Univision is making original shows for YouTube

Like most publishers in search of social audiences, Univision has its fingers in many platforms, including Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. But to reach younger, search-driven audiences, it’s putting a big focus on YouTube.

In the past month, Univision has launched its first two original shows for YouTube, and it hopes to release more. One is a daily entertainment show called “¿Qué crees?” (“What do you think?”) that usually runs between one and two minutes per episode. The other, “La Polémica” (“The Controversy”), on Mexican soccer, airs every few days and lasts between three and four minutes per episode. Continue reading “Univision is making original shows for YouTube”

The Telegraph finds success with Apple News

Since the Telegraph adapted its paywall model last November, the publisher has become more serious about distributing content to third-party platforms. This is particularly true of Apple News. Since January, Apple News has had the publisher sell ads in Apple News in the U.K.

The Telegraph publishes all content to Apple News. Since April, it has been using Apple News to drive subscriptions to the 20 percent of its content that is premium. The publisher wouldn’t disclose how many subscribers Apple News has driven. The Telegraph’s Apple News channel gets 5 million unique monthly visitors and delivers 70 million monthly ad impressions, according to the publisher. For comparison, CNN said its Apple News content had 36.5 million unique readers last year. Continue reading “The Telegraph finds success with Apple News”

Scribd says it has over 500,000 subscribers paying $8.99/month for ebooks, audiobooks, and now news

Scribd’s $8.99/month subscription service started out with only ebooks. Over time, it’s expanded to audiobooks, sheet music, documents, magazines — and, as of Tuesday, newspapers. “Select articles” from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Guardian, as well as some archival content from the Financial Times, will now be available to Scribd subscribers.

And Scribd says there are quite a lot of subscribers: The service now has over half a million paying subscribers, paying $8.99 a month, and the company is profitable. I was so surprised by the subscriber number that I asked CEO Trip Adler to repeat himself; it’s true, he said: “We have a $50 million revenue run rate.” The San Francisco–based company now has more than 110 employees.

Newspaper content was a “natural addition” for Scribd, Adler said. The most popular forms of the content on the service are, in order, ebooks, audiobooks, and documents. Magazines were added last fall. Scribd used to also include comic books and graphic novels in its service, but stopped including them because there wasn’t enough reader interest. It also switched from a completely unlimited content model to one that offers access to three ebooks and one audiobook per month. (Documents, magazines, and newspapers are unlimited.)

Judging by Scribd’s stated membership numbers, the switch in business model appears to have worked. The numbers seem impressive and are not something that I would have predicted a couple years ago when the ebook subscription site Oyster shut down — especially considering that Amazon keeps adding more reading offerings to Prime.

Scribd won’t be focusing on breaking news from the papers it partners with. Instead, it’s looking for longer, more evergreen content that “fits in with a book kind of experience,” Adler said. “We’re going for the longer-form content that might actually take a few minutes to read, has a longer shelf life, and will be interesting beyond the first day it comes out.” The newspaper content — along with Scribd’s other content — is organized by interest.

Each of the newspapers is making a fixed number of articles available to Scribd; Scribd editors choose which ones to include on the service. Some of the publishers are being paid a flat licensing fee; others are paid by the read.

“People have been talking for a long time about how to monetize journalism and we think we’ve come up with a really interesting answer,” Adler said. The newspapers included for now are the big names that aren’t having as much trouble monetizing as smaller papers, but Scribd may include more papers in the future. “We think, if we can offer all these different newspapers together for one subscription price, we can return more money to journalists that way.”

For sharing a scientific paper, a young researcher faces jail time

“In 2014, Gomez, a wildlife management researcher, ran afoul of US copyright law in what can only be described as the most incidental of ways. Then a master’s student at the University of Quindío in Colombia, Gomez found a thesis in a library that he liked and decided to forward the article to colleagues by sharing it on the website Scribd. That move proved unfortunate. The author of the article claimed that by sharing the paper, Gomez had deprived him of “economic and related rights.”

That assertion is, of course, absurd. The outraged scientist sued under a law governing copyright issues that Colombia created to establish better trade relations with the United States, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which has been advocating on behalf of Gomez. The penalty for the alleged crime: a prison term of as many as eight years. Given that no one was likely to have ever seen the thesis, sitting in a library, and that therefore no one was ever likely to have cited it, it seems like a thank-you note would have been more appropriate than a summons or a cell block.”


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Science publishers try new tack to combat unauthorized paper sharing


“…for the publishing industry, the question of how to enable sharing of paywalled articles without breaching copyright or alienating authors will only grow in significance, says Joseph Esposito, an independent publishing consultant in New York City who works with science publishers and scholarly societies. So far, he says, journal publishers don’t seem to have lost much revenue because of scholarly networks. But publishers will have to adopt new strategies now to avoid “substantial losses” in the near future, he says.”

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In the duopoly’s shadow, Apple News is finding favor with some publishers

If publishers are down on Facebook Instant Articles, they’re increasingly effusive about Apple News as a platform partner.

Apple News, a pre-installed app on Apple phones and tablets, has long been the distant No. 3 in platform publishing initiatives. Introduced in 2015, Apple News didn’t elicit the kind of excitement Facebook got with IA and Google with its Accelerated Mobile Pages. But in recent months, Apple began sending more traffic publishers’ way and letting them sell subscriptions on the news aggregation app. Kunal Gupta, CEO of branded content platform Polar, which works with premium publishers, estimates that for those publishers that are benefiting big, Apple News is supplying 10-15 percent of their mobile traffic.

Platforms have been an uneven source of actual ad revenue to publishers, and Apple News has barely sent publishers any revenue at all. But for publishers that sell subscriptions, Apple News inspires hope because that business is becoming increasingly important as they face more competition for digital ad revenue.

“They’re getting frustrated with the lack of monetization options on [Facebook Instant Articles] and see Apple News as a direct opportunity to gain subscribers which has inherent value,” said Sachin Kamdar, CEO of digital audience analytics firm Parsely.

One optimistic publisher is the USA Today Network, which recently began publishing to Apple News. “We’re having a number of good conversations with Apple,” said Michael Kuntz, svp of digital revenue for the publisher. “Unlike AMP or Facebook instant, we’re talking about incremental audience growth. This isn’t replacing a story we’d have across the web or another platform. This is a chance to reach an entirely new audience.”

Meanwhile, publishers like Mic and The Washington Post have seen that when they invest time and energy in Apple News, Apple returns the favor.

While Facebook might reward stories that have a high propensity for being shared, Cory Haik, publisher of millennial publisher Mic, said service pieces and articles on complex subjects have done well on Apple News and helped grow traffic tenfold in the past six months.

“It’s quickly become one of our most important sources of traffic,” she said. “When we talk about search traffic, we’re always talking about Apple News.”

Mic has one person who spends “a ton” of time on Apple News and a half-dozen others that are “hyper aware” of it. The product head has a standing weekly call with Apple News, “which is a very unique thing,” Haik said. Facebook has taken heat for letting fake news and other questionable content in its news feed. By some accounts, Apple News doesn’t have a partnerships staff on the scale of Facebook or Google’s, but the editorial team it does have is hands-on, regularly updating the app’s story selection and responding quickly to publishers’ pitches via email and Slack.

In the platform panoply, Apple is an unlikely publisher friend. It has a poor track record of helping publishers’ apps get discovered in its mobile app store, and its strong anti-advertising and customer privacy stance runs counter to publishers’ interests.

This year, though, Apple handed over its ad sales effort to NBCUniversal, in a departure from other platforms that have their own internal ad sales teams. Apple News has begun to test some ad sales this way, and is inspiring hope that having an experienced media seller handling that part of the business will bode better for publishers than Apple’s own halfhearted efforts of years past. With NBCU, publishers have a sales partner that knows their business and can relate to their interests. On the Apple side, Apple News in November named a publishing vet, ex-Wenner Media’s David Kang, as senior director of Apple News monetization and strategy.

It was long overdue, but Apple also has finally started having comScore count publishers’ traffic, which is an important prerequisite for them to sell advertising against Apple News traffic.

Apple has a vested interest in keeping publishers happy, of course; like all the big platforms, it needs publishers’ content to some extent if it’s going to keep users in its ecosystem.

Still, Apple News has its shortcomings, especially for publishers that can’t afford to wait for their platform distribution to pay off in revenue. It’s behind other platforms in giving publishers data on how their stories are performing. NBCU’s ad sales haven’t born much fruit yet. In theory, publishers can sell advertising themselves into Apple News, but it’s hard to do so because Apple News hasn’t integrated the DFP server that’s used by most publishers, so they have to use a separate workflow. People who talk to Apple say they’re optimistic the company will fix this in the coming months, though. Apple and NBCU haven’t responded to requests for comment.

While the jury’s still out as to how well Apple or any platform will make money for publishers over time, Kuntz said, Apple has the advantage of learning from the mistakes Facebook made when working with publishers. “Apple is very much committed to approaching this differently from the standpoint of understanding that monetization needs to be part of the equation,” he said.

The post In the duopoly’s shadow, Apple News is finding favor with some publishers appeared first on Digiday.

Money and Unity

Money is known technically as “fungible” — that is, it can be exchanged for nearly anything. For instance, a few hundred years ago, prostitutes could exchange money for indulgences, essentially using sex to buy salvation. A criminal can use money gained by theft to pay for food for his or her child.

Not all transfers are this extreme, but as human inventions go, money is one of the most remarkable. As Yuval Noah Harari writes in his excellent book, “Sapiens”:

For thousands of years, philosophers, thinkers, and prophets have besmirched money and called it the root of all evil. Be that as it may, money is also the apogee of human tolerance. Money is more open-minded than language, state laws, cultural codes, religious beliefs, and social habits. Money is the only trust system created by humans that can bridge almost any cultural gap, and that does not discriminate on the basis of religion, gender, race, age, or sexual orientation. Thanks to money, even people who don’t know each other and don’t trust each other can nevertheless cooperate effectively.

Debt is one expression of money. In recent times, debt has been demonized as unhealthy and worrisome. And, like all things, at a certain intensity or level, this is so. But at a modest or manageable level, it can be beneficial. Because it’s money, debt aligns the interests of people who might otherwise not cooperate. With the musical “Hamilton” bringing the founder of the US banking system to the fore, it’s worth remembering that one of the major steps in unifying the states was to make every state and every citizen responsible for a common federal debt. Not only did this allow the US to borrow at a much higher level than any state or individual could have alone, leading to the rapid emergence of a viable nation, but it aligned the interests of the states in a way no pledge or oath could have.

Trust is the fundamental reason that slip of printed paper in your pocket has value. We believe it to be so, and it is. There is no other reason. Currently, ninety percent of money is intangible, existing only in computers. But more importantly, even in its tangible form, its value is created in the same way as computerized money — by agreement. If we all agree that a currency of a former Eurozone country has no value, it has no value.

This trust system is remarkable on many levels, but it also has a special two-step aspect to it — it’s not that you trust money, but you trust that the other person trusts money, which the other person also assumes, closing the trust loop.

Even events like the hacking of the SWIFT system supporting international banking do little to break this trust system. We distrust the computers and people using them — everything points to a social engineering exploit here — but not money. In fact, the millions stolen from the hack only reinforces the trust in money.

But Sci-Hub and its ilk break our trust in money. Suddenly, rather than a fluid economic system that pays for the work done in the past and for work upcoming, publishers, editors, and professionals supporting book and journal sales can no longer trust that other people will assume their work will be worth anything. While not a breach of trust in money per se, it is a breach of trust in value and a clear disdain for money. The Sci-Hub sympathizers don’t believe that an economic transaction — any economic transaction, even one that provides content for a few cents to users — is defensible when it comes to whatever content or websites they hack.

The damage to the trust system of basic economic value in academic and scholarly publishing may be the most pernicious aspect of the Sci-Hub flap. Again and again, the expenses publishers incur — billions of dollars per year — to manage peer-review, pay editors, pay staff, pay vendors, pay for digital platforms, pay to support archives, and so forth, are pointed at as somehow illegitimate or unworthy of support.

At the same time, Sci-Hub itself has had to raise money to support its stolen cache of content, because of course it has computer, systems, bandwidth, and staff costs.

As I’ve written before, Sci-Hub is a dead end. It makes no economic contribution, and has no economic future. But it represents a fundamental threat to a major human achievement — the ability through money to transform one thing into another. Sci-Hub represents the end of human alchemy. It represents economic death.

In our imaginings of the future, we often envision a world without money. Maybe that will come to pass somehow. But as long as we need to efficiently transform one thing into another through the exchange of common tokens of agreed upon but abstract value, and as long as we seek unity of economic purpose in a way that allows for personal diversity and choice, money in some form will be part of our culture. Those who try to undercut this reality are working against “the apogee of human tolerance.”

Questioning the Sci-Hub Data

Recently, more Sci-Hub IP data were shared (in a highly processed form) and discussed, and like the results in an article in Science, the results are cloudy at best.

Bastian Greshake received results of Sci-Hub matching its IPs associated with downloads with a public (and somewhat outdated) database of institutional IPs. The results suggest less than 8% of the downloads come from academic institutions.

The IP set used as a check against Sci-Hub’s data is itself problematic. IP ranges change quite frequently, so a five-year-old set of publicly available IPs is likely a weak data set to use. It’s akin to checking a lineup of NFL players against rosters from five years ago — with the average NFL career running 3.3 years, you’d expect a low rate of matches. The career of an institutional IP address may be much shorter.

But there remains a more compelling explanation about why these data are flawed. When you combine this latest set of analyses with the Science maps of data nodes, the two findings start to suggest that Sci-Hub does not have actual IPs of downloads in their system, but rather “last user packet” IPs, which would obscure the location of users and substitute exchange nodes, or Internet exchange points. Publishers I’ve spoken with, who have done their own local analyses and spoken with their own IT experts, also believe this to be true.

So, once again, we are left with little idea of who is actually using Sci-Hub. The new data and new analysis only suggest weaknesses in Sci-Hub’s usage data and in its ability to track originating requests, while pointing out a willingness to over-interpret these data. Greshake claims that these data demonstrate that:

. . . we can answer John Bohannon’s question on Who’s downloading pirated papers? with a resounding Academics do for sure!.”

I disagree. We might have to accept that the data generated by Sci-Hub are too imprecise to use for interpretation at that level. The data seem to be imprecise or inaccurate (or both). But one set of facts remains clear — Sci-Hub is a pirate that exploits taxpayers and everyday citizens by stifling growth and leaching away taxpayer-funded research’s direct paybacks; Sci-Hub deceived academic institutions to divulge usernames and passwords that could make them vulnerable to hackers; and Sci-Hub leads nowhere.

The data about who is using it are of questionable quality and importance. What Sci-Hub represents changes not one whit either way.

Sharing or Stagnating?

Sci-Hub continues to make waves, but it really represents a trend that’s hidden in the modern economy — some call it the “sharing economy.” Sci-Hub merely represents an extreme — sharing for no payment.

A recent article in BusinessWeek about Larry Summers’ economic alarms shined a spotlight on a deeper problem within the sharing economy, even that part generating revenues for its participants. In this case, we’re talking about familiar entities such as Airbnb, Uber, and Spotify. These and other of their ilk are weak economic participants for two reasons — they use existing infrastructure (homes and apartments, cars, and wi-fi/music/devices), and they mainly work through software. As Peter Coy writes in BusinessWeek:

. . . the new economy is asset-lite: Companies such as Uber and Airbnb prosper by exploiting assets (cars and houses) that already exist. Software, which is pure information and doesn’t require the construction of factories, accounts for a bigger share of the economy.

The snowball effect is that executives see little upside for big capital-spending projects (new factories, for instance), and keep their money in financial instruments and out of the working economy, further slowing growth. 

In music, the slowdown is made clear with studies showing that artists make more from vinyl sales than from digital sales. Software also allows for a lot of content leakage, and companies like Google/YouTube aren’t motivated to stop this, as another story illustrates

In scholarly publishing, the value contribution in the UK alone is worth £4.4 billion. This includes jobs for parents, careers for professionals, and payments to academic institutions. Sci-Hub puts these contributions at risk, but on a scale which goes far beyond the UK alone. 

Making new things is vital to economic growth. By siphoning off revenues from artists, from publishers, from industries, from hotels, and so forth, we are taking the “low price” economy another notch down on our 40-year-long race to the bottom, a race that has left wages flat for 30 years in the US and led to the painful (and continuing) saga of 2007/08. As Summers argues compellingly, the only way out of this trap is to make major investments in new infrastructure — roads, bridges, buildings, transportation systems — while changing laws to counteract the consolidation of wealth among relatively few firms and individuals.

The recent news that one-third of cash in the US is held by five tech companies (Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, Oracle, and Cisco) underscores the stagnation of technology — there is not enough to make for these companies to reinvest at high levels, so they sit on their cash. This is confirmed by their desire to stash nearly $1.2 trillion in earnings overseas, to avoid paying taxes — if there were investments in research and development that would generate profits sufficient to justify repatriating the money, they’d do it.

That’s the ultimate irony of the sharing economy — we’re sharing what our forebears put in place (homes, infrastructure, the auto industry, the music industry) using software from companies who take our money, then hide it away. No wonder we’re stagnating — the sharing stops there.

The Allure of Monopolies

If you observe discussions about scholarly and academic publishing long enough, you’ll undoubtedly see the term “monopoly” or “monopolist” thrown around recklessly to describe publishers. Why reckless? It flies in the face where the definition meets reality — there are hundreds of scholarly and academic publishers, and seemingly more every day. 

However, judging from behaviors and the embrace of some alternatives, you might find a deeper conflict at work — the fact the users seem to find monopolies satisfying, even useful.

Solutions to the supposed “monopoly power” of publishers — which seems in some cases to stem from the unique content they product — tend to be monopolistic in nature. Some argue that everything should be published on a single site, such as PubMed Central. Other examples of monopolistic models with surprising support include Sci-Hub (which seeks to monopolize the market with pirated articles), and ResearchGate and Academia (which are VC-funded in hopes they can monopolize the market).

Technology tends to drive consolidation to the point of de facto monopolies. Google dominates search. Facebook dominates social. Amazon dominates e-retail and e-books. Microsoft dominates desktop software. And so forth. 

But if technology were the only force at work, this wouldn’t add up. After all, it takes users and customers to make markets, and markets around technology do seem to drift toward monopoly. Part of this is convenience, part of it is limited time for variety (which is mentally and physically taxing), and part of it is cost-consciousness. After all, consolidation usually brings short-term pricing advantages. However, once the consolidation has pushed aside competitors, prices rise swiftly, as we’ve recently seen in the US healthcare market. Monopolists know the game they’re playing — short-term sacrifices for long-term market dominance.

Despite these well-known downsides, monopolies continue to offer attractions — uniform experience, one-stop shopping, and convenience. And so the pendulum swings.

The allure of monopolies — which might be stated as a desire for uniformity, price advantages, and predictability — can also be seen in standards, which deliver many of the same benefits but without commercial objections.

QWERTY is a good non-commercial example of users voting for a single standard for convenience. Even as we’ve moved from typewriters to keyboards to touchscreens, the QWERTY standard has monopolized our input market. Password hackers are able to leverage this to their advantage, as letters that are more naturally reached are more likely to be used in passwords. The inference depends on an assumption of QWERTY monopolizing our typing practices.

Standards help with myriad chores — standard doors lead to standard furniture sizes; standard floor drains lead to standard toilet designs; and standard wireless protocols lead to standard routers. Interfaces need standards to work, whether for plumbing or wi-fi. 

Drive a Toyota, and you are likely going to use the same control cluster no matter the model, a fact that makes the automaker a favorite for predictability as well as more reliable — after all, they have to support fewer standards and parts, and refine those they use so they’re more durable. 

Ultimately, our desire for efficiency — and our rational rejection of endless cognitive burdens — comes with a tendency to embrace standards and tolerate monopolies. The allure of true monopolies in scholarly and academic publishing springs from a desire for one-stop shopping, a desire for convenience, and a desire for simplicity.

The problems with both standards and monopolies is that they eliminate options and alternatives. The breakup of AT&T unleashed a world of alternatives in communications technologies we’re still exploring. New standards had to be developed, many standards were abandoned, and new businesses emerged. In fact, what we now call “AT&T” is a licensed usage of the name by a different company (SBC).

While monopolies may be alluring, they are also dangerous. Navigating a world of options may be more difficult, but ultimately a diverse commercial landscape leads to more innovation and more competition.

Interpreting Sci-Hub Data

The big challenge in data analysis is interpretation, as last week’s release of Sci-Hub usage data showed. While the specific information about articles downloaded is most likely valid and accurate, the IP-level data may have problems, making skepticism our ally. 

The Science article containing the data hinges on the assumed co-location of the main IP bubbles and academic institutions. There has been hand-wringing and point-making aplenty on listservs and online conversations based on this assumed co-location. But if you look for what is not there, your perception of this assumed co-location changes. Major research institutions do not show up. The big bubbles might show something else entirely. For example, where is the University of Wisconsin-Madison? Where is the University of Washington? Where are the Washington, DC, universities (Georgetown, GWU, and American)? 

When you take into account the plumbing of the Internet, those bubbles make more sense. In fact, the IPs reported in Science may only be those contained in the last user packet, not the IPs of the end-user, which means they could be mainly from Internet exchange points, which serve as hubs for major ISPs. This might suggest more usage from the general public or people on commercial Internet subscriptions (Comcast, Verizon, etc.), than on campuses. It doesn’t make interpretation a simple matter. 

To bolster this concern, it appears that some major exchange points correlate very well with the largest download “locations” on the map. The top download municipality in the US (Ashburn, VA) is a major Internet exchange point, operated by Equinix Internet Exchanges. Does it make sense that this little suburban city beats major population/academic centers like New York City or Palo Alto or Washington, DC, in downloads? There is also a major Internet exchange point in Detroit, Michigan, another source that looks bigger than it should if truly mapped to academic centers. Both of these exchange points are among the busiest in the world

Maybe we can’t draw assumptions from this data set so easily.

There is also the major outlier of Iran, which accounts for more downloads than its population would explain. Why? Because after years of economic sanctions, storing things found online is good practice for people in Iran. 

Also, we don’t have data after the major media coverage of Sci-Hub began in March. Did that drive a “hockey stick” of downloads? Change the complexion of the situation? These data in Science are mainly pre-awareness for the larger world of academics. What does that mean? What has changed? 

The Science article frames the downloads as correlated with academic institutions, but perhaps we need to be more skeptical. We don’t know the correlation exists, based on these data. It’s an enticing assumption, and it seems reasonable. But the data don’t appear to support it. 

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