Planning is overrated.

May 13, 2012 § 1 Comment

In life, there are certain questions you dread being asked. If you’re a recent graduate, ‘What are you going to do next?’ sits near the top of the list. Because it’s not enough to have worked extremely hard in an academic setting for the last how ever many years. No, in order to fully embrace being an adult, you must now make significant decisions about your future. No thankyou.

Which brings me to last weekend. In the act of making space for a new bookcase, I unearthed some forgotten items in my bedroom; amongst them, the Student Careers Survey I completed in late 2010. Finding the form conjured the same anxiety I’d felt when we, as final year media students, were first given it over a year ago. At the time, the form represented all the worries I’d had, but not really acknowledged, about studying media at university.

After three years of hard work, I wasn’t going to be anything. I wasn’t going to be a teacher, a nurse, an engineer or a psychologist. All I really had was a glorified arts degree and luckily some practical experience in radio, but in an industry where it’s not what you know, but who you know, the chance I’d be following in the footsteps of many unlucky media graduates sentenced to work indefinitely in retail seemed pretty likely. Especially if the horrendous time I’d had trying to find unpaid work to fulfill a uni requirement was any indication. Thus, the prospect of planning a career that might never actually get off the ground was pretty daunting.

With a month until uni was over, I’d already decided I wasn’t ready to move into the big, wide world just yet. I was readying my Honours application and looking into other post-grad courses. That would keep me covered for 2011, but that’s as far as I’d planned. Needless to say, the first question on the survey, “Describe your long-term career objective(s)” was a bit of a stumper.

I’d like to work in…alternatively, I’d like to work in…I’d like the chance to…

Yeah, no definite answers from me. All is not lost though, because by complete coincidence I am currently doing some of the jobs I specified as part of my work in audio production. The fact that I’m doing these jobs so early in my career does suggest that back in 2010 I had no idea how long it would take to do the kinds of things I wanted to do.

And there lies the conundrum; I’ve managed to reach a “long-term career objective” in a very short timeframe. Did I do this goal-setting thing wrong? When specifying a “long-term career objective” are you meant to think as big as you possibly can? For example, I want to be the head of an international media conglomerate. Or are you meant to try for smaller, more manageable goals like being a community radio show producer? And say you do achieve your long term goal, but quicker than expected, what then? Back to the drawing board or is that you set forever? Do more long-term goals follow? Are you ever just content? How long are you able to bask in the satisfaction of reaching a goal before having to move on to the next one?

So many questions…

My survey answers on the whole are timid and non-specific. I like to attribute this to a general ignorance of the kind of work that is possible for a person with my skill set, rather than a fear of dreaming too big and failing. With that in mind, I think a lot of my answers can be disregarded because things have changed. As I’ve gained new experiences and put my hand up for different things, I’ve had to reassess, disregard plans and consider new possibilities.

So while there is value in having long-term career objectives, it seems important to keep an open mind. Long-term and short-term are all relative, and as I’m still testing the waters of the working world, declaring my own long-term goals seems a little pointless.

Up until this point, I’ve championed the mantra, “Well, it’ll look good on my CV”, which has served me well thus far. By having as many different working experiences as possible, I’ve put myself in a position where I can now tailor my CV  in response to specific job ads. I have given myself options. I’m a big fan of options, which is probably why I’m so against restricting myself with something as stifling as a “Five Year Plan”.

Amidst all of this thinking, I asked my dad for his perspective. When I asked him where he saw himself in five years’ time. He replied, “Five years older.”

Amen to that.

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Smartphone says, “Now!”

March 12, 2012 § Leave a comment

I received an e-mail yesterday. An e-mail that promised a pretty great opportunity for an aspiring radio producer such as myself. However, it was sent at 4.30pm on a Sunday afternoon and I didn’t read it until midnight. This wouldn’t have been a problem except the e-mail asked whether I’d possibly be able to do some recording work on Monday.

As in today.

As in a few short hours after the e-mail was sent.

The writer acknowledged the late notice, and truth be told, I wasn’t the first person approached for the gig, but I was still – dare I say it? – taken aback at how soon my services would be required. Is this the expectation now in the time of smartphones? That we’re all in a constant “online” state and available to respond to these requests as soon as they arrive in our inboxes?

I was a little late to the smartphone party. I got my first iPhone less than a month ago and I’m still getting a handle on what it can do. I haven’t even sorted out my voicemail yet. My old phone couldn’t access the internet. I used it for calls and texts and that was it. To have my whole online life in my pocket is a huge jump for me and requires some adjustment.

I understand that this particular e-mail was probably sent with crossed fingers, but I can’t help but wonder whether I’m out of touch. Maybe it’s my role as a young person, as a person with an e-mail address, as a smartphone owner, as a person working within the media industry to always be plugged in. Maybe my personal time is not my own anymore because it will result in missed opportunities.

The media industry is built on deadlines and the constant pressure to be relevant. It’s also highly competitive. If I’m not available for something, there are many others who will step up and take my place. While I’m in such a fragile, early stage of my career, it seems that I do have to be constantly on call and available. The idea of which I kind of hate, but that’s the nature of the ballgame, I suppose.

The expectation seems to be that if someone can be contacted, they are available; an expectation hardly unique to the media industry. Every few months there seems to be a story in some magazine or other about how increasingly difficult it is for professionals to switch off. If we do, we know that there’s a possibility we will miss something. But miss what? Surely, nothing’s that important.

As of September 2011, Australia has the second highest smartphone penetration in the world with 37%, according to this Sydney Morning Herald article and I can only assume that number has increased since. With nearly half (probably more) of mobile users “online”, there has been a shift insofar as when we think we can contact people and what we can ask of them. I’ve been guilty of that. I’m often surprised by how long it might take someone to respond to one of my text messages or e-mails. Surely, their phone is right next to them? Then there is the pressure, when information moves so fast, to always be on top of it, especially when doing otherwise runs the risk of missing out on opportunities like the one that came in yesterday’s e-mail.

I wish I was more comfortable just shrugging my shoulders and saying, “Oh well” as another opportunity passes me by, confident in the knowledge that something else will come along eventually, but I’m not. Eventually is too vague. I like now. And so, I’m stuck “on call”.

I like to hope that one day I will be in the privileged position of feeling I can switch off and let it all wait until Monday. Until then, keep the e-mails coming.

Big mouth

January 7, 2012 § Leave a comment

I learnt a very important lesson today; the internet is not the place to exercise my personal gripes with large media outlets. I may have embarrassed myself slightly there, and there were ramifications for it. Ain’t that always the way?

The thing is, I’m usually quite cautious when it comes to what I say via social media, but I guess I still felt so bitter about what had happened that I couldn’t resist the temptation to take a stab, which of course reflects much worse on me than anybody else. The thing is, I do know better. I think over time, like many other regular internet users, I’ve been able to separate what occurs online from real life. Because there’s a degree of separation between what you express on the internet and yourself, it can become easy to forget that those words and actions can have real world consequences.

I will be more careful next time. Lesson learnt.

Wiki = The Future of the Book?

January 5, 2012 § Leave a comment

We got my Dad a Kindle for Christmas. This in itself wasn’t so out of the ordinary. When someone has everything they’ll ever need it does become challenging to think of fun, original and useful gifts, so the Kindle was a bit of a no-brainer. It seems we weren’t the only family who welcomed a Kindle or eReader into the home this Christmas season.  However, despite buying a Kindle, when it comes to the book, I’m a traditionalist.

I recently finished reading Sherman Young’s The Book is Dead (the irony that the book is named this was not lost on me, nor the author). Despite being published in 2007, a lot of what Young says has remained relevant. He explains that the e-book does not signal the end of book culture because book culture died a long time ago, back when publishing became less about spreading ideas, and more about making a buck. As a consequence, manuscripts were given the green light if publishers believed they would sell and sell well, rather than any sincere desire to spread new, well-considered ideas that speak cultural truths. It’s therefore tricky to tell what was thrown back in the sludge pile and missed out on to make way for the next vapid celebrity book deal.

Young goes part of the way to explaining why some people read and others don’t. It’s because reading and books generally take time. They take time to write, to revise, to publish and to read. A reader is required to invest themselves in the experience, using their imagination to “see” what they’re reading and to create a world, which takes time. Readers are generally those people who had a positive reading experience early on, who fell in love with this kind of interaction between print and the mind. Others have not been so lucky and for them, reading is akin to work. It requires too much effort and we’re all just too busy now. If nothing else, Young’s book made me sympathise for non-readers. I felt sad that so many people never had the positive reading experience I did as a child. They didn’t make it to that head space.

Young champions the e-book, seeing this as an opportunity to reignite the book culture that was lost in the late 20th Century. The e-book and this system could bring about a renaissance for book culture where the expression of ideas becomes central again. But paramount to Young’s definition of the book is the time component, which, according to Nicholas Carr’s Wall Street Journal article The Future of Books, is being challenged.

There is something concrete about a printed book, something final and as a consequence of the time and effort that goes into each publication, something trustworthy. It is understood that for a book to be printed it must go through a process. Given the finality of books, content can quickly become dated. This leads to later revised editions, which are also processes. The e-book offers an alternative which Carr explores in his article. It’s easy to update and make changes to your e-book, if like Carr you “[get] the urge to tweak a couple of sentences”. All that’s required is resubmitting to Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing Service and the old version is swapped for the new.

the words can keep changing, at the whim of the author or anyone else with access to the source file. The endless malleability of digital writing promises to overturn a whole lot of our assumptions about publishing.

As Carr explains

What will be lost, or at least diminished, is the sense of a book as a finished and complete object, a self-contained work of art.

And that makes me sad. Something that can be changed and altered at whim is not a book to me. Those are drafts. The book then becomes more like a blog or a website. There’s no solidarity there, no sense of completeness.

Lorien Crow added her voice to this discussion with her article, E-book Editing Raises Questions for Publishing.

And while works of literary fiction won’t likely ever offer the equivalent of Wikipedia-style editing, they may be perennially in flux, potentially changing the definition of what a book really is.

And so we come to the crux of the issue, what is a book? If we are to go by Young’s definition that books require time, can these e-books which are so easy to alter be considered books? Is it enough that books make arguments and are full of ideas? Is that all they have to do? If the edges of where a book begins and ends become blurry, what will differentiate the “book” from other media like blogs?

Carr ends his article with this quote, and I think it’s definitely something worth considering, if like me, you don’t want to see the end of such a rich, cultural product.

Not long before he died, John Updike spoke eloquently of a book’s “edges,” the boundaries that give shape and integrity to a literary work and that for centuries have found their outward expression in the indelibility of printed pages. It’s those edges that give a book its solidity, allowing it to stand up to the vagaries of fashion and the erosions of time. And it’s those edges that seem fated to blur as the words of books go from being stamped permanently on sheets of paper to being rendered temporarily on flickering screens.

Making a mark and getting the dough.

December 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

And on to the final installment of the the breakdown of Screen Australia and StoryLabs’ Multiplatform Storytelling seminar. The third bracket of the day was penned Multi-Platform Business and was expected to consist of very dry content. To the contrary, this bracket was among my most favourite, and dare I say it, the presentation given by Jennifer Wilson titled Making Your Property Happy: Using the multitude of multi-platform business models was the most useful of the day. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Antony Reed (Australia) is a veteran of the interactive entertainment industry. With global experience in game development and publishing, Antony has been a marketing brain behind some of the world’s biggest games franchises, winning numerous awards for his campaigns. Today, Antony is the CEO of the Game Developers’ Association of Australia and is tasked with advocating the interests of the sector to government, educational, financial, and commercial institutions as well as promoting Australian game development talent internationally. (courtesy of seminar printed program)

Tony, in his presentation Designing Your Consumers: Testing, Commercialising, Marketing, spoke about games generally and explained that users/gamers/audiences are spoilt for choice. There is so much content out there that we’ve reached a stage of oversaturation. When this happens, people revert back to the brands they know and trust, which is why it is very important to create a brand.

Brands (established intellectual property):

  • dominate entertainment
  • make money
  • and create opportunity

And while there is a general conception when you’re creating you make a work as much as for yourself as the consumer, Reed emphasised that you must make games for the consumer, not yourself if you want them to have any sort of market.

To conclude the day, Jennifer Wilson gave her presentation Dude, where’s my money? Key Concepts in Delivering ROI in Digital. I predicted this session would be the most difficult to concentrate during because it was less about the creative stuff and all about the logistics of getting a transmedia or digital project running. However, Wilson’s presentation was fascinating and made a ridiculous amount of sense.

Jennifer Wilson (Australia) is a Director of The Project Factory – a multi-platform media company. She teaches courses in multi-platform, trans- and convergent media and works with leaders across all forms of media to help them understand the connected, networked world. She has authored books and papers covering key concepts, business models, rights issues and new ways of thinking about copyright. Jennifer is a member of SPAA, on the board of AIMIA and chairs the Mobile Industry Group. (courtesy of seminar program)

Wilson explained that before beginning or launching a project it is important to determine your Key Performance Indicators (KPI). This involves working out what, in terms of this particular project, signals “success”. Are you hoping to achieve awareness? Generate an audience? Or revenue? Establishing your KPI means that “success” becomes a far less allusive long-term goal.

A business model must be sustainable. This means that you must be able to sustain it through all stages of your project – the development stage, the production stage, the management stage (and the evergreen stage). Wilson gave rough funding estimate for each important stage.

Wilson advises that the development stage will require anywhere between $30k and $50k which roughly equates to 15% of your overall budget. This money funds the production of your “sales tool” or prototype which will enable you to get more funding for the production stage. In addition to your own money, the development stage is funded by the “Three Fs” – friends, family and fools. Depending on where you live, there are also state digital funds and federal screen agencies that are worth looking into. Another funding option is crowd funding. Rather than simply using this stage to raise funds, this stage can be considered an opportunity to create an audience for your project.

You’re ready for the production stage, when you’ve raised the money required, which is approximately 50% of your overall budget. You’ve received money from broadcasters, distributors, brands, partners and agencies all based on the strength and promise of your prototype, but now it’s time to get down to business. 10-15% of your budget needs to be set aside for specifically multiplatform/transmedia development and implementation.

Your project finally goes live, but now comes, what can be, the most important stage of this whole process, the managment stage. In some instances, this stage can take up to 70% of your budget, but can be funded to an extent from production budget reserves.

Wilson made it explicit that there is not one business model that can be applied to digital. Over different stages, you could implement between 10 and 15. She advised that making real money in digital is six months away, but in the mean time there are business models you can implement. The first thing to consider is, who is going to pay for your content? Your audience or those who want your audience? Is merchandise going to supply your revenue? Is sponsorship (Wilson described this as the best model)? Affiliate (selling third party services via your site)? Infomediary (selling data about your audiences/users, list broking)? Wilson explained that advertising really only works for bigger brands, which feeds into Reed’s earlier emphasis on creating a brand for your project.

The business model you adopt should be informed by the form of your project. For example, if you are merely “broadcasting” your own content, advertising can make sense as a model because the content plays out in a linear fashion.

Freemium is a comparatively newer business model. It is the idea of giving something away for free and making users want to give you money for the premium or extra bits. Alternatively, you must make it explicit that a project will eventually not be free and this is only a limited time offer because otherwise users will feel betrayed.

All of Jennifer Wilson’s slides can be downloaded from here.

The day ended with Gary Hayes, Founder of StoryLabs mentioning that his How to Write a Transmedia Production Bible is available for free download from the Screen Australia website. This is a great resource and provides a thorough breakdown of the kinds of things you have to consider when putting together a transmedia project.

Get to it!

 

An insight to the radio industry

October 31, 2011 § Leave a comment

A friend of mine kindly forwarded me the Soundwomen report Tuning Out: Women in the UK Radio Industry by Skillset.

  • While women working in radio are better qualified than men (73% of women have degrees, compared to 60% men), they’ll be paid less – earning on average £2,200 less each year.
  • They are also less likely to make it to the top. Women make up just 34% of senior managers and only 17% at Board level.  This is much lover than in television, where 29% of board members are women.
  • Older women are less well represented too – 9% of women in radio are 50+, compared to 19% of men.
  • And 16% of women in radio have dependent children, compared to 25% of men, suggesting that many women leave when they have children.

Taken from the Soundwomen blogpost.

This is a UK survey obviously, but I have a feeling that the numbers in Australia wouldn’t stack up much better. I found it particularly interesting that women are more likely to respond to job positions advertised than men who directly contact the workplace and get positions through networking. I’m certainly not a confident networker; it’s one of my downfalls. I’m happy to chat to someone about my work and their work, but when it actually comes to asking something of them, or suggesting I’d be a good investment for them, I just can’t do it. I can’t sell myself like that. That’s something I’ll have to get over.

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