Friday, November 12, 2010

Lean Forward, Lean Back, Face Down.

Joseph Esposito is a smart and knowledgable observer of the publishing world. He's been in it and of it most of his life. In a recent post at Scholarly Kitchen, Mr. Esposito talks about two media paradigms ("lean forward" and "lean back") and wonders if smart phones have introduced a third ("face down").

Lean Forward is what you do at your desktop or laptop computer. You lean forward as you "process" and "interact" with the machine. Lean Back is what you do watching TV or listening to music or reading a book. You absorb what comes at you.

Increasingly, however, we engage media of all kinds "face down," staring at our I-Phones and Droids and Blackberrys. And the question that Mr. Esposito raises is: what does this mean for publishers?

I don't know what it means for publishers, but it seems to me that the Face Down paradigm has huge implications for people who are in the business of advertising and marketing services. And that in a Face Down world, delivering the right message at the right time in a short burst is essential to all the people who are staring down at their (relatively) tiny screens.

The major advertising and marketing services companies have responded to this challenge by buying up and beefing up companies that specialize in complicated predictive matrices (once known as "collaborative filtering"). Google Mail does this by the taking key words from the email I just wrote and matching it with products that relate to those words. So, I might write to my friend Bob: Dear Bob -- Can you play golf tomorrow at noon? Google Mail ad comes up: Golf Ball Sale at The Golf Warehouse. That's pretty good actually. As anyone who has received recommendations from Amazon and Netflix knows, it goes quickly downhill from there.

The thing I have never understood is why the major advertising and marketing services companies (and newspaper publishers, for that matter) haven't developed an application that enables people to get the advertising that they want, when they want it. The most important fact, after all, about a face down world is that no one has any time. A service that gathered your advertising requests for the day and bundled them up into an email that you could read quickly while dodging foot traffic on your way to the train would seem (to me at least) to be a hugely attractive value proposition. I tell it which ads I want to see. It sends me those ads, saving me time.

That seems a whole lot more efficient than everyone looking at my URL visits and determining that I might be interested in subscribing to The Economist. I already subscribe to the Economist.

In the meantime, face-downers like me default to Google. Or we go to Zagat to look up a restaurant. Or we sign up for emails from Zappos or Sierra Trading. But the company that puts together is going to make a lot of money. Because we are all face-downers now. And for most of the day, we only have a moment to get done what we need to get done.