Downsizing hits America’s most prestigious business media properties.

bwsjThis past week, the business media world was buzzing about the inadvertent release of information concerning pending layoffs at Barron’s magazine, thanks to editor-in-chief Ed Finn mistakenly hitting “reply all” on a message intended for just one person.

But the more interesting news is what’s happening right now with two of America’s most important national print publishing properties: Barron’s and The Wall Street Journal.

Up until now, it was thought that a select handful of America’s largest and most pervasive publications with national reach and reputation would be the ones least susceptible to problems befalling the industry regarding declining advertising revenues and changing news consumption habits.

At or near the top of the list of those rarefied properties were these two publications for sure.

But now we know a different reality — or at least a more complicated one. WSJ editor-in-chief Gerard Baker announced last week that the publication is seeking a “substantial number” of employee buyouts to limit the extent of involuntary layoffs that will need to happen otherwise.

The WSJ buyout offer been extended to all news employees worldwide – managerial and non-managerial – and includes a lucrative voluntary severance benefit that’s 1.5 times larger than the company’s standard buyout package.

WSJ employees will need to make up their minds quickly, as the buyout offer is good only until the end of October.

wsjbAs for Barron’s, its situation became public only after the Ed Finn memo was received in the New York City newsroom of The Wall Street Journal in error.  The Finn memo, which had been intended for Dow Jones Media Group publisher Almar Latour, speculates on how The Wall Street Journal’s announcement might affect an upcoming round of layoffs at Barron’s.

That bit was “new news” to pretty much everyone.

Aside from the “drama” of news scoops happening because of unintentional actions, the bigger question is this: What do these layoffs and buyouts portend?  Is it the end of the adjustments – or just the beginning?

Clues to that answer come in Gerard Baker’s memo, where he reveals that The Wall Street Journal has “begun an extensive review of operations as part of a broader transformation program.”

Let’s see what kind of “silver bullet” business strategy they end up devising – and whether it will have its intended effect.

Yahoo’s Terrible, Horrible, No-Good Month


Aren’t you glad you don’t work at Yahoo?

Where to begin … For starters, the Associated Press is reporting that Yahoo disabled its e-mail forwarding service effective the beginning of October.

Yahoo has a rather benign statement in its Help Center “explaining” why the service has been disabled:

“Automatic forwarding sends a copy of incoming messages from one account to another. The feature is under development.  While we work to improve it, we’ve temporarily disabled the ability to turn on Mail Forwarding for new forwarding addresses.  If you’ve already enabled Mail Forwarding for new forwarding addresses in the past, your e-mail will continue to forward to the address you previously configured.”

This hardly passes the snicker test, of course.

Disabling the auto-forwarding feature for new forwarding addresses came at the same time it was revealed that a 2014 hack of Yahoo’s platform resulted in the theft of ~500 million e-mail accounts including information on addresses, phone numbers, passwords, security questions and answers, plus birthdays.

It doesn’t take a genius to conclude that the reason Yahoo disabled its automatic forwarding function for new forwarding addresses was to deter concerned or frightened Yahoo Mail users from making a mass exodus to rival services.

But this is only the latest in a string of stumbles by the company in just the past few weeks.

For one, Yahoo is now defending a class-action lawsuit accusing the company of security negligence in the wake of 2014’s half-billion e-mail accounts theft.

There’s also a report from Reuters that for the past 18 months, Yahoo has been scanning all incoming Yahoo Mail messages for a wide range of keyword phrases — all on behalf of our friends in the federal government.

And if those weren’t enough, the much-ballyhooed announcement this past summer that Verizon was planning to acquire Yahoo for $4.8 billion has devolved to this: Verizon is now asking Yahoo for a $1 billion discount on the purchase.

It’s little wonder some people are calling the company “Whowee” instead of “Yahoo” these days …

Saving for college: Millennial parents seem to have figured it out better.

sfcRecently SLM Corp. (aka Sallie Mae) released the results of a survey of parents that asked about how they’re saving for their children’s college education. The survey, which was conducted for Sallie Mae by research firm Ipsos Public Affairs, uncovered some pretty interesting stats.

Here’s something that surprised me: When it comes to saving for kids’ college tuition, it turns out that Millennial parents – those age 35 and younger – have already saved significantly more than their GenX counterparts.

Millennial parents reported having saved more than $20,000 toward kids’ college, whereas GenX parents – those between the age of 36 and 51 – have saved only around $18,000.

What’s up with that?

The report lists several possible explanations. First, Millennials are more likely to have started saving earlier for their kids’ college education because of their expectation of having paying a higher share of college costs compared to older generations of people

Likely, their remembering their own (more recent) college experiences.

Here’s another contributing factor: Many GenX parents tended to be hit harder financially than Millennials during the recent recession.  They’re the ones who were more likely to have lost a job further into their careers, when it’s can be more difficult to bounce back quite as easily and at the same level of salary.

At the same time, it’s often the GenXers who have higher mortgage and other debts already racked up when compared to Millennials.

Under those circumstances, saving for children’s college is a commitment that’s much easier to place on hold until other, more pressing financial matters are dealt with.

On the other hand, for Millennials the recession caught them at the beginning of their careers when fewer financial commitments (other than student loans) were yet made, and their flexibility more fluid.

It’s easier to roll with the punches when you don’t have a pile of fixed financial obligations already hanging over your head.

Another factor the Sallie Mae/Ipsos report cites is that GenX parents are more likely to have become over-leveraged in their personal finances — a situation exacerbated by income stagnation, declining stock investment values and declining home values (even being underwater on home mortgages in some cases).

It seems that all of these factors have colored GenX attitudes about saving for kids’ college education in ways that go beyond what the raw numbers show. When asked how confident they feel about being able to meet the college financial obligations for their children, 32% of Millennials stated that they felt quite confident.

But among GenXers, it was just 17%.

Overall, this doesn’t paint a very pretty picture for GenX parents.  But it seems that the Millennial generation has figured out the “college cost recipe” a little more successfully.

For more “topline” statistical findings from the survey, click or tap here.

What’s Up with Apps These Days?

Results from comScore’s latest annual U.S. Mobile App Report point to some interesting user behaviors.

No one needs to be reminded of how important mobile apps have become in today’s world of communications. Just looking around any crowd of people, it’s clear that usage has become well-nigh ubiquitous.

And now, we have some new stats that help quantify what’s happening, courtesy of the most recent annual Mobile App Report published by global media measurement and analytics firm comScore.

Among the salient findings from this report:

  • Today, mobile devices represent two of every three minutes spent on digital media.
  • Smartphone apps alone account for nearly half of all digital media time spent – and three of every four minutes spent while on mobile.
  • Over the past three years, total time spent on digital media has grown by over 50%. Most all of that growth has been because of mobile apps.
  • Indeed, time spent on desktop media has actually dropped by more than 10%.

Despite the rapid rise of mobile app usage, there are a few findings in the comScore report that point toward some consolidation of the market, with certain apps being the recipient of strong brand loyalties.

Typically, while smartphone users have uploaded many apps on their devices – and may use several dozens of them on a monthly basis – nine out of every ten mobile app minutes are spent with just five top apps.

[Good luck to any app provider attempting to break into that rarefied group of top performers!]

At the same time, “push notification fatigue” appears to be a growing issue: More smartphone users are rejecting app update notifications than ever before.  According to comScore’s recent report, nearly 40% of users rarely or never agree to such update notifications – up significantly from around 30% last year.

Conversely, only about 25% often or always agree to updates, which is down from about one-third of users in last year’s survey.

This last set of figures doesn’t surprise me in the least. With so many apps housed on so many devices, one could easily spend an hour each day accessing nothing but app updates.

Especially considering how little additional functionality these ongoing updates actually deliver, the whole operation falls into the “life’s too short” category.

The ad blocking phenomenon: It’s all about human nature.

noadThe rapid rise in consumer adoption of ad blocking software is threatening the traditional advertising model for publishers. For some, it seems like a topsy-turvy world where none of the old assumptions or the old rules apply.

But author and MarComm über-thought leader Gord Hotchkiss reminds us that the consumer behaviors we are witnesses are as old as the hills.

In a recent MediaPost column titled “Why Our Brains Are Blocking Ads,” Hotchkiss points out that the environment for online ads is vastly different from the environment where traditional advertising flourished for decades – primarily in magazines, newspapers and television.

Gord Hotchkiss
Gord Hotchkiss

He notes that in the past, the majority of people’s interaction with advertising was done while our brains were in “idling” mode – meaning that they had no specific task at hand. Instead, people were looking for something to capture their attention within a TV program, a newspaper or magazine article.

Hotchkiss contends that in such an environment, the brain is in an “accepting” state and thus is more open to advertising messages:

“We were looking for something interesting, we were primed to be in a positive frame of mind, and our brains could easily handle the contextual switches required to consider an ad and its message.”

Contrast this to the delivery of most digital advertising in today’s world, which is happening when people are in more of a “foraging” mode – involved in a task to find information and answers with our attention focused on that task.

In such an environment, advertising isn’t only a distraction; often, it’s a source of frustration. As Hotchkiss notes:

“The reason we’re blocking [digital] ads is that in the context those ads are being delivered, irrelevant ads are – quite literally – painful. Even relevant ads have a very high threshold to get over.”

Hotchkiss concludes that the rapid rise of ad blocking adoption isn’t about the technology per se.  It has to do with the hardwiring of our brains.  New technologies haven’t caused fundamental changes in human behavior – they’ve simply enabled new behaviors that weren’t an option before.

adbAs is becoming increasingly obvious, the implications for the advertising business are huge:  Ad blocking software is projected to lower digital ad revenues by more than $40 billion in 2016 alone, according to estimates by digital data research firm eMarketer.

Looking back on it, actually it seems like it was all so inevitable.

The “Millennial Effect” – and how it’s affecting the Boomer Generation.


In the world of marketing communications, it seems that confluence is in the air. This point was underscored recently by Eric Trow, a MediaPost columnist who is also vice present of strategic services at Pittsburgh, PA-based marketing communications firm Gatesman+Dave.

Trow’s main point is this:  Despite the big differences that marketers have traditionally noted between members of the Boomer Generation and their younger Millennial counterparts, today the two groups are becoming more similar than they are different.

In particular, Boomers are beginning to act more like Millennials.

Trow identifies a set of fundamental trending characteristics that underscore his belief:

  • Boomers increasingly want instant gratification – and related to that, they want convenience as well.
  • Boomers are embracing technology more every day, including being nearly as dependent on mobile devices as their younger counterparts.
  • Boomers connect online – with adults over the age of 65 now driving social media growth more than any other generation at the moment.
  • Boomers want control – and to that end, they do their research as well.
  • Boomers want to live healthier – with levels of interest in natural, healthy and environmentally responsible products rivaling those of younger age groups.
  • Boomers are more questioning of traditional authority – and not just because of the 2016 U.S. presidential election race, either.

Putting it all together, Trow concludes that he and many other Boomers could, in practice, be classified more accurately as “middle-aged Millennials.”

Speaking as someone who falls inside the Boomer generation age range, I concede many of Trow’s points.

But how about you?  Do they ring true to you as well?

Are wearable devices wearing out their welcome?


So-called “wearable” interactive devices – products like Fitbit and Apple Watch – aren’t exactly new. In some cases, they’ve been in the market in a pretty big way for several years now.  Plenty of them are being produced and are readily available from popular retailers.

And plenty of consumers have tried them, too. Forrester Research has found that about one in five U.S. consumers (~21%) used some form of wearable product in 2015.

That sounds pretty decent … until you discover that in similar consumer research conducted this year, the percentage of consumers who use wearables has actually declined to ~14%.

The findings are part of Forrester’s annual State of Consumers & Technology Benchmark research. The research involves online surveys of a large group of ~60,000 U.S. adults age 18 and over, as well as an additional 6,000 Canadian respondents.

Not surprisingly, the demographic group most likely to be users of wearables are Gen Y’ers – people ages 28 to 36 years old. Within this group, about three-fourths report that they have ever used a wearable device … but only ~28% report that they are using one or more this year.

Forrester’s research found the same trend in Gen Z (respondents between 18 and 27 years old), where ~26% have used wearable devices in the past, but only ~15% are doing so currently.

The question is … does this mean that wearables are merely a passing fad? Or is it more a situation where the wearable technology isn’t delivering on consumer expectations?

The Forrester research points to the latter explanation. Gina Fleming, leader of Forrester’s marketing data science work team, put it this way:

“Younger consumers tend to have the highest expectations for technology and for companies. They tried these devices, and oftentimes it didn’t meet their expectations in their current use case.  Young consumers tend to be early adopters, but are also fast to move on if they’re not satisfied.”

One interesting finding of the survey is that among the older cohorts – respondents over the age of 36 – their usage has increased in the past year rather than decreased as was found with younger respondents.

Among the respondents who currently use at least one wearable device, there are no real surprises in which ones are the most popular, with Fitbit and Apple Watch heading the list:

  • Fitbit: Used by ~40% of all current wearable device users
  • Apple Watch: ~32%
  • Samsung Galaxy Gear: ~27%
  • Microsoft Band: ~21%
  • Sony SmartBand: ~19%
  • Pebble Smart Watch: ~17%

Looking to the future, although marketers of wearable devices might be happy to see positive trends among older consumers, the usage levels in broad terms tend to be significantly lower than with younger consumers.

It’s within that younger group where the high degree of “churn” appears to offer the biggest opportunities – as well as risks – for wearable device purveyors.

What about your own personal experiences with wearables? Have you found yourself using wearable devices less today than a year ago?  And if so, why?