Making news profitable

Since the dawn of the internet news organisations have been trying to figure out how to make news profitable. The big guns — The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, etc — have often led the way. Those efforts were aimed at generating revenue from online eyeballs, either through subscriptions or advertising. Those efforts have fallen short, and the industry is now teetering.

For a few years now, investors have been pouring money into online news with the kind of fervor that once fueled the minimansion boom. But in the past year, the boarded-up windows have started showing up: The Guardian, which bet heavily on expanding its digital presence in the United States, announced it needed to cut costs by 20 percent. The tech news site Gigaom shut down suddenly, with its founder warning that “it is a very dangerous time” to be in digital media. Mobile-first  Circa put itself on “indefinite hiatus.” Al Jazeera America, once hailed as the hottest thing in bringing together cable news and digital publishing, shut down and laid off hundreds of journalists.

[…]

As the New York Times’ John Herrman put it, “in recent weeks, what had been a simmering worry among publishers has turned into borderline panic.” Mashable, which had made a big investment in news and current affairs, laid off dozens of journalists and pivoted to a new, video-heavy strategy. Investor darling BuzzFeed fought reports that it had slashed earnings projections by nearly 50 percent. Salon laid off a string of veteran staffers. Yahoo put its core business, including its news and search features, up for sale.

So what does the future hold? Newspapers as non-profits? Subscription-only journalism? An uninformed populace who doesn’t care about news? It’s terrifying and exciting at the same time.

WordPress e-commerce

As an avid WordPress evangelists, one of the most obvious missing elements in the arsenal has been a viable e-commerce solution. While options have existed for some time, none were great, and even the best of them required tons of time to adapt to your specific needs. And, as we all know, time is money.

About a year ago, WooThemes announced its intention to change the playing field and launched  WooCommerce, an open-source WordPress plugin aimed at doing e-commerce right.

Fourteen months and several beta tests later and the reviews are in: WooCommerce is good.

The basic WooCommerce plugin is completely free to download and use. It’s built on top of standard WordPress Custom Post Types and straight out of the box, is extremely powerful with a lot of functionality. WooCommerce comes with all the standard features that you’d expect within an eCommerce plugin such as;

  • Various types of reporting on sales, customers and stock
  • Dashboard widgets that allow you to keep an eye on various aspects of your store from the main WordPress dashboard page
  • Shipping & Tax settings
  • Customers & Orders
  • Product & Inventory
  • Marketing & Promotions including the ability to add “coupons”
  • And most importantly, various Payment Gateways & payment methods

If you’ve ever had to suffer through the frustration of developing with WP E-commerce (fair warning: don’t believe the hype), WooCommerce will make you absolutely jubilant.

Flash goes HTML 5

Expect to be hearing a lot about this in the future.

The latest buzz is that Flash goes HTML5 i.e. the work done in Flash can be imported to HTML5 using the new Creative Suite called Flash CS6 that will work on iPad and iPhone as well as Android and it will also support Windows 8.

A year or so ago, pundits were predicting the death of Flash. That seems unlikely to be the case now. The devil, of course, is in the details. Expect a lot of experimentation over the next few months.

Flash CS6 uses the CreateJS open source framework for the output of animations in Flash. A Flash animation can be exported to the CreateJS framework working within the Canvas element of HTML5 which is being called as the Toolkit for CreateJS. It will help to smooth the transition to the world of JavaScript from ActionScript development. It is thus being predicted that HTML5 has a great future in the world of web development and Web designing.

 

Your iPhone video to Wordpess web site in 2 seconds flat

The latest VideoPress upgrade rocks.

The VideoPress upgrade, which allows you to upload and embed your own videos on your blog, now comfortably handles videos from iPhones and iPads. You can shoot vertically or horizontally, and we’ll take care of rotating it for you so that your video looks great when it’s published on your site.

Yet another reason why WordPress is the best CMS ever.

Android stumbles out of starting gate

In the face of stellar iPhone and iPad sales, Android, the rival platform from Google, is struggling. The latest news is that a gaping security hole leaves nearly all Android users open to attack.

Researchers in Germany have found that most Android phones contain a dangerous security hole that, if exploited, would allow someone to access your accounts for certain Google services.

Elsewhere recently, Nvidia chief Jen-Hsun Huang has called out Google for its less-than-stellar tablet sales.

“It’s a point of sales problem. It’s an expertise at retail problem. It’s a marketing problem to consumers. It is a price point problem,” he said, for starters.

Though Huang didn’t mention the $499 starting price for the iPad, it was clear that this was a reference point. “The baseline configuration included 3G when it shouldn’t have,” he said. “Tablets should have a Wi-Fi configuration and be more affordable. And those are the ones that were selling more rapidly than the 3G and fully configured ones,” he said.

He didn’t stop there. “And it’s a software richness of content problem,” he added, echoing Jha’s comments.

NYT pay what?!

The New York Times,  the newspaper of all newspapers, chose St. Patrick’s Day to embark on its second attempt to charge for its online content. In Canada, the paywall went into effect March 17. For the rest of the world, the wall goes up March 28.

Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger said the new digital subscriptions were “an important step that we hope you will see as an investment in The Times, one that will strengthen our ability to provide high-quality journalism to readers around the world and on any platform.”

The Times has tried to charge for content before. That experiment, known as TimesSelect, proved a bruising lesson for The Grey Lady. Far from making money, the move largely withdrew the paper from online conversations, as bloggers and other opinion makers stopped linking to and writing about stories behind the paywall. The Times quit TimesSelect less than two years later.

If The Times is hoping that things turn out differently this time, it’s going to need an overflowing cupful of St Patrick’s blessings. Felix Salmon in Wired Magazine unpacked the whole subscription deal, and after doing some back-of-the-envelope math, pronounced the whole thing “weird.” Not to mention expensive.

The New York Times paywall cost $40 million to build.

Subscriptions are complex. Your first 20 stories per month are free. As are stories that are linked from off site, such as Facebook, blogs, etc. After that the subscription fee kicks in: $15 per month for unlimited Web access, more if you want to use the smartphone and/or iPhone apps.

“So by my back-of-the-envelope math, the paywall won’t even cover its own development costs for a good two years, and beyond that will never generate enough money to really make a difference to NYTCo revenues,” Salmon said.

But that, in a nutshell, is the fragile state of the journalism world. Even the very best of the very best must make more money from their online ventures. Even if a solid revenue model is not exactly obvious, nor particularly profitable, something must be done to battle the long-term trends, which are clear — revenue from print advertising is falling and unlikely to reverse course; something must cover the shortfalls. If not the Web, then what?

The newspaper world is watching with a sharp eye. Because like California, and the canary in the coal mine, the way of The New York Times foreshadows the direction of the industry as whole.

 

The Great Cyberheist

The New York Times Magazine details the rise and fall of Albert Gonzales, aka soupnazi, a Cuban-American who Secret Service agents call the world’s greatest cybervillian.

Over the course of several years, during much of which he worked for the government, Gonzalez and his crew of hackers and other affiliates gained access to roughly 180 million payment-card accounts from the customer databases of some of the most well known corporations in America: OfficeMax, BJ’s Wholesale Club, Dave & Buster’s restaurants, the T. J. Maxx and Marshalls clothing chains. They hacked into Target, Barnes & Noble, JCPenney, Sports Authority, Boston Market and 7-Eleven’s bank-machine network. In the words of the chief prosecutor in Gonzalez’s case, “The sheer extent of the human victimization caused by Gonzalez and his organization is unparalleled.”

For years an informant/adviser to the the U.S. government’s cybercrime unit, Gonzales is now two years in to a 20-year stretch at Club Fed. Reports of hacking dropped noticeably in 2009 when the government shut him down.

Google settles for $8.5 million in Buzz privacy lawsuit

I hadn’t even heard about this. But in April, a group of Gmail users sued Google over privacy violations regarding Google Buzz, the search giant’s underwhelming attempt at social networking. Google settled yesterday for $8.5 million. Gmail users, however, will not see a cent.

The Plaintiffs allege that Google automatically enrolled Gmail users in Buzz, and that Buzz publicly exposed data, including users’ most frequent Gmail contacts, without enough user consent. Google denies the accuracy of Plaintiffs’ allegations and denies that it violated any law or caused any harm by the launch of Google Buzz.

Under the Settlement, Google will establish an $8.5 million Common Fund to fund organizations focused on Internet privacy policy or privacy education, as well as to cover lawyers’ fees and costs and other expenses. Google will also do more to educate users about the privacy aspects of Google Buzz.

By and large, it appears that most people just don’t care about online privacy, as the never-ending Facebook fiascos can attest. (Despite the habitual misuse of private data, people still flock to Facebook by the millions.) The tiny minority who protest this kind of abuse need support from us all. Because without them, the corporate titans of the world wouldn’t have even the slightest reason for pause.

Less spam

Russian police have shuttered the operations of Spamit.com, and they are now on the hunt for “suspected spam kingpin” Igor A Gusev. People who pay attention to such things say that global spam volumes are down 1/5 — or about 50 billion spam messages per day — since police raided Gusev’s operations in September.

Full story from The Times.