iTunes Store: Introduction to dominance in 5 years flat

Apple’s online media store turns 5 years old this week.

At launch in 2003 the store had around 200,000 music tracks and a handful of early-adopting customers. Today there are something like 10,000,000 songs, but there are also audio books, iPod games, video and audio podcasts, TV shows and feature-length movies.

I remember the early years, when Steve Jobs would talk up sales figures and the size of the library and would point out where Store sales were in relation to other music resellers, physical or digital. Wal-Mart was always at the top of the heap, followed closely by Target and Best Buy. In each annual update, iTunes would step up the chart, knocking off one competitor after another.

But in all those years, I never thought iTunes would become the #1 music reseller in the U.S. That came to pass earlier this month, based on studies published by industry monitors.

How many other companies have entered a long-established (perhaps stagnant) market and rocketed to #1 in just 5 years, shoving aside formidable competitors along the way? Moreover, who’s done that while simultaneously shifting the shopping, distribution and delivery system from physical to virtual?

Simply amazing.

New competition may be afoot, of course. Amazon recently (late 2006) added their MP3 store, which is pretty good (I’ve bought media through both outlets), and they’re growing quickly. But they aren’t yet threatening iTunes. Maybe someday, but not yet.

For public media, the message is this: people will go online for things they used to get other ways, if the overall value proposition is good enough. And they’ll pay gladly for the service.

Oh, and by the way… make sure all your podcasts are listed in the iTunes Store (it’s free). With some 50,000,000 customers, listing there is simply required.

NPR's Thomas goes to Etsy; Surprise — it's not a conspiracy

Recently I’ve told people I know, especially folks I meet via Twitter, that this here blog is really kind of an “inside baseball” thing for public media purveyors or supporters. It’s not a general interest kind of thing. Well, for this post, I’m going to kick up the inside baseball factor a notch…

In the wake of the Ken Stern departure from NPR, the rumblings in D.C. were audible all the way out here in Anchorage (it helps if you have a former NPR staffer working in the next office). Stations across the country were in a tizzy for a few days trying to read the tea leaves — what did it all mean?

Then a few weeks later we heard about the departure of Maria Thomas, NPR’s digital media guru. As one of the chief architects of NPR’s many digital initiatives, her exit fueled speculation that the elimination of Stern was a rebuke of online activities at the company and Thomas left because her days were numbered.

At least that’s the speculation I heard. But I didn’t believe it.

Thomas came to NPR with solid online / e-commerce experience. She did great work at NPR. But I suspected she basically had achieved all she could in a company that, for all its good intentions, cannot move too terribly quickly, given the distributed nature of its goals and relationships. Plus, her work would have gotten her continued attention in web circles. She was likely hit with a job offers repeatedly. 

Today venture capitalist (and uber-blogger) Fred Wilson announced Thomas’ installation as COO of the unique online retailer While we knew the Etsy part of the story weeks ago, I think the warm welcome she’s being offered tells the real story — that hiring Thomas was a coup for Union Square Ventures and Etsy, not a housecleaning for NPR.

Be sure to check out the introductory video — great stuff. And note what Thomas says when asked why she likes Etsy: “I love that Etsy means connecting with something authentic.” Spoken like the new media veteran she is.

Of course, I could be wrong. Hit me in the comments if I’m missing anything.

Latest podcasting study is out

I know, it’s probably already in your RSS reader, right? But if not, be sure to check out the new (2008) podcasting study by Edison Media Research. This year shows a solid bump upward in consumer adoption of podcasting and it’s always great to get new charts for wallpapering the office and showing your pals how quickly these newfangled media things are catching on.

Check out the intro and download the report PDF here.

Broadcasting stocks? Sell, Sell, Sell!

Caddyshack, a favorite movie from my teen and college years (oh, who am I kidding — it still cracks me up!) includes a scene with the late Rodney Dangerfield in which he’s on the phone with his stock broker. Dangerfield plays an obnoxious nouveau riche land developer by the name of Al Czervik.

Excitedly Czervik shouts into the phone: “Buy, buy, buy!” and after a pause to listen, “They’re all buying? Then sell, sell, sell!

That last piece of advice now appears to apply to stocks in the broadcasting sector, according to a report in BusinessWeek, which includes this ominous quote:

Meanwhile, traditional broadcasters will probably remain challenged by secular factors such as audience fragmentation, as advertisers shift more spending to the Internet and other new media platforms, Amobi says. A terrestrial radio recovery could be impeded by a continued supply and demand imbalance, while the satellite radio companies have also seen anemic retail sales, even as they await a likely imminent regulatory decision on their pending merger proposal. However, TV advertising offers a bright spot, in our view, with a relatively strong 2007-08 upfront and scatter market for the networks, and a specter of record political dollars for local stations with the upcoming Presidential elections.

To be fair, this isn’t exactly breaking news. Audience fragmentation has been the hallmark of the 21st century as media outlets and platforms proliferate and the old media companies actually accelerate their decline by reflexively going for ratings with sensationalist and over-commercialized programming.

And on the matter of TV advertising, what happens after the 2008 election cycle? That’s not a pretty picture, even if it does come in HD.

Podcasting in Plain English

I remain amazed at how misunderstood the notion of “podcasting” is. It’s been nearly 4 years since it arrived on the scene yet folks in public media remain baffled — along with the general public.

Perhaps Leo Laporte was right a couple years ago when he suggested that the “pod” in podcasting be eliminated and replaced with “net” to make “netcasting” the word. Of course, that might have confused things with various forms of streaming.

In any case, here’s yet another Common Craft video you can share with your public media clients to explain podcasting a bit. You can even contact Common Craft to get the video branded with your own company name.

I would also recommend Apple’s introduction to podcasting, which is iTunes-specific, but iTunes is a really great choice for most listeners due to the integration of their podcasting directory / subscription system.

All a-Twitter

For those of you still not using (or at least trying) Twitter, or if you’d like to learn about some resources that can make your Twittering more interesting or useful, check out this comprehensive post by digital media professor Kathy Gill (University of Washington). Good history, good explanations, great list of resources.

Plus, don’t miss the Twitter Fan Wiki for even more tweety goodness.

I’m still not a constant Twitter user myself — it kind of happens in batches for me — but it’s still a lot of fun. I’ve met people in my own area that use Twitter and maintained some interesting pseudo-connections with people very, very far away.

My experience:

  • it’s better than IM, because it’s asynchronous in nature — like e-mail
  • it beats blogging every thought that comes into your head
  • it’s highly mobile — via iPhone with web or any cell phone with SMS
  • it offers a fascinating stream-of-consciousness view of the world
  • it actually informs me about the world — it’s faster than RSS feeds, far faster than web sites and the news I capture via Twitter friends is much more relevant to me (most recent example was learning about the midwest earthquake before I heard about it anywhere else)
  • my wife won’t sign up, so I can say whatever I want! 😉
Get that account, and I’ll see you on the Internets!

J-Week 2008: Web Extras Toolkit

Welcome Journalism Week 2008 visitors from Anchorage, Alaska! If you’re looking for the “Web Extras Toolkit” handout from Saturday, April 19, 2008, you’ve come to the right place.

And feel free to recommend your own toolkit additions or corrections via the site comment feature.

TV News: Just die already

I hate TV news and TV “journalists.” Local, national, cable, network — you name it, I hate it and them. CNN, a once-proud innovator in quality news, is now even less than a joke. It’s no longer a laughable service, it’s one that should make every self-respecting democracy-loving American weep. CBS, already a shameful service, now wants to buy news from CNN? Well, sure — what the hell’s the difference at this point, anyway?

(The one exception, of course, is most of the stuff distributed via PBS. The pubcasting news/public affairs shows have their own problems, but integrity or seriousness of intent is not one of them.)

Thank God there are so many smart people in the world that are as outraged by (commercial) TV news as I am. The reaction to Wednesday night’s Clinton/Obama debate in Pennsylvania was instantaneous, nearly universally negative and — bonus — entertaining to boot.

Check out these Twitter posts (tweets) regarding the debate, from a variety of users…

  • 45 minutes into the debate and I’m thinking this is exactly why network TV must die. Not one real issue – just flag pins, Wright, and Bosnia
  • And should a former Clinton campaign manager be one of the two people conducting the debate? Doesn’t ABC have any real journalists?
  • ABC’s debate was a bigger joke than CNN’s compassion forum. it’s good the newseum in dc is now open because real journalism is cold and dead
  • hehe Charles said “fascinating debate”. What debate was he watching?
  • Just wrote a letter to my local affiliate complaining about how bad the Debate was handled. I felt bad for both candidates
  • Reddit-fueled debate backlash nearing 10,000 complaints on ABC website: (wait til Digg kicks in)
  • 50 minutes into the democratic debate and yet not one question of substance. No policy, all bullshit.
  • terrible debate. ABC News sucks.
  • Almost 10,00 comments on detesting the debate questions as tabloid and irrelevant. And they were.
  • What the hell is wrong with ABC? Effing flag pins and fake scandals? Well done. You’d have been better off letting The View run the debate.
  • the real question about tonight’s debate…will the press cover how bad abc news handled it???
  • tried giving feedback on the debate on the abc news site but couldn’t register. site is probably overloaded. comment count is now over 9500!
  • just under 4 hours since the debate and the abc news site has received almost 9400 comments, almost all negative!
  • to me, the big news of the debate is how terrible the moderators were. they were trying to create news. they were debating the candidates.
  • Josh Marshall of TalkingPointsMemo says that after tonight, they need to give the debates back to the Women League of Voters?

Let’s set aside the new media topic for a moment and address journalism, ethics and trust. Public media purveyors: Your job is to be everything that ABC, CNN, CBS and others are not. Do that, on any platform, and the support will follow.

What Kodak could teach public media

Below is a great little video I’d never seen before today. Had to share it. It concerns Kodak and while it starts out slow for the first minute, it rapidly picks up speed:

Kodak has for many years been the butt of innovation jokes, but it would appear they’ve survived, albeit changed in many ways. They found their way back to their mission: helping folks capture, store and share important images from life. Prior to the turnaround, they thought they were in the film business.

When I finished chuckling I wondered… What would a video similar to this one look like or sound like if it were being done for the public media industry, say 5 years from now?

Many seem to think we’re public broadcasters (I’ve been lectured on this more than once). Really? We only exist to fill FM frequencies or put pictures into living room boxes? That’s it? God, I hope not. I’d much rather be in the business of going out into the community, capturing stories and information, and sharing all that with the community in a thoughtful and community-developing way. I couldn’t give a rip about FM or TV technologies. Or the web for that matter. Those are all just tools.

In any case, thanks to Howard Weaver for blogging the video, but also blogging some great comments collected at a conference panel with Kodak, P&G and Owens-Corning executives. Weaver’s quick write-up is well worth a visit, especially for the killer quotes provided by the execs.

HD Radio: A technology only an engineer could love

Okay, catchy headline, but I’m not actually that “down” on HD Radio per se. But I am against getting excited about it, for all kinds of strategic reasons. A new post by Mark Ramsey has a great kicker paragraph that sums up the state of affairs:

Finally, HD is certainly an “upgrade” from the perspective of the broadcaster and the engineer. But is it an “upgrade” from the perspective of the consumer, who already has more choices than they know what to do with — even if they’re not choices which are not under the control of the radio industry? After all, when the Internet is in my car, isn’t HD Radio actually a downgrade?

This reminded me of a recent instance in which I was on the receiving end of a talk from a broadcast engineer about HD Radio. Not an informative one, but, well… a lecturing one.

The lecture? Basically: “Hey, we’ve got this HD Radio stuff installed. When are we going to start broadcasting additional channels? Because, you know, the FCC grants us a license for community service, so we have an obligation to start using HD Radio to serve the community.”

I was floored.

First, the logic was so brazenly absent from this argument. Second, why is engineering directing public service strategy? Third, we are using the HD Radio gear, even if we aren’t multicasting. And finally, well… let’s list all the obvious market reasons that make multicasting a less-than-critical strategic focus:

  • virtually no one has HD devices and sales are not increasingly rapidly
  • most consumers don’t know about it
  • those that do know about it are not really interested
  • HD devices are too expensive for most listeners for casual situations
  • additional HD channel development requires additional effort (money), even in a heavily automated approach

…and so on, which makes developing additional HD Radio channels at this time an exercise in wasted money and effort for a regularly-strapped public radio provider. We’d be better off focusing on improving our existing services or forging ahead in new media / social media.

Let’s be clear: the HD Radio technology platform is not the mission of public service media (nor is FM radio or AM radio or analog TV or digital TV or web sites or DVDs or CDs or…). HD Radio is a tool.  It’s up to us to figure out when and how it makes sense to employ this tool in fulfilling our public service mission.

And if, down the road, we find that HD Radio was a waste of money, we should have the courage to scrap it and move on.