Saturday, January 30, 2010

Week in Review

Short reads on a Saturday morning.

•  The week was totally dominated by the launch of Apple's iPad, the very unfortunately named new mobile device. Techies complained about the lack of Flash and multitasking (something that some believe will eventually be corrected in software updates) as well as the lack of a camera. Media analysts were concerned by the absence of updated customized magazines and newspapers being demonstrated. In the end, it is obvious that the content will come.

I posted two somewhat lengthy posts on the launch that can be read here and here. But I'll leave the last word for this week to Paul Smalera who wrote on True/Slant:

Apple has just created the ultimate sandbox. The newspapers and magazines are the rich kids who can afford the coolest Tyco toys. The question is, can they get over the fact that the sandbox is in Steve Jobs’ backyard? Readers aren’t going to wait around for the print media to get over their sulking; they’ll be happy to play with whoever shows up first at Jobs’ iPad sandbox with their dumptruck or steamshovel, even if it’s made out of plastic and the windshield’s popped out, as long as it’s fun and worthwhile. Readers will grow with those apps as they evolve and build audiences and revenue. If old media doesn’t get its act together, they’ll be playing with their shiny metal front-loaders in their crappy cardboard sandboxes, that wilt in the rain, all by themselves, right around the time Stevie and his friends are graduating to the jungle gym.

•  OK, maybe not the absolutely last word . . . Randall Rothenberg, President and CEO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, warns of The iPad's Threat to Advertising. I don't see it, I don't get it, but there it is.

•  Speaking of threats, do you think Borders sees Apple as a threat? Apple used the Yerba Buena Center event to not only unveil its new media device but it also previewed iBook, Apple's new bookstore app. Borders, meanwhile, was not having a good week as it announced that it was laying off 10% of its corporate staff. Maybe now someone will mention to them that there's this little thing called the Internet that they seem to be struggling with . . .

•  One of the funnier moments leading up to the big launch day was Terry McGraw on CNBC commenting on his company's financial performance. Asked by CNBC's stumbling interviewer Erin Burnett about McGraw-Hill's involvement with Apple's new tablet device, McGraw confirmed that his company was working with Apple and mentioned that the device would run the iPhone OS. Oh my how the blogs lit up!  See, McGraw confirms new Apple device!  Then the next day when there was no mention of McGraw-Hill by Steve Jobs during his presentation the blogs (and mainstream media) went nuts again. McGraw-Hill punished! McGraw-Hill axed! Oh my.

☜  McGraw-Hill CEO Terry McGraw reacts as CNBC host Erin Burnett ends interview by revealing "I like to smell my textbooks". We kid you not.

One day later it was time for McGraw-Hill's press people to set the record straight.  WSJ: "As a company deeply involved in the digitization of education and business information, we were as interested as anyone in the launch of the new device, although we were never part of the launch event and never in a position to confirm details about the device ahead of time," said Steven Weiss, VP of corporate communications for The McGraw-Hill Companies.

•  The Guardian had a busy week in the news, as well. Besides liveblogging the big event in San Francisco, they also announced their first "beatbloggers".  The hires are part of a plan to create a local new network staffed by bloggers. By local, we are not talking about neighborhood level reporting as the first three hires will report on Edinburgh, Cardiff and Leeds. So hyperlocal publishers need not despair.

•  Finally, it's worth again pointing out Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger's speech from this week about pay walls. My post on the speech is here.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Photoblogging Friday - 4

It's Friday, that means another edition of Photoblogging Friday. If I can keep this up maybe I can steal the rights to all the shots posted here and publish a book. Guess that would get me in trouble, right? Oh well.
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Our photo editor has contributed this week's photograph: a shot entitled Street of Dreams, Kamakura, 2005 from Dean Brierly, of Photographers Speak.

Edited to correct information about the photo.

Newspapers: the one-size-fits-all approach versus the tailored products approach

Write down the headlines, line them up. What do you see? That's the exercise I've been doing this morning.

U.S. Newspaper Circulation Falls
Newspaper circulation may be worse than it looks

New Media:
Google Exec Says Newspapers Need to Re-think Their Models
iPad's Not Soft Enough to Cushion Journalism's Hard Landing

Industry in 'death throes' seeks online salvation
McClatchy CEO: Focused On Free, Ad-Supported Content Model
Newsday says pay model is working
The revenue-neutral NYT paywall

Let's stop there, I could go on all day.

Let's start with summarizing the industry. The fact is newspaper circulation is declining, and the speed of that decline is accelerating.
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☜  Chart via of Rough Numbers

Is this the end of print? Hardly. Some are explaining the decline by stating that they are slowly bringing down circulation strategically, and although that might sound like an excuse, there really is some truth to it. I've heard another newspaper circulation manager predict a turnaround when the economy recovers (whenever that will occur).

But one point that no one can argue is that newspaper print editions are lower in circulation now, and more and more people are getting their news online -- no one argue that point, right? But what is the nature of the online news experience?And what does it say about the way forward?

Fast forward to Google's chief economist, Hal Varian speech at Berkeley yesterday. Varian said that Google has tracked its news traffic and sees a definite pattern:
SF Weekly:
It turns out, that compared with Web search access, Google news access goes up during the day, down in the evening, and way, way down over the weekend. This data is consistent with the results of other studies that indicate Americans still spend much more time with print newspapers than they do with news online -- one Nielsen study found that Internet users spent an average of 38 minutes total per month on newspaper sites.  "What that says to me  is that reading the news online is a worktime activity. ... Most people aren't paid to sit at a computer and read newspapers. They're snatching things throughout the day," Varian said.
Get that? Google News is read during the day when time is short, but newspapers (or newspaper web sites) are preferred leisure time reading -- or at least increases during non-work hours.  If true then newspapers aren't losing the war online completely, they are just losing it most of the time. (I'm sure that makes newspaper execs feel better. Yeah right.)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Time for the VTS industry to help out media companies by reinventing itself

The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that organizers are concerned that attendance for the International Woodworking Fair may drop significantly as a number of important exhibitors have decided not to exhibit.

Nothing really new there as trade shows have seen huge decreases in attendance the past few years. This year's CES show rebounded somewhat from a 22% decline in 2008 but was still well below 2008 figures.

In the meantime, I attended a virtual trade show (VTS) a few weeks ago and felt I was in a time warp. I will mercifully decline to name the show or the vendor, but the show design and booth layouts were really no different than when I first was introduced to virtual trade shows back in 2000-2001. After I had logged into the show I immediately searched for a specific booth, and when I got there I could not help but laugh -- not the reaction I'm sure the exhibitor would have wanted.

For the time being, it is Apple that needs media more than the media industry needs Apple, but that will change

Almost 24 hours after the launch of Steve Jobs' next big thing, and the dust is starting to settle. Those in the tech area were either skeptical or down right negative, while those in the media industry, having underestimated the importance of Apple's last big thing (iPhone) were willing to wait and see.

But noticeably absent from the product introduction was much in the way of new content. Jobs gave us a quick look at the current web version of the NYT, a demo of the revamped Times app, and a snapshot of a copy of the Kennedy bio which looked pretty much as it would on any other reader with the exception of some nice pictures.

Move along folks, no media revolution here.
Was this Apple's fault? or the media's? Most likely this was simply the way things were going to break: giving the Times a few weeks to play with the new SDK, all they could come up with was some revised specs to make the graphics look better on the bigger display, and a few tweaks to the basic design. Maybe Apple blew it by making the Times the centerpiece of the introduction, after all, its a paper that is 90% black and white text. In order to show what the iPad can really produce, the Times designers would have had to reinvent their look.

Instead, Martin Nisenholtz said the Times app "captured the essence of reading a newspaper." NO! NOT THAT! This is the exact opposite of what should be on the tablet. Is the Times vision of tablet publishing simply reproduce print? I hope not because that won't be good for either Apple or their media content partners.

Stating that their app captured the essence of reading a newspaper is like FOX introducing a new television show bragging that the new show captured the essence of old time radio. Who wants that?  If people want to read a physical newspaper they still can, why do they need an iPad?

They need an iPad to view the new media products that will incorporate multimedia, new design theories, etc.

So, yes, in retrospect, I was underwhelmed by the iPad introduction.

When Jobs introduced the iPhone at MacWorld in 2007 he proudly proclaimed "today, Apple reinvents the phone!".

The Jobs asked a very important question: "what is the killer app (on a cell phone)? The killer app is making calls!"  This in a nutshell is the secret to the iPhone's early success and to the weakness inherent in the iPad.

Every two years millions of consumers are at the end of their cell phone contracts. They then decide to either stay with their carrier and get a new subsidized phone, or they move to another carrier -- and get a new phone. iPhone entered a market where consumers already knew the product and thought it was essential to their lifestyle. So Apple reinvented (to use their words) the cell phone by introducing new things to the medium: syncing with iTunes in order to bring in contacts, e-mail and media, a revolutionary interface that included multi-touch, applications that gave you Google Maps and other features, etc.

So what is the killer app on the iPad? Apple implies that it is media. But what did Apple bring to media that wasn't already there with the iPhone? Nothing that I could see.

Instead, and here is the danger for the company, Apple is looking to the media world to provide revolutionary content. Let me rephrase that so that the danger is clear: Apple, a very creative and brilliant company, wants Dean Singleton, Rupert Murdoch and fellow media execs to provide the content that will make Apple's iPad a winner. I think you can see the danger here.

Is this possible? Thank God the answer is yes.

When the iPhone was first introduced sales were good. Since Apple started at zero, their sales announcements sounded impressive. But sales really jumped with the introduction of iPhone 3G. Along with the new model came OS 2.0 which allowed developers to create apps for the device. But the genius here was in the marketing of iPhone. With the introduction of apps, companies other than Apple had a vested interest in promoting the phone. "We have a new app for the iPhone!" companies screamed -- and by promoting their app they were indirectly promoting the iPhone.

Eventually, the killer app on the iPhone stopped being cell phone calls and became whatever the user thought most important: Pandora, Google Maps, Fandango, AIM, the New York Times, etc.

Fast forward to March of this year when the iPad hits the shelves. There is sure to be a surge of sales initially as those that must have the latest gadget line up to be first. But the iPad has no natural sales booster the way the iPhone did; no one needs a new reader every two years the way they need a new cell phone. I don't own a reader now, and am really not interested in either a Kindle or the Sony Reader. Books look just fine to me, in comparison to a reader, and I really don't see that a reader is more portable than a book. Do you? 

Will this change when publishers begin to port their content to the iPad? (Author scratches his head searching for an answer.)

If the Times app is the norm then the iPad is doomed. Sure the app is nice, probably better than the iPhone version, but is it better than the print version? Right now the answer is no.

But what might a Wired app look like? Or what if Sports Illustrated makes their tablet demo video come to life? What if Bonnier, who seems to get the potential of tablet publishing better than anyone launches iPad versions of many of their magazines? Then the revolution is on.

So, in the end, I am somewhat optimistic about the future of the iPad and of tablet publishing. I think, however, that Apple actually set things back with their introduction. It did not seem as if they were really ready to launch the iPad. Maybe they should have waited until Wired was ready with a custom iPad edition to demonstrate, or a textbook publisher who had embedded their history book with audio and video. Then Apple could have proclaimed "today, Apple has reinvented media!"

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Apple's tablet introduction: the skinny on the iPad for new media professionals, and where we go from here

This post was written in great haste following the conclusion of the Apple's iPad introduction this afternoon at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. Rather than calmly writing and editing the post, I've decided to just let fly and post this immediately -- along with a few updates as the day progresses.

In 2007 Steve Jobs delivered the keynote address at MacWorld and introduced the iPhone to the world. Now three years later Apple is at it again, introducing iPad, and while its impact is hard to judge so close to the actual introduction, I believe that if it is to have the same impact on the media industry as the iPhone had on the smart phone industry, it will not be felt immediately but will grow as developers begin to roll out their new apps and publishers start to experiment with the new medium.

The iPad as a gadget: yes, it is a pretty damn cool. Those media folk that were blogging the event almost universally admitted that the iPad lived up to the hype (though admittedly, all the hype was just wild speculation to begin with).
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The iPad is a giant iPhone, minus the phone. The ten inch screen is gorgeous for the same reason things look good on the iPhone -- and its larger. You can check out all the tech specs on the computer sites, or the Apple site itself, but the key is that the iPad will be the best looking, fastest, thinnest and sexist slate out there.

The iPad should kill off the whole netbook category. Steve Jobs himself started the presentation by indriectly stating that netbooks aren't better at anything, they are just cheap laptops -- and he's right. But the iPad is not really a laptop computer, it is a mobile device that displays media and does simple computing -- and it promises to do these tasks better and more simply than either a netbook or a smart phone. That, in essence, is the niche the iPad is attempting to create.

As a media reader there is no doubt in my mind that the iPad is probably the best reader on the market: color, speed, graphics, video, all the things the Kindle lacks.

The iPad will be more expensive than the Kindle, but frankly Apple has priced this very competitively: $499 for the entry level model with 16 GB of storage, and no 3G (but with Bluetooth and WiFi), up to $829 for 64 GB and 3G. At these prices the iPad is not a toy. But if you were considering a netbook or low end laptop the iPad should be the preferred buy.

As is usual, the presentation was about the wow factor, the specs, the "this is really amazing" stuff, and not a lot about media. Sure, Jobs showed the New York Times on the iPad's Safari browser, but that's just web surfing.

When the time came to show off how apps work on the iPad, Martin Nisenholtz from the Times took the stage to show off the New York Times app for the iPad.  The Times was one of the first to launch a media app for the iPhone, and clearly Apple wanted the Times to be ready for the introduction.

“Steve showed you the New York Times site on the iPad, it’s unbelievably beautiful," Nisenholtz said as she began. Nisenholtz then said they had three weeks to develop the app and "we think that we’ve captured the essence of reading a newspaper."

The Times app was very nice, clearly a better reading experience that reading on a smart phone. But it didn't blow me away, and I was about to feel depressed when I realized "three weeks, do can't reinvent the world in three weeks".

Gizmodo, which was liveblogging the introduction said "It’s like the New York Times reader, basically," less than impressed. "AND, you can play a movie, like on the website."

Pre game analysis: what if the Apple tablet is a dud and has no effect on the media world?

I don't know if you have even been in competitive sports -- in my youth I was quite a sports nut -- but there are two schools of thought concerning how to prepare for the Big Game. Common wisdom holds that you should visualize success, see yourself making all the right moves and winning the game -- the power of positive thinking. My brother-in-law told me that many athletes visualize losing the game and use the fear of failure to spur you on -- the power of total fear. Needless to say, my brother-in-law never wrote any self-help books, and I don't think he actually was advocating the power of negative thinking.

If the tablet strategy fails, is this the end of the line for print media industry? Probably not.  

But I was reading some comments from a publishing executive last week who seemed to think the introduction today of Apple's tablet would have zero effect on their business. I don't remember the quote and let it slip from my mind until this morning when I thought about this issue: what if the Apple tablet becomes just another electronic toy, nothing more than another way to listen to music and watch YouTube videos?

Then there is the concern that it will be publishers that let down the revolution. Jason Kincaid is certainly worried about it: "My concern is not that Apple will fail to deliver; I have little doubt that their product launch tomorrow will be stellar. My doubts lie with the content providers themselves," Kincaid writes on TechCrunch.

One could argue that the world of print media will just go on -- certainly that was the opinion of that publishing exec. Come Thursday, if this view is correct, we will all be back to discussing the world of publishing as if nothing new occurred, and the future path of the industry remains on its current course.

But what is that course? The major players in the trade press, Reed and Nielsen, are unloading their properties and writers are contemplating a world without many B2B magazines, wondering what that says about the industry as a whole. "Perhaps the bigger issue here is if major players like Nielsen and RBI are moving away from magazine publishing, then what, if anything, does that say about the sustainability and the future of the business for the rest of us?" wrote Jason Fell on the Folio: web site.

☜  The magazine I launched while at McGraw-Hill, a success from Day One, but folded by the company soon after I left the company.

I'm not a big believer in black and white answers to business issues. That is, just as I can see the value of pay walls in some circumstances, I also agree with those who feel that, in general, web users are going to migrate to free content over paid.

So on the issue of whether the trade press, and possibly newspapers, are on the way out unless a savior like Steve Jobs creates a groundbreaking product my views are not absolute.  The book form has survived for hundreds of years after all, so there is no reason to believe that printed newspaper and magazine won't do the same. But from this chair it certainly doesn't look like the kind of business I would want to be in (leaving New Media out of the equation).

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Would it be rubbing it? But I just can't resist!

See! Pay walls work, they are the new model!

OK, I'll control myself. But, really, this story is just too funny:

In late October, Newsday, the Long Island daily that the Dolans bought for $650 million, put its web site,, behind a pay wall . . . So, three months later, how many people have signed up to pay $5 a week, or $260 a year, to get unfettered access to  The answer: 35 people. As in fewer than three dozen. As in a decent-sized elementary-school class.

What does this prove? Nothing actually. I am not totally against the idea of pay walls, but am still a skeptic. I can see where a paper as strong and valuable as the New York Times could launch a limited pay wall and get away with it, but can you put up a paywall on and expect to rake it in? Of course not.

My only question is this: who are these 35 people? do they feel a little ripped off? are they all named Dolan?

Without scale new Apple tablet can not lead the mobile revolution, can only be a bit player

Not too many companies would schedule a major product introduction on the same day as the President's SOTU speech, but I don't think Steve Jobs is sweating it.

So rather than post a series of stories on the last of the tablet rumors, I've decided to post one story and update it throughout the day.

First thought: scale. Apple may produce the coolest smart phone, and have a dedicated consumer base of Mac fanboys, but Apple's market share is still dwarfed by Microsoft (OS) and the the major computer manufacturers. Even its iPhone, while a major player as a brand, still only has a less than 30% share of the smart phone business -- smaller still when considering all cell phone sales, of course.

This doesn't concern Apple in the least because they don't operate as a mass market company the way Dell or Microsoft does. Apple likes to be a market leader in certain select areas, and maintains nice margins. Microsoft may think it was smart when it produced their Laptop Hunter ads, but Apple must have smiled knowing that positioning themselves as the Nordstrom in a world of Kmarts was perfectly all right with them.

But there is one area where Apple has achieved scale: the iTunes store. The iTunes store changed the way people consume music. Apple did not invent digital downloads, far from it, but the iTunes store was the perfect answer at the perfect time for music labels fearful of the growth of illegal downloads. How can EMI compete with Napster and Bit Torrent? Why not create a legal download service?

Apple likes to point to the iPod as a transformative product, but the mp3 player existed before Apple introduced the iPod, but the combination of a cool new device with a way to buy content . . . The Perfect Thing.

So Wednesday Apple is set to do for publishing what it did for music? Apple as the savior of American (and World) publishing?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Guardian editor Rusbridger warns against "turning away from a world of openly shared content"

Alan Rusbridger, executive editor of The Guardian delivered his arguments against deploying pay walls as he delivered the Annual Hugh Cudlipp Lecture at the London College of Communication.  "As an editor, I worry about how a universal pay wall would change the way we do our journalism," said Rusbridger.

His speech stood in sharp contrast to the views expressed by Rupert Murdoch during his famous Sky News interview where he advocated erecting pay walls for his publications.

I would recommend reading the entire lecture as I think it was well reasoned and, I believe, presents the free web content argument well.  Rusbridger does not, however, necessarily reject the concept of pay walls so much as conclude that the models do not work for The Guardian.

"My commercial colleagues at the Guardian – the ones who do think about business models – are very focused on that, want to grow a large audience for our content and for advertisers, and can't presently see the benefits of choking off growth in return for the relatively modest sums we think we would get from universal charging for digital content," Rusbridger said.

"They've done lots of modeling around at least six different pay wall proposals and they are currently unpersuaded. They're looked at the argument that free digital content cannibalizes print – and they look at the ABC charts showing that our market share of paid-for print sales is growing, not shrinking, despite pushing aggressively ahead on digital. They don't rule anything out. But they don't think it's right for us now."

Aggregators aggregating the aggregators

I can't help but laugh at the number of aggregators that have sprung up. An aggregator, of course, searches the web for relevant content and links to it, often without adding more content or commenting on the original post.

There is nothing wrong with aggregation -- in fact, I think it still needs to grow, but more on that in the days to come.  But there is such a thing as bad aggregation: that is when one either 1) grabs a large amount of the content simply to populate their own site; or 2) wrongly identifies the original source of the material by linking to a secondary source.

Design must make a resurgence as print publishers move to mobile media production

Art directors: under appreciated, under paid, and probably under trained will be one of the keys to leading your publications in the soon to emerge mobile and tablet publications industry.  This post talks about multimedia, tablet/reader products, collaborative publishing and Flyp.

I have only one thing to say about the web design produced by print publishers: yuck.

OK, I'm exaggerating. Maybe.

The work I like best right now is not even being seen by the public -- it can be seen, however, in the video publishers and creative labs have been producing to demonstrate that they are ready for tablets and e-readers (and can be seen here under "favorites").  Another example is the work being done at Flyp Media.
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An article written by Karthika Muthukumaraswamy on the Online Journalism Blog is surprisingly positive about Flyp's approach, despite a headline that proclaims "Flyp Media: where the medium is the message".  Flyp's design, while unfortunately incorporating the cliched page turning swishing sound that really needs to go away, is a tour de force of multimedia publishing.

At first, after viewing a story I wanted to be negative -- this is just a flip book, right?

No. Look a little deeper and you will see that this is an online native publication -- not the first, but certainly one of the few that takes into account the fact that the online reading experience is vastly different than the print environment.

In an interview for Media Shift, Jim Gaines, editor in chief, is confident that people will pay for the new multimedia magazines. "People will pay for this. If you had told me as a kid that people would pay for water, I would have told you that you were nuts. The same with coffee. Clearly there was a need I did not perceive in Starbucks. People will pay for what they want. "