Thursday, February 21, 2013

Wine Spectator: A Particular Bouquet

I’ll start with a public thank-you to Marvin R. Shanken, Editor and Publisher of Wine Spectator for sending me copies of the January/February and March 2013 issues of this over-sized and luscious magazine.  I knew Mr. Shanken through my work at MPA, the magazine association, but I am nonetheless flattered he would have read my mind and sent me absolutely free-of-charge this gorgeous title, at least until August 31, 2013, because that’s what the mailing label indicates.  But I will play my part and, prompted by an article in the Jan-Feb. issue on the New York Finger Lakes, I promise to drive to the region and fill my SUV with crates of Riesling, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay, not because I particularly like these wines, but as a reader I feel a certain responsibility to the advertisers who pick up most of the costs of producing such a fine magazine and are likely paying for me to thumb through Wine Spectator between keystrokes.

The mailing label also tells me this welcome and useful gift is courtesy of my business with This is standard magazine circulation practice called “controlled circulation.”  That is, magazines are sent to a “controlled” group of people who have expressed a deep interest in a subject.  For example, I sent scuba diving magazines to registered divers, bicycling magazines to those who cycling more than 5,000 miles a year, and running magazines to those who participate in more than a dozen organized running events annually.  And this is very good business because such readers are often more valuable to a publisher and advertiser than those who purchase a discounted subscription, get it as a gift, or from an online magazine agent.  It is not unusual for publishers to raise a toast to this important readership.  We are money in the bank and when spoken about in business meetings we are saluted when the executives talk about the “lifetime value of the customer.”  That’s us.

In its heft, size and capacity there is something very comforting about Wine Spectator.  Sorry, I am now talking about the business model and not the wine.  I have no specific knowledge of this title’s P/L, but I must make note of its high and consistent pricing strategies across print, digital and back issues.  Other magazine would kill for a metric that says a lot about reader engagement and where she might reside in terms of purchase intent, another phrase beloved by the audience development folk. 

I do recall in those early, heady days of digital disruption that this magazine was not eager to jump feet-first aboard the digital bandwagon and romance every e-reader that came down the pike or lust after a presence on every platform.  Good move.  

Over the years, various media wags have suggested that the print magazine business in time will bifurcate with the high-touch, high-end glossies such as Wine Spectator and Vogue at one end and highly-focused special interest magazines, such as Snail Watching and Attic Vases at the other end.  These categories will survive and prosper.   Those left in the middle, such as a Newsweek will be sold for a buck and go digital only.  The publishing spectrum has become more complicated than that, but Wine Spectator is assured a place at the head-of-the-table.

The magazine is aging well.     

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Future-Proofing Content with PRISM Source Vocabulary

By 2005-2006, most publishers knew at least intuitively that they had lost the browser wars.  This lament was nicely framed in 2008 by an NBC television executive during the run-up to the Beijing Olympics, hammering home the obvious.  Publishers were exchanging analog dollars for digital dimes. 

Coincidentally or not, the drum-beat at this time from the magazine executive suites became louder and very public:  they vowed to get more revenue from content on whatever the emerging digital channels might look like.  The introduction of the iPad raised the stakes around this collective vow and publishers responded with alacrity and no little success in adapting to the new tablet and mobile universe.  Magazines scrambled to produce content for the voracious app stores and become players in the emerging and constantly changing “device and content eco-systems.”

Though much credit should go to magazine publishers for their response to this latest digital tsunami, the fact of the matter is that magazine weren’t ready for this onslaught in some very fundamental ways, including organization and workflow.  The tablet gloriously entered a print-centric, serial workflow that simply doesn’t scale.  Using today’s workflows, tools and technologies, producing multiple tablet editions results in escalating staff costs, redundancies, and lost time.  The existing print-based workflow is unsustainable and increasingly unprofitable.  To create highly interactive digital publications for devices, most publishers were forced to compromise on design and user experience using a variety of tablet workflow tools.  These tools tend to produce flat content with active elements stacked on top, with the result more like a print magazine than an interactive media package.  The need for flexible, sustainable, and fungible solutions is not only a good idea; in a publishing environment faced with extraordinary pressures on costs and digital revenues, this need is also a business imperative.  Thank goodness there is a solution.

NextPub, the industry’s technical incubator, was launched in 2010 by IDEAlliance with widespread support.  An immediate goal was to address the above workflow issues to help make multi-channel publishing simple and efficient.  The nextPub Working Group (WG) envisioned ways to monetize content beyond today’s publishing channels by utilizing a “Dynamic Content Architecture” from which additional publishing channels can emerge when new content collections or “chunks” are demanded by consumers, as foreshadowed by Flipboard, Pulse or Zite.  The central idea is to future-proof content no matter what the future brings.

The nextPub Publishing Model is based on digital capture and management of all content and associated rich media.  Source content must be semantically rich enough to enable the publisher to select content and automate layout and delivery to a wide variety of publishing platforms.  To this end, the WG developed the PRISM Source Vocabulary Specification (PSV), designed to support issue-based publications as well as to enable publishers to aggregate content in new digital content channels.  The tagline, The Source is the Solution, gets to the heart of the matter.

According to Dianne Kennedy, VP, Emerging Technologies, IDEAlliance, PSV defines a framework of robust metadata elements that can be used to configure federated source content and rich media repositories.  Simply put, the more structurally rich content is, the more useful it will be and the more adaptive it will become as we continue to re-imagine and re-vision business opportunities presented by a Dynamic Content Architecture.  As Karen McGrane, content evangelist and Managing Director at Bond Art +Science observes, “Publishers don’t get to decide which device their customers use to read their content—readers do.  Getting content out onto all these different new devices and platforms requires a dynamic and flexible content architecture, which PSV provides.”

PSV, based on PRISM, is a way to describe content, via XML, in consistent and predictable ways using a common vocabulary.  This technology facilitates the repurposing and delivery of structured, format-neutral content.  Introduced more than a decade ago, PRISM was instrumental in delivering print-based content to the aggregators.  PSV, offering a more robust metadata set, is designed to deliver rich media to a range of digital platforms, channels and devices.  In short, PSV takes PRISM beyond print.  And here the need is great.

 As noted above, today’s adapted workflows that design for print, then remake for tablets are inefficient, redundant and slow.  An adapted product has limitations.  For example, most tablet versions are two dimensional like print and require huge downloads.  Conversely, a digital first or digital-early workflow first captures text as PSV in a central repository, transforms the content via templates and scripts, links ads and multimedia, and publishes to print, web, ePub3, HTML5, etc.  PSV is really about capturing semantically-rich, platform-agnostic content early and then selecting, transforming, packaging and delivering that content.

A primary attribute of PSV is its flexibility.  NextPub recognizes that each publisher has her own business models and strategies.  PSV is a framework that can be tailored to the needs of individual publishers.  For example, a publisher might need no more than a simple content repository from which content can be assembled into print and into a digital edition on a monthly basis.  Another publisher might want a content repository to assemble print and digital editions.  Also, it might want to assemble year-end, best-of, special editions for print and tablets.  It might also want to track usage history and usage rights for content, plus the relationship to other content.  And so on.  A framework for robust metadata not only allows such flexibility, it will also invite business opportunities.  As Ann Rockley, another content evangelist, notes in this context, “adaptive content lets you automatically provide your content, anytime, anywhere, and on any device.  Adaptive content is limited only by your design decisions, the functionality of the device being used and the intelligence of your content.”

An additional advantage to PSV is that it adds dimension to digital-first content creation by way of its very rich metadata vocabulary.  PSV can provide deep content to enable sophisticated designs and implementations using more descriptive metadata that informs Java Script and CSS.  Design-based publications have to date employed only minimal automation based on the belief that design comes first and you can’t automate design!  PSV rich metadata offer compelling ways to automate layout and design.

Sarah Wachter-Boettcher, a content specialist at Rosenfield Media, reminds us that metadata is not an end in itself.  “It’s about seeing structures through the lens of meaning and storytelling, and building relationships across disciplines so that our databases reflect this richness and complexity.”  Editors have an important role in this narrative of the metadata.

PSV is royalty-free, open source, and facilitates a design-neutral approach to content creation.  PSV can be used as a source for direct transformation to packaging formats, such as ePub 3.0, or to the web, mobile and tablet apps.  And PSV can serve as a core metadata model in a DAM or CMS to manage assets or deliver them to multiple platforms.  And it is important to note that nextPub will serve as an incubator for tools to enhance tomorrow’s productivity and has invited technology companies to participate in the development of such tools.

Bill Kasdorf, Vice President, Apex Content Solutions, captures the spirit and the promise of PSV.  “PRISM Source Vocabulary promises to become the Rosetta Stone of the magazine publishing world.  It will enable all the players in the complex space—publishers, advertisers, editorial and production staff, system developers, and service providers—to speak a common language.  PSV is a fundamental enabling technology for our brave new multichannel, multiplatform world, encompassing print while efficiently extending publishers’ content to the online, tablet, eReader and mobile environments.”

PSV has already been adopted by the Japanese Magazine Publishing Association and supported by a broad community of publishers who seek fuller content monetization.  Full PSV Specifications, a video technical overview, and details about the nextPub Working Group can be found at or

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Archetype of the Gun

I don’t want to sound alarmist, but I am surrounded by guns, starting with my URL.  I thought I was clever coming up with because everyone would know the site referred to magazine technology.  Except for those looking for or to make their next assault weapon or ammunition purchase.

A few weeks ago, The Journal News, a local newspaper, posted a map on its web site that showed with digital teardrops the actual locations and addresses of homes of those who had a permit to carry a handgun.  This act was in response to the Newtown, Conn., shooting and, however well-intentioned, had a blowback effect because some permit holders had moved, given up their guns, or died.  And it didn’t include rifles.  So the newspaper squandered an opportunity.  Nonetheless, it had a sobering effect on the community.  Has the guy down the block who might have a gun been acting weird lately?

I’ve lived in the north Bronx and Brooklyn, New York, and assumed that most people had a gun or a knife and acted according.  I’ve had guns pulled on me while on business travel to Mexico and Romania.  But I’ve had good gun instructors from an early age.  As a detective, my father carried a gun and taught his three sons gun safety.   My brother-in-law, a US Army veteran who saw vicious fighting in the Battle of the Bulge and earned a Purple Heart, taught me to shoot skeet along the Ohio River.  I purchased my first gun, a 12-gauge shotgun from Sears, for small game hunting.   While in the Navy, I fired everything I could get my hands on, including deck guns.  My father-in-law taught me how to hunt deer using a 12-gauge shotgun and “pumpkin balls” or lead slugs good within a hundred yards.  I will always remember him for emphasizing the “sport” in sportsman.  In this spirit, I took up hunting with bow and arrow.

I gave up my last gun, used to keep down the groundhog population, when I moved off a farm in Pennsylvania more than a decade ago.  So I’m quite comfortable, digital gun mapping aside, around guns.   But why are we Americans so uncomfortable talking about guns and about placing certain restrictions on assault weapons and size of magazines?  The murders of the children and teachers in Newtown, Conn., have become an all-too-familiar narrative, bookmarked by the media.   Sadness, horror and outrage are followed by political vows that this time things will be different and something will be done.  In the meantime, the NRA vows that nothing will change and waits for the Connecticut effect to “blow over.”  The organization knows that it has time and much of the Congress on its side.     

I was working in England at the time of the Dunblane, Scotland, massacre, in which 16 children and a teacher were murdered by a man carrying four handguns and 743 cartridges.  It was widely reported that the shooter was a pedophile and deeply troubled by being booted out of the Boy Scouts.  The outrage in the UK lasted more than a few news cycles.  The outrage lasted.  Period.  I recall the punk rock band UK Subs, releasing their “Dunblane” single with the lyrics: “After Dunblane, how can you hold a gun and say you’re innocent.”   This guilt-by-association and similar effects worked.  By 1997, the UK had outlawed all handguns, with some exceptions.

Of course, the US is not the UK.  We have a Constitution and the Bill of Rights, including the Second Amendment that gives the people the right to keep and bear arms.  A common sense approach to gun restriction would be to state the obvious.  No right is absolute.  We can’t yell “fire” in a crowded theater.  Why the absolutism when it comes to gun control?  The answer to this question won’t come from the hacks, pundits or the fringe.  The answer must come from psychology and the gods of mythology, all of whom are well-armed.

As a veteran, a media crank, and a student of psychology I keep the book, A Terrible Love of War by psychologist James Hillman close at hand because the author utters the unthinkable and rarely stated thesis: that America and most of the world loves war; that war is constant throughout history and ubiquitous around the globe; and war is considered normal and acceptable.  Hillman reminds us of Martin Luther King Jr.’s words:  “The greatest purveyor of violence in the world today … is my own Nation.”

To make his point, Hillman notes there have been 16,000 wars of consequence during the last 5,000 years, more or less.  The author would ask us to re-read The Iliad and get to know the Greek God of war, Ares, and his more familiar Roman cousin, Mars, and the myths and legends around these gods to better understand that “the spirit of war and the rage of battle are archetypal, forced upon all animal life, all gender and all societies.” War is indeed inhuman, but it is also sublime.  In the film Patton, the general tells a soldier how much he loves war, more than life itself.  The myths tell us that Mars, no matter how much of a bastard he was, was never far from Venus.

Hillman walks among the mythical figures as if they were next-door neighbors.  But his interest is in psychology, not story-telling.  He reminds us, often, that “Myths provide archetypal ways of insighting the human condition; they present psychological truth such as we discover when turning to war with Mars/Ares in the background of our minds.”  Myths “ask the psyche to invent and speculate; to listen and be amused; religion, first of all, calls for belief.”

So what about guns in this psychological tableau?  The author takes us on an excursion to Japan which had gun control from 1543 to 1879.  The Portuguese introduced guns to Japan and that nation, already skilled at metallurgy, quickly became expert gunsmiths, improving the products in fundamental ways.  Then the country turned away from guns until Commodore Perry arrived in 1853.  Hillman suggests a number of reasons for this.  The skill of engagement moved from soldier to manufacturer; the warrior class didn’t want peasants getting the gun; Japan had no external gun enemies.  The gun was an “outside” idea.  For the author, more to the point is that “The cult of the sword was ancestral, symbolic, and religious—and also aesthetic.”  The sword was associated with elegant movement. The gun required award kneeling positions.

Hillman sees aesthetics as one possible solution or way out; the more beauty, the less violence.  He writes that, during the European Age of Enlightenment, there was a dis-taste for bloodshed and a reluctance to kill fellow Europeans.  Serious thinkers, including Thomas Paine, Voltaire, Swift, Samuel Johnson and many more advanced “a kind of guerrilla warfare against the cant and hypocrisy that form the fabric of nationalistic patriotism, sentimental personalism, and light-hearted religiosity so signal to our times.”

He adds that the idea that “culture restrains war is being proven in reverse.  Along with the American state’s promotion of bellicose militarism, it withdraws from the arts.  The impoverishment is furthered by debasing the language, neglecting education beyond occupational training, and narrowing the rich complexity of religious studies to one’s own favorite brand.”

At a recent NRA convention of Wausau, Wisconsin, The Reality News, not specifically tied to the gun lobby, published an article, “What Would Davy Crockett Say?”  The newspaper calls for Secession and a Combo Civil/Re-Revolutionary War and pushed this cant to the extreme.

This kind of rhetoric makes Hillman’s point.  In A Terrible Love of War, he argues that we need new myths and a heightened sense of aesthetics to explain our love of war and guns.  America’s love of guns is certainly tied to the frontier myth and the fantasy we have about taking things into our own hands.  American literature has a long tradition of the male antagonist as outsider, on-the-run, or in combat, anything to avoid “civilization” and the embrace of the feminine.  It is this simple archetype of nostalgia, co-opted by politicians and cause marketers, that asks “What would Davy Crockett Say?,” sounding very much like the Disney version but deadly as gunfire in its primitive, inelegant, and dime novel chant.

Hillman is too complicated and rich for summary.  He’s best read in the original.  He acknowledges that the pen is not mightier than the sword, that the expression is a writer’s delusion.  But he continues, in this book and others, to take us back to the eighteenth century and the Age of Enlightenment “when orthodox faith was giving way to freethinking,” suggesting aesthetic passions restrain war.  He writes that “all the arts and sciences, and the intimacies of talk, letters and diaries, are lived on slowness and its pleasures.”  By this, Hillman means the “slow aesthetics of workshop, studio, husbandry, garden, and laboratory, taming haste but not its passion.  Venus ‘victrix’ still wants to win and conquer the task at hand.  Aesthetic intensity draws Mars onto a parallel path.”

Less than one percent of Americans serve in the military.  A handful in government set military policy and send us to war.  Most of this is done in secret.  Organized religion, especially Christianity, offers no real counter.  Mars is well represented.  We need more of Venus in the dialogue; more of the feminine. Today, the conversation about guns is narrow and metallic, made intentionally circular and hollow by the convening parties.  We need more artists, poets, scientists, philosophers in this circle of fire.  Hillman asks us to imagine a “nation whose first line of defense is each citizen’s aesthetic investment in some cultural form.”  Might war lose some of its magic?  The author suggests that “aesthetic passion provides multiple fields for engagements with the inhuman and sublime certainly less catastrophic than the fields of battle.”

Until we get our heads around the notion that the gun, and the way it is worshiped in America, is an archetype and therefore a god, gun control, however useful, is a legalistic enterprise.  We should be far more interested in what Venus or Aphrodite has to say on this matter than the “king of the wild frontier” musing about the Alamo.