Saturday, May 29, 2010

Week in Review

Short reads on a Saturday morning:

Last week was dominated by news from Google's I/O conference; this week was dominated by all things iPad as Apple introduced the tablet to the rest of the world, and developers and publishers rolled out their tablet offerings.

Next week, while shortened because of the Memorial Day holiday, will probably be more of a mixed bag. But Apple's own developer conference will occur the following week so once again may dominate the news.

• Yesterday Apple launched the iPad internationally, and with it came a stream of new news apps -- some written specifically for the tablet, others simply ported over. U.K. readers now have access to The Times as well as the Financial Times (both were released in the U.S. early), The Australian appeared yesterday for the first time, as did a series of apps for Polish newspapers and for Italian newspapers.
One of the stranger launches was for the Globe and Mail, one of Canada's better newspapers. For reasons I can't quite understand, a branded app called Globe2Go was launched on the day the iPad was launched in Canada. It is strange because the app did not come from the paper itself but from NewspaperDirect Inc., the company behind the PressReader app.

The PressReader app is a nice app, in its own way. That is, it gives iPad owners access to hundreds of newspapers across the world, but the app itself is a simple flipbook-type reader that adds very little interactivity or added content. Did NewspaperDirect bail out the Globe and Mail by providing a branded app at launch?

In the end, the pickings were slim as newspaper and magazine companies probably did not have enough time between the initial iPad launch on April 3 and the international launch yesterday to develop their own apps. The commercial developers I have talked to tell me the reasonable time between start and finish is at least six weeks -- right where we are at now. Therefore, I would expect the new apps to start trickling into iTunes now and through the summer.
• Barnes & Noble, which recently updated its NOOK software, launched an iPad app this week as it got onto equal footing with Amazon's Kindle.

As I wrote on Thursday, like the Kindle app from Amazon, the app is simply a way to organize and read your online purchases with the iPad. Once you have downloaded the free app you are requested to either sign-in to your existing account or else create a new account. The process is easy and does not require a credit card immediately. Buying a book then becomes an online experience rather than an in-app experience.

All-in-all, a very good e-reader. Now the issue becomes book prices and my own short amount of research shows that in this area Amazon is still the clear leader.

• More book publishing developments: Apple has opened its iBookstore to self-publishers. The Apple Connect program now includes books, as well as music. Authors need a ISBN number and would have to be in ePub format. Those a little concerned about doing this themselves can have an aggregator such as LibreDigital do the work.

Amazon has allowed self-publishers to submit books for Kindle, so Apple's move is hardly revolutionary. But book publishers have to be confused and concerned about the future of their industry, even while they may be excited about the growth of digital distribution. They should talk to the music labels to see if they can get advice.
• Lastly, as far as the iPad is concerned: the long-anticipated Wired magazine app appeared in iTunes on Wednesday representing the June issue. Initial reviews have been mixed, but my own views are that it is a winner.

Some may have been disappointed that the app can't walk on water (or sell two-page spreads by itself). Whatever. If Mr. Magazine is correct, digital can't save the magazine anyway so I guess creating an iPad app was a giant waste of time.

On the other hand, those thousands of new tablet owners appear to want to read publications on their devices. According to Wired, the publisher was able to sell 24,000 apps its first day. And as of Friday, the Wired app was the number paid news app in iTunes. I bet those advertisers that bought premium ads (containing interactive content in the iPad edition) were a happy bunch.

• The Bay Citizen, the non-profit news site and organization created with the financial support of F. Warren Hellman, the former head of the Investment Banking Division at Lehman Brothers, launched this week. The site describes itself as a non-profit, nonpartisan news organization, and hopes to survive off of large foundation gifts, memberships, sponsorships/underwriting and syndication.

Jonathan Weber is serving as editor-in-chief. Weber was co-founder and editor of The Industry Standard, at one time in its short life the magazine with the most ad pages in America.

• The New York Times own Bay Area blog may be the first casualty, if you will, of the Times new relationship with The Bay Citizen. Writers Felicity Barringer and Ryan and Mac wrote a farewell post yesterday -- San Francisco, the Rorschach Test -- and announced that the new entity would take over the content. The lead bloggers for the Bay Area blog have been Michelle Quinn and Katharine Mieszkowski -- Mieszkowski is now a senior writer for The Bay Citizen.