Craigslist: The $5 billion juggernaut that crippled an industry.

Craigslist logoIt’s common knowledge that the business model for newspapers started going awry in a major way with the decline in newspaper classified advertising.

Craigslist played a huge role in that development, as the online classifieds site went about methodically entering one urban market after another across the United States.

And now we have quantification of just how impactful Craigslist’s role was.  It comes in the form of a May 2013 study authored by Robert Seamans of New York University’s Stern School of Business and Feng Zhu of the University of Southern California.

Titled Responses to Entry in Multi-Sided Markets:  The Impact of Craigslist on Local Newspapers, the study explored the dynamics at play over the period 2000-2007, focusing on newspapers’ degree of reliance on classifieds at the time of Craigslist’s entry into their markets.

What the researchers found was that those newspapers that relied heavily on classified ads for revenue experienced more than a 20% decline in classified advertising rates following Craigslist’s entry into their markets.

But that isn’t all:  The outmigration of classified advertising to Craigslist was accompanied by other negative trend lines — an increase of subscription prices (up 3%+) and lowering circulation figures (down nearly 5%).

Even newspaper display advertising rates fell by approximately 3%.

Were these developments “cause” or “effect”?  The study’s authors posit that fewer classified ads may have diminished the incentive for people to purchase the newspapers.  Also, display advertising rates tend to track circulation figures, so once the “decline cycle” started, it was bound to continue.

The study concludes that by offering buyers and sellers a free classified ad alternative to paid listings in newspapers, Craigslist saved users approximately $5 billion over the seven-year period.

Those dollars came right out of the hides of the newspapers, of course … and changed the print newspaper industry for good.

But here’s the thing:  The experience of the newspaper industry has relevance beyond just them.  “The boundaries between media industries are blurred and advertisers are able to reach consumers through a variety of platforms such as TV, the Internet and mobile devices,” the authors write.

The unmistakable message to others in the media is this:  It could happen to you, too.

A full summary of the Seamans/Zhu report can be found here.

To Find Newspaper Readers in the United States … Head East

Newspaper stackThe news about newspaper readership rates has been uniformly bleak over the past decade or so.

In fact, readership rates for daily print newspaper have declined almost 20% since 2001, according to trend studies conducted by market research firm Scarborough.

Today, national daily print newspaper readership rates stand at around 37% of adults, down from ~50% just a dozen years ago.

Interestingly however, there are distinct differences in readership rates based on geography. 

Readership appears to be highest in the Northeast and Industrial Midwest regions, whereas it’s significantly lower than the national average across the Southeast, Texas and the Pacific Southwest.

Which metropolitan market takes top honors for readership? It’s Pittsburgh, where ~51% of the adult population reads daily print newspapers.

Other high readership rates are found in a cluster of markets within a 250-mile radius of Pittsburgh, it turns out:

  • Pittsburgh Metro Area: ~51% of adults read daily print newspapers
  • Albany/Schenectady/Troy Metro: ~49%
  • Hartford/New Haven Metro: ~49%
  • Cleveland Metro: ~48%
  • Buffalo/Niagara Fall Metro: ~47%
  • New York City Metro: ~47%
  • Toledo Metro: ~47%

Only one other metropolitan market charts daily newspaper readership as high: Honolulu, at ~47% adult readership.

Highest and Lowest Daily Newspaper Readership by Major Metropolitan Market

(Source: AdvertisingAge Magazine)

At the other end of the scale are various Sunbelt urban markets. Here are the five metropolitan areas that bring up the rear when it comes to the lowest daily newspaper readership rates:

  • Atlanta Metro Area: ~23% of adults read daily print newspapers
  • Houston/Galveston Metro: ~24%
  • San Antonio Metro: ~24%
  • Las Vegas Metro: ~26%
  • Bakersfield Metro: ~26%

What’s the cause of these geographic discrepancies?

It may be age demographics, which tend to skew younger in these Sunbelt markets.

Perhaps it’s the ethnic composition of the markets – although pretty much all of them on both lists have diverse populations.

So I turn the question over to the readers:  If you have any insights (or even simply suspicions) to share, I welcome your comments.

It’s Official: Instagram is in the Big Leagues Now

Thanksgiving Day 2012 on Instagram

Thanksgiving Day 2012 broke all records for Instagram’s photo sharing volume, with over 10 million photos shared and more than 225 per second at its peak.

Instagram, the mobile photo sharing service that came on the scene about two years ago, has been quietly building a following among many people who are attracted to its simplicity and ease of use, along with the enhanced image quality it offers. 

This past Thanksgiving proves how important Instagram has become within the social media fabric.  On Thanksgiving Day, fully 10 million photos were shared on Instagram.

At its peak time at 3:40 pm (Eastern Standard Time), photos were being shared at a rate of ~225 per second.  and throughout the the peak dinner hours from 1:00 pm to 6:00 pm EST, more than 200 photos per second were being shared.

According to Instagram’s statistics, Thanksgiving Day was the busiest in the service’s history, which normally has about 5 million photos uploaded per day.

Facebook, which acquired Instagram in September, sees far more photo uploads on its flagship social platform – around 300 million images per day – which makes Instagram a relative babe in the woods. 

But Facebook looks to have big plans for Instagram, including a goal of doubling the number of app users from ~100 million to ~200 million.

Clearly, Instagram is one social platform that merits following in the months ahead.  Now that it’s joined the rarified ranks of the other platforms that have broken through to the “big leagues,” it’ll be interesting to see where Instagram goes from here and how it monetizes itself.

The “Digital Natives” are Restless …

Digital Natives, Digital Multi-taskingDigital natives” is a term used to describe consumers who have grown up with mobile technology as part of their daily lives – essentially people age 25 and younger.

And man, do these whippersnappers behave differently than the rest of us! “A Biometric Day in the Life,” a newly released research study from Time, Inc., reveals how the myriad digital devices and platforms are affecting the media consumption habits of the Digital Natives compared to the rest of the population.

The salient finding from the Time research: On average, Digital Natives switch their attention between various media platforms a whopping 27 times in a single hour. That’s nearly once every other minute.

[For purposes of the analysis, media platforms includes television, magazines, desktop computers, tablets, smartphones, as well as channels within platforms.]

What’s the impact of this “multi-tasking to the max” behavior? The Time study posits that Digital Natives’ emotional engagement with content is less involved and more constrained.

In fact, the study concludes that these people tend to use media to regulate their mood; if they grow tired or bored, they switch to something else.

The study’s comparison of Digital Natives’ interaction with their digital devices to the rest of the population is also instructive. Natives tend to divide their time equally between digital and non-digital media, whereas the rest of us spend about two-thirds of our time with non-digital media.

Moreover, Digital Natives are significantly more likely to take their devices from room to room with them when they are at home (~65% versus ~40% for the rest of the population). One natural result of this tendency is that it makes switching platforms even easier.

And what about texting? Nearly nine out of ten Digital Natives report that they send or receive text messages on a typical day (compared to half of the rest of the population).

In fact, more than half of Digital Natives state that they “prefer texting people rather than talking to them.” Fewer than 30% of the rest of us feel that way.

Social media behaviors are similar; ~80% of Digital Natives report that they access Facebook at least once per day – far greater than rest of the population accesses (~57%).

The Time survey’s findings suggest that the traditional way of delivering marketing messages with a clear “beginning, middle and end” may be morphing into something dramatically different from what we’ve known.

Dr. Carl Marci, CEO and chief scientist at Innerscope Research as well as a staff psychiatrist as Massachusetts General Hospital, has made several interesting observations about the Time study:

 Patterns of visual attention and emotional consequences may be changing as a result of modern media consumption.

 The brains of a new generation of Americans may be becoming “rewired.”

 Marketers are facing an increasingly complex media environment, making it harder to reach and engage their target audiences.

If Dr. Marci’s observations are accurate, things are going to get much less predictable – and a lot more challenging – for marketers.

Pew Monitors Changing Views about the News Media

News media organizations losing luster with Americans

News organizations are losing their luster with Americans, according to the Pew Research Center.

The Pew Research Center for People and the Press has been surveying American adults since 1985 about their views of the news media.

A new comprehensive report, incorporating results up to and including field surveys conducted in 2011, finds that negative opinions about the performance of news media are higher than ever on nine of twelve key measures studied.

Here are some sobering stats from this year’s consumer pulse:

 ~66% of respondents believe that news stories are often inaccurate
 ~77% think that news organizations tend to favor one side over another politically
 ~80% believe that news organizations are influenced by powerful people and organizations

The findings on the accuracy of news reporting are particularly striking. As few as four years ago, ~39% of respondents felt that news organizations “mostly get the facts straight” while ~53% believed that the news stories were “often inaccurate.”

Today’s those numbers look more depressing: Only ~25% say that news organizations tend to get the facts straight, while ~66% contend that news stories are often inaccurate.

[Of course, when it comes to respondents’ own preferred news outlets, the figures don’t look nearly as dismal. In fact, nearly two thirds of the respondents believe their preferred news sources get the facts mostly correct.]

Who does the public see as the leading “news media” these days? Cable TV organizations clearly lead in the rankings, with network news now pushed down the list:

 ~43% named CNN as a “news organization”
 ~39% named Fox News
 ~18% named NBC News
 ~16% named ABC News
 ~12% named CBS News
 ~12% named MSNBC
 ~10% named local TV news

It’s been a long fall for CBS News in particular, which was once considered the ace news broadcast network in the United States.

In general terms, who do people trust most as a source of news? The answer may be surprising to some: Top-ranked are local news organizations:

 Local news organizations: ~69% of people have “a lot” or “some” trust
 National news organizations: ~59%
 State government: ~51%
 Presidential administration: ~50%
 Federal government agencies: ~44%
 Business corporations: ~41%
 U.S. Congress: ~37%
 Political candidates: ~29%

And as far as where people go for news, TV and the Internet continue to be the top two sources. But consider how those rankings have changed. Five years ago, TV was cited by 74% of survey respondents as one of the two top news sources … but that figure has now declined to ~66%.

As for the Internet, it’s grown from ~24% saying it’s a top-two source for news in 2007, to ~43% today.

Meanwhile, newspapers are staying on the decline … so that today, only ~31% of respondents place them among the two top sources of news. Newspapers continue to have their partisans among the over-65 age segment, but younger than this, it’s just a lost cause.

But there’s one bright spot for newspapers: They continue to be recognized as a leading source of local news. This helps explain why many small-town and local papers have been better able to navigate the choppy waters of newspaper publishing better than their big-city counterparts.

There are many more interesting findings outlined in the latest Pew news organization survey. For more details, click here.

Dumb and Dumber: Internet Explorer Users, the Media and the AptiQuant Hoax

The AptiQuant "Dumb IE Users" Research has more than one news organization with egg on its face.

AptiQuant's "Not-so-smart IE users" research brief leaves more than one news organization with egg on its face.

You may have read the news reports a few weeks ago of a study conducted by a Canadian research company that “concluded” that Internet Explorer users have lower IQs than users of other browsers like Firebox and Safari.

The “news release” was peppered with authentic-looking charts and graphs that supposedly provided backup for the conclusions, which purportedly came from online IQ testing of ~100,000 individuals found randomly through searches and Internet advertising.

Not surprisingly, the news that IE users are somehow “dumber” than the “bright bulbs” who use the supposedly more “hip” Chrome, Opera, Safari and Firefox browsers hit the newswires like a brick.

I saw reports on the research all over the place – from the BBC and Huffington Post to Yahoo, the New York Times, Forbes and MediaPost.

… And then, a week or so after the story burst on the scene, it began to fall apart.

One intrepid BBC reporter dug into the story deeper, and discovered in the process that AptiQuant, the Vancouver-based organization billed as a “psychometric consulting company” that supposedly conducted the survey, is an entity with no traceable presence back beyond just a few weeks prior to the deployment of its research findings.

Not only that, the AptiQuant website had been set up only a few days prior … and the site’s professional-looking photos lifted wholesale from a legitimate Paris-based consulting firm.

Curious, I trolled around online to find the original research brief released by AptiQuant. It seems to me that anyone reading the study’s conclusions would smell a rat.

True, the statistical data appear impressive enough. But no research organization worth its salt is going to make comments such as the following a part of its research conclusions, and I quote:

The study showed a substantial relationship between an individual’s cognitive ability and their choice of web browser. From the test results, it is a clear indication that individuals on the lower side of the IQ scale tend to resist a change/upgrade of their browsers. This hypothesis can be extended to any software in general ….

It is common knowledge that Internet Explorer Versions 6.0 to 8.0 are highly incompatible with modern web standards. In order to make websites work properly on these browsers, web developers have to spend a lot of unnecessary effort. This results in an extra financial strain on web projects, and has over the last decade cost millions of man-hours to IT companies. Now that we have a statistical pattern on the continuous usage of incompatible browsers, better steps can be taken to eradicate this nuisance.Nuisance? I mean, really!

A few days later, the perpetrators of the phony research report came forward and admitted as much. AptiQuant’s purported CEO, a person using the moniker “Leonard Howard,” laid the cards on the table:

“The main purpose behind this hoax was to create awareness about the incompatibilities of IE6 and how it is pulling back innovation. So, if you are still using IE6, please update to a newer browser. We got this idea when adding some features to our comparison shopping site … we found out that IE6 was highly incompatible with web standards. IE 7.0 and 8.0, though better than 6.0, are still incompatible with not only the standards, but with each other, too.”

It was also noted that “telltale signs that should have uncovered the hoax in less than five minutes” included the following red flags:

• The AptiQuant domain was registered only on July 14, 2011

• The IQ test that was referenced in the report (Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale IV test) is copyrighted and cannot be administered online

• The company address listed on the report does not exist

• Much of the content on the website was ripped from other sites – including the photo images

• The website was developed using the WordPress platform, which would be highly unusual for any credible consulting firmBeyond the fact that “Mr. Howard & Co.” must have had way too much spare time on their hands … I think it’s interesting – and sobering – to witness how many reputable news organizations took this report and ran with it without so much as a minute of fact-checking – or even picking up the phone to get an additional quote from an AptiQuant company spokesperson.

… Especially since the topic and the conclusions drawn – namely, that some people are dumber than others – were bound to be controversial.

In the “old days,” a story like this would be lucky to be published in single outlet, if at all. But in today’s “brave new world” of online news, it took mere hours for the news to bound about the Internet and show up on dozens of legitimate news sites … thereby enabling the story to take on a “legitimate” life of its own.

I wonder what’ll be next. Because it’s sure to happen again.

Twitter’s World: Click … or Clique?

Twitter traffic:  dominateed by a tiny fraction of users.

Half of all tweets are generated by fewer than one-half of one percent of Twitter accounts.

What’s happening these days with Twitter? The micro-blogging service continues to light up the newswires every time there’s a civil disturbance in a foreign land, because of how easily and effectively it facilitates planning and interaction among the dissidents.

But what we’re also finding out is that Twitter is overwhelmingly dominated by just a small fraction of its users.

In fact, Cornell University and Yahoo recently published results of an evaluation of ~260 million tweets during 2009 and 2010, which found that ~50% of the tweets were generated by just 20,000 Twitter users.

That is right: Fewer than one half of one percent of Twitter’s user base accounts for fully half of all tweet activity.

Just who makes up this “rarified realm” of elite users? It turns out that they fall into four major groups:

 Media properties (e.g., CNN, New York Times)
 Celebrities (e.g., Ashton Kutcher … Lady Gaga)
 Business organizations (e.g., Starbucks)
 Blogs

Even more interestingly, these “elite” users aren’t interfacing with the rest of us “regular Twitter folk” as much as they are simply following each other: Celebs follow celebs … media companies follow other media companies … bloggers follow other blogs.

The Cornell/Yahoo research report, titled Who Says What to Whom on Twitter, can be found here.

But one wonders if the report should be retitled Much Ado About Nothing?

Click Wars Opening Round: Plaintiffs 1; Facebook 0

I’ve blogged before about the issue of click fraud, which has many companies wondering what portion of their pay-per-click campaigns are simply wasted effort.

Until now, Google has been the biggest target of blame … but now we’re seeing Facebook in the thick of it also.

It’s only been in the past year that Facebook has made a real run for the money when it comes to paid search advertising. There are some very positive aspects to Facebook’s advertising program, which can target where ads are served based on behavioral and psychographic factors from the Facebook profiles of members and their friend networks. This is something Google has had a difficult time emulating. (Not that they haven’t been trying … which is what the new Google +1 beta offering is all about.)

But now, Facebook is the target of a lawsuit from a number of advertisers who contend that there are major discrepancies between Facebook’s click volume and the companies’ own analytics programs which suggest that the purported clickthrough activity is significantly inflated.

As an example of one company that is a party to the lawsuit, sports fan site RootZoo alleges that on a single day in June 2010, its software programs reported ~300 clicks generated by Facebook … but Facebook charged RootZoo for ~800 clicks instead.

While contesting the allegations vigorously, Facebook’s attorneys have also argued against the company having to disclose the source code or other details of how it calculates clickthrough activity, citing fears that the proprietary information could be leaked to outside parties (competitors) as well.

But that argument fell on deaf ears this past week. Instead, Facebook has been ordered by the U.S. District Court in San Jose, CA to disclose a wide range of data, including its source code for systems to identify and filter out invalid clicks.

In making this decision, Magistrate Judge Howard Lloyd stated, “The source code in this case implemented Facebook’s desired filtering, and whether that filtering [has] lived up to Facebook’s claims and contractual obligations is the issue here.”

This ruling appears to call into question the sweeping terms and conditions that Facebook advertisers are required to sign before beginning a media program. The relevant language states: “I understand that third parties may generate impressions, clicks or other actions affecting the cost of the advertising for fraudulent or improper purposes, and I accept the risk of any such impressions, clicks or other actions.”

[This isn’t the only incidence of Facebook’s broad and restrictive stipulations; another particularly obnoxious one deals with “ownership” of content posted on Facebook pages – basically, the content creator gives up all rights of control -- even if the content came to Facebook through a third-party source.]

But in this particular case, evidently the terms and conditions language isn’t sweeping enough, as Judge Lloyd ruled that the plaintiffs can sue on the basis of “invalid” clicks, if not “fraudulent” ones.

Touché! Score one for the judges against the lawyers!

Of course, it’s way too soon to know how this particular case is going to play out – or whether it’ll even get to court. It’s far more likely that Facebook will settle with the plaintiffs so as not to have to disclose its source code and other “trade secrets” — the very things that cause so many marketers to see paid search advertising as a gigantic black hole of mystery that is rigged against the advertisers no matter what.

But one thing is easy to predict: This won’t be the last time the issue of pay-per-click advertising is brought before the courts. Whether the target is Facebook, Google or Bing, these skirmishes are bound to be part of the business landscape for months and years to come.

Magazine advertising finally sees an uptick … sort of.

Print Magazines

An uptick in print magazine advertising -- however modest -- appears to be occurring.

Could it be that print magazines are finally on the positive side of the “U” in their recovery? The most recent stats on print advertising activities suggest that this may be so – if only slightly.

In statistics released this past week by Publishers Information Bureau, this data aggregator found that across all of the magazines tracked by the bureau, print advertising rose ~2.5% during the first quarter of 2011 compared to the same period last year. While not large, it is a gain, which is better news than most publications have had in quite a while.

PIB charted advertising growth in seven of the twelve advertiser categories it tracks, with the following segments showing increases year-over-year:

 Apparel and accessories
 Automotive
 Cosmetics and toiletries
 Drugs and remedies
 Financial, insurance and real estate
 Media and advertising
 Technology

As for the other categories, advertising was roughly even in women’s fashion and beauty magazines, while advertising categories that continued to decline were retail, food, home furnishings, and travel.

More specifically, how did some of America’s largest and most famous magazine brands fare? The answer is: “It depends.”

BusinessWeek: +49%

Elle: +15%
Vogue: +11%
Glamour: +6%
The Economist: +4%
The New Yorker: +4%
Time: +3%

 InStyle: -4%
Cosmopolitan: -9%
Harper’s Bazaar: -11%

Newsweek: -31%

There are explanations behind the outliers’ advertising performance. BusinessWeek has undergone an extensive redesign since its purchase by Bloomberg, and major resources have been poured into the publication to raise its profile and editorial muscle.

At the other end of the scale, Newsweek has struggled in the wake of its purchase by nonagenarian Sidney Harman, the retired chairman of Harman International Industries (Harman/Kardon) and husband of Jane Harman, executive director of Wilson International Center for Scholars and an ex-congressperson from California. Bringing Tina Brown onboard as “celebrity editor” at Newsweek hasn’t paid big dividends yet – at least in terms of advertisers returning to the magazine.

Does the uptick in advertising mean that print magazines are out of the woods yet? Hardly. Let’s not forget that the improved advertising figures are coming off of 2010’s low base levels that are nothing short of ugly. Print advertising is slowly emerging from the worst business environment faced by magazines since the Great Depression, after all.

But at least the direction is now “up” …

Blockbuster lives! (But for how long?)

Blockbuster logoI blogged recently about the financial travails of Blockbuster and its pending sale … indeed, whether the brand would survive or be liquidated instead.

Wednesday evening’s auction was the scene of some drama as various groups contended with each other for the right to purchase this white elephant. As the evening wore on, Dish Network was vying with Monarch Alternative Capital for placing the high bid.

It was a true battle between old and new forces … with Dish Network seeing Blockbuster as a conduit for augmenting its suite of services, and Monarch looking only to liquidate Blockbuster’s substantial real estate holdings while shuttering the enterprise for good.

When the dust finally settled, Dish Network was the victor, agreeing to pay ~$228 million in cash at closing, which is expected to occur within the next few months. In total, the deal came in at ~$320 million, which tracks with the current value of Blockbuster’s assets.

What in tarnation is Dish Network thinking of doing with Blockbuster? It turns out that the company is hoping to use at least some of Blockbuster’s ~1,700 store outlets to facilitate cross-marketing of its satellite programming and related video services.

The industry is already abuzz with what this really means. Is the Blockbuster acquisition by Dish Network a master-stroke … or a big blunder?

Dish Network looks like it will attempt to keep Blockbuster afloat by having it provide free or discounted rentals as a value-add to Dish’s pay TV subscribers. But industry watchers are also looking at potential online opportunities which could turn out to be more lucrative, since Blockbuster holds streaming rights to various video titles that Dish can use to expand its existing streaming offerings. It could also roll Blockbuster licenses into a Dish-branded online video-on-demand service offering.

In a likely related move, Dish Network has also acquired the assets of financially troubled satellite operator DBSD North America. That purchase provided access to a broadband spectrum that Dish can now use to roll out wireless networks for voice or data communications. This way, it wouldn’t need to rely on the broadband networks of other Internet service providers to stream the content to its satellite TV customers.

But with the pace of change and the fickleness of customers, any effort to bring synergy to these new acquisitions must happen very quickly. Dish Network doesn’t have the luxury of time to make things work; it’s got to happen in weeks and months rather than years.

So the coming months will be interesting in seeing how the Dish/Blockbuster union pans out. One thing is certain: Blockbuster won’t end up looking anything like it does today. But on the bright side, the brand won’t be thrown into the dustbin of corporate history – at least not yet.

And that probably surprises more than a few industry observers – the ones who have been loudly predicting the death of this iconic brand for months or years now.


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