Oddly Timed Staff Cuts Announced at the New York Times

The New York Times Co. is set to announce quarterly earnings later this week.  Monday, bad news came early and by surprise.

With a need for greater cost reductions, the Times announced a plan to cut 100 newsroom jobs (8% of total) by year end.  This on top of budget cuts and a 5% employee pay cut already in place.

The Times is approaching the process with a buyout offer.  Employees will receive detailed information packets and have forty five days to decide whether or not to apply.  The buyouts are expected to offer between two and three weeks of salary per year of employment. If there aren’t enough volunteers, the company will implement layoffs to reach the quota.

Earlier this year, Times executives said they didn’t anticipate further newsroom cuts in 2009.  That they changed their minds isn’t surprising given the current ad market and the struggles of the print industry.  Newspapers are fighting an increasingly competitive online global arena and it’s clear there is no easy answer for how to succeed.   There’s so much information beamed at audiences.  To stand out from the volume (below cost and consistently) is a difficult task.  

What is odd about the Times’ news is the timing. Delivering bad news days before earnings…  the foreshadowing doesn’t look good.

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Settlement Proposed for Kindle Case

settled kindle suitAmazon apologized verbally in July for inappropriately deleting copies of 1984 (and Animal Farm) from customer’s Kindles.  Now the company appears to have apologized with its check book.

According to court documents first reported on Seattle news site Tech Flash, a proposed settlement has been submitted to the court for the Case of Amazon’s Orwellian behavior.

The agreement, which was filed on September 25th, will require Amazon to pay $150,000 to the plaintiff’s law firm with KamberEdelson donating its portion of that to charity.  (Ed. Update 10/7: the court document is embedded below)

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Amazon’s Big Brother Behavior Brings Suit

kindlesIf you were to define irony by example, a book seller going “Big Brother” and secretly deleting your previously purchased copy of 1984 is about as letter perfect as you can get.  It’s the kind of thing you cannot script; the truth people deem stranger than fiction.   But believe it or not, that’s exactly what happened in mid July.

On July 16th and 17th, Amazon, after recognizing it had sold eBooks it didn’t have proper rights clearances to sell, attempted to fix the problem by dropping a heavy hand on the delete button.

Using previously undisclosed remote access technology the company systematically deleted the books from customer’s Kindles. Here today, gone tomorrow.

Though rebates were provided, the uproar and backlash was fast and loud.  And now the inevitable has happened: a lawsuit has been filed.

17 year old Michigan high school student Justin Gawronski filed papers Thursday seeking monetary and injunctive relief for the damage caused when the deleted files rendered linked notes on his Kindle obsolete. (court document follows below)

Reportedly, Gawronski’s primary interest is legal precedent.   He’s not in it for money but he wants more than to be able to tell a teacher, “the Kindle really did eat my homework.”

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Barnes and Noble Jumps on the eBook Bandwagon

BN PLastic Logic MetueIn the early days of the Internet Amazon looked like the underdog when it matched up against big box book sellers like Barnes and Noble.  Now, targeting the smaller niche of eBooks, the roles are reversed as Barnes and Noble will look to match Amazon’s technological strengths with a new entry into the eBook marketplace.

Barnes and Noble (BN) said Monday its new eBook store will stock as many as 700,000 titles including new releases priced at $9.99.  BN is calling it the world’s largest eBook store, surpassing both Amazon and Sony, though that claim may be misleading given the inclusion of as many as 500,000 free titles offered in partnership with Google’s Book Search.  (Sony is also partnered with Google)

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The Fight for Audience: Newpaper Websites in May

As newspapers continue their efforts to squeeze out revenue from their online properties, one of the questions editors are asking is what differentiation they should have between print and dot com.  Some argue that online being free; print should offer something special to add value to those paying for delivery.  Others counter that the Internet is the industry’s future and to be out in front requires putting richer content there – online where there are no page space restrictions and a bigger audience to capture.

In late May and early June, the Washington posted irked some readers and fired up the debate by taking a course seemingly supportive of door number two.   On May 31st and June 1st, the paper ran a large two part investigative report on an unsolved Washington, D.C. murder mystery.  The story was published only online leaving some print readers frustrated and others unaware they’d even missed a story until they saw the backlash.

In the weeks since passed, the paper has been criticized by some and lauded by others for its choice. The decision’s been justified by the scope of the article and its size (its narrow subject and long length argued to be ill suited for print), and castigated for the same reasons.  

Newspapers are fighting in an increasingly competitive online global arena and it’s clear there is no easy answer for how to succeed.  There’s so much information beamed at audiences.  To stand out from the volume (below cost and consistently) is a difficult task.  It doesn’t take much more than a passing glance at a newspaper’s financial statements to see that.  But new Nielsen data seems to add even more color to how complex the marketplace has become, and for that matter, how difficult the editorial decisions are that editors face.   

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Paying for Content? USA Today to Try Email Delivery?

paid news content metueFrom publisher to mogul, the frequent mantra from up high lately has been that the future for news media online will increasingly require payment for content.   Big papers simply can’t afford to keep shelling out the money to pay the high price of reporting while competitors “borrow” the costly facts for free and customers bounce from site to site with little loyalty to anything other than the fastest copy editor and the first to report.  The big question, though, is: who will pay?  And what will they pay for.. or how much?

According to Barry Diller, IAC’s chairman and CEO, “anything of value is going to be paid for” online.  People have paid for content before and they’ll continue to.  That’s what he said in a keynote at the Advertising 2.0 conference in New York, Wednesday.

Not all would agree, however.  Or they’ll hone in on the definition of one key word: “value,” and make that the battleground.

While it’s true advertising can’t, and won’t be a cure-all that pays for all costs and provides all revenue, it’s not clear what value propositions are necessary to lure a customer used to getting an overload of free information into opening their wallet and paying for the privilege. 

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Kindle Opens Access to Bloggers

kindlesOne of the benefits of Amazon’s Kindle reader is portable access to content. There’s a deep library of books and an increasing pool of subscription content.  One of the detriments singled out by some camps is the Kindle’s closed environment.  Readers looking for blog content, for example, could only select from a predetermined list of high profile publications.  You might find Tech Crunch or the Huffington Post but you wouldn’t necessarily find a smaller site like Metue and probably would have no chance tuning in to the soapbox of your favorite personal pundit.  Amazon chose the stations, not you.  Now that’s changing.

Today, Amazon began allowing any blogger to publish to the Kindle platform.  Through a separate account set up as a Kindle Publishing for Blogs beta, authors can load their blog, identify and describe it and leave it to Amazon to convert from its RSS feed to a Kindle friendly form factor.

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