The hometown newspaper in the city I work in just announced it will cut home delivery to just three days per week. The reason, of course, is that it just isn’t making money off the print editions and must focus time and resources on its online product, along with mobile and tablet platforms.
It’s a sad state of affairs, when you consider the historic nature of the announcement: After nearly 200 years, this city no longer has a true daily newspaper.
Even sadder, in my estimation, is the fact that the leadership at the paper’s parent company continues to point fingers at the Internet for the demise of the printed product. And rather than figure out how to survive, they continue to hasten to rush toward extinction. To wit:
Readers have long clamored for a better news product. This particular newspaper cut its newsroom staff in half a few years back — from about 200 to about 100 — which, no matter how you slice it, means less news. I’ve never done a story count, but the decrease in quality over the past several years has been evident. I spent a dozen years competing against journalists from this newspaper, and always found them on top of the game. Recently, the paper is clearly scrambling just to put news on pages — and it’s often not compelling, important news, but news the paper believes will sell more papers.
Of course, the paper had to cut positions. It was bleeding money, both from wages and from a multi-million-dollar printing press installed to allow the paper the ability to print color on almost every page. The idea behind the press, of course, was to talk more advertisers into buying color ads. Color ads mean more expensive ads, which means more money for the paper. Didn’t work out that way.
So here we are.
The paper couldn’t afford the journalists, so it offered buyouts to get rid of as many as possible. The product suffered. Readers noticed. In response, the decision is to eliminate even more jobs, but concentrate on the electronic product.
Here’s the deal: The product is still crappy, whether it’s in print or online. Cutting costs by cutting journalists will never never never never never fix your dwindling readership.
Know what? I’m not sad.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, as journalists eulogize the industry. And of course the claim is without proper, trained journalists, the nation will fall apart. Sure, bloggers are telling the news too. But they aren’t real journalists, are they?
This is hogwash.
Our notion of professional journalism and journalism ethics is relatively new, considering the age of newspapers themselves. One of America’s first newspapers, the New England Courant, was published by Ben Franklin’s older brother, James, and was filled with fictitious accounts from fictitious correspondents — satire and opinion pieces. The year was 1721, and until that time, news sheets were filled with news from overseas.
But “journalism” in America became something much different. It became a way to criticize, to needle the establishment, to raise awareness and whip up discontent. It was meant to inform and entertain. It was political, biting, and sometimes dangerous. It was the life’s blood of each community.
That didn’t change much through the 1900s — even through the 1950s. Newspapers were largely a reflection of their editors. But they’d lost something, even by then: They’d already become an industry, and men had already become very, very rich, just by selling information.
Over the past hundred years, the problem has only increased, to the point where huge corporations have dominated the news industry for decades, and they made a lot of money.
But information wants to be free. And we want it to be free.
The news industry has dumbed the news down, just to sell newspapers, to catch audiences. It is rarely the bastion of truth and justice it once was, yet it masquerades behind the ideals of objectivity. There is no objectivity in the news; the object is to make money.
The truth is, the common man is taking the news back. In our local communities, local bloggers are telling the news — with their own spin. And that spin leads others to tell the news from their side. There are debates online. There is conversation. There is, truly, a freedom to print anything. A real freedom of a real press.
The news industry will eventually die — at least in terms of being the leading information source. But the news itself will live on. Wherever there is injustice, there will be a voice to speak out against it. Wherever there is need, there will be a pen. Because this new breed of journalists realizes what the old guard forgot long ago: It’s not about money. It’s about doing what’s right.
For years, designers have decried spec work and contests as being bad for business. Why, they say, should they work for free? Why should they design a logo for a client who may flat-out dismiss the work and never pay a penny? Why should they waste their time entering logo design contests, competing against 100 other designers, when only one will make anything at all?
These practices, they say, devalue their work. Designers are highly skilled professionals who must be allowed to work with an engaged (read: paying) client who won’t just flake out on a whim and hire someone else. Their talent and skill must be trusted and appreciated because — let’s face it — a client knows nothing about design.
Here’s the truth: Contests and spec work don’t devalue the work of a designer. Bad design and poor value do.
Let’s step back.
When I started website design nearly a decade ago, it was for one simple reason: I was appalled by the BS I was being fed by “designers” who felt they could charge whatever they wanted — purely because I didn’t know how to put a gif of a rotating phone on a web page. There were keys to that kingdom which they held close to the breast, and I was to pay for that knowledge with my firstborn.
The truth is I’d already been a designer. I’d studied newspaper design under one of the nation’s premier designers, and I’d successfully designed or redesigned more than a dozen publications. I have a solid understanding of color, weight and spatial relationships. Also, I’m left handed. I’d done logos, newsletters, stationary. Pretty much everything. But I didn’t know how to get those things to the then-nascent Internet. Fortunately, I have a geek for a best friend, and he was more than happy to learn.
Our first act was spec work for the newspaper company where I worked. The company had dabbled in the Internet before, paying a firm to develop a news site — and ended up a quarter million dollars in debt. For free, my friend (and now business partner) built a site from scratch, which we delivered to the company. That piece of spec work landed us both new jobs, and as we learned more about web development, we began to offer our services to others.
Since then we’ve done plenty of spec work, designing mockups of websites for clients who, more often than not, are gunshy because they’ve been burned by poor design or unreliable designers who charge too much and deliver too little. Often we’re hired to take the job. Sometimes we aren’t. Dem’s da breaks.
The trouble with the argument over spec jobs is this: There’s a difference between designers and Designers, and that difference is not apparent to the client until they’ve seen what you’re capable of. Sure, a resume and a portfolio are nice, but let’s be honest: Designers only use their best stuff in their portfolio. No matter how good a portfolio is and no matter how much a reference might rave, the client and the designer just may not be on the same page. Ever.
For these clients, a logo contest works quite well. First, they probably don’t have much money to work with. Second, they’re looking for as many options as possible — often in the hopes of finding a designer they can actually work with long term. One client I work with used Crowd Spring when trying to develop a new logo. Not only did he get something he was happy with for a very reasonable price, but he made contact with the designer and has used the same person again. Maybe 50 other designers didn’t get that job. But maybe they shouldn’t have. And maybe their work really wasn’t worth paying for.
As has been noted in articles across the web, contests like these often bring out the dregs of the design world — folks who, by virtue of the fact that they’ve pirated Photoshop, believe they’re designers. But Photoshop doesn’t make you a designer; finding someone to pay for your work does. Perhaps — just perhaps — these “contests” can help weed out some of those dregs. Maybe after losing every contest they’ve entered, some of them will study a little, some may study a lot, some may drop out altogether. But the idea that spec work and contests are unfair because not everyone gets paid for their work is, well, silly.
It’s also silly to ignore that the cream rises to the top, and that the best designers will more than likely win, add padding to their portfolios, and likely find clients they can work with again and again.
Do I enter contests? No. I’ve built a reputation for being fair, honest, hardworking and talented. You know what else I do? I don’t expect a dime from a client until the work is finished. And I don’t call it finished until the client is 100 percent satisfied. If they don’t like my work, I take it with me. I’d rather they spend their money somewhere else.
Here’s the bottom line: If you don’t want to work on spec or enter contests, don’t do it. But every argument against this work sounds the same to me: You want to get paid for everything you do and you don’t like having to compete for fear someone else will get the job. In that case, fine. That means more work for those of us who are willing to put our customers first and our wallets second.
HP has finally gotten on my last nerve. I’m absolutely fed up. And, frankly, I’m surprised I’m not hearing more of an uproar from the Internets.
I’ve had quite a few HP products over the years — mostly printers and desktop machines. A year ago I decided on an HP laptop. Though I really like the machine, I was immediately assaulted with a bunch of crap I didn’t need — various HP-branded software that “helped” me do things on my brand-new Windows 7 machine. On top of that, I got the obligatory crapware, games and trial antivirus software. I deleted and uninstalled all of it, and have been pleasantly surprised by the machine. I liked it so much that when it came time to buy a new desktop machine, I bought a big HP, with lots of bells and whistles.
Again, I was forced to remove a bunch of crapware when I got Karen (I named her Karen). But I guess the sad commentary is that I’m used to that ritual. Karen ran beautifully for several months. A couple of months ago, however, I got the dreaded blue screen. The first of many.
At first it was no big deal. Karen would start up again and continue along where we left off. But then things started going crazy. So I called HP tech support. The computer was under warranty, I was told, so no worries. It would be fixed. But there were worries.
Immediately, tech support blamed the software I was running. Nevermind that I’d been running it for months, or that I’d spent a considerable time online hunting down the specific BSOD error and knew the cause. His solution was to uninstall the software I was using first and see if the problem persisted.
“Well,” I said. “It’s video editing software. And I actually use the computer to edit video. If I uninstall it, I will not be editing video…and probably not using the computer.” I asked if he had specific procedures for the BSOD I was getting. He said he did not. In fact, he did not take note of what the error was. I asked to talk to someone who had used a computer before.
I was transferred to someone else. This time, I was told immediately to format my hard drive and reinstall the operating system. The gentleman offered to walk me through the steps to do so. “No,” I said. “This is not an OS problem. It is a hardware problem.”
He challenged me, and told me to run HP’s hardware diagnostics. He said he would call back in two hours so I could report the results. “This is not a hardware problem,” he said. “If it’s a hardware problem, the diagnostics will show us.”
Well, the diagnostics wouldn’t run. The machine bluescreened in the middle of the tests. And the guy from HP didn’t call me back in two hours. In fact, HP didn’t call back for four days. My computer was 30 miles away. They said they’d call me back later that night. They called six days later. Again, I wasn’t expecting the call. I was at the mall. They said they’d call the next day.
Miraculously, things started working again. I thought perhaps they were right. Maybe it was OS related. Maybe it was just a bum update from Microsoft that was fixed. And life went on. Until two weeks ago, when the blue screens came fast and furious. Poor Karen crashed within minutes of booting up. And things were looking grim.
I backed up all my files. I wiped the drive. I reinstalled the OS. The blue screens continued.
My call to HP went as I expected. I was told to reinstall the OS again. I was told I would have to spend $20 on rescue disks to restore the machine’s factory OS install. Again I was told to run the hardware diagnostics and to call back when they completed. When Karen bluescreened during the diagnostics I called. On the other end was Buck — the first American I talked to throughout the ordeal.
It didn’t take Buck long. He listened to my story. We ran the diagnostic test again. He asked me a couple of questions, took lots of notes, and set me up immediately to get Karen sent in for repair. Less than a week later, she’s back at my desk. And things are going well.
So…why am I complaining? Look: I had a pretty simple problem. The fact is, HP’s tech support staff did everything it could to keep from having to fix it. Team members blamed me, my software, Microsoft’s software…anything but the build itself. They failed to return phone calls when they were promised (in fact, at one point a caller claimed they’d called me every night; I just hadn’t answered the phone). They didn’t even listen to the symptoms or document them so that someone who actually knew something about computers could help.
At the end of my experience, I was left thinking HP’s method of dealing with customer problems such as mine is to stonewall, argue and put off any solution until the customer gives up. It’s unacceptable.
Let’s add to it my HP wireless printer. No, I can’t just install it like a normal printer. I actually have to use a setup CD, which is impossible on my netbook. So to print a simple document I’d typed, I had to download the software from HP and install. And I was horrified to find not only had it installed the printer, but also several other pieces of software — all accessible through four — FOUR — desktop icons. It’s a printer, folks. PLEASE let it BE a printer.
HP needs to learn to respect its customers. I should not have to spend time removing garbage I don’t want. I should not have to spend hours talking to tech support. Setting up a printer should not take 20 minutes. Show customers some respect and you’ll earn their loyalty. You’ve already lost mine.
As you’ll read in the comments below, my poor Karen began bluescreening again, just days after she was returned to me.
In the days since, I’ve spent countless hours on the phone with HP tech support, the escalations department, and the executive customer relations department. I’m going to try to keep this update short, but I don’t know if that’s possible.
My first call to HP to report they hadn’t fixed the problem went poorly. As you can read below, I was told to test the hard drive for the umpteenth time. I politely declined, and asked if I could talked to someone else. I was told I could not, and that if I refused to run a hard drive diagnostic, the tech would not help. I was given a number to call, but that number went to dead air.
My next call didn’t go much better. I talked to two different people, and was finally told my case was being sent to the escalations department, where someone would decide how best to proceed. I asked to have that person call my cell phone any time the next day from 9 am to 11 pm.
At 2:30 am, my home phone rang. It was HP, offering to help fix the “problems you are having getting online.” Well…it was 2:30 am, and at no time did I ever say I was having a problem getting online. And I had just told them to stop calling my home phone.
The next day, Jon from escalations called. He called my home phone, again after I said not to. I returned the call, and somehow ended up with Kelsey, who said she’d be happy to help resolve the issues I was having with the “computer booting up.” Again, not the problem I was having. After talking to her extensively, I was offered the opportunity to send Karen back to Texas for repair. And I guess I could have just agreed to that. But these are people who utterly failed to diagnose and correct the problem already. I told Kelsey I want someone to come to my house, or I would like to take the machine somewhere to have someone actually look at it — someone I can talk to. She told me although my warranty didn’t cover such things, she’d send an email to someone else and try to get a home visit approved. I thanked her, and asked her to call my cell phone when she had an answer. We confirmed the number.
The next day, she called me back. On my home phone. I received the message and called back, where a man named Michael happily told me a tech would come to my house. To replace my hard drive.
I’ll admit that at this point I flipped out, and I appreciate Michael’s patience. I told him the hard drive was fine. I explained the situation. He told me he builds his own computers, and agreed the BSOD error didn’t sound hard drive related to him either. His guess was motherboard and processor. I’ll point out that in my first call to HP tech support — on Dec. 31st — I told them there was a problem with the CPU.
He made a note for Kelsey to call the next day (yesterday). Again, she told me a tech was coming to replace a part that isn’t broken. I said no. I told her I wanted someone to come look at the machine, diagnose the problem, and fix what was broken. But the repair staff doesn’t troubleshoot, Kelsey told me — that’s what the folks on the phone do. And those folks on the phone just tell the repair staff what part to replace.
Long and short is that my computer still isn’t fixed. My warranty runs out in just days, and the HP staff doesn’t seem to want to put in the effort to make sure it works.
They’ve made a big deal of waiving a $50 fee for a home repair call. But the fact is they’ve cost me hours of time and weeks of productivity. How have they made it up to me? How have they tried to make it up to me at all? They haven’t. They seem to believe it’s enough to merely get me back to where I started, despite the fact that they’ve cost me time and money.
Thank goodness for my Acer netbook. It’s gotten me through this mess. And I can assure you, HP will never get my business again.
So…I scheduled an appointment with HP to have a tech come to my house last week to fix Karen. Well…to replace the motherboard. I took the day off, as I was told the tech would arrive between noon and 4. At 9:30 my phone rang. The guy on the other end said he was calling to confirm my appointment. “Yes,” I said. “I’ve taken the day off from work, and will be waiting.”
“Well,” he said, “if we can’t make it today, will you be around tomorrow?”
He explained they were trying to find a tech, and he’d call me in a couple of hours to let me know when they’d show up. He never called. Nobody did. I spent the whole day waiting. The next day I set up another appointment, for Saturday. But you know what? I was sick of it. Something needed to get done.
I called Kelsey the next day and told her to get creative, make me an offer and make me happy. She promised to get back to me the very next morning. She didn’t. I called and got Todd on the phone. Though she’d promised to call, Kelsey actually had the day off. And that was really all it took.
I’d decided the night before that it was time to take more drastic action. I told Todd I was through being nice. My next stop would be small claims court. His tone changed immediately. He actually listened to my story — even acted bewildered when I told him I’d diagnosed the problem even before making my first call to support. He offered to put in a request to send a new machine. In the meantime, he told me to allow the repairman to replace the motherboard — just in case.
Saturday came, and the motherboard was replaced. The repairman watched as Karen booted up and promptly bluescreened. He called HP.
I could hear his conversation, and he explained the BSOD error. “Why are you replacing the motherboard?” the guy on the other end said. “This is a problem with the CPU.”
It’s now Tuesday, and I just got off the phone with Todd. HP is sending me a new computer — one with better specs than Karen. I’m relieved to hear that, and I’m glad to know this fiasco is finally coming to a close. But my feelings haven’t changed. The next time I shop for a computer or printer, HP will not be on my list.
It should not take three months and the threat of legal action for any company to listen to its customers and response appropriately. Had I been listened to three months ago, Karen would have gone to the shop, the CPU would have been replaced, and I’d be singing HP’s praises here. Instead I’ve been frustrated, annoyed, and treated like a fool.
I’m not a fool.
Well, the saga seems to have ended. I received my new computer on Friday. It wasn’t the one I was promised — that one, I’m told, was sold out — but an acceptable replacement. I used it over the weekend, and it seems to be working fine. I’m now about to send old Karen back to HP, where I hope she’s treated well.
I’ve certainly written more than enough on this subject, so I don’t want to belabor the point much longer. Yes, in the end, HP did the right thing. But that end took a LONG time to get to, not to mention several threats on my part and hours upon hours of aggravation.
Here’s my advice: Do not take no for an answer. Fight tooth and nail to get what’s coming to you. If HP refuses, don’t be afraid to take the company to small claims court. Remember that you’ve paid for the machine, and the law says you should expect it to work.
In real estate, location is everything, right? Put your business on the right street and you could make a killing. Put it in a dumpy neighborhood and you could be closed in six months.
The Internet’s not all that much different.
I’ve been in the Internet business a long time. Longer than Facebook. Longer even than Google or YouTube. I make a decent living helping clients use the Internet to promote themselves, better serve their customers and keep their own doors open. It’s a vocation I enjoy. One thing I’ve learned? The whole Internet is a dumpy neighborhood.
That’s right. I said it. The whole Internet is that dumpy neighborhood. It’s filled with perverts, lurkers, sleaze balls, snake-oil salesmen and worse. And more than that? There are way more people there who don’t want your product than there are who do — hundreds and hundreds of millions of people who want absolutely nothing to do with whatever you’re selling.
People love the idea of doing business on the Internet, because opening a storefront there seems like opening a storefront on the busiest street in the city. But it isn’t. It’s more like opening a storefront on the Autobahn, where the vast majority of the traffic is flying by, and nobody stops unless their car breaks down or they need to take an emergency bathroom break.
If we continue to torture this metaphor, I’m sure our search engine optimization friends will say that’s exactly what SEO is for…it’s like a road map, telling drivers exactly where to go to find what they’re looking for. And perhaps they’re right.
But as I tell my clients, think about your own shopping habits. When you go shopping, do you bring a map, drive around town and hope you find what you’re looking for? Or do you head to the mall and know exactly what stores you like? Do you pop into every store on Main Street, or do you read through the Sunday circulars and know where the sales are?
I’ve been harsh on SEO in the past, primarily because in my experience the vast majority of SEO “experts” know just enough to be dangerous. And with that nugget of knowledge, they’re willing to charge a fortune — all based on promises they can’t deliver on. And while I believe websites should be search-engine friendly, I can’t stand idly by and allow good people to be taken in by the idea that generating sales online is as simple as spending money on SEO. I can promise, without hesitation, that it does not work that way.
Very few people shop blindly. They aren’t typing in some random phrase and then buying the product from the first website they see. In fact, the vast majority of traffic — and therefore the vast majority of sales — on any website should be “direct request” — meaning someone actually typed in your name and visited on purpose.
I’ve had plenty of lively discussions on this site about the importance of drive-by traffic — the folks who google some term and stumble across a particular website. My argument is now and will forever be that this “drive-by” traffic is just that — it’s folks who were just driving by on that busy freeway. Perhaps they craned their necks as they passed, but they aren’t going to buy from you. They may even be on the wrong street.
Some of my SEO friends will tell you to take advantage of this traffic — to optimize your site so drive-by traffic becomes a profitable. But doing so is pandering to the lowest common denominator, and it isn’t serving your actual customers.
As I’ve said a thousand times: Advertise. It’s the only way to become a destination. No matter what you’re selling, make sure you’re an expert on that product. Make sure nobody knows it better than you do. Provide value and an amazing customer experience. Get people excited about supporting you. Create an ad campaign that targets your market and actively reach out to help people who could use products you’re selling.
SEO can get your address on the map, but advertising is the big billboard above the building, shouting “_____ on sale today!”
Before you spend money on anything, think about your own habits. If you aren’t excited about the way you’re marketing your business, chances are nobody else will be either. Be dynamic, incredible, and worthy of your customers. Don’t just rely on putting your business on the busiest street.