Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

A quick note on innovation in media

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism by Adam Westbrook on September 17, 2012

The first thing to realise is that the secret is not to come up with a new idea.

There is rarely such a thing. Instead, the secret is to look at a space with people, or businesses already established, and see what they’re doing wrong. Then invent something that improves on what they do.

Whether this is blogging, publishing, film-making, business, photography or whatever, you can do this. The “gap in the market” isn’t some big group of people that no-one has thought of targeting before. It’s found in the shortcomings of players already in the market.

Here are some disruptive approaches into any of these fields.

Be the inspirer: use your work to inspire and excite others with new ideas: this is how I have blogged for six years. People love being inspired.

Be the connector: bring people together, either in person, or online, like a good party host. Create a digital space for people to interact (a forum, a social site) or a physical one (start a monthly meetup).

Be the combiner (of new ideas): I’ve written about this before. Combine two disparate ideas to make a new one.

Be the leader: have a vision for how things can be better and actively set out to make it happen. Others will follow.

Be the experimenter: be about lots of ideas, rapid prototyping, quick feedback. Very few people do this openly in any niche (afraid of looking stupid)

Be the doer/maker: get busy building (films, books, events, software) – let your actions speak for you. Probably the best way to go (after all, anyone can talk the talk..)

Be the problem solver: actively look for the problems in a particular area, and create solutions.

Be the UX fixer: any bad (reading, watching, buying, discovery, sharing) experience is an opportunity to own the market, simply by creating a better experience. Instagram wasn’t the first photo-sharing app, but it’s the one that’s the most satisfying to use.

Be the most fun: constantly surprise and delight your users/audience/readers.

Be the most caring: how many magazines or news websites give a damn about their audience? If they really did, would their products be full of adverts? All big organisations and corporations have this human disconnection problem (when was the last time your bank wasn’t an arsehole?)..and they’re all opportunities for smaller, leaner people-driven competition.

Notice the two items that are missing: be the fastest and be the cheapest. They’re races to the bottom and should be avoided at all costs. 

Three ideas for news businesses which will never work (and why)

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on February 10, 2010

Journalism students and even older journalists struggling for work are being encouraged to get entrepreneurial and launch their own startups.

And damn straight too – let’s hope more of them take the leap and start launching products. I’m sure the most popular ideas for news businesses in someway mimic the mainstream media – for example an online magazine, hyperlocal website or production company.

All businesses with potential, but there are traps to fall into too. Here are some ideas (I came up with) which will never even get off the ground…and why.

1. Twat!: The risque new music magazine for young people in London

Twat! Magazine is a montly print magazine and website for young people in London that “really gets under the skin of culture” and “isn’t afraid to offend”. It features interviews “with upcoming artists the other magazines haven’t even heard of” and crazy mental features.

It won’t work. Why?

Referring to my Journalism Startup checklist it fails on the first four questions: it is not a new idea, and most importantly it does not have a defined target audience. Who are “young people in London?”. As it happens they’re incredibly diverse from postcode gang members to city bankers. None of them can identify with the ‘lifestyle’ the magazine is trying to sell and therefore have no reason to pick it up.

It’s not a new idea, because pubs, bars and student unions are flooded with “edgy, cool, underground” magazines all the time, usually made by Magazine Publishing students. Going for print alongside web brings in large overheads – and bootstrapping becomes harder.

2. WorldTV: a video website that showcases the best films about “the issues which matter.”

This website pays to licence video journalism pieces from around the world and put them into one place. They’re after films about “under-reported” issues for example Darfur, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.  It will also allow users to upload their own video which gets voted on by other users. The site will have an “international feel” and be for people who “really care about politics”.

It won’t work. Why?

It’s a noble idea – but why would you want to visit this site? Again, WorldTV suffers from a poor grasp of a well-defined target audience. It is probably aiming for young people around the world, but again they are incredibly diverse. No-one will feel a need to register and therefore hopes of building an active community will fall through. The films themselves are likely to be long, worthy affairs and bore most people after two minutes.

The site wants to pay for video commissions, and so will need to cough up cash to video journalists. It may get some venture capital at first, but the rates will steadily slip from $800 to $500 to $200, to nothing.  Viewing figures will be low: creating something worthwhile and expecting the masses to come is a poor business model.

3. DoleItOut: a multimedia magazine for unemployed people in Birmingham

DoleItOut is a regularly updated multimedia website for people out of work in the Birmingham area of the UK. As well as feature interviews and interactives about life on the dole, it also has plenty of video advice guides on how to find work, video diaries and an active forum. Plans are underway to develop an iPhone app.

It won’t work. Why?

Hurrah! Finally an idea with a well defined target audience! Problem is they’re a bad target audience for running a business. Why? Because they got no money. If the editors of DoleItOut were hoping their readers would pay a minimal subscription they’d be wrong. Advertising is possible, but you’ll be left selling ads for evil loan sharks and 1000% loans. And what unemployed person can afford an iPhone app?

The idea also struggles with question 13 of the startup checklist – it doesn’t really scale. Although it’s good to be geo-specific, are there really enough unemployed people in Birmingham?

Too many news startup ideas fail because they take an upside down approach. Journalists think of a product and then decide who to make it for.  Instead you need to define your audience first – and then ask “what do they need?”.

Have you checked out the News Startup Checklist yet?

Photo Credit: Curious_Zed on Flickr

Idea 005: the digital magazine

Posted in Ideas for the future of news by Adam Westbrook on December 17, 2009

In Ideas for the Future of News I’m collecting positive, tangible, practical examples of business models, products and content which could pave the future.

To catch up on previous ideas, head to the Ideas for the Future of News page.

Idea 005: Mag+ concept

By: Berg London and Bonnier R&D

Magazines have a value above newspapers: people don’t just read the words, they buy them for the amazing photographs, lifestyle statements, and sometimes just because it looks great on the coffee table.

Magazines will be revolutionised by technology – but in a really positive way. For proof, see the work of Berg London and Bonnier R&D.

They’ve had a really good think about how future e-readers (like the much mooted Apple Tablet) could work with magazines – and crucially they have started with the benefits of magazines and worked from there. As the creaters explain:

“The concept aims to capture the essence of magazine reading which people have been enjoying for decades: an engaging and unique reader experience in which high quality writing and stunning imagery build up immersive stories.”

They’ve looked not at the e-readers themselves, but how magazine layouts should adapt to them. They have created, I think, a very enjoyable reading experience, which will add huge value to magazines.

“We don’t want to interrupt the core reading experience,” says Jack Shulze from Berg, “we’re very keen to make sure the UI doesn’t get in the way of the experience – it’s not covered in buttons.”

It’s 8 minutes long, but I highly recommend you watch this video, a demo of Mag+ in action.

(Hat tip: Hull Digital)

A business model?

Could the e-reader provide a financial saviour for magazines? In short, yes. For two reasons: firstly, as I mentioned they add extra value to the magazine itself. The experience of scrolling through pages on a touch screen is so enjoyable, people may buy mags just for that.

And more importantly people will pay to download an electronic magazine and experience it on these e-readers.  They won’t pay to view the content on a website.

Berg London and Bonnier R&D’s ideas are very new, but magazine owners should waste no time in chasing this concept and making it a reality. Newspapers too need to wake up to the possibilities and ask how the Mag+ concept could help them.

Their success though depends on the readers themselves. Who will make them and how much will they cost? Magazines will need to think about subscription models again, but that shouldn’t be too hard as that’s how many magazines make money anyway. And how will you download the content? Will it take long?

But these creases will no doubt be ironed out over the next two to three years.

As well as keeping current magazines afloat, they could also inspire a new generation of magazines, and most importantly keep journalists in business doing what they do best: writing great content and presenting it with great designs and pictures.