Tagged: WBUR

Food blogger business models and zero calorie cupcakes

Tonight the estimable Ken George, social media powerhouse at WBUR and impresario of Public Radio Kitchen, hosted a food blogger microconference in the lunchroom of the station.  I suppose I was a bit of an impostor, as limeduck is only about 30% about food, but I was witness to and participant in some good discussion with some great people.

The event had four tracks – food blogging 101, food photography, monetizing a food blog, and blogging and the food media.  I had planned to float, but once things got going in the monetization group, I had to stay.  Here are links to some of the blogs of the discussants:

  • Boston Food Mom Examiner
  • Cake and Commerce (I love that name), “one girl’s salt is another girl’s fleur de sel”
  • Carrots N Cake, who believes that “…’bad’ foods can be part of an overall healthy diet.”
  • Cave Cibum (“beware the food”)
  • The Conscious Kitchen, about “cultural, environmental, historical and social aspects of food, and a dedication to ethical consumption.”
  • Curcumari, “…the blog recreates that landscape of color, flavors and aromas through my ongoing conversation with people who produce, make and savor food.”
  • Kosher Camembert, where I not that long ago got some great info about vegetarian chorizo, modestly described as “A want-to-be cook who reads cookbooks like novels.”
  • North Shore Dish, “a guide to noshing north of Boston”
  • Value the Meal, “your online spot for news, analysis, and action on the abuses of global fast food corporations” operated by Corporate Accountability International.
  • I’m missing many more, but too few had cards and I was a lousy note-taker.  My apologies.

Some quick notes on the discussion of monetization of food blogs:

A blog is not a business model. Many at the table were engaging in labors of love and trying to figure out a way to “at least pay for the dinners we eat” or cover hosting costs.  Most did not aspire to make a living blogging and few if any could imagine how that might come to pass.

The primary route to money for a food blogger seems to be advertising, usually from ad networks like Google’s or specialists like BlogHer and FoodBuzz.  Success seemed mixed in this group, and there were issues with the suitability of the ads, especially in blogs with particular geographies or restricted dietary focus.  I have to say, I expect the ad market to get worse, not better as more and more passionate content providers chase fewer and fewer actual buyers, and going door to door to sell local merchants your ad space doesn’t look too good either.

A secondary method that got only a little airtime was the use of affiliate programs like that at Amazon.com to make referral fees on purchases made via clicks on the blog.  This seems to have more potential upside to me, but it still remains to be seen if people in the mood to read reviews or recipes are also in the mood to buy books or gadgets.

Direct selling was also low on the list, as most bloggers want their content widely read and don’t see a lot of potential in subscription revenue.  I think they’d be wise to build a huge readership before trying to charge for anything, but there might be room for some freemium services if the blog is specialized enough or the information is valuable enough.  Those offering real scientifically based nutritional information or recipes geared for various dietary restrictions seem to have the best shot here.

Nobody seemed to think that individual recipes could be sold, but there was some faith (I’m skeptical) that cookbooks could be sold as ebooks or possibly print-on-demand.  I already see a glut of cookbooks and food magazines on top of a huge volume of free recipes online and off coming from the food blogosphere itself, and also from food vendors from farm markets to upscale restaurants.

Even those not seeking riches from food blogging admitted to getting product or perks once in a while from manufacturers or restaurants, but nobody would cop to this being a real motivator, and some felt conflicted about accepting gifts or writing about them while maintaining independence.

In short, I’m not bullish on most food bloggers even covering their costs (I sure don’t, and I run this joint on the cheap to say the least), but I still believe that food blogs can be great marketing vehicles for real food businesses.  It’s a crowded market with little cost to enter or compete, and there’s pressure from mainstream media and larger online players too.  I hope I’m wrong on this, because I’d hate to lose this rich soup of blogs, but in case I’m right, I’d advise food bloggers to find out what besides a blog you have to offer.

Full moon brings tweets out to WBUR

It’s rare that I know something about social media that C.C. Chapman doesn’t, but earlier this evening I left the third WBUR social media get-together and saw this tweet.

So, for C.C. and others, let me set the context.  WBUR‘s social media guy, Ken George, called the third WBUR tweet-up, the usual informal social media gabfest with the added lure of a tour of the station.  I was lucky enough to be in on the first such event, but missed the second. I hope C.C. can join us for one in the future.

The discussion was pretty free-flowing, and I’m sure it flowed even freeer when the crew decamped to the bar, but I’ll try to mention some of the interesting people and themes I noticed.

David Boeri, host of WBUR’s Radio Boston, kicked things off with a discussion of using twitter and other social media to source stories or find trends and ideas as they bubble up.  He came with an attitude of “beginners mind” and probably left with a headache.  The crowd was eager to help, but I’m not sure if even those of us swimming in new media fully understand what it is we’re in the midst of.  As one said, “I have over 800 followers [on twitter] and I have no idea why.”

A soft-spoken woman named Angie mentioned an event called Courteous Mass, a reaction to the sometimes controversial Critical Mass, but specifically committed to obeying traffic laws (in contrast to the “corking” through red lights common to Critical Mass) and being nice to both pedestrians and drivers while celebrating urban bike-riding. Bravo, I say.  As a pedestrian and a driver, I find the behavior of many cyclists unnerving and reckless while wishing that more people could safely ride bikes in the city.

Manifest Magazine is a twice-monthly free magazine about “ordinary people with extraordinary experiences” delivered, oddly to my mind, in PDF via a blog.  The creator of the magazine spoke of his use of “most favorited” searches to find interesting and up-and-coming authors and interview subjects.  Worth a look, as I’m sure will be whatever this gentleman does next.

On the way home, I walked over the BU bridge and watched the moon peek in and out of the clouds.

What wood you say is the future of radio?

One time, at podcamp, somebody stood up and talked about how her business – an art gallery – had invited local art bloggers over one night for a gallery tour and general chat, and about how this had been a wildly successful PR and community-building exercise. If any gallerists are reading, I suggest you take note. And if any expensive restaurants or clothing stores would like to try this, please do get in touch with me right away.

Yesterday, I got just such an invitation from one of my favorite institutions, WBUR-FM, an NPR station that is more or less permanently tuned on my home and car radios. The good people of WBUR have had the foresight to invest in new media initiatives, including the excellent blog, The ConverStation, ably helmed by Ken George, to which I referred earlier.

Ken invited local bloggers and social media types through facebook, twitter, and maybe even personal invitations, and despite biblical weather, about 15-20 people showed up for a tour of the station, networking, chatting and eventually, eating and drinking. See the WBUR socials flickr group for some not very incriminating photos.

What the heck is that, you ask? It’s a beautiful wooden sound baffle, on the wall of the engineering room next to one of the air studios at BUR. Reminds me of old type-sorting cases. I totally want one. You can see it with more context in the background of some of the flickr pics. Each box is few inches across and has a different depth, turning it into an acoustic black hole, especially at the lower frequencies. Bass checks in, but it doesn’t check out.

Unfortunately, this might be a metaphor for the future of public radio in a digital, on-demand world. Here are some thoughts from the free-wheeling discussion after the tour. I’m sure a lot more was batted around at the bar after, but I had to cut out early for dinner.

Everybody agreed that we all love NPR programming, and eveybody agreed that we all hate pledge time. Some even hate underwriting announcements, and they’re about as painless as ads can be. I learned that NPR underwriting messages cannot include any call to action or any mention of competition or offers. Sadly, this helps confirm why as a marketer, I consider underwriting to be a donation that makes the executives feel good, not a marketing program that drives business.

So what does a roomful of smart social media types say about this? Some suggested that they’d be happy to pay for an ad-free (no underwriting, no pledge driving) audio stream or podcast on a subscription basis. I’ll leave the logistics of pay per podcast – and what to put in the stream gaps left by excluding the pledge drives – to the techies. This hints at the basic problem the old commercial (or pledge) system has: you can’t fast-forward TV or radio, but you sure can fast-forward a podcast. Actually, with TiVo and the like, you can fast-forward TV, and I think there’s something similar for radio.

The next idea that circulated was wondering if people would pay for individual programs by subscription, or individual episodes on demand. This led to discussion of whether public radio looks at how much pledge money comes in from different shows (they do) and whether the pledge-per-show model might let some shows float themselves and others that can’t pay their bills just dry up and die.

I opined that the very premise of public radio was that some kinds of programming could not support themselves in the market, but had such redeeming qualities that it was in the national interest to subsidize them. The elitist and paternalistic nature of public radio is at odds with the both tough-love capitalism and the populism (Diggocracy?) of the internets. Ouch. I guess we really are all batch of quiche-eating prius drivers.

I bet that lots of public radio shows could be commercially viable: Car Talk, Prairie Home Companion, and even This American Life come to mind. (Not all examples are WBUR shows, and NPR syndication is a bit piece of the puzzle here that I’m going to skip for brevity) But what about the stuff that they are essentially subsidizing, Con Salsa, RadioLab, and most of the news? On the one hand, the low, low price of internet distribution could put some of those shows back in the black if they could avoid sharing the big fixed costs of terrestrial radio production and distribution. But on the other hand, dropping those shows from the air would likely make them even even less able to raise money, especially if the station cut them off from a share of the pledge pie.

I’m usually all about free marketeering, but for the small slice of my taxes that goes to support cultural stuff, I’m pretty happy to subsidize and then to pay again on top of that. I hope Ken and the WBUR crew can find their way in this brave new world.

Speaking of free and not so free markets, if you have any disposable income left after tithing to public radio, you might look into the latest in expensive wooden radios, the Tivoli Audio NetWorks internet radio, available in cherry, walnut and wenge, pictured below. (Wikipedia says its endangered, Tivoli says sustainably harvested, go figure)

You may recall that I have a thing for wooden radios, and I periodically check in on what’s new in tree-based audio products. I’ve been critical of Tivoli for getting things painfully almost right in the past, and I think this is another one of those. But the release to market of a $600 internet-only (FM radio costs you an additional $50) audio device has got to mean something to the discussion above. Tivoli is pitching hard on the angle that you don’t need a computer to use this thing to listen to hundreds of radio stations from all around the world, you just need an internet connection. If there’s a place where lots of people have high-speed internet but no computer, I must have missed it. Maybe they just mean you could put this radio in a room where you don’t have a computer, like your bathroom. If you need a $600 internet radio in your bathroom, you need more fiber in your diet.

I haven’t seen or heard or touched this device, but I’m going to tell you what I think anyway since I’ve seen and heard and touched many other Tivoli products.

It’s gorgeous – from the waist down. The geometry of the box and the speaker and their colors and materials look great. I love the wenge especially. I recognize that it probably needs a digital display, but couldn’t they come up with something less ugly? I would think that a color screen wouldn’t be hard to pull off at this price point. And maybe you don’t need those two rivets on the display frame? Ick. The credit-card remote looks like it has those awful blister buttons, too. There’s a button or knob on the top of the unit that might – just might – approach the joy of the geared-down knob on the Model One, but sadly, I doubt it.

It’s expensive – I’ve mentioned this a few times and I’m still a bit in shock. For $600 you get a mono internet radio. Other internet radios cost half that. If you already have a computer, you can get speakers for even less. And you have to add $50 more for FM and another $100 for a second speaker for stereo sound. I can’t tell if the second speaker is connected by cable or wireless. Conspicuously absent, an ipod dock. Clearly, this is a premium product, so I say, just take the whole kaboodle up to $800 or $1000 and don’t nickel and dime your premium customers.

It probably sounds great – I really don’t know, but the reviewers seem to like it, and it has some spiffy buffering technology that might reduce the chop of a lousy internet stream. The wooden case bodes well, too.

It’ll be interesting to see how this product goes for Tivoli. If they’re right, there are some people willing to pony up big bucks to get good looks and good sound with internet radio. If they’re wrong, the XM-Sirius monster might eat their lunch, or the internet radio generation will just pass them by. That would be a shame, I think the world needs more and better wooden cases for its electronics.

Globe Corner Blog, BUR Geotagging, Cocktails in Liminal Spaces

The Commander Globe, available at Globe Corner BookstoreAs I contemplate driving 500 miles or so this weekend – more than I’ve driven in a month so far this year, I believe – my mind meanders back to cartographic matters. A random roundup of mappy clippings:

I. The Globe Corner Bookstore has a Blog.
I’ve been an unrepentant fan of GCB for as long as I’ve known about it. One of my first luxury purchases after a period of difficult cashflow was a globe from Globe Corner. When they closed I mourned, when they reopened, I rejoiced. The Globe Corner Blog delivers book reviews, travel tips, and news on a near-daily basis. It’s not as marvelous and awesome as Strange Maps, but it’s pretty cool.

IIa. WBUR’s Charles River flickr Group
I picked up this item via the ever-alert crew at Universalhub: WBUR’s Boston Radio is doing a show on the Charles River, and set up a flickr group for people to post their river pics and geocode them. That’s my kind of thing, so I dusted off some Charles-y pics from last month and uploaded and tagged them. Listen to the podcast and check out the photo map.

I continue to wonder if there’s a way to handle geotagging for pictures that are of a line rather than a point in space.  For example, my Acela collages.  I wonder if I can rig up a useful way to take similar photos as I drive this weekend without being too much of a traffic hazard.

IIb. On Point Radio: How the States Got Their Shapes
For a double dose of WBUR, I was listening in the background as I often do, and suddenly I was hearing a caller ask about an event in the early ’90s when Connecticut Governor John Rowland made an April fools day joke of annexing the small bit of Massachusetts that pokes down into Connecticut so that Mass might then be free to slide into the sea. I was in college in Connecticut at the time and thought that was pretty funny. On Point was doing an entire show on the origins of the peculiarities of the borders of the states. Good stuff. Here’s a pic from wikipedia showing the Southwick Jog aka Granby Notch.

IV. Liminal Spaces Between Cambridge and Somerville
This weekend I was hanging out with LKB and BEM at their Cambridge lair swilling excellent margaritas, and they asked me if I had ever resolved my Somerville parking ticket. I had in fact, not yet heard from the parking authorities of Somerville, but that didn’t stop us from speculating about various kinds of installation art that might be done if we could locate a strip of land claimed by neither Cambridge nor Somerville. I’ll summarize the discussion with “Smallest. Casino. Ever.”