iVillage: A Eulogy

Mediabistro reported today that iVillage will be shut down as a standalone site and will be folded into Today.com, and NBC property.

It seems odd now, and maybe even a bit quaint, the idea that you needed a special place on the internet for women. But in 1995 it was Candice Carpenter and Nancy Evans who seemed odd to nearly everyone working in Silicon Alley at the time. Wait, you want to build a website for women?

The idea seemed crazy because no women were on the internet. I don’t remember the numbers and it doesn’t matter, but suffice to say they were low.

But Candice and Nancy had a theory. The theory was simple: women don’t go on the internet because there is nothing there for them. If we build it, they will come.

And come they did. By the thousands and eventually by the millions. Women who wanted to get pregnant, get promoted, get laid, get dinner on the table. The reasons were as varied as their lives, but they found on iVillage things that made it worth the trouble to log on — content, community, commerce. These are still the things that make the internet go ’round. It’s just that they are now available in so many places, in so many varieties. And we now have an entire cohort of girls and women who don’t even remember a time when women didn’t go on the internet.

As a former iVillager (I was there from 1999 until about 2002) I am definitely sad. But can I be a little weirdly happy, too? Happy, at least, that it’s no longer odd that women would want to be on the internet. Happy that we don’t need a “special” place. We’ve taken over the whole damn place. There are still too few of women running the show (cue Sheryl Sandberg), but the influence of women on the internet is unquestioned. If you are building a website today and you aren’t expecting women to visit you are likely building single-shooter games or porn. And maybe not even then.

I was only at iVillage for two years — it will amount to a blip on my CV by the end of my career. But in those crazy go-go years a lot happened, and that job likely changed the trajectory of my career in ways that led, somewhat indirectly, to what I do today. I worked with amazing women (and a few amazing men, too). And through message boards and email I “met” and got to know even more amazing women. They were the true pioneers of the internet — the women who came and shared their lives, their secrets, their longings. Way before everyone shared everything with everyone, these women found a way to truly connect through the computer in ways that never failed to take my breath away.

So good-bye, iVillage. Those of us who knew you, and helped build you, will never forget what you did for us and for so many more. And we can’t help but thank you for the part you played in creating a world that made you obsolete.

The relationship between offline and online

Two recent articles that are related, at least in my head, around the theme of offline and online interactions.

First, David Carr (NYT media reporter) wrote on Monday about how Amazon “needs” Barnes & Noble. The theory is that while people love e-books and/or books delivered to their door (cheaper/easier) they “discover” content in the physical book store. Interesting note that Amazon sales dipped when Borders went off of business. If books fall out of sight they fall out of mind as well. Part of why I think this is interesting is because it runs a little counter to the theory in “The Long Tail” by Chris Anderson, which, in a nutshell, suggests that online is better for helping content find small audiences since the online shelf space is infinite. Obviously these are two very different kinds of discovering, but opens the question of what the retail world looks like if B&N, and other retailers, fall by the wayside.

Second, from Ad Age: Meredith is going to turn AllRecipes.com into a print publication. For those who aren’t familiar, AllRecipes has been around since the original dotcom boom and is a wildly popular site for, well, recipes. That Meredith is turning this into a print pub is beyond fascinating. It’s just within the last 12-18 mos that both Gourmet and Everyday Food (MSL pub) got shuttered. I still think there is a market for print, it just gets smaller and more niche. Not sure that AllRecipes fits the bill, but will be interesting to watch how they try to make the leap.

The Continued Rise of New Media

Last year I wrote about the Rise of New Media based on this Chart of the Day from Silicon Alley Insider.

At that time I marveld that HuffPo had outpaced The Washington Post. Now it’s ahead of the New York Times. This is no doubt in part due to the paywall model that NYT now uses. Note that the WSJ is way below all of these properties because of it’s paid subscription model.

Doesn’t mean WSJ isn’t still hugely influntial. And the NYT isn’t going away anytime soon. But the pattern seems pretty clear. New properties are on the rise.

chart of the day, huffpo, new york times, wall street journal, uniques, june 2011

It’s all just media

Did you see Conan on 60 Minutes this week? It was good — go watch it.

Anyway, Steve Kroft asked him about his decision to choose TBS (a cable station) over a broadcast deal.

Conan said:

I do not look down my nose at cable.  And I think anyone who does isn’t paying attention to television these days.  ‘Cause it is– this world is changing very quickly.

He is so right about that.  Cable has been pretty widespread since the late 80s.  Meaning anyone under the age of 25 doesn’t really remember a time before cable.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  What’s the difference between an ebook, a whitepaper, a brochure? Does it matter if you blog versus doing an email newsletter?

It’s all just media, it’s all just content, and we are all publishers.

Welcome to a brave new world.

The Unknown Future of Big Media

Putting aside the question of whether or not anyone is actually surprised that Ricky Martin is gay, the story behind the story is how he made the announcement.  Unlike Ellen, Clay Aiken, and others, Martin did not use the mainstream media, but instead posted on his blog.

The reason, as explained in this New York Times article, was to better control the message.

I’m completely fascinated by the way the internet’s many publishing platforms (blogs, Twitter, Facebook) have completely transformed the media landscape in the last several years.  It actually seems to be that the changes become more profound every 18 to 24 months.

But for all that change I think it’s overly simplistic to say that mainstream media is dead.  Yes, Ricky Martin chose to bypass all that and frame his story his way.  But, as the article notes, Adam Lambert chose a different route.  While Ricky Martin is an international superstar (albeit out of the limelight of late), Adam Lambert is popular with millions of “American Idol” fans, but less well-known outside that bubble.  He spent the entire Idol season keeping mum as everyone played “Is he or isn’t he?”  He chose to reveal the answer in Rolling Stone.  Because, well duh, it’s Rolling Stone.

I think Big Media will live on.  Some that are now in that camp will go away (bye-bye Gourmet, at least in print) and new properties will join (hello TMZ, Huffington Post, Politico.com and many, many more).  But the basic concept — big, well-known publications (using “publication” very generically) with a huge audiences will continue to have an outsize influence on American life.

I think the big three unanswered questions are:

  • What will those properties be?
  • Who will run them?
  • How will they be different from the current mainstream media?

Jonathan Galassi on the Value of Publishing Houses

Last Sunday Jonathan Galassi, president of book publisher Farrah, Straus & Giroux, wrote an editorial for the New York Times about the value that book publishers provide. It’s predictably defensive about publisher’s right to profit from the work of writers and to retain new rights like those for e-books.  Mr. Galassi cites the expenses incurred in bringing a book to market: editing, design, marketing, publicity, sales and so forth.  And he takes it even a step further, writing:

A publisher — and I write as one — does far more than print and sell a book. It selects, nurtures, positions and promotes the writer’s work.

Putting aside for the moment that many writers do not feel very nurtured by the modern publishing industry, I think Mr. Galassi is really missing the point.  I’ve worked as an editor, a marketer and a publicist, so I totally agree with Mr. Galassi that such work has value.  But the days when publishers acted as the cultural gatekeepers is coming to an end and quickly.

As I wrote before, I think the future of publishing puts writer’s in the driver’s seat.  I think it will work a bit like the movie business.  The writer, probably working with and agent, will get financing for a project and will assemble a team of people to bring that book into the world.  Publishers might play a role in marketing and distribution — the way studios do for movies — but possibly not.  I think they will have to think much more radically about their role — and the way books are funded and who gets what piece of the profits — if they are going to survive.

Unfortunately, Mr. Galassi seems to have supreme confidence that writers and consumers need publishers.  He ends his essay thusly:

Even if someday, God forbid, books are no longer printed, they will still need the thought and care and dedication that [Random House] put into producing William Styron’s work for nearly 60 years. Some things never change.

Jonathan Galassi is a smart guy and he’s been at the top of the publishing industry for a very long time.  But the changes that are coming to book publishing are much bigger than this essay suggests.  Publishers need to adapt or die.

Why Traditional Media Will Die (And Maybe Should)

<b>WARDROBE</b>: Check your closet to ensure that you have appropriate professional attire, including shoes, ready for interviews.

Through a link on Facebook I got introduced to career blog by Penelope Trunk. It’s quite brilliant and I quickly became obsessed. The writing is fresh and interesting. More importantly the advice is great. Penelope offers truly innovative ideas for managing your career and your life.

Now let’s contrast any random post on Trunk’s blog with this column from the Sunday New York Times. This piece is so insipid it actually makes me a bit angry. I can’t believe the Times wasted resources on it. First, the advice is so obvious that I have a hard time believing anyone who has been looking for a job would find any value here. Second, the advice also feels hopelessly out-of-date. Resumes? Cover letters? Sure, these are still tools that job hunters use — and making them as good as you can <i>is</i> important — but is this what people really need to be focused on to get a job in today’s economy? Finally, the advice is so superficial that it is nearly useless.

Take, for example, this gem:

Not very helpful, right? Contrast that to any one of these four blog posts by Penelope. Fresh, interesting, not-obvious and actually helpful.

Top dogs in old media companies love to downplay blogs and talk about the superior quality of their content. They bemoan the “unfairness” that they invest so much in their content and stupid consumers don’t appreciate the difference.

I think consumers DO appreciate the difference. And, at least as this column shows, new media mavens are winning because — not in spite of — the value difference.

The Future of Book Publishing

In this weekend’s New York Times Magazine, Deborah Solomon interviews Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. This exchange from the Q & A is great and neatly illuminates the real seismic shift that is coming to book publishing:

JEFF BEZOS: We also have a self-service platform where small publishers or even self-published authors can put their books on themselves.

DEBORAH SOLOMON: How does that work?

JB: Basically you submit the book, you set the price for it, we charge the customer and then we give you 35 percent of the revenue.

DS: And Amazon keeps 65 percent? That sounds like a lot.

JB: Does it? You’re an author, what does your royalty check look like? Are your royalties 35 percent?

DS: No. Let’s not have that conversation.

JB: O.K., I think we’re done.

I think the future of book publishing looks more like movie-making where a group of people (writer, editor, publicist, and so on) sign on for a project, get it financed and sell it. Publishing houses still exist, but in very different form than we know them today. They are more like modern movie studios and exist mainly to provide distribution and sales support. The good news for writers is they will have a lot more control over their destinies and will realize a lot more of the revenue from their work. The bad news, for many, is they will need to take responsibility for their own success. Unlike some pundits, I think this points to a real future for smart literary agents. The best agents will morph themselves into producers who can help talented writers get financing and find the best editors, marketers and publicists to work with. Since many writers aren’t naturally good at promoting themselves this will be an important role in a brave new publishing world and one that many agents could excel at.

Frank Luntz on Healthcare

I am fascinated by Frank Luntz.  I really wish the Democrats had someone like him.

He was interviewed on On The Media this week talking about how to talk about the health care debate.  Totally worth a seven-minute listen.  If you have more time Luntz has published a long memo with advice for Republicans on how to debate the issue.  Lots of interesting polling data, plus his ideas on how to frame the issue.

His ability to distort facts makes me crazy, but he’s not wrong that words matter.  How we talk about the issues matter and changes in tone and rhetoric can make all the difference between success and failure in the political arena.