Saturday, February 20, 2010

Week in Review

Short reads on a Saturday morning:

•  The week was dominated by news from the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona: from the announcement of the Wholesale Application Community, to the reentry of Microsoft with their preview of Windows Phone 7. But despite the many new products and operating systems, the emphasis going forward will continue to be developing for the iPhone and Android mobile phones, and the new tablets such as Apple's iPad.

•  New Reed Elsevier CEO Erik Engstrom confirmed the company's continued exit from the B2B market, while at the same time reporting lower revenue and profit numbers. The presentation revealed that Reed will exit the controlled circulation business (most of RBI) while stating that they will hang onto Variety and the entertainment division, as well as Reed Construction Data and Buyers Zone lead generation business.

•  College new media provider, CoPress, announced it was closing down operations. The organization was active in assisting college publications go online, specializing in WordPress solutions.

•  The BBC announced it would finally launch iPhone applications for news and sports some time in April. The UK based Newspaper Publishers Association didn't wait long to complain about the move, accusing the BBC of muscling "into a nascent market and trample over the aspirations of commercial news providers.”  The BBC most likely tell the NPA to stick it.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Photoblogging Friday - 7

This week's Photoblogging Friday edition features an interview Dean Brierly conducted last year with famed photography George Zimbel, who was kind enough to let TNM crosspost a large segment of it. The entire interview can be found on Brierly's site, Photographers Speak.

The year was 1954. The place was New York City. The time was round about midnight. George Zimbel was a 25-year-old stringer for the PIX photo agency when he was handed the opportunity to cover the decade’s reigning sex symbol, Marilyn Monroe, filming the famous subway-grille scene in The Seven Year Itch. Zimbel and the other photographers in attendance were allowed to make like paparazzi while the actress performed some warm-up poses before director Billy Wilder finally called “Action!” Zimbel reaped a rich harvest of images that night, capturing Monroe’s powerful sexual charisma along with her vulnerability and, perhaps more revealing, self-conscious manipulation of her public image. (He also caught Monroe’s soon-to-be-ex-husband Joe DiMaggio leaving in a huff over his wife’s overt display of exhibitionism.) The Monroe photo-essay is but one of many in Zimbel’s long and illustrious career as a documentary photographer—all of them imbued with honesty, compassion and respect for his subjects—but he recalls that night with Marilyn fondly and with cinematic clarity.
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The Flower
(© George Zimbel 1954/2009)

The biography on your website reveals when you became a photographer, but not why.
When I was 14 my uncle Barney asked me to print his 1930s negatives of Europe. I started it as a paid job using our kitchen as a darkroom at night. I ended with the feeling that I wanted to take pictures of interesting people and places for the rest of my life. I have.

Why did you turn to documentary photography rather than portraiture, landscape or another genre?
I have always been interested in what is happening around me instead of “creating” something. I find it more interesting.

You’ve written that collectors should ask themselves if photography is about ideas or feelings. Did you ask yourself those kinds of questions when you were starting out?
I did not ask myself many questions. I knew I had to know about a lot of things and this would enable me to work more intelligently, but I never let ideas overwhelm the instant. Ideas helped me get to the instant. Today, I think it is about feelings. I think it is about sharing your vision of the here and now with the future.

Have you tried to express certain themes or ideas in your photographs?
I don’t think I have tried to express themes or ideas, but what comes out is my interest in this world. That has been very upbeat, but now I don’t have that view and I am having an internal battle over how I see.

George Zimbel (© Lucas Zimbel 2009)

All of your work exhibits a sincere respect for your subjects. This is very much in keeping with the credo of the New York Photo League, which you reference as a big influence on your artistic development. Can you briefly describe the extent of your relationship with the League beyond a course you took with John Ebstel?
Well, John Ebstel brought the honest man out of me photographically, and that man is compassionate and respectful of his subjects, which is a hallmark of the Photo League philosophy. Respect is not a valuable commodity these days, exploitation is more popular, but that is who I am.

Mobile strategy: despite new product introductions and media hype, all roads still lead through Apple and Google

The recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona may have been one of the most covered technology events in recent history. Product and system introductions by Samsung, Microsoft and others have been all over the web media world, with each new introduction getting its pans and raves.

In the end, however, not much has changed for publishers.

Before MWC, Apple's iPad and Google's Android platform appeared to be the path forward for media firms moving into mobile. And it still is.
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Microsoft is still a giant, and its Windows Phone 7 received its share of positive press. But in the end it might as well have been vapor ware. The new OS is not expected to appear on phones until the holiday season. Worse yet, the SDK (software development kit) is not available and not expected for a while. So since developers can not create product for the phone for a while why should publishers worry about it? They shouldn't, there are plenty of other devices to design for.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Constructing the Great Paywall: TBI Research study claims that it may not pay off for newspaper publishers

Greg Mitchell today called attention to this new survey conducted by TBI Research that concludes paywalls just won't work.

(Mitchell is not a big fan of paywalls.  I am trying to keep an open mind on the subject. I am a strong believer that if the information you are publishing can be directly tied to income or profit -- like the WSJ or other investment news -- then a paywall makes sense. In just about all other cases I am a skeptic.)

Rory Maher, writing on the TBI Research web site, states that newspapers in small markets are in the best position to utilize a paywall system. On the other hand, in larger markets, the paywall's effect on traffic would result in more lost revenue in advertising than would be gained from subscribers.

The study also claims that mobile "could be the driver that makes the paywall model achievable (but we're likely years away from usage levels making mobile material)."  I would add that if you include tablet publishing in this category, then I could see where a subscription paywall, or charging for an app, could produce enough revenue to justify the practice. (See this recent story concerning turf wars over pricing for the new NYT iPad application.)

The study also concludes that "every executive we spoke with believes there is more potential for newspapers in mobile phones than PCs. The executives were particularly excited about downloadable apps." They look for newspapers to move away from free phones app towards a paid model. Interestingly, the Times offers a free iPhone app, but plans to erect a paywall online, while The Guardian charges $3.99 for its iPhone app.  The Guardian's Alan Rusbridger has also come out strongly against paywalls online.

I side with Rusbridger, on this: charging for mobile makes sense -- assuming the charge is a one-time only fee for an application. On the other hand, I believe a subscription might just work on tablets and readers, as long as the fee is lower than the print price.

UK newspaper association begs BBC to back off iPhone app efforts; apparently UK papers can not compete

Stop me from laughing now!

The UK based Newspaper Publishers Association (NPA) has complained in an e-mailed statement that the BBC's plans to launch iPhone apps for news and sports will "undermine the commercial sector’s ability to establish an economic model in an emerging but potentially important market."

Apparently the NPA, which is clearly very interested in New Media judged by the fact that the last press release to be found on its site is dated 2001, thinks the Beeb is just too powerful for its members to deal with.
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☜  UK Newspaper Publishers Group fears a BBC iPhone app would be unfair competition to its members.

"The BBC is preparing to muscle into a nascent market and trample over the aspirations of commercial news providers,” said David Newell, director of the NPA. "At a time when the BBC is facing unprecedented levels of criticism over its expansion, and when the wider industry is investing in new models, it is extremely disappointing that the corporation plans to launch services that would throw into serious doubt the commercial sector’s ability to make a return on its investment, and therefore its ability to support quality journalism,” Newell is reported to have said.

"The development of apps for a niche market does not sit comfortably with the BBC’s mission to broadcast its content to a wide, general audience. In other words, this is not about reach, and we believe the BBC’s efforts - and the considerable investment - would be better directed elsewhere," the e-mail statement read.

Notice to RSS subscribers

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Second, you will notice a change starting today, the feed has been shortened.  The reason for this is not to trick you into clicking the links to drive you back to the site, though I suppose there would be good reasons to do that.  No, instead the reason is to improve the look and feel of the new TNM e-newsletter.

Beginning immediately, Talking New Media will be offering an e-mailed newsletter containing all the latest news and views posted here. If I used the entire length of every post subscribers would receive a ridiculously long newsletter in their in-box. Instead, by shortening the RSS feed you will still get the headlines and first paragraphs of each post and can click back to TNM to read the rest of the story.

So I invite readers of this site to subscribe to the new TNM e-newsletter. There is a box in the upper left hand corner where you submit your e-mail address and that's that - the next morning you'll receive your first newsletter.  Each edition contains an "unsubscribe" button, so fear not, you are not making a lifelong commitment to Talking New Media if you choose to subscribe!

Newspaper Round-Up

A quick look at the good, the bad and the ugly of today's newspaper industry news:

Peter Applebome of the New York Times gives local online media some love in his look at the launch of The Connecticut Mirror and the death of Connecticut Local Politics.

Judge John S. Dalis Wednesday spent little time approving Morris Publishing Group's plans to emerge from bankruptcy protection, The owner of 13 daily newspapers including The Augusta Chronicle and Savannah Morning News, will have their debt reduced by $288.5 million from $415 million.  Having heard no objections from their creditors Morris gets a do-over.

Bad news is good news for newspapers: Lee Enterprises reported January revenue was down 9.2 percent. The company cheerfully reported that this is the first single-digital decline since 2008 (yippee) and the fifth month in a row that advertising showed improvement -- guess that's indeed good news.

The grass truly is greener . . . in China.  China New Media, the nation's largest outdoor media company, announced second quarter financial results and the highlights are that Q2 revenue increased by 89 percent, and net income rose 39 percent. That's a lot of billboards.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Flash & the iPad: Adobe Air may provide the workaround for developers building publication apps for tablets

Several posts today confirm what yesterday's Wired post demonstrated, that there may be workarounds to Apple's "no Flash" policy.

To refresh your memory, Wired released a new video demonstration of what it is calling the Wired Reader.  As I pointed out, the app is based on Adobe Air, a runtime environment that allows for Flash within a desktop application (as opposed to browser based).
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The importance of this to publishers lies in the fact that it has been assumed that Flash would be part of any tablet publishing solution.  Things got confusing when it was apparent that the iPad version of Safari, Apple's web browser, did not incorporate Flash support -- just as the iPhone version of Safari lacks Flash support. Then, shortly after the iPad event in January, Steve Jobs reportedly disparaged Adobe (and Google) at an employee-only meeting, calling the company "lazy" and blaming Flash for causing a majority of the crashes occurring in Safari.

But now comes the Wired Reader video, as well as a couple posts on the New York Times and WSJ web sites which seem to confirm that there may be a way to work around to this situation. Additionally, Adobe's CTO, Kevin Lynch, gave an interview to Kara Swisher, WSJ's BoomTown columnist, in which he seems to admit some problems with Flash integration on the Mac, and tries to play nice.

Whether Apple ever offers Flash support with Safari on the iPhone and iPad may not end up being a big deal. But if developers must forego any Adobe Flash usage when designing publication apps for tablets this could cause problems -- both for publishers, advertisers, and ultimately Apple. The common sense solution would appear to be to allow stand alone apps to be built using Adobe Air - and since the iPad and iPhone OS does not allow third parties to utilize multitasking, this would guarantee compliance with Apple's rather strict development rules.  We'll see.

A quick and not very deep thought to consider: are too many editors and publishers like a one recipe chef?

Imagine having lived in a bubble your entire life -- kind of like working at a newspaper or trade magazine -- and suddenly being taught how to cook. You are given some eggs, some flour, a little milk and the rest. Then you are instructed in how to make pancakes.

You make the pancakes and now you are a chef, right? You do it over and over again and believe you are now an expert.

Then one day someone presents to you a chocolate soufflĂ©. "Wow," you explain, "this is great. What's in it?"  Eggs, a little flour . . .

"How's that possible?  Eggs and flour create pancakes," you think.

CoPress announces it is closing down operations

CoPress, an organization that assists student newspapers "hack the future of journalism" announced it is closing down its operations. CoPress has notified its clients which will require them to take over direct responsibility for third party hosting services.

CoPress helped student newspapers migrate their student newspaper content using the WordPress platform, arranging for online hosting services and offered design and development services. Central Michigan Life, the student newspaper of my alma mater, is a client of CoPress. (I'm hoping to get a comment from them this morning, and will update this story if possible.) Other student newspapers that have worked with CoPress include the independent student newspaper at the University of Georgia and The Quinnipiac Chronicle.

Daniel Bachhuber, executive director, stated the main reason for shutting down is the usual -- lack of revenue -- stating "we’ve struggled with making our business financially viable while at the same time offering prices that reflect an understanding of the financial situation many student news organizations are in."

The Beeb finally gets in the game, releases first iPhone app, will release apps for Android & Blackberry soon

The BBC announced it will finally release its first iPhone applications for news and sports some time in April.  Apps for Android and Blackberry phones will follow soon after, as well as an app for the upcoming World Cup.

"Today's announcement means that we are catching up with our audiences," Erik Huggers told attendees of the Mobile World Congress, being held in Barcelona.

The announcement said the BBC will concentrate on apps for the iPhone, then build apps for other platforms. This is a pattern that may be repeated as new platforms and consortiums are announced, fragmenting the market.

In other news from the Mobile World Congress, Apple's CEO Steve Jobs won the show's Mobile Personality of the Year award, despite the fact that Apple chose not to attend (as did Nokia). Other winners included Apple competitor Research in Motion who won "Best Mobile Enterprise Product or Service" for its BlackBerry Enterprise Server 5.0.  HTC won "Best Mobile Handset or Device" for its Android HTC Hero.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Gawker's Valleywag claims NYT turf war over iPad content pricing; old story, protect print or drive innovation

In a report late this afternoon (Tuesday), Gawker's Valleywag is reporting that there is a turf war brewing at the New York Times over pricing of its new iPad tablet content pricing.

According to the report, circulation management wants to price the upcoming tablet product at newspaper print levels, while the digital operations side want a lower price, more fitting to digital products.

(With all rumor based stories such as this, I recommend one take the news for its entertainment value first, news value second. )

The SVI states that "the dispute has apparently escalated all the way to the top of the Times Building, and top executives — presumably the same ones who secretly dined with Apple CEO Steve Jobs — are now debating which way to go.

Wired magazine reveals its vision for tablet publishing: The Wired Tablet App

Wired magazine has produced a new video that shows the magazine's enthusiasm for the future of tablet publishing -- for one thing, they actually have a tablet team.  "It explains why the tablet is such a groundbreaking opportunity for magazines such as ours," wrote Chris Anderson on

Wired Reader was designed for the Adobe Air platform, which runs natively on Macs, as well as PCs. "Adobe has created tools that allow us to easily convert it for major tablet and mobile platforms," Anderson wrote.

Virginia passes "Amazon" online retail tax bill; symbolic move or a real threat to affiliate programs?

The Virginia Senate passed legislation that would require the state to collect a 4.5 percent tax on online transactions conducted on online sites with a physical presence in the state.

The legislation is expected to die in the Virginia house, but if passed, may be vetoed by the new governor, Bob McDonnell, who has vowed to veto new taxes.

Are newspaper publishers really leery of Apple's new iPad? or is this just Financial Times nonsense?

Damon Kiesow at Poynter links to Kenneth Li's story in the Financial Times, iPad deals with publishers face hurdles, and includes a few other negative stories to boot -- a good example of aggregation with a viewpoint.

But Li's story is utter nonsense, and worse, feeds into the myth that newspaper people are ignorant about New Media and future publishing models.

☜  The FT registration process.

According to the FT story, newspapers publishers are leery of dealing with Apple in negotiating deals for their new iPad. Apple's policy of safeguarding consumer data is supposedly preventing some publishers from completing deals with Apple. Publishers, it is inferred, want that data!
FT: "Is it a dealbreaker? It’s pretty damn close,” said one senior media executive of a US metropolitan daily newspaper.
Yet is this even true? Not by a long shot. First, no one is negotiating to appear on the iPad. That is simply not how it works. The issue is selling apps through the iTunes story.  A publisher submits their app to Apple, it get approved, and Apple services the transactions.

Do publishers complain when the newspaper vendor on the corner of some New York street accepts a quarter (OK, it's more like $1.25 now, but stay with me)? What is the poor schmuck to do, have the consumer fill out a form for the circulation department? And are newspaper execs shutting down their web sites because anyone with a browser can read the news? What about the WSJ? They're gathering tons of demographic information, right? Oops, when forced to subscribe online they appear more interested in my credit card number than my income, profession or ethnicity.

And what about the idea of registration? One of my favorite apps is from Instapaper, ReadLater.  The first time I opened the app it required me to sign in. It is all a free service to iPhone users -- provided you register online with the company.

Of course, the FT story is full of the same old anonymous quotes. "Some publishers are also griping about Apple’s compensation model." (My emphasis.) None are quoted by name; in fact, none are quoted at all. Is Li auditioning for a spot as Pentagon reporter?

I suppose it is possible that newspapers publishers are a spineless breed in mortal fear of big, bad Apple. But being a former newspaper publisher myself I'd certainly like to think better of our profession -- in fact, I do.

In the end, newspaper publishers will adopt tablet publishing in a big way -- either by jumping into the iTunes store asap, or by being forced to when more computer manufacturers start to compete with Apple by bringing out their own tablets. And even if they resist then, third party vendors will emerge to make sure every newspapers has an iPad app available. (And finally, there are the aggregators -- more on them later.)

So, in the end, it is the Financial Times that fears Apple, right?

Well, no. The FT currently has two iPhone apps in the iTunes store -- one for news, one for travel. And lo and behold, the apps state that subscribers, that is print subscribers, have unlimited access. Plus "free registration" allows 7 extra free articles per month.

Gee, sounds like the Financial Times has figured it out. So why does their reporter think no other newspaper publisher will?

Monday, February 15, 2010

MWC demonstrates Wild West nature of mobile market; publishers will likey stick to the sure bet formats

Adobe Systems Incorporated unveiled today at the Mobile World Congress Adobe AIR for mobile devices, and said a beta of Flash Player 10.1 will soon be made available to content providers and mobile developers.  Mobile platforms that Adobe said will support the Flash Player include Android, the BlackBerry platform, Symbian OS, Palm webOS and Windows Mobile -- though word out of the Barcelona event was that the new Windows 7 mobile platform does not support flash, or multitasking.

Mobile platforms are beginning to resemble the Wild West as major software and mobile device manufacturers jockey for position. Today Microsoft announced an major revision of its mobile OS, a consortium was announced of major players, Samsung unveiled is own Bada mobile OS, and Intel and Nokia have announced a new software platform, MeeGo, that will be not only for smartphones but also home phones, cars and computers.

Far from simplifying the process of getting web content onto mobile devices, this is crowding the field and becoming very confusing for content providers.

In another move designed to boost its Flash platform, Adobe announced that they had joined the LiMo Foundation, a group working to bring the Linux-based operating system to mobile devices. Adobe and Apple appear to be in a blood feud over Apple's decision to not include Flash support in its iPhone or iPad OS. Flash is not only used for advertising and video, but is the software solution of choice for magazine flip book vendors.

In the end, the safe play for publishers may well be the same as it was before the Mobile World Congress: stick to the leaders in the field, Apple and Google, and force the others to conform. Additionally, there will no doubt be third party vendors willing to port media content to the various platforms and devices . . . for a price.

Mobile World Congress: phone makers unite to create unified apps community; Handmark lands UK paper

The Mobile World Congress got underway today in Barcelona with the announcement that 24 mobile operators will unit to create a ‘Wholesale Applications Community’. Those joining the effort to create a wholesale platform for mobile apps includes AT&T, China Unicom, Deutsche Telekom, Telecom Italia, Sprint, and others. Vodafone, China Mobile, SoftBank and Verizon Wireless, part of the Joint Innovation Lab, will also join in.

The goal is to make it easier for developers to create apps across many product lines and is widely seen as an attempt to compete with Apple's iPhone app store. While this appears to be a wise move it does appear to be an attempt to jump into the game late.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, writing on his ZDNet blog asked "Will it work? Well, consortiums like this usually form when companies feel threatened. Problem is that while companies feel that the consortium looks good on paper, problems develop because each member still wants to have the upper-hand over the competition, and this in-fighting usually weakens, and ultimately neuters, the consortium . . . That said, this is a good thing for users because it will encourage developers to make more apps available across a variety of platforms."
(Quote taken from blog slightly altered to correct grammar.)

Handmark announced they will be launching a mobile app for the London Evening Standard which will feature automatic refreshing of content, and offline browsing. “Our goal is to deliver our readers a quality extension to their reading experience when they don’t have immediate access to the paper or the London Evening Standard website,” said the parper's GM of digital, Tim Smith.

The London Evening Standard is owned by former KGB agent and Russian oligarch Alexander Lebedev who is attempting to buy UK papers the Independent and Independent.

Of course, what would a Mobile World Congress be without lots of new cell phone introductions. But two of the biggest players in the world, Nokia and Apple are missing from the event.  Apple is not there because, well, they are Apple. Nokia has decided to put a half-Apple by holding a simultaneous event in Barcelona.

Meanwhile, Samsung has decided to launch its own mobile platform: Bada. The first phone introduced that will run the Bada OS is the Wave S8500. The new phone won't be coming to the US anytime soon, and the go-it-alone strategy Samsung has chosen makes it unlikely Bada can grow outside of the Samsung cell phones. (In contrast, Apple's iPhone OS, based on OS X, is being used in a modified form for Apple's new iPad. As a result, it is easier to create apps for the iPhone, then modify them for use on the new tablet.)