Archive for the ‘publishing’ category


Online advertising dollars: Google’s cut from your work is 40 per cent

02.06.2020

From Bob Hoffman’s The Ad Contrarian newsletter of May 24: ‘two weeks ago a study by the ISBA and PcW that reported that half of every “programmatic” ad dollar is scraped by adtech middlemen’ and ‘According to a paper written by Fiona Scott Morton, an economist at Yale University, Google pockets about 40¢ of every online ad dollar before it ever gets to a publisher. Not just search dollars, not just programmatic dollars, but all online ad dollars.’ Just one more reason I refuse to sign these:

   I’m not part of the 90 per cent. And the bastards at Google are rich enough. Let them share it with illegal content mills as they are peas in a pod. Another solution for legitimate publishers is dearly needed.
   At least there’s been some sort of work with the commissions agencies take in other media, and that’s typically at 15 per cent here. Google is taking the piss with its automated systems.
   We know the US doesn’t have the balls (or funding?) to take them on at this point, but how about other sovereign territories in which Google operates? Surely they have to comply with our laws, too?

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Posted in business, globalization, internet, publishing, technology, USA | No Comments »


Cautiously optimistic about Boucher

26.05.2020

When I ran for office, there was often a noticeable difference between how I was treated by locally owned media and foreign- owned media. There are exceptions to that rule—The New Zealand Herald and Sky TV gave me a good run while Radio New Zealand opted to do a candidates’ round-up in two separate campaigns interviewing the (white) people who were first-, second- and fourth-polling—but overall, TVNZ, Radio New Zealand with those two exceptions, and the local community papers were decent. Many others seemed to have either ventured into fake news territory (one Australian-owned tabloid had a “poll”, source unknown, that said I would get 2 per cent in 2010) or simply had a belief that New Zealanders were incapable and that the globalist agenda knew best. As someone who ran on the belief that New Zealand had superior intellectual capital and innovative capability, and talked about how we should grow champions that do the acquiring, not become acquisition targets, then those media who were once acquisition targets of foreign corporations didn’t like what they heard.
   And that, in a nutshell, is why my attitude toward Stuff has changed overnight thanks to Sinéad Boucher taking ownership of what I once called, as part of a collective with its Australian owner, the Fairfax Press.
   The irony was always that the Fairfax Press in Australia—The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald—were positive about my work in the 2000s but their New Zealand outpost was quite happy to suggest I was hard to understand because of my accent. (Given that I sound more like an urban Kiwi than, say, the former leader of the opposition, and arguably have a better command of the English language than a number of their journalists, then that’s a lie you sell to dinosaurs of the Yellow Peril era.) A Twitter apology from The Dominion Post’s editor-in-chief isn’t really enough without an erratum in print, but there you go. In two campaigns, the Fairfax Press’s coverage was notably poor when compared with the others’.
   But I am upbeat about Boucher, about what she intends to do with the business back in local ownership, and about the potential of Kiwis finally getting media that aren’t subject to overseas whims or corporate agenda; certainly Stuff and its print counterparts won’t be regarded as some line on a balance sheet in Sydney any more, but a real business in Aotearoa serving Kiwis. Welcome back to the real world, we look forward to supporting you.

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Posted in business, globalization, media, New Zealand, politics, publishing, Wellington | No Comments »


May is always quieter for blogging—and we get to 4,200 models on Autocade

12.05.2020

Again, proof that each 100th vehicle on Autocade isn’t planned: the 4,200th is the second-generation Mazda Premacy, or Mazda 5 in some markets, a compact MPV that débuted 15 years ago. If it were planned, something more significant would have appeared.
   I know MPVs aren’t sexy but they remain one of the most practical ways to ferry people around when it comes to the motor car. In terms of space efficiency and the percentage of the car’s length dedicated to passenger accommodation, they remain one of the best. And with the old Premacy, they handled really well, too.
   It must be the times we live in that people demand inefficient crossovers and SUVs instead, and that is a shame. Maybe with the pandemic people will re-evaluate what’s important, and signalling that you have some inadequacy with a large vehicle might fall down the pecking order. MPVs were usually cleverly designed, and the Premacy was no exception—what a shame Mazda, and so many others, are no longer in this market as buyer tastes shifted.

Out of curiosity, why do people visit Autocade? We haven’t had a big jump in visits with COVID-19 (contrary to some other motoring sites), as I imagine encyclopædias aren’t as fun as, say, AROnline, where at least you can reminisce about the British motor industry that was, back in the day when Britain had a functioning government that seemed terrible at the time when no one could imagine how much worse it could get. Obviously we haven’t had as many new models to record, but are they the reason people pop by? Or are the old models the reason? Or the coverage of the Chinese market, which few Anglophone sites seem to do? If you are an Autocade fan reading this, please feel free to let us know why in the comments.

One moan about Facebook. Go on.
   Sometimes when I pop in—and that remains rarely—and look at the Lucire fan page, I’ll spot an automated Tweet that has appeared courtesy of IFTTT. It’s had, say, no views, or one view. I think, ‘Since there have been no real interactions with this bot entry, maybe I should delete it and feed it in manually, because surely Facebook would give something that has been entered directly on to its platform better organic reach than something that a bot has done?’
   With that thought process, I delete it and enter the same thing in manually.
   Except now, as has happened so many times before, the page preview is corrupted—Facebook adds letters to the end of the URL, corrupting it, so that the preview results in a 404. This is an old bug that goes back years—I spotted it when I used Facebook regularly, and that was before 2017. It’s not every link but over the last few weeks there have been two. You then have to go and edit the text to ask people, ‘Please don’t click on the site preview because Facebook is incapable of providing the correct link.’ Now you’re down some views because people think you’ve linked a 404. Not everyone’s going to read your explanation about Facebook’s incompetence. (Once again, this reminds me why some people say I encounter more bugs there than others—I don’t, but not everyone is observant.)

   This series of events is entirely counterintuitive because it means that bot activity is prioritized over actual activity on Facebook. Bot activity is more accurate and links correctly. And so we come back to the old, old story I have told many times about Facebook and bots and how the platform is bot city. In 2014, I rang the alarm bells; and I was astonished that in 2019 Facebook claims it had to delete over 5,400 million bot accounts. You should have listened to me then, folks—unless, of course, bots are part of the growth strategy, and of course they are.
   So, when feeding in links, remember this. Facebook: friendly to bots, not to humans. It’s probably not a bad way to approach their site anyway.

I’ve looked at my May blogging stats going back a decade (left sidebar, for those on the desktop skin) and it’s always quieter. I blog less. I wonder why this is. The beginning of hibernation? The fact that less interesting stuff’s happening in late autumn as the seasons change?

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Posted in cars, design, internet, New Zealand, politics, publishing, technology, UK | No Comments »


Live from Level 3

03.05.2020

Finally, a podcast (or is it a blogcast, since it’s on my blog?) where I’m not “reacting” to something that Olivia St Redfern has put on her Leisure Lounge series. Here are some musings about where we’re at, now we are at Level 3.

   Some of my friends, especially my Natcoll students from 1999–2000, will tell you that I love doing impressions. They say Rory Bremner’s are shit hot and that mine are halfway there. It’s a regret that I haven’t been able to spring any of these on you. Don’t worry, I haven’t done any here. But one of these days …

Perhaps the funniest Tweet about the safe delivery of the British PM and his fiancée’s son, for those of us who are Clint Eastwood fans:

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Posted in China, culture, France, globalization, Hong Kong, humour, New Zealand, politics, publishing, Sweden, UK, USA, Wellington | No Comments »


Even the web is forgetting our history

26.04.2020


Hernán Piñera/Creative Commons/CC BY-SA 2.0

My friend Richard MacManus wrote a great blog post in February on the passing of Clive James, and made this poignant observation: ‘Because far from preserving our culture, the Web is at best forgetting it and at worst erasing it. As it turns out, a website is much more vulnerable than an Egyptian pyramid.’
   The problem: search engines are biased to show us the latest stuff, so older items are being forgotten.
   There are dead domains, of course—each time I pop by to our links’ pages, I find I’m deleting more than I’m adding. I mean, who maintains links’ pages these days, anyway? (Ours look mega-dated.) But the items we added in the 1990s and 2000s are vanishing and other than the Internet Archive, Richard notes its Wayback Machine is ‘increasingly the only method of accessing past websites that have otherwise disappeared into the ether. Many old websites are now either 404 errors, or the domains have been snapped up by spammers searching for Google juice.’
   His fear is that sites like Clive James’s will be forgotten rather than preserved, and he has a point. As a collective, humanity seems to desire novelty: the newest car, the newest cellphone, and the newest news. Searching for a topic tends to bring up the newest references, since the modern web operates on the basis that history is bunk.
   That’s a real shame as it means we don’t get to understand our history as well as we should. Take this pandemic, for instance: are there lessons we could learn from MERS and SARS, or even the Great Plague of London in the 1660s? But a search is more likely to reveal stuff we already know or have recently come across in the media, like a sort of comfort blanket to assure us of our smartness. It’s not just political views and personal biases that are getting bubbled, it seems human knowledge is, too.
   Even Duck Duck Go, my preferred search engine, can be guilty of this, though a search I just made of the word pandemic shows it is better in providing relevance over novelty.
   Showing results founded on their novelty actually makes the web less interesting because search engines fail to make it a place of discovery. If page after page reveals the latest, and the latest is often commodified news, then there is no point going to the second or third pages to find out more. Google takes great pride in detailing the date in the description, or ‘2 days ago’ or ‘1 day ago’. But if search engines remained focused on relevance, then we may stumble on something we didn’t know, and be better educated in the process.
   Therefore, it’s possibly another area that Big Tech is getting wrong: it’s not just endangering democracy, but human intelligence. The biases I accused Google News and Facebook of—viz. their preference for corporate media—build on the dumbing-down of the masses.
   I may well be wrong: maybe people don’t want to get smarter: Facebook tells us that folks just want a dopamine hit from approval, and maybe confirmation of our own limited knowledge gives us the same. ‘Look at how smart I am!’ Or how about this collection?
   Any expert will tell you that the best way to keep your traffic up is to generate more and more new content, and it’s easy to understand why: like a physical library, the old stuff is getting forgotten, buried, or even—if they can’t sell or give it away—pulped.
   Again, there’s a massive opportunity here. A hypothetical new news aggregator can outdo Google News by spidering and rewarding independent media that break news, by giving them the best placement—as Google News used to do. That encourages independent media to do their job and opens the public up to new voices and viewpoints. And now a hypothetical new search engine could outdo Google by providing relevance over novelty, or at least getting the balance of the two right.

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Posted in culture, interests, internet, media, New Zealand, publishing, technology, Wellington | No Comments »


Autocade to hit 19,000,000 page views this week

06.04.2020


A 1950s German microcar (the Champion 400) is a nice change from the massive modern SUV

It’s a cinch that Autocade will hit 19 million page views this week. At the time of writing, there are fewer than 15,000 views to go.
   The last millionth milestone was expected on December 26, but I believe I was ultimately a day out (i.e. December 27). Conservatively, Autocade will get to 19 million on April 9, which means we got this latest million in a shade over three months. I’ll update these details if things change. I wanted to mark it early since I have a busy week ahead (plus for a lot of the other milestones, I was late!).
   Despite this fairly constant page view count, Autocade’s Alexa ranking has plummeted like mad after a healthy rise over the last half of 2019. In all these years I’m still not certain how it’s all calculated, and they do say the lower your ranking, the less accurate it gets. Therefore, as it falls, you know it’s also getting less accurate!
   The site is on 4,142 entries.

March 2008: launch
April 2011: 1,000,000 (three years for first million)
March 2012: 2,000,000 (11 months for second million)
May 2013: 3,000,000 (14 months for third million)
January 2014: 4,000,000 (eight months for fourth million)
September 2014: 5,000,000 (eight months for fifth million)
May 2015: 6,000,000 (eight months for sixth million)
October 2015: 7,000,000 (five months for seventh million)
March 2016: 8,000,000 (five months for eighth million)
August 2016: 9,000,000 (five months for ninth million)
February 2017: 10,000,000 (six months for 10th million)
June 2017: 11,000,000 (four months for 11th million)
January 2018: 12,000,000 (seven months for 12th million)
May 2018: 13,000,000 (four months for 13th million)
September 2018: 14,000,000 (four months for 14th million)
February 2019: 15,000,000 (five months for 15th million)
June 2019: 16,000,000 (four months for 16th million)
October 2019: 17,000,000 (four months for 17th million)
December 2019: 18,000,000 (just under three months for 18th million, from first week of October to December 27)
April 2020: 19,000,000 (just over three months for 19th million, from December 27 to April 9)

   It’s not a record increase—that was the 18th million—but it’s still reasonably healthy and shows that traffic is continuing on an upward curve overall, even if Alexa doesn’t think so.

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Saddened to see colleagues lose their jobs as we bid, ‘Auf wiedersehen, Heinrich Bauer Verlag’

03.04.2020

I am privy to some of the inner workings at Bauer Media through friends and colleagues, but I didn’t expect them to shut up shop in New Zealand, effective April 2.
   Depending on your politics, you’re in one of two camps.
   TV3, itself part of a foreign company who has made serious cutbacks during the lockdown, said Bauer had approached the government and offered to sell the business to them at a rock-bottom price in the hope of saving the 200-plus jobs there. The government declined. I believe that’s the angle foreign-owned media are adopting here.
   Both the PM and the minister responsible for media, Kris Faafoi, have said that Bauer never applied for the wage subsidy, and never approached the government to see if it could be classified as an essential service to keep operating. Indeed, in the words of the PM, ‘Bauer contacted the minister and told him they weren’t interested in subsidies.’
   It’s murkier today as there is evidence that Bauer had, through the Magazine Publishers’ Association, lobbied for reclassification for it to be turned down, though the minister continues to say that it had never been raised with him and that Bauer had already committed to shutting up shop.
   Outside of “we said, they said”, my takes are, first, it was never likely that the government would want to be a magazine publisher. Various New Zealand governments have been pondering how to deal with state-owned media here, and there was little chance the latest inhabitants of the Beehive would add to this.
   We also know that Bauer had shut titles over the years due to poor performance, and Faafoi’s original statement expressly states that the Hamburg-based multinational had been ‘facing challenges around viability of their operations here in New Zealand.’
   With these two facts in mind, the government would not have taken on the business to turn it around, especially while knowing the owner of Bauer Media (well, 85 per cent of it) has a personal worth of US$3,000 million and the company generated milliards in revenue per annum.
   I also have to point to its own harsh decisions over the years in shutting titles. In 2018, Bauer’s own Australian CEO told Ad News: ‘There’s a really interesting view that somehow we are here to provide a social service. The reality is we’re here to make money and if we can’t make money out of our magazines, we’ll sell them or we’ll close them.
   ‘We have an obligation, whether that’s a public company or private company, to make money for shareholders. If it doesn’t make money, why would we do it?’
   That, to me, sounds like the corporate position here as well, and no doubt Bauer’s bean counters will have crunched the numbers before yesterday’s announcement.
   I’ve had my own ideas how the stable could have evolved but it’s easy to talk about this with hindsight, so I won’t. Enough people are hurting.
   But I’d have applied for whatever the government offered to see if I could keep things going for a little while longer. Even if the writing was on the wall, it would have been nice to see my colleagues have a lifeline. Get one more issue of each title out after June. Maybe I’m just not as brutal. I mean, I’ve never defamed Rebel Wilson as Bauer’s Australian publications have. Maybe it’s different for a small independent.
   If I may use a sporting analogy, Bauer hasn’t let their players on to the field and kept them in the changing room, and more’s the pity.
   One comment I received yesterday was that Bauer wouldn’t have been in a position to pay its staff even with the government subsidy, with no advertising sales being generated. I’m not so sure, with annual global revenues of over €2,000 million. New Zealand was probably too unimportant to be saved by Bauer’s bosses in Hamburg. I guess we’ll never know.

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Posted in business, media, New Zealand, politics, publishing | No Comments »


Autocade turns 12

07.03.2020

Autocade turns 12 today, as it’s now March 8 here in New Zealand. From zero models to 4,093 (the Hyundai Avante XD is the latest); and as I write this sentence, it’s netted 18,683,611 page views. Just four years ago this month, it had only managed eight million.
   Just this week, I added two public notes of thanks to Carfolio, with whom we’ve done a bit of an information swap, on the site. Admittedly that swap has been in our favour. The first fruits of that were four Toyota models. It shows that we motorheads have been able to find each other and work on a spirit of cooperation, to make the web more informative and useful.
   It’s a far cry from those early days when the site got its first few models; it took four months to get to 500. The timing wasn’t great, considering the Global Financial Crisis was beginning to happen around us, and more people were being sucked in to Facebook. As a hobby, I carried on, because it was a satisfying use of my time.
   I’ll leave a stats’ breakdown when we get to 19 million views, and no doubt I’ll do another post when we get to 4,100 models.
   Stuart Cowley, who shot the first Autocade video with me fronting it, has a few more up his sleeve that he’ll edit in due course. I’m open to seeing what the future will bring for the brand.
   Having one independent web publication that’s survived 22 years and counting, and another that’s now 12, is perhaps quite rare these days.
   Since I began writing this post, Autocade has gained another 73 page views.
   I’m grateful for all the support out there—thank you for all your views, feedback, generosity, information, and your shared love of cars.

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Posted in business, cars, internet, media, publishing | 1 Comment »


Why I don’t sign up to new online ad networks in a hurry

26.02.2020

In the early days, banner advertising was pretty simple. By the turn of the century, we dealt with a couple of firms, Burst Media and Gorilla Nation, and we had a few buy direct. Money was good.
   This is the pattern today if we choose to say yes to anyone representing an ad network.
   I get an email, with, ‘Hey, we’ve got some great fill rates and CPMs!’
   I quiz them, tell them that in the past we’ve been disappointed. Basically, because each ad network has a payment threshold (and in Burst’s case they deduct money as a fee for paying you money), the more ad networks we serve in each ad spot’s rotation, the longer it takes to reach each network’s threshold. And some networks don’t even serve ads that we can see.
   They say that that won’t happen, so I do the paperwork and we put the codes in.
   Invariably we either see crap ads (gambling and click-bait, or worse: pop-ups, pop-unders, interstitials and entire page takeovers for either) or we see no ads, at least none that’ll pay.
   Because we give people a chance we leave the codes there for a while, and that delays the payment thresholds just as predicted.
   At the end of the day, it’s ‘Thanks, but no thanks,’ because no one really seems to honour their commitments when it comes to online advertising. With certain companies having monopoly or duopoly powers in this market, it’s led to depressed prices and a very high threshold for any new players—and that’s a bad thing for publishers. What a pity their home country lacks the bollocks to do something about it.
   Every now and then they will feed through an advertisement from Google because of a contractual arrangement they have, and the ad isn’t clickable—because I guess no one at Google has figured out that that’s important. (Remember, this is the same company that didn’t know what significant American building is located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC on Google Earth, and the way to deal with whistleblowers is allegedly to call the cops on them.)
   We deal with one Scots firm and one Israeli firm these days, in the hope that not having American ad networks so dependent on, or affected by, a company with questionable ethics might help things just a little.

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Posted in business, internet, marketing, media, publishing, USA | No Comments »


Sticking with 24 inches, but going to QHD: a pleasant upgrade

31.01.2020


The Dell P2418D: just like the one I’m looking at as I type, but there are way more wires coming out of the thing in real life

Other than at the beginning of my personal computing experience (the early 1980s, and that’s not counting video game consoles), I’ve tended to have a screen that’s better than average. When 640 × 360 was the norm, I had 1,024 × 768. My first modern laptop in 2001 (a Dell Inspiron) had 1,600 pixels across, even back then. It was only in recent years that I thought my LG 23-inch LCD, which did full HD, was good enough, and I didn’t bother going to the extremes of 4K. However, with Lucire and the night-time hours I often work, and because of a scratch to the LG that a friend accidentally made when we moved, I thought it was time for an upgrade.
   Blue light is a problem, and I needed something that would be easier on the eyes. At the same time, an upgrade on res would be nice.
   But there was one catch: I wasn’t prepared to go to 27 inches. I didn’t see the point. I can only focus on so much at any given time, and I didn’t want a monitor so large that I’d have to move my neck heaps to see every corner. On our work Imacs I was pretty happy to work at 24 inches, so I decided I’d do the same for Windows, going up a single inch from where I was. IPS would be fine. I didn’t need a curved screen because my livelihood is in flat media. Finally, I don’t need multiple screens as I don’t need to keep an eye on, say, emails coming in on one screen, or do coding where I need one screen for the code and the other for the preview.
   Oddly, there aren’t many monitor manufacturers doing QHD at 24 inches. There was a very narrow range I could choose from in New Zealand, with neither BenQ nor Viewsonic doing that size and resolution here. Asus has a beautifully designed unit but I was put off by the backlight bleed stories of four years ago that were put down to poor quality control, and it seemed to be a case of hit and miss; while Dell’s P2418D seemed just right, its negative reviews on Amazon and the Dell website largely penned by one person writing multiple entries. I placed the order late one night, and Ascent dispatched it the following day. If not for the courier missing me by an hour, I’d be writing this review a day earlier.
   I realize we’re only hours in to my ownership so there are no strange pixels or noticeable backlight bleed, and assembly and installation were a breeze, other than Windows 10 blocking the installation of one driver (necessitating the use of an elevated command prompt to open the driver executable).
   With my new PC that was made roughly this time last year, I had a Radeon RX580 video card with two Displayport ports, so it was an easy farewell to DVI-D. The new cables came with the monitor. A lot of you will already be used to monitors acting as USB hubs with a downstream cable plugged in, though that is new to me. It does mean, finally, I have a more comfortable location for one of my external HDs, and I may yet relocate the cable to a third external round the back of my PC.
   Windows 10 automatically sized everything to 125 per cent magnification, with a few programs needing that to be overridden (right-click on the program icon, then head into ‘Compatibility’, then ‘Change high DPI settings’).
   Dell’s Display Manager lets you in to brightness, contrast and other settings without fiddling with the hardware buttons, which is very handy. I did have to dial down the brightness and contrast considerably: I’m currently at 45 and 64 per cent respectively.
   And I know it’s just me and not the devices but everything feels faster. Surely I can’t be noticing the 1 ms difference between Displayport and DVI-D?
   I can foresee this being far more productive than my old set-up, and Ascent’s price made it particularly tempting. I can already see more of the in- and outbox detail in Eudora. Plantin looks great here in WordPerfect (which I often prep my long-form writing in), and if type looks good, I’m more inclined to keep working with it. (It never looked quite right at a lower res, though it renders beautifully on my laptop.)
   I feel a little more “late 2010s” than I did before, with the monitor now up to the tech of the desktop PC. Sure, it’s not as razor-sharp as an Imac with a Retina 4K display, but I was happy enough in work situations with the QHD of a 15-inch Macbook Pro, and having that slightly larger feels right. Besides, a 4K monitor at this size—and Dell makes one—was outside what I had budgeted, and I’m not sure if I want to run some of my programs—the ones that don’t use Windows’ magnification—on a 4K screen. Some of their menus would become particularly tiny, and that won’t be great for productivity.
   Maybe when 4K becomes the norm I’ll reconsider, as the programs will have advanced by then, though at this rate I’ll still be using Eudora 7.1, as I do today.

Incidentally, type on Vivaldi (and presumably Chrome) still looks worse than Opera and Firefox. Those who have followed my blogging from the earlier days know this is important to me.

Vivaldi

Opera GX

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Posted in design, internet, publishing, technology, typography | 3 Comments »