Newspapers

JRL is talking about how he’s begun subscribing to the print edition of The New York Times and what that means in the context of his background and such.

Very similar stuff from me on that front. I’ve subscribed to the print edition of the Chicago Tribune for a number of years now, admittedly going through phases where I do or don’t actually read the paper thoroughly.

My love of papers goes back to two things from my childhood:

1) Every Sunday after church my dad would stop for that day’s Trib, which then turned into an all day reading event. First that stop was along Taft Ave. in Berkeley, IL at a non-chain convenience store where, if we were lucky, he’d also agree to pop for some Twinkies or Snowballs or some other tasty treat. Taft is by no means a major thoroughfare but boy we’d run across that street like our tails were on fire. When we changed churches it would be the White Hen along 1st St. in Elmhurst that we’d stop in to. I was older by then so it wasn’t quite as much of a treat but it’s still memorable.

2) My brother and I would spend many of our days, especially during the summer, at our grandparent’s house not too far from our own. Our grandfather read both the Tribune and Sun-Times and would always go down to one of the two local convenience stores to pick them up. Again, when we were younger there would also be a selection of Wacky Packages stickers, baseball cards or some other treat to pick from since these were trips either we’d all make or that the two of us boys would take on our bikes for him, picking something up for ourselves while we were there. And again, the reading of the two daily papers was an all day thing as he absorbed the day’s news.

Reading something in print, with that tactile experience, is just different and more substantial than doing so online. I now respect John on a level even moreso than I already did.

Popcorn

Some public health watchdogs want to require that movie theaters post how many calories are in those gigantic tubs of popcorn you get there, something the theaters aren’t thrilled with since it might mean people choose not to buy them, which would significantly eat into their revenues and profits.

When I worked at the local theater in my hometown we had to buy any candy we wanted but could basically all the popcorn we could while we were on shift. I’m sure I ate my weight each week. So when I die next week…that’s why.

Will QR Codes Fare Better Than RSS?

In speaking recently with Beverly she said one memorable thing about her time at SXSW this year was the pervasiveness of QR codes. Indeed more and more marketers seem to be using them, though the audience for them still seems to be the super-wired users who know what to do with them.

The more I think about QR codes and the potential for widespread adoption and usage the more I keep coming back to RSS and its fate.

A strong case could be made for RSS being the most powerful tool of the Web 2.0 era. It’s what enabled, to a large extent, blogs to be read whether you were using a dedicated reader like Newsgator or Google Reader (a market that’s gone through significant contraction), adding feeds to your MyYahoo homepage or subscribing through Live Bookmarks in Firefox. That leveled the playing field for content distribution since it didn’t require the creation of a formatted email newsletter or other such tool. It also was a time-shifting tool, with feeds simply building up in your reader until you had the time to peruse them, which took a whole lot less time than it would to visit all those sites and check for newly published material.

But RSS never really caught on with the mainstream audience. Even those who were using it were often unaware of the fact that they were doing so, which was usually the case with portal homepage users who didn’t know it was RSS under the hood powering those headlines they were looking at. Tom Biro remarked once that the problem with getting people to use RSS was that it was the one thing on the internet that didn’t do something when you clicked on it. Which is why eventually buttons that automatically added a feed to MyYahoo, Google Reader or some other service eventually became widely seen on blog sidebars.

Unless something changes I see a similar history being written for QR codes in the next couple years. You can look at it on the page of a magazine, where it’s been placed in an ad with the promise that it unlocks exclusive content or some such. But too often there’s the additional instruction to first download a specific branded mobile app before scanning the code.

So while the developers and promoters of QR codes have learned one less from the history of RSS by explaining much more clearly what it is the user is expected to do with that little pixilated image, the fact that they’re being used in such a proprietary manner has the potential to stifle adoption. After doing it a few times to check out what’s available it’s hard to see most casual users downloading app after app for the single purpose of checking out an exclusive video or accessing a special wallpaper image.

To the extent that RSS did succeed – and it did even if it remains largely a mystery to some people – it was because it works everywhere. Some feeds may look better in some browsers or some readers, but you never ever got a “This Feed is Incompatible with Google Reader” error message or anything like it. A feed was a feed was a feed. And they were everywhere.

Similarly the success of QR codes, I think, depends on them being pervasive and universal. No special apps needed. They should work independent of any other bit of software and across all platforms. Only then will the potential of them enjoying widespread mainstream adoption be opened up.

Can Groupon move the needle on small films?

As you read last week, daily deal promotion service Groupon linked up with its first movie-based deal, offering tickets to last weekend’s big release from Lionsgate, The Lincoln Lawyer, for half off for a limited time. The studio was working with Fandango to actually sell the tickets online and was subsidizing the discount, so it was able to report the full ticket price in its box-office results. Estimates before the weekend had about 190,000 tickets being sold through the promotion.

The movie ultimately came in at #4 in last weekend’s box-office race, with something right around 90% of those coming out of the theater saying the Groupon deal was the primary reason they chose to see that movie.

The news has reinvigorated the discussion of variable ticket pricing for studio movies but that’s such a non-starter I think it’s barely worth considering.

Dana Harris’ story on Indiewire is a must-read on this topic but I want to expand on her point just a bit. She quotes a Lionsgate exec as saying the email distribution was the biggest moment for the deal since it was pure marketing, making the tens of millions of people who subscribe to the service aware of the movie and giving them a reason to see it.

So while it will be interesting to see how other studios wind up executing deal with Groupon, something that’s reported to be coming in droves, I think the real potential for this sort of promotion is when it comes to video-on-demand independent films.

Imagine an independent film that’s being distributed on-demand in one way or another. This is a movie who’s primary handicap is that it doesn’t have a huge marketing budget, resulting in lack of awareness among the general population.

So now a deal with Groupon (or any other daily deal service) means access to a broad and large potential audience. Even if something like 2% of users wind up taking advantage of a 50% discount on the VOD purchase that’s a lot more people who are spending some money on it and, more importantly, seeing the movie. That’s hopefully where word-of-mouth takes over and those people recommend the movie to their friends. And because we’re talking about VOD here it’s a lot lower barrier to people deciding to check it out.

As I said, this will be an interesting area to watch in the next several months. I think we’re going to see a lot of mid-level movies that perform a notch or two above what they otherwise would have by getting more people to turn out than were initially interested in the movie based solely on the marketing campaign. But the real potential for fundamentally changing business models lies in the independent film world, where movies that are otherwise off people’s radar can get some much-needed exposure.