Short reads on a Saturday morning:
• If you were heavily in the stock market I am sure you are glad this week is over. The market didn't suffer a ten minute meltdown like last week, but it wasn't exactly an encouraging week.
• Although it did not seem to make much othis splash, but this week was the launch of the Vanity Fair iPad app – a step forward by Condé Nast in adapting their magazines to the tablet platform.
The app is basically two magazines in one: the landscape mode is an almost exact copy of the print version; while the portrait mode makes changes in design to suit the new platform. Advertisers also have embedded video and links that are missing from the landscape mode.
Editorially, I will admit that generally I find Vanity Fair hit-or-miss, but I would rate this app as the number one stand-alone magazine app so far released. Is Wired next?
• The Financial Times launched its iPad app on Friday afternoon. A full review will appear here first thing Monday morning. Like their iPhone app, the iPad app is free to download but will require a subscription to access content. Now the good news: access to content will be free until the end of July as the FT have lined up a single sponsor: Hublot. Users can download the current edition for easy offline viewing, or press a button and go back to the live edition. First impression? Looks great.
• Staying on topic: I spoke to photographer/publisher Timothy Paul Moore about the iPad app he developed for his indie zine Letter to Jane. As far as I can tell, Moore's iPad app is the first for a small, independent magazine. It definitely takes a minimalist approach, but it works and its online -- selling for 99 cents in iTunes. Go support citizen publishing!
• Executive editor Bill Keller confirmed on Thursday that the New York Times will be instituting its metered paywall for online readers in January. Speaking at the Foreign Press Association, Keller did not give any hints at pricing, or what the threshold would be for online readers -- that is, when they would have to start paying -- but the Times has given themselves plenty of time to work out those details.
• On Monday I posted my interview with Carll Tucker, founder and publisher at Main Street Connect, a group of community online news sites that wants to expand nationally from its current core of local sites in Fairfield County, Connecticut. MSC will continue to increase the number of sites of its owner/operating group in the NYC DMA, but will use an affiliate model to launch additional groups of sites around the country.
Unlike AOL-owned Patch, which is funding their expansion internally, and is not emphasizing (or apparently not emphasizing) monetization, MSC hopes to train and lead their affiliates in such a way that they will be able to generate significant revenue through ad sales right away.
Saturday, May 15, 2010
Short reads on a Saturday morning:
Friday, May 14, 2010
from Letter to Jane. →
Yesterday TNM posted a look at the iPad app from Portland, Oregon photographer and indie zine publisher Timothy Paul Moore. Moore's Letter to Jane is both a website, as well as a downloadable (PDF) magazine. Now, Moore has an iPad app in iTunes, as well. The app features Issue 01 of the magazine, complete with interviews, features and photography.
The top photograph here is from the "Photos" section named Relax. The bottom two photographs are from his "Features" section, a photo feature of musician Dan Deacon. For more information, read the interview here.
← Timothy Paul Moore,
Google gives up selling the Nexus One via web store only; will seek to sell its smartphone via retail stores
The Android platform may be growing by leaps and bounds, but Google has admitted that its online-only strategy for selling the Nexus One needs revamping.
In a blog post this morning, Google VP, Engineering, Andy Rubin wrote that the company move to would follow the sales model it had adopted for Europe: working through retail partners to sell the Nexus One phone.
"We’re very happy with the adoption of Android in general, and the innovation delivered through Nexus One," Rubin wrote.
"But, as with every innovation, some parts worked better than others. While the global adoption of the Android platform has exceeded our expectations, the web store has not. It’s remained a niche channel for early adopters, but it’s clear that many customers like a hands-on experience before buying a phone, and they also want a wide range of service plans to chose from."
Apple's response to Adobe attack ad? An e-mail to its customers promoting the purchase of Creative Suite 5
I received a most unexpected e-mail this afternoon: an e-mail promoting Adobe's newest version of Creative Suite -- CS5. As you can see, the e-mail invites me to buy Adobe's latest package of production tools at an Apple Retail Store, or online.
In either case, when it comes to pushing sales, the Apple-Adobe Flash war is not going to get the way of retail sales, right? What will Adobe's next move be? An ad encouraging Flash users to buy an iPad?
John Gruber, who blogs at Daring Fireball, and is an essential source of news and opinion on all things Apple. Today Gruber promotes his own column in the next issue of MacWorld, where he attempts to describe how Apple new product development works and how the process ends up creating market shifting products.
Read the whole thing, but here is an excerpt:
They take something small, simple, and painstakingly well considered. They ruthlessly cut features to derive the absolute minimum core product they can start with. They polish those features to a shiny intensity. At an anticipated media event, Apple reveals this core product as its Next Big Thing, and explains—no, wait, it simply shows—how painstakingly thoughtful and well designed this core product is. The company releases the product for sale.Gruber then goes on to trace the history of various Apple products/innovations, leading eventually his views of the iPad: "The iPad really is The Big One: Apple’s reconception of personal computing," Gruber writes.
I think Gruber is right about much of this, and he is definitely in a better position to comment on all things tech than I am. But having lived with the iPad for over a month now, and having written about and tested many news apps developed for the device, I am a still a little torn between thinking the iPad is revolutionary, or that tablets designed like the iPad will be the real revolution.
Gruber talks about the development of the first iPods and how the devices were (typical for Apple) sleek and minimal -- that is, they were engineered down to their essential elements. Only later was more functionality added.
Where I question whether the iPad can be as important a device for Apple as the iPod is in the area of openness and compatibility. When Apple first opened the iTunes store, it used the AAC format with added encryption instead of the more common MP3 format. The result was lots of complaints and claims that Apple was closing down its system. It was not true, not because that wasn't Apple plan, but because re-encoding music from one format to another is so easy (and still is).
Today, the Achilles’ heel of the iPad could be its inability to display all Internet sites as currently designed, and the fact that many news organizations have hesitated designing apps for the product because of this same weakness -- in other words, Flash.
Am I arguing that not supporting Flash is a mistake? No. I think we will have to wait and see. But I would argue that if another manufacturer were to introduce a tablet as powerful as the iPad, as sleekly designed as the iPad, and with the same access to third party apps as the iPad and it supported Flash, we might be a fair fight.
I suppose this is where Apple has the advantage, and why I respect Gruber's opinion on these matters. Go to any major computer store that also carries Apple products (OK, I mean Best Buy) and compare laptop computers. PCs from Sony, Asus, H-P, Samsung may be as powerful or more so, they may contain more features, they most certainly will be cheaper, but how do they compare design-and-build-wise? (We'll leave the OS question out of this.)
The point is that Apple's iPad may, indeed, be the next "Big One" as Gruber claims, or it may be like the Mac, a product that changed everything in personal computers, and still ended up being a product with a minimal market share. I am sure that the iPad has introduced to the media world tablet publishing -- it is, in fact, one of the reasons this site was established. But whether Apple ultimately dominates the world of tablets is still to be determined.
The New York Times has finally announced when it plans to institute its own version of the website paywall as it announced it will begin charging for articles starting in January of next year.
Executive editor Bill Keller, speaking at the Foreign Press Association Thursday evening made the announcement, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The Times plan calls for the paper to construct a "metered paywall" where occasional readers, drawn by search results, and the like can continue to read articles for free. Regular readers who frequent the site often and read multiple articles will be monitored and will be forced to pay some sort of fee once they have reached a certain threshold.
As of today, the Times has not given out information about either the threshold, or the price frequent readers will be forced to play. Then again, there is still a lot of time between today and January, and the Times may still decide to abandon its idea, or else construct a total paywall.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
The first app developer I want to visit in person is definitely DuoApps, headquartered in Corsica (famous as the birthplace of Napoléon Bonaparte). DuoApps, not to be confused with the similarly named DoApp, specializes in mobile applications for the iPhone, as well as Android.
mobile apps from DuoApps. →
The 16th app from DuoApps appeared in iTunes today, all but one of the apps for news organizations. Four of the apps are for the European web editions of Gizmodo: Germany, France, Italy and Spain.
Compared to U.S. based news apps, these apps have very few reviews to be found in iTunes. Most of the apps appear to be simple RSS readers, though I saw that the ParisTech Review app had a sponsor page -- meaning, of course, that the ads were not integrated into the news pages of the app. One of the more interesting apps created so far by DuoApps was for Arianespace, the European based commercial space flight company. That app was developed with ParaWeb, and webcasting company. Not surprisingly, DuoApps prominently displays that app on its web home page.
For a number of B2B media companies, the opportunity to develop a mobile media strategy may present the company with a perfect opportunity to rethink their web strategy, as well.
Speaking recently with an applications developer, the conversation turned to their relationships with B2B media companies. The developer's impression was that things tended to move rather slowly in the world of print media, and that the chance to work with a mobile developer might just be a chance a start launching new products again.
The ability to launch new apps, almost as fast as they can be developed, is in stark contrast with the way new launches work online at many B2Bs. Tied down by big content management systems, often by agreements with third party hosting and development companies, and by an internal bureaucracy disconnected from publishers and their industries, most B2B publishers have simply given up on new web development altogether.
Launching a new print magazine, of course, can prove to be an expensive and daunting chore. But does launching an experimental website have to be a Sisyphean task?
Because of this, traditional media companies are finding that they lack the skills necessary to survive and thrive in the modern media world: the ability to adapt quickly, launch quickly, fail quickly and ultimately to find new niches quickly.
Developing first mobile media projects, however, is creating a new opportunity to rethink much of the standard operating procedures created recently. For instance, is it better to have the entire sales staff work on selling mobile advertising, or should one or two individuals be assigned the task? should sales be more "sponsorship-like", or pure space sales? should we host and develop everything ourselves, or would a third party respond quicker to our needs?
Citizen publishing comes to tablets; 'Letter to Jane' photographer/publisher brings indie zine to the iPad
The web has certainly offered independent publishers, journalists and just-plain-citizens the opportunity to self-publish electronically -- with Blogspot and WordPress, as well as hosting services, contributing to an explosion in self-expression and independent publishing.
The promise of the iPad, and by extension, future tablets and e-readers is that an individual may now be able to produce and distribute their work on a more-or-less equal footing with commercial media enterprises. Or, at least, that is the hope.
While the iTunes app store is filled with iPhone apps for small, independent publications and blogs, the iPad app store is currently lacking in apps from small publications specifically designed for Apple's new tablet. (iPhone apps can be used on the iPad, but with generally poor results as the pixels need to be doubled, leading to blurry text and images.)
So where are the independent publications?
Well, here they come.
Timothy Paul Moore is a 25 year-old photographer from Portland, Oregon whose iPad app for his personally crafted magazine made its debut in the iTunes store on Tuesday. Letter to Jane is Moore's creation -- a conversion of his online and print magazine made up of interviews and photography.
(For the uninitiated, the title of the magazine refers to a film by the French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard.)
← Letter to Jane, one of the first indie zines formatted for the iPad, the work of Portland photographer Timothy Paul Moore.
“I got my BFA in photography from Oregon State about two years ago and was completely clueless because no one had ever told me how to get into a magazine, only how to make a print and get into galleries,” Moore told Jill Singer of the Sight Unseen earlier this year. “About six months ago I decided I wanted to do my own thing, and I started asking people for help.”
Moore was nice enough to return my call and explain to me how his magazine made it onto the iPad. "It's been a blog for a year and half, and then it moved to kind of an indie zine this past Christmas," Moore said.
Then, when Apple announced that it would be introducing the iPad, Moore immediately saw the potential.
"I wanted to (bring the magazine to the iPad) ever since I heard about the thing, but wanted to see what the big magazines might do. Then I got a feel for it -- then got one in my hands and realized I'd really like my work to be on there," Moore said.
"I looked at what other people were doing and did the best to my abilities at the moment."
Moore's iPad app is definitely minimal. But in some ways the lack of bells and whistles allows readers to concentrate on the material inside. The users inability to zoom and move around within the photographs is sorely missed, but this was not so much an editorial decision but simply the result of Moore being a photographer, not a professional programmer.
"I haven't really programmed anything since high school, so I kind of just sat down and got to work -- learned, went through some tutorials, went back and forth, and had some people help me", Moore said yesterday.
As for the lack of multi-touch features? "I just couldn't figure out how to implement it without the thing crashing. I really wanted it to be stable."
Now that Issue 01 of Letter to Jane is in iTunes Moore is ready to move on to the next issue, committed to the tablet platform. "There's an issue in the works, its being specifically designed to look a lot better on the iPad," Moore said.
(The first issue of Letter to Jane is 180 pages and can be seen online at Moore's website, or downloaded as a PDF here.)
The next issue will include the work of four other photographers, and Moore will have the help of a colleague who will do much of the work on the first 20 pages.
Letter to Jane costs 99 cents in iTunes. In order to be able to be an independent developer and charge for an app inside iTunes you have to become part of Apple's developer program. The paperwork is pretty easy and there is a $99 fee. As a result of getting his first app approved and in iTunes, Moore is now an iPad publisher, something many mainstream media companies can not claim.
Update: A photograph from the iPad edition of Letter to Jane will be used for our weekly Photoblogging Friday feature tomorrow -- a first here at TNM.
A study by BCG, a management consulting firm, was released yesterday that suggests mobile media devices like Apple's iPad stand a good chance of acceptance in the marketplace -- with half of those surveyed who were familiar with the products stating they plan on purchasing one.
"The survey suggests that e-readers and tablets are not a niche product for early adopters but could become the MP3 players of this decade. Grandmothers will soon be carrying them around," said John Rose, the global leader of BCG's Media practice in a release.
The study, though, contains some contradictory findings. For instance, BCG claims that consumers it surveyed expressed the desire to do more with their devices than simply reading. According to BCG's findings "66 percent of respondents would prefer to buy a multipurpose device, whereas only 24 percent prefer a single-function device, such as the Kindle."
The survey also states, however, that consumers are price sensitive and say they are only willing to spend up to $200 for such a device. But should this really be a surprise? Apple's pricing is predictably on the high end of expectations, with the company skimming off the high-quality, high-profit segments of the market to its financial gain. Eventually, it is assumed, lower priced tablets will soon appear in the market and scoop up the buyers in the same way netbooks and lowly priced laptops consistently out sell Apple's Mac offerings.
The study also suggests that consumers would prefer more open systems. "The survey suggests that Apple's strategy of offering a wide degree of functionality makes sense," says Dominic Field, U.S. leader of BCG's Media practice. "But the results also call into question Apple's preference for a closed system."
I wonder, though, how this question was phrased as it would be difficult to ask a question that would generate the response "yeah, I want to be locked into a propriety system!"
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Journal Register Company promotes digital execs to run sales and content in 'Digital First" initiative
The Journal Register Company has announced that it is appointing a trio of its executives to newly created sales and content positions as part of its "Digital First" initiative.
"The Journal Register Company has adopted a strategy of Digital First. The appointments of Dan, Adam and Jon to these important roles with a focus on digital rather than print are indicative of our commitment to that strategy," said John Paton, Chief Executive Officer, in a company release. "All three are exactly the kind of leaders we need to transform this Company from its past as a newspaper company to its future as a news and information company."
Paton announced that Daniel Sarko will serve as Senior Vice President of Integrated Sales, Adam Burnham was named Vice President of Local Sales, and Jon Cooper is becoming Vice President of Content.
Sarko was previously Chief Digital Officer. Before joining the Journal Register Company last year, Sarko was Vice President and Interim GM of Philly.com, the online division of the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News.
Burnham previously served as Corporate Advertising Director and until recently was the Vice President of Sales and Marketing. Cooper, who has been with the company longest, having joined in 1997, was Director of Digital Content before today's promotion announcement.
Comcast unveils app that pairs the iPad with cable box; Xfinity Remote prototype demoed at Cable Show 2010
Comcast Labs unveiled a prototype of a web-based remote control that will work through an iPad app at The Cable Show 2010 that opened today in Los Angeles.
(As an aside: as I mentioned yesterday, The Cable Show 2010 has an interactive iPhone app available for attendees -- and others interested -- in the iTunes store. The company behind that app, Core-Apps, also has an app for this week's FMI show in Las Vegas. You can read more about that here.)
Comcast bragged about its new application on its own blog this morning.
The application is simple, easy-to-use and makes it easy to discover content and even chat with friends and share recommendations – making it a truly “social remote,” integrated with existing social networks. It brings PCs and a variety of tablets and smartphones into an immersive video experience together with the TV, finding content in very convenient ways," wrote Sam Schwartz, President, Converged Products.
"It looks particularly great on the iPad because it takes advantage of the rich, graphical user interface. We’ve got developers working now to finish and launch this application," wrote Schwartz.
Below is a video of the prototype posted by Comcast.
As they say, the only winners are the lawyers . . .
HTC Corporation, the Taiwan-based manufacturer of cell phones, announced this morning that they have taken legal action against Apple Inc., filing a complaint with the United States International Trade Commission, asking for a halt to the importation and sale of the iPhone, iPad and iPod in the United States. (Good luck with that.)
HTC, of course, is reacting to the Apple's own lawsuit filed against it that claims that HTC had infringed on some 20 Apple patents involving the iPhone's user interface, and underlying architecture and hardware. "We can sit by and watch competitors steal our patented inventions, or we can do something about it. We’ve decided to do something about it,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO in a corporate release. “We think competition is healthy, but competitors should create their own original technology, not steal ours.”
So, not surprisingly, HTC has countersued, though, interestingly, the press release no area where Apple has actually infringed on its own technology. "We are taking this action against Apple to protect our intellectual property, our industry partners, and most importantly our customers that use HTC phones," said Jason Mackenzie, vice president of North America, HTC Corporation in their press release.
Yesterday the New York Times was able to get a sneak preview of the new iPad app for Condé Nast property Vanity Fair. Today the app appeared in iTunes. Here are some first impressions.
On April 3, the day Apple delivered the Saturday Apple delivered the first iPad to those who had pre-ordered Condé Nast had two apps ready to go -- one for GQ and the other for Epicurious. I gave the Epicurious app a big thumbs up (not literally) on the following Monday for two reasons: the app itself was pretty useful and well designed, but more importantly, the first mover advantage of being there on Day One would pay dividends for the Epicurious brand.
Now, five and a half weeks later, the app for Vanity Fair is ready in time for the June issue of the magazine. The app itself is really two magazines in one: the landscape version of VF is an exact copy of the magazine, while the portrait version is Condé Nast's current take on tablet publishing. The price is the exactly the same as the print edition: $4.99. Some reviewers in iTunes will likely give the app a one-star rating for the fact that the app is not discounted (as has happened with the Time magazine app). But, as you will see, this would be short-sighted of them.
← Load times are a bit long, more due to the healthy size of the magazine than any problems with the app itself.
The first thing the user experiences is the loading time: Vanity Fair is not some 32 page trade publication. The inside back cover gives readers a page number of 188, but there are additional unnumbered pages here, as well. As a result, the app takes a while to load. No big deal: in the end you get quite a lot of content.
I can honestly say that loading an issue of Vanity Fair does not make the iPad heavier (yes, I'm kidding). But more seriously, when going on a business trip which would you like to carry around: one iPad, or several magazines the size of Vanity Fair or Vogue? iPad wins every time.
As mentioned, the landscape version of Vanity Fair is an almost exact copy of the print issue. I don't know if the reason for this is the recent rule changes adopted by the ABC governing tablet versions of print editions, or an editorial decision. The new rules state that in order for an iPad version of a magazine to be counted as paid circulation, the tablet version must contain the same content and advertising. The rules, however, say the layouts do not have to be identical.
Despite this, the June issue of Vanity Fair, when viewed in landscape mode is almost identical to the print version, though there is some added content. What is missing, however, are links embedded in the index page. This simple addition could make navigating the landscape version much more pleasurable.
The portrait version of the VF app is where it shines. Navigation is assisted with a Contents button on the top left of the pages that pull down a navigation bar, allowing readers to jump from story to story. (Both the landscape and portrait versions contain a navigation slider on the bottom of the page, as well.)
The first thing users notice immediately is that the advertising now is interactive, containing embedded video and links. The added time Vanity Fair took to launch their first iPad app was time well spent working with advertisers to add interactive content. It is this addition that makes the app worth its price and a good lesson for publishers: if you want to maintain your price point on a mobile device, make sure you put at least some time into the customizing the product. A direct porting over of the print edition, without layout changes or added content will be negatively received.
As a reader, I find Vanity Fair hit and miss: one or two stories of interest combined with some mind numbingly banal copy (that's a bit harsh, isn't it?). But this app begins to show the promise of tablet publishing, and because of that I think readers should find it a winner. iPad users are hungry for content, complaining online of the lack of publishers who seem to get the potential of the tablet format. This should be encouraging.
Now, with the iPad entering Europe at month's end we should start seeing different visions of tablet publishing appearing in iTunes -- and summer should see a flood of new apps in the iTunes store, including, we hope, the app from Wired.
Late yesterday iPad owners found that an unusually high number of application updates were available for them in iTunes. One of the more significant ones, at least as far as TNM readers would be concerned, was from Zinio.
Reviews of the first version of the digital magazine newsstand app had recommended improvements in three areas: better text resolution when zooming into pages, faster page turning, and insuring that subscriptions created online make their way to the users iPad.
Based on early user feedback it appears that at least the first two things have been accomplished. The third, syncing subscriptions, is something that can't be tested instantly so it will be a matter of time whether the update addresses this issue.
Publishers need to remember that frequent app updates are the norm in mobile app development. Users who download apps know that if there are bugs, or features missing, future updates often address the problems. In other words, frequent updates are not necessarily a sign of poor app development but of responsiveness to customer input. For Zinio, the new update brings the app up to version 1.4.
With this update, it appears that Zinio has significantly improved their app, and will remain the most important magazine app currently available for Apple's tablet.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Core-Apps LLC and FMI team up to create mobile app for Las Vegas show; app developer targets trade shows
Today is the first day of the FMI trade show in Las Vegas, the once great food marketing event that has, frankly, seen better days. One twist, this year, is that FMI has teamed up Core-Apps LLC to produce a mobile app for the show.
The app is designed for the iPhone OS -- meaning the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad -- though the app is not native to the iPad, meaning that it would simply appear as it would on the smaller display of the iPhone or iPod touch. For mobile devices other than the iPhone, the mobile solution is provided by a mobile web-based solution.
Core-Apps LLC is an app development company run by Jay Tokosch. The company started developing iPhone apps in March of 2009 and currently has a 21 apps in the iTunes app store, all for trade shows.
Because of this it is not clear whether Core-Apps signed the deal, or whether Supermarket News initiated the project. In the past, Core-Apps has been the one selling the application deal as they have many trade shows currently under contract. It is possible that the reason Supermarket News's name is on the app is because they are a sponsor for the show, have agreed to promote the show and its app. The SN site also has a promotion page that gives advertising specs for the app, presumably meaning the Penton weekly has the sole right to sell ads associated with FMI.
Update: According to a representative from Core-Apps, Penton's Supermarket News did indeed contract with the company to development this app for FMI.
The app itself is very nice, especially the map page (see below) which takes advantage of the ability to zoom in using the iPhone's multi-touch capability. Normally trying to view a map ofa large show floor would be impossible. But the app not only allows you to zoom in for a more pleasurably experience, but Core-Apps some times uses the GPS function in the phone to create a blue dot on the map of the trade show floor so you can see where you are. Since I am not currently at FMI I don't know whether this feature is being use, or how well it works inside a facility where cell phone availability is sometimes iffy.
The booths themselves are interactive in that there is a link to more information about the show, including booth number, address, and e-mail contact.
This afternoon I received an e-mail from Supermarket News promoting the app -- a little late, I might add, since the show starts today. The app itself, however, has been inside the iTunes store for a few weeks, and was updated a few days ago to fix some bugs and to update the graphics. That same day, Core-Apps updated its app for the Cable Show.
Does it need to be said again? The slowness of the trade press industry to adopt mobile media means that the developers are moving in to take the business. As I mentioned yesterday in my post about the app for Expo 2010 Shanghai China publishers could be using mobile as a way to move away from the costs and difficulties associated with producing a print show daily.
It is good to see Penton Media working with a developer like Core-Apps on trade show apps. By working together -- trade press and app developer -- both have much to gain.
We try and shy away as much as possible from the whole Apple versus Adobe Flash war, yet seem to return to it over and over again simply because it is constantly in the news and is definitely effecting the way publishers design their web, tablet and mobile offerings.
This blog post caught my attention this morning: Ryan Stewart, a Flash Platform evangelist at Adobe, was demoing Flash during a keynote address at FlashCamp Seattle. The demo proceeded just fine on Stewart's Mac, but things went terribly wrong when Stewart tried to demo the new Flash on his Android-based Nexus One smartphone. It crashed the first time he tried to access the Flash content, then crashed again.
The whole post at Jeff Croft's blog is definitely worth reading if the subject interests you.
What I'm concerned with is the whole question of mobile and tablet development for publishers. Anecdotes like this one simply reinforce the idea that publishers may be wise to stay away from Flash. At the same time, however, the lack of Flash support is seriously holding back iPad app development, and thus is having an impact on the growth of media on the world's only commercially viable tablet. Until new tablets appear on the market, ones capable of properly displaying Flash, publishers will have to develop for the iPad and a Flash-less environment. Adobe is certainly not helping things when they can not prove can support the new mobile operating systems.
The June issue of The Atlantic features a long feature story, written by James Fallows, that talks about Google's genuine interest in working with newspapers to "save the news". Let me simply say that Fallows is one of our great writers, and even if he is coming to this subject a bit late -- the Hal Varian speeches which must have sparked the idea for this article occurred months ago, see this TNM post from January -- Fallows still does a fantastic job of piecing the story together and presenting it in a well-written and organized article. Here is a link to the entire piece: How to Save the News.
Fallows shows how Google has analyzed the decline of the newspaper and how they believe that the news, if not the newspaper, is essential to Google's success. Google is optimistic that the news business itself can survive this period of technological disruption. The article also recounts the decline of classified advertising, and how the newspaper, which has always profited from certain revenue streams, which supported things such as enterprise reporting, now finds itself getting hit from all sides.
I wanted to add a few thoughts about classified advertising, since it is a subject that is near and dear to me. As a former classified sales person with Hearst (L.A. Herald Examiner) and Classified Advertising Manager with several California newspapers, this is an area that has bothered me for some time. Fallows recounts how the rise of the Internet has allowed help-wanted, automotive and real estate ads to be stripped away.
Where I disagree with Fallows is that he lets newspaper executives and managers off the hook for the loss. Sure, one can not compete with free -- that is, Craig's List -- but why is it that newspapers now run four to eight page help-wanted sections on Sunday? and continue in vein to try and sustain classified ad revenue in the face of obstacles they surely know are too great to overcome?
The answer lies, as it often does, with a lack of understanding of the role of classified in the success of the newspaper, and the inability of newspaper executives to react to the loss of revenue.
What was the reaction? Didn't newspaper folk try and compete? Yes, the creation of such companies as Classified Ventures and the purchase and expansion of CareerBuilder were reactions by the newspaper industry. But were they really attempts to capture classified advertising, or were they simply attempts to save any sliver of revenue they could? I, obviously, would argue that the efforts put forth by the newspaper industry were a desperate attempt to save a few dollars, not honest attempts to save classifieds themselves.
The result has been further media fragmentation: classifieds are pulled away from the newspaper brands and now Craig's List is synonymous with classifieds. What publishers failed to understand was what could be gained by gathering free ads onto a web page -- traffic. The loss of classified has certainly cost the industry millions of dollars, but it is also losing it audience.
Today, newspapers are struggling to attract readers with such things as aggregated local news sections, mobile media apps, customization, etc. The interaction that classified advertising creates for a media outlet -- the two way communication between buyer and seller -- is lost to the Internet pure plays when newspapers insist on retaining that last dollar of profit. Now, increasingly, many newspapers continue to print small daily classified sections the way many printed daily stock market tables -- it remains part of the tradition.
Newspapers have always hated spinning out its sections and brands. While I was a classified manager I helped launch (along with my manager, Lee Beauregard) a weekly real estate tabloid in order to compete with the L.A. Times' massive Sunday section. Where we went wrong was to not spin it out completely and treat it like a separate product. A few years later the local real estate companies began publishing their own real estate products; and not long later the auto trader publications were doing the same.
Newspapers have been about resisting change and hanging onto the last dollar to be made. The industry will need companies like Google and Apple to push them into doing business differently.
Morning Brief: Follow-up to MSC story; RBI ends sales cycle; Apple & Iran compared; PennWell seeks UK editor
Yesterday I wrote a post about online community news publisher Main Street Connect. Late last night CEO Carll Tucker wrote a lengthy comment clarifying a few points concerning their affiliate model.
The Dow made huge gains yesterday as the stock market reacted to Europe's attempts to support the Euro and ease the debt crisis in Greece. This morning, however, European markets fells as the rally lost momentum. The Guardian is live blogging the market this morning, just as they are live blogging news concerning attempts to form a new U.K. government by the Tories, Labour and the Liberal Democrats. Yesterday Gordon Brown announced that he would eventually step down as head of Labour, and thus Prime Minister, even it Labour is able to secure a power sharing deal with the Liberal Democrats.
Reed wrapped up its deals with their former publishers, leaving Chain Leader, Converting, Graphic Arts Blue Book, Graphics Arts Monthly, Purchasing, Restaurants & Institutions and Trade Show Week unsold. Folio: reports, uncritically, that RBI will retain these titles for "lead generation" purposes. Sure. Clearly RBI had no intention of selling the remaining 23 titles unless they could have secured large multiples. If they had wanted to sell them they would have put them on the market, right?
Is Apple out of control? Shiny Shiny, a mobile and gadgets site, passes on the follow report:
A [Dazed & Confused] insider revealed that the mag's iPad edition has been nicknamed the Iran edition by the people putting it together, given the parallels between censorship in the Muslim theocracy and the iTunes store.
This all goes back to Apple's prudish views of nudity, forcing publications to self-censor to make it into Apple's app store. Somehow Apple is managing to destroy its reputation for cool, built on the backs of millions of iPod sales, and are quickly becoming the brand of old and stodgy.
More Apple: Hopes that Apple would bring its iPhone to Verizon have been dashed as it became clear that AT&T has a five year exclusive on the phone. That Apple would have, once again, made a mistake by keeping a product exclusive (just as they have with their own OS) is incredible. The result is that Verizon is moving quickly to fill the void pushing the HTC Droid Incredible phone.
Apple may be mad at Google for moving into the smartphone market, but in the end they will have only themselves to blame when the iPhone becomes a small niche product the way the Mac is. That is not a statement about the quality of the iPhone, which I still prefer over others, but simply an observation concerning the company's inability to learn from its past mistakes.
Job alert: PennWell is advertising for a Chief Editor for its Renewable Energy World & HRW magazines. The job is located in the U.K., which only makes the job more attractive, if you ask me.
Monday, May 10, 2010
The Show Daily is the mainstay of many trade shows in the U.S., and most are printed by trade magazines who contract with the show management company or trade association in charge of the show.
Many publishers have been looking to avoid the high cost of print and shipping these show dailies by exploring web alternatives. Maybe the mobile app seen here will give a few publishers additional ideas.
Late last week a new iPad app appeared in the iTunes store an app from China Daily for Expo 2010 Shanghai China, a World Expo (or international fair) that has 190 countries participating. The exposition runs from May 1 to October 31 and the iPad app is sort of a new twist on the show daily idea.
(According to the English language version of the expo site, there is also supposed to be an app for the iPhone and iPod touch, but I do not see one in iTunes -- this may have been an error on Apple's part. An app for iPhone makes much more sense since the iPad has not even been released in China and most parts of the world yet. But since the iPad app was the first to be seen, we'll go ahead and look at that one now.)
The app is simple enough, essentially an RSS reader. But the app does contain a lot of useful information and much to read. The app contains information on the individual pavilions, as well as visitor services. It also contains a rather interesting section called Outside In -- which has nothing to do with the company of the same name, but does aggregate stories about the expo written by outside sources. In fact, the lead story now in the section is a rather negative look at the expo, possibly making it through the censors because of translation difficulties?
Once the market for tablets and e-readers matures, it is definitely possible that producing show dailies exclusively (or with a web version, as well) could be a viable option for trade publishers. For now, the iPhone marries up nicely with the iPad, but the penetration of both devices together remains small. With the possible appearance of Android based tablets, however, suddenly publishers could seriously consider producing apps for both platforms and feel confident that they are reaching a decent share of the market.
Main Street Connect looks to expand; to launch first community news sites outside NYC DMA later this year
The online community news business is exploding thanks to publishers who believe they are filling a massive void in the market. Driven by both investment backed commercial entities, as well as individual journalists and community activists, these sites are attempting to prove that there is money to be made, while at the same time serving their communities by replacing the print newspapers shuttered by large newspaper chains.
In addition to AOL-backed Patch, which now has news sites in five states, and Southern California based U.S. Local News Network, a wide array of independent local news sites have launched -- the Ann Arbor Chronicle, have now been around for almost two years, for instance. (The Chronicle was profiled here back in February.) AOL is said to be committing $50 million to facilitate its rapid expansion, proving that there are those that are willing to commit big dollars to reach the reader of local community news.
One company that is quickly expanding in its core region is Main Street Connect (MSC). Founded by Carll Tucker, MSC currently has four live local news sites -- all serving communities in Fairfield County, Connecticut, part of the New York City DMA.
From community newspaper owner to Main Street Connect
Tucker was the former editor and publisher of Trader Publications, which included The Patent Trader and The Putnam Trader, and other weekly newspapers. In 1999 he sold out to Gannett, and clearly Tucker was not happy with the way things turned out. "It took them three years to kill it, and five years to put it down in a mercy killing," Tucker complained. "It's because they don't understand the community news business. They've never sung songs at Rotary, they don't put their arms around the local business leaders, they're not at the PTOs or the youth soccer games -- they're not invested in community in the way that you have to be to understand what community news is."
So earlier this year Tucker launched the first of a series of community news sites that he believes will fill the void created by the demise of the local print newspaper.
"When the newspapers all started to meltdown, and either vanish or become moribund, the question obviously that came into my head was: well, what's going to replace the 3,000 community newspapers that are going to go out of business?" Tucker told me last week.
Backed by an impressive list of names such as current board members Peter A. Georgescu, Chairman Emeritus of Young & Rubicam Inc., and Stephen I. Sadove, Chief Executive Officer of Saks, Inc., Main Street Connect was established. Also on board are John Falcone, formerly SVP Mobile Network at SmartReply, who serves as President, COO, and Jane Bryant Quinn, the personal finance columnist, who is Tucker's wife, and is listed as Editorial Director.
The new company is currently the owner/operator of a series of local news sites for Connecticut communities that include The Daily Norwalk, The Daily Darien and The Daily Fairfield, The Daily Westport (all currently live). Sites for Wilton, New Canaan, Weston, and Easton will go live soon, and by the end of the year Tucker promises his own network of sites will spread south to Westchester, Putnam and Dutchess counties in New York.
← Three of MSC's community websites.
Like Patch, the Main Street Connect formula is to link sites, each site identically designed., within what Tucker believes is a unique, robust content management system.
What differentiates the MSC sites in appearance, however, is the amount of local advertising that can be found on each of them -- unlike Patch sites, MSC sites appear to be better monetized. Tucker said that MSC sites does not sell regular online display advertising, per se, but something Tucker calls "annual visibility packages".
Comparing Patch sites which are established by an individual editor, assisted by the editors from surrounding Patch news sites, or the regional editor, the MSC sites appear better staffed. Nonetheless, a comparison of the staffs of all four live MSC sites reveals that each are identical.
Dorian Benkoil, founder of Teeming Media, a digital media business and editorial consulting company, says that the company's websites are doing extremely well growing traffic. "In a community of 25,000 English speaking homes in Norwalk, we're up to about 14,000 monthly uniques," Benkoil said.
"The loyalty stats are also really impressive, even though we are ramping up as quickly as we are -- growing thousands per week -- we're getting better than 55 percent repeat visits. Among these repeat visits, 70 percent of them -- between 68 and 70 percent -- are coming at least twice a day," said Benkoil.
"Retweet" is now a word, so let's use it to name this feature where TNM points to a recent article that is worth revisiting. Here is our first Retweet:
This New York Times article from Sunday is one a favorite subject of mine: the quality of sound in the modern era. It argues that sound quality has taken a step back thanks to the rise of the iPod and digital downloads. It reviews the rise of the Audio DVD and Super Audio CDs, and shows how these formats, rather than growing and supplanting the CD, have actually contracted.
About 10 years ago, two new high-quality formats — DVD Audio and SACD, for Super Audio CD — entered the marketplace, promising sound superior even to that of a CD. But neither format gained traction. In 2003, 1.7 million DVD Audio and SACD titles were shipped, according to the Recording Industry Association of America. But by 2009, only 200,000 SACD and DVD Audio titles were shipped.It's a very good article but misses one detail: the trend identified -- the sacrificing of audio quality for sake of portability -- has occurred in the (fairly) recent past. In the mid-to-late fifties the rise of the transistor radio allowed consumers to carry around a radio to listen to the ball game or their favorite AM radio station. The Brill Building Sound of the late fifties and early sixties, the Wall of Sound of Phil Spector were, in many ways, reactions to the way consumers were listening to their music -- mono, tinny, lacking in details. The first Stereo vinyl records came on to the market right along with the portable radios. But most consumers still bought those early Beatles records as mono, having heard the band for the first time through those small radios.
The Times article points out that there still many who are championing quality sound vehicles, and I have no doubt that the trend will reverse -- if it hasn't already. After all, Apple has increased the bit rate of its mp3s, pressured by Amazon and others, and this trend is sure to continue.
As predicted, the RBI assets of the construction magazines will be sold to its former publishers, Tony Mancini and Rick Blesi, Folio: reports.
The new construction group will be published under the newly formed MB Media umbrella. The titles include print magazines Building Design+Construction, Custom Builder, Construction Equipment, Housing Giants, Professional Builder, Professional Remodeler, Construction Bulletin, as well several associated web properties. BuyerZone.com, which got most of Reed's attention when the company was whole, has been retained by RBI. Most of the online properties will need redesign and and reconceptualizing for them to be successful. All the RBI online properties part of this deal are currently offline.
(There are several MB Media properties currently in existence. One in the UK publishes Drummer, billed as the loudest drummer magazine! Another, out of Chico, Calif., is described as a book publisher of transpersonal psychology, new age thought, spiritual exploration titles.)
Amazon offers textbook buyback program as alternative to campus bookstores; one million books now eligible
Amazon announced today that its textbook buyback program now has one million books eligible. The program allows students to exchange used textbooks in return for an Amazon.com Gift Card.
While most students would probably prefer the cash, the program does allow students to compare prices offered by Amazon (here is the Amazon buyback page) against those offered by university bookstores.
According to Amazon, once a book is received and verified by the third party merchant who purchases the title, an Amazon.com Gift Card is deposited into the student's Amazon.com account.
"Buying textbooks is no longer the financial burden it once was for students, and we're happy that we've been able to make Textbook Buyback even more convenient with over 1 million books now available to trade in for high prices. Students are crazy if they're still selling their books back on campus," said Julie Todaro, director of Books at Amazon.com.
It's a bit hard to judge that last statement, but it is certainly true that by gathering a buyback program under one roof it does create a greater range of buyers. It may also be helpful on those occasions where the university bookstore will not buy back a book because the class will no longer be offered. I have my collection of Kierkegaard thanks to that happening.
Borders accepting pre-orders for its low-priced e-reader; Kobo eReader will be available in stores June 17
While Borders is definitely late to the game of selling their own branded
e-reader, what the Kobo lacks in features it tries to make up for in price point. At only $149, Borders' Kobo undercuts both the Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s Nook, both of which sell for $259. The Kobo eReader lacks both WiFi and 3G connectivity, forcing book buyers to download their books via USB.
Nonetheless, for buyers who want a simple e-readers, instead of a (mostly) fully functioning mobile device like the iPad, the Kobo may find a market.
“At $149.99 the Kobo eReader is roughly $100 less than the other eReading devices out there, so it provides a great way to start eReading without breaking the bank," said Michael Serbinis, Kobo CEO. Borders owns a 20 percent stake in the Toronto, Canada based company.
Borders is not putting all its eggs in the Kobo basket, however. Borders will be launching an e-bookstore that will be available on a number of reading devices including the iPad and Sony Reader. The e-bookstore will launch in association with the Kobo rollout.