Short reads on a Saturday morning:
• Finally the iPad turns out not be the big story this week; the bad news is that Reed Business Information is.
Everyone who has been in B2B publishing knew RBI would eventually announce some closings. But yesterday's announcement was startling, nonetheless. RBI is closing the 23 remaining titles because they could not find buyers -- of course, now buyers will be tripping over themselves trying to pick up these venerable titles on the cheap.
The titles involved are Building Design+Construction, Chain Leader, Construction Bulletin, Construction Equipment, Consulting-Specifying Engineer, Control Engineering, Converting, Foodservice Equipment & Supplies, Graphic Arts Blue Book, Graphics Arts Monthly, HOTELS, Logistics Management, Material Handling Product News, Modern Materials Handling, Plant Engineering, Professional Builder, Professional Remodeler, Purchasing, Restaurants & Institutions, Semiconductor International, Spec Check, Supply Chain Management Review and Tradeshow Week. (I already have my list of magazines I'd buy picked out -- what about you?)
In that list above is Modern Materials Handling, the title that Norman Cahners built his empire around.
• Shutting down magazines, then selling off the assets, is popular right now in B2B. A few weeks ago Cygnus Business Media sold off two shuttered titles -- Wood Digest and Finishing magazines -- to Ross Scovotti, a former rep on the books, and Jay Schneider, the former publisher. This week Scranton Gillette Communications picked up some titles Vance Publishing had shuttered in February -- Furniture Style, Home Fashion Forecast and Design & Décor magazine. SGC had previously picked up the shuttered titles Residential Lighting and Hospital Lighting from Vance.
• Both Gannett and Google announced their Q1 results. Gannett revenue declined and their stock rose; Google revenue jumped 23 percent and their stock fell -- go figure.
• Not many iPad media apps were released this week as most developers are still working on their apps now that they have actual iPads in their hands. You can find some thoughts on the follow apps, though: ABA Journal, the iPhone app from the Honolulu Advertiser, Interview magazine's iPad app, and CourseSmart's textbook app.
• Twelve major broadcasters are getting together to form a joint venture that will move mobile broadcasting forward. The firms involved are Belo Corp., Cox Media Group, E.W. Scripps Co., Fox, Gannett Broadcasting, Hearst Television Inc., ION Television, Media General Inc., Meredith Corp., NBC, Post-Newsweek Stations Inc. and Raycom Media.
Saturday, April 17, 2010
Short reads on a Saturday morning:
Friday, April 16, 2010
Another Friday and arrived and it feels like we are experiencing the calm before the storm. A couple of weeks ago the first iPads hit the street, but now we are at that point where a lot of development is ongoing, but not a lot is being introduced yet.
Take the iTunes store: more apps for the iPhone, all pretty much the usual thing (RSS readers), and very little is being released for the iPad. Time magazine, as a result, is dominating the paid news apps category as it releases a new app every week -- reflecting its new issue.
(Edit: This was written before the RBI story below -- so apparently the "storm" has hit, just in a different area.)
But being Friday, we get to kick back a bit and indulge in another edition of Photoblogging Friday. TNM's contributor Dean Brierly has gone in a different direction with his Photographers Speak site, so we'll take note of that.
I conducted this interview with the late James Fee in 1994 for Camera & Darkroom magazine, where I worked as Managing Editor. It was the first installment of “In the Darkroom,” a department I initiated in which noted photographers like Fee, George Krause and Thomas Barrow discussed their developing and printing methods in relation to their work’s thematic implications. At the time, Fee was beginning to earn widespread acclaim for his “Photographs of America” series, which chronicled a country in decline through haunting images of abandoned factories, hardscrabble towns and neglected cultural icons. Fee was a darkroom virtuoso, and his highly original, Gothic visual style inspired many imitators but no equals. While it may seem somewhat perverse in this digital age to post an interview focusing on silver-gelatin processes, I like the insights Fee provides on how the time and effort required by traditional materials enriches the finished work. This conversation is definitely for old school photographers, but even digital diehards should find food for thought.
You can read Dean's entire interview with James Fee here.
Reed Business Information announces it will close remaining 23 titles after M&A team fails to secure buyers
Friday is when the government releases information it wants to fly under the radar; it is also when media companies announce they are closing titles.
Reed Business Information CEO Keith Jones announced in a staff memo that the company would be closing 23 titles effect immediately.
The titles effected:
Building Design+Construction, Chain Leader, Construction Bulletin, Construction Equipment, Consulting-Specifying Engineer, Control Engineering, Converting, Foodservice Equipment & Supplies, Graphic Arts Blue Book, Graphics Arts Monthly, HOTELS, Logistics Management, Material Handling Product News, Modern Materials Handling, Plant Engineering, Professional Builder, Professional Remodeler, Purchasing, Restaurants & Institutions, Semiconductor International, Spec Check, Supply Chain Management Review and Tradeshow Week.
Just as Nielsen was eventually able to find buyers for Editor & Publisher and Kirkus Review after they were closed, there is no doubt that there will be buyers swooping in to pick up some of these titles -- but at greatly discounted amounts. Many of these titles have been the leading books in their field, before being allowed to decline over the last decade as Reed constantly changed executive management, while rarely holding middle management to performance standards.
As a former construction industry publisher, I know the construction titles would make a nice group for someone at a bargain basement price. Sadly, the group has been allowed to decline with publisher, editorial and sales positions eliminated through the years. As I always consider personnel a major factor in pricing a property -- M&A firms rarely look beyond the raw numbers -- this further discounts their value.
Further effecting the price is that few of these titles have a strong presence on the web. The construction group, for instance, concentrated much of its efforts on HousingZone.com, leaving once powerful brands such as Construction Equipment with mid-nineties looking websites.
Construction Equipment website:
Our parent company, Reed Elsevier, announced in July of 2009 its intentions to substantially exit its Reed Business Information-US publishing business, while retaining specific businesses. Over the past several months, multiple publishing brands were divested. As of April 16, 2010, the remaining publishing brands and their associated products and services have closed.
As a result Construction Equipment has closed. No additional print issues will be published, and this web site will close on April 30, 2010.
Finally, it needs to be said that there is plenty of blame to go around here. RBI's decline may have started before Marc Teren's hiring, but this is certainly the point where the U.S. division's fall was solidified. I remember with distain Folio:'s famous "Why Marc Teren Matters" feature that was a giant brown-nosing mess of an interview. Teren's acquisition of eLogic eventually led to a major divestiture (of which I was involved), and eventually Teren's sacking. But during the remaining part of last the last decade many of RBI's titles began to surrender their dominate positions. At the same time, RBI was not involved in acquisitions that could have filled out market segments, eliminated competition, etc. In other words, the division was already being set up for sale.
Now, 23 titles are being closed supposedly because no buyers could be found. "After nine months of concerted efforts by John Poulin, Jeff DeBalko and their teams, we have decided we must now conclude the divestment process for the remainder of RBI-US. Effective immediately, we are closing the publishing operations of the following titles that remain unsold," CEO Jones wrote in the staff memo.
Something smells. An eager seller would have fired their M&A firm first before throwing in the towel -- not to mention bringing in a new CEO with more M&A experience. But the tax rules may favor this option -- I do not know.
(Updates after the jump.)
The official magazine for the American Bar Association, ABA Journal, has launched a revision of its iPhone app, making the app "universal" -- meaning that it now has its own iPad version.
As far as I know, the ABA becomes the first trade association that has its journal on the iPad with a native app -- I guess this would apply to the category of B2B, as well.
ABA Journal's iPhone app is a useful RSS reader -- a minimalist application that brings readers current headlines, as well as content from the latest issue of ABA Journal, and blog content (or Blawgs, as the Journal calls them).
The iPad app is rightly designed a bit differently, taking on a more web-like look -- though one wonders if iPad apps should mimic print more than the web. Unfortunately, the app does not take advantage of the iPad's ability to display graphics attractively as there are very few pictures and no multimedia content at all.
The thing that stood out to me, though, was that promotional box that can be plainly seen in the screenshots below. Is this a medium rectangle ad spot was left unsold at launch?
Trade publishers have a huge advantage over their consumer brethren in that they have a built-in mechanism for promoting their apps -- their e-mail lists and e-newsletters. A B2B publication app is, by definition, of limited interest to the general public. B2Bs face to challenges: a limited audience, and the fact that apps get lost in the vast number of apps in iTunes. (No doubt Apple needs to rethink its iTunes app store now that there are thousands upon thousands of apps.)
But unlike consumer apps, the B2Bs can let its target audience know about their app fairly easily by promoting it via the web, its print editions, and as mentioned, e-mail and e-newsletters. Additionally, its advertisers are often very eager to promote the PR and advertising that appears on the iPad ("Look here, we're on the iPad!").
Despite this, the trade press is lagging behind all other media segments when it comes to mobile media.
Gannett print revenue falls 7.1%, beating expectations; Gannett stock rises on declines, Google falls on gains
"It's all a game" Harry Welsh says in Band of Brothers as he rides out the Battle of Bulge. Equally true of the stock market and the "expectations" of analysts.
Gannett reported earnings this morning: revenue declined 4.1 percent overall, while print declined 7.1 percent. Earnings were up 51 percent, however, thanks to declines in operating expenses. In other words, profits are up as body count went down. The result is that Wall Street applauds. Gannett's stock is up in preopen trading and up 22 percent this year.
On the other side of the universe, Google yesterday reported that earnings rose to $1.96 billion last quarter because its revenue increased dramatically -- 23 percent in Q1. Analysts, though, were not amused, punishing the stock after Google revealed that it was actually hiring people. The nerve!
It is indeed all a game.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
While newspaper companies are grateful for recording smaller declines, Google is back to recording dramatic increases in ad revenue.
Late this afternoon Google reported first quarter results that will make more media companies green with envy as ad revenue increased 23 percent and quarterly profit nearly hit $2 billion. The profit increase represents a 37 percent increase over Q1 2009. Ad revenue stood at $6.78 billion.
Of course, that wasn't good enough for investors as Google's share price slid after hours -- but what do you expect from analysts, some of whom questioned Google's increase in hiring (wouldn't want to do that, would we?). "Hiring more people does not mean we are wasteful," AP quoted Google's Chief Financial Officer Patrick Pichette. "It just means we have a great agenda."
Apple starts making mobile advertising sales calls; impressions of one agency to mobile platform demo
Ilya Vedrashko, the veep of media design at Hill Holliday posted an incredible entry on the company's blog yesterday, giving outsiders a peek at what Apple is presenting to the mobile advertising community.
The presentation to the agency was conducted by Andy Miller, the former CEO of Quattro Wireless. If you recall, Apple acquired Quattro early this year after failing to close on a deal with AdMob -- a firm Google wants to acuire pending FTC approval.
If you are interested in any way with the direction of mobile advertising I encourage a trip over to the blog to read the whole post.
Here are the points that stood out to me.
1. "Each banner published on the network will carry an iAd logo to differentiate it from the ads that do click into the browser, a Good Housekeeping seal of sorts." This is a good idea in that it takes the user experience into account. When you see an iAd you know that if you click on the ad you will not lose your place in the app that is open -- unlike other embedded ads that will take you off into a browser to view the ad. This point, though, may be less important with the institution of multitasking inside the iPhone OS.
2. Apple plans on launching their new platform in June on the iPhone. This corresponds with the introduction of iPhone OS 4. Vedrashko didn't know when the platform would be available for the iPad, but it makes sense that it would be in the Fall -- that is, when the new OS will be available for iPad users to download. In the meantime, Apple is lining up "charter" advertisers, and these advertisers will have to create new ads -- no repurposed ads will probably make it through Apple's vetting process.
3. It's all about demographic targeting and premium CPMs. Vedrashko quotes Adam Cahill, the head of the digital media group, as stating that "Apple doesn’t do cheap, they do premium. So I’d expect buyers to become trained very quickly that this is expensive inventory, and I’ll be interested to see how this might impact pricing across mobile, and even across digital channels more broadly." Good point. Apple will probably target the top of the market, attempting to leave the more price conscious part of the market to Google and others. Maybe this is what Apple saw all along, that the segment they could attack was, what I like to call, the Nordstrom segment.
Vedrashko also quotes Johnny Won of digital strategies: "Google has been badly lagging in all aspects of mobile and Apple probably saw the lack of innovation in the mobile advertising market and decided to put their stake in the ground. Let’s also be clear here that mobile display advertising isn’t yet a billion dollar business, this isn’t about the money for Apple but reshaping the industry as they saw fit . . . The bottom line for Apple is the continuing creation of new and free apps for the App Store while everything else, like being the innovator in mobile advertising, sticking it to Google, pre-emptively blocking Adobe are just bonuses." Another excellent point. What Apple wants, most of all, is for their developers to continue to write good apps for their mobile devices. They want them to be native -- that is, to properly perform on the device -- and they want to make sure their developers can make money, even while creating free apps.
And by the way, Vedrashko wants you to know that their firm is hiring!
One last point: Vedrashko also links to their earlier post that gives their impressions on the iPad itself. Vedrashko is one of the very few that seems to get the importance of a functional tablet.
"Despite its looks, the iPad is not a giant iPod or iPhone. It’s an entirely new kind of device whose form factor will dictate unique usage patterns. The iPhone is often used in quick bursts — you stand in a lunch line with a minute to spare, you pull out the iPhone, check Twitter, check weather, and then it’s “may I take your order please?” The iPad usage is more casual than the laptop ritual . . . It’s useful to think of the iPad not as a small computer or a large iPod but a household appliance, a Swiss army knife of media consumption."
I completely agree. The iPad isn't about it being a giant iPod touch, or a smaller netbook -- neither are media consumption devices the way print is. So loading up a tablet with lots of great specs, like HP is attempting to do, will only create a different kind of laptop -- not a media device. The user experience, something Apple cares deeply about, has to be as simple as print, but as inventive as electronic.
Despite my J degree, I have always been known as a pretty good numbers person. So I'd like to remind those folks all excited about slowing decreases in ad pages that a decline, even a one percent decline, over really bad numbers still equals really bad numbers.
A lot of folks, including this site, have linked to this story that provides a good pregame analysis of the upcoming Gannett earnings report. The AP story tries to turn bad news into good: "But a drop of less than in 10 percent marks progress. Gannett's publishing ad revenue fell by 18 percent in 2009's final quarter."
See, a ten percent decline is progress! Ah, no.
A ten percent decline, on top of an 18 percent decline translates to a more than 26 percent decline over the original reporting period. In other words, you may be falling slightly slower than you were before, but not only are you continuing to fall, but now you are much closer to the ground than you were when you started.
The original story does a good job of explaining the real world consequences of continued ad declines. "If newspaper ad revenue doesn't bounce back soon, Gannett will be more likely to impose more staff furloughs or lay off more of its remaining 35,000 workers (down from 46,100 employees three years ago)," the AP story reminds readers,
After 2009's horrible ad numbers what we will need to see is real growth -- not necessarily in all areas and overall, but growth somewhere.
Most publishers were happy to see 2009 end. But while slow growth may encourage some, slowing declines will not be good enough for too many publishers. As yesterday's announcement of Scranton Gillette's acquisition of Vance castoffs shows, there are buyers out there waiting to buy your shuttered properties -- but not before you've already closed them.
DigiLabs announced today that the company is releasing new photo creativity software, My Photo Creations, that will enable end-users to enter the self publishing market.
DigiLabs’ users can currently create and share flash photobooks online with friends, family, colleagues, customers. Now readers will be given the option to purchase a print copy of the digital books right online.
“This new functionality will offer our licensees a simple and easy way to enter the self-publishing market,” says Nader Anvari, Chief Marketing Officer for DigiLabs. “For example, professional wedding photographers can sell photobooks to extended family members. Similarly, groups or group organizer like sport teams can create a group yearbook and allow individual members to make a direct purchase. Individuals can share their creations with family and friends, and allow them to buy a copy. And this is just the beginning,” Anvari said.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
One question magazine publishing executives have had about mobile media is simply will magazine readers use these devices to read their products? Thanks to Mediamark Research & Intelligence (MRI) we are starting to get good data on the subject.
MRI today released a short study about the reading habits of e-reader owners and it appears that they definitely like their magazines. According to the MRI study, 91% of e-reader owners read magazines compared to 84% of total U.S. adults -- not a huge difference, but certainly big enough to show that if someone is going to invest in a tablet or e-reader they will certainly use it to read magazines. Ee-reader owners also read more magazines: an average of 13 magazine issues each month, compared to 11 issues for the average adult.
"There has been a lot of conversation about whether e-readers and tablets will provide an added boost to magazine readership," said Anne Marie Kelly, SVP, Marketing & Strategic Planning at MRI. "MRI's data certainly show e-reader owners are strong fans of magazines--a good indication for the potential of these devices to become strong magazine platforms once they are broadly adopted by the marketplace."
In order to sell a paid app in iTunes a publisher has to go through the trouble of becoming an Apple developer. The process is easy enough: fill out the form and pay your $100, but most publishers don't bother.
The Honolulu Advertiser went this route, though, with its $1.99 app for the iPhone.
The app is a simple RSS reader, but it also incorporates the ability for users to submit news tips and photos, something many news apps mysteriously leave out. The navigation lists Headlines, Sections, Search, Weather and Settings.
Other news apps released include apps for the independent paper for Cornell University, The Cornell Daily Sun, Milano Design Week 2010, and a paid app for Kuwait News.
With so few apps coming out right now for the iPad, many news apps are finally making their appearance in iTunes for the iPhone. Yesterday a whole slew of apps from Atlanta based LSN Inc. came out -- 28 in all. LSN builds apps for local broadcasters and has a mobile ad network solution, Direct Mobile Marketing & Advertising Group.
All the apps are free, of course, as its the case where the developer is listed as the "seller".
As I predicted, the number of new magazine or newspaper iPad app launches has all but stopped as those developers that wanted first move advantage have already launched their apps, while other publishers are now working with actual iPads in hand.
One magazine that did launch an app this last week was Interview. The Andy Warhol founded magazine is selling their app for the appealing price of only 99 cents, a far cry from the approaches of Time or the Wall Street Journal.
The app was developed by Other Edition Limited, a company I've not heard of before -- and know nothing of now because the company has no functioning web site. Isn't that a bit strange?
The app has been praised for its pricing, but criticized for its approach. "These guys completely missed the point of this digital magazine revolution. The App is basically a PDF file/style of a normal print issue," wrote one reviewer on iTunes.
Philadelphia Daily News announces plans to launch 'ambitious' weekend edition; debut set for October
The Daily News announced Tuesday plans to launch what it calls "an ambitious new weekend edition". The new weekender will replace its existing Saturday edition.
Steve Grasse, a Philadelphia branding consultant, has been brought on board to develop and promote the weekend edition.
Brian P. Tierney, publisher of The Inquirer and the Daily News, said the new edition was "the result of over a year of creative thought and a great deal of research."
The Daily News is part of Philadelphia Newspapers L.L.C. which is enduring a lengthy and contentious bankruptcy. Late last week the U.S. Court of Appeals turned down a request to rehear an appeal from the lenders involved. The lenders wanted to use their debt when bidding for the company at the upcoming auction April 27.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Mexico government cuts off millions of cell phones; disconnections part of crack down on organized crime
← Thousands line up in Mexico to register their cell phone lines.
As many as 25.9 million cell phone lines had not been registered by Sunday and were in danger of being cut off as the Mexican government attempted to fight back against organized crime. To register, users needed to provide the government their CURP number, similar to a social security number. According to one media source in Mexico, up to 12,000 users protested the regulation by submitting the name of Felipe Calderon, president of Mexico.
"It is pointless," said a hospital porter, Gerardo Morales, according to The Guardian. "Protesting against it is pointless, too."
Cell phone providers were set to lose millions in the move, though providers promised users late to register that they would not lose their numbers and calling credit if late to comply.
Broadcasters form joint venture to develop national mobile content service: group will share content & programming
Mobile television took a giant leap forward today with the announcement of a new joint venture to promote mobile broadcasting.
Twelve major media firms are part of the group involved in today's announcement, including Belo Corp., Cox Media Group, E.W. Scripps Co., Fox, Gannett Broadcasting, Hearst Television Inc., ION Television, Media General Inc., Meredith Corp., NBC, Post-Newsweek Stations Inc. and Raycom Media.
The new joint venture will create a service that will allow member companies to provide content to mobile devices, including live and on-demand video, local and national news from print and electronic sources, as well as sports and entertainment programming.
Nine local broadcast companies, Belo, Cox, E.W. Scripps, Gannett, Hearst, Media General, Meredith, Post Newsweek and Raycom, also formed a new company, Pearl Mobile DTV Company LLC to facilitate their involvement.
"We are excited about building a platform that makes mobile television universally available and economically viable. This venture is the first step in forging cross-industry and company partnerships to deliver content to consumers," said Jack Abernethy, Chief Executive Officer of Fox Television Stations.
"This initiative offers a path for the next generation of video consumption, and will help the FCC in its goal of ensuring efficient and reliable broadband service for US consumers," said John Wallace, President, NBC Local Media in a press release.
"Mobile digital television places each of our companies at the center of a consumer transformation, putting us on cell phones, netbooks, DVD players and even in-vehicle entertainment systems," said David Lougee, President, Gannett Broadcasting, Gannett Co. Inc. "And it's the consumers who are the big winners. From news and entertainment to emergency information, virtually all U.S. consumers will soon be able to bring their most valuable content with them wherever they go."
Apple approves Opera's iPhone browser; approval of Opera Mini helps Apple avoid anti-competitive charge
In a surprise move, Apple approved a competitive browser for the iPhone. The Opera Mini Web browser made its appearance yesterday in iTunes and is already a major hit with app downloaders with several thousand reviews instantly appearing.
The release caught many be surprise as the general feeling was that there was no way Apple would approve a browser that would compete with its own Safari browser -- its basic policy being that apps that duplicate basic Apple provided functions would not be approved. But the exceptions, like Weather apps, for instance, were many -- and besides, browser wars generally do not turn out well for the dominate player, as Microsoft can attest.
Opera was very public at the time it submitted the app for approval, putting the pressure on Apple to approve the browser or face immense criticism.
For iPhone users, the biggest advantage will be felt by those with first generation devices. The Opera browser is reportedly very fast using EDGE, the generally slower data platform. The reviews for the app were very positive prior to the approval, but MacRumors readers are not as thrilled -- some even speculating that Apple approved the browser because it will prove to be no competition at all for Safari.
Talk about other tablets entering the market place has been mostly just that -- talk. Both HP's Slate and Microsoft's Courier are theoretically going to be introduced this year, but both companies seem more interested in promoting their tablets rather than actually selling them.
But enter the WePad, the German made tablet that appears to want to be an iPad knock off for the PC crowd. Designed to look almost identical to the iPad, the WePad sports more PC-like specs: a 1.66 GHz Atom processor, a built-in 3 meg web cam, 2 USB ports, and the ability to run Java, Linux, Android apps, and Adobe Air (read: Flash). The WePad can also display full 1080p HD video, and has HDMI out. So, for specs alone, the WePad should have an advantage. That leaves user experience and apps as the differentiator.
The WePad will begin accepting pre-orders on April 27 in Germany, with the 16GB model priced at €449 (about $610), and the 32GB model at €569 -- US prices and pre-order dates have not been announced.
The demo below will probably appeal to those who like Windows over the Mac OS (Mac users will most likely be appalled by the screen clutter and messiness of the desktop). Its real advantage, though, may be in being a universal media reader as the device promises to be able to read the ePub, PDF and other formats. The iPad, on the other hand, can only handle PDFs through third party apps. And then there is Flash . . .
(In case you missed it, Google is also rumored to be entering the tablet market.)
Monday, April 12, 2010
Pew finds that news execs consider mobile applications 'essential', but are pessimistic about the future
The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, in association with the American Society of News Editors (ASNE) and the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA), released a study gaging the mood of news executives in the newspaper and broadcast industries.
Things remain gloomy (time for another conference!).
Broadcast news execs are, by-and-large, a more gloomy bunch than their print counterparts. Sixty-four percent of broadcast news executives believe their profession is headed in the wrong the direction, while their print counterparts are split 49-51, a bare majority thinking things are not all doom and gloom. (A question: do the 36 percent of broadcast news execs that think their profession is on the right track work at Fox News? Or are they simply drunk?)
On the bright side, news executives have been reading their papers because three-quarters of them say "mobile applications are essential or very important".
Pew finds that most, 75 percent, have reservations about the idea of government assistance (they're right), and another 78 percent feel that same way about getting financial assistance from interest groups.
Find the full Pew findings at Journalism.org.
CourseSmart launches iPad app; textbook prices remain very high; students will continue to seek alternatives
CourseSmart was one of the first companies to announce that they would be ready for the tablet era. Back in January the company released a demo video showing how they saw users buying and reading textbooks on tablets. A new iPad app has been released and the user experience is a mixed bag.
College textbooks are one of the great outrages of modern life. Students, who often go into serious debt in order to get their college degrees, are charged ridiculous amounts for textbooks from publishers who hold monopolies on the titles. Publishers can argue (with some justification) about their own costs of publishing and updating these textbooks, but the result is that students spend a lot of time finding ways around incurring the high cost of textbooks. Today, for instance, most colleges give incoming freshmen estimates of between $1500 and $2000 per year.
CourseSmart's iPad is really no app at all, but simply a way into their browser based store. Once the user has signed up, they will find that the eTextbooks are really 180 or 360 day subscriptions to the electronic texts.
Here are two examples of how the pricing compares to both Amazon and publisher-direct:
|Biology||Robert Brooker||1st Edition|
|Abnormal Psychology||Ann Kring||et. al.|
Now I have to admit that I have no idea if either of these two examples are textbooks that are widely used. Both books, however, are easily found in a search on CourseSmart, Amazon and online, so I assume they are good test cases.
As I suspected months ago, CourseSmart is not offering major discounts over the prices that the publishers themselves are offering for electronic versions of the textbooks. Further, both books can be downloaded as PDFS through common file sharing outlets as students desperate to save money will do just about anything to lower their education costs.
(The advantage of the Kindle editions would appear that the owner can retain their electronic copy, while on CourseSmart the subscription runs out after 180 or 360 days.)
For students, eTextbooks are probably a good alternative to buying a new hardbound book -- especially in classes outside their major. The real question for many students may be "can I secure a used copy that is below the cost of an eTextbook?"
Here are a few thoughts about the iPad and publishing after one week.
The reviews: Almost all the reviews and columns about the iPad have come from the usual suspects -- David Pogue and crew. Frankly, I could care less about the opinion of the tech folk, what I think is important is what do editors, publishers and readers think of the tablet? If the iPad is going to be important to the future of publishing you'd think we'd find more editors and publishers writing about it. Instead, they are treating the iPad like any other tech device and leaving it to their technology writers to deal with.
The killer app: There is no killer app. When Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone during the MacWorld keynote in January of 2007 he asked the question "what is the killer app?" He answered with the simple answer "making a call". Jobs then went on demonstrate why the iPhone was so much easier to use than other smart phones.
So what is the killer app on the iPad? Of the apps Apple included at launch, only a hand full, the answer is "none". Browsing is nice on the tablet, but it certainly isn't better than my desktop -- especially without Flash. It isn't e-mail or contacts or any of the other standard iPad ware.
No, Apple has left development of the killer app up to . . . the developers -- which makes their moves to antagonize developers all the more puzzling. The killer app, it seems, is some theoretical app still in development -- maybe the Wired app that won't end up making it onto the iPad because it was developed in cooperation with Adobe?
Newspapers and magazines: The New York Times app, it turns out, was a mistake. On Saturday morning I fired up my iPad, launched the Times app and the lead story concerned the Vatican. Missing was anything about the plane crash that wiped out much of the top leadership of the Polish government. I quickly shut down the app and fired up Safari and ended up reading the story on the Times web site. (A few hours later the Times app was updated to show the crash story.) Overall, newspapers are sitting back and waiting -- what else is new. Now that the few newspapers that made launch day have their apps on iTunes it may be a few weeks before other newspapers join them.
In the meantime, newspapers continue to launch iPhone apps, including student papers that like this one for North Carolina Central University, or this one from the independent student paper at UW-Madison. Student journalists don't seem to have difficulty accepting the idea that readers will want their news on a tablet or phone. The Irish Times was among the many publications launching mobile apps for smart phones last week. (Abilene Christian University was one of the few iPad news apps launched last week after April 3rd.)
Thanks to Zinio and Pixel Mags, the magazine industry has been better represented. But the format restrictions of their formats locks limits what a magazine can do, and certainly commoditizes magazines, in general. Popular Science has gotten good press for its magazine app; but Time magazine has gotten a bit of flack for its pricing policy -- though its app was fairly well received. Nonetheless, iPad owners eagerly downloaded all the apps -- after all, they bought this as a reader and were not going to be deterred from reading just because publishers didn't want to deliver the goods.
Books: Very few stand alone book apps appeared from publishers, so iPad users (for now) are forced to use Apple's iBooks app, or Amazon's Kindle app (universally criticized for its poor programming). Nonetheless, Steve Jobs said 600,000 downloads were recorded in iBooks in just the first few days. (It helped that Apple added 30,000 free books at launch, thanks to its partnership with Project Gutenberg.)
Other apps: if Apple didn't provide the iPad with a killer app, and publishers didn't create candidates, other developers were more than willing to step to the plate.
Right now my favorite app is Air Video, an application that allows you to watch videos on the iPad that reside on your computer, whether you are at home or at the airport waiting on a delayed flight. The best $2.99 app, no doubt.
Instapaper Pro is wonderful, of course, and will be especially appreciated by people who can not spend time reading at their desks at work, but who stumble on stories during the day. A quick click on your browser bookmarks the story for viewing on your iPad (or iPhone) later in the day.
If I were a realtor I'd consider the Zillow app essential. The Zillow web site is already pretty vital, but the iPad app is very quick indeed. This one will be even better on a 3G iPad when out in the field, away from WiFi. Why a newspaper company like Gannett didn't snap this company up early on is beyond me. Oh well, who needs a newspaper when looking for real estate, right? This former CAM weeps. (Zillow recently moved into the rental market, as well. You could see that one coming a mile away.)
The American Society of News Editors brought in the equivalent of a rock star to its conference over the week. Google CEO Eric Schmidt did not disappoint, telling the editors that the future looks bright and everything will be alright.
"We understand how fundamental your mission is," Schmidt told the editors. "We have a business model problem. We don't have a news problem, we're all in this together."
Schmidt then went on to tell the editors how to do their business. "We have a business model problem; we don't have a news problem."
Newspaper folk love this kind of stuff: attending conferences where people tell them what to do. I can think of no other industry with so many conferences, so many gurus, so many people willing to listen to other people who have never spent a day writing a lead, selling an ad, or delivering a newspaper.
"What we need to do is probably sweat, but sweat from hard work, figuring it all out," Boston Globe Editor Martin Baron told Politico after the speech. "I think that’s why people are here, and that’s why they invite somebody like Eric Schmidt. If we can learn something, and apply those lessons to the way we do business, then all the better."
So there you have it: sweat is the answer.