Reading List: New Media Math

Each day, we’ll list the five stories from around the Web that Digiday’s editors think deserve the most attention.

New Media Math: There was a time when smart, ambitious young people dreamed of starting magazines and building an audience. Nowadays, a slightly different group is building media through technology. The efficiencies can be breathtaking. Take Instagram, a photo-sharing app for iPhone. The entire venture consists of four people. It has 5 million users, an astounding 1.25 million per employee. It did this in eight months. Whether this kind of media has the same staying power of old-time media remains to be seen. But it’s clear that the nature of aggregating audiences is quite different in the digital era of ubiquitous distribution on platforms like Apple, Facebook and Google. Figuring out how media in a more traditional model — ie, paying people to create content — can compete is a daunting task. TechCrunch

Media Agonistes: Speaking of the troubles facing traditional media, New York Times writer David Carr and director Aaron Sorkin have an interesting chat in Interview that touches on the challenge traditional media organizations like the NYT face when it comes to the rough-and-tumble digital world. Both are decidedly old-school in approach, although in distinct ways. Sorkin actively distrusts all “new media.” He calls citizen journalists “two of the scariest words to me right now,” paints bloggers as untrustworthy and Twitter users as malcontents. Carr, who is a main subject in the new film about the future of the NYT, Page One, takes a more nuanced view. “Well, the Web is like a self-cleaning oven in that it will correct itself over time. The theory is that if you have lots of inputs of information, then the truth will gradually emerge from these thousands of points of light, and people will assemble from them an idea of the way things are. But my worry is that people will not do that, and instead gather what they need in order to reinforce their existing notions of the way things are, and there won’t be a civic common anymore where fact rules. I mean, everyone is entitled to an opinion, but the facts are not up for grabs.” Interview

Porous Paywalls: One thing lost in the paywall debate is how embarrassingly easy most are to evade. Hit a subscription prompt of a Wall Street Journal story, plug the headline into Google News. There are several ways around The New York Times subscription plan, too. These publications are trying to strike the balance of building a needed extra revenue stream while not cutting themselves off from the wider Web. The NYT hasn’t shut down “NYClean,” a toolbar addon that eradicates the paywall overlay that appears over articles hidden behind the paywall. It only takes one click. The latest simple evasion tool is a Google Chrome extension for the WSJ. As BetaBeat explains, all a user has to do is download the extension. When clicking on a paywall article, the extension redirects the browser to perform a Google News search, a brief hiccup before the full article appears for free. There’s no telling how many people use these tools, but their ease will undoubtedly cut into any subscription revenue publishers hope to collect. BetaBeat

New Battle for Attention: There’s clearly so much content and distractions out there that the battleground for both media and brands comes down to attention. Brands feel the pressure as much as any publisher since paid media isn’t as easy as it used to be. PepsiCo Beverages head of digital Shiv Singh has an interesting take on this, saying the brand’s competition isn’t Coke but 30 billion Facebook status updates published per month. Singh spends his time thinking how Pepsi can infiltrate 5 percent of those person-to-person exchanges. This is the big opportunity for Facebook and other social platforms: provide big brands like Pepsi a way to easily and effectively get in that stream. Going Social Now

Will Amazon Ape Netflix? Forrester analyst James McQuivey has some advice for Amazon: take full advantage of Apple’s less restrictive rules for selling content via apps. He even suggests that Amazon build an HTML5 app and look to become the Netflix of e-book reading. However, that raises an interesting question: Does Apple want to allow Amazon to build its e-book business on the strength of the iPad? While the iPad has not become the Kindle-killer some suspected, Apple surely would like to own a bigger part of the book industry. And the company probably doesn’t want book lovers who buy iPads immediately skipping over iBooks to download a Kindle app — and have that be defined as their defined e-reading experience. Especially as Amazon’s ads have been tweaking the iPad, which is said to not be as easy on the eyes as the Kindle is in bright natural light. (Mike Shields) PaidContent

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