The art of brevity

October 14, 2015

The art of brevity

Twitter has made some 336 people redundant, mainly in the product and engineering teams. There’s little doubt that Twitter has played an important part in helping media organisations push news stories to readers, but the company has struggled to turn its mass appeal into real income.

It’s difficult to see an easy fix, given that the root of the problem lies in the very format that has made Twitter so popular. Limiting each tweet to just 140 characters helped concentrate each message into the most essential elements. Adding URLs and images has enhanced this, but there’s no room for anything superfluous like advertising.

This of course sums up the problem facing many publishers now – people want the media, and they want it to be free, but they don’t want the advertising that has hitherto paid for much of the media that we consume. The challenge for Twitter, and for many of us who work in media, is to find a different business model.

International Print Day

International Print Day

Today, Wednesday 14th October, is International Print Day, so expect a lot of stories all over the press and social media about how wonderful print is, and try to forget that you’re reading this on a screen. Ironically, the success of last year’s event was measured in the number of tweets – 8,683 – though it would seem more appropriate to, you know, actually print something?

Far be it from me to suggest that the whole thing is just a lot of meaningless marketing hype, but I think that print is a valuable and strong enough media form to survive without this cheerleading.

But, in case anyone is unsure that they really do love print, or just too stupid to write their own tweets, the helpful people at the Two Sides campaign have produced a bunch of fact sheets and tweet-ready results to prove that most consumers really do prefer to read some things in print. Personally, I thought that was obvious…

Big trouble in China

September 1, 2015

Big trouble in China

Recent weeks have seen some shocking falls on the Chinese stock exchange, which has mostly hit smaller investors, and taken the shine off the West’s love affair with the Chinese economy. So far, the various Western stock markets have survived, albeit with a few wobbles. But just how much of our economy now depends on China?

We only have to look at the financial results from some of the major press manufacturers such as Heidelberg and KBA to see that their recovery is largely based on increased press sales to China. Equally, major digital players such as HP depend on emerging markets like China for continued growth.

So the question is, how stable is China, given its lack of transparency, democracy, human rights or any of the things that we in the West take for granted? Will any of this come back to bite us if the economy does falter?

Giving it away

July 7, 2015

Giving it away

So, the NME, the venerable music industry magazine, is giving in to its declining readership figures and is instead to be given away for free. Cue much talk of how the circulation will immediately go up, because, let’s face it, who wouldn’t want something for free, especially the NME, which has generally been well-regarded.

But of course, nothing is ever really free; rather, the income will come completely from the advertisers and they will now become the sole target market, rather than the readers, and no doubt the editorial budget will be cut further. The readers can hardly complain if they don’t value the publication enough to pay for it.

But it worries me that if the default business model for the media is to rely on advertising, how can we build a relationship with the readers? But without such a relationship we have no mandate to write stories questioning what other people are doing, which is the fundamental raison d’être of a free press. Ironically, undermining the relationship with the readers also diminishes the value of the advertising.

The great charter

June 15, 2015

The great charter

800 years ago – the 15th June 1215 – King John signed the Magna Carta, though the king had no intention of honouring his promises, the Pope promptly revoked it and the British didn’t even think to mark the spot – leaving it to the Americans to set up the memorial. The document itself is mainly an attempt by a group of wealthy aristocrats to win concessions for themselves from a despotic king and almost all of its hard won freedoms have now been revoked.

Yet it remains the cornerstone of democracy, not just in Britain but around the world. So while we celebrate this anniversary we should remember that governments constantly seek to undermine its principles. We only have to think of the Snowden revelations and the British government’s proposed surveillance bill. The best way for us to celebrate the spirit of the Magna Carta is to hold the government to account, though probably not at the point of a sword.

Epic fail

May 26, 2015

Epic fail

On the face of it, sending press releases to journalists ought to be fairly easy. What could be difficult about pasting the content into the body of a plain email and attaching a Word file plus a picture or link to a picture. Press releases that are difficult to access are less likely to be used. So, in case anyone is wondering – yes, it is too much effort to open an attached file, links to web pages are hit and miss, HTML emails are a pain in the proverbial and a Word file is better than a PDF.

My favourite recent experience is being given a USB stick as an alternative to a paper press release, only to find that it has every language except English. Better still, when I pointed this out, the PR agents emailed me an English version, which came as a Winmail.dat file??? Given that 90 percent of journalists use a Mac you’d think that most PR people would have realized that it’s best to send Mac friendly files to us?

But I admit defeat for the recent trend of waiting till the end of a trade show to send out details of things being shown there. And yet, people pay for this service.

Still, there’s probably a blog out there written by someone in PR detailing all the stupid things that journalists do.

Paper or disk?

Paper or disk?
Not so very long ago the press centres at large trade shows, such as Fespa, where I am at the moment, used to feature row upon row of racks with paper press releases. Nowadays most PR agencies have switched to digital formats, which does make it a lot easier to cut and paste information directly into stories, even though we all frown upon this as bad journalistic practice, and absolutely never do such a thing. Well, not often.
But the plethora of digital options brings its own problems – there really is no one size fits all. Let’s face it, who brings a CD drive with them these days? USB sticks aren’t much better, at least not if you’ve got an iPad. QR codes are a bit hit and miss – I’ve used one to download a URL to my phone, which won’t pick up the wifi in the press office.
The best option is to email the press release, preferably before the show. Fortunately, most people have done that this time around, which probably explains why most journalists are now complaining that the press conferences are boring, with no new information. Then again, this might be why so many people leave PR to become primary school teachers.

Spotting the forgers

April 27, 2015

Spotting the forgers

A new law – The Specialist Printing Equipment and Materials (Offences) Act – is due to come into force in May and will make it a criminal act to supply printing equipment and consumables knowing that they will be used for illicit purposes. This could include producing false ID documents as well as counterfeiting money, tickets or packaging. The government estimates that identity fraud costs the UK an estimated £3.3 billion each year. Possession of such documents is already illegal so this bill simply closes a loophole for those supplying them.

Of course the difficulty lies in determining if a trade supplier knows, for example, that their paper is going to be used to print forged bank notes. The Metropolitan Police have run Project Genesius since 2007 to help suppliers develop a voluntary code of conduct and will advise on how to spot criminals. Hopefully this will start with a detailed credit check…

That’s torn it

February 27, 2015

That’s torn it

My local council sent me a letter to confirm my details from the electoral roll. It’s a straightforward monochrome variable data document. But this one had been torn in half and then sellotaped together. The local council didn’t seem too bothered, telling me: “It’s come straight from the printer, not from the council.”

Good print is about eliciting an emotional response but, as I’ve discovered, this is also true of really shoddy work. What were they thinking of? How did the sheet get torn, and how many others were sent out like this? Or did they just assume that it wouldn’t go to someone who knew about variable data printing, verification systems and the ease of reprinting spoilt jobs?

I’m not sure which is worse – that the printer thought that sellotaping a torn print was better than reprinting it, or that the council is wasting money paying for this kind of work.

The sum of its parts

February 22, 2015

The sum of its parts

This week sees the Hunkeler Innovation Days event take place at Lucerne, Switzerland. I’ll be at the show and will post a proper report once I’ve had a chance to get around all the stands. But it’s worth noting that this relatively small show has become one of the most anticipated in recent years, attracting senior management from around the world.

As a result, many printer vendors use it to launch new presses. But what really makes this event so compelling is the very tight focus around showing integrated solutions rather than individual bits of kit. It’s not enough just to put marks on paper, however clever the printing technology. Nowadays our focus should be on the finished products, and HID is one of the few shows that really delivers that.