eXtensions - Thursday 13 April 2017
A Sinking Ship - Bangkok Post Jettisons Cargo Again
By Graham K. Rogers
BackgroundA few years ago, a shockwave ran through the Bangkok Post when profits sunk and the future poked its head above the grass. For years, the newspaper industry had been lucrative. Perhaps not as profitable overall as television. Granting concessions for new commercial channels in the UK in the late 1950s was said to be like, "a licence to print money".
What few anticipated in those analog-heady days was a digital world. Bell Labs - where the transistor was perfected in 1947 - laid some important groundwork with the development of UNIX. The son of one of the co-creators (Robert Morris, who later served as chief scientist for the NSA's National Computer Security Center) was responsible for the first internet security wake-up call with what is now called the Morris Worm (Robert Tappan Morris).
The Morris Worm carried out its destructive processes on the early internet, when the major user groups were academics, scientists in their labs and the military. It had been developed initially as a Defense project by DARPA to ensure connections in the event of nuclear war. With its importance in research, CERN was also connected, but the many different computer systems in use there caused difficulties in sharing data across the interconnected devices.
A CERN scientist came up with a device-agnostic way to display data using a markup language and hyperlinks - already available on computers used in education. The resulting Hypertext Markup Language (or HTML) was the glue that linked everything, and subsequently, everywhere when graphical browsers were developed and the World Wide Web came into being. Digital communication is now almost universal.
As well as the development of websites for academic and research establishments, the WWW expanded and almost anyone with a computer could become a presence on the web with the right content. The big media content providers - music, movies, television and news - were slow to react. Some, like music and movie makers tried to block. Television provided some information, but carefully guarded its content. Traditional TV lost some sway with the arrival of cable. TV is now locked in a rearguard action as internet television grows.
Newspapers realised the internet could be used, but were often locked into older thought processes in the ways content could be displayed. Monetization was the biggest problem: how to provide timely content but still be paid for it? Most missed the boat.
Shrinking MarketsWhen the Bangkok Post had its moment of fear 5 years ago, it looked to me as if what followed was a knee-jerk reaction. There had been reorganisations before, of course, but this ended up throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Updates were indeed necessary, but as a report into the current situation (then) implied, what made the newspaper valuable was its name and its localised content. By that time, much of the news included came from wire sources which could be read online (and sometimes a day or so earlier).
Not only were freelance writers dropped, although one or two were kept on with no remuneration - an insult - some of the skilled staff were moved about and instead of being able to specialise were made general news reporters. Some left.
The revamp had the supposedly up-market Life that reported on expensive restaurants, events in places like Soi Thonglor and other items that had little to do with the base readership. I was also told that changes were made to the way advertising income was accrued, again forgetting who (and where) the audience was. I went off and did my own things, which included setting up a site that covered Apple, Macs and iOS mainly, but also other IT areas, including security.
About 3 years ago, I was asked in a roundabout way if I would again write a column for the Bangkok Post related to Apple products and I agreed; but there were limitations. Content had to be aimed at the readership of Life: supposedly Hi-So guys and gals who would all have Macs and iPhones and iPads not because they knew the difference, but because their friends did. From feedback there were also a few readers who had these products because they did grasp the differences.
I was also to provide images for each column, something that not all contributors did. The images I sent each week each had a file size of about 800KB, which gives a reasonable resolution if used properly, as they were in the print version of the Bangkok Post. I was more than disappointed by what happened with the content when used online and did make representations in March 2015, only to be told that the web side of things was separate.
I was also alarmed to find that those 800KB images that I sent in were shrunk dramatically to something like 10kb to 20kb in some cases, with a considerable loss of quality.
Although the Post has a Twitter account and puts out updated news, linking to the website, I never saw any of the Life articles included in the Twitter feed. Apart from my own link to the article on the eXtensions site, no one would ever know there was an article on the Post site, unless going methodically through the sections; or a regular reader. If readers do not know that articles are available, hit numbers - the metric by which web content is measured - will be affected negatively.
The Customers usually know what they want
FounderingIt was clear to me more than 2 years ago that this was a leaking ship and that sooner or later the captain would begin to jettison cargo. This was brought home a few weeks ago when I saw on Twitter comparative figures for some local sites with the Bangkok Post showing a disastrously low level of hits. I cannot find that Tweet now (such is the nature of the Internet), but I can do better.
The website Truehits, displays a rankings chart of sites here. Like that Tweet I saw a few weeks ago, Khaosod is at the top (13 April 2017) with just over 1m UIP (Unique IP) hits with a second column (Today UIP) also showing it top for today with 494,397 unique hits. Second, third, fourth and fifth in both columns are respectively, Sanook.com, kapook.com, dek-d-com and thairath.co.th.
In comparison, the Bangkok Post is at 69 with 66,145 UIP (6.46% of Khaosod's), and at position 59 for today with 26,590 hits (5.38%). The leaking ship is sinking. My column is a minor casualty in the disaster and the Post has no one to blame but its own management. Those other sites have actively embraced online technologies, with some coming out of nowhere to beat an established news operation.
The iPhone and News - It's all Steve Jobs' fault of course
Final CommentI was pleased to see a letter sent to the editor from a long-term reader last night who was dismayed to see that the eXtensions column was ending and questioned the decision. That is not yet on the letters page. Perhaps it will never appear, but I am not going to copy the contents here out of respect for the writer. Others have also expressed some regrets.
I had expected the change, although it was slightly more sudden than I had expected; and I also expect that (having informed Apple PR) I will no longer be invited to product introductions here. That is also to be expected: Apple wants a return for its investment and time.
As I wrote in my notebook when I was told last week, "shrug shoulders, walk away."
Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. He later continued for a further 3 years in the Bangkok Post supplement, Life. He can be followed on Twitter (@extensions_th)
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