Is the future for radio stations online streaming over the internet?

Is the future for radio stations online streaming over the internet or is there still a place for over the air waves broadcasting?

One of the interesting questions related to advertising for media companies is if the future for radio stations broadcasting over the internet or the traditional business model of broadcasting over the airwaves or a mix of both.

Until the rise of the Internet with broadband connections, all radio stations were over the airwaves with all revenue from advertising spots sold, usually as part of a radio program or specific times of day, in an effort to target specific listeners as potential customers.

Prior to the more recent decades, radio broadcasts were all usually specific broadcast programs with the schedules published in newspapers. As television took market share from radio stations, and listeners, as the television networks really expanded in the 1950s, more and more radio stations turned their business model into a ‘music jukebox’ format and away from set programs or broadcasts.

In the current era, most radio stations are doing one specific format; news radio, talk radio, religious station, music jukebox of a specific genre of music, community radio station, non profit PBS station, etc. On top of all of that, most radio stations are now part of a corporate conglomerate where the programs are all feed to it from a central HQ location. This results in the radio station itself is really nothing more than a transmitter being used for its bandwidth in a specific area and the offices of said radio station mostly vacant of any staff except for an engineer or two to make sure the transmitter is working.

One of the ways to expand the reach of any radio station is to do over the internet broadcasting. This change would allow a radio station to reach anywhere there is an internet connection. The problem for all radio stations in the past for competition for listeners was limited to the transmission range of the radio transmitters. Today, as radio over internet gains in popularity the potential for competitors for all radio stations is any station anywhere in the world that has streaming audio over the internet. With much of the content somewhat generic, there may be little to no differentiation for advertisers except for expected market and reach. i.e. Advertisers will look to pay the least amount per potential realistic customer for their product or service. So a local ice cream shop may get no benefit from one million listeners that are so far away that they would never go to the shop where as a manufacturer that has a web site and ships worldwide could care about such potential customers, could benefit from such listeners and be willing to pay to advertise and reach those potential customers.

One of the interesting mix of both ways to get radio is Emmis Communications Corporation NextRadio app. NextRadio App ). All smart phones can get radio over the internet through specific apps from the station, or internet web site links setup for streaming audio to listeners. NextRadio adds an interesting feature to most smartphones in that the chips within most smart phones have the ability to receive over the airwaves radio broadcasts and the NextRadio app allows one to tune them in.

One important note on Apple iPhones is that many Apple iPhones are not able to do this because, at the moment, Apple has deliberately blocked the receiving of FM signals on the phones. Some people speculate that part of the reason for this deliberate ‘crippling’ of iPhones is that Apple has agreed with the phone carriers to force people to get radio broadcasts on iPhones only by using internet broadband. This boasts peoples usage of data, thereby forcing people to pay more each month for the data plans on their smart phone service.

Over time any media that is available on the internet will need to do or make something so it is not generic with all other media it is competing with, otherwise, eventually, its business model will probably fail.

As an example, let us say I setup a radio station, WLOU, and my business model is to go the broadcast over the internet route. I don’t have any content but I find out how to license and legally play music over station WLOU, and then start to sell advertising. Now, my content is nothing special and anyone else that can get the same music is a competitor that is exactly the same as my station. There is nothing special to differentiate WLOU from any other station. Since WLOU has nothing to differentiate it from any other internet radio station, I can probably only compete by pricing my ad spots as low as possible.

Now let us say things go on like that for a few months, and then I decided to start adding my own commentary or editorials for 10 or 15 minutes every hour, in segments of a few minutes at a time. Now WLOU has something that no one else has, me talking. While it may not be a big draw for listeners, it is SOMETHING that no one else has and no other station can get unless I make an arrangement with them. If people want to listen to my commentary, they have to listen to WLOU, and advertisers may now be willing to ‘pay up’ to advertise on WLOU.

That is the challenge for all media companies; what can my company do that differentiates it from other companies that I compete with, so I get listeners, which then bring advertisers and advertising revenue?

The ‘base of’ any of this problem is listeners; if a media company has listeners, advertisers will follow as long as the pricing is right. If a media company is having problems with revenue then there are two things that need to be done: 1: Unique content or market area that will get listeners/readers/viewers/subscribers 2: Lower the advertising rates to more be in line with the amount and type of listeners/readers/viewers/subscribers the company is getting. As an example, if a radio station can’t sell a 30 second advertising spot at $500 to an advertiser, lower the price and see if that will sell. Some revenue is better than none. Once the time for a radio spot passes and nothing was paid for it in that spot, that revenue is gone forever since one can not go back in time.

Hopefully, all media will be able to find their special nitch market and unique content that will allow everyone to make a profit and serve the general public in the best way possible.

Good Luck and Take Care,

Louis J. Desy Jr
Sunday, November 25, 2018

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Can Newspapers Be Saved?

Recently I had been looking around the Internet plus had many discussions with my friend Bob about newspapers and the newspaper business plus media in general. One of the ‘great shocks’ to me is how a number of newspaper and media companies seem to be having all kinds of problems staying profitable or even going out of business. I still find it amazing that there are a number of cities and towns in the United States that have no local newspaper!

As an example of problems newspapers are having, the local paper in my city, The Worcester Telegram, over the years has gone from where they use to have a Washington bureau, to now where the only outlying reporters are within the county and based out of the distribution offices in the towns around Worcester. Where the paper use to have its own printing presses in the main T&G building on Franklin Street, which the company no longer owns or is even based out of anymore, I am told the paper is now printed at presses located far outside of the city. Where the paper used to have its own process and systems for creating the paper, now most of the layout work is all done through a remote computer and software system that The Telegram does not own or even have on site in its offices. Where in the past the paper was completely contained in its main T&G building at 20 Franklin Street, now the paper is just a few floors in an office building after having sold off the 20 Franklin Street building years ago.

The older typical business model for a newspaper was that subscriptions were priced to typically cover the cost of delivery of the paper and the main profit for the operation was the selling of advertisements in the paper. This business model made a lot of sense since the advertising rates would be a function of how many subscribers the paper had; so by pricing subscriptions just high enough to cover the cost of delivery would get a newspaper as many subscriptions as possible. Doing that got the subscriber numbers as large as possible, then the advertising rate would be able to command the highest possible rate since the rate for advertisers would be based off of the number of subscribers.

In recent years this whole model seems to have broken down. I think part of the problem is that people are able to get news online for free, making it hard for newspapers to charge for subscriptions; a declining subscriber base would cause advertising rates to decline which would then cause more problems for any newspaper.

Another part of the problem is competition from other forms of advertising. In the past the media competing for advertising dollars were newspapers, magazines, radio, television and direct mail. Today, advertising over the Internet has taken a large part of the overall advertising market and caused all kinds of problems for all of the old line media companies.

The question today for any newspaper is this; is it possible to somehow stay with the old business model, or maybe transfer to a digital only business model where there is no more print edition of the newspaper but instead an online distribution only? While at first look an online only model would seem to work because of the lower costs of distribution but my observation over the years with magazines and other print publications that went from print editions to online only is that without a printed copy to distribute is that people simply seem to ‘forget’ that the publication is out there, subscribers drop off, and at some point the publication simply ceases to exist.

At the moment it looks like the current still surviving print publications are mostly, if not all, part of large conglomerates that look like they are trying to bring some kind of economies of scale to making and distributing print copies of newspapers and magazines. Hopefully time will tell if this attempt to use economies of scale to keep print publications going will work.

Good Luck and Take Care,

Louis J. Desy Jr.
Saturday, November 24, 2018

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Is the eBook assault on traditional publishing over?

It has been several years since eBooks started roiling the publishing industry and book stores, but it finally looks like that maybe the onslaught from eBooks is over. While a number of indicators are that eBooks, mainly through Amazon and its Kindle reader or program for computer devices, took a large part of the market, it looks like the market may be starting to stabilized for traditional publishers, but at a much lower level of sales.

Ebooks are books that are distributed in an electronic format instead of a print format. There are multiple forms of eBooks, but one of the best well know formats is the Amazon Kindle program where books are downloaded to a special Kindle Reader or a Kindle program on any one of a number of computer devices. Ebooks have been a boom to vendors like Amazon and a great help to writers and authors for a number of reasons which have changed the market for books and publishers.

The first transformation of the publishing industry is that eBooks allowed anyone to write and publish their own book with little to no costs. Anyone can write an eBook with a word processing program, like Microsoft Word, and when done, format and upload it to a vendor like the Amazon Kindle KDP Select program for publication. A buyer can then buy either a print copy of the work or an electronic eBook version of the work. One of the big advantages of eBook over print is that there is no large cost to do a print run. Prior to eBooks, if someone wanted to get a book into print that no publisher was interested in, it would be up to them to find someone with a printing press, usually a ‘vanity press’, and pay them the few thousand that it would cost to do a print run, usually of about 1,000 books. Typically, those books would sit mostly unsold forever since there was no marketing or promotions or ability to get the book into any of the sales channels. People who went the vanity press route to get their work published would usually sell a few copies, give away as many as possible to the people they knew, and then get stuck with boxes sitting in storage in their garages and basements forever.

With eBooks, there are none of the problems of how little or how many copies a work sells. If only one copy sells or one million copies sell, the Amazon system takes care of it all automatically, downloads are automatic once paid for, print copies are only printed on demand and as ordered.

With Ebooks and programs like Amazon Kindle writers get paid much faster than the old publisher model for paying royalties. Pre eBooks, writers were only paid twice per year and there was a ‘hold back’ amount to cover returns from distributors and book stores. I personally know a person that use to have a book section in his comic book store and his distributor would allow him to return and take credit for books that had been sitting in the store for a decade, with no questions asked! An eBook does not have that problem, Amazon pays authors once per month for any and all amounts earned, no more waiting as long as 18 months to get the royalties for a book that sold a long time ago!

Another advantage for authors is that eBooks typically have a much higher royalty percentage than print copies. The typical royalty percentage for a print copy is about 17.5% of what that publisher sold the book for to a customer, distributor or retail store. The royalty for authors through the Amazon eBook Kindle program is 35% on retail prices of $2.99 and below, or above $9.99. The program pays 70% to the writer on books with a retail price between $2.99 and $9.99. Why would Amazon structure the royalty percentage this way? Apparently, Amazon has determined the most number of units and highest revenue overall is when an eBook is priced around $9.99, especially when the typical print book is around $20 to $30. So Amazon is giving writers an incentive to price their book at $9.99 to get the highest royalty payout. This is an example of how Amazon structures things so their interests and the interests of the authors are aligned in a way that traditional publishers have not been able to do so or not wanted to do so. (I would like to thank and credit J.A. Konrath for his lengthy postings about the publishing industry over the years for this information on how things work in the publishing industry. )

Ebooks do have one big disadvantage when compared with traditional print publishing, however. The problem is that with the barrier to publishing books having come down, anyone can put out a book. As a result, the market is flooded with terrible books, many of which never sell anything. As an example of how tilted the market is, I put out a book in August 2012 about taking and passing the bar exam; How To Pass the Bar Exam by Louis Desy. To date, about 381 copies have either been sold or given away under the Amazon KDP select program as a free promotional or as part of the Amazon program where authors get a cut of a pot of money parceled out to authors if they allow their book to be ‘borrowed’ under a Kindle program. Most of the time there are no sales or one sale of the book, which puts the book at about 1.5 million in ranking. That means 1.5 million book sold more copies than my book. I estimate Amazon has about 2 or 3 million titles listed and ranked in their system. That would mean there is at least 500,000 books that sold nothing in the same time period. Sales or borrowing of 2 or 3 copies of my book as put my book as high as 15,000 in ranking; meaning that everything with a higher number had not even sold 2 copies!

Ebooks has had a large effect on book stores, since with the ability to download eBooks, there is no need for a buyer to ever step into a book store again to purchase a book. This has had a devastating effect on retail books stores with a number of store going out of business since the financial crisis and Borders completely liquidating after filing bankruptcy in 2011. Barnes and Nobel has hung on since then, but large parts of the stores are now devoted to non book items, like toys and gifts, and appears to only be able to do well with its college bookstores that are mainly in the textbook business for a captive audience at the college they are part of. Barnes and Nobel did have their own eBook reader product, the Nook, but it has mostly faded away over time and was a constant money loser every quarter due to not being able to compete with the Amazon Kindle.

It can be argued that some of the changes over time were inevitable since the idea and possibility has been around since the 1980s at least. In the early years people made some efforts with computer PDF files but the problem in those was how to prevent copying and get paid for downloads? My friend that I mentioned about his comic book store, was part of an effort in the 1980s to prototype a kind of reader like device, but the hardware was not up to the task, kept overheating, and was too early in time for a successful device being made at that point. Maybe if he and his group had made their attempt in the mid 1990s the hardware would have been up to the task and they would have been successful?

In short, the changes over the years from eBooks have been brutal for book stores and traditional publishers but a boom for Amazon and authors.

Louis J. Desy Jr.
Friday, August 24, 2018

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