>Sly play with media regulation

April 18, 2009

>I’m not sure I fully understand the logic of Sly Bailey’s position, outlined at the Digital Britain summit, although her ulterior motive for adopting it is clear enough.

The chief executive of Daily Mirror-owner Trinity Mirror hit out at “gargantuan national newspaper websites designed to harness users by the tens of millions” which, “by performing well on search engines like Google, … have eroded the value of news.” Step forward, presumably, the Sun, The Guardian and the Mail as villains of the piece.

Bailey’s ultimate target is the dotcom news aggregators, such as Google News, which she roundly condemns for first pirating other people’s news, then commoditizing it around search optimization.

“A consumer is now as likely to discover newspaper content on Google, visit our sites, then flit away before even discovering that it was the Daily Mirror or the Telegraph that created the content in the first place,” she said. “Or worse, they may visit an aggregator like Google News, browse a digital deli of expensive-to-produce news from around the world, and then click on an ad served up to them by Google.”

In other words, everyone – consumers, dotcom portals, and advertisers on them – is getting a free ride except the publishers who actually pay for the content in the first place. No wonder the media is in crisis and experienced journalists are being discarded like autumn leaves by our major newspapers and free-to-air broadcasters.

Bailey is quite right, of course. But she goes on to suggest the newspapers have exacerbated the trend by building mega-news sites with the explicit intention of performing well in organic search. Her solution is to loosen the regulatory straitjacket, at present preventing newspapers from merging, in order to confront the challenge of the internet.
“Any merger regime which does not take Google, Yahoo, Rightmove and Monster into account simply isn’t fit for purpose,” she said. She’s presumably banking on Lord Carter’s Digital Britain report to come up trumps at the end of June.
Personally, I wouldn’t put too much money on it. First of all, I’m not sure how making the newspaper industry still more concentrated is going to help combat the challenge of the internet. If anything, concentration would accelerate the trend that Bailey is decrying. Secondly, the suggestion is politically naive.
If politicians took a strictly utilitarian approach to media, they might just agree with Bailey. But they don’t. Their main concern is to ensure that the newspaper barons, and specifically the house of Murdoch, do not become any more powerful than they already are. For God’s sake, these media dynasts can influence the outcome of elections and put you into the political wilderness for years!
However, Bailey speaks with the conviction of desperation. The way her company is going, it will soon disappear of its own accord if it is not allowed to merge with something more powerful. And I don’t mean by that Johnston Press.

>Teufel! The car in front is a Toyota

April 17, 2009

>Gloom everywhere in the car industry. Chrysler is going for a song to Fiat… and GM is going, well, bust  – in a carefully managed, politically sensitive sort of way. And it’s not much better in Europe. Sales of new cars across Europe fell by 9% in March 2009 compared with a year ago, according to the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association.

But wait, what’s this? In Germany, Europe’s largest car market, sales are actually up – and by an astonishing 40% last month. The reason for this anomaly is not hard to fathom. It’s called scrappage, which means the state doles out cash (€2,500 in Germany) if you exchange your old banger for a new, or near-new, vehicle. Wunderbar! Let’s all have more of it. Even at this moment Alistair Darling is preparing a parallel scheme for the Budget, and Gordon Brown has as usual gone overboard by promising to save the consumer – if not the world – £5,000 on the cost of a new electric car. Never mind that these vehicles are, to date, technically inadequate for most daily usage.

Before getting over-excited let’s take a closer look at the German scheme, for all is not what it seems. Yes, car sales have soared. But have the German car marques – BMW, Mercedes, Porsche, Audi and VW – been the main beneficiaries? No they have not. Not many of their models, even in nearly new condition, are priced under €10,000. The cars in front are foreign-owned Toyota, Nissan and Honda. So much for propping up the German car-manufacturing sector.

It’s no wonder Sarko thinks German chancellor Angela Merkel “doesn’t get it”.

>Campbell Lace – the Beta version

April 9, 2009

>Goodness me. After some last minute shenanigans, the rumour really has born fruit. Lace Campbell is shortly to be an established fact. Actually, the new agency is going to be called Campbell Lace Beta. Who is Beta – the planner perhaps? No it’s an idea borrowed from the internet, presumably meaning work in progress. The agency launches in May. This last detail can be inferred from its icon, a maypole – which is also, they tell us, a symbol of riotous pagan creativity. Can we be sure you’re not leading us a bit of a dance, Garry? 

>Innocent until proved guilty

April 7, 2009

>To listen to the media backlash, you’d think Innocent, the smoothie maker, had just signed a pact with the devil – media-friendly founder Richard Reed being cast in the improbable role of Dr Faustus.

Successful businesses don’t continue to be successful by standing still. For quite some time now, Innocent has been underpowered, both in its product range and geographical spread. As Reed tried to explain to a hectoring Eddie Mair on Radio 4, if Innocent doesn’t grasp the smoothie opportunity in other, virgin, European markets then the big battalions will rip off their ideas and do it themselves. 
But where do they get the money to do it? Would anyone have objected to a bank about a year ago? Would that have been an unacceptable compromise of Innocent’s wholesome ethical brand stance? I don’t think so, because Innocent managed to secure a £32m credit line from HBOS (yes, HBOS) without anyone raising so much as a squeak of dissent.
But substitute Coca-Cola for HBOS and what do you get? Universal vilification: accusations which range from naivety to downright cynical hypocrisy.
Lighten up. Innocent is a business not a charity. Where else, in this climate, is the money going to come from –  a private equity house? Don’t make me laugh. And, by the way, what’s so bad about Coke holding a fairly small minority stake, maybe 15%? 
Ah, you say, this is where you’re being naive. It’s all part of a carefully premeditated plan… you wait, in 5 years’ time the Innocent founders will be on their way, rich beyond the dreams of avarice, leaving behind the husk of an ethical food company which has been sucked dry by the parasites at Coca-Cola.
Come on. Just as McDonald’s did to Pret A Manger, which bought back their 33% stake last year?

>Why NatMags prefers French dressing

April 2, 2009

>C’est tellement curieux. The magazine publishing business is puzzled by the decision to appoint an unknown Frenchman, Arnaud de Puyfontaine, as the new UK chief executive of the National Magazine Company. Not the least reason for their confusion was a widespread perception that the present incumbent, Duncan Edwards – now moving upstairs to president and chief executive of Hearst Magazines International – had been grooming his managing director Jessica Burley to take over.

Edwards and Burley were – managerially speaking – soul mates, sharing among other things a passion for spreadsheet analysis. That may reek of dullness, but it seemed to work for NatMags, so why look overseas for an alternative?
Well, there’s no doubt that M. de Puyfontaine brings with him a genuine exoticism. Born in 1964, he’s a graduate of the école supérieure de commerce, so very much a part of the French intellectual and business elite. Over the years he has, in typical haute école manner, put high-level contacts to good use in leveraging his way up the French establishment. He started  as a journalist on Le Figaro, but soon spotted the superior attractions of magazine publishing.
The British connection-in-waiting was Emap, or rather its French subsidiary, where he launched Emap Star and in July 1998 took over as chief executive from Kevin Hand – who at that point had been called back to London to be group ceo. When in 2006 a seriously weakened Emap was compelled to relinquish its French subsidiary, it was de Puyfontaine who handled the negotiations. The upshot was Emap France became a subsidiary of Mondadori, the Italian publishing house, but only after de Puyfontaine had parlayed his way onto the Mondadori board, as chief executive of the group’s digital activities. But then, mid last year, he mysteriously quit  – settling instead for “senior advisor” to the head of Mondadori France.
The role of consigliere obviously becomes him, because in next to no time he was also head of a special committee looking into the future of the French newspaper industry, appointed on the personal say-so of the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy. It was the pay-off for a carefully cultivated friendship which dated back to the eighties when Sarkozy was the relatively unknown mayor of Neuilly. Never underestimate “le piston”.
So, the question people are asking is why has such a big fish in France settled for such a small pond here in the UK?  Yes, all right: he will be in charge of such national treasures as Good Housekeeping, Cosmo, Harper’s Bazaar and, er, Men’s Health. Even so, it looks suspiciously as if there’s another shoe waiting to drop. Perhaps NatMags’ head of Europe in due course?

>Who’s fooling whom, BMW?

April 1, 2009

>Spot on. BMW advertising is such a finely tuned piece of engineering after WCRS’ 30-year tenure of the account that even the car company’s April Fool’s Day jokes resonate the brand. In The Guardian today, The Ultimate Driving Machine boasts of its new “Magnetic Tow Technology – For once we’re happy to be behind the competition”. The idea being that BMW-patented super magnets allow the driver to lock on to the car in front, so saving fuel bills. “Why burn your fuel, when you can burn someone else’s?” says the copy. Post-modern irony, or an unconscious revelation of the self-centred one-upmanship at the core of BMW’s image?

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