Hard News by Russell Brown

More on Premium Content

Easily the most feedback from Public Address readers yesterday came in response to the statement from the 14 New Zealand Herald columnists unhappy about their work going behind the Herald website's "premium content" paywall.

It was universally supportive, although Matt Stevens declared that "I must lament the fact that 14(!) of the Herald's supposedly best columnists can't put together a post that is well written, free from typos, incomplete sentences or mangled grammar. I'm afraid it leaves me wishing that the aggrieved were 13 columnists and a copy editor instead."

You had to venture off to the I'll-say-anything wing of the local blogosphere to find an unsympathetic response: Cathy Odgers dismissed all the aggrieved columnists as spouting "outdated socialist garbage" (Jenny Ruth? Jim Hopkins? Brian Gaynor? Garth George?) and accused them of "crapping all over" their staff colleagues in "disclosing" a typical feature writer's salary. It's not exactly a secret, darling. Do try and keep up.

I think it's true to say that the primary objection of the columnists is that the paywall has taken them out of the conversation. They're missing the feedback from the readers. The bid for a share of the loot was subsequent to their being told that the paywall would not be reviewed. Colin James has responded by negotiating to have his columns removed from the Herald website altogether - you can read them on his own website.

But is there any loot to go around? Perhaps it would be useful to explore this from a business angle, as I did in my original Listener column on the new policy, which explains the background and sets out the issues.

APN management has privately told the columnists that it is "pleasantly surprised" at the uptake of premium content subscriptions. No, I don’t know anyone who has paid up either, but I presume someone has. I might yet subscribe myself, but I really can't envisage a situation where I could link to an editorial or column and assume that any more than a tiny fraction of our readers would be able to view it.

So the Herald is missing out on link traffic from us. How's it doing overall? Not too well, to judge by the Nielsen NetRatings numbers. The paywall was introduced at the end of September, making it easy enough to gauge. Last month, the Herald had 1,206,854 unique readers, down from 1,235,777 in September - a fall of 2.34%. (Stuff's readership rose over the same period.) Total page impressions fell from 25,332,874 to 23,945,903 or 1,386,971. At an advertising rate of, say, $20 per 1000 impressions of a big-ass banner (although the Herald may fetch a premium over that for being the Herald) that's $27,739 of advertising revenue forgone for the month.

This assumes, of course, that the fall is a consequence of the premium content policy, which it may not be. And there's barely anyone in the local online publishing industry who hasn't grumped about the Nielsen numbers at some time (Nielsen actually had Public Address down last month, while our internal count was that we'd added nearly 4000 readers). But PA reader Daniel Kalderimis emailed yesterday to say that he believed the Herald site's Google performance had dropped in the last month. If that's so, it should be of concern for APN. The Herald site has long attracted a substantial amount of Google traffic, in part because of the way it's built (there are a lot of index pages).

The people who raised concerns before and after last year's US presidential election, regarding America's dangerously insecure voting infrastructure, have tended to be dismissed as either loonies or bad losers. A report from the US General Accounting Office (thanks to reader Sean O'Donnel for the tip) suggests otherwise.

Ignore, if you like, the contention in this Free Press story that the election was stolen and focus on the excerpts from the GAO report. Or, if you have time, read the report itself. It's hard not to conclude that if the election wasn't stolen, it damn well could have been. There were so many anomalies and failures to meet basic security standards. If it all hadn't been widely predicted in advance by computer scientists and activists, it would be unbelievable.

The report couches its findings by noting that "many of these concerns were based on specific system makes and models or a specific jurisdiction's election, and there is no consensus among election officials and other experts on their pervasiveness."

You'll note that there does not appear to be dispute that it happened, just how much it happened. And a lot of it happened in Ohio; the state on which the presidency turned.

Christopher Hitchens, of all people, wrote a a robust column for Vanity Fair on the troubling story of the Ohio election, in which he put the hypothetical: "What if all the anomalies and malfunctions, to give them a neutral name, were distributed along one axis of consistency: in other words, that they kept on disadvantaging only one candidate?"

This, he believed, had been the case in Ohio - and you can guess who the beneficiary candidate was.

Bush's Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito is emerging as a more nuanced character than either the left or the right believes. In particular, the emergence of his writings in college, expressing support for gay rights and privacy (concern for privacy rights makes you a liberal ninny in today's America) is quite interesting.

With Scooter Libby up in court already, it's worth noting that apart from being an alleged perjurer, Libby is but one of a long line of prominent American conservatives who have at some time penned strange, semi-pornographic novels.

Dick Cheney's wife, Lynne, penned Sisters, a lesbian bonkfest set in "The American West - where men were men and women were property". You can enjoy that here.

Libby's effort, The Apprentice is really quite depraved. The New Yorker has a look at it the tradition of the conservative novels "that might not fly at, say, the National Prayer Breakfast."

Finally, I went to the launch last night of the updated and revised version of John Dix's classic New Zealand music history Stranded in Paradise, at Real Groovy. It was good fun (and Emma Paki and Hello Sailor played) although a bigger bunch of reprobates you wouldn't find, etc, etc. It's a credit to Finlay Macdonald at Penguin that the book has re-emerged, smartened up and with many of its original errors corrected. Unfortunately there's an error on the first page of the new one: it wasn't the Labour government (which of course didn't have a Budget in 1999) that abolished the Broadcasting Fee, but National under Bill Birch. The book also has Chris Knox winning his Silver Scroll in the wrong year for the wrong song. Never mind. I've bought myself a copy to go with my hardback and softback editions of the original. Lovely.

PS: That Interview with Murray Cammick about Warner Music buying FMR is here