Fewer Fabergé Eggs, More Ball Bearings

Too many media companies that should be implementing basic new media services for their consumers are instead expending time and personnel creating fancy multimedia projects that might win awards — but that few people use.

Have you ever seen a Fabergé egg, those exquisite pinnacles of objets d’art?

A century ago, jeweler Peter Carl Fabergé and his master craftsmen created 105 Easter egg-shaped objects from ivory, gold, silver, platinum, and precious gems. Each Fabergé egg is a unique design; no two are the same. These exquisite objects were commissioned by Russian Czars Alexander III and Nicholas II and later by several rich Russian industrialists of the era. Creating each Fabergé egg required hundreds of hours work by master craftsmen. Only 69 Fabergé eggs survived the Russian Revolution and wars of the 20th century, and those today reside in major museums and the world’s richest private art collections.

It’s now late winter and awards season in so many media industries. Each year, I am a juror in various newspaper, magazine, and broadcast trade organizations’ new media awards contest. Each year, I think about Fabergé eggs while judging those contests. I’ve seen some exquisite examples of multimedia. Each must have taken hundreds of hours to create by new media craftspeople. These objects win awards.

However, if you look at the online traffic figures for those objects, with few exceptions these exquisite multimedia objects don’t get a lot of traffic. They rarely get more traffic than the text-story versions from which they spring. That’s because most people who use the Web want information quickly and simply. They don’t hang around a Web site long enough to play with exquisite multimedia objects.

Moreover, quite a few of the sites that win multimedia awards don’t feature some basic online services for their consumers. I’ve seen exquisite multimedia-project entries from newspaper Web sites on which you can’t find the show times at local movie theaters. And wonderful multimedia entries from television station Web sites that don’t list their program times.

Those companies’ contest entries might win awards (I’m hesitant to vote for them), but the time and money spent creating those entries could have been better spent providing more basic services online. Fabergé eggs are wonderful, but simple ball bearings make everything run better.

A while back, I wrote, “Beer a Better Investment Than Newspapers” to illustrate how badly the newspaper industry was failing. In it, I showed how a $10,000 investments in keg beer three years previously would have been a nearly four times better investment than an equal investment in U.S. newspaper company stocks. Your deposit on the beer kegs, not including the value of the beer you’d still have left three years later, would have been redeemable for $4,125, while a $10,000 investment in the stocks of The New York Times Company, Gannett, Media General Co., McClatchy Company, Gatehouse Media, Journal Register Co., and the A.H. Belo Co. would have dropped to just $1,475 as of October 2008.

If you thought newspaper companies were in bad shape then, you might be appalled to discover how much worse that industry has gotten since. As of the stock market’s closing bell last Friday, that $10,000 investment in those newspaper companies’ stocks was worth a mere $410.16. Kegs full of beer would have been a 10 times better investment — as well as a much better time!

The New York Times Company has lost approximately 85 percent of its market value over the past three years. The A.H. Belo Company lost 94 percent of its market value, Gannett lost 95 percent, Media General lost 97 percent, and Gatehouse Media, Journal Register, and the McClatchy Company lost 99 percent each. Both Gatehouse and Journal Register have been delisted by the New York Stock Exchange, and Journal Register declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy last month.

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