Populist movements don't build themselves ...

... It doesn't matter what the "horse race" outcome of the campaign is, if we fight the campaign. Fighting it, we learn how to fight. Learning how to fight political battles, we become citizens again. Becoming citizens again, we reclaim the Republic that lies dormant beneath the bread and circuses of modern American society.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

What can Newspaper Reporting learn from Yuricon? ...

Join the conversation out in the blogosphere: Published at Docudharma, cross-posted to ProgressiveBlue, Daily Kos, MLW, European Tribune

Burning the Midnight Oil for Breaking the Silicon Cage

... and Yuri Monogatari 6?

Yuri ... a micro-niche market
Yuri Monogawho?

Yuri Monogatari 6 is the latest issue of the annual anthology of "yuri" themed short comics, published by ALC, the publishing arm of Yuricon, a group that promotes yuri anime and manga through an annual convention ... Yuricon ... as well as publishing yuri works.

And, for those with little or no contact with Japanese manga and anime culture ... what is yuri?

According to The Mighty Wikipedia:
... the term yuri is used in Japan to mean the depiction of attraction between women (whether sexual or romantic, explicit or implied) in manga, anime, and related entertainment media, as well as the genre of stories primarily dealing with this content

Or, as it explained on the Yuricon website:
Yuri can be used to describe any anime or manga series (or other thing, i.e., fan fiction, film, etc.) that shows intense emotional connection, romantic love or physical desire between women. Yuri is not a genre confined by the gender or age of the audience, but by the *perception* of the audience. We can, if we want to, differentiate between shounen yuri - written by men for a primarily male audience; shoujo yuri - written by women for a primarily female audience and; what we at Yuricon like to think of as "pure" yuri - written by lesbians for a lesbian audience...but it's still all yuri.

In short, yuri is any story with women in love (or lust) with other women.

Now, manga and anime is a niche market in the United States. And yuri is a relatively small niche within that niche. And further, much of the yuri is puerile garbage peddling fantasies of HAWT lesbo SEX to teenage boys, so the kind of yuri that Yuricon celebrates and promotes in its publications, well, that's a niche in a niche in a niche.

A micro-niche, if you will.

To get more of a tease of what Yuri Monogatori is, Yuricon has a trailer for its manga:

Why does newspaper reporting need to learn lessons?

So, why should newspaper reporting be out looking to learn lessons?

The big challenge facing newspaper journalism is reasonably straightforward: the basic newspaper business model is broken and unfixable, and the large majority of newspapers built on the current model are going to go bust. As Clay Shirky said in Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable:
If you want to know why newspapers are in such trouble, the most salient fact is this: Printing presses are terrifically expensive to set up and to run. This bit of economics, normal since Gutenberg, limits competition while creating positive returns to scale for the press owner, a happy pair of economic effects that feed on each other. ...
For a long time, longer than anyone in the newspaper business has been alive in fact, print journalism has been intertwined with these economics. The expense of printing created an environment where Wal-Mart was willing to subsidize the Baghdad bureau. This wasn’t because of any deep link between advertising and reporting, nor was it about any real desire on the part of Wal-Mart to have their marketing budget go to international correspondents. It was just an accident. Advertisers had little choice other than to have their money used that way, since they didn’t really have any other vehicle for display ads.
The competition-deflecting effects of printing cost got destroyed by the internet, where everyone pays for the infrastructure, and then everyone gets to use it. And when Wal-Mart, and the local Maytag dealer, and the law firm hiring a secretary, and that kid down the block selling his bike, were all able to use that infrastructure to get out of their old relationship with the publisher, they did. They’d never really signed up to fund the Baghdad bureau anyway.

Now, that raises two problems. For people that work in the industry, or own stock in the industry, or sell supplies to the industry, well, they get to join the large queue of people with a stake in the country getting off its three decade long "kill industries off" kick and starting to develop new industries.

There is, however, the social problem as well:
Print media does much of society’s heavy journalistic lifting, from flooding the zone — covering every angle of a huge story — to the daily grind of attending the City Council meeting, just in case. This coverage creates benefits even for people who aren’t newspaper readers, because the work of print journalists is used by everyone from politicians to district attorneys to talk radio hosts to bloggers. The newspaper people often note that newspapers benefit society as a whole. This is true, but irrelevant to the problem at hand; “You’re gonna miss us when we’re gone!” has never been much of a business model. So who covers all that news if some significant fraction of the currently employed newspaper people lose their jobs?

I don’t know. Nobody knows. We’re collectively living through 1500, when it’s easier to see what’s broken than what will replace it. The internet turns 40 this fall. Access by the general public is less than half that age. Web use, as a normal part of life for a majority of the developed world, is less than half that age. We just got here. Even the revolutionaries can’t predict what will happen.

That's why newspaper journalism needs to be out learning lessons from somebody ... because the old model in which economies of scale led to an incentive to have a sufficient pool of journalists on tap able to cover the big stories when they break, to protect the local market from incursion ... that model is breaking down, and can't be rescued.

OK ... so why might there be lessons to learn from a microniche publisher? Well, because that's what a lot of newspaper journalism addresses. The local reporters covering City Hall and local sports and local events ... those are addressing the interest of a fraction of a local "audience for news". And while the "big stories" with bigger niche audiences are likely to continue being covered by the surviving national newspapers ... its the smallest audiences that face the greatest risk of losing the journalism addressing their interests.

Five Things Niche Companies Do Right

I am going to quote Erica Friedman at length, so to keep it in something like reasonable bounds, I am going to tell you to go, read, and think about Five Things Niche Companies Do Wrong, to understand what the following list means: (1) Don't Plan; (2) Fear Change; (3) Forget to Communicate; (4) Listen to People; (5) Don't Listen to Good Advice. They are all good ... even if #4 might sound surprising at first hearing, when you catch what it means, its excellent advice.

But for the current topic, more to the point is what niche companies do right.

Treat Consumers like Friends

One of the undeniable facts about fandoms over general consumer markets is that your consumers are the "fans" of the product. They will act as if they have a personal stake in the product ...

As a niche company, we have the right and the power to be friendly with our consumers - to talk to them when they come into the store or up to a table at an event, or get emails from them, and respond personally. If we truly engage with the fans, they will feel even *more* involved with the product and if they like it, they will spread the word.

Now, before you say, the reporter that acts this way will never have time to get work done ... don't overlook a key point. Be friendly with our consumers. Paying customers. The question is not whether a newspaper reporter in a post-newspaper world will have the time to take away from their reporting to interact with their paying customers ... but whether they will have time to report if they don't.

Be flexible

When the standard methods lead to a shrinking market, looking way outside your comfort zone is the best way to grow.

Recently, all the press has been on the young teen female readers, but you know, manga's already done there. ...

So, when while every company is scrambling to be the next Twilight, which is already a bad idea, Viz announced a bunch of licences at NY Comic Con that appealed to a more mature readership. And, I am assured, are mostly off-beat and unusual.

This is the company that made the tween/teen manga world explode here with utterly banal, insansely popular Shounen Jump and Shoujo Beat magazines. And now, all of a sudden, they are looking to more mature manga? Why? They had a winning formula! Because young people grow up and if you have a 15 year old, in a few years, that kid is not gonna want to read about 15-year old ninjas anymore. Viz took the leap out of the typical, to the real *next* audience. Adults. I have no doubt at all that it will be successful.

Newspaper reporting is a team exercise ... different reporters go collect different information, editors look over the writing and material, etc. Will the successful formula for engaging in newspaper reporting outside the confines of a newspaper involve the precise same roles and the conventional division of responsibilities? Quite possibly not. It may have to be a more flexible team, with more fluid division of responsibilities.

Without the flexibility to experiment in new ways of doing things, the successful new ways of doing things will not emerge.

Listen to feedback

Provide instant response to a market change, then let people know you heard them.

Nozomi/Right Stuf announced this crazy idea. They were going to license a completely, utterly, shoujo title. ... was about a bunch of girls who go to a private school, where nothing really happens. ...

But Right Stuf knew that this particular fandom was built by a few key entities who actually encouraged purchase, so they took the risk and licensed Maria-sama ga Miteru. Now here's the thing. They did a subtitles-only release, because it seemed obvious that the majority of the consumers wanted that over a dub. But when word of the subtitling started to spread, fans expressed concerns about the specific handling of honorifics and titles used in the story. RS was deluged with requests and entreaties for a non-tranlslated handling of the titles. And, they listened. Think about that. They changed the way they did their releases because fans asked politely for a different option. And they let the fans know - immediately. They didn't keep fans guessing, they jumped right on it and responded with "We heard you! We'll do it!" I can think of a number of issues that have *not* been addressed after waves of fan mail, but this is the first time I've seen an almost instant response of this magnitude.

This is where the "newspaper reporting without newspapers" is going to have a jump over the hold-out remnants of the old order ... if they choose to take it. They will be finding some way to sell reporting to a small niche of people willing to pay for reporting. They will be operating without the massive capital overhead of a printing press. They will be operating for the most part without the legacy of a decades or centuries old masthead.

But they will be able to get much more immediate feedback from their subscribers / viewing audience / (whatever) ... and if they treat it appropriately (and see "Don't Listen To People" in the companion piece linked to above), they will have access to information about their market that they couldn't buy even if they could afford to.

IOW, this is "small, warm blooded mammals scurrying around the undergrowth while the Dinosaurs keel over dying" time, and part of the scurrying is the listening to feedback.

Reward engagement

Everyone wants to be a hero. I claim my own Okazu blog as best of breed in this. I love the fact that you, my readers, are so engaged. I started the Wish List as a result of *your* emails and comments, asking if you could help support Okazu. And I know that people want to be heros. Well - you are my heros. And so I created the "Okazu Hero" roll and sent you badges to let you and anyone who drops by this blog, that I consider you all my heros.

The result? I can't keep items on my freaking wishlist! You all are so crazy generous, I have 4 piles of things to read and watch and review here, and 5th building. I didn't give you a free car - but I let you know you are my heros. And honestly, that's all anyone ever wants.

(BTW, I'm an Okazu Hero ... not a Super-Hero, but a Hero, nonetheless ... and in any event, its best if our reach exceeds our grasp.)

Talk about opportunities and benefits to rewarding engagement ... in many cases, the people interested enough in a micro-niche of news will be people who also have tips to pass on.

Indeed, this is one element that many newspaper reporters will already have to a certain extent. On the one hand, the sources who are willing to offer insight into an issue in return for getting their name, position, and company or university in print. On the other hand, the sources who do not want their name to appear but want the story to get out.

But perhaps as newspaper reporting breaks free of the printing press, ways will need to be found to leverage the idea further.

There is also, of course, the flipside ... the issue of conflict of interest. If we are lucky, those "reporting teams without a printing press" that are rewarding people for helping get the story out will be rewarded by their audience with a broader market ... but human nature being what it is, the potential for conflicts of interest is something to keep an eye out for.

There is one area where the conflict of interest is likely to be least intense ... and that is marketing. The reward of a membership (or whatever) that one would ordinarily have to pay for, in return for help with marketing ... that is a reward that is of the most interest with precisely those one wants to have help marketing the product.

Go with your gut

Recently on LinkedIn, I answered a question. The person asked what he should do now that the result of a market feasibility study had proved that his concept wasn't going to work. In short, I told him that consumers rarely know what they want until after it exists. (Quick, summarize your favorite series, and synopsize it. Now tell someone about it. Would you have wanted it with that description? Probably not.) So, he had two choices - to rethink everything based on a market feasbility study, or to go with his gut. Both would be equally as risky, but only one would make him happy.

ALC Publishing is a boutique publisher, which focuses on bringing doujinshi Yuri artists to the view of the reading audience. We're not trying to license Strawberry Panic. My gut tells me that when other companies are long gone, we'll still be around, because we don't do alot - but we do what *I* love and many people have come to love it as well. That's all we ever wanted, so...I'm going with my gut.

This is one area where a lean, trim, reporting team (speaking in terms of organizational structure, of course) can benefit strongly by breaking free of the corporate ownership of the masthead and the printing press. They have the freedom to go with their gut. Sure, they have to argue it out with their fellow team members ... but in terms of the strength of the story, rather than in terms of whether it will help the corporation get 30% profits (and it wasn't so long ago that newspapers were cash cows that had reporters sacked to get profits up to dizzying levels, rather than simply to stay alive, as today).

So, in the end, I'm thinking there may be a lesson or two for newspaper reporting to learn from a microniche publisher, if it wants to survive the demise of the newspapers themselves.

Full Disclosure

There is circularity in this post, since if I link to the ALC site that is selling Yuri Monogatori site, while discussing it, in a social networking site that I use, I get 5 points. Include the Trailer, I get 10 points (not extra ... a total of 10 points). So with the three postings of this diary, I earn 30 points. Now, with 50 points comes a free copy of Yuri Monogatori 6.

While I will buy the anime that I like the most, I am not in the habit of reading manga. However, the prospect of a free copy ... that is something that is hard to pass up. So if anyone can hustle up the missing 20 points in additional social networking sites ... it doesn't have to be blogs, it could be whatever social networking site that you frequent ... and its a legit posting, why, I reckon that together we can earn a copy.

Heck, I'll even let the person who finishes the missing 20 points get the manga shipped to them. How's that for generous?

Anyway ... "Reward Engagement" in action. Erica practices what she preaches.

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