Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Is your brand name and industry segment being 'spammed' by a mobile applications developer?

Now that all of Reed Business Information's books have been sold, closed or retained, it will be interesting to see which of the B2B titles remake themselves online or in the world of mobile media.

It is true that I'm not optimistic as none of the titles were picked up by new media companies, or VC firms looking to launch electronic media companies. (This is because the investment firms, the usual players if you will, remain wedded to the old slash-and-burn method of media investment, leaving all things electronic to the west coast firms.)

The group of titles that may have the best chance of transitioning to the new models are the titles picked up by Sandow Media. Interior Design, probably the most attractive title available in Reed's exit from B2B is already back online at their usual URL. The site is a bit of a mess, with some empty space where sponsor links would be, and with some Google text ads wasting space at the bottom, but at least it is online. That can't, sadly, be said of many of the other titles which still have no web presence at all thanks to Reed pulling the plug on the sites.

That got me thinking: which of these titles has the best chance to go mobile? And that question led me to this post, one I've always wanted to do, but it never seemed to be the right time.

Is your brand being spammed by developers?

It has been common knowledge for quite some time that many of the apps found in iTunes are basically worthless. But with Apple early on using the number of apps as a sales tool to promote the iPhone -- There's an app for that! -- there was virtually no reigns on the app development machine that has been created.

There may be an app for that, but do we really need so many
junk news apps crowding out the useful ones?

The problem of developers loading up the iTunes store with worthless apps started to become recognized publicly last year.  In May of last year the blog -- appropriately named Just Another iPhone Blog -- called attention to one developer, Brighthouse Labs, that was taking the idea of spamming iTunes to new levels.  In their post App Store Hall of Shame: Brighthouse Labs, the blog said this Canadian developer then had 96 pages of apps currently in the store -- over 1,000 apps submitted in less than a year.

Predictably, the apps were basically carbon copies of previous apps, all created with one purpose: to drive small amounts of revenue per app, but to make thousands in the process.
Brighthouse Labs news apps released in December
Dining News
Education News
Endangered Species News
Entrepreneurship News
Environmental News
European Politics News
Fashion News
Fishing News
Football News
Gadget News
Geek News
Global Politics News
Golf News
H1Ni News
Health News
Hip Hop News
Hockey News
Home and Life News
Humorous News
Interior Design News
International Sports News
Inventions News
Legal News
Marketing News
Medical News
Mexican News
Middle Eastern News
Military news
Mixed Martial Arts News
Mobile Technology News
Motorbikes News
Mountain Biking News
Music News
New Release Movies News
Online Marketing News
Paranormal and Supernatural News
Parenting News
Photography News
Poverty News
Public Relations News
Real Estate News
Reality TV News
Religion News
Rock Music News
Rugby News
Science Fiction News
Sexuality News
Shopping News
Skateboarding News
Soap Operas News
Soccer News
Stocks and Trading News
Strange and Bizarre News
Surfing News
Technology News
Tennis News
Travel News
Vacation News
Video Games News
Water Sports News
Weightlifting News
Winter Sports News
WOW News
Wrestling News

In December of 2009 even Fortune magazine noticed the problem. There article asked Is Apple cleaning up the App Store?, written in response to the rumors that some developers were starting to get notices that their apps were being pulled from the iTunes store. The author of the story, Philip Elmer-DeWitt, wrote about one Chinese developer who had their 1,898 apps pulled when it was revealed that the developer was giving out free apps to people willing to give their apps a five-star review inside iTunes.

Back in December Elmer-DeWitt wrote that Brighthouse Labs then had 2,148 apps inside iTunes. Today, a little over four months later, the developer has 4,572 iPhone apps that show up when searching iTunes.

One of those apps came up when I searched to see if Interior Design may have launched an iPhone app without me noticing it. No it didn't, but Brighthouse Labs did.

On December 21, 2009 an app called Interior Design News appeared in iTunes selling for $1.99. This app was part of a flood of "news" apps that Brighthouse Labs, each one identically designed, with identical functions -- simple RSS readers that pull in news generated by major media firms. A week later another flood of "news" apps were launched with the theme of UK and Australian news.

Why so many apps? Wouldn't one app that allows you to create your own news feeds have been better? Of course, but that wasn't the point, was it?

I should also point out that few, if any of these apps have reviews of them inside iTunes. The apps appeared and were absorbed into the great wasteland that is the iTunes app store, sitting there waiting for the occasional iPhone users to buy, one by one, creating a steady stream of revenue for the developer.

For the B2B publisher, or any publisher, for that matter, this creates a marketing nightmare. How do you get your news app noticed when Apple allows the store to be spammed in this way? How do you protect your brand name when it is possible for some to create an RSS reader app and name it for the industry in which it grabs the news?

Of course, it is almost impossible for one developer to cover every topic imaginable. There is, for instance, no Construction Equipment News app, or a Plant Engineering News app currently in iTunes. But apparently there is nothing that will prevent Brighthouse Labs from creating these apps, and for Apple to approve them.

There does not appear to be even the basic limitation of the number of apps a developer can submit. On March 20th, for instance, 46 sports apps appeared in iTunes from Brighthouse Labs, all with the theme of a city and a sport -- All Time Houston Basketball or All Time Seattle Football, for instance.

(If you think that was bad, on the previous day, March 19th, 140 new apps appeared in iTunes from Brighthouse Labs.)

So, let's say it: this is a gigantic mess that has been created by Apple and that may force many publishers into the arms of the Android platform (not that the app model there doesn't have its issues). Apple needs someone on the inside to work the categories, manage the inventory, and work with industry members.

This is absolutely vital in the category of "news".

According to one website there are currently 201,312 apps now available, from a total of 39,534 developers. Of that total, there are 4,886 news apps, putting the category in the middle of the pack. (The books, games and entertainment categories are the most popular.)

Would any other retailer tolerate such anarchy in its product categories? Grocery store chains, for instance, have category buyers that help the chain manage shelf space and manage the brand relations. The brands, on the other hand, know who to deal with, calling on the buyers regularly, and managing getting input from the chains concerning product opportunities, and customer feedback.

If Apple doesn't have an retail experts with media backgrounds, I'll be happy to volunteer (OK, maybe "volunteer" isn't the right word here. I think Apple can afford to hire me, right?)

But whatever Apple does, or does not do to clean up its app store mess, publishers need to be aware that developers are taking advantage of the situation. A media firm that is not aware of the print competitors in their own space would be unthinkable. There is no reason mobile media should be treated any differently.