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Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide

This week wrapped up San Francisco’s Web 2.0 Expo with its conversations about openness and transparency (including NPR talking about its API), innovation (presented by the “accidental entrepreneurs” of Threadless.com), and marketing (which took the form of everyone talking ad nauseum about Twitter, including the upcoming cruise on which you can learn tweeting best practices).

Tim O’Reilly, CEO of O’Reilly Media and the person who coined the phrase “Web 2.0” to describe the phenomenon of increased social and consumer-created interactions online, spoke about the changes in the media industry with a group of 15 bloggers at one morning roundtable. O’Reilly, whose company publishes the DIY magazine Make and its sister web publication Craft, wore a Maker Faire t-shirt while answering questions about the types on content that stand to survive the much-discussed “death of print.” Craft has been distributed as a somewhat substantial print magazine but is soon to become an online only publication. The switch is a bittersweet one: while I’ll miss dog-earing and saving the physical volumes, I’m intrigued by the multimedia and mobile content possibilities it presents for clever creators.

O’Reilly described some of the variables that have become key considerations for media organizations looking for sustainable long-term publishing models:

  • Format: The Web becoming more people’s de facto space for interaction with other people and their ideas raises huge questions about how content providers can create the most optimal experiences. Because reading coverage online can be a more distracting experience than holding a piece of printed material, how can web publishers best replicate the more static offline reading experience? Should they?
  • Visibility: It was interesting to see O’Reilly’s mention of the importance of awareness and promitions come up again in the Threadless keynote when founders Jake Nickell and Jeffrey Kalmikoff said they’ve never used print or television advertising to promote their efforts. Instead, they describe their weekly e-newsletter as their most traditional form of marketing.
  • Distribution and sales: The recession has made bottom line production costs a consideration not just for publication managers but for audiences as well. Readers have good reason to be concerned about the transition away from the longer lead times and bigger staffs that newspapers and magazines enjoyed, especially since there’s no assurance that bloggers and microbloggers will pick up the slack to regularly develop decent in-depth coverage.

Because each of these factors has so many additional variables (form factors and timeliness of delivery not the least among them), the issue of the quality of the news product that the reader is getting can be overlooked. While print publications are inherently limited in the amount of sensory information they can deliver (video, real-time observations from the community, and photo slideshows win here), I’m concerned that the demise of print gives us an easy excuse not to create something well-made in its place but to sink to the level of what O’Reilly described as the most minimal form of publishing–the dreaded retweet.


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