (Among them: Incomplete data on users; difficulty organically attracting new subscribers or reaching existing ones; being locked inside that awful Newsstand folder on your homescreen.)
Newsstand is gone, but until today, one other complaint was still true: Apple took a 30 percent cut of all subscription revenue — too high a cut for some app publishers to swallow.
Schiller’s announcement means that that cut will only apply for the first year of a subscription; after that, it’ll drop to 15 percent. So if you’re charging $9.99 a month for an iOS subscription, your second-year revenue from a customer will jump 21 percent (from $83.92 to $101.90). And, John Gruber notes, this change is retroactive in one sense: Existing apps with subscribers who’ve been on board a year already will start getting the 85/15 split next week, rather than a year from now.
A couple other interesting details:
- Different price points in different countries are now possible. (So, for instance, The New York Times could charge readers in India less — or more! — than its U.S. readers.)
- You’ll be “able to keep active subscribers at their existing price while increasing the price for new users.”
- Renewal periods can now be every two, three, or six months, in addition to monthly or annually.
- It’s now easier to offer multi-tiered subscriptions within a single app. (Though it’s been possible before; the Times for instance offers both its basic $15/month digital subscription and its upsell Times Insider $25/month subscription in its current app.) Switching from one level to another will be seamless for customers.
One other cautionary point worth noting: You can choose to increase the price of a subscription for an existing customer…but that customer will get a notification of the change and the option to affirmatively accept the increase. If they don’t, their existing subscription ends. So you’ll want to use that option with caution.
Ironically, the part of the new rules least directly tied to publishers might end up as a net negative for them. Subscriptions were previously open only to certain kinds of apps (news, cloud services, dating apps, and audio/video streaming apps like Spotify or Netflix). Now they’ll be available to all apps. The intention is to enable app developers to build more sustainable revenue models for complex apps without having to charge a large price up front. (Think about how your Adobe Creative Suite or Microsoft Office apps are probably paid for on an annual subscription basis today; five years ago, they would have probably been one-time retail-box purchases.)
But that new availability means that many, many more apps will likely start charging for subscriptions — including productivity apps for devices like the iPad Pro, for instance, and lots and lots of games. In that environment, I wonder if consumers will see a news app as “just one more monthly bill” and think of it as more directly in competition with Candy Crush PRO 3.11 for Workgroups or Two Dots Elite: Two More Dots or what have you.
I predict lots of $2.99+ apps will switch to $1/mo subscriptions and it will psychologically seem better to users and will boost sales.
— Mike Rundle (@flyosity) June 8, 2016
But that’s mostly just supposition on my part. Apple has itself tried to shift its revenue story from near-complete reliance on big one-time purchases (a new iPhone!) toward repeated regular payments (Apple Music! iCloud storage!), so it makes sense that it’s leading developers on the same path. News apps have always been a natural match for subscription models (since publishers have to keep making new news every day; a game developer can keep profiting off a mostly unchanging app for a long time). But the subscription party’s about to get a lot more crowded.
Photo of a new iPad Pro by Brett Jordan used under a Creative Commons license.
It ranks these days as one of the most enviable job titles in the Bay Area: digital initiatives lead, Golden State Warriors. And the guy who owns it, Daniel Brusilovsky, is just two NBA games away from making his LinkedIn photo (pictured) ring true for a second straight year.
For a piece in the Summer issue of CNET magazine by Terry Collins, Brusilovsky teased some of the latest gadgets he’s looking into to make the team better. Watch out, rest of the NBA:
Brusilovsky sometimes takes a personal role in that testing. Case in point: the Neuroon, a sensor-equipped sleep mask to help combat jet lag.
“I sleep with it every single night,” says Brusilovsky. “We’re talking with the company each day to provide feedback on what’s working, not working and what features they could possibly add.”
Players on the Warriors’ minor league team in Santa Cruz, California, also serve as the guinea pigs in many tests.
We look forward during the 2016-17 regular season to Doris Roberts or some other NBA courtside reporter asking a Warriors player how they stayed so fresh at the end of a long road trip and then grappling with the word Neuroon.
Photo via: LinkedIn
For such a new technology, the news notification is a format that got really safe really quickly. For most publishers, notifications are rarely more complex than a headline that, when tapped, sends readers to their site. Some publishers, like Quartz and BuzzFeed, have experimented with the language within notifications, trading the stiff formality of newspaper headlines for a more loose, conversational tone. But notifications, and their role, have remained largely unchanged.
The Guardian Mobile Innovation Lab thinks there’s still plenty of room for innovation, however. For its coverage of last night’s presidential votes, the publisher experimented with a handful of new notification formats. For each state holding a primary, for example, The Guardian created notifications that automatically refreshed themselves as more results came in. With another format, called “In the Room,” The Guardian pushed out alerts about specific candidates, including quotes and scenes from campaign events — each joined by a pixel art illustration of the candidate the notification was about. And the notifications, sent to readers who signed up to receive notifications from The Guardian Mobile Innovation Lab, weren’t sent through The Guardian’s mobile apps, but rather through Google’s Chrome browser on Android and desktop, which lets users opt-in to get notifications from specific websites.
Last night’s effort is the latest in a series of notifications projects, each increasingly complex, designed by the Guardian Mobile Innovation Lab. The five-person effort, announced last June alongside $2.6 million from the Knight Foundation, was created to find new ways to connect with and engage readers on mobile devices, via not only notifications, but though live coverage, video, contextual delivery, and content interaction as well. (Nieman Lab is a content partner with The Guardian’s project.)
Why notifications? It’s one area where The Guardian Mobile Innovation Lab knew it could make the biggest impact without a tremendous amount of effort, said Sasha Koren, editor of the Mobile Innovation Lab. “People are experimenting with notifications, but in a very muted way,” she said. “Right now, it’s mostly in tone and content. The strategies around how many alerts to send, and sending them around certain specific events, don’t really seem to be a big part of most orgs’ thinking so far.”
The Guardian’s election notifications are the third such effort from the group. For its first public-facing experiment last week, the group sent out push notifications to people interested in the latest jobs report numbers (which weren’t great, by the way). The notification included a social headline-like title (“May jobs report: Good news & bad”), a short subhead (“The US Economy only added 38,000 jobs this month”), but its most intriguing feature was the set of action buttons that let users decide whether they wanted good or bad news. Users who opted to see good news got positive numbers about the unemployment rate going down and wages going up. Opting for bad news meant reading about the rise of teen unemployment and the spike in people quitting their jobs. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, people were twice as likely to want the good news instead of the bad.)
While all of the notifications let readers clickthough to get to a longer story, the primary goal was to create notification formats that told stories in a new way, were interactive, and could satisfy users on their own. “We didn’t want to do something where we just slammed a headline on your homescreen and expected you to clickthrough to an article,” said product manager Sarah Schmalbach. She said that stories such as the jobs report are ideal because they benefit from being told in a more digestible, interactive format.
That kind of interactivity was a big part of what drew the Guardian Mobile Innovation Lab to Chrome’s web notifications, which are built into both the desktop and Android versions of the browser. Added last year, the feature lets websites send users app-like push notifications through Chrome itself. That’s nice for websites that don’t have the resources to develop their own apps but want to maintain a relationship with readers once those readers click away. It’s also good news for users, who don’t have to download a publishers’ app to get notifications about topics they care about.
That’s a big deal on the mobile world, where publishers are lucky if they can get someone to download their apps, and even luckier if they can get users to interact with those apps on the regular basis. 46 percent of people polled by Pew Research Center said they only used one to five apps per week. For individual news apps, it’s tough to give a critical mass of users enough reason to keep coming back. Opting for a web-based notification system changes that dynamic.
“Up until now, apps and notifications have been tied together, so you’ve always had to sell people on the idea of downloading the app in the first place,” said Alastair Coote, lead developer at the Guardian Mobile Innovation Lab. “With this, we can make the case for notifications without the app involved at all.”
The tech isn’t without its challenges, however. The biggest is that Chrome’s web notifications only work on Android and the desktop versions of Chrome, not on iOS. This significantly limits the number of potential users for The Guardian’s effort. Chrome’s web notifications haven’t been used or tested much outside of a handful of sites, which means that The Guardian’s mobile team regularly runs into new problem (such as some people not receiving notifications at all).
Score one for Android, live updating notifications are pretty great. pic.twitter.com/7gs9cqMrcf
— Zach Seward (@zseward) June 8, 2016
Those limitations limited the overall number of people who signed up for the alerts, but the team says its happy with the results. Of the roughly 100 people who signed up, around 50 percent actually got the initial jobs report notification because of technical issues. Of those, about 20 percent made it all the way through the multi-notification narrative, which Schmalbach said was promising and will increase over time as the behavior becomes more intuitive.
Ultimately, The Guardian’s notifications efforts fit into its larger effort to create fuller experiences for mobile, while not dumbing down the experience or playing into the idea that mobile readers means reduced attention spans.
“The concept of what a full experience is is relative based on the time you have and the interest you have in that topic. We talk a lot about crafting experiences around a story that meet people’s needs,” Schmalbach said. “There’s a 15-second version of a story and a five-minute version. Based on the time you have, where you are, and you interest in the topic, we’re trying to give you the version that is best for you.”
Time Inc. has named Leslie Dukker Doty executive vp, consumer marketing and revenue. Doty most recently served as Trusted Media Brands’ CMO.
Prior to her time with Trusted Media, Doty worked for CVS Health, MasterCard and SunTrust Bank.
“Leslie’s expertise in direct marketing optimization as well as her ability to leverage consumer data and analytics to effectively market and grow new customer acquisition and retention will be strong assets for Time Inc.,” said Time Inc. CEO Joe Ripp, in a statement. “I am confident that Leslie will help facilitate the acceleration of consumer revenue growth and energize our brand franchises as we continue to transition our business.”
Doty will report to Ripp.
There are a number of standout quotes in this week’s cover story by Lacey Rose for our sister publication The Hollywood Reporter.
Looking back at the way ESPN handled things this time last spring, Bill Simmons suggests that “you would think I played grab-ass with some makeup assistant or something.” Then there’s this astute framing of Simmons’ weekly half-hour HBO talk show Any Given Wednesday, which premieres June 22, by former network programming president Michael Lombardo, who remains involved with the Simmons program:
“We have a lot more latitude than ESPN has in what’s too provocative, and we present ourselves differently in that we’re point-of-view television. If you don’t like it, don’t watch it,” he says, noting that Simmons wouldn’t be the first firebrand on HBO’s payroll. “We’ve had 13 years of Bill Maher,” Lombardo adds with a laugh. “Trust me, we have gotten plenty of letters over the years.”
According to two sources who spoke to Rose, HBO is paying Simmons between $7 million and $9 million a year. That’s a sizable increase from the $5 million he was making at ESPN and, ultimately, the best way in Hollywood to run into old foes.
Simmons tells Rose the HBO program will be “conversations about sports, culture and technology, and then me being a snarky asshole.” Although some in the sports media believe the former Grantland boss does not have what it takes to become a bonafide TV personality, the 46-year-old Simmons tells THR that kind of criticism only motivates him more.
Much later in the piece, Simmons reflects honestly on his 14 years at ESPN: “”I’m not blameless. I acted like a brat a couple times, and there are things I could have handled better.”
Read the rest here.
Previously on FishbowlNY:
Bill Simmons Takes Issue With Variety Mention
Your FishbowlNY editors are old (yet handsome) men, so we don’t understand why there has to be so many damn emojis, but clearly we’re in the minority because they just keep on coming.
The latest additions come from Cosmopolitan, who has launched a “Cosmojis” keyboard for iPhone and Android users.
The Cosmoji emojis include rosé, “Netflix and Chill” (kids these days!), a mermaid, iced coffee and more.
Honolulu Civil Beat, after six years of trying life as a for-profit, is becoming a nonprofit after all
The Honolulu Civil Beat, the six-year-old Hawaii-based news site launched by Pierre Omidyar, is becoming a nonprofit, the organization said Wednesday. It’s dropping its metered paywall and introducing a membership program. Existing subscribers will become founding members of the site.
“This seems like it’s the natural evolution for us considering what we’ve learned about Hawaii’s media and what our place in that was,” Patti Epler, Civil Beat’s editor and general manager told me. “We never really have been a retail-type operation with advertising and that type of thing.”
Civil Beat has been ad-free since it launched in 2010. It initially charged $19.99 per month for a subscription, but it lowered the monthly price a number of times over the years. Civil Beat’s debut as a paid site kicked off a news war of sorts in Hawaii, with the daily newspaper Honolulu Star-Advertiser setting up its own paywall in 2011.
Epler wouldn’t say how many paying subscribers the site had — though, as a nonprofit, it will ultimately have to disclose more details of its finances.
Civil Beat typically publishes fewer than 10 stories per day, and she said that many readers weren’t hitting the metered paywall. The site conducted an audience survey a few months ago, finding much of its readership was already getting news from — and paying for — outlets such as The Economist, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal.
“It seemed like with so many different things for them to choose from, we were just one more,” Epler said.
Civil Beat filed papers with the IRS to transition to a nonprofit on June 1. While it waits for its application to be approved, the Institute for Nonprofit News will act as the site’s fiscal sponsor, allowing it to begin accepting donations immediately.
In a column announcing the change on Civil Beat’s site, Epler wrote that the site hopes the move to nonprofit status will attract a wider network of supporters:
Yes, we do have a major benefactor in our publisher, Pierre Omidyar; and it’s great that he got us started and will continue to support us.
But the strength of any nonprofit organization flows from the broad support of the community. We hope that more donors like you will embrace our mission — not because you have to in order to read our stories, but because you want to help us.
The site also is hopeful that as a nonprofit it will be able to attract other types of revenue, such as grants and other charitable support. “We are hoping that it will make it easier to get grants and align with more of the charitable organizations in the Hawaii community — corporate sponsors and that kind of thing,” Epler said.
The site has a full-time newsroom staff of 14, and Epler said readers shouldn’t expect any changes in the type of coverage the site offers. By law, nonprofit sites are forbidden from endorsing candidates for office, but that’s something Civil Beat has never done. It’ll also continue to hold events.
“Our journalism is actually still exactly the same,” she said. “We’ve always been more of an explanatory, educational type organization. We’ve never had sports. We’ve never had features. We’ve never done lifestyles or any of that type of news. We’re just totally still moving down that path of public affairs journalism.”
Photo of downtown Honolulu by John Fowler used under a Creative Commons license.
Politico has ramped up its search for a successor to editor Susan Glasser, who said she would be taking a new role after the upcoming presidential election.
According to The Huffington Post, candidates for the job include Politico national editor and Europe managing editor Kristin Roberts and Carrie Budoff Brown, respectively; Bloomberg News’ Washington managing editor Craig Gordon; and Daily Beast executive editor Noah Shachtman.
A Politico spokesperson wouldn’t offer HuffPost any clues into who has the inside track, only stating that the search “continues with many tremendous candidates, both internally and externally.” Tremendous!
Meet the Press host Chuck Todd on maintaining the show’s presence in a “24/7 digital journalism” world
Chuck Todd doesn’t like buzzwords. In the half hour that we spoke, the Meet the Press host qualified his use of “millennial,” “old/legacy/traditional media,” and “media narrative.” Other common phrases that pepper digital journalism-speak seemed to catch in his throat.
There was one term, however, that he used liberally: “platform neutral.” Media organizations frantically chasing a millennial audience, he said, shouldn’t just panic, and should stay platform neutral. Donald Trump, he hypothesized, is a truly platform-neutral candidate, whose media ubiquity has made him more difficult for rivals to combat.
Todd, who got his start in political reporting at The Hotline, took over as host of the nearly 70-year-old Sunday morning public affairs show in 2014, replacing David Gregory and inheriting declining ratings.
Last September, Todd became the host of a new daily weekday version of Meet the Press — a show the network hoped it would become “the daily cable news show of record for the 2016 campaign,” MSNBC president Phil Griffin had wrote in a memo announcing the show. (Todd remains political director for NBC News, overseeing the network’s political polling efforts.)
The weekday show, as Todd sees it, is yet another way to try to ensure that the long-running Meet the Press doesn’t meet its demise as the political journalism environment, and audiences’ news consumption habits, fluctuate.
“It’s very hard to survive as a weekly brand. If you look at the media landscape, the first victims of this new 24/7 digital journalism world have been weekly magazines,” he told me. “I didn’t want Meet the Press to be a victim of this. I think it’s important to have a daily brand.”
I spoke with Todd about his theory on today’s pesky millennial cord-cutters potentially “aging in” to shows like his, about the increasing difficulty of getting anyone to agree to sit down with him for an interview longer than 15 minutes, and (just accept it) a little bit about Donald Trump. The transcript of our conversation is below, slightly edited for length and clarity.
Shan Wang: I want to admit up front that I don’t watch Meet the Press, on Sundays or weekdays. I know about the show’s history, and I know a lot about you and your career, but through other means — listening to podcasts, reading articles about you, reading your Twitter. Not through the show itself. I want to know, what is your pitch for your show for someone like me — and I will use the word “millennial” here —
Chuck Todd: We’ll talk in shorthand, whether we like it or not. I hear you. Trust me, as someone who’s apparently a member of Gen X, we’re the lost generation. Nobody criticizes us or praises us, because it turns out there just aren’t enough of us.
When you hear “We’ve got to target millennials!” from old or legacy or traditional media — and I hate those terms, too — or really any other news organization that’s been around since the 20th century, the biggest mistake is that the question is always, what do we need to do to make millennials watch us? How do we make them come to us?
Finally, people have decided that you can’t sit around and hope you can program your way, on a Sunday morning, to get millennials to watch. I’m a custodian for the Meet the Press brand. I’m a custodian for the political coverage from NBC, and my job is to build credibility for NBC’s political coverage and Meet the Press with everybody, including millennials. I want to build that credibility by going to them. I’m not going to sit here and expect everyone is going to watch us on Sunday morning. We’ve tried different things. We have a ComPressed edition, where you can download two minutes of highlights. Obviously we distribute Meet the Press now on every single standalone over-the-top [device] we can think of.
But the larger point is, we go to them. My feeling is, everybody ages in. When I was younger, I believed that I knew how to gather news and information better than The Washington Post, The New York Times, NBC, CNN. I felt I knew how to do it better. It was one of my jobs at Hotline — we were aggregating, we were messing around with the Internet before anybody else was. I did it myself. And then guess what? Life happens.
That’s another reason I started a daily version of Meet the Press. I think it’s very hard to survive as a weekly brand. If you look at the media landscape, the first victims of this new 24/7 digital journalism world have been weekly magazines. I didn’t want to see Meet the Press be a victim of this. I think it’s important to have a daily brand. Ten years ago, the conventional wisdom from news executives would be, oh, you’re going to dilute your brand. Don’t do it. But I don’t think there’s such a thing as “diluting” your brand anymore, when it comes to this landscape.
Wang: I was fascinated by your Keepin’ it 1600 interview [The Ringer’s podcast hosted by former Obama advisors Jon Favreau and Dan Pfeiffer], where you talked about how much time Obama White House comms would offer to BuzzFeed or to shows like WTF with Marc Maron, versus how much they offer you, in the name of diversifying the audience they can reach. How do you handle that environment?
Todd: Well, my criticism wasn’t of them doing it; my criticism was that you can’t sit and complain about traditional media coverage when you only work with “new” media. It’s like when people who don’t vote who complain about politicians — well, you didn’t vote!
I did pitch: Let’s do something different. You want to explain something? Let’s do an hour. Let’s do charts and graphs. I just made the case earlier for being platform neutral. If you’re in the business of political communications, you need to be platform neutral as well. I think in some cases they want to make a statement, and that’s fine. But you don’t also get to complain. That’s all.
Wang: I get that. I was wondering how that’s changed things for you: how it’s changed booking guests, how long you’re offered with people, how you talk to them. I know you famously stopped letting Trump do phone interviews, for instance.
Todd: This is something where Donald Trump may have changed the thinking on this. Hear me out on this. For the last 30 years, politicians have basically been advised by a group of political consultants who, with each year, essentially try to get more control of the — and I hate this phrase also — media narrative. More and more political strategists want to control the narrative on their elected official or candidate. And they come up with more and more ways to do it all the time.Here’s what I’ll say: I think everybody is superficially better informed on the people they’re interviewing than ever before. Certainly, it is harder and harder to come up with research they haven’t already come up with themselves. But I don’t feel like I’m in this business to come up with shocking, “they’ll never see this coming” questions. Having an unlimited amount of resources now does allow you to set up a smarter interview outline. You know, at the end of the day, you only have eight to 12 minutes, and you’ve got to use them well. It can be overwhelming because so many questions get left on the cutting room floor, but it does allow you to make sure you can cover the most interesting topics to the viewer that Interviewee X can talk about it.
Wang: You guys produce your own original research and news, too, in the form of polls, right, and these polls are the source of other stories. Now there’s such a swell of emphasis on data, the great promise of data and also its limitations, and there are dedicated places like FiveThirtyEight that explain good polls and bad polls. Have the ways your own data gets reported on changed also?
Todd: First, we really pride ourselves on our survey data. We cut the fewest corners. I won’t say we don’t cut any — everybody tries to save some money now and then. But we try to cut the fewest, so there’s a level of trust in the professional political communities in our numbers. I’m proud of our survey data.
It’s funny — earlier I was talking about trying not to be a snob about platforms. But I’ve been a snob about polling methodology for a long time. I’m still a snob about some of it. But we also know we have not perfected the only way of polling people. We have to continue to be open-minded about different methodologies.
I do feel that sometimes we have too much data when it comes to so-called public opinion. There’s so much noise. I understand the need for aggregation of poll data, because there’s so much of it. Collectively, we in the news media, in the political polling community, have to come up with better standards of what’s acceptable and what’s not, and try to find a way to create standards so that readers and viewers know what to trust and what not. We’re at a transition, technologically, of how to do certain work. I’m getting wonky here.
I won’t put a survey on Meet the Press Daily or Meet the Press or any of our feeds if I don’t feel comfortable with the methodology. Certainly I view that as part of my credibility test. But it’s almost as if the data industry needs a Moody’s ratings system. Who’s got triple-A ratings, who’s got single-A ratings. Maybe that would improve things?
I give Nate Silver credit — he’s tried to rank the pollsters in different ways. It’s a tough thing. I don’t think you can use accuracy to judge methodology. It’s consistency over time on accuracy that you want. Poll data, whether you like it or not, has influence. It can drive news coverage.
The most dangerous thing for any journalistic organization is to create a news story. Journalism is uncovering stories. Then there is polling, and when you’re doing your own polling, you’re creating news stories. That’s a big responsibility, and it amplifies so much more now. You’re amplifying a created news story.
We’re a few minutes over the allotted thirty minutes now, and I get an email from the NBC News spokesperson saying Todd needed to leave to prepare for the weekday show.
Wang: Oh, I’m getting word you have to go — we went over.
Todd: It’s all right. I talk too much! Okay — I’ll give you a few more minutes, hit me with a speed round!
Wang: What was the most awkward, or most intense, or uncomfortable interview you’ve ever done?
Todd: Ted Cruz. I’d had a long experience with Senator Cruz over the course of his campaign, where he’s been very hard to pin down. We went round and round on whether he was for Trump. It turned out — I didn’t even realize I did this — apparently I asked nine times. I didn’t intend for it to be a thing. At the same time, I just couldn’t understand why he didn’t give a simple answer to the question.
To me, it just sums up the frustration that viewers sometimes have with all of us — that means politicians, as well as all of us in the media, and the interactions that we have, positive or negative. I’m not going to sit here and say I was on the side of the angels, or he was on the side of…that’s a subjective decision. But that conversation really summed up how our political dialogue has become so strained.
Photos of Chuck Todd interviewing Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump courtesy of NBC News.