Saturday, June 5, 2010

Week in Review

Short reads on a Saturday morning:

A rather uneventful week compared to last week, which saw the introduction of the iPad internationally, and next week, which will see a new iPhone introduced on Monday. So we'll bookend this Week in Review with the topic of the upcoming WWDC.

• WWDC: I don't expect that the new iPhone, or the new iPhone OS, will have much of an impact on the media world -- those developments have already occurred. The new iPhone is expected to have a front facing camera which will come in handy for those small number of people who will use it for video conferencing, as well as a flash on the backside. The new OS will introduce multitasking and tethering -- all important elements for users, but hardly ground breaking for media.
I suppose the biggest addition to the iPhone OS4 will be iAd, Apple's new ad platform which the company hopes will be used as a way of creating a better user experience on the iPhone (and, I suppose, the iPad, as well). From my perspective, the non-content perspective, I think the best sales team will win the mobile advertising battle. Because of that belief, I wouldn't bet against the AdMob/Google team. As one of the last people in media business, it seems, who still is a strong advocate for sales, I think getting advertisers onboard will be thing that makes the difference. In Apple's favor, however, is the fact that iPhone users are heavy users of the Internet -- and that according to AdMob -- meaning that if you are an advertiser you had still better be on the iPhone if you actually want to reach customers. This may change significantly if and when an Android-based tablet is introduced.

• Blogger proves his worth: the NYT announced on Thursday that they had entered into a partnership with Nate Silver and his FiveThirtyEight blog. The blog will be absorbed into the Times website (with its won URL) and Silver will become a contributor to the Times. As I wrote later that day, this is a wise move and should be emulated by other publishers.

• Ziff Davis will be changing hands again, and once again will be owned by a private equity firm -- this time Great Hill Partners. But unlike the infamous Ziff sale of 1994, in which Softbank paid an eye-popping $71.4 billion, this sale will leave the company without debt and run by former Time Inc. executive Vivek Shah.

"This is an unusual opportunity to acquire a recognized category leader with a very deep team of talent that has already fully transitioned to digital,” said Shah, on the Ziff Davis website. “Ziff Davis is an incredible foundation off which to build an exciting new digital media company focused on delivering fantastic content to our audience and unprecedented opportunities to marketers.

Ziff Davis filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in April of 2008 when it was reportedly $225 million in debt. Since then the company has been owned by its creditors. The total lists of brands associated with the company has shrunk considerably over the years. If the acquisition can lead to a more nimble company, capable of launching its own titles and apps, then the sale should prove profitable for Great Hill Partners. But if this is about exploiting the PC market . . .

• Most in the media-watch world had their eyes on the WSJ's D8 conference -- so named because it was the eight All Things Digital conference held. I would have loved to attend the conference simply because it was held in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. I used to live nearby when I worked for Hearst at the L.A. Herald Examiner -- it's a truly beautiful location, and still in L.A. County.

But as far as news was concerned it was a snooze. Everyone tried to make a big deal out of the words that came out of the mouths of various CEOs, but there were really no revelations. The best that can be said is that the CEO talks reinforced the prevailing views: Steve Jobs came off confident, single-minded; Steve Ballmer came off lost, bitter and desperate; Rupert Murdoch came with notes.

• It is increasingly hard to get the big tech companies to playball with the media events folk. In the past year Apple has pulled out of MacWorld (still an amazing thought) and both Google and Apple have begun making their big product announcements at their own developer conferences.

Google, which held its I/O event a couple of weeks ago, announced so many new things that it was impossible to keep up -- crowning their event, I suppose, with their Google TV announcement.  Apple's WWDC10 starts Monday at the same venue that Google used, Moscone Center. (Apple doesn't normally put a number after "WWDC", but who could resist using "10", such a nice round number).

Developer conferences are usually of less interest to the general public. Their purpose, after all, is to introduce changes to code and other technical matters. But they are also of far more lasting importance. In January 2007, Apple introduced its iPhone at MacWorld; but in June of 2008 Apple introduced iPhone apps and the app store at that year's WWDC. This year will come iAd, as mentioned above, and possibly more -- we'll see Monday morning. See you there.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Photoblogging Friday - 22

Something different for Photoblogging Friday this week, a more business-like post. Normally PbF consists of photographs from professional photographers, photojournalists, historic photographs, or even film stills. But this week, because of there have been a number of very good iPad apps released that involve photography, I thought today would be a good time to look at at least one of them.
There were a number of good choices: The Guardian released its photography app back on May 11, The Guardian Eyewitness, and I was immediately impressed. But several other apps have come out since that are interesting, as well, including photoJ.1, a digital photo magazine from The Mainichi Newspapers in Japan. The app costs 99 cents and is, of course, in Japanese. And although there are some 187 paid apps in the Photography section of the iTunes app store, the photoJ.1 app can be found under News.

Additionally, photographers are starting to use the iPad as a way of showing off their portfolios -- and why not, the screen on the iPad displays both color and black & white photographs very attractively. As a someone who is serious about photography I would have to say that nothing can replace a high resolution print of a photograph -- let alone a developed and processed photograph -- the iPad, however, is hard to beat as a photographic display platform.

The iPad and Photography
The conversation concerning the iPad in the photographic community is about at the same inane level as in the media world, with many of the articles written well before the iPad even shipped. (Have we seen headlines like this when discussing the iPad and media?" Will the iPad same photography?)

This Flash slideshow won't, of course, play on an iPad. But assuming
you are on your computer, use the controls in the lower right hand
corner to control the pictures.

In the end, though, the Guardian app keeps bringing me back. The app has a single-sponsor model -- in this case, Canon. It is simply designed, leaving in the photographs to speak for themselves. A small caption appears on each photo and a button on the lower right of the caption will bring up a "Show pro tip". A tap of the photo, though, gets rid of the caption altogether. A finger swipe then brings in the next photograph.

There is also an "About" page which contains a video introduction that can be enlarged to full screen. Did I mention that all this looks gorgeous?

The Guardian promises that the app will be updated daily -- quite a tough promise to keep, weekly would probably be good enough for most users, but daily is quite a treat, especially for a free app.

MTV new iPad app is a giant commercial for itself

It's Friday afternoon and its time to start preparing for the weekend. There is the Times new The Scoop app that is a lot of fun, but is there something else in iTunes an iPhone or iPad user can download that is sure to be entertaining? Look a brand new MTV News app, that's gonna be fun, right?
Ah, no.

Well, I suppose reading and viewing MTV promoting itself might be considered fun for some Viacom executive. For anyone else, including my kids who are generally more tolerant of self-promotion (read: Disney Channel), the material included in this app is usually what goes on when you head to the fridge between shows.

Chock full of such news items as Diddy Says 'Hello, Good Morning' To 'Good Morning America', the "news" here is decidedly light-weight.

OK, I say to myself, it is MTV, after all, so let's watch some videos.
Oh, oh. No landscape view? Really? And these videos, even ridiculously small they seem lo-rez.

OK, I finally get it. This isn't an iPad app, this is an iPhone app that they -- apparently in a hurry -- developed in order to . . . well, who knows.

Do yourself a favor, if you want some brain-dead entertainment download the MTV iPhone app, and leave the iPad app for another day. On the other hand, there is the Beavis and Butt-Head iPad app.

Have a good weekend.

Apple posts HTML5 demos in latest push to support standard over Flash; demos includes audio, video and VR

Under the guise of promoting their own Safari browser and the HTML5 standard, Apple took a gentle poke at Adobe by posting a series of demonstration pages on its website all built without Flash.
The seven demonstration pages, all which will require web users to have Safari installed on their devices, include pages on Video, Audio, Typography, Gallery, Transitions, 360°, and VR. On my Mac all the demonstrations ran flawlessly as you would expect.
(My guess is that Apple forced web users to have to use Safari to view the demonstrations to again control the experience, making sure the demos ran perfectly. Theoretically, these pages should run fine on both the Chrome and Firefox browsers.)

Apple may not have mentioned Adobe my name but the HTML5 lead-in page also includes Apple CEO's post Thoughts on Flash which was a more direct swipe at Adobe.

Morning Brief: Google gives in to European regulators; The Scoop for iPhone; Businessweek looks at Foxconn

The Financial Times is reporting that Google has agreed to hand over to European regulators the data it intercepted from WiFi connections while collecting data for its Street View project.

"We screwed up. Let's be very clear about that," Eric Schmidt, Google's CEO told the FT.

The company also said it will reveal the results of an external audit into its practices that led to the disputed collection of personal data.

The New York Times released an iPhone app that will make non-NYC residents (like me) very jealous. Called The Scoop, the app is a wonderfully constructed entertainment app that contains many of the features that make smartphone apps so useful.
The app's main menu is broken out into four segments: The Sifty Fifty, Times critic Sam Sifton's favorite 50 restaurants; The Top Shelf, dining editor Pete Wells lists his favorite city bars; Events, a guide to city concerts, dance and other events; and Only in N.Y., a collection of articles concerning . . . well, just about any topic, I suppose.

Each category includes a list view and a map view, integrating Google maps in a way that makes perfect sense.

To monetize the app there are is a small banner ad spot along the bottom. In addition to that ad, an animated ad also appears the first time one jumps to a section or article -- in this case an ad for The Lion King.

Assuming this app is constantly updated, this will prove to be an extremely popular mobile app. The app is free to download and so far the only fault I can find with the app is that it isn't for Chicago.

Left: the menu page; Middle: an animated ad for The Lion King;
Right: the use of maps in the Events section

Hearst Corporation and Condé Nast today announced that Jay Felts, a Hearst veteran, has been named president of Comag Marketing Group, the newsstand distribution and marketing company which is a joint venture of the two companies.

"Jay has done an exceptional job cultivating and strengthening relationships within the wholesale and retail communities and has played an important part in establishing CMG as an industry leader, as well as promoting the category overall," said John Loughlin, executive vice president and general manager, Hearst Magazines. "In this new position, he will serve as an even more essential advocate for the industry."

Businessweek (or is it Bloomberg?) has an excellent article on the troubles at Foxconn.

In case you are not up to speed on topic, Foxconn is the Taipei-based company that maintains a huge manufacturing facility in Shenzhen, China which produces Apple and Dell products  (among others). The company has been reporting an unusually high number of suicides of employees -- ten so far this year -- and it has their clients very concerned. "We're all over this," Steve Jobs of Apple said at the recent D8 conference.

Working conditions at the facility are accused of being grueling with conversation forbidden, bathroom breaks minimal, etc.

The article ends with this line: Foxconn's suicides are a reminder of the human cost that can come with the low-cost manufacturing U.S. tech companies demand. (Well said)

The article was penned by Stephanie Wong, John Liu and Tim Culpan.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Broadcasters to deliver the World Cup in 3D, or via iPad

Thank you to the publisher behind the Bloggasm site for passing along a note concerning a post on the Comcast blog: ESPN 3D will be broadcasting up to 26 matches in 3D starting with the first match between Mexico and South Africa on June 11.

Now I don't know if Mr. Owen knew that I am a soccer fan, but he definitely hit a soft spot as I tend to watch all the U.S. national team games (men's and women's team). Of course, I also tend to scream at the TV in frustration as I watch Clint Dempsey lose the ball again, only to find the ball at his feet at the most opportune time and score a goal (guess you'd have to be a fan to understand).

Comcast actually made their initial announcement about ESPN and the World Cup a few weeks ago, but the first collaboration with ESPN in 3D goes back to the Masters, which (I believe) was offered not as a dedicated channel, but on-demand.
“ESPN was a pioneer in HD, and continues to move the industry forward with the first 3D sports network,” Brian L. Roberts, chairman and CEO, Comcast Corporation is quoted in the original statement. “We delivered the first live national 3D sports event to consumers homes earlier this year with the Masters Tournament and believe that 3D sports will drive the adoption of this technology and continue to revolutionize how we deliver entertainment.”

DirecTV will also be carrying ESPN 3D, and Dish and Cox are expected to land the network, as well. According to Mediapost, though, the market is incredibly small. "One estimate calls for .009% of U.S. TV homes to have a 3D set by the end of the year. Also, 3D set owners need special glasses to watch and have to do some tinkering with set-top-boxes to ensure a clean feed," David Goetzi of Mediapost wrote a couple of weeks ago.

I don't own a 3D television, and those glasses have to go, but I do own an iPad and am waiting for ESPN to introduce something concerning broadcasting the World Cup via that device.
U.K. satellite broadcaster Sky, on the other hand, wasted no time launching an iPad app (though it can only be found in the U.K. iTunes store). The Sky Mobile TV app is free, but like all of the mobile and web offerings from Rupert Murdoch owned properties the subscription prices to actually receive content are high -- in this case £35 or €54 per month for non-Sky subscribers. If you are a current subscriber the cost is an additional £6 or €7 per month, assuming you are already subscribing to the Sky Sports Pack. Oh my.

But the Brits go World Cup crazy every four years (this time we can win it!) so the company is giving it away to current customers for the first three months. No matter, if you log into the UK iTunes store you will be entertained by the comments from iPad owners who are not exactly thrilled with the pricing scheme -- I guess the U.K. has its share of people who demand free, as well.

Thoughts on the Times partnership with FiveThirtyEight

Why doesn't this happen more often?  Back in January, in a post I did for, I interviewed a blogger about his soccer website and his own reporting on a Minnesota blogger who wrote about the local soccer scene.  My point at the time was that it seem a natural fit: bloggers covering their areas of specialty teaming up with newspapers to the benefit of both. Yet how often does it happen that a newspaper goes out and finds talent in this way? Probably more often than I am aware of, but also probably not often enough.

This site has also written once about a blogger teaming up with publisher, and that was when trade publisher Canon Communications purchased the Pharmalot blog. Purchasing a blog, rather than partnering with one, is a more expensive route to go for a publisher, of course, and mostly occurs when the blog itself is competitive with the commercial media company.
In the case of the Times partnership with Nate Silver, there are positives to the relationship all around. In addition to the fact that Mr. Silver now has a great gig, it is also a positive that the brand will survive, as will most of the relationships that the owner of the blog has built up. For the Times, they not only bring on great talent, but a brand name, as well. This is a move that supports both the content and business sides of the equation.

Strangely, it is the business side of the newspaper that can benefit the most in these partnerships -- though, as always, the only side that gets talked about is the content side. Take that local soccer blogger, for instance: the reasons a newspaper won't hire a soccer writer is they think the costs will vastly outweigh the benefits. Yet partnering with a blogger costs considerably less (yes, they will pay the blogger something, I hope), than a full time reporter -- but that new talent can assist the sports editors far more than just contributing a story occasionally. Adding a new sports blog creates new web ad inventory, opens up a new ad category, brings in a new brand, increases traffic immediately, brings in new uniques -- need I go on?

One of the reasons old media has failed so badly online is that old media is not nimble. It probably took Nate Silver a few weeks to nail down his FiveThirtyEight and post his first story. Getting a new brand up and running at a newspaper can be a daunting task.

But if there is a newspaper company that has a chance to make online work, the Times is certainly that paper (which is why so many early users of the Times iPad app have been so disappointed, it's like they failed to think things through before launching their first effort).

For me, seeing the Times partner with Nate Silver is a cause of celebration (especially if you are Nate Silver).  Now let's start seeing a lot more of this.

Short takes: Kindle goes to school; Marvell's e-reader; Google buys Invite Media; Hearst picks up iCrossing


Clearwater High School swaps textbooks for Kindle e-readers

Students need them, but it's about a 20-pound weight on their backs they'd rather do without. "It can get very heavy, especially this year. Seven classes, seven different textbooks," says 17-year-old Megan Pope, an 11th grader at Clearwater High School.

Next year, Clearwater High School students will replace its textbooks with a 10 ounce electronic reader called the Kindle, that's loaded with their textbooks.

"It's small, really light to carry," says 11th grader Mohamed Baydoun.

Marvell website:
Marvel and Hanwang join forces to launch new e-reader
Marvell, a worldwide leader in integrated silicon solutions, and Hanwang, the leading eReader solution provider in China, today unveiled a new generation of eReaders aimed at higher performance, greater versatility and true mass market pricing. Featuring the Marvell® ARMADA™ 166E—the first System-on-a-Chip (SoC) with an integrated e-Paper Display (EPD) controller—Hanwang's new generation of devices offers better performance, more functionality and lower price points than any eReaders on the market today.

"Marvell's goal is to deliver superior eReader technology and a better consumer experience at mass market prices," said Weili Dai, Marvell's Co-founder and Vice President and General Manager of Marvell Semiconductor's Consumer and Computing Business Unit. "Marvell's complete portfolio of high performance, low power semiconductor solutions promise a new era of connected mobile devices featuring always-on, live content, new consumer experiences and services, superior battery life, and greater overall value—all of which is critical to drive global adoption in emerging markets and within new vertical applications—such as publishing."

M & A - Search

Google's Doubleclick blog:
Google acquires Invite Media

We’re happy to announce that we’ve acquired Invite Media, an innovative start-up based in New York and Philadelphia.

The team at Invite Media has developed technology that enables advertisers and agencies to use “real time bidding” to buy display ad space, and to optimize display ad campaigns, across multiple advertising exchanges, all in a single interface.

Hearst to buy iCrossing

Hearst Corp. finalized Wednesday the purchase of digital-marketing firm iCrossing Inc. for about $325 million, according to people familiar with the matter, the latest traditional media company to bulk up on its digital-marketing expertise.

The owner of magazines including Cosmopolitan and Esquire for months has been chasing iCrossing, one of largest remaining independent businesses that specialize in advising marketers on buying Web-search keywords, crafting their websites, and tracking what people are saying about their brands online.

Political polling site FiveThirtyEight to be absorbed into the New York Times; Nate Silver to become contributor

Congratulations to Nate Silver, his blog FiveThirtyEight will be hosted by the New York Times and Silver will become regular contributor to the newspaper and the Sunday magazine, the Times announced this morning.
“Nate won considerable recognition during the 2008 presidential campaign for his timely and prescient reports on the electoral races and on public opinion,” Bill Keller, executive editor of the Times, is quoted as stating by the Media Decoder blog.

Silver's fascination with baseball statistics was successfully translated to politics on his website. Silver sold his statistically based predictive system Pecota to Baseball Prospectus in 2002. Silver launched his blog FiveThirtyEight in early 2008 just in time to cover the end of the primary season and the general election of 2008.

"Although we have not settled on an exact date, the partnership will most likely launch officially in about 9 or 10 weeks -- that is, in very early August," Silver wrote on his website this morning in announcing the move.

Class Editori joins other Italian publishers by launching two iPad apps; apps developed by Nexus Srl

Yesterday I wrote about how European newspapers, especially in Italy, seem to be rushing to make sure their papers are available on the iPad. Late yesterday yet another Italian media group made an appearance in the iTunes app store, Class Editori.

Class Editori S.p.A. is an Italian media company founded by Paolo Panerai which specializes in financial and lifestyle publications. Its financial newspaper MF Milano Finanza is a leading business publication in Italy. Class Editori manages a joint venture with Dow Jones in Italy, MF Dow Jones News, and owns a classical radio station, as well. (What's with the European financial papers and classical music? The French financial newspaper, Les Echos, integrated classical music right into their app.)

The app for MF Milano Finanza was one of two apps released yesterday for Class Editori -- the other was for ItaliaOggi, a paper that covers economics and politics. Both apps were developed by Nexus Srl, which until now has launched a strange group of apps -- cartoons, an app concerning the Shroud of Turin.

The description listed in iTunes (in Italian, of course) states that the apps, which are free to download, will give the reader free access to the content for an unspecified "promotional" period. Clearly the publisher wanted the marketing advantages of being able to claim that their papers are available on the iPad. U.S. publishers, on the other hand, have either decided to wait-and-see, or else have decided to avoid what they see as the mistakes made online by making content available for free by launching apps that demand that the reader pay the same (or in some cases more) than the print cover price).

Left: the issue load page; Right: an article on the BP oil disaster.

Class Editori appears to be doing very well, indeed: earning 27.3€ million in the first quarter of this year, a modest increase over 2009. Obviously the company has decided to learn about tablet publishing by experience, rather than sitting on the sidelines and seeing what works. The advantages of launching early are that a company gets feedback from users -- even horribly negative feedback -- who are generally more forgiving of apps that are buggy but free, as opposed to those who charge the maximum initially, but fail to deliver the goods.

Because of this, I believe Class Editori's approach is appropriate -- though it must be said that financial papers are in a much better position to charge for access immediately.

The apps themselves are nothing special, unfortunately: simple flipbooks of the print editions, without added content of rich media. The value to the paper is clearing promotional. For the reader, the advantage is having their paper in the tablet format. We'll see if Class Editori and Nexus Srl improve on their apps from this modest start.

Morning Brief: Newsweek draws 3 bids; Wild West days of the iPad; Pandora funding reaches $57 million level

Bloomberg is reporting that the Washignton Post Co. has drawn three bids for Newsweek by yesterday's deadline: OpenGate Capital LLC, Newsmax Media Inc., and Thane Ritchie, who is the CEO of Ritchie Capital Management LLC but has supposedly put in a personal bid.

Newsweek, which recently launched an iPad app that
has been savagely panned in iTunes, drew three bidders.

No word on other prospective bidders, including current editor Jon Meatham who had previously expressed an interest in finding a partner for a bid attempt.

As you'd expect, there was no word about bid levels.

These early days of tablet publishing are like the Wild West, sometimes it looks like chaos, sometimes people or companies spring up and you can wonder "where did they come from?"
Take, for instance, the strange tale of this app, the first iPad app I've seen dedicated to classified advertising. According to iTunes the app is a product of the Los Angeles Newspaper Group, part of MediaNews Group, and includes the L.A. Daily News and Torrance Daily Breeze (disclosure: I used to work for the Santa Monica Outlook when it was owned by Copley LA Newspapers -- and included in its group the Daily Breeze).

But if you look closer, well, things get a little stranger. Clicking on the link in iTunes takes you to a dedicated website for app, called SoCal2Go Classifieds for iPad. You can read the entire site in five seconds because there is nothing there. Is this app really from the L.A. Newspaper Group, I ask myself.

A further search in iTunes and later online reveals that this app, and a similarly named app for mobile coupons is really the work of a company called COUPONSmeme Inc. which develops apps under the name MobiQpons. And all of that is the work of one person: Navneet Aron. Aron is a Stanford grad who used to be a software engineer and development manager at Intuit and is now the founder of MobiQpons.

What any of this has to do with the L.A. Newspaper Group I do not know. But like I said, it is the Wild West Days of tablet publishing. I just wonder if the newspaper knows they have an app?

Pandora, the online radio company has raised another round of capital, meaning the company has now raised $57 million since its founding. The newest round was led by GSV Capital, with Allen & Company participating.
The music service now has more than 50 million users who get music from Pandora on their web browser, smartphone or iPad. As TNM wrote in March, Pandora paid $28 million to SoundExchange, the performance rights entity that collects royalties on the behalf of sound recording copyright owners.

Pandora is in a race to find a sustainable business model. It has proved itself with consumers and is creating alliances with electronics makers who are integrating access to Pandora into their Blu-Ray players and other devices. Recently the company brought in former CFO Steve Cakebread to be in the same position at Pandora.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

AdMob rolls out iPad compliant SDK; Le Monde looks for investors; the skinny on the new AT&T data rates

Short reads on a late afternoon:

AdMob announced on its blog today that they were releasing a new iPad app SDK that would allow developers to create iPad native apps. The new SDK works on all devices running the iPhone OS -- iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad -- and allows developers to build text & tile ads and image ads in IAB standard ad sizes for medium rectangles, leaderboards and banners.

The New York Times is reporting that the center-left newspapers -- institution really -- Le Monde, is seeking outside investment to help it survive these trying times. The Times gets the story right, concentrating on what this really means for a paper where the reporters and editors have a controlling ownership stake.

One of the potential investors could be Claude Perdriel, owner of Le Nouvel Observateur, which may be a good match philosophically. But business is business: “If the conditions for us to make a profitable company are not satisfied, we will not go there,” Denis Olivennes, the publisher of Le Nouvel Observateur, is quoted as stating.

AT&T announced new data pricing for its smartphones including the iPhone today. The skinny is that AT&T will be eliminating its $30 unlimited data plan for all new customers, and will instead offer two choices: DataPro is a $25 per month plan that gives data users 2GB of data; DataPlus is a $15 per month plan that offers 200MB. Users that exceed their data plans will be charged based on their plans -- that is, a 2GB user would be charged an additional $10 for each 1GB increment over their plan; 200MB users will be charged an additional $15 for another 200MB, and so on.
Tethering will finally come to the iPhone when Apple releases its newest version of the iPhone OS -- probably next week at Apple's developer conference. The cost is $15 per month -- which isn't bad -- but is only available to those buying the 2 gig data plan. Simple math puts that at $40 per month for the data and the tethering.

I suppose that is not too bad: after all, if AT&T had announced that they were offering tethering at $10 per month, and had not announced a change to their data plans there would probably have been applause at the reasonable rate AT&T was charging. On the downside, however, those that will use tethering a lot, say between their phones and an WiFi-only iPad, will burn through their data limits considerably faster.

If you are the owner of an iPhone, AT&T offers a free app that includes the ability to track your usage.

Having said all that in AT&T's favor, let's not forget that the company recently raised early termination fees from $175 to $325. All this is clearly in preparation for another wave of sales expected in the wake of Apple introducing its new iPhone next week.

Update: Wow, AT&T really has "message discipline" problems. Engadget reports tonight of the case of Giorgio Galante, who sent two e-mails to AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson complaining about service, etc. The second e-mail prompted a call from the company, which thanked him for his feedback, but "also politely warn him that further emails would be met with legal action. Ouch. As you'd expect, AT&T just lost itself a customer."

Smokescreen: Flash without the plug-in previewed

New start-up RevShock, has launched a website to preview a product they hope will catch on: Flash without the plug-in. Called Smokescreen, the software was developed by Chris Smoak. With Smokescreen, Flash files are converted to JavaScript/HTML 5.

RevShock is self-described as a "a new mobile ad startup based in Austin and San Francisco" -- and they are not lying the tart-up part, their website is just a template right now (though the site for Smokescreen is up and running).  In any case, this is what the company has to say:

Unless you’ve been under a rock, you’re probably familiar with the fact that Adobe Flash doesn’t run on any mobile Apple device. Moreover, it looks like Apple is never going to let Flash onto the iPhone/iPod/iPad empire.

These two facts paint a bleak picture for mobile advertising. Many people still want to use their existing Adobe tools for developing ads, and retooling to support a single platform seems silly. As an ad network, we believe that dynamic, interactive ads are much more fun than boring static ads and thus, we were faced with two options: live in a dark, desolate world of boring mobile ads or do something about it.
The Smokescreen site contains a bunch of demos you can view as well as the video below -- which, ironically, uses a Flash player:

As mentioned above, Smokscreen is the product of Chris Smoak, a resident of The Haight. Digging around I see that Smoak has been involved in software development for quite a while (considering he graduated college in 2004). He has some interesting internships including stints with the CIA and Microsoft (no, they are not the same). After graduating he went right to work for Amazon where he only stayed one year before starting his first venture. (Amazing.)

Although I did not find his name on the Smokescreen website, I assume the second player behind this software is Andrew Hunter, who is listed as CEO of Gambit Labs (one of the companies Smoak is associated with), and is located in Austin, Texas.

OK, Apple, time to make an acquisition.

ABM reports shows B2B ad pages decline appears to be near an end; March pages down only 3.1 percent

The latest B2B media report from American Business Media (ABM) shows ad page declines moderating, with first quarter ad pages down 6.4 percent in total, but March only down 3.1 percent.

The ABM report shows that the year did not start off well, with January pages down 12.4 percent, but since then the declines have slowed. Nonetheless, 2009 was such a disaster that many publishers will need to see healthy gains the rest of the year to start seeing black ink. According to the ABM, B2B ad pages declined 28.6 percent last year in one of the worst years for the industry since the Great Depression. Additionally, large B2B media firms like Reed and Nielsen have thrown in the towel selling or closing many o their titles.

Is Europe taking tablet publishing more seriously than the U.S.? Or will launching branded apps prove premature?

In just a couple of days since the launch of the device in Europe, European based publications have flooded iTunes with their news readers. Of 136 news apps now in iTunes, for instance, at least 21 are for publications from Italy (many thanks to Paperlit). Are U.S. publishers just more conservative when it comes to new technology? or will the Europeans regret leaping in before understanding the new market?

Of the initial batch of first news apps for the iPad, the apps from the New York Times and Wall Street Journal were the most noticed and discussed. One of reasons for this was simply that so few newspapers decided to launch tablet apps back in April. At the time this seemed like a good idea, after all, the Times app has been slammed for not providing much content, and the WSJ app has been slammed for overpricing the product.
The third big paper to join the party was USA Today which offered a free app and despite some crash issues has escaped (for the most part) the wrath of iTunes reviewers.

One app that slipped by me was the azcentral app from the Arizona Republic which appears to only be a ported over version of their iPhone app.

On Monday the first Cox Media Group iPad app appeared for the Dayton Daily News. Once again, however, it was an optimized version of their iPhone app.

Between paid and free news apps, 230 now can be found in iTunes. Certain trends are already apparent: first, U.S. papers are not in a hurry to jump on the bandwagon of tablet publishing -- maybe the rewards seem too small, the risks too great, or maybe indifference has set in; second, U.S. consumers seem far more cynical and unwilling to consider paying for content than other iPad owners. Reviews of paid U.S. apps usually begin and end with the thought that no app that contains ads should have a price tag on it. European and Australian app app buyers appear to be more willing to folk over a few (fill in the blank) to read their papers on the iPad. Of course, its early in the game, and no surveys that I'm aware of have been done since the International launch.

For now, I'm trying to remain positive. It's also possible that given a couple more months we'll see a flood of individual apps for U.S. papers launched. As an American publishing pro I've worked for a number of the companies involved -- both on the newspaper and magazine sides of the publishing business. My instincts tell me that those most enthusiastic about tablets are not in the executive suites -- and with all the layoffs in the newspaper and magazine business there are probably less young people in the industry, resulting in skewed views about new technology.

A headline in the WaPo this morning asks "Was Washington Times reporter sacked for speaking out?" and then tells the story of Julia Duin and her sacking at the paper for calling the paper she worked at a "rudderless ship" (aren't they all?). The question mark was hardly necessary, but has become kind of a newspaper convention ("Does Senator SoAndSo beat his wife?") whenever a paper wants to throw some dirt under the cover of "journalism". Sadly, I used the question mark technique today, as well. I apologize.

The D8 conference

If you'd like to follow the WSJ's D8 conference in Rancho Palos Verdes I would recommend the videos at WSJ here. Two warnings, however: the videos are short and the ad is the same -- it gets a little annoying; and don't use Chrome, it displays and plays the videos flawlessly but the browser stalls so multitasking is impossible.

Right now the Steve Jobs interview segments are up, I assume the Murdoch videos will be up soon.

Although you will see tons of stories coming from the D8 I see very little news there, and certainly no insights -- wasn't that supposed to be the purpose of the event? (Not to the mention some of the inane questions as well as the answers that are clearly given to the satisfaction of the paying audience.)

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Late afternoon news briefs: premium home delivery returns in Detroit; Swiss & Austrian journals release iPad apps, experiment with pricing strategies

Want a newspaper delivered to your door? It will cost you!

The Detroit Free Press and Detroit News announced on Saturday that they will resume home delivery in certain areas where they had previously cut back -- bringing back seven day delivery. The catch is that they are calling it premium home-delivery and will, therefore, more charge more.

Premium home delivery to me is a newspaper delivered every morning by a neighborhood kid on a bike. As anyone who gets a home delivered paper knows, a paper thrown on the driveway (or near the driveway) by an independent contractor is hardly premium home delivery.

The Freep and News claim that the move is being made out of fear that the US Postal Service will soon stop mail delivery on Saturdays.

Late last week newsroom Guild members approved their contract with the Milwaukee Sentinel, voting 54-10 in favor. The contract will mean no pay raises for newsroom members, but will supposedly prevent further layoffs.

Editions Plus released the first in a series of iPad app for the iPad: one for Bon à Savoir, a Swiss cooking magazine, and the other for K-Tipp, an Austrian consumer products testing journal.

I'm afraid I don't know much about either publication, but I mention them to point out that the pricing experiments going on on the iPad: Bon à Savoir, has launched its app as a free download and with free content for a limited time. Then in the Fall the magazine intends to begin charging 3.20 Swiss francs per issue -- or approximately 30 percent off the cover price.

Readershouse Brand Media and Volkswagen to create 'Das', an innovative magazine for the iPad

The Amsterdam-based Readershouse Brand Media (Rhbm) has produced what it states is "the first European iPad magazine" for its client Volkswagen. The highly animated, video rich magazine, called Das, was released late Friday -- just in time for the iPad's launch in Europe and elsewhere.

Das, the iPad magazine for VW from
Dutch custom publisher Rhbm
. →

If the Telegraph's Shane Richmond (see below) and others wonder about the value of individual iPad apps for publishers Das is part of the answer.

Rhbm is a custom publisher that produces in-house and marketing materials for clients, mostly automotive firms. CEO Kees Beudeker is quoted as saying of the iPad (translation) "it will require time, but the iPad is a serious medium where your content can be directing and producing. It is an important part of the cross-media mix, alongside the Internet and paper."

For their first effort, Rhbm appeared to take a fresh look at the new medium, rather than ask 'how do we port over our existing material to the iPad?'. By taking a fresh look, they have come up with something that is very different than the Condé Nast efforts that have led the pack so far.

Like the initial Sports Illustrated tablet demo from late last year, Das, opens with video immediately. This then leads into a video of Stephan Grühsam, head of communications for Volkswagen who introduces the magazine.

An example of the use of animation in VM's iPad magazine, Das

Don't look for high-quality magazine content, this is a marketing piece. But it is a very useful demonstration piece for publishers who need to see something different in order to "get" the iPad's potential. Not only does the app contain lots of video and animate, it also tries to package the content in different ways.

Unless you are about to buy a new Volkswagen, I doubt iPad owners will be returning frequently to the app, but how often does one pick up promotional material once it has been read? This app will have some shelf-life as those who download it rediscover it on their tablets.

The app itself is a bit buggy. My version crashed upon launch, and crashed again later on. The app is so new that there are only a couple of comments posted in iTunes, two of which complain about the crashes. The other recommends restarting your iPad once the app has installed, then says "Now this is what a digital magazine should be."

I don't know about that, but the work from Rhbm is certainly impressive.

The section on sound is a bit trite, but contains some good ideas.

Das can be accused of using eye-candy the same way the SI video did, but like athletes, the best way to show a car is moving and this app can do that. More importantly, it does it at app launch, not just by offering the reader the chance to open a video window. While Rhbm may had the advantage of tailoring content to medium, as opposed to tailoring the medium to the content, Das does serve to give publishers (and their art directors and programmers) some real-world examples to which they can refer back when needed.

Adobe announces digital magazine reader; lays out roadmap for development of digital publishing platform

Seemingly able to make the necessary adjustments Apple's development rules, Adobe Systems today announced that they have introduced a new digital viewer technology that will will enable publishers to create digital versions of their print magazines for the iPad. The technology was used to produce Wired's iPad app for Condé Nast.

Adobe's technology was used to create the Wired app for Condé Nast. →

“Adobe’s work with Wired has resulted in a digital magazine format that creates an immersive experience, allowing a publication’s unique content, look and feel and advertising to stand out in the digital realm,” said David Burkett, vice president and general manager, Creative Solutions at Adobe in a statement. “We aim to make our digital viewer software available to all publishers soon and plan to deliver versions that work across multiple hardware platforms. It’s safe to say that if you are already working in InDesign CS5, you’ll be well on your way to producing a beautiful digital version of your publication.”

Adobe says that the Wired app was created with InDesign and other Adobe technologies. (See full write-up here.)

Adobe also released a "Digital Publishing Platform Roadmap" which illustrates the timeline for new introductions that will support publishers. The roadmap shows that the company's iPad solution will be available in the summer (presumably now), which a multi-platform solution will be ready to support other products by Fall. That would probably include Android-based tablets that many believe will being to appear later this year.

Adobe Roadmap
      click to enlarge.

The roadmap spells out digital publishing solutions for magazine, newspaper, book and retail catalog publishers.

"Publishers around the world are striving to embrace the digital age — to build distinctive brands, develop sustainable business strategies, and achieve greater profitability. They're looking for innovative, cost-effective ways to design and deliver content to fragmented audiences on an ever-expanding array of smartphones, tablets, e-readers, and other devices," Adobe's website proclaims.

The Telegraph uses three articles to say magazines have a ways to go on the iPad

Maybe they have a word limit over at the Telegraph, one of the U.K.'s leading newspapers, because Shane Richmond writes about the experience of reading magazines on the iPad and is forced into three short posts -- I suppose I'll cut him some slack and figure that he (like me) was writing on the go.

In his first post, Apple iPad magazine apps: bringing back the 1990s, Richmond calls efforts from Wired, Popular Science and others "gimmicky" and says they lack "real engagement". What I find strange about the comment is that most of these first efforts for the iPad are rather minimal. So if the magazines lack "engagement" would this be the fault of the app or iPad, or the fault of the magazine itself? How can a print magazine be more engaging that an exact electronic replica of it?
Image and video hosting by TinyPic

The Telegraph's Shane Richmond prefers the reading experience on the iPad's browser to individual apps. Good thing, too, the Telegraph doesn't have an app on the iPad. →

Richmond's second post is even shorter, More on iPad magazines: the future is never now, in which is simply referring to this post from Oliver Reichenstein. But then Richmond seems to be coming around stating: "Despite two posts criticising magazine apps, I must say that I do think what’s been done so far shows promise. What I hope to do is temper some of the ‘woo-hoo! the media is saved’ enthusiasm that has been doing the rounds in recent weeks."

Richmond's third post, iPad magazines, part 3: The browser is often better, questions the need for individual apps. Want an answer, here it is: because an app is not a website.

A newspaper has one website, one URL; an app opens up infinite possibilities. An app can be audio/video only, it can be specialized, it can be general, it can be anything you want to be including an abject failure. But a website is one URL that serves the various needs of a publication, and had damn well better succeed at drawing in readers or it will be redesigned.

The New York Times can not dedicate its entire website to real estate, but it can (and has) dedicated an entire app to real estate. A website has to be accessible to everyone, an app has to be accessible only to the owners of the reading device.

Further, how do you read a magazine (or newspaper) online without an Internet connection? Many of the newest magazines apps are self-contained, or nearly so, allowing reading on the go. Then there is the Financial Times app, maybe the smartest media app yet, that allows you to download the latest version before going offline -- brilliant! as the Brits would say.

My guess is that the Telegraph's Richmond will soon begin to love the idea of apps -- it is what makes the iPhone and iPad tick. And if it appears that I'm picking on Mr. Richmond than that is not my intent. It should be remembered that the iPad has been available stateside for almost two months and many early critics of the device are coming around now that they have lived with it.

But the key for media is definitely apps -- whether individual apps, or app written by third parties like Zinio.  Apps will also be the secret weapon of Google TV. While the focus of many reporters is on searching television programming, Google eyes bringing the app experience to the flatscreen not only as a way of bringing in new content, but of capturing television advertising dollars -- and don't look now but here comes Apple, too.

The magazine (and newspaper) "app" is what will allow single title publishers to create empires. Assuming, of course, they stop being old school and adopt the development model of modern publishing.

Morning Brief: Two million iPads sold in less than 60 days;

In case you missed it over the Memorial Day holiday . . .

Skype said yesterday that users of the Nokia N900 will soon be able to make two-way video calls using Skype. Russ Shaw, the company’s vice president of Skype Mobile told GigaOM that this service will be available soon on other mobile clients, as well. With Apple introducing a new iPhone next week with a front facing camera, this means Skype users who own iPhones will soon be able to video conference.
“We are going to do video calling across all our platforms and are agnostic about the operating system and carriers,” Shaw said.

On Saturday Skype wrote on its own blog that it had released an updated client for the iPhone that will allow users to make calls using the phone's 3G. They also announced that soon they will begin charging for the service (that didn't go down well with iTunes reviewers).

The funny part is that Skype had no idea that their updated app had actually made it onto iTunes. Apple's strange approval process meant that Skype had submitted their update and were waiting themselves to see its appearance in iTunes. On Friday the app appeared catching Skype a bit off guard -- hence the Saturday blog post.

Apple announced on Monday that it had sold two million iPads in less than 60 days. "Customers around the world are experiencing the magic of iPad, and seem to be loving it as much as we do," said Steve Jobs, Apple's CEO. "We appreciate their patience, and are working hard to build enough iPads for everyone."

In a typical press release for Apple (short) the company brags about its recent successes and then signs off. The company, like Google, gets more than enough press anyway, right?

The two million mark is a good enough time to review some of those prediction (and post-prediction) stories about the iPad:

Bold Prediction: iPad will Flop -- GottaBeMobile

Bill Gates Joins the iPad's Army of Critics -- BNet

Prediction hell: How dumb do Bill Gates & Microsoft's iPad, Surface predictions look now? -- ZDNet

Why the iPad will fail and help Windows 7 to succeed -- WorldTech24

Microsoft's Courier Tablet Depends on iPad, HP for Success -- GUWiSe

MS Courier, HP Slate Canceled? -- jkOnTheRun

Wall Street expects Apple's 'risky' iPad to sell 1M-5M in first year -- AppleInsider

Apple Sells Two Million iPads in Less Than 60 Days -- Apple PR

Monday, May 31, 2010

Classifieds move from print to online to mobile; watch for developers to seize the opportunity to move in

I hope your Memorial Day is a pleasant one. I have written a couple of posts for today that look at a couple mobile/tablet media apps that were released late Friday (see Newsweek post below). Normal reporting will resume on Tuesday.

My first real management job in the newspaper business was as classified sales manager, leading my teams of inside and outside salespeople. In the eighties newspapers still dominated classified advertising but already realtors were beginning to produce their own publications, and auto traders were nipping away at our automotive lineage.

The greatest frustration I faced as a CAM was convincing management that we shouldn't be complacent. It was hopeless, and eventually I moved on to McGraw-Hill and into trade publishing.
Today, most people associate help-wanted advertising with and CareerBuilder, real estate listings reside with and local publications and websites, personal property and miscellaneous categories are dominated by Craig's List, and the auto category seems to be spread out everywhere -- including newspapers in many markets.

Mobile presents, therefore, a threat to not only the newspapers who still have a sliver of the classified market, but also the online companies that have arisen in the last couple of decades. The opportunity to aggregate online information into new mobile forms also presents developers (as well as publishers that transform their companies into app development machines) with the opportunity to enter and dominate the market.

As of today there are dozens of dedicated real estate apps for smartphones (mostly the iPhone), the vast majority of them coming from the new online players in the space: Zillow,, and the like. The New York Times is one of the few newspaper companies to jump into the space with their own app.

From smartphones to tablets

One of the companies that early on saw the value to moving into mobile was web-based Zip Realty, headquartered in the Bay Area. Their iPhone application uses maps and A.R. to produce a more interactive tool for buying and selling a home.

This last week Zip Realty updated their app and now the app is universal so that iPad owners can use take advantage. Without a camera, the tablet version can not use this feature, but the added display size is a big advantage when trying to judge the attractiveness of a property.

This is one reason why the tablet may serve a different function in the real estate segment than the smartphone. An iPhone can be carried around, and when the customer finds a property for sale quickly open an app on their phone and get additional information -- not only about the property for sale, but also about comps, schools, etc.

A tablet, on the other hand, is a perfect browsing tool -- like your Sunday newspaper, I suppose, but with more listings, more pictures, more information.
Because of this, the few apps that have launched for the iPad in the real estate category have been more like real estate magazines (with the exception of the Zillow and Zip apps). In facet, some have been just that -- real estate magazines such as Atlanta Homes & Lifestyle from PixelMags, Angeleno Interiors, the Modern Luxury Media title developed by Blue Toad, etc.

One that is both a functional real estate tool and a magazine was the Propriétés de France app released on Friday by Aden Classifieds, a leading online classified company from France. Their dedicated iPad app takes advantage of the added real estate (sorry for the pun) afforded by the tablet display to present properties in a grand style.
In fact, this is one app where the screenshots I took are not as attractive as the ones the company uses in iTunes -- after all, when you can show beautiful properties along the Mediterranean and in the Alpes there is no reason to submit boring screenshots to Apple.

Classified advertising used to be the lifeblood of most newspapers -- and it certainly was when I was a CAM. The loss of the classified, in my opinion, has had a far bigger impact on modern newspapers than all the content aggregation and other online developers of the past decade, though you simply can't tell that to all the journalism gurus out there that insist its all about content.

The opportunity to win classified advertising back to newspapers was lost years ago, if there ever was that chance to begin with. The opportunity to be a player in classified advertising, though, exists whenever new mediums are created by technology. The smartphone and tablet markets are just evolving now and both established and new companies will compete in the space.

Newsweek releases iPad app, discounts issues

With first bids due no later that 5:00 PM ET on June 2nd, Newsweek staffers are preparing for new ownership, while at the same time moving forward with new projects such as developing the weekly news magazine's first iPad app. Released late Friday, the app is free to download and gives readers access to a small special issue, Politics in the Age of Obama, as well as five issues, each priced at $2.99.
The special issue is described by Jon Meacham, editor of Newsweek, as "our inaugural offering" for the iPad -- meaning, I assume, that the issues offered of sale are merely issues ported over to the device.

"Every generation makes its own mark, only a few, however, profoundly change the future," Meacham writes in grandiose fashion in the editor's intro. "For nearly six centuries, the generation that gave us Gutenberg and the printing press has shaped humanity in an infinitely of ways."

"It is clear that we are now living in a time and among innovators who are likely to be remembered as the Gutenbergs of a new age. As digital platforms take the place of the printed page as the central means of media, Steve Jobs's iPad is a landmark development," Meacham writes.

Later Meachan states that Newsweek plans to "make for use of this emerging technology," referring to the iPad. But that is for the future, for the issues offered, including the special issue that is their "inaugural offering" does not really take advantage of what the medium can do. Yes, the photographs do pop from the "pages" as the tablet's display can render color and resolution in greater clarity of detail than the printed page might. But the short special issue includes no embedded or streamed video or audio, and wouldn't Obama have been a good subject in which to use these tools?

Left: Cover for special issue included for free in Newsweek's iPad app.
Right: photographs and cartoons (B&W!) are used extensively throughout.

Despite the fact that the "cover" price of $2.99 per issue represents a discount off the cover price, some early reviewers of the app have panned it as still too expensive. Frankly, anything other than free will get negative reviews on iTunes, so I'm not sure these complaints are valid.

But the pricing does reflect a decision (I believe) to go after single issue buyers, rather than subscribers.