Subscription conniptions: how many is too many?

Like many people these days, I pay for a number of different subscription products that are beneficial in all kinds of ways.

Amazon Prime is one of the smartest and most innovative subscriptions for anyone who orders stuff regularly from Amazon… which is a lot of people. You pay a yearly fee, and you figure the cost kind of covers itself in “saved” shipping charges alone. And then, when you’re a TV geek such as myself, the bevy of original TV shows you can see with an Amazon Prime subscription — ranging from The Fabulous Mrs. Maisel to Patriot to the recent debut of Good Omens and on and on — makes it feel like you’re getting to see all of this great stuff for free.

I also pay $15 per month for HBO Now, HBO’s standalone streaming service. While it’s cool to know that I can access HBO classics such as The Sopranos or The Wire (and see much more on this in this week’s Pop Culture Arcana Arcade: sign up for the newsletter below!) anytime I want, and there are always a handful of really high quality shows on HBO that I’m looking forward to seeing, I do sometimes consider dropping the service. I suppose it comes down to the seemingly overwhelming value of an Amazon Prime or Netflix (with its gargantuan content offerings and throw-it-all-at-the-wall array of shows) versus the much smaller and much more curated TV series that HBO produces.

The end of Game of Thrones, perhaps the last true “watercooler” TV show for the foreseeable future, offered a natural milestone to revisit this choice. Of course, this is something that HBO is acutely aware of, and which is why it has put a 2:10 trailer in front of all of its offerings, showcasing everything in its production pipeline, it seems, over the next year or two.  And you know what? It worked, at least in my case. Between the return of Succession and new shows like The Righteous Gemstones, I’m going to stick around for a while.

All of this was on my mind when reading about “Streaming’s cancel culture problem“:

  • Data shows that consumers across all ages are more than 30% likely to cancel a subscription streaming service after the show or series they are watching has ended. This creates big headaches for streaming companies over how to keep consumers from leaving, especially as the streaming space grows increasingly competitive.
  • A new Axios/Harris poll conducted after the “Game of Thrones” finale aired found that that 16% of HBO subscribers say they planned to cancel their subscriptions now that the show is over.
  • Most people only plan to hang onto subscription services for less than 6 months upon initially signing up, according to the most recent Video Entertainment Survey from media research firm Frank A. Magid and Associates

When you broaden out from TV stuff and think about all of the subscriptions that many people carry — from cable Internet to phone to magazines to luxury services such as Birchbox and Lootcrate — it brings up the question of whether people might hit “subscription fatigue” based on cost or other factors.

new report out, if it’s to be believed, relays that the subscription splurge may well continue for some time to come:

  • U.S. consumers are still embracing subscriptions. More than a third (34%) of Americans say they believe they’ll increase the number of subscription services they use over the next two years, according to a new report from eMarketer. This is following an increase to three subscription services on average, up from 2.4 services five years ago.

Key point and question here:

  • Subscriptions, after all, may still feel like luxuries. No one needs Netflix, Spotify, groceries delivered to their home or curated clothing selections sent by mail, for example. There are non-subscription alternatives that are much more affordable. The question is which luxuries are worth the recurring bill?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to head out to hit the gym, followed by an evening of cooking up some Blue Apron while listening to a custom playlist on Spotify.

This post originally appeared in The Berlin Files e-mail newsletter. To get a weekly blast of pop culture, digital media, and politics that helps make sense of an increasingly frazzled world, sign on up for The Berlin Files here.

Google Home, podcasts, and Luminary

Last week, I wrote about how Google is now indexing podcast episodes and the potential ramifications for how people might discover and listen to podcasts based on that update.  I then realized that you can also play podcasts directly through Google Home, though interestingly it will only play the “latest” episode of any given podcast as opposed to a specific episode that you might want to hear.

Additionally, as with Google web search, you can listen to some podcasts that are otherwise only available via standalone mobile applications. For example, if you want to hear The Adam Carolla Show via mobile app, you have to download the standalone app that showcases this and other podcasts that are part of his network (I also wrote more about Carolla a few weeks back if you’re interested). However, you can access it via Google Home, but again, you’ll just get the latest content that’s available from that feed. This makes for a somewhat awkward listening experience in that the Carolla show releases each episode in two-part chunks these days, so by its nature the “latest” episode will always be the second half of a given “show.”

In any event, this is clearly another way in which Google is competing, perhaps indirectly for the time being, with streaming services such as Spotify, which are looking to leverage the growing interest in podcasts as part of their audio content offerings. And new podcast app Luminary is looking to distinguish itself by offering premium podcast content behind a paywall.

Speaking of Luminary, it has been heavily advertising on major podcasts of late. Its business model is set up to offer a number of “free” or ad supported podcasts that you can find on other competing podcast platforms but then provide paywalled access to “premium” podcasts — such as some impressive-looking offerings such as by Trevor Noah and a Bill Simmons-fronted Rewatchables1999 spin-off.

That said, after checking out Luminary’s mobile app, I really wonder if a significant number of people will cough up $7.99 per month to access its premium offerings. There’s the continued splintering of media across the board coupled with a renewed emphasis on paid subscriptions to support content business models, for one, ranging from television to news websites and now to podcasts. I’m also not sure that its strategy of allowing people to access only one episode of premium podcasts for free (and not the “latest” episode but one single episode total) before hitting the paywall will be effective.

In any event, it’s exciting to see the explosion of interest and investment in podcast content and companies, and so we’ll be seeing a lot of experimentation with business models and strategy for years to come.

This post originally appeared in The Berlin Files e-mail newsletter. To get a weekly blast of pop culture, digital media, and politics that helps make sense of an increasingly frazzled world, sign on up for The Berlin Files here.

The Game of Thrones podcast geek pyramid

This edition of On Media is about Game of Thrones-related podcast content specifically.

Even if you’re not a fan of the HBO show turned cultural phenomenon, you’re probably aware that we’re now in the final stretch of episodes — in fact, the series finale will debut on May 19th.

And if you are a fan as I am, you’re probably binge reading and listening to as much GoT stuff as you can because, you know, it’s cool and all. And it’s probably one of the very last true “water cooler shows” that we’re going to see for a long, long time.

With that in mind, here’s a quick and handy guide to finding the right “level” of GoT podcasting content, based on your level of geekery with relation to the show. All of these podcasts are part of The Ringer network, which produces a remarkable array of shows, of which I’ll have to get into more fully in another edition.

Apex-of-the Geeky-Pyramid Level: Binge Mode 
Hosted by “Mother of Dragons” Mallory Rubin and “Grand Maester” Jason Concepcion, these two are my pop culture geek spirit guides. In each episode, they go deep for around two hours, parsing through the episode, how it relates to the series as a whole, the books (which themselves are quite dense and include a Silmarillon-like backstory and history), and fan and media expectations.

They’re also scholars of the art of fantasy storytelling and don’t hold back at all when and where they feel that the show comes up short. For example, there’s a lot of focus of late on how Game of Thrones may or may not pay enough attention to the core fantasy and magical underpinnings of the story.

They are also freaking hilarious. If you love Game of Thrones and a sigil for House Geek lurks in your soul, check out Binge Mode.

And if you’re a Harry Potter fan, there’s an oceanic archive of stuff that Binge Mode has produced as well that you’ll want to check out.

Mid-level Geekery: The Watch 
Overall, The Watch is my favorite pop culture podcast. Usually, it’s pretty TV-centric but will also do some film and music stuff. Lately, there has been a Game of Thrones-centered episode each week that’s really fun as well. Hosted by Chris Ryan and Andy Greenwald, this podcast has a great adoration for Game of Thrones while making sure to note its successes and failings with expert analysis.

Low-level Geekery: The Bill Simmons Podcast 
This is predominantly a sports podcast, so don’t be fooled, please (though Simmons will interview non-sports figures semi-regularly as well). That said, they’ve been doing a very funny segment called “Throne Game” at the end of episodes of late, in which Simmons and his guests (typically Ryen Russillo or Joe House) run through the most recent episode for 5-10 minutes from an extremely casual fan’s standpoint. This yields ridiculously funny bits such as how the dragons should wear gender neutral-colored collars to tell one another apart, and how Bronn and The Hound’s PER (= Player Efficiency Rating, a sports analytics term) is extremely high.

I’ll be sad when GoT is over, but as the Drowned God would say, “What is dead may never die.”

This post originally appeared in what had originally been called The Eric Berlin E-mail Newsletter. To get a weekly blast of pop culture, digital media, and politics that helps make sense of an increasingly frazzled world, sign on up for The Berlin Files here.

How should we value digital media? (+ behind the scenes of The Berlin Files!)

Tribune Publishing has a wacky, turbulent, and soap operatic history (if you have any interest in this kind of stuff, Ken Doctor at Nieman Lab is indispensable). At the time that I worked there — and it always seems to be changing — Trib owned a bunch of newspapers, including Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and the Baltimore Sun. I worked out of the LA Times building in downtown Los Angeles, a grand and historic structure that you see featured in more movies and TV shows than you might realize — recent seasons of Bosch and American Crime Story leap to mind, for example. Sadly, the LA Times (now decoupled from Trib and under the ownership of billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong) recently moved its headquarters all the way over to El Segundo, but that’s a story for a different time.

I helped to manage digital registration and subscription tools (i.e. login and paywall stuff) while I was there. It was challenging and interesting, and I got to work with some of the brightest and coolest people that I’ve ever had the pleasure of being around. It also gave me the opportunity to think a lot about the exchange of value between publishers who produce content — news content in this case, heavily focused on the printed word but also lots of pictures and some video — and readers.

The Internet of course helped to scramble what was once a pretty straight forward business model. With so much news content now available on the Internet for free — some of which is of a very high quality — how do publishers get people to actually pay for news, or for written content at all?

Coming from a background in blogging and co-owning a blogging-centric company (Blogcritics), I was acutely aware of how hard it is to gain attention (read = eyeballs or website traffic) to content even when it’s available for free. Equally hard is monetization (read = making money) based upon a non-paying audience, which requires, at the least, millions of monthly page views to have any hope of generating anything close to real money via advertising revenue.

“Tip jars” started showing up on blogs at some point as a way to allow readers to voluntarily and directly support the publisher’s efforts. Other experiments pop up from time to time, such as Dutch publisher Blendle’s deployment of “micropayments,” which essentially allow readers to make small payments per article that they view.

These days, many large publishers are looking to the paid subscription model as the key to revenue growth as there’s a general recognition that the digital advertising economy is inherently volatile. And paying one subscription to gain access to an aggregation of news sources — such as Apple’s recent Apple News+ launch — may point the way forward for some publishers as well.

But the truth and reality is that no one knows how things are going to play out and how publishing is going to stay viable in the long term. There are weighty things at play here, such as the value of journalism as a public good, and how writers and creators of all kinds should be compensated for their knowledge and output.

You’re probably not shocked to learn that all of the above is partially why I became interested in launching an e-mail newsletter. The expansive and flexible format, coupled with the relative “intimacy” of e-mail, is appealing to me in a digital world awash in the noise of social media and the difficulty of drawing people to one document that has the temerity to cover more than one topic at one time. I realized that there are very similar reasons that I’m also obsessed with podcasts. A great long form newsletter or podcast conversation gives you a feeling of closeness with the writer/speaker(s) in a way that you don’t get with other media formats.

One of the more frequent questions I get about the newsletter is how long it takes to write. The short answer is that I really don’t know. I’ve gotten more efficient at integrating the writing of it into my other activities, which has helped some. And I’ve also become a little bit more organized in not necessarily chasing every story that catches my interest during the week (though it may appear that way at times!). A week typically goes as follows:

  • Sunday: Usually I don’t do much with the newsletter. As a football fan, this fits rather well, but because I’m a New York Giants fan, maybe not so much.
  • Monday-Wednesday: Lots and lots of reading. As much time as it takes to write this newsletter, I spend far more in scouring the webs for interesting stuff. As I find things that I think might fit — and over time I’m filing most stories under media/tech, pop culture, or politics (mainly 2020 electoral machinations) — I save them and perhaps make a few notes.

My two main tools for writing the newsletter, by the way, are e-mail and Evernote. It’s pretty bare bones, but it works for me. When I find stories that I want to read later, I’ll often e-mail them to myself and then use my inbox as a clearinghouse at the end of the week. Gmail’s “snooze” tool is a killer feature as it allows me to “punt” anything that I don’t need to look at immediately. It’s a fantastic organizing tool.

  • Thursday-Friday: I’m trying to get what I’ve assembled into some kind of shape here, seeing what I have a lot of, where I might want to do a little more digging, and starting to flesh out what I want to say about the topics I’ve decided to cover.
  • Saturday: Production day! First, I make a go at getting to “inbox zero” (see; the “snooze” thing that I mention above), and then I mow through the mess I’ve made in Evernote to assemble a rough draft, during which I’ll play around with the layout, make some cuts and additions, and get it close-ish to the shape it’ll take as its final form. I then move the copy from Evernote into Mailchimp, where there’s a bunch of grunt work involved with adding links and such, but also gives me the chance to do some additional polish. Finally, I send a test version of the newsletter to myself and do a final read through, which serves as a proof read and opportunity to do fact checking (I try very hard to be accurate whenever/wherever possible, though I’m positive I will get things wrong from time to time!). And then, finally, I schedule it for publication on Sunday.

So, yeah, there’s some stuff involved. I’ve come to understand that I put the time in because I enjoy it. I try to create something each week that I myself would want to read. I find the weekly “production deadline” that I’ve set for myself is a good and motivating thing, and I also believe that a consistent publishing schedule is important in many ways.

Early on, I landed on scheduling publication for Sunday mornings with the thought that this newsletter is akin to the Sunday print newspaper that so many of us grew up with. It’s long, it’s ruminative, and you can read the parts that are interesting to you and skim over the parts that aren’t.

The fact that I’m hearing so many nice things from y’all is incredibly gratifying as well.

I started writing this On Media section in part because of the name change to The Berlin Files, but also because of Siobhan Thompson, one of my favorite follows on Twitter (for more Siobhan, see Tweets of the Week below). I saw her mention that you can “buy her a coffee” via a site called Ko-fi, which got me intrigued. Basically, the idea is that Ko-fi makes it easy to send three dollars (or multiples thereof) to anyone, including creators of stuff that you enjoy, so that they can purchase some caffeination to keep the good stuff a-rolling.

It’s not only established, brand name publications like The New York Times and The Atlantic that are scrambling around to find a sustainable business model, of course. The “little guys” have been getting crushed by the whims of Google and Facebook policies and the increasingly difficult challenge of obtaining new readers without a highly paid full time staff and/or spending a king’s ransom of coin on paid marketing efforts.

I loved Andrew Sullivan’s The Dish, which was a successful effort around a subscriber-backed publication focused on the output of writer/journalist/pundit Sullivan. Sadly (for us, not so much for Andy), Sullivan shut down the project due to burnout from the ruthless blogging schedule that he had set for himself.

More recently, sites like Patreon (which my brain keeps wanting to turn into Peloton for some reason) are a natural evolution of the “crowd sourced” movement. So whereas Kickstarter is crowd sourcing for projects and products, Patreon is stepping in so that creators can “develop a direct relationship with your biggest fans and generate predictable, recurring revenue from your creative work.”

So Ko-fi and Patreon are not so different than the tip jars of old (and if you want to go really old school, the concept of artistic patronage extends at least as far back as the Renaissance and Italian city-states) and can be thought of modern experiments in the exchange of value between publishers (or “content creators”) and people who dig on what they’re creating.

On that note, I set up my own Ko-fi page as an experiment. If you want to buy me a cup of joe, you can (anyone who knows me knows I’m a big fan of the stuff), but you are under no obligation!

As The Dana Gould Hour, one of my favorite podcasts, likes to say of itself: FREE…. AND WORTH IT!

A few other quick notes on podcasting.

I read this piece, “Are podcasts killing music or just wasting our time?” and found it to be cranky and out of tune with what’s happening in this booming space.

As I mention above, podcasting is a great format because it’s intimate and flexible and asynchronous/on demand. Episodes can be long or short, and conversations become a “theater of the mind” that you can enjoy while you’re mowing the lawn or driving across town.

Also, can’t people find it within themselves to listen to both talky podcasts and music? Not at the same time, of course, but I do indeed think this is possible.

Finally, Mark Zuckerberg has launched a podcast called Tech & Society with Mark Zuckerberg. I started listening and maybe got 35 seconds in. My review: Zuckerberg comes across as an entity with a computer in his mind designed by aliens. The computer is immensely powerful and does an incredible job of feeding the Zuckerberg host form with the words and sounds so as to appear as a relatable human who just happens to run one of the largest and most powerful technology companies of all time.

This post originally appeared in what had originally been called The Eric Berlin E-mail Newsletter. To get a weekly blast of pop culture, digital media, and politics that helps make sense of an increasingly frazzled world, sign on up for The Berlin Files here.

Fake reviews, trust, and why managing digital communities is really, really hard

I helped to run blogging community Blogcritics back in the day. My friend, founder Eric Olsen, is a master at managing online communities. He makes it look easy, using a mix of relentless engagement, aplomb, enthusiasm, and occasional sternness to keep the restless and vocal hordes of bloggy commenters and commenting bloggers in line (and online).

I bring this up because managing online communities is really, really hard. It was hard when the Internet was a little bit younger and smaller and more innocent, pre-algorithms and bots and fake news. And it’s vastly more difficult today.

I’m as harsh a critic of Facebook and other social platforms as anyone, but it’s important to keep in context that the issues that they’re trying to address are incredibly difficult even with massive brain power and resources thrown at combating them.

Here’s a good example: Amazon has a serious “fake product reviews” problem.

  • The fake Amazon review economy is a thriving market, ripe with underground forums, “How To Game The Rankings!” tutorials, and websites with names like (now-defunct) “amazonverifiedreviews.com.”But the favored hunting grounds for sellers on the prowl is Amazon’s fellow tech behemoth, Facebook.

    In a recent two-week period, I identified more than 150 private Facebook groups where sellers openly exchange free products (and, in many cases, commissions) for 5-star reviews, sans disclosures.

(Full disclosure here: I semi-recently had some early conversations with Amazon about a digital product gig in which the role would “incubate” a solution to the fake review problem and then evangelize it to executives within the company with the goal of rolling it out more widely. I thought it was… strange that they wanted to bring in someone from outside the company in a non-executive capacity to tackle a problem that is and will be incredibly challenging to solve.)

Twitter (my favorite social media product) has plenty of its own issues to deal with in terms of policing bad actors (including, some would argue, a certain head of the executive brand of the U.S. government), protecting people from harassment, and blocking bad people from doing bad things. Recently, “CEO Jack Dorsey said the company is looking to change the focus from following specific individuals to tracking topics of interest, a significant shift from the way the service has always operated.”  Dorsey notes that “what’s incentivized today on the service is at odds with the goal of healthy dialogue.”  If this is executed, it will fundamentally change the way that Twitter works. It remains unclear if this will result in the desired impact, but Twitter is at least discussing fairly radical changes to its core product experience.

Then there are times when social media companies actively do the opposite of helping:

  • #Linkedin is becoming scary with fake connect requests being sent, making you think the other person has genuinely sent the invite. Only later realising that Linkedin is playing the users by auto generating the requests.

Not sure if that one is real or some spammy thing, but it does speak to the increasingly uneasy relationship with social media products that many of us have.

Then there are times when companies do things to make you scratch your head and wonder what in the world they could have been thinking.

  • Facebook’s controversial factchecking program is partnering with the Daily Caller, a rightwing website that has pushed misinformation and is known for pro-Trump content.

For what it’s worth, here’s what Facebook is saying here:

  • Asked about its collaboration with the Daily Caller, a Facebook spokesperson noted that any news organization can apply to join the program after it gains certification from the non-partisan International Fact-Checking Network, run by the journalism institute Poynter. Poynter could not immediately be reached.

And speaking of Facebook, there’s quite a read from Wired, called “15 Months of Hell Inside Facebook.” You get fun pull quotes like this, for example:

  • The confusing rollout of meaningful social interactions—marked by internal dissent, blistering external criticism, genuine efforts at reform, and foolish mistakes—set the stage for Facebook’s 2018. This is the story of that annus horribilis, based on interviews with 65 current and former employees. It’s ultimately a story about the biggest shifts ever to take place inside the world’s biggest social network. But it’s also about a company trapped by its own pathologies and, perversely, by the inexorable logic of its own recipe for success.

The Wired story starts off with a George Soros quote from Davos’ World Economic Forum, where he says:

  • Mining and oil companies exploit the physical environment; social media companies exploit the social environment

Fear about how Facebook (and, to be fair, other social media and tech companies) uses and at times exploits user data and privacy has an impact on every new initiative the company attempts.

When this story came out — “Facebook is working on a voice assistant to rival Amazon Alexa and Apple Siri” — Drew Olanoff (one of my favorite follows on Twitter) responded with:

i mean seriously. here are the things facebook would now like us to trust them with, even though they haven’t properly addressed privacy issues, etc. etc. etc.

– our eyeballs
– our homes/offices
– our voice

yeahhhhhhNOPE

Techcrunch rips into Facebook for simply offering a sale(!) on its Portal product with, “Facebook’s Portal will now surveil your living room for half the price.”

  • No, you’re not misremembering the details from that young adult dystopian fiction you’re reading — Facebook really does sell a video chat camera adept at tracking the faces of you and your loved ones.

So, yes, these problems are incredibly difficult to solve for, but Facebook in particular has done a good job of deserving “blistering external criticism” along the way. It’s no wonder that Mark Zuckerberg has spent recent months attempting to reinvent himself as an advocate for stronger Internet privacy and election laws.

Or, as a piece from The Ringer succinctly puts it:

  • The company’s motto used to be “move fast and break things”; now it might be “move fast and fix reputation.”

This post originally appeared in what had originally been called The Eric Berlin E-mail Newsletter. To get a weekly blast of pop culture, digital media, and politics that helps make sense of an increasingly frazzled world, sign on up for The Berlin Files here.

On Media: digital habits and Amazon Kindle

I developed the daily habit for reading the newspaper growing up, Long Island New York’s Newsday specifically. My step-father would often take the main section, or Part I, when it arrived, which meant I could get my hands on the “good stuff,” or Part II, the interior entertainment section that included the TV listings and reviews from TV critic Marvin Kittman. This is one of the reasons that I developed into a TV and pop culture geek.

I moved to Berkeley, California in 1998, and that coincided with my having access to two things at the same time: a personal computer and dial-up Internet access. If you had roommates around this time, it was the era of hearing, “Yo, are you online bro?” when someone wanted to make a phone call on a single shared phone line at your place.

I have a specific recollection, on a beautiful Bay Area Sunday morning, of recognizing that I could go online and read The New York Times…. for free! (No paywall back then!) At my weird Berkeley apartment, whenever I wanted! Everything changed for me in that moment. I knew I would never subscribe to a print publication again.

Cut to the late 2000s and several moves later — which included hauling my accumulated treasure trove of books, CDs, and DVDs around the west coast — and I’m married and living in Pasadena, California. Everything changed again with my purchase of a first edition Amazon Kindle. Once I realized that reading books on a digital device was as comfortable as reading a print edition, I knew that my days of buying printed books were in the past. Sure, I value the aesthetic and tangible qualities of the printed word — I still admire my collection of Winston Churchill’s WWII memoirs, which sits on top of our piano to this day, for example — but going digital is vastly superior for all kinds of reasons. Hauling stuff around just being one of them.

Not to sound too cheesy about it, but I really did feel like I could access the world’s largest bookstore from anywhere. And that bookstore was accessible through a company we all know, called Amazon. The killer feature was the ability to download samples of books. For free! Weird sci fi horror, obscure philosophy that you were supposed to read as an undergrad but never checked out, a history of Genghis Khan, you name it, check it out for free, or not, and delete or abandon anything you’re not willing to purchase. In some ways, eventually switching to the Amazon mobile app and adjusting to reading books on the smaller form factor of my mobile device (I currently have a Samsung Galaxy S10) only deepened my addiction to reading books.

Total aside: Stephen King wrote an incredibly fun and dark novella based on the Kindle’s initial “experimental” Internet browser, called Ur.

Now, let’s jump to the present. The Amazon bookstore does a good enough job of recommending books to read, but I’m most influenced by recommendations that I get from friends and people I trust on social media. For example, author Don Winslow, who I’ve mentioned a few times, does a great job of pushing new books from authors that he thinks readers of his work will like. Stephen King for his part and lots of other writers do the same. Often, these recommendations are for books that are to be released at a future date, and they’re trying to do their best to build awareness, buzz, and, importantly, pre-sales for these books.

Here’s where things tie together in this little treatise: you can’t pre-order a book sample on Amazon. It seems crazy to me that this isn’t offered as a product feature in 2019. You can “follow” an author “to get new release updates and improved recommendations.” So outside of other means such as setting a calendar reminder for yourself, the only way to make sure you are able to access a free sample is to remember or get reminded via someone like Don Winslow on Twitter that indeed the book is available.

That’s all to say that Amazon has trained me (and my wallet) to consume free samples, out of which I’ve made many digital book purchases over the years. They would surely yield additional purchases from myself and others if we were able to pre-order book samples ahead of book release dates. And what a cool “surprise” that would be — to open up your Kindle app library and think, “Oh wow, that book sample I pre-ordered awhile back is now available!”

This post originally appeared in what had originally been called The Eric Berlin E-mail Newsletter. To get a weekly blast of pop culture, digital media, and politics that helps make sense of an increasingly frazzled world, sign on up for The Berlin Files here.

Should news publishers trust Facebook? If you have to ask…

Here’s a little story called “Mark Zuckerberg says Facebook may pay publishers to put their stuff in a dedicated news section.

Pull quotes:

  • More than a year after announcing Facebook would feature less news, Mark Zuckerberg says he has a new idea: He wants to create a section of his social network that would be devoted to “high-quality news,” and may pay publishers that share their stuff there.
  • “We talked about the role quality journalism plays in building informed communities and the principles Facebook should use for building a news tab to surface more high-quality news, including the business model and ecosystem to support it,” Zuckerberg writes in the introduction to the chat [with Axel Springer CEO Mathias Döpfner]. https://www.facebook.com/4/posts/10107028379388161?sfns=mo
  • In his discussion with Döpfner, Zuckerberg talks about building a Facebook feature so that “users who want more news content can do that,” and says his company could “potentially have a direct relationship with publishers to make sure that their content is available, if it’s really high-quality content.”

I have mixed feelings about this, mostly because it’s hard to trust Facebook’s motives when it comes to dealing fairly with publishers. Its interests are its own, and publishers have suffered the consequences when Facebook makes product changes or tweaks to its news feed algorithm. To be fair, Facebook is trying to solve a hard problem, which is to get out of being an arbiter of what is “real” versus “fake” news while at the same time figuring out how to prioritize “news” versus “friend/family updates” within individual update feeds. 
Zuck and company’s move here may be to create a “sandbox” for “high quality” publishers that’s in its own dedicated news section. There are still tons of questions, of course, including: what does “high quality” mean? Will publishers get compensated fairly? Will Facebook users be interested in visiting this dedicated news section that’s outside of the feed they’ve become accustomed to consuming news, in addition to updates from friends and family? 
And as for the “feed” itself, would a dedicated news section allow Facebook to contemplate shutting down “news”-related updates entirely? That latter bit is a critical question here.

This post originally appeared in what had originally been called The Eric Berlin E-mail Newsletter. To get a weekly blast of pop culture, digital media, and politics that helps make sense of an increasingly frazzled world, sign on up for The Berlin Files here.