Saturday, June 19, 2010

Week in Review

Short reads on a Saturday morning:

• Rupert Murdoch made some new media moves which will either position News Corp. well in his goal to increase paid content, or will be be equivalent of Marc Teren's purchase of eLogic (OK, I'm sure it can't turn out that badly).

News Corp. acquired the Skiff platform from Hearst, but not the much heralded, but never seen, e-reader. The company also invested in Steven Brill's Journalism Online. Consider me a bit skeptical.

• Starbucks has decided that paid Wi-Fi has no future, especially when their rivals are offering the service for free. So starting on July 1 the coffee giant will be offering free Wi-Fi in all its U.S. stores -- still through AT&T.

The company also announced that it would be offering many paid websites through its Digital Ventures unit. What this means for Starbucks customers is that you can now load up on caffeine and browse the New York Times and WSJ for free (once the Times launches its metered paywall).
• Apple started accepting pre-orders on its new iPhone, selling more than 600,000 units immediately. But things did not go completely as planned, either thanks to Apple servers, or AT&T's system. Many customers simply could not complete their transactions as the pre-order service bogged down.

And if you want to order a new iPhone now forget about getting it on the launch date of June 24. Any orders taken now won't be received until July 14th, according to the Apple website.

• Are Tony Mancini and Rick Blesi trying to flip their recently acquired RBI construction magazines? That's what Folio: says. But Crain's says that the publishers are denying the story -- well, sort of.
MB Media, the new entity created by Mancini and Blesi, have recently relaunched websites for their magazines, but the sites are really just placeholders where the new company can announced that the magazines will reappear later in the year.

Depending on the deal the two publishers struck with Reed we could see a sale to another B2B soon. But the deal has too many strings attached, say a minimum sales price, or a payout amount, then things could get complicated. In any case, the books, some of which used to be dominate in their fields, have been allowed to rot a bit, so it will be interesting to see who steps forward.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Photoblogging Friday - 24

Friday means Photoblogging Friday around here and today's entry is a bit more lightweight than usual -- no tributes or historical photograph, just a shot from outside the home of our contributor Dean Brierly.
Dean writes:
This baby owl spent several days hanging out in our backyard recently while waiting for his wing feathers to develop so he can take flight. Nights we can hear him and his parents calling back and forth. We think he's now biding his time on the hillside behind our house. It's not everyday one gets such a distinguished-looking visitor.

You can more photography and interviews with professional photographers at Dean Brierly's website, Photographers Speak.

The tablet abroad: News apps and the French

In between World Cup matches on Thursday I sat at my desk and wondered what iPad users in other countries were downloading, and what there reactions have been to the first attempts of media companies to bring their brands to the iPad. This is the first in a series of posts on news apps as seen through the iTunes app store.

As I write this France is about to play Mexico in both teams second game of the World Cup. So why not start this series with a look with what the French think of the news apps being introduced for the iPad?

Here are the Top Ten apps in the French iTunes app store:

1. Le Monde
2. Reeder for iPad
3. Wired
4. GEO Mag.no1
5. Pulse News Reader
6. Instapaper
7. NewsRack
8. TV HD
9. Digital Photographer
10. Buzz Aldrin Portal to Science
1. La Tribune pour iPad
2. 20 version iPad
4. L'
5. Paris Match
6. Libération pour iPad
7. Le Figaro
9. Le journal Le Parisien
10. Zinio Magazine Newsstand
Apple introduced the iPad to France on a few weeks ago on May 28, but for weeks prior to the release those who pre-ordered the tablet were able to see what owners in America thought of the device. Additionally, they were able to see that some news organizations had already released iPad apps, since there may be some interest from French readers in the states, and also to work out the bugs on their initial app releases.

But since May 30 more and more newspaper and magazine apps have been released, and just like in the U.S. different approaches are being taken concerning pricing.

The Le Monde app is priced at 0.79 € (99 cents) to download. That first download gives you access to your first newspaper. That is also the price for each additional edition.

Another newspaper, Libération, have launched a free app with a sponsor -- much as the New York Times did -- but in this case it is not a single-sponsor, just a featured sponsor as all the other print ads appear in the daily edition.  The app itself is mainly a flipbook version of the newspaper, but it does offer offline reading, and the app provides readers with a text-only version of articles in the newspaper should you prefer (see below)

Most people on iTunes do not go from one countries app store to another -- but it is revealing. In the U.S. store there are 27 reviews of the app from Libéeration -- actually, I'm surprised there are that many. But in the French store there are considerably more.

But though the app, officially called Libération pour iPad, ranks sixth on the free news app chart, the vast majority of uses are critical of the app:
Je garde l'app car j'aime le journal. Néanmoins la lecture en mode paysage est difficile (Impossible de zoomer assez). De plus, il est vrai qu'il faut essayer de faire plus que du PDF. Wired a par exemple fait des efforts. Inspirez-vous en!

I keep the app because I like the newspaper. But reading in landscape mode is difficult (not enough zoom). Moreover, it is true that we try to do more than the PDF. Wired has made such efforts. Get inspired!
Several other reviews offered similar criticism. I found this interesting for a number of reasons. First, the app is free so usually iPad owners cut the publisher a bit of slack with a free app. The other is that the iPad version isn't completely without some native iPad navigation features. Finally, many U.S. iPad owners have criticized the Wired app as not going far enough, so to speak. But here the Wired app is held up as a model to follow.

Left: a front page view; Middle: an article with a pop-up window that displays a text-only version of the article selected; Right: an ad! The sponsor of the edition Diesel Fuel for Life.

For the most part, it appears that for now the French prefer the free app model for the iPad. And while many different types of news apps dominate the Top Charts for French iPhone apps, iPad apps are dominated by the major newspapers and magazines.

I suppose many in France would consider the timing of the arrival of the iPad and the World Cup an unfortunate coincidence as their team is one game away from ending the tournament. Mexico cleaned their clocks yesterday, but today they can read the awful news on their new iPads.

I suppose some u.S. soccer fans will be happily reading about the draw the U.S. got today on their iPads, somewhat happier than French fans. But, really, this team is a mess. Still alive, but a mess.

500th post a good time to reflect on the future of TNM

It may not be a nice round number like 100 or 1000, but 500 is not bad either. According to Blogger, this is the 500th post I've written here at Talking New Media. Some bloggers involved with media haven't written 500 posts in the two or three years they've existed, but after less than one-half year I've hit the 500 mark. Unfortunately, unlike Demand Media, Google doesn't pay you by the post.

Talking New Media was launched for a number of reasons, but the biggies are: 1) researching stories for TNM keeps me informed about mobile and tablet publishing, as well as all the other forms of modern media; 2) just do-it-myself, experimenting with the form is the best way to learn about publishing on the fly; 3) see if it goes somewhere, job, business, etc.

In the first five months of TNM traffic numbers consistently grew 25 to 40 percent every single week. The numbers were small, but consistently grew, nonetheless. In the past five weeks it has been more hit-or-miss, starting on Memorial Day week, but the traffic numbers are still growing. Nonetheless, the media world is a small universe compared to say music, film, sports, food, or just about any other topic you can think of. Media news is, after all, just another B2B field like, say, Industrial Paint & Powder (one of the titles I used to publish at Cahners back in the day). I don't feel like 1 million uniques is really in the cards, you know?

So here we are at post number 500 and the question is this: is Talking New Media worth continuing? If comments were a good measure of reader involvement I'd definitely say "no". I get far more comments that I delete before they ever make it onto the site than those I publish (that guy selling cellphone is sure persistent, though). But I notice that most of the B2B media sites get practically no comments, as well. Even the Ning site set up by Folio: is practically dead. (It was a great idea but media people just don't talk to each other much unless it is another conference in a warm weather location where they talk only as a way of wasting time before happy hour.) So I don't take the lack of comments too personally, though I think a business site for media is definitely less likely to get feedback than an editorial site. Reporters and editors are more likely to want to take about things than sales people and publishers. Besides, just about anyone still with a job in media doesn't really want to say what's on their minds -- not in this employment environment.

Then there is advertising. Do you know how hard it is to give away ads? I've offered a few mobile app companies free ads when I first started TNM just so I would have some relevant ads on the site. No use, and probably a bad idea anyway. Start by charging, that's the lesson to be learned.

So the question is wither TNM? I'll make that decision over the next couple of weeks, and even though I know it is probably a waste of time to ask, if you have an opinion on the question let me know -- either in comments, via IM or whatever (see the contact page).

Morning Brief: FCC seeks more authority to regulate broadband services; the ultimate app - a vuvuzela silencer

On what might be called a party-line vote, the FCC voted three to two yesterday to increase its authority to regulate broadband services. The move overturns a previous commission vote that limited the regulatory powers of the FCC in this area.

The vote means that the proposed changes to its regulations would bring broadband into the same regulatory classification as telecommunication services.

All of this is in reaction to a court ruling in April that overturned the commissions approach to regulation of broadband Internet services. The case involved Comcast which was blocking access to users of BitTorrent, the peer-to-peer file sharing software.

Not surprisingly the ISPs reacted negatively to the vote. "This is impossible to justify on either a policy or legal basis, and we remain confident that if the FCC persists in its course—and we truly hope it does not—the courts will surely overturn their action," said Jim Cicconi, AT&T’s Senior Executive Vice President-External and Legislative Affairs, in a statement.

On the other hand Joel Kelsey from the Consumer's Union reacted differently: "The FCC must have the authority to set broadband policy. Broadband is too important to the U.S. economy to go without public policy that expands access and lowers costs."

Skype, which depends on not having cable and telecommunications companies interfering with its services reacted positively, as well: "Skype supports quick action by the FCC and today's vote. Moving forward with a solid legal foundation is critical to promoting investment and consumer choice throughout the Internet ecosystem," said Christopher Libertelli, Skype's senior director of government and regulatory affairs.

Most of Reed's B2B properties in the U.S. are long gone, but the company still has a large portfolio in the U.K. One of its titles, Personnel Today, will stop producing its print product after the June 29 issue, retaining its website. Twelve positions are at risk, according to the company, though four new will be created.

Competing surveys both show pretty much the same thing: tablet sales are set to explode. According to Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps, tablet computer sales should reach 60 million by 2015. The company goes on to recommend moving early on tablet publishing, with Epps saying "So for publishers, you don’t need to be perfect, but there are some advantages to being an early mover,” according to the WaPo.

Another prediction comes from Oliver Wyman, a management consulting firm, which projects that by 2014, 40 million color tablets will be sold. Additionally, they predict that the number of smartphones in circulation will increase to 131 million in the same time frame.

OK, here is a product well worth investing in: Vuvux, a p-lug-in for the AudioHijack Pro software that eliminates (or softens) the sound of those awful vuvuzelas blasting at all the World Cup soccer matches.

Go U.S. -- they play Slovenia this morning and must win to have a chance at advancing to the knock-out stage.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Report holds a clue to why paywalls will fail newspapers

This is a follow-up to the earlier post about the recently released report, The Evolution of News and the Internet. (The full report can be downloaded as a PDF here.)

If you just skimmed the recently released report about newspaper circulation declines released by Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), you might conclude that while newspaper circulation levels are declining the move to online reading may compensate.

But a couple of survey results do not bode well for traditional newspaper publishers:

The real concern however is that a significant proportion of young people are not reading conventional news at all, or irregularly. Research undertaken in the United Kingdom also shows that, although young people demonstrate an apparent ease and familiarity with computers, they rely heavily on search engines, view rather than read and sometimes do not possess the critical skills to assess the information they find on the web.
Young people who consume news in the fashion described above would not have been good print newspaper customers in any era. Ten or twenty years ago, those who were light and infrequent news readers would have not been considered good candidates for subscribing to a newspaper -- why should they be considered prospects now?

But newspapers might actually find that for the first time ever these customers can be reached. Newspaper websites, if properly designed and populated, can reach these readers by providing content that will find these customers through search engines, aggregators, and the like.
In terms of time spent, Internet users report a large increase in reading online newspapers, but most online readership is more ad hoc, irregular and sporadic than print newspaper readership used to be. The way news is consumed is also radically different on line. Online news readers get a variety of news from different sources, allowing them to mix and compile their own personalised information.

If you want to reach these potential customers you need to design products that will reach them. It is probably not possible to try and attract both customer profiles -- the fully engaged news reader, and the hunt and peck news reader.

For many newspaper editors (and publishers) it seems to me that whether they know it or not, they have already made a decision to abandon these (generally) younger readers. I don't blame editors for this decision, any good editor is supposed to know who their target audience is and deliver content appropriately.

But publishers are blow it -- allowing their staffs to create a one-sized fits all product in this era of media fragmentation is a move guaranteed to lead to smaller and smaller audiences. Bragging about higher uniques and pageviews will not mask the fact that bounce rates are higher and engagement is declining.

Further, unless you are the Times or WSJ, the traditional news website might not, in the end, be the best product to create online if your goal is a large audience.

I'm obviously not a big fan of what the majority of newspapers are doing online -- trying to compete with Google by designing their websites more like their print products than what their competition is doing online. Further, I'm not sure most publishers even know the proper questions to ask, let alone the answers.  Are their web products trying to attract web users? or are they trying to replace an old print product? I get a sense that they are trying to do both when that may be impossible. battles Folio: over sale rumors involving the former RBI construction magazine titles

I suppose there is some enjoyment to be had in watching and Folio: battle it out over a rumor published the other day on the Folio: site. The contest revolves around rumors of a possible quick sale for the construction titles formerly owned by RBI.  But in the end, it is the fate of some once-formidable trade titles that is at stake, so any enjoyment is short-lived.

Background: as part of Reed's massive divestiture Building Design+Construction, Custom Builder, Construction Equipment, Housing Giants, Professional Builder, Professional Remodeler and Construction Bulletin were sold off to their former publishers Tony Mancini and Rick Blesi, with a new company formed, MB Media. But the new entity has been rather slow in getting off the ground with, for instance, new websites only just launching. But those new sites are typical trade media-think: simple sites designed to promote print magazines, no news, no content that would drive web traffic.
Just yesterday Folio: reported that Blesi and Mancini were shopping the titles -- even using the word "aggressively" when describing effort.  Today, however, talked to Rick Blesi who told the Crain Communication site that they weren't shopping the titles. “I assure you we have not initiated a single one of the dozens of conversations we have had with suitors, including Cygnus,” Blesi is quoted as saying.

But it sounds more like Folio: is correct. Saying that they did not initiate the contacts is hardly the same as denying that they want to sell them.

(I have a disclosure, of course: I used to work in the construction market -- first at McGraw-Hill's Construction Information Group, and later as publisher of Roads & Bridges at SGC. I also approached a couple of equity companies in a desire to see if I could secure funding so I could approach RBI. But RBI's B2B titles are being treated like lepers by the traditional NYC equity community.)

Relaunching the print titles so that they can rebound and become profitable sounds like the longest of long shots. The other option, of course, is relaunching in hopes of selling them at a profit and then quietly exiting the B2B industry with a fair amount of cash (though my guess is that Reed will end up with the lion's share of the proceeds.)

The third option, which I would have pursued, would be to use the data owned by the titles to aggressively position the titles in the electronic media world. B2B firms, except those associated with tech, have been the slowest segments to adopt mobile and tablet mediums -- and the web efforts in construction really have been poor.

The print products could be continued, I suppose, but their print runs would have to been severely cut back. Some of the RBI properties were clearly moving in this direction: BC+D claimed 22 percent of its circ as digital-only; CE's print circ had fallen to 67K from 80K a decade ago; but Professional Builder was still distributing over 100K print editions as it tried to keep up with Hanley Wood's Builder, which with its dominate position could still claim that 100 percent of its audited circulation was print.

The whole construction segment is up for grabs. With McGraw-Hill losing the AIA contract to Hanley Wood I could see my former employer selling off both Progressive Architecture and the venerable Engineering News-Record. But who would buy them? McGraw-Hill owns a killer URL with, but with their information services of Sweets and Dodge they would not be eager to sell off that address.

Were this the nineties, a NYC PE firm like VSS would jump in and buy out the whole lot of 'em. But most of these properties are pretty stripped down already -- especially in the area of sales, where cutbacks have forced many reps to handle multiple magazines, and publishers to manage multiple titles. Editorially, although I will admit that I haven't paid as close attention during the past few years, my impression was always that the editorial calendars who hard set, with few new ideas and little actual journalism going on. They were, simply, tired.

Ultimately, the fate of many of these books may have been determined by the terms of the sales agreement with RBI. Likely the new owners are not heavily indebted, but will have to share proceeds of any sale with the guys in London. This might give them a chance to start fresh, but unless there are big bucks out there to be spent, going in a completely new direction might be difficult. While it might be possible to print an issue based on ad sales, cutting the print run, if necessary, and keeping things tight, it would be hard to bring in developer and programmers -- the types of positions that publishers need to create today.

So who is right, BtoBOnline or Folio:? Both, in a way. But my bet is that eventually Folio: will be proved correct.

Newspaper circulation declines most in U.S. and U.K.

What conclusions can you make from a recent report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development which show that newspaper circulations have declined most in the United States and the U.K?

The new report found that newspaper circulation fell 30 percent in the U.S. and 25 percent in the U.K, while the other countries recorded the next highest rates of decline were Greece (20%), Italy (18%) and Canada (17%). The report, The Evolution of News and the Internet, found that newspaper circulation declines, while widely occurring, were not universal -- 20 out of 30 countries surveyed recorded declining newspaper circulations, but newspapers seem particularly strong in Ireland, Portugal and Turkey.

One factor that might explain the results would be that the countries facing higher rates of print newspaper declines were more likely to read news online. But the report seems to show that offline viewing increases the likelihood of online viewing.

Here were the reports conclusions concerning online reading:

  • In some OECD countries, more than half of the population read newspapers online (up to 77 per cent in Korea) but at the minimum 20 per cent read newspapers online. The willingness to pay for online news remains low.
  • For the most part reading news online complements other forms of news reading. Most surveys show that active offline newspaper readers tend to read more news online. Countries such as Korea where offline newspaper reading is less popular than online newspaper reading are the exception.
  • While younger age groups are much more active online news readers, it is usually slightly older groups -- 25-34 year-olds – who are most active in most OECD countries.
  • Despite these findings, the share of people who only read online news is likely to grow rapidly with new generations who start using the Internet early in life. The real concern is that a significant proportion of young people are not reading conventional news at all.

Morning Brief: The boss comes calling iPad and money in hand; RIM tablet rumors lifts stock

I can tell you without the slightest bit of doubt that I never worked for someone like Oprah Winfrey -- Boris Karloff, yes.
AdAge is reporting that Winfrey made a visit to the Hearst headquarters yesterday and handed out iPads and checks of $10 grand for every employee of the magazine O, The Oprah Magazine.

By the way, if O staffers want to read their magazine on their new iPads they had better download the Zinio app.

It's only a couple of weeks since the iPad was introduced in Europe but I sense that those across the pond are taking the implications of tablets a tad more seriously -- or maybe its that British accent. In any case. Frost & Sullivan's London office are certainly looking at the issues raised by the device's introduction:
Tablets can also drive new ideas in other industries. For example, the launch of the iPad came with a storm of iPad applications by the main European newspapers: R+ is the iPad application for the Italian newspaper La Repubblica; The Guardian iPad App "Eyewitness" hit 90,000 downloads in just a few hours after the launch; the French Le Figaro has its own app for the iPad. With optimistic comments from editors that a new era of journalism has started, the tablet seems to be the device that enables mobile interactive newspaper distribution without limitations related to screen size. However, the debate on the pricing model remains: free and ad-based versus fee-based.
TNM looked a number of the new apps from European newspapers including Le Figaro's app. The Guardian's iPad app, The Guardian Eyewitness, was the focus of a Photoblogging Friday feature two weeks.

Speaking of tablets . . . Rumors can be good or bad for a stock price, of course. In this case, rumors that Research In Motion Ltd. have a tablet in the works helped their stock rise five percent yesterday. But if the rumors turn out to be as accurate as the talk about Microsoft's Courier tablet we may see that gain disappear, right?

Big sports days ahead: NBA Finals game seven tonight; U.S. World Cup soccer match tomorrow; and the U.S. Open today through Sunday. I'm afraid sports fans will experience withdrawals starting next week when just about all they will have is baseball.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

For Nokia the smartphone market is getting ugly

Just because you design a product, just because you create a prototype, doesn't mean you have to actually release it.
Earlier today Nokia issued an earnings warning and said that the company was falling behind in the smartphone market -- no kidding.

WSJ: Nokia Chief Financial Officer Timo Ihamuotila Wednesday said "the third quarter is expected to remain challenging" as the company goes through a "painful transition" in the smartphone segment.

I don't think Nokia's new X5 model, pictured at right, is quite the answer to Nokia's problems. On the other hand, there has to be some value in producing the world's ugliest cellphone -- maybe it will become a collectors item and be worth a fortune one day.

Going for the Goo (app); classifieds and the tablet

While American newspaper publishers have pretty much given up on classified advertising, international firms are moving ahead with exploiting the new mediums of mobile and tablet. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the real estate apps being launched that take advantage of the iPads large display for showing off homes for sale. Today it is the turn of used cars.
Released on Monday, Gooクルマ情報 for iPad (Japanese characters may not display correctly in all browsers) is a used car app from Proto Corporation. And while my Japanese may be lacking, the translation from the iTunes store description tells me that the app gives the user access to over 300,000 used cars.

Users can search for cars by price, body type, etc. But the app is missing a very important feature: the ability to place your own ad and submit your own car photo.

These classified apps hold tremendous potential and I would bet that quite a number of foreign newspapers publishers jump on the bandwagon. Once a company has acquired the ability to develop their own apps, they can begin creating new apps for their sections such as classified. The price of development is minuscule compared to printing classified pages, and the tie-in with the web would be a natural.


To date, however, not only have the print folk avoided mobile media, most of the online classified companies have, as well., for instance, has nothing for the iPhone or iPad, although their Hong Kong franchise released an iPhone app in December of 2009.

Apple pre-orders top 600,000, company apologizes for system malfunctions preventing some orders

For many people trying to pre-order the new iPhone 4 through Apple's website, the experience was a mess, with either the Apple or AT&T system preventing them from completing the reservation. Nonetheless, Apple was able to announce today that more than 600,000 new iPhones were ordered, the largest single day of business for Apple, according to their website statement.

The company also apologized for the problems their customers encountered trying to complete the transaction.

My own experiences were that the Apple website was often slow and unresponsive, but things did not really bog down until the system tried to interface with AT&T, then it timed out. In the end, I was not able to come close to completing a transaction (no matter, I was not thinking of actually ordering one yesterday anyway).

Today AT&T announced that it was suspending pre-orders of the iPhone 4 so it could full those orders currently in the system. While the phone is scheduled to be released on June 24, those ordering the phone now through Apple are receiving a July 2 date, according to Engadget.

Update: the delivery date for those now ordering new iPhones has moved back to July 14, according to the WSJ.

The World Cup and the media

A short round-up of fun stuff from South Africa:

A couple of rather rude moves by FIFA, the international organization responsible for the World Cup.

Thirty-six female Holland fans were thrown out of their country's game against Denmark at Soccer City after Fifa officials accused them of wearing orange mini-dresses to promote an unlicensed beer brand.

Dutch girls in mini-skirts are definitely a no-no according to FIFA.
Photograph: Andrew Boyers,
courtesy of Action Images

Now that is a low blow, if you ask me. The group were eventually detained for several hours according to agency reports, but no charges were leveled.

According to one source the company behind the "ambush marketing" was the Bavaria brewing company.

North Korea played a respectable game against Brazil, holding the number one rated team scoreless through the first half before eventually surrendering two goals. But the Koreans were able to score one themselves very late in the game to make it two-one at the end.

The team from Brazil were entertaining, as always, and their fans are the most entertaining themselves, bringing joy to any game they attend. But what about the North Korean fans? The reclusive North Korea had 1400 tickets to distribute for the games and word is that they used about one thousand of them to recruit Chinese dancers and musicians to cheer on their side. A few went to carefully recruited North Koreans like Kim Yong Chon, 43, who will be allowed to stay in South Africa only as long as the team does.

NPR did a segment yesterday on social media and the World Cup. You can listen to it here.
NORRIS: Now, I wonder what this is doing to productivity in a lot of workplaces. What have the most popular sites done to prepare for this increase in traffic?

GALLAGA: Well, Twitter, in particular, had a lot of problems last week that were unrelated to the World Cup. They might've been kind of gearing up for it. But they warned their users that this kind of spike in traffic is probably going to cause problems. They're probably going to have some outages. Facebook has fared pretty well, but both sides are doing a lot to just get people talking.

Twitter introduced some hashtags, where if you type in World Cup, it will actually put a little soccer or a team flag on there. So they're definitely trying to get people talking. And Facebook is actually allowing people to comment with live video streams. So they're pairing up - kind of Facebook status updates with those live streams.

In the brave new world of 'content' driven media, originality and making sense is apparently optional

I admit that when I read some of the New Media websites that purport to be the cutting edge of modern journalism, written by 'gurus', supposedly, I just shake my head. Where is this taking us? Aggregation, outright stealing of stories, this may be what these 'leaders' think the future will hold, but readers will have their say, as well.  Aggregation is nothing new, essentially that has been the role of the wire services for years. But in today's media world educated human beings are no longer an essential part of the process.

One site I stumbled upon this morning may be the model of the new journalism. I won't provide links to the site, no reason to drive up their traffic, but here is a sampling of their latest headlines:

Soccer-World-beating North Korea, but in the group opens Unbowed End-North Korea World Cup News

A sequence of more, Westwood Holdings seeks last-Pebble Beach News

iPad offers hope to fight magazines last iPad News

As seems clear, there are no human beings behind the website, just feeds that apparently provide the headline and the copy. If you want to see the site yourself just Google the headlines.

'Google' is partly at fault here, of course. The search giant, for reasons hard to fathom, consider the site a 'news' site despite their lack of human beings creating any stories. Yet many bloggers, this one included, have their traffic severely limited by the fact that Google does not consider their site a 'news site' and so results do not show up prominently in a search.

Another site everyone in American media is familiar with simply steals copy and produces it whole, creating a massively popular media newsletter in the process. Very few complain -- after all, the guy is a regular speaker at industry events and another of those 'gurus' who are driving modern media into a ditch.

At the same time, however, I think there is opportunity in this situation. The market is being flooded with RSS readers, and mobile users are, for now, grabbing the apps by the handful and happily creating their own newspapers and magazines on their iPads and smartphones using these apps. But my guess is that this trend is temporary. Users of these feed readers soon discover that their iPads are filled with the same stories repeated endlessly by the feeds they bring in. The lack of curation, editing, and expert story selection is what users of these readers find missing -- hence the opportunity.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Swedish newspapers take the leap by launching apps

Not much to say about these 13 new iPad apps released by the Swedish newspaper company Helsingborgs Dagblad AB. The company had previously released a free app for their flagship paper, but today 13 more apps appeared in iTunes supporting their other local newspapers.
All of the apps follow a similar pattern: the free download gives the user access to a subscription to the newspaper. Once you have signed up you can download the latest issue for offline reading, landscape and portrait modes, zooming and swiping, and the like.

But the apps are simple PDF readers, in reality, not offering much of a real iPad experience. But local readers in Sweden will no doubt appreciate having content available to them for their tablets.

The company that provides the service, called Netpublicator, promises to add more functionality soon including social network sharing, etc. They are also promising to support Google's Android platform. Of course, that assumes that Google Translate is accurate, right?

Left: After the splash page appears the user is taken to a page containing the basic navigation; Middle: this page manages subscriptions; Right: one of the navigation buttons takes you out of the app and gives the reader access to online multimedia, content that is lacking in the iPad newspapers themselves.

New report throws cold water on those waiting for an advertising rebound this year for magazines

A new report by PricewaterhouseCoopers predicts that advertising will remain weak for the next few years with ad levels still nine percent below 2006 levels in 2014, though growth will be seen soon the report predicts.

"We expect a relatively flat market in aggregate global advertising and consumer/end-user spending in 2010, improved growth in 2011 and a return to mid-single-digit gains during 2014," the report concludes.

For magazine publishers, the news continues to be bad, with PricewaterhouseCoopers predicting that global ad spending will fall an additional 2.7 percent this year, with a flat market in 2011, before rebounding somewhat in the years to follow. The B2B segment can expect small, but consistent declines to continue, according to the report.

The study reinforces the notion that the move to digital is unstoppable and will continue to force media companies to look at the their businesses and the prospects for their print products.

"Digital migration and the changes in consumer behaviour have put extreme pressure on existing business models," the report states. "It has caused the industry to radically rethink its approach to monetising content as it strives to capture new sources of revenue, be it from transactions or from participation with others operating in the evolving digital value chain."

So what exactly has Murdoch bought?

I see that some writers (here and here) think Murdoch's acquisition of Skiff was a brilliant move. I won't necessarily disagree simply because at this point I haven't a clue what the head of News Corp. has actually acquired.

(It seems some are under the mistaken impression that Murdoch has acquired an actual tablet, but the acquisition only involves the platform, not the device.)
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Back in January, when the iPad was still just a rumor -- and still being called the iSlate -- Hearst and others introduced their own idea of what a tablet should be about. The pictures were pretty cool, and since there was nothing out in the market other than Amazon's Kindle, Hearst looked to be part of the cutting edge.

My own experience working at Hearst -- admittedly a long time ago -- made me think something was not quite right, though. This is, after all, the same company that in the early eighties thought converting its Los Angeles daily into a tabloid would be a good idea to attract all those Angelinos who took the subway to work morning (subway? L.A.?). The trial run of the soon to be abandoned tablet ended up being dumped on the street in front of the Herald Examiner office by union drivers who wanted to make sure employees saw what the company had in mind -- man it was ugly.

Now, almost six months after the initial Skiff announcement, we are still waiting to see the first Skiff tablet. That's why I think the headline on this Slate story is better than most of the others I've read: Hearst Abandons Skiff.

"Hearst seems to have thrown in the towel on Skiff," Marion Maneker writes for The Big Money blog for Slate. "Can you blame them, as the world shifts rapidly toward tablets and the apps that drive them? Skiff's black-and-white e-ink screen just doesn't have much firepower next to Apple's show of force. And Journalism Online, run by Gordon Crovitz, a former Dow Jones executive who still has a column with the WSJ, may simply be another way to keep tabs on the competition for a low cost."

Only time will tell whether Hearst got out while it could, or whether Murdoch got a great deal.

Next Issue Media names its CEO; former TiVo exec, Morgan Guenther, will lead media joint venture

The joint venture of Condé Nast, Hearst, Meredith, News Corporation and Time Inc., Next Issue Media, has named Morgan Guenther as Chief Executive Officer.

Next Issue Media was organized to launch a digital storefront and other products to allow the media companies to offer their old media publishing products in the new mobile and tablet media environments. The question will be whether the new ventures efforts will be deemed irrelevant in a digital media world dominated by Apple, Google and other tech companies that are delivering new media devices.

“Next Issue Media is well positioned to create and deliver incremental business opportunities to the magazine and newspaper publishing world,” said the new CEO, Guenther, in a statement. “The potential for value creation across the entire industry ecosystem – including consumers, advertisers, publishers and distributors – is massive. Our task now is to execute on that potential, and I’m excited to be leading the charge here.”

Apple begins taking pre-orders on iPhone4

While Apple claims it is taking pre-orders for its new iPhone, their website is a clogged mess, preventing many buyers from getting their orders in.
I used the site to test it out and found it nearly impossible to get the eligibility form to work without timing out. After a half-dozen attempts I gave up. No loss for Apple since I don't plan on upgrading immediately anyway.

Update: Daring Fireball reports that the problem is on the AT&T side -- gee, what a surprise.

Updates to Morning Brief: BSkyB sets their price; magazine iPad apps from Luxembourg

A couple quick updates to this morning briefs:

BSkyB has named their price, according to the Telegraph. Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. had placed a bid to take majority control of the British satellite television service, bidding 675p a share with its initial bid, raising it to 700p shortly thereafter.

Now the company has issued a statement signed by Nicholas Ferguson, Senior Independent Non-Executive Director, among others, stating that 800p is more like it.

"The Independent Directors, who have been so advised by Morgan Stanley and UBS Investment Bank, have indicated to News Corporation that, based on facts and circumstances today, they would have been prepared to support a proposal if, upon satisfaction of the regulatory pre-conditions, it would deliver value in excess of 800 pence per share," the statement states.

So now Murdoch has his price, will he close the deal?

Bruno Pinto, the developer of the iPad apps for New Media Lux SA contacted me via IM to let me know about their three magazine apps and to give me an update. Pinto said that the apps will evolve over time, adding interactivity, confirming this is just their initial efforts at the medium.

Pinto, who is an independent developer, will also help make the other New Media Lux apps currently available for the iPhone universal, as well.

Looks like Slovakia will beat New Zealand this morning. Unbelievable ending to the match as Winston Reid heads a beautiful volley into the goal at the very end of stoppage time to give the Kiwis a draw.

Morning Brief: News from Europe - Le Monde names a new deadline; News Corp. bids to takeover BSkyB

Two weeks ago the Times reported that Le Monde was seeking an investor/buyer to help stabilize the finances of the newspaper. Now the Financial Times reports (reg. required) that Le Monde has set a new deadline of June 28 to find a buyer. The decision would eliminate the Spanish media group Prisa and existing Le Monde shareholders who had requested a delay until September.

The Le Monde situation has become a bit of a melodrama thanks to the involvement in the process by French President Nicolas Sarkozy who met with the newspaper's executive officer, Éric Fottorino last week, leading to calls of political interference.

“It’s an old tradition in France,” Laurent Dubois, professor at the Paris Political Studies Institute, is quoted by Businessweek as saying. “The establishment has always meddled in the media. The press is part of politics in France. There’s less of a tradition of the independent fifth estate.”

Rupert Murdoch, who already owns a large chunk of British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB), now wants the rest of it, too.

News Corp., which owns 39 perdent of the British satellite television company, has bid to take over the company, but the BSkyB board has rejected the latest offer as inadequate, according to The Telegraph. The News Corp. offer valued the broadcaster at about £12 billion.

The takeover move would mean Murdoch would have come full circle in his ownership of BSkyB. The company was formed as a result of the merger between Sky Television and British Satellite Broadcasting with Murdoch as majority shareholder. Murdoch had founded Sky Television in February 1989, but both Sky and their rivals were bleeding red ink leading to the merger, and in November of 1990 two entities merged.

While Luxembourg may be a small country, that doesn't mean it doesn't have a media market full of publishers wanting to experiment with tablet publishing. One such publisher, New Media Lux SA, has launched three iPad apps today for its media properties. And while the efforts are modest in the extreme, I certainly hope they keep experimenting with the form.

Business Review, Made in Luxe and 352 luxembourg magazine are all three universal apps, and they join the found other apps the company has released that were for the iPhone.
The three new apps are all free to download, which is good since all three are simple flipbooks, essentially PDF versions of the print magazines. I don't know if the publisher simply wanted to make sure they had a presence on Apple's new tablet, or if it was national pride that made them join the parade, but here they are and no one can complain about the price.

Finally, the World Cup is now in full swing, with more than half the clubs completing their first of three first round games. But already players, officials and television viewers are complaining about the noise created by the vuvuzela, a cheap plastic horn that South African soccer fans like to blow during an entire match. The sound creates an unpleasant sound that is not unlike an enormous hive of bees -- only much louder.

Now the Guardian is reporting the BBC is contemplating the possibility of transmitting a "vuvuzela free" version of its match coverage.

But whatever the Beeb does it won't create as much of a fuss as the ITV, the other British broadcaster that shares broadcast rights in the U.K. The ITV has just launched its ITV1 HD channel in April of this year and has been stumbling out of the gates. On Saturday during the England-U.S. match, the channel cut away for a commercial only three minutes into the game. (Soccer games are normally transmitted commercial free during the actual game.) Unfortunately for ITV1 Steven Gerrard of the English side scored an early goal -- only four minutes into the game. The HD channel went from the commercial to a blank screen to finally back to live action in time to show the English players celebrating their early goal.

It got worse of the Brits, of course, when late in the first half Robert Green, the English goalkeeper, let in a soft goal by midfielder Clint Dempsey of the U.S., leveling the score and leading, ultimately, to a draw. It was tough Saturday for the English who expected to win the match.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Starbucks to offer free Wi-Fi in all stores starting July 1; Fall debut for Starbucks Digital Network

Beginning on July Starbucks will begin offering customers free Wi-Fi service through AT&T in all its store locations. Howard Schultz, CEO of the coffee giant, made the announcement today at Wired magazine's Business Conference Disruptive by Design event.
In addition to offering customers free Wi-Fi, Schultz also said the company has plans for a new online service called the Starbucks Digital Network, which debut later this fall. The online service will give customers free access to certain paid website such as

The new service is the creation of a new business unit within Starbucks, Digital Ventures, a partnership with Yahoo! According to a statement by the company, content providers will include, Apple's iTunes, the New York Times, Patch, USA TODAY, and ZAGAT (as well as Yahoo!, of course).

Hearst unloads Skiff platform to News Corp.

News Corp. announced today that it has acquired Skiff, LLC, the e-reader company that had been promoted by the Hearst Corporation -- that is, promoted by Hearst prior to the launch of Apple's iPad.

News Corp. issued a press release that announced its Skiff acquisition, as well as its investment in Steven Brill's Journalism Online.
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“Today’s developments underscore News Corporation’s ongoing commitment to create strong business models that support journalism at a time of great change in our industry,” said Jon Miller, Chief Digital Officer, News Corporation in its press release. “Both Skiff and Journalism Online serve as key building blocks in our strategy to transform the publishing industry and ensure consumers will have continued access to the highest quality journalism.”

Back in early January, Skiff LLC made a splash by unveiling its e-ink ed-reader at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The reader promised portability, an app store, and a flexible display. Now, six months later, not much has come of Skiff.

The acquisition of Skiff apparently will not include the device itself, which will presumably fade into memory. Black & White e-ink readers have become a dime-a-dozen, with the Kindle, Sony Reader and others in the space, while Apple continues to have the only color tablet reader in the market (yes, there are other tablets, but the others are really keyboard-less laptops).

News Corp., therefore, is getting the platform in the deal, another move towards pushing its paid content philosophy. The investment in Journalism Online is consistent with the company's efforts to get paid for content, whether in print, online or on tablets.

The company also named Jon Housman to the newly created post of president of digital journalism initiatives. Housman had previously served as strategic counsel to the company's Digital Media Group.

So who gets the better deal here? Is Hearst now free from the burden of supporting a platform that will be competing with Apple and possibly Google, and so free to strike the kinds of deals necessary in such an environment? Or is Mr. Murdoch about to enter the media distribution business himself, promoting a paid model, more friendly to media corporations than tech companies?

Update: I see that on the news wires this is the number one media story. Is that the result of a slow Monday, or will this really be significant? I would vote for door number one, but I'm open to the second choice.

Apple backs down yet again, will approve 'Ulysses Seen'

Backing down again after receiving bad publicity, Apple has apparently approved the same app it had previously rejected -- a comic version of the James Joyce novel 'Ulysses', called Ulysses "Seen".

The app from Robert Berry is derived from a webcomic version of the novel. But the app was rejected by Apple in another example Apple's new found Puritanism.
“Joyce’s novel is pretty explicit in its language and themes, so much so that in 1932 it won one of the most important court decisions about censorship in American history,” Berry told Robot 6 a week ago.

Prior to the rejection by Apple, Berry had been optimistic. "With Ulysses "Seen" on the iPad I think we've put together a completely unique notion of what a "tablet book" can be, not just a graphic novel or discussion forum, but a different kind of reading experience that people can carry along with them," Berry had said. The comic nudity that is part of the web version, was taken out of the iPad version, but the app was rejected nonetheless.

Now, according to the NYT Media Decoder blog, the app is being resubmitted and, it is assumed, will be available in iTunes quickly.

Tribune Co. bonuses opposed by Federal Trustee and lenders; $43 million plan for managers

The Tribune Co. won't be handing out $43 million in bonuses just yet. Lenders joined the Federal Trustee in opposing the move to give out cash to managers -- $5.7 to top management -- asking the bankruptcy judge to squash the payouts.

"The debtors themselves have proposed a reorganization plan which promises nothing or next-to-nothing for various classes of Tribune creditors," U.S. Trustee Roberta DeAngelis said in papers filed Thursday according to the Chicago Tribune. "Now is not the time for yet another round of bonuses."

The plan to pay out $43 million this year would bring the total payout to $115 million since the Tribune Co. filed for bankruptcy protection.

Rodale looks to bring on in-house mobile developer

In a move that I applaud heartily, Rodale Inc., the publisher of such magazines as Prevention, Men's Health, and Runner's World, is advertising for an iPhone/iPad Developer.
The job describes the role of the new hire as overseeing and growing the brand's applications, as well as working with designers and IT to develop scalable applications.

Rodale has been quick to adopt mobile media applications as a way to expand their brand presence with 19 apps of the iPhone currently in the iTunes app store, and four iPad apps. But the company's iPad app efforts have not been ambitious and have been widely criticized by iPad owners. The problem, like that of many publisher's apps, is that the app itself is free to download, but only leads to an opportunity to buy the magazine at full price.

But even ignoring the price issues, the problem with apps like those offered by Rodale are that they are essentially flipbooks -- PDFs converted for reading on the iPad. Reviewers inside iTunes have been brutal in their judgements, as a result. The Men's Health app, for instance, has 219 ratings, of which 134 are one-star (the lowest possible), while 17 are five-star (friends and family?).

By bringing on an in-house developer Rodale is making a wise investment in the future. A developer will be able to constantly work on stabilizing the new apps, as well as bringing in new capabilities. (The job posting also mentions that Blackberry and Android knowledge will be helpful.)
Good move.

Duluth worries as trade publishers continue to trim staff, outsource production services

Apparently out of ideas on how to grow their businesses to seek ways to trim costs, with production being the one of the usual targets. Last Questex announced it will be outsourcing production on 31 of its trade publications and moving positions off of its payroll and onto the payroll of the Superior Media Solutions (SMS.

The Duluth News Tribune reports that the move will result in 14 positions in Duluth being transferred to SMS, but no employees will lose their jobs the paper reports.

"After six months, they will either be given the ability to work from home or we will find office space for them in Duluth,” the News Tribune repored SMS CEO Bill Walker as saying. “They’re not leaving the area. They will continue to be gainfully employed in the Duluth area.”

This is the second time the paper has had to report on a locally based B2B outsourcing production. On April Fool's Day of this year Advanstar revealed that the company has signed a deal with India-based HCL Technologies to take over production duties at the B2B. That move resulted in the loss of around 100 U.S. positions.

"In this highly competitive media marketplace, we need to focus on the things that we do well, creating a valuable platform for our clients, while handling other functions through partnerships or outsourcing agreements that will provide the economies of scale we need to operate more efficiently," said Chief Executive Officer Joe Loggia at the time in justifying the move.

Questex was spun out of Advanstar five years ago and filed for Chapter 11 in October of last year. At the time of filing the company had liabilities of $321 million and had reported $144 in revenue in the prior year (2008).