Tuesday, 29 March 2011

If you pay for content, you know its true

Following my blog post yesterday on The New York Times and its decision to start charging for online content (click here for the blog post), I got an interesting comment through Facebook from one of my friends, Gulshan.  He raised a very brief but valid point when he said "If news is charged hopefully then its all true."

This is indeed a good point because with everything and anything being accessible on the Internet as was pointed out by Alan Devereux, one of the people who commented on my original blog post, it becomes increasingly difficult to believe everything you read about on the Internet (Alan incidentally also wrote about paywalls on his blog as well, which you can read here).

Case in point: today's rumour mill  was buzzing with stories of Jackie Chan's death, which it turned out to wasn't true.

If you pay for content, you therefore expect it to be authentic, verified and to the standards that you would expect to find in any respectable broadsheet publication.

Having said all that, would you be willing to start paying for content one day?

The New York Times & its Paywall

This week, The New York Times (NYT), a reputed and well-known publication attempts to change the way digital journalism works by implementing a paywall.  What is a paywall and why is this significant?  Basically, in a nutshell, NYT is saying start paying for content online if you want to access it because we can't afford to keep giving it away for free.

In a traditional newsprint environment, publishers know that they can make money from one of two ways - either from subscription income or through advertising revenue.  The lion's share of the revenue is probably from advertising I'd assume.  In the traditional environment, you'd have the costs associated with printing and distribution that don't exist in a digital environment.

So why are publishers now talking about implementing paywalls?

Firstly, they need the revenue.  The advertising revenue that publishers get for traditional newsprint doesn't exist online because you can't guarantee in a digital environment that a reader will click through three or four stories till he see's you advertisement but in traditional newsprint, you can be assured that even if your advertisement is on page 32, it'll be seen by thousands, if not millions of people.

Secondly, most of access news through various digital means and the function the newspaper has itself changed significantly.  Traditional newspapers don't exist to break the news - that's what social media is for these days.  Traditional newspapers provide more of an editorial or indepth analysis or commentary of a story.  Some newspapers have understood this and are adapting themselves accordingly.  Others have failed to see the writing on the wall and represent a deer staring at the headlights of a car that's about to hit them (I've written about this in a blog post several months earlier, that you can read here).

With this being the situation, publishers have seen that the advertising revenue isn't quite cutting it and the other revenue source that they have, subscriptions, has to come into play if they have to survive.  We're in an era of citizen journalism where anyone can say they provide news.  This has been glorified in the era of blogs, YouTube or CNN's i-Report.  There is though still a market for true journalism to prosper going forward and to pay for journalists, the revenue streams need to exist.

How will the NYT paywall work?

What NYT has proposed is to say that you can access twenty articles free of charge a month.  If you want more than that, either get a subscription to the printed newspaper or get a digital subscription and you can start to access all the other content on their website (A letter from the publisher is here and details on subscription plans can be seen clicking on this link).

Interestingly, NYT have said that if you access their website through social media or search engine links, you can read articles for free, as that I assume is good way to drive advertising revenue.

Experiment or Reality?

A few questions now exist in this situation.  Firstly, will people agree to pay for this content or will they switch off and look at alternative news sources online?  Secondly, in a traditional newsprint environment, a newspaper may be read by multiple people within a household or workplace, in the proposition that NYT is proposing, they've said they'll give only one digital subscription free if you subscribe to the newsprint edition of their publication.  Isn't this then unfair as how can you ask a husband, wife and their two kids to each get a digital subscription account because grandpa has used the only one that they get for free whereas they all benefit from reading the traditional printed edition of the NYT?

There are lots of questions and answers that are yet to emerge from this.  It's now moved from being an experiment to becoming a reality and somewhere in the world, Rupert Murdoch is I'm sure thrilled at the thought that he doesn't need to give away free content.  Murdoch himself started a tablet newspaper for the iPad which I've written about earlier (and can be accessed by clicking here).

For more insight on paywalls, you can have a read through this story on the NYT paywall.

I was also hoping to put up a link to a conversation that took place between Jessica Swann, Alexander McNabb and Tom Gara that took place on Dubai Eye's Dubai Today show recently where Tom spoke about paywalls at length since he currently works for FT Tilt, a paywall provider themselves but it seems Dubai Eye hasn't posted this podcast on their website and I can't therefore share it.  Do follow Tom on Twitter where his handle is @tomgara or follow Alexander McNabb at @AlexanderMcNabb.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Pierre Cardin Hotel: Dubai, make it happen!

With Dubai's quest for making things the biggest, the best and having it here first, I got to thinking about how long it would be until Dubai has a Pierre Cardin Hotel, the world's first.

We've already seen the Armani Hotel setup shop here and with the Versace project next to the Business Bay Bridge in full swing, Dubai's obsession with labels still seems to hold up despite the fact that we've been going through a recession.

So what would the Pierre Cardin Hotel offer?
Everything you can imagine would be in Pierre Cardin here, right from the uniforms the staff wear, to the furniture and the linens all over the hotel.  Look out for the funky Pierre Cardin logo sewn onto everything.  They'll try and convince you everything is European but don't get conned.

Will it cost me an arm and a leg?
Room rates that were 70% off throughout the year would be a starter.  If the Armani Deluxe rooms goes for Dhs. 2,400 on their website, this would mean the Pierre Cardin Deluxe room should cost you about Dhs. 720 per night.  The rooms would also be 30% the size of a room in the Armani Hotel so be prepared to hold your stomach in if you need to move in your room as a bit of a beer belly could mean you're instantly stuck in between the furniture.   If you like 100% Egyptian Cotton bedsheets, forget it, you'll only 30% Egyptian Cotton here.  Same goes for the the rest of the amenities, bathtub, bath gown, etc.

What if I'm hungry at the Pierre Cardin Hotel?
The restaurants, bars and nightclubs in the Pierre Cardin Hotel would naturally also have the have 70% off offers.  How much does 70% off the price of the food reflect on the size of the portion you're getting is still out for the jury to decide on.  The same goes with the quality of liquor you can expect.  Grey Goose could be a bit of a stretch so expect a vodka from the outskirts of Siberia that's packaged fancily but which you've never heard of.

What?  No discount at the Spa?
The spa in the Pierre Cardin Hotel would probably be the only part of the hotel that doesn't offer a discount but will give you 70% more time free of charge, meaning that if they charged Dhs. 1,500 for their ultimate Pierre Cardin body package that otherwise lasted 18 minutes, they would round it off to the whole hour and give you 42 minutes for free.

Pierre Cardin TV, day and night.
In-Room Entertainment?
Forget Fashion TV, all you're going to get here is a Pierre Cardin fashion show on every channel.  If you have a portable DVD-player, iPad or laptop with movies on them, bring it with you.

Check to see the car's condition before you sit down.
Airport Pickup
Not a problem, with their fleet of Mercedes Benz cars from the early 1990's, you'll have an interesting ride back to your hotel.  The air-conditioning may not always work, the seats may be worn out, but you can't deny the fact that they picked you up in a Mercedes-Benz.  Be careful also about drinking the water that's kept int he car because even though the water bottles have the Pierre Cardin logo on them, they do smell a lot like Dubai tap water.

Where would the Pierre Cardin Hotel be located?
Chances are, everywhere.  They would open up a chain of hotels and a Pierre Cardin Hotel would pop up attached to every mall in Dubai before invading Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, Shajah and Ajman, before eventually finding their way up north to Ras Al Khaimah which'll probably have the first Pierre Cardin Luxury Beach Resort.

First Mover Advantage?
The Pierre Cardin Hotel would have the first mover advantage knowing that a series of Ted Lapidus and Daniel Hechter could open up at any time and eat into their 70% throughout the year market.

Moral of the Story
The next time you're at a Dubai hotel and feel you're getting ripped off, know in your mind, you could always end up at a Pierre Cardin Hotel instead.  Be happy where you are, put up with their attitude, burn a hole in your pocket and thank yourself you aren't in a Pierre Cardin Hotel.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Adult Supervision: Not Required Anymore

I came across a fascinating story in Wired magazine today about Google's decision to let co-founder, Larry Page take over as CEO of Google.

Good luck Larry, hope you keep Google stuck to
it's core values.
What really struck a chord for me in the story was that this eccentric nature to do what you like when you like is something the author managed to pin down to the education system that Larry Page and Sergey Brin had, which followed a Monetessori curriculum.   This meant, at school, they were encouraged to do what they wanted, when they wanted and this is something that's been put into the DNA of Google today.

All the stories about Google being one of the best places to work and the fact that their offices resemble an amusement park more than an office is testament to this.

The other thing that stood out was the obsession with speed that Page has.  Everything has to be quick and functional, which is evident in the way their browser or Android OS works.  However, this also translates down into how decision happens at Google or how Page is constantly fighting bureaucracy.  How he manages to do in this battle within the organization is something I'd like to see but good luck to Larry when he takes over the reins from Eric Schmidt as CEO.

To read the story in Wired, click here.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Cha-Ching...Twitter's looking to make money

Just when we thought we were heading into another tech bubble, some companies decide they want to think about revenue.

At least this is what I understood from Twitter's announcement about API's last week (click here for details).

With valuations for companies like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter on the rise, little has been known about their revenue models and looking at Twitter's tantrums of late, you can start to understand what all the fuss is about.  Twitter has grown wildly popular because of the fact they had a fairly open API model which resulted in lots of Apps being developed with Twitter connectivity.

In fact, it's been so open that some of the best Apps are in fact Twitter clients themselves like Tweetie (which was later acquired by Twitter and became Twitter for iPhone / Blackberry), UberTwitter (which is now called UberSocial), TweetDeck, EchoFon, Seesmic, etc.  
Image courtesy: epiclaunch.com
With Twitter now saying they don't want to see any more third party Twitter clients in existence in the long-term, they've essentially cut the playing field down to a size where they can start to dominate again.  How?  By making more people use their official Twitter clients.  

This then raised the question as to who they'd be targeting.  The average Joe is probably not the person they want (except for the advertising revenue they could get by him using their official client) but most likely they're after the corporate clients.  After hooking up businesses, large and small, Twitter has recognized that for most companies, there is more than one person who manages a corporate Twitter ID.  In such cases, third party clients like HootSuite or CoTweet have been used as you can track easily who's responded to what Tweet or who to assign a Tweet to.  Furthermore, the statistics that both can provide, helps any company on Twitter go someway towards justifying their investment in social media.

However, with HootSuite now charging companies that want to have multiple users on one Twitter account, it's left CoTweet to sweep whatever is left, or that is until Twitter cuts off their pipe.  I won't be surprised to see Twitter turnaround and launch "Twitter for Business" where they start to charge companies for doing a lot of what HootSuite and CoTweet do for them today. This would not only please investors who'd like to see big-name clients now using Twitter official Apps, it would also bring in a revenue-base that isn't solely dependent on advertising and which is by most means stable, monthly income.

Let's see how it goes but I'm guessing we're going to be seeing a lot more from Twitter and get ready to wake up one day to find your favourite Twitter client cut off from it's life support system by Dr. Twitter.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

I've not given up...the blog continues

Just in case you were wondering (not that I expect anyone to), but the blog does continue even though I haven't posted as much as I'd like to of late.

Maintaining a blog on the professional side, coupled with the fact that I haven't had much interesting to say of late and that I've been fairly tied up has meant that there simply haven't been any new posts on this blog.

Don't fret, the blog posts will come again and I will ensure this blog continues.

Until then, I'm keeping the training wheels on and hoping I maintain my balance.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Murder by Cricket: Part 2? I hope not.

It was surprising to see this week during the ICC Cricket World Cup that the West Indies team bus was attacked by angry fans who were throwing stones and "pebbles" at them after they convincingly defeated Bangladesh on their home turf (story as reported by AFP here).

For the Windies, it is unfortunate since they weren't the intended target of this rage but rather it was directed towards the Bangladeshi team which was bowled out for a paltry 58 runs.  However, I'm guessing since all buses look alike for the teams competing in the World Cup, Bangaldeshi fans didn't realize they were attacking the wrong team.

Stories of players heading to the ground of the bus and windows shattering would've defiantly scared the living daylights out of those on the bus, particularly given the fact they wouldn't have understood what was being said by the angry fans.

What is more shocking though is how this was allowed to happen.

I would've thought that the cricket world would've learned a lesson or two, especially after the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore several years ago (click here for story).  At that time, armed gunmen with malicious intent shot at the team and caused several injuries to players.  A few civilians ad security personnel also lost their lives at that time.  This time, it was more a case of angry fans upset with their team, who probably didn't want to hurt anyone but just vent out their anger.

However, it raises the question that if someone wanted to attack the team bus, it was quite possible.  Also keep in mind it was during the last Cricket World Cup hosted in the West Indies where Bob Woolmer, the coach of Pakistan was murdered (which I was incidentally interviewed for by ESPN when I was in the West Indies - click here for the interview).  How was security so lax, especially considering this is a World Cup event?  What standards has the ICC set for host nations as far as protecting the players and their teams go?  

My picture as it appeared in the ESPN interview
during the 2007 ICC Cricket World Cup
ICC Chief, Haroon Lorgat has talked down the incident much to the anger of the West Indies cricketers by saying a "few pebbles" were thrown and a "few arrests" were made.  He doesn't hold anyone accountable or say it is something that shouldn't have happened to begin with (click here for an audio interview he gave the BBC).

Whatever happens, let's hope the rest of the World Cup goes off without any incident.  It was supposed to be a tournament with four co-hosts and with Pakistan being dropped following those attacks against the Sri Lankan players in Lahore, let's hope cricket in the subcontinent stays vibrant and doesn't become a victim to poor planning and lax security.