Friday, September 28, 2012

BPN 1611: Dutch Book publisher VBK independent again

The Dutch book publisher Veen Bosch & Keunig (VBK) will be split off the holding company NDC/VBK per November 1, 2012. The company will become the largest independent publishing company of general books in the Netherlands. The company has been bought by the management, interested employees, while the ING Bank has taken a minority share. VBK had been put on the market since March of this year.

The move is the logical consequence of the decision made by NDC/VBK to split up the company in three independent activities: daily newspapers, house-to-house newspapers and books.  The decision meant to be the end of a dream. NDC has been a rich publishing company in the North of the Netherlands. In 2001 NDC bought the book publishers VBK. Due to the economic dip first the newspapers experienced acquisition problems with advertisements and the book publishers with the sales of books.

In 2007 the newspaper and book holding NDC/VBK bought the educational publishing company Thieme Meulenhoff from PCM and combined it with its own educational division, Veen Bosch & Keuning-educational. The new combination had 400 employees and an annual turn-over 100 million euro.The move to make VBK independent will most likely have consequences for Thieme Meulenhoff.
Per September 1, 2012 VBK has sold to ePagine. This Belgian company will take a majority in the company, while VBK will keep a minority share. VBK had already concluded that the retail activities did not fit with the VBK publishing activities, despite the fact that has a market share of 10 per cent of Dutch language eBook sales. ePagine is already some years active in the eBook segment and cooperated with ePagine is part of Tite Live, a company with a turn-over of 10 million euro and about 100 employees.

Friday, September 21, 2012

BPN 1610: Social media not history proof

The history of digital media (mind you not digitised media like e-books) has been the subject of many a posting on this blog. There are several posting complaining about the lack of heritage of digital content and installations. Hardware is being saved on a regular basis, but not so with content related artefacts such as e-mail correspondence, databases, sites and these days blogs, Facebook messages and tweets. This week I saw support from an unexpected source.

My dear friend Andy Carvin (see photograph) drew my attention with a Facebook message to a study of Hany SalahEldeen and Michael Nelson at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, who checked to see how much of the material of the Arab spring was still alive and quantified the material or what was left of it. And the result was startling. In fact they demonstrated that history is vanishing from the web, especially as recorded by social media such as Twitter. The statement is proven by a study on the Egyptian uprising and other world events. The researchers claim that 30 per cent of the recorded history shared over social media has disappeared. The study was highlighted in a recent post by the Physics arXiv blog.

The uprising in Egypt started on 25 January 2011 that eventually led to the overthrow of the country’s president and the first free elections. In this uprising social media were paramount in organising protests and spreading news.

By now curators have finally started to store the calls for protest and news items. Not surprisingly, a significant proportion of the websites that this social media points to has disappeared. And the same pattern occurs for other culturally significant events, such as the swine flu virus outbreak, Michael Jackson's death and the Syrian uprising. In other words, history, as recorded by social media, is slowly leaking away.
SalahEldeen and Nelson looked at six significant world events between June 2009 and March 2012. They checked the tweets about the events and looked for URLs they pointed to, to see whether the content was still available on the web in its original form or in an archived form.

And yes, they found an almost linear relationship between time and the percentage lost.  No less than 11 per cent of the social media content had disappeared within a year and 27 per cent within 2 years. Projecting these results to important daily social events, SalahEldeen and Nelson say the world loses 0.02 per cent of social media material every day. You can wave this percentage away and point at the many irrelevant gs, messages, tweets and retweets, but it also means 0,02 per cent of the relevant social material. These can total up to 30 per cent of the recorded history shared over social media

It’s not clear from the research why the missing information disappeared, but it’s likely that in many cases blogs have simply shut down or moved, or news stories have been archived by providers who charge for access (something that many newspapers and other media outlets do to generate revenue).
Although the Virginia researchers didn’t deal with the cause of disappearance as part of their study, a related problem is that much of the content that gets distributed through Twitter—not just websites that are linked to in Twitter posts, but the content of the posts themselves—is difficult and/or expensive to get to. Twitter’s search is notoriously unreliable for anything older than about a week, and access to the complete archive of your tweets is provided only to those who can make a special case for needing it, such as my friend Andy Carvin of National Public Radio (who is writing a book about the way he chronicled the Arab Spring revolutions). Recently an external service called Gnip provides access to the full archive of Twitter content,  which it provides to companies for a fee. And Twitter-based search-and-discovery engine Topsy also has an archive. But neither can be easily linked to for research or historical archiving purposes. The Library of Congress also has an archive of Twitter’s content, but it isn’t easily accessible, and it’s not clear whether new content is being added.

Besides not carefully curating digital content in practice, digital media producers and consumers show any interest in saving digital artefacts. Recently my business partner Hans Sleurink pointed me to an analysis of Neil Postman in his book Technopoly. He is convinced that technology has served human values throughout several historical development stages. But in the 20e century technology has become so dominant that a reversal has taken place. Technology increasingly determines what human values are instead of supporting. In other words: the printing press brought democracy; internet brings ubiquity, but per se not respect, as signs and bracelets bearing the message of respect spring up all over.

Monday, September 03, 2012

BPN 1609: One Dutch freesheet in the future

Last week the Telegraaf Media Group (TMG) announced the acquisition the freesheet Metro. TMG  already owns the freesheet, Sp!ts, since the launch of Metro in The Netherlands on June 21, 1999. TMG claims to keep both freesheets alive.

Why Metro was sold
Metro Holland had a turn-over in 2011 of 23.4mln euro. Its EBIT in 2011 was 451,000 euro (2%), a sharp decline as in 2010 Metro Holland still recorded an EBIT of 3.6mln euro (15%). The present goodwill of the brand is 3.6mln. This decline is due to the dip in the advertisements, which is being felt by all Dutch newspapers, paid or free. Besides the freesheet market has reached its saturation in The Netherlands.
Another reason for selling off the Dutch Metro is the strategy by Metro worldwide to sell off in the European titles and invest in Latin America, where the freesheet market is still growing. Editions have been launched in Guatemala, in Peru, Colombia, Mexico, Brazil, while an  edition in Argentina is being planned.

Is TMG allowed to buy the Dutch Metro
The Dutch Netherlands Competition Authority (NMa) has not yet been asked to look at the acquisition. It looks like the TMG did its homework. If both companies have a turn-over of more than  30 mln euro, the companies should inform the NMa. Both companies should have more than 113.450.000 euro in turn overs, before they are obliged to inform the NMa. The turn-over of the Dutch Metro had only been 23,4mln euro in 2011, so the NMa does not need to be informed so far, unless the turn-over of 2012 is dramatically higher.

Two freesheet titles in one company
There are few newspaper publishing companies in The Netherlands who liked to acquire a freesheet. The Belgian/Dutch Pressgroup already indicated not to be interested in freesheets. They had their try in 2008 with the launch of De Dag. Wegener terminated the freesheet De Pers in March of this year after failing to get sufficient advertisement volume. So why should TMG acquire  the Dutch Metro and keep both titles alive?
TMG immediately stated, that Metro would stay as an independent title. In fact one of the TMG managers stated that the differences between Metro and Sp!ts would increase. The advantages of the acquisition would be in the common printing, distribution and sales of advertisement.  And as TMG is the only one in the freesheet market, it can up the prices of the advertisements, the management stated.

Just a question of time
The arguments by TMG to acquire Metro sound reasonable, but are just cosmetic. If TMG wanted to create a difference between its own freesheet Sp!ts and another freesheet, it should have acquired De Pers; it probably would have been cheaper than Metro. Sp!ts is a throwaway freesheet, while De Pers had content. Now TMG has two throwaway freesheets, of which Sp!ts is the stronger brand. It will just be a question of time that TMG will kill one of the freesheets as both will go for the same advertisements and the editorial content will hardly differ.

IMHO, before 2015, Metro will be killed off and Sp!ts will survive as the only Dutch freesheet as there are not enough advertisements budgets with the ad companies and not enough budget for two editorial staffs of throwaway freesheets.