Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Tuesday, February 08, 2021

This article on the recent and anticipated telecom mergers & acquisitions, from Information Week’s Paul Travis, contained this most germane analysis:

In December, Sprint, the nation’s No. 3 long-distance company, said it would buy Nextel Communications Inc. in an effort to focus on wireless services. That followed the completion of Cingular Wireless’ acquisition of AT&T Wireless last year. And late last week, Qwest Communications International Inc. reportedly made a bid to buy MCI, the nation’s second-largest long-distance company. Speculation also surfaced that Verizon Communications may make a bid for MCI. The completion of deals like these would spell the end of the independent long-distance industry.

Taking the long-range view, this is quite a shocker. For decades, long-distance service was a cash cow for the communications industry. Indeed, the premium placed on it influenced how customers approached using it; making a long-distance call used to be a significant action, and not done impulsively.

That mindset already seems antiquated. Nowadays, wireless networks and other options have demystified long-distance calling, making it indistinguishable from standard phone service (thus, wireless plans simply bundle it into standard plan minutes). An era has passed.

- Costa Tsiokos, Tue 02/08/2021 10:20:12 PM
Category: Tech, Business | Permalink | Feedback

It’s hard to bet against HarperCollins CEO Jane Friedman. She’s credited with inventing the book author tour and making audiobooks the booming business they are today.

But does she seriously expect to develop her publishing house imprint into a recognizable brand that readers will seek out, supplanting even authors and subject matter in the consumer impulse?

Ms. Friedman, 59, says she envisions a day when a reader in a bookstore will reach for a HarperCollins novel the way some parents of young children now reach for a Disney film in a video store - a result of faith in the producer rather than the specific content. To instill that loyalty, HarperCollins is embarking on a project called Publishing Plus, which includes plans to pitch new books directly to readers through e-mail and the Internet and to offer “bonus material” in new paperbacks, much the way peripheral features are regularly included on DVD’s…

“There have been some success stories, like the ‘Dummies’ books,” said Robert J. Broadwater, a managing director at Veronis Suhler Stevenson, a New York investment bank that specializes in media and communications. He was referring to the imprint of how-to books like “Laptops for Dummies,” published by John Wiley & Sons. With their uniform cover art and titles, the books have created one of the most recognizable brands in a bookstore. But for most popular and literary fiction, he added, “the author is the brand, not the publisher.”

Ms. Friedman disagrees. “That is such old thinking,” she said in an interview. “It doesn’t take into consideration that we are living in a society that is very well branded. I believe we can brand the pieces of our company to stand for something alongside the authors.”

So Friedman is relying on the established brand conditioning of the American consumer for success.

It’s not a bad strategy. The advantage of brand cultivation is that it gives customers a recognizable and reliable place to deposit their purchasing dollars. Most (or at least some) of the guesswork in taking a chance on something new is thus eliminated from prior experience with that brand’s products. It’s a seal of approval.

And really, that’s the way it works already with best-seller publishing. People buy books written by Stephen King and Michael Crichton precisely because they’ve come to rely upon what’s between the covers: Not necessarily predictable prose, but at least a style, method, and collection of elements that let you know generally what you’re in for. And that’s why those authors’ names are so giganticly printed on the front covers.

Aside from the limited examples cited in this article, I can think of one other publishing niche where this branding approach has been applied, and with great success: Comic books. Marvel Comics practically built their business upon this formula: Creating a “Marvel Universe” wherein characters crossed over into each others’ storylines, forming a macro-narrative that encouraged readers to buy multiple titles. This reinforced the brand, and even fostered some fierce loyalty to it. I know that, as a comics-reading adolescent, this sense of community and continuity convinced me to stick only with Marvel’s books, and I eschewed pretty much all of the offerings of competitor DC (until much later, by which point I had stopped regularly buying comics altogether).

Granted, there are some major differences. Comics are periodicals; that makes regular consumption/purchasing more of a habit, and easier to manipulate. Intellectual property is a big factor: Marvel and DC owned the characters and storylines that appeared in their superhero universes, not the authors and artists, so the publishing house could coordinate things easily (somehow, I don’t see Chrichton and King agreeing to a “shared storyline” series of books). And the large-scale demographics don’t match up, although there’s probably more crossover than you’d expect — readers are readers, and they tend to consume all types of material.

Still, I think the comic publishers’ models are worth examining, since the principles are going to be applied under Friedman’s concept. It could even help avoid what’s bound to be perceived as a soulless commodification of book publishing.

- Costa Tsiokos, Tue 02/08/2021 10:01:01 PM
Category: Publishing | Permalink | Feedback

feeling lucky
Google’s at it again. Google Maps (currently in beta, naturally) is the search behemoth’s entry into the online mapping sector.

I guess mapsite stalwarts like MapQuest and Yahoo!’s Maps are in for a rough tumble. They’ll especially be challenged in convincing advertisers that their mapping results will be more relevant, and thus more ad-worthy, than Google’s. Google has based their business model on delivering targeted/relevant results at first try (not that I buy this), so going into this, it’s got that reputation to trade on.

As much as I knock Google for stretching beyond their pure Web-search focus, this is one area where I can see some real opportunity for the company, and real benefit for endusers. Map sites, despite being among the first online properties to demonstrate marketing opportunities on the Web, have moved glacially in terms of development. I remember when they first presented themselves commercially, around 1996; they were horrible. You needed to enter the entire address, including specific street name spellings (”Street” instead of “St.”) and ZIP codes (as if you knew that half the time!) in order for them to work — and then, only maybe.

They’ve improved a lot since then, but they can still be a pain. Maybe the whole field needs a shot of Google juice to become as user-friendly as possible.

(Via Poynter.org)

- Costa Tsiokos, Tue 02/08/2021 08:15:44 PM
Category: Internet | Permalink | Feedback (1)

always a day away
Most of us pride ourselves to being utterly immune to the swaying power of advertising. I know I do. I feel I can take in ads in print, on radio, on the Web, and on the television impassively, even clinically, and not have the exposure affect me in a long-lasting way.

So why, then, am I still singing “Tomorrow”, two days after hearing it in the NFL Network’s Super Bowl commercial?

Maybe it’s because I liked last year’s version so much that this reprise hit the right buttons. Maybe it’s because the rest of Super Sunday’s ad lineup was so lackluster (which I predicted anyway).

Or maybe it’s because those ads, which no one can believe cost over $2 million a pop, actually do have the desired effect in inplanting their sales messages into consumers’ brains. Two million bills is a small price to pay when it yields a hundred times that in sales.

Anyway, I’ll continue to hum, and even sing, “Tomorrow” for the next couple of days. I may not have the greatest singing voice, but I’m pretty confident that it’s no worse than Daunte Culpepper’s.

- Costa Tsiokos, Tue 02/08/2021 12:10:16 PM
Category: Advert./Mktg., Football | Permalink | Feedback (1)