Saturday, May 22, 2010

Week in Review

Short reads on a Saturday morning:

• Rafat Ali announced that he is leaving his post at ContentNext in July. Ali was the the founder of ContentNext, the parent of paidContent, which was acquired by Guardian News & Media in July of 2008.
Ali may not have been cutout for the corporate publishing world writing that it has been challenging since the acquisition. "The last two years under Guardian have been illuminating, to say the least. Being part of a big company brings its own level of complexities; during a huge financial crisis, it makes for a roller-coaster ride. The high of the sale dissipated quickly, and pulling back and hunkering down isn’t fun, much less entrepreneurial," Ali wrote for the website.

"As for my future, the honest answer is, I am in the middle of figuring it out. The good part is I have lots of choices; the bad part is that I have lots of choices. Very likely it will be another startup, in a larger media and marketing space. But in the immediate future, you will see my head pop up in places like Iceland, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Socotra Island (Google it!) and other parts of Central Asia," Ali writes.

• Speaking of acquisitions . . . Google got the word on Friday that the FTC will not be standing in its way of its acquisition of mobile ad network AdMob.

The FTC specifically pointed out that Apple's own mobile ad network plans played a part in the FTC's decision.

• Google's Google I/O developer conference in San Francisco was the venue for a major announcement: the rollout of Google TV.
The product of a partnership with Sony, Logitech and others, Google TV promises to bring the Android platform to television, along with the ability to run Android apps on your TV.

Once again there is an Apple angle here: Apple's own Apple TV product, with its lack of web features, and lack of full integration with other Apple products, opened the door for Google.

• ST Media Group International announced that it was acquiring Boutique Media Group, the publisher of boutique Design magazine and associated events.
“The addition of boutique DESIGN gives us a firm foothold in the hospitality design industry,” said ST president Tedd Swormstedt. “And because there’s little overlap in their circulations, the two magazines offer advertisers a broader reach at bundle rates.”

Michael Schneider, president of Boutique Media Group, will now take over the role of publisher of the Hospitality Brands at St Media. Schneider was a principal in the transaction, along with his father, Eric Schneider, who will continue to publish Fabrics & Furnishings International under the Sipco Publications umbrella.

• Time for another demo video! Sports Illustrated, working with The Wonderfactory, have again produced a prototype video of what its magazine will one day look like -- this time on the web using HTML5.

Last December, if you recall, they got people excited by producing a video of what SI would look like on a hypothetical tablet -- wink, wink, nod, nod. That tablet, Apple's iPad was announced a month later, and launch on April 3rd. We are still waiting that SI application, probably because of the iPad's lack of Flash support.

But now SI's editor, Terry McDonnell, has this look at a Flash-less prototype. It still looks good, and this time, we hear, it may make it to the marketplace. Because it uses HTML5, it can be viewed on the web, as well (presumably) as being iPad compliant.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Photoblogging Friday - 20

It is Friday, 'nuff said. What will we remember about this week a year from now: that Google made a whole series of announcements at its Google I/O conference that will have lasting impacts, or that the financial markets continued to collapse due to the weakness of both the European and American economies?

Just last week much of the news centered around the negotiations that followed the contentious British election, with David Cameron of the Tories becoming prime minister of May 11. Dean Brierly, our contributor, and the publisher of the Photographers Speak website, took notice:


 ← David Cameron, leader of
the Tories, and new Prime Minister.
Andrew Winning/AP

This week’s Photoblogging Friday might be titled, with apologies to Charles Dickens, “A Tale of Two Faces.” In the photo taken on May 13, 2010, new Prime Minister David Cameron leads his first cabinet meeting at No. 10 Downing Street. Note the confidence and enthusiasm (and perhaps a touch of smugness) as Cameron and his ministers contemplate their ascension to power. They seem eager to begin their rule, despite the staggering economic problems facing England. This can’t last.

Gordon Brown, former leader
of the Labour Party:
Martin Argles/Guardian

In stark contrast is this May 12 photo showing outgoing PM Gordon Brown taking the phone call from Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg that sealed his resignation. Brown’s placement in the background and the empty chairs in the foreground provide eloquent comment on his political isolation and marginalization.

End of the week thoughts: Google and Apple

The world of mobile computing, television, advertising -- you name it -- seemed to tilt radically towards Google this week, and against Apple. But let's not forget that this week was the week of Google's developer conference, the time the search giant makes major introductions.

In two weeks, on the other hand, Apple's own developer conference (WWDC) will take place at the same venue as Google's event this week -- the Moscone Center in San Francisco. At that time Apple will be introducing the newest version of the iPhone, and will be releasing the newest iPhone OS, as well.

In the end, it is these releases that often set Apple apart from its competitors. (Anyone still take about the Microsoft Courier?)

What Apple appears to be losing, however, is the fun-factor. John Gruber at Daring Fireball points to this post from Mike Silverman who is feeling a bit nostalgic for the old days of Apple's developer conferences. It's possible, I suppose, that Apple's us-against-the-world attitude, so respected and admired by its fans and foes alike, has turned into something that looks more like arrogance now. I don't know. I'm just someone who wants a new Mac (and a new iPhone) once every couple of years.

Sound Publishing releases new set of mobile apps; DoApp iPhone apps feature news, weather and traffic

With the big splash Google made this week it feels good to return to the now more mundane world of mobile apps for newspapers. In an otherwise so week of mobile app releases, here is a look at six new apps from a Washington state publisher.

Sound Publishing Inc., the publishers of community newspapers around the Puget Sound area of Washington state, has released a series of free mobile apps for its Kitsap Peninsula group of newspapers -- six in all. The individual iPhone apps are for the Bremerton Patriot, Central Kitsap Reporter, Port Orchard Independent, Bainbridge Island Review, Kingson Community News, and the North Kitsap Herald.

The developer is DoApp, Inc., a company which earlier this week announced a deal with Times-Shamrock Communications, publisher of the Scranton Times-Tribune.

Each of the new apps feature news, traffic information through Google maps, and weather. One feature I have not seen before is an agreement page as seen below.

(It should be noted that the app asks if you would agree to allow the app access to your location information -- this is necessary to deliver relevant weather information, etc. I clicked no, otherwise the app would have displayed by Illinois location in the screenshots. This may also be why the weather screenshot says it was 29 degrees outside. That's my fault, not the apps.)

Terms, Traffic & Weather Pages from the Bremerton Patriot mobile app.

FTC gives nod to Google's acquisition of AdMob

What a week of Google, huh? The search giant rolls out a new version of its Android platform, as well as introduces its Google TV platform with powerful partners like Sony and Best Buy at its developer conference. And now the FTC announces that it won't be standing in the way of Googles ability to close its acquisition of AdMob.

And who should credit for Google getting approval? Apple.
The commission voted 5-0 to close its investigation into possible anti-trust issues, saying in a release that "although the combination of the two leading mobile advertising networks raised serious antitrust issues, the agency’s concerns ultimately were overshadowed by recent developments in the market, most notably a move by Apple Computer Inc. – the maker of the iPhone – to launch its own, competing mobile ad network."

Apple had been in negotiations to acquire AdMob itself when the firm abruptly announced it was being purchased by Google. The circumstances around the change have always been murky with some stating that Google 'snatched" AdMob from Apple, while other claiming that Apple let the deal slip through their hands. Eventually, Apple purchased Quattro Wireless in January. But it was most likely Apple announcement that it was introducing its iAd platform that sealed the deal for Google.

“As a result of Apple’s entry (into the market), AdMob’s success to date on the iPhone platform is unlikely to be an accurate predictor of AdMob’s competitive significance going forward, whether AdMob is owned by Google or not,” the commission said in a statement. The commission added that “Though we have determined not to take action today, the Commission will continue to monitor the mobile marketplace to ensure a competitive environment and to protect the interests of consumers.”

So now Google gets ownership of the largest and most successful mobile ad network company. It has indeed been a good week for Google.

How Google TV will potentially effect the publishing world; Android OS used allows for apps on your television

Most media reports of Google's introduction of their new TV project concentrated on the major players Google had managed to line-up, as well as the audacity of the search giant to enter so many fields at once.

But Google TV was introduced at the company's developer conference because in the end that was the audience most appropriate for the news.
The reality is that a device that allows you to more easily find the sit-coms and reality shows the networks current serve up as entertainment is hardly earth shaking. The addition of Google's browser, Chrome, is certainly news. But people have been wondering for years why Apple hasn't added this functionality to its Apple TV. Instead, Apple crippled its own product and now must watch as Google creates the kind of product many have wanted from Apple. (Though maybe this will finally free up Apple to improve its own product and line-up its own partners -- there is certainly plenty of room left of another option here.)

For publishers, the real significance of Google's announcement is that Google TV will run on the Android platform, and will, therefore, be able to run Android apps.

In the story that appeared in the New York Times this morning, the word that app will be able to be run on Google TV was almost a throw-away line.

"Devices running Google TV will also be able to run applications written for Android phones and will feature Google’s Chrome Web browser," the Times story read.

But as Apple found out with its iPhone, the introduction of third party apps was the game-changer -- the thing that turned a cool new smart phone into a major new and profitable business. Apps are where its at in modern computing -- and publishing.

For television manufacturers like Sony, marrying up their products with Google was a no-brainer -- frankly, they had no choice. Television sets, like it or not, are simply giant displays and those inputs in the back were no barrier to connecting laptops and other devices to the screens to make them act like computer monitors. (Microsoft has been using the ability of Windows 7 to stream content as a major sales point.)

With customers now streaming Netflix movies to their computers, iPads and even mobile phones, the next logical move would be to stream them to the devices already in the family room. For Netflix, the days of mailing CDs is almost over.

So what else will people view on that 42 inch HD screen sitting in the family room? Why not the products of newspaper and magazine publishers?

Since Google TV will be able to run mobile apps, the next step will simply be to either optimize those apps made for smaller screens, or better yet, create new apps that are new "networks" all based on your print or web brands.

For the big four networks, this is Armaggedon. Competing against all those cable channels has proven hard enough, but competing against thousands of app "channels" may be the final blow. And don't you think Google believes this is a way to enter the television advertising market?

There will be lots of hurdles to overcome before we get there. For instance, if you create an app loaded with video (logical) will the TV set with Google TV, or the Logitech companion box, have hard disk space to store that app? In the future, will we be comparing one television set against another the same way we compare laptops: hard disk space, speed of the process, and the like.

Unlike the iPhone OS which currently allows developers to create apps for the iPhone, and now the bigger screened iPad, the Android platform is still stuck in three inch screen smart phones. But by the end of the year we will likely begin to see Android-based tablets (won't we?), and then the jump to larger displays won't seem like such a leap.

YouTube video from demonstrating the use of a
mobile phone as a remote for Logitech's Google TV companion box.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Google TV unveiled at developer conference; Sony, Logitech are partners in Internet-enabled television

As promised, Google unveiled its new Google TV software at the Google I/O event at Moscone Center in San Francisco today. Google TV is a collaboration between Google, Sony and Logitech. Google TV will be based on the Android platform and will incorporate the Chrome web browser to access content.

According to Google, users will be able to access information about channel offerings, as well as cloud-based information and applications, as well as other content including Flash content. Google TV should be available to consumers starting in the Fall.

Logitech's companion box for sets
without built-in 
Google TV. →

Sony's part of the collaboration is presumably building sets that will incorporate not only Google's software, but an Intel Atom processor CE4100 that will power the Internet browsing. For those sets without the built-in capability, Logitech will be there to provide boxes that can be plugged into existing sets.

“We are very proud to be working with this distinguished set of partners, all of whom have decades of experience in hardware, design and retail,” said Eric Schmidt, Google Chairman and CEO in a release.

Gerald Quindlen, President and CEO, Logitech said, “We committed to Google TV early on because it aligns with our strategy to support open platforms that enable new immersive experiences in the digital living room. While Google TV enables seamless discovery of all your content, Logitech enables seamless control over how you experience that content. We look forward to continued collaboration with Google and the developer community to create new Google TV experiences that have yet to be imagined.”

Other partners in the venture include DISH Network, who presumably will be integrating Google's software into its satellite boxes, and Best Buy, who will be on the retail side. Also included at the announcement was Shantanu Narayen, President and CEO of Adobe, who was more than happy to remind everyone that there is still a place for Flash.

Because the system will be based on the Android platform, owners of Google TV will be able to access apps developed for Android, though resolution issues will force developers to optimize their existing Android apps for the new setting.

Here is the companion video demonstrating Google TV:

My first impression? My God, what a threat to the current commercial television model!

It is already the case that TV viewers are more and more likely to watch on-demand programming, videos, and the like. Google TV moves this forward in a way that Apple couldn't with its own Apple TV.

The future is obviously in content being available everywhere. It appears that television is going to move in that direction, as well, whether the networks want it to or not.

A good example may be ABC's iPad app which is wildly popular, and for good reason. The other networks will have to play along or get lost in the shuffle.

Half of iPad owners read newspapers on their tablet; 74% of owners say they are 'very satisfied' with their iPad

Two new surveys by ChangeWave Research points to the changing world of e-readers, and how the iPad is being perceived by its owners. It offers good news for Apple, but also good news for publishers or newspapers and magazines looking to break into tablet publishing.

ChangeWave Research's new surveys show a growing demand for the iPad.

The new surveys shows that Apple iPad demand is growing with 20 percent of respondents now stating that they are either very likely, or somewhat likely, to buy an iPad in the future. This is up from 13 percent three months ago.

Sixteen percent of eBook readers surveyed say they now own an iPad. Amazon's Kindle still leads the pack by a wide margin, with 62 percent stating that they own the device. Of course, during ChangeWave Research's last survey of e-readers there were zero owners of iPads (the first survey was conducted in February).

The iPad has dramatically increased the market for newspaper and magazine content for e-readers. →

For publishers there is some good news, as well. The new survey also shows that there is a growing demand of newspaper and magazine content for the e-readers, with survey respondents increasingly seeing their devices as a good way to view that type of material. The view that eBooks are a good fit is essentially unchanged.

Most importantly, iPad owners are far more likely to want to read newspapers and magazines on their devices versus the owners of other devices. Fifty percent of iPad owners say they read newspapers on their tablet, while only 14 percent say they read newspapers on their devices. Magazine content levels are slightly lower, but once again iPad owners are far more likely to be reading magazines on their devices than the owners of other tablets.

The gap between iPad owners and other e-reading devices when it comes to newspaper and magazine content likely disappear once competitive devices that run Android (and possible other) operating systems appear. Thanks to Apple's iTunes app store, though, iPad owners are currently able to download quite a number of news apps that the owners of other devices can not. Until another tablet appears that offers its owners access to a wide range of apps, this gap between iPad owners and owners of other e-readers will continue to grow.

Google set to introduce 'Smart TV' today at Google I/O

When Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone back at MacWorld 2007, he proudly proclaimed that "today Apple reinvents the phone". he was right.

But often forgotten when people think back to that famous keynote is that Jobs also introduced the Apple TV, a product that is not even prominently displayed on Apple's store home page. It clearly did not reinvent the TV.

But today Google may make that bold declaration when it rolls out its "Smart TV", a software product that it wants to have built into Internet-connected TVs, Blu-ray players and set-top cable boxes. Google is partnering with Sony, Intel and Logitech according to an L.A. Times story from earlier this week.

"The revolution we're about to go through is the biggest single change in television since it went color," Intel Chief Executive Paul Otellini told analysts earlier.

I have more confidence that Internet connected television will be become broadly accepted than I do 3D TV, but maybe today's presentation at the Moscone Center in San Francisco will reveal more. Stay tuned.

You can follow, somewhat, the goings on at the conference at Google's dedicated website, and at the events official YouTube Channel.

Pennsylvania AG goes after critics who tweet

Just to show that I've got nothing against TechCrunch, here is a retweet, if you will, of a story they posted yesterday that is worth revisiting.

TechCrunch reported that Tom Corbett, Pennsylvania's Attorney General, has subpoenaed Twitter to appear as a Grand Jury witness. Corbett wants to know who is behind two Twitter accounts that are using the service to criticize him.

If the AG actually thought this was a wise move they clearly was mistaken as a quick look at the the tweets on one of the accounts in question will show. It might be popular for politicians to go after social networking sites for alleged violations, but going after users is probably a bad idea.

In an update to the story, TechCrunch reports that an attorney for Twitter issued a statement. "We protect and do not disclose user information except in limited circumstances. We notify a user, if we believe we are allowed to by law, when we receive any request for their information that we may be required to comply with. This policy is designed for maximum transparency and gives users an opportunity to object."

Worst headline of the day: 'The Web Is Killing Radio, Newspapers, Magazines, And TV'

If there is one thing I've seen since starting Talking New Media back in at the beginning of the year, it is the absolutely terrible state of the tech media in this country. Every day stories are posted about the "iPhone killer", "iPad killer", "Android killer" products that are just right around the corner, but never appear.

Now we have TechCrunch with its wonderful headline this morning -- Google I/O: The Web Is Killing Radio, Newspapers, Magazines, And TV. Yep, they've killed off everything. Well, everything but the web.

What provoked the site into this crazy headline? A chart projected during Google's developer conference in San Francisco that shows that the amount of time people are spending on the web has increased while the time the spend on other media has declined. Duh, right?

But a look at the chart shows that TV watching is down less than 1 percent, and radio, the worst performing is down 18 percent. So that justifies the idea that the web is killing off all other types of media? Luckily the reader comments with the story are more sane.

All's well that ends well: Apple reverses no-cash policy; delivers free iPad to woman denied purchase

You had to figure Apple didn't like all the bad publicity that had been generated when they refused to sell a Palo Alto customer an iPad because she wanted to pay with cash. Now Apple has reversed their no-cash policy and also hand-delivered Diane Campbell a free iPad for all her troubles.

Michael Finney of the local ABC affiliate broke the story a couple of days ago of a customer, Campbell, who saved up her money so she could buy one of Apple's new tablets. But when went to her local Palo Alto Apple store, not far from Apple headquarters in Cupertino, she was refused by an Apple employee.

"They said, 'Sorry, we don't take cash.' And, so I looked at her and I said OK she's kidding," Campbell recalled, according to Finney's original story on Monday.

Diane Campbell gets her iPad
thanks to local ABC affiliate.

The Apple employee, it turns out, was simply following company orders: no credit card, no iPad. The policy was put in place to prevent buyers from purchasing the hot new tablets then turning around and reselling them for a higher price. Since all Apple purchases can be tracked with credit cards, a no-cash policy would -- in theory -- prevent a black market in Apple products. Of course, it is also discriminatory as it prevents those with poor credit, or who simply shy away from credit card use, from purchasing Apple products.

The customer, though, contacted 7 On Your Side, the local affiliates consumer complaints program. The station then contacted Apple headquarters. But Apple, being notoriously press-shy did not immediately respond, and so the story broke nationally.

But yesterday ABC 7's Finney was able to report a happy ending. Not only would Apple reverse its no cash policy, but it hand-delivered a free tablet to Campbell.

While this may appear to be a win for the customer, and it certainly a good decision by Apple to reverse the policy, it is also a win for ABC 7, and for all those local stations that still have consumer advocates such as 7 On Your Side.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Sports Illustrated & The Wonderfactory unveil video of HTML5-based magazine designed for in-browser reading

Terry McDonnell, Sports Illustrated editor, previewed another prototype video as part of the Google I/O 2010 Keynote Presentation today at Moscone Center, San Francisco.

 SI magazine in HTML5.  

This time McDonell's video demonstrated the possibilities of HTML5 which includes CSS animation, embedded fonts (which avoid the browser's default fonts), video and more -- all without the use of Flash -- as seen on a laptop or tablet. The video, which was posted to YouTube today, can be seen below.

The prototype is a collaboration between the magazine, Google and The Wonderfactory. The Wonderfactory worked with both Time magazine and The Weather Channel on their iPad apps (both apps appear under the publisher's names inside iTunes).

The company is also working with WoodWing Software in a joint effort to create a publishing solution that will bring and end-to-end publishing solution to the iPad. The companies have a dedicated website for their joint venture at

Today's new prototype video from Sports Illustrated.

Below is the video that you might say started it all. Posted to YouTube back on December 2, 2009, this video has been viewed 922,266 times as of this post. Beyond creating publicity for The Wonderfactory and Sports Illustrated, the video wetted the appetite of the public for Apple's iPad.

Unfortunately, there is current no SI iPad app, but my guess is that it will just be a matter of time. Unlike Time magazine's iPad app, any sports related app would certainly require embedded video of sports highlights.

Google announces The Chrome Web Store

Google announced today that they launched the Chrome Web Store, an open marketplace for web applications that will be available for users by the end of the year.
The heads-up to developers will give them time to create their new apps and go through whatever approval process Google sets up.

"To give you a preview of what it means to prepare a web app for the store, we've published some preliminary documentation," said Erik Kay, Lead Software Engineer. "We look forward to your feedback and sharing our progress with you openly as many of the technical details will likely change before we launch."

The creation of a Chromium OS app store is probably a move by Google in the direction of creating a marketplace for mobile OS based apps similar to Apple's model. There has been speculation that Google would like its own tablet, or at least have its OS used for such a device.

Is your brand name and industry segment being 'spammed' by a mobile applications developer?

Now that all of Reed Business Information's books have been sold, closed or retained, it will be interesting to see which of the B2B titles remake themselves online or in the world of mobile media.

It is true that I'm not optimistic as none of the titles were picked up by new media companies, or VC firms looking to launch electronic media companies. (This is because the investment firms, the usual players if you will, remain wedded to the old slash-and-burn method of media investment, leaving all things electronic to the west coast firms.)

The group of titles that may have the best chance of transitioning to the new models are the titles picked up by Sandow Media. Interior Design, probably the most attractive title available in Reed's exit from B2B is already back online at their usual URL. The site is a bit of a mess, with some empty space where sponsor links would be, and with some Google text ads wasting space at the bottom, but at least it is online. That can't, sadly, be said of many of the other titles which still have no web presence at all thanks to Reed pulling the plug on the sites.

That got me thinking: which of these titles has the best chance to go mobile? And that question led me to this post, one I've always wanted to do, but it never seemed to be the right time.

Is your brand being spammed by developers?

It has been common knowledge for quite some time that many of the apps found in iTunes are basically worthless. But with Apple early on using the number of apps as a sales tool to promote the iPhone -- There's an app for that! -- there was virtually no reigns on the app development machine that has been created.

There may be an app for that, but do we really need so many
junk news apps crowding out the useful ones?

The problem of developers loading up the iTunes store with worthless apps started to become recognized publicly last year.  In May of last year the blog -- appropriately named Just Another iPhone Blog -- called attention to one developer, Brighthouse Labs, that was taking the idea of spamming iTunes to new levels.  In their post App Store Hall of Shame: Brighthouse Labs, the blog said this Canadian developer then had 96 pages of apps currently in the store -- over 1,000 apps submitted in less than a year.

Publishers of newly launched magazine, 48 HR, get hit with 'cease and desist letter' after failing to clear name

The Times' David Carr has a great post this morning on his Media Decoders blog. It concerns the recently launched magazine, 48 HR, and the letter they have now received from the lawyers representing CBS. It is, you can imagine, a cautionary tale of "doing your homework" before launching a new product.
“To be honest, none of us even knew that there was still a program called ‘48 Hours,’ so it never crossed our mind,” Mathew Honan, one of the founders, is quoted by Carr as saying.

“When we were finished, we all felt like we had accomplished something significant, that there was a magazine there. It is the thingness of it, the physical evidence of the weekend that is so great. But the unfortunate truth I guess is that unlike what we said in the editor’s letter, you can’t do anything really large scale in contemporary society without have a legal team and a corporation.”

The magazine is available, at least for now, through print-on-demand company MagCloud.

I wish I could say that commercial publishers are any better at brand protection, due diligence and such. I have so many horror stories I could tell about begging owners to do due diligence before entering a new commercial venture, of protecting lists and brand names, and other valuable intellectual property. But it is sad to say that cutting corners is becoming the norm.

Part of the reason for this, apparently, is the desire to avoid legal costs (funny, isn't it, knowing that avoiding the legal costs up front will only increase them on the back end).

But the worst of the offenses may be in not creating budgets and forecasts before launching or acquiring a title. It almost unbelievable that someone could think about taking over a title before creating a budget. I guess budgeting has become positively old school.

One situation I was unfortunate to live through involved a company taking over a magazine and leaving the CFO out of the equation. When I talked to the finance person and asked if they had a budget for the new property I got the answer "what new property?" -- or some variation of that. The next question didn't really need to be answer then: "have you come up with a budget, or will that be my job?"

Things are not much better with new media ventures launched within print environments. It is pretty easy to bury the development costs of an electronic product within capital expenditures, then budget for new digital revenue, and conveniently lowball costs. After all, those editors of your are just adding digital to their regular duties, right? But it is worth creating an honest digital budget if only to be able to look at the real costs of new media ventures.

I have, in the past, created shadow budgets to answer for myself 'what would it look like if we went digital-only?' Often things didn't look that bad, assuming we could get revenue up . Print and distribution costs collapsed in this scenario, of course. But the big issue that would follow would involve inventory: do we actually have enough ad inventory on our sites to accommodate the amount of advertising we would need to break-even? The answer usually was no.

But you don't know for sure until you create that budget.

Reed gives 177 in Oak Brook office layoff notice

The sales are over, and the layoffs begin. A local edition of the Sun-Times is reporting that 177 employees will be let go effective June 18 at RBI's Oak Brook facility.

The layoffs follow RBI's announcement that they would close 23 magazines in April, and the subsequent sale of some, but not all of the properties to their publishing management. Each of the units that did get sold went to start-ups, though HOTELS was then sold to Marketing & Technology Group of Chicago.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

B2B ad pages fall in new ABM report; declines moderate

The trade magazine industry continued to show declines in ad pages in February, according to a newly issued report from American Business Media, though the declines have slowed considerably.
Total ad pages dropped 9.39 percent according to ABM's BIN Numbers report released today. The drop in pages was improvement over the drop reported in January of 15.34%. Part of the reason, besides a somewhat better environment for advertising overall, may have been the dramatic declines experienced in February of 2009 where total ad pages recorded a 31.54 percent decline. (For all of 2009, B2B ad pages declined by 27.94 percent.)

Computing, construction and retail books continue to get hardest, while health care and aviation recorded double digit increases in pages in February, though their year-to-date totals are only modestly higher.

Round-up of Kindle news

There seems to be quite a number of stories today related to Amazon's Kindle, so I thought a round-up would be in order.

Amazon announced this morning that it would be releasing a Kindle app for Android later this summer. Since everyone it seems is releasing an app this may not seem like a big deal. But the app promises one feature for Android that will be missing from similar Apple iPhone OS apps: in-app purchasing.
It is this kind of differentiation, brought on by some of the limitations imposed by Apple that may spur the sales of Android tablets when they launched.

From the release on Amazon's site:

"Kindle for Android is the perfect companion application for Kindle and Kindle DX owners, and is also a great way for customers to enjoy over 540,000 books in the Kindle Store even if they don't yet have a Kindle," said Jay Marine, director, Amazon Kindle. "We think customers are going to love the convenience and simplicity of having instant access to a massive selection of books from Amazon on their Droid, Nexus, Incredible and many more Android devices."

The New York Times' Bits column speculates that Amazon is actively working to update its Kindle device itself, hiring a slew of engineers for the job. It may be speculation but Amazon is certainly in a situation where they can either begin to deemphasis their reading device, or else work to upgrade it in response to not only Apple's iPad, but also other e-ink devices recently launched.

Another Amazon release this morning touted its Artist Central, a free service that helps musicians, managers and record labels connect with customers on the company's website. The service passed a milestone it seems: the company claims that more than 10,000 musicians are now using the service.

Jason Pinter has a story today on Huffington Post about self-publishing through Amazon. The entire post is worth a read, but here is his conclusion:
If you are savvy, knowledgable, and above all talented, the ebook revolution can help you find readers and build a career. But if you're simply impatient, eager to 'publish' a book because you feel you're ready despite what the skeptics might say, you might be shooting your career in the foot. Yes, there will be some wonderful books published exclusively on Amazon. And hopefully those books and authors will find many eager readers. There are pros to the new technological possibilities, yet just because somebody breaks the mold does not mean the mold is meant to be broken by everybody. As Stephen King once wrote, "You're better off knowing what the rules are before you try to break them." For aspiring authors, harnessing your talents are the rules. Some people write wonderful first novels. Some people take hundreds of rejections to find their voice. And just because you 'can' self-publish does not mean that you 'should' self-publish.

Times-Shamrock Communications goes mobile.; publisher of Scranton Times-Tribune signs deal with DoApp, Inc.

Mobile news app developer DoApp, Inc. has announced that it has reached an agreement to provide application development for Times-Shamrock Communications, the publisher of the Scranton Times-Tribune. The deal involves over 35 daily and weekly newspapers, as well as the radio stations owned by Times-Shamrock in Northeastern Pennsylvania, Maryland, Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Nevada.
DoApp's Mobile Local News platforms allows TV news, newspapers, online publications and radio stations to deliver their content via smart phones, including Google's Android and the Apple iPhone, as well as other mobile devices such as the Apple iPad.

"Our partnership with Times-Shamrock Communications continues our reach into local news organizations both large and small," said DoApp CEO, Wade Beavers, in a release. "Mobile Local News is the most popular platform for news outlets. Our focus on ease of use and our consistent addition of new features has made Mobile Local News a best-in-class product."

In an interview with Mark Glaser from Mediashift, Sriver said the time it takes to get an app developed and launched is compressed. "We use what they already have, and it's easy to get up and running. We can usually get their app into the store in 30 days or less -- and usually it's less than 15 days," Sriver said.

Late last month I spoke with DoApp founder Joe Sriver and CEO Wade Beavers about the growth of their company.  The company, they said, has been getting great response from publishers eager to have mobile apps developed.

"People want local content, they want that information, but that app has to provide them what they are looking for," Wade Beavers said at the time. He added that the "average life expectancy of a game is two days . . . while, the average life expectancy of a news application is running in the range of 60 to 90 days."

"It points out that people are looking for local news, and the local news stations and newspapers still have a brand that are of value," founder Joe Sriver added.

Currently DoApp has 130 mobile apps in the iTunes store for its clients, mostly local broadcast news stations, as well as a few newspapers such as the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, and  The Columbus Dispatch in Ohio.

The company soon hopes to have their first iPad ready as the company is getting plenty of inquiries from their publishing partners, especially those in California. "It's the number one question I get from any new client. Those stations and properties that have our iPhone apps are getting the calls saying 'do you have something for iPad?'" Wade Beavers said.

"Our strategy was we didn't want to develop anything until we had the product in our hand. Now that we've actually touched the product it's opened our eyes to what we could do," said Beavers.

Morning Brief: Should university bookstores hate the iPad? (no); the meaning of life and The Rockford Files

Yesterday Fortune's website posted a story from contributor John Patrick Pullen: Why universities should hate the iPad. I don't know if this is one of those cases where the editors have done a great disservice to the author, or whether the author really thinks university bookstores will be greatly effected by the launch of a tablet reader.
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In any case, Pullen quotes some stats from the National Association of College Stores about the size of the textbook market, and states that some have forecast dramatic growth in the e-book versions of textbooks. But I got the feeling early in the story that Pullen doesn't actually own an iPad himself -- there was no examples of textbooks on the tablet, and no mention of how the iPad itself would be a game changer.

In fact, as I predicted months ago, textbooks will not be one of those areas dramatically effected by the iPad. It's not that students won't read books on the device, its just that textbook publishers have such a strangle hold on the pricing and availability of their products that it doesn't seem likely that there will be much price pressure arising that will force reduced pricing. The CourseSmart app for the iPad, which I looked at a month ago, has pricing around the same levels as Kindle editions from Amazon.

A far more disruptive development may be Amazon's new textbook buyback program which could directly effect university bookstores.

Buried below the major headlines of the day, the New York Times posted a story that talks about the work of a group of scientist that are trying to answer the question "why do we exist?"
In a mathematically perfect universe, we would be less than dead; we would never have existed. According to the basic precepts of Einsteinian relativity and quantum mechanics, equal amounts of matter and antimatter should have been created in the Big Bang and then immediately annihilated each other in a blaze of lethal energy, leaving a big fat goose egg with which to make to make stars, galaxies and us. And yet we exist, and physicists (among others) would dearly like to know why.
Me, too.

Here is another big question: NBC is considering reviving "The Rockford Files" -- why?

In the meantime, producer Dick Wolf wants to find a new home for "Law & Order" now that NBC has canceled it.

Retweet: The Times ran a column in its Sunday edition that compares the state of the U.S. newspaper industry to that of Germany.

Depending on your perspective, either this would be your money quote:
Most German newspapers are owned by family concerns or other small companies with local roots, but the American industry is dominated by publicly traded chains. Under pressure from shareholders clamoring for short-term results, the study contends, U.S. newspapers made reckless cuts in editorial and production quality, hastening the flight of readers and advertisers to the Web.
Or this:
Instead of focusing on journalism, the report says, U.S. newspapers also made unwise investments in new media, and compounded the damage by giving away their contents free on the Internet.
Having worked in the publishing industry for the past 30 years I would tend to vote in favor on quote number one. But you can decide.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Pixel Mag's Pottery Barn app shows the dangers of developing your own iPad navigation language

Rarely do I call out a developer for a less than stellar mobile media app, but a month ago I did just that when Pixel Mags released its app for Pottery Barn. At the time I called the app "an absolute mess" and did the best I could to change the subject by talking about custom publishing and why it was an amazing accomplishment for an app developer to get Pottery Barn to work with them (and how publishers should wake up to the threat from developers).

That same day the founder of Pixel Mags contacted me and said we should talk. I agreed but he never called.
Now it is a month later and I received an e-mail informing me that the new edition of the Pottery Barn catalog is available. I reloaded the app and took a look -- and yes, it is significantly better.

But I'm afraid the reviews in iTunes will continue to be negative (right now there are 17 one-star reviews of the new edition, and only two five-star reviews) simply because the app gives users a method of navigation different than what the native Apple apps use.

When you open the app for the first time a window appears that gives some instructions for navigation. Users ignore this dialogue box at their peril!

Page turning: The new catalog/app gives readers two ways to turn a page. If you tap on the lower right hand corner the pages turn smoothly and elegantly -- its fantastic. But if you swipe the page -- the way you would in a Zinio app, for instance -- the app freezes up and the page eventually turns haltingly. My app crashed the first time I tried to swipe a page.

Zooming: you simply can not zoom the way you are used to. You can pinch all you want and nothing will happen. But if you double tap the page the app zooms in immediately. Then suddenly the multi-touch zooming works like a charm.

In other words, Pixel Mags appears to have created its own iPad navigation language. Guess what? It works -- the app is a vast improvement over the initial catalog. But I fear many users will continue to down rate the app.

One criticism I had of the Pottery Barn app was that it contained no interactivity, no additional content (I guess that is two criticisms, isn't it?). Looking back at my original story I realize that in an effort to try and not be completely negative I edited out these thoughts. But now, here we are a month later and things are pretty much the same.

Too bad. I think catalogs could working wonderfully on a tablet.

Here is what I'd like to see incorporated into a tablet catalog: in-app purchasing, additional photographs of the merchandise, video, the ability to change the color of the product.  All these seem self-explanatory.

Tablet catalogs can save the merchant thousands in printing and mailing -- but the apps have to be better than the print catalog. Otherwise, what's the point? With a print catalog I can rip out pages, take it to the phone when ordering, etc. The current Pottery Barn iPad catalog doesn't even give you a link to the company's website as a minimal assistance to concluding a sale.

Who will be the Galloping Gourmet of the iPad? →

One reason the Pottery Barn app immediately caught my attention is that I am a customer of both Pottery Barn and its parent Williams-Sonoma. When I worked at an online video company a few years ago I contacted Williams-Sonoma about the idea of incorporating online video into their website. I thought the idea having cooking demonstrations videos, using the cookware and food products they offered, would be a great way to increase sales. They weren't interested. Now we have the iPad and its ability to incorporate embedded video and the like. (This morning I posted a story on the new Financial Times app which does a great job with video.)

I guarantee you that eventually a retailer will realize the potential of the iPad in the area of catalog creation. It's only been a month so one shouldn't get too impatient, right?

What is the lesson for publishers and others who want to see their publications or products on the iPad? I think it is that one should get as familiar with the device as possible so they can be a better partner with their developers. Knowing how the end user reads using a tablet will be important when designing not only the product itself -- layouts, sections and the like -- but also when considering the user interface.

Back before the introduction of the iPad, Bonnier posted a video to YouTube in which it's design partner BERG talked about the user experience on a then hypothetical tablet reader. Now, a month and a half after the launch of the iPad, designers and developers can work with actual tablets, test their own apps, as well as those of other developers. Publisher, too, need to be familiar with both the device itself, as well as how other publisher are using it to publish their products if they are going to avoid the problems currently being seen in many of the current crop of apps.

From single-sponsor to enhanced ads, publishers use different approaches to advertising in their iPad apps

Just over a month into the lifespan of tablet publishing and three models are being used for advertising inside iPad news apps: exact copy, single-sponsor, and enhanced content.

The exact copy approach is being used where publishers are asking third party vendors to reproduce their publications for the iPad, without changes, and rarely with added content. Zinio, for magazines, and PressReader, for newspapers, are examples of companies that are providing good services for publishers where the exact copy approach is being taken (for the most part).
The single-sponsor approach was used immediately by the New York Times when they launched their initial iPad app back on April 3rd -- in this case, Chase Sapphire.

The iPad app from the Financial Times
uses a single-sponsor approach
. →

The solution makes sense when the publisher wants to recoup some development costs, or reward an advertiser. The advantage, of course, is that it buys the developer time, and allows the sales staff to show off the app to prospective clients.

As I wrote this morning, the Financial Times is using this approach with their app. While the app is free to download the content will eventually be accessible only to paid subscribers. The publisher, however, is allowing limited free access to content and crediting their sponsor, Hublot, for the access. After July content will be behind a paywall, but will all advertising disappear?

The Sporting News is using Zinio to bring their previously online-only daily sports newspaper Sporting News Today to the iPad. Previously free, the daily now will cost readers 99 cents a day, or $2.99 a month. In my interview with publisher Jeff Price, he reinforced the reasons for the single-sponsor solution and said they are having excellent meetings with advertising prospects pitching the new paid product.

Coors Light is the single-sponsor of the Sporting News Today app.

Because Price is using Zinio to provide iPad access, it is hard to tell what the reader response is to a paid subscription model with advertising -- even if it is a single-sponsor. Many paid apps that contain advertising have been criticized for the practice. This is probably an unreasonable expectation from readers, though. A 99 cent single copy, or $2.99 subscription is hardly enough to pay the bills -- advertising is absolutely necessary to keep reader costs down.

On the other hand, with a more expensive subscription model, like that employed by the Wall Street Journal, and soon by the Financial Times, iPad users may prove more sensitive to the combination of paid content and advertising. Currently the WSJ is getting hammered in iTunes because of problems with their app. Others, however, continue to complain about the Murdoch paper's approach to the iPad. So while the app is the third most popular free news app, users continue to question the paper's pricing policies.

The third approach is best exemplified by the Vanity Fair app TNM looked at last week. The app actually takes two approaches at the same time: the landscape reader mode duplicates the print edition, with some added content, but no interactive advertising. Using the app in portrait mode, however, is a different experience. Not only is the editorial designed specifically for the tablet, but the advertising contains embedded links to video and the like.

For the Condé Nast book, making sure their new iPad app contained enhanced advertising took some time and effort. No wonder then that the title decided to wait until the June issue to roll out its iPad app. The result is that the sales staff has an excellent presentation tool -- the app itself -- and now use this to  convince additional advertisers of the value of adding multimedia to its advertising palette.

Vanity Fair's iPad: Ads that appear in portrait mode have embedded video.

When Apple implements its own mobile advertising strategy with iAd a fourth approach may be viable. This would involve advertising that has no relationship at all to the print edition and is specifically designed for the tablet. Apple will most likely unveil new details about iAd at its developer conference in early June, where it is expected to also officially unveil its newest version of the iPhone.

Controversial Arizona law gets its own iPhone app

It's pretty easy for someone to launch a new website overnight for the purpose of supporting or opposing a political cause or issue, but generally one doesn't develop a mobile application as quickly. Well, that was then and this . . .
A simply named iPhone app, AZ Immigration Law, appeared in iTunes today. The app is simple in the extreme as all it does is reproduce the actual text of the controversial legislation and provides a link that allows the user to e-mail Governor Jan Brewer's office with their own opinion of the bill. The app contains nothing else, and hence no editorial position is expressed within the app.

I Googled the name of the developer, Ken Keller, and got a few hits, but nothing that means much to a guy living far away from the fray in Chicago.

Financial Times iPad app shows advances in form and function; offline edition perfect for the business travel

The financial newspapers, Wall Street Journal and Financial Times have a huge advantage both online and in mobile media in that their publishers have an easier time charging for content because of the very nature of the news they provide. Many readers can charge the cost of a subscription to their companies, or take the cost as tax write-off at year's end.

The new iPad app from the Financial Times. →

Both newspapers now have introduced free iPhone and iPad apps -- free, however, only in that it does not cost the user money to download the app. Accessing the content will still require a subscription of some sort.

While the WSJ launched their iPad app on April 3rd, the date Apple delivered the first tablets to buyers, the FT has been biding its time. The result is an app that is well-designed and user friendly. This is an app I enjoy using immensely -- especially since users will be able to sample the content until the end of July thanks to a single-sponsor: Hublot.

Left: The current edition can be downloaded for offline reading;
Right: The user can also click a button to go back to the Live Edition.

There is much to like about this FT iPad app. For instance, the reader can download the current day's edition for easy offline reading, but can then return to the live edition at the click of a button. This is a perfect option for business travelers who will be able to download their newspapers before boarding their flights, then read their newspapers without the need of an Internet connection.

Video is only available while online,
but the window-within-a window player
approach is excellent.

The main advantage of designing one's app this way is that the user does not end up downloading individual copies of the newspaper, then must deal with multiple issues.

If there is a weakness in the app it is in the inability of the reader to use the multi-touch features common in other apps and the Safari browser. This may have been done on purpose -- to make the app more stable -- but there are other options that developer could have used. For instance, it might be nice to have customizable fonts or font sizes that would be used in the news articles. These are things that could be added in an app update.

The reaction from users so far has been very positive. Although one should take the reviews in iTunes as a scientific survey of user satisfaction, it does give the developer a pretty good feel for how users are feeling about your app. As of this morning, the FT app has far more five-star reviews that one-star reviews -- and the critical reviews either touch on the eventual requirement to buy a subscription, or the lack of font manipulation. But compared to the New York Times app -- which may be popular, in that many iPad users have downloaded it, but highly criticized for its simple design and lack content -- the FT is a definite hit with users.

Left: The navigation bar at the top; Right: A typical news story layout.

Morning Brief: Friday afternoon staff meetings rarely mean good news; can Facebook ads sell magazines?

The Guardian reports that the Sunday Times editor, John Witherow, has told his staff that they will soon be launching an iPhone app -- yippee. He also told them that, essentially, print is dead -- boo.
At a staff meeting late Friday -- you know staff meetings late in the day on a Friday are going to to bad -- that things were not looking good due to declining newspaper advertising. He also confirmed a report that the paper's budget may be cut 10 percent, and that the Murdoch owned paper would join others by constructing a paywall. (That is sure to turn things around.)

This story has gotten a lot of play online, so I'll include it here, though I am obviously skeptical: Synapse, a Time Inc. division, will be working with Alvenda, a company that builds e-commerce applications, to introduce a system that will allow Facebook users to buy magazines online.

I don't know why The Atlantic seems to think this is such a game changer, since I've not seen any proof that Facebook users are dying to buy magazines, or newspapers, or anything else for that matter.

Another player in all this is Next Issue Media, the company created by Condé Nast, Hearst, Meredith, News Corp., and Time Inc. late last year. One question I had at the time was could a company that was created by a consortium move fast enough to compete in the ever changing world of New Media. Their site may give us a clue: their last press release posted was their formation release dated December 8, 2009.

(By the way, the Synapse company involved here is not to be confused with Synapse Multimedia, which I featured on this site.)

CFE Media LLC, one of the new companies being created out of the ashes of the old Reed Business Information has a new website up -- well, sort of. Jim Langhenry's group, made up of books he once served as publisher on, Control Engineering, Plant Engineering, and Consulting Specifying Engineer, has a web page up.

Apparently, CFE Media will be working with GCN Publishing on its web efforts since the new page is a subdomain of the GCN site. (This may have been required as the new owners work to secure the old URLs from Reed.)