Friday, July 23, 2010

HP to release Windows version of Slate as enterprise product; WebOS 2.0 version to arrive later

Reading Engadget's report on the HP Slate you would think that the computer manufacturer plans on releasing a Windows version of the Slate as a enterprise product was a sure sign that the tablet was in the Courier category. But let's cut HP some slack here, OK?  (Engadget and others are responded to this story from Fortune magazine.)

Todd Bradley, executive vice president of the personal systems group division at HP, is quoted in Fortune as saying "I think you'll see us with a family of slate products, clearly a Microsoft product in the enterprise and a webOS product broadly-deployed." Translation: we'll launch a Windows version of the Slate, that will make Microsoft happy, but we'll launch a WebOS 2.0 version later, that will make consumers happy.

He is also quoted as saying "Slates are going to be an enormous category, this is just in its infancy."

Bradley is absolutely right. Assuming someone follows through on their promise to launch a tablet, whether it be Android or WebOS 2.0 based, the tablet category will be huge -- and that is a big win for those media executives who have already won their bet that the iPad would prove to be a good platform for publishers.

Nonetheless, there are several stories that have hit the web this morning that seem to imply -- actually, more than imply -- that HP's Slate is vapor ware. But tech reporting has gotten really sensationalistic lately, and very political, as websites take sides in the pro-anti Apple discussions -- many of the tech sites taking both sides in a cynical attempt to attract both types of readers.



Forgotten what the Slate was supposed to look like? This video was posted at the end of March by HP:





I suppose I shouldn't be surprised by the wild stories appearing this summer. I got a hint of this talking to publishers and app vendors in the late Spring. More than a few people told me that they had decided to wait to launch their first iPad efforts in order to live with the tablet a little. But they were now committed to launching tablet products by the end of summer (or early Fall, they sometimes admitted).

BBC Trust says Beeb can continue mobile app efforts

Stating that because much of its content is already available online, the BBC Trust gave the green light for the launch of mobile apps for BBC News, Sport and iPlayer to be launched in the U.K. This decision should mean that free apps from the BBC, currently available in the U.S., will soon be seen in the U.K. version of the iTunes app store.

Commercial media firms in the U.K. had voiced objections to plans by the BBC to launch mobile apps fearing the competition for the government backed broadcaster. The BBC Trust, which now must answer to a Tory led government, appeared to side with the commercial media firms, though this decision concerning mobile applications will loosen restrictions on the BBC in this area.

The BBC Trust had previously commissioned independent research into the app market by Mediatique. That report, which is referred to often in the BBC Trust's statement, can be found here.
Photobucket


Only the BBC's paid apps are currently available in
the U.K. version of the iTunes app store.
 →


Based on that report, the trustees concluded that "BBC Apps were likely have a positive impact on users by providing easier access to online content, but would not provide any new content," a release stated. "In response to industry concerns, the Trust also considered that that there would be some overlap between the BBC Apps and free Apps, but that impacts may not necessarily be large; particularly as BBC content was currently available to mobile users through their phone's web browser, that a wide range of high-quality free Apps are already available and that users may choose to access a range of Apps and online content."

The plans that got the go-ahead today include apps for the iPhone, as well as "reversioned Apps would also be available for the Apple iPad device." The original plans only speak about apps available for the U.K. market through iTunes, as it is assumed this would be the extent of the BBC Trust's concerns.

Currently the BBC Worldwide has three iPad apps available in the iTunes app store, as well as eight iPhone apps. However, in the U.K. version of the iTunes store only the Good Food Healthy Recipes of iPad app is available -- it was released on June 19th. Missing are the two free apps for the iPad, plus free apps for the iPhone.

The BBC Trust estimates that development costs for the BBC's mobile apps would be "under £1 million – which is equivalent to 0.7% of the BBC Online annual budget."

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Flipboard releases update to their social 'magazine' app

Yesterday I did a long -- very long -- post on the Flipboard app. I defended the concept of the app, and drooled at their funding, but also called the app "a bust" because its main feature -- the ability to use your Facebook and Twitter accounts to bring in content -- did not work for many users (though I did say that those that could make it work seemed to be enthusiastic about the app).

In the interest of fairness I thought I should post that the folk behind Flipboard have posted an update to their app (here) which they say provides improvements to login and capacity issues, fixes bugs and crash issues, and fixes an issue with the section buttons.
Photobucket
As I said yesterday, it is ironic that the problem with the app is technical since the company is really a tech company creating a media app, not a media company creating an app. Nonetheless, this was an extremely fast turnaround so they should be applauded for that.

Which brings me to another point: companies that develop their own apps (and are good at it) can respond like this to fixes, as well as to opportunities that arise. These opps would include adding features based on user feedback, adding multimedia through a strategic alliance, etc.

This is why I am somewhat more optimistic about the pure plays in the mobile and tablet publishing field. Just as pure plays "got" the Internet faster than those media companies that reluctantly built their first websites, I think start-ups like Flipboard will probably "get" the iPad's significance quicker than the media companies who just find an easy way to get their print magazines and newspapers on the tablet. We'll see.

More thoughts on the ABC News for iPad app

Some interesting comments in iTunes from an early user of the ABC News for iPad app made me want to write this update -- my original look at the app is here.

The review in iTunes made two interesting comments: first, the user talked about personalizing the news. "I want a way to tell it (the app) what types of news I am and am not interested in seeing . . ."

I think a lot of people directly involved in the press business fail to realize how much customization and personalization is part of the modern media experience. The ability to customize a news app is becoming more and more important.
Photobucket
One way to take advantage of this is to offer the user the ability to choose categories of news from a list. This feature could be used to your advantage when you have lots of content to offer but don't want to clutter up an apps look and feel. Rather than throwing everything at the reader instead let the reader pick and choose. What the developer needs to do then is provide a good looking shell (template) in which the user can add in the content.

The ABC News app does offer categories, but the categories are limited and the content is thin. I think the user felt like the categories may have been limited on purpose. I think they were limited because ABC News really is this thin on content. So why didn't this app take into account all the local news available to them through their affiliates? (I know, I know, that would have been a lot of work. But you have to admit it would have been great to have local news as a choice, right?)

Second, and a very minor point, but an interesting one for me: the reviewer points out that the ABC News app takes up the whole screen, eliminating the (from left to right) WiFi status symbol, the time, and the battery level symbol. Pull out your iPad and take a look (you have an iPad, right?).

At first I wondered it this were true so I opened up the Financial Times app and saw that it took up 99% of the screen but left a thin line at the top that continued to display those three elements. The New York Times app did the same, as did all the other apps I looked at.

Opening up the ABC News app, though, and the app takes up 100% of the screen eliminating that top line with the time, WiFi and battery level information. Strange.

FTC Staff Discussion Draft and Google's response

Yesterday Google responded to the Federal Trade Commission Staff Discussion Draft with highlight potential policy recommendations that would effect newspapers, news aggression and the like. The full report can be found here.

The FTC Staff Discussion discusses two proposals that Google responds to:

1) Allow news organizations to agree jointly to erect pay walls so that consumers must pay for access to online content.

2) Allow news organizations to agree jointly on a mechanism to require news aggregators and others to pay for the use of online content, perhaps through the use of copyright licenses.

Google's response can be found here.

Concerning paywalls, Google is not a fan of the concept.

"Forcing consumers to buy certain content, however – an end result sought by some of the policy proposals recounted in the Discussion Draft – is not only bad policy but it is also bad for the industry itself because it creates a very short-term prospect of additional revenue that has no promise of durability."

Google, in fact, goes after the basic quality of today's newspaper when it writes "In the case of advertising revenues, therefore, the challenge for the industry is to provide a product (online advertising space and audience share) that is of sufficient value to the consumer (the advertiser) that the advertiser is willing to pay for it."

Later: "The large profit margins newspapers enjoyed in the past were built on an artificial scarcity: Limited choice for advertisers as well as readers. With the Internet, that scarcity has been taken away and replaced by abundance. No policy proposal will be able to restore newspaper revenues to what they were before the emergence of online news. It is not a question of analog dollars versus digital dimes, but rather a realistic assessment of how to make money in a world of abundant competitors and consumer choice."

ABC Digital releases second iPad app, this one for the news division; app gets cute with interface

Anyone who needed evidence that iPad owners were hungry for news and publication apps needed only look at the number of tablet owners who eagerly downloaded ABC Digital's first iPad app. The ABC Player has consistently been on the top apps list since its release in May, and though the app has received a fair amount of critical reviews for being buggy, the app has been updated once to add stability.
Photobucket
Yesterday ABC Digital released its second iPad app, this one for the news division. The ABC News for iPad app already has 113 ratings after less than a day (only a small number of people bother to rate apps), most of them very positive.

The app's interface is too cute by half (a strange saying, isn't it?). The app opens to a globe shaped interface that allows users to find stories by swiping and turning the globe. It's cute, it's well designed, it's imaginative, and it's simply a silly gimmick.
Photobucket
On the upper right hand corner is a button that converts the layout to a more traditional web/print look with video content along the right hand side of the screen when the iPad is in landscape mode, along the bottom of the screen when in portrait.

*Update: I forget to add something here about the use of video in the app. The ABC News app uses the usual strategy of opening a new window to display the video. Very few new apps have used the FT's idea of opening a smaller window so that the reader can quickly see the video, and if desired shut the window to continue reading. Here, as in most apps, the video content is treated like would would a movie or TV show. I think this may work for Netflix but is a mistake in an app meant to bring the reader news. End of update.*

The app appears to be well designed and stable -- two things that are probably more important than adding gimmicks -- but suffers from only one thing: the weakness of ABC's news division. Looking at the actual stories here one is struck by how some of the same stories are repeated, as if the news division could not come up with more content. Not surprisingly, the Shirley Sherrod story dominates, with four of the 16 videos on the subject.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Short takes: American media looks in the mirror

This post was supposed to appear hours ago but Blogger seems to be acting up today. In any case, here are three 'short takes' about the media that are progressively more depressing. But, on the bright side, there is an update at the end.

L.A. Times: James Rainey wonders about how many more towns are concealing fat cat salaries for government officials now that the media is cutting back its own reporting capabilities.

A story last week in The Times revealed leaders of the working-class city get paid like a bunch of white-shoe lawyers: City Manager Robert Rizzo makes more than $787,000 a year, Police Chief Randy Adams $457,000 and most of the City Council close to $100,000 each . . .

With newspapers shrinking and new media alternatives slow to step into the void, one has to wonder how many other City Halls conceal Bell-sized sleaze. How many other city officials have scrimped on services to fatten their paychecks? How many have cut lucrative contracts to benefit friends and relatives? Which developers got sweetheart deals for campaign cash?




TampaBay.com: The Feed blog looks at "How ideologically slanted media organizations are hurting America".

This is what happens when ideologically-focused noise machines are treated like real news outlets.

The sad case of Shirley Sherrod -- a black woman whose story of overcoming her own prejudice was perverted into a false example of racism by a media savvy conservative activist -- provides an important lesson for journalists and news consumers, if we're willing to heed it.




Media Matters: Joe Strupp, former senior editor at E&P caught up with Shirley Sherrod and let her do the talking.

Sherrod, 62, said her first reaction was shock that, after a career working for civil rights and as the daughter of a father murdered by racists, she would be seen in such a terrible light.

"To have people say that I was such a racist was unbelievable," she said of the fallout from the video and Fox coverage. "My whole life, if you look into what I have done, my father was murdered in 1965. If you look at all of us, we all hurt with that and we got involved into the movement and channeled our effort into good, instead of hating.

"I am getting hate calls and e-mails at this point. I got one call last night at my house at 12:30 a.m. that said 'you lost your job, good for you' and 'bitch' There are people out there who will believe that I am a racist person, even though the story is getting out there."


Update: The White House spokesman Robert Gibbs has issued an apology to Shirley Sharrod and states that Agriculture Sec. Vilsack will be attempting to get a hold of Sharrod to apologize and discuss "next steps".

In the meantime, what can be said about the state of media in America? This site is about New Media and the business of modern publishing, not content. But as someone who has been a journalist, and has lead editorial departments as a publisher, I can not help but feel saddened by the state of American journalism. This is one of the reasons I feel that those who believe that reporters and editors will lead the media business out of the wilderness it finds itself in now are naive. The fourth estate is in trouble and must get its own house in order before it starts telling others involved in the media business what the future will be.

I continue to be encouraged that there is new blood entering our industry. They may be developers, they may be entrepreneurs, they may be inexperienced, and they may be naive, but they offer the press a new perspective, and most importantly, they are closer to our readers than any reporter at Fox News or MSNBC, or the WaPo or Times, apparently.

Is Flipboard a magazine? Some may have doubts, but readers will be the judge, once Flipboard fixes their app

Using technology to create your own personalized "magazine" is the goal of a new app in the iTunes app store Flipboard. Created by ex-Tellme CEO Mike McCue and former Apple iPhone engineer Evan Doll, Flipboard claims that users that it is the "world's first social magazine" -- clearly taking a lesson from Apple that using words like "first" or "magical" is the essence of creating good hype.
Photobucket
But for an iPad app created by tech noted people it is ironic that the app itself is currently a bust.

The look is sleek and many app makers could certainly learn a thing or two about app navigation, page turning and creation from these guys. Nonetheless, the selling point of Flipboard is that you can add your Facebook and Twitter account to the app to share content -- but the feature currently does not work leading to many complaints from app downloaders. But those who are able to get the app to perform as promised have been enthusiastic.

Flipboard offers readers a great layout and app internals, then lets readers add content from their own Facebook and Twitter accounts, personalizing content and thus the "magazine" itself".

“With over 1 billion messages posted every day, social networks are quickly becoming the primary way people discover and share content on the Web. The result is a huge influx of incoming messages and links people must sort through across multiple web sites just to stay up to date,” Mike McCue, Flipboard╩╝s CEO, said in its release.

Robert Andrews from paidContent says, though, that Flipboard is not a "magazine". "A magazine is published at set intervals and can be finished," Andrews proclaims. Thanks for playing Robert. Next!

PC World's Jared Newman is equally dismissive, proclaiming that the app is "part revolution, part ridiculous" --- though to be fair that may have been the headline writer's view. Newman's beef is that the concept begins to fail "when the social feeds are vapid," stating that "it'll take a skilled user to filter what's really important." (I can hear the laughs from all those aggregation companies now.)



Constantly updated content and personalization may frighten some media writers, but is certainly the future of many tablet publishing projects and Flipboard is attempting to offer one of the first examples of this. What Flipboard doesn't offer (besides a functioning app, of course) is a point-of-view. Instead it wants the user to provide this.

This will be the apps biggest weakness, but here I am not coming from an editorial perspective.

Instead, how can a new tablet magazine that allows readers to personalize the content differentiate itself from other similar apps? What the developers offer is a nice look (and hopefully in the future functioning technology), but the barrier to entry is low because other developers can duplicate the code, other designers can create new and similarly attractive looks, and what will the developers of Flipboard be left with except a me-too app?


PhotobucketPhotobucketPhotobucket
Left: the content pages from Flipboard; Middle: where readers can add personalized content from their own accounts on social networking sites;
Right: where readers are told they can not add content from their own accounts on social networking sites. Oh well.


In a battle of publications the winner will be those that are best edited, and best sold. Old media folk generally understand the first concept but are forgetting about the second one. New media folk seen to understand the first concept and have never heard of, or deny the second.

My guess is that Flipboard will concentrate on building a user base then will worry about monetizing their magazine later through advertising. Although the app is free, the founders of Flipboard are well funded meaning they can work to build an audience first before worrying about a business model. The alternative approach that many others are taking is to charge a minimal amount for the app, say 99 cents or $1.99, then worry about other revenue streams later. The problem with the approach is that iPad owners generally don't like to pay for something then get hit with advertising. But I think publications may be a special exception to this rule, though we will see.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Market comparison show size of future tablet market; Apple reports it sold 3.27 million iPads in Q3

Apple just released its third quarter earnings and it was a blowout again. But really so-what. As a media person I could care less how much money Apple makes and what its revenue is*. The real question is what does their report tell us about the future of mobile media and tablet publishing? A lot, of course.

Apple sold 8.4 million iPhones last quarter. Combined with the growing number of Android phones sold there is no question really about the growth of mobile media on smartphones. But then again the number of nay sayers concerning mobile media is pretty much down to a handful.
Photobucket
Apple also said they sold 3.27 million iPads. Here are the qualifiers on that number: the iPad first launched on April 3rd, and in the U.S. only. Eight weeks later Apple rolled out the tablet to another group of countries, and this Friday a few more will be rolled out.

As a result of the current sales trend, iSuppli has upped its estimates for total 2010 sales of the iPad, stating that it now believes Apple will ship 12.9 million tablets in 2010. (And quite a number of manufacturers have already announced plans to launch tablets -- often Android based -- by Q4, meaning the tablet market for all manufactures will blow past the initial modest estimates.)

By way of a comparison, the total number of 3D televisions that are projected to be sold worldwide (from all manufacturers) this year is 2.5 million units.

Conclusion: those that believed that tablet publishing would be a viable market soon and immediately began their experiments with the format won their bets.

* As a Mac user I'm thrilled to see Apple do well. But Mac sales, while a record, and a 33 percent increase over last year, were only a bit higher than iPad sales, 3.47 million total.

Media professionals try and estimate the impact on web readership of Murdoch's paywall at the Times (UK)

The Guardian says that The Times (U.K.) has lost up to 90 percent of its online readers as a result of the institution of a paywall. A blogger seems to agree but gets a vague contradiction in his comments by a Times representative.

Everyone in media wants to know the impact of Murdoch's new paywall -- especially, I would assume, the folk at the New York Times who are readying their own version of a paywall. But real numbers will be hard to come by now that The Times has withdrawn from ABC auditing of its site.



In an article on The Guardian site, Josh Halliday tries to estimate the effect of the paywall, concluding that fall off has been dramatic. Using metrics from Experian Hitwise Halladay paints a grim picture.
Image and video hosting by TinyPic

The pop-up page web users get when they click on a news story on The Times website.  →


Of course, The Guardian has a dog in this fight as they have consistently touted an open web, believing that trying to monetize traffic through a paywall will end up being counterproductive as traffic would decline leading to a loss of advertising revenue. Back in January Guardian editor Alan Rusbridge spoke at the Annual Hugh Cudlipp Lecture at the London College of Communication and said that The Guardian team had looked at paywall models and were skeptical.

"They've done lots of modeling around at least six different pay wall proposals and they are currently unpersuaded" Rusbridger said at the time. "They're looked at the argument that free digital content cannibalizes print – and they look at the ABC charts showing that our market share of paid-for print sales is growing, not shrinking, despite pushing aggressively ahead on digital. They don't rule anything out. But they don't think it's right for us now."

One blogger also tried to estimate readership of the new Times website by looking at the number of comments now appearing on the site and comes to an equally grim conclusion.  But Tom Whitwell, an assistant editor and head of online at The Times responded in comments saying that the blogger was "*spectacularly* underestimating that number" (emphasis in the original). He did not give specifics, however.

Whitwell had previously told the Journalism.co.uk site that The Times too had looked at various models and had determined a paywall was the way to go. "We came to a fork in the road. We had two paths leading away from us: remaining free or charging for content. Other newspapers were using other models, writing lots of celebrity coverage or filling their pages with hundreds of stories, which was working for them but I'm not sure it was for The Times," Whitwell told Rachel McAthy earlier this month.

Again Whitwell did not give specifics concerning traffic performance since the move but said at the time that the response had been "positive".

Seeing light at the end of the tunnel? For some magazine publishers that light it is a train bearing down fast.

In a strange bit of serendipity I was reading a story yesterday afternoon from Crain's New York Business about Vogue's September issue and its startling 23 percent increase in ad pages in its September issue while at the same time counting the ad pages for a recently published trade publication which is, to say the least, on its last legs. The 529 ad pages to be found in the September issue of Vogue is clearly good news for an industry in desperate need of good news. But the less than five pages of paid advertising pages in this unnamed trade book points out the other side of the publishing industry.
Photobucket
Back in February I predicted that 2010 would show some signs of recovery for the leading magazines in both consumer and trade categories, but that the fruits of the read page rebound would only be felt by the leading magazines in each field. It was a vague and fairly general prediction, but one that I think is proving true (I still can't be 100 percent sure, but it feels right).

While the Crain's story does talk about rate cutting and deal making, I think it is fair to say that Vogue is rebounding nicely this year. While its best issue ever was 727 ad pages in 2007, I would say that most publishers would settle for a 23 percent gain in pages and would lose no sleep billing those 529 pages -- discounts or no discounts.

But the other side of the equation, that many other magazines continue to see declines, remains true as well. On Saturday I received two industry magazines that both were anemic. Both were in the same space, and both showed small declines in ad pages, and neither could afford those declines because they were coming off of 2009 where the declines were not at all small.

Then today I leafed through an electronic flipbook issue of a third monthly in the same field. (It wasn't easy since the flipbook would not work properly using my Chrome browser, but I figured out a work around and began counting the ad pages.)

When there is a house ad on page five you know things are not going well. In the end this book was not only down over 2009 levels but was showing an 80 percent decline over 2008. Yikes.

The reasons a rebound in ad pages will not benefit all publishers is simple: fragmentation of advertising continues at a rapid pace. In 2007, last of the decent years of the last decade, Internet advertising was certainly taking some advertisers away from print. But mobile advertising was practically nonexistent compared to where it is today and where it will go over the next few years.

As a result, while the pie that represents total advertising may indeed be getting a bit bigger in 2010, the share of advertising reserved for print magazines may still shrink. The big guys, the Vogues or Esquires of the consumer world, as well as the number one books in many trade industry categories, should see healthy increases this year, but I would not be surprised to see further small but not insignificant declines continue for some struggling magazines, especially in B2B.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Amazon CEO Bezos says a 'tipping point' has been reached: eBook sales now have passed hardcover sales

In a press released this afternoon Amazon Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos announced that for the first time eBook sales through its Kindle and Kindle software solutions has passed those of its hardcover book sales.

"We've reached a tipping point with the new price of Kindle--the growth rate of Kindle device unit sales has tripled since we lowered the price from $259 to $189," said Bezo. "In addition, even while our hardcover sales continue to grow, the Kindle format has now overtaken the hardcover format. Amazon.com customers now purchase more Kindle books than hardcover books--astonishing when you consider that we've been selling hardcover books for 15 years, and Kindle books for 33 months."
Photobucket
Amazon is reporting accelerating growth in eBooks. "Over the past three months, for every 100 hardcover books Amazon.com has sold, it has sold 143 Kindle books. Over the past month, for every 100 hardcover books Amazon.com has sold, it has sold 180 Kindle books," Amazon reported.

Amazon also said that the publisher Hachette is reporting that James Patterson had sold 1.14 million eBooks to date, and that 867,881 of those were Kindle books -- again no breakout of Kindle books being read on a Kindle itself, or with Kindle software on an iPad.

Content everywhere: a good example from the NYT

My e-mail in-box has produced another great example of the concept of publishing content everywhere.
Photobucket
This e-mail reached me this afternoon: a promotional offer to subscribe to the New York Times through the Barnes & Noble iPad app. Here is yet one more way I could choose to access the NYT -- add it to home delivery of the print edition, retail single copy sales, the NYT's own iPad app, Amazon's iPad Kindle app, the NYT's own iPhone app, the NYT's website . . . am I missing some? No doubt.

For those who are still tablet skeptics, let me remind you that I can now read the New York Times in at least four different ways on my iPad alone -- two currently have paid models, but a third paid model will be unveiled by the Times soon enough, its metered paywall.

Yet try reading any of the top construction magazines on the iPad. At best you can access their dated looking websites, but searching for a mobile or tablet app in the iTunes apps store results in zip.



On Friday Apple will launch the iPad in nine more countries: Austria, Belgium, Hong Kong, Ireland, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand and Singapore. Look for a fresh batch of iPad app from publishers to appear as many publishers overseas appear to be more enthusiastic about the future of their industries than their American cousins. There are already magazines available in iTunes from Luxembourg, right Bruno?

Gannett and Yahoo! ink local advertising partnership: local sales teams will sell web giant's inventory to local clients

Late last week Gannett and Yahoo! announced a new joint venture where the newspaper and broadcast giant would begin selling advertising inventory on the Yahoo! website to Gannett's local clients. The press release where the idea was generated but it is a fairly old concept that is finally getting a tryout.

Gannett's 81 local publications, and its seven broadcast properties, will be involved in the scheme that will allow local Gannett reps to sell onto the national Yahoo! website with ads targeted presumably to local web readers based on their IP address and user demographics.
Photobucket
"Local advertising continues to be an important area of focus for us, and Yahoo! is committed to helping local businesses reach high quality target audiences," said Hilary Schneider, executive vice president, Yahoo! Americas in the press release. "This partnership significantly expands our local offering and gives advertisers the technology and scale they need to reach online consumers."

For Gannett, this is no doubt a tacit admission that its own web strategies are failing to generate sufficient local revenue. Its local sales teams will now be able to offer greater reach by including Yahoo! in any Internet ad package -- the unsaid problem being that many print teams continue to prefer to sell higher priced print instead of low cost we. This will not solve the other major issue confronting newspaper sales teams: poorly trained web sales teams.

The new sales effort will be rolled out over the the next year and presumably some of the training issues (as well as pricing issues) will be worked out over time.



This story is like Groundhog Day for me. In the early nineties I was recruited to a start-up in Chicago that wanted to sell this concept to newspapers across the country. The idea was simple: I would talk to newspaper companies about the idea of selling major web properties to their local customers. A local newspaper could offer sites like Yahoo! or CNN to local merchants, who would then have their ads streamed to locals readers whenever they clicked on the national sites. Our company would use IP address technology to make sure the right ads reached the web browsers.

The most concept was that national web properties like Yahoo! and CNN were still having trouble selling out ad inventory and that these properties would be more than happy to sell us the leftover inventory, and we in turn would offer the inventory to the local papers.

There were two major problems with the concept -- one could be overcome, the other could not.

The first problem was convincing the local papers that they could sell ads onto major web sites and make money at it. But I found that as a former newspaper sales person, manager and publisher myself it was not impossible to show that budgets could be met and profits made in selling highly desirable web advertising to local merchants. While the local newspaper teams were finding it difficult to sell their own websites, the thought that they could offer a site like CNN to a local merchant got them interested. As long as our company provided sales materials and some minimal training, the newspapers were interested.

The second problem killed the company. While I was out there talking to newspapers about the concept and getting them interested I would always hear one concern: "we really can sell the Yahoo! site? Really?" I would then return to ask the president of the start-up whether he really had locked in these national websites. Finally after asking the same question over and over I demanded confirmation: you really have gotten a commitment from these sites, right? The answer ended up being that he wanted the newspapers on board first, then he would approach the websites. In other words, I was wasting my time talking to newspapers since there really was no inventory to sell. And that was that.

Now, seven or eight years on, we have this agreement between Gannett and Yahoo! Will it work? Maybe. But far too many publications have been more and more cost conscious and less and less sales driven. As a result sales teams have shrunk, training cut back. Quotes still need to be made, so sales people go for the higher priced print sales.

But the biggest problem most newspapers face is that they have 20th Century sales structures: they still have retail and classified teams structured the same way they were 20 years ago -- some have simply added a web layer on top of the print layer. Classified departments, which once produced a huge portion of the revenue generated locally have often not evolved into nimble electronic sales departments -- and often because the retail sides have feared encroachment of classified the same way they feared the inside classified teams selling cheap ads to retail customers in the past.

As a result, classified teams have been downsized as the classified ads went online, and the result has been a cycle of lower sales, cutbacks, lower sales, more cut backs.



Can other newspapers duplicate Gannett's move? Yes, in a way. Newspapers should have become website building machines years ago. With the web capabilities that exist at a newspaper, publishers should have been launching sites at a feverish pace, instead of putting all the eggs in one basket -- their main newspaper websites. By creating local and speciality sites, publishers could be not only repurposing newspaper content but also attracting lots of read sales ers who do subscribe to their print products. The amount unused copy that is at the disposal of a newspaper is enormous compared to that available to magazine publishers.

The failure to create local news sites has given rise to new online competitors, both for readers and advertising. These sites believe -- rightly -- that many newspapers have abandoned local coverage of high school sports, clubs, local government. Papers haven't made a decision to cutback this kind of coverage so much as made tough choices with their print editions. Online, many newspapers have actually expanded their local and specialty news holes -- some have brought in aggregation vendors such as Outside.In in order to create new pages of local news.

But the content usually ends up buried inside the main website, making it harder to sell the ad inventory. Additionally, the same teams responsible for selling huge quotes is brought to bare in selling these local news pages. No wonder then that aggregation firms are discovering that newspapers don't make very good ad sales partners, so they end up creating their own teams.

Is it easier to sell a site like Yahoo! or a new specialty site. I believe it is. For one thing, major national sites obviously have cache with those in Internet advertising. But the specialty sites have the same high value, but for a different reason. A new high school sports site may not have name recognition, but it has local credibility -- anyone with a kid in school knows how suddenly anything story that mentions your kid, your football team, your school is of interest.

Traffic numbers for new local or specialty sites are low, of course. But local numbers for Yahoo! won't be high popping either. The key is targeted advertising that gets the local client excited. That is how you sell Internet advertising to local newspaper customers.

MagCloud expands services to the iPad; low-run print prices remain sky high; no way to charge for iPad editions

Back in February HP unveiled its print-on-demand service for magazines called MagCloud, and today the company continues to expand the service by adding iPad support for publishers and a brand new iPad app for readers.
Photobucket
A product of HP Labs, MagCloud rolls on, though at currently pricing levels -- the price to produce a print-on-demand magazine is current 20 cents a page, meaning a modest 32 page magazine would cost $6.40 per copy, of $640 for the first 100 copies -- obviously MagCloud is designed for specialty and extremely low run publications.  But even as print solution for a gallery program, for instance, this appears to be a very expensive way to go. The fact that HP added perfect binding and the ability to print over 300 pages in an edition probably means that the main demand is coming from reprints of special souvenir issues of Life magazine, etc.

Today HP also announced that it had added iPad support to its list of capabilities. HP's MagCloud app is free to download in the iTunes app store and gives readers access to a small list of publications including what will probably be a typical MagCloud project, Wally's Dog Tale, a 12 page magazine produced by Irene Read that is made up of photos of her dog. Read must like the service because she has seven editions available to download -- more than 50 percent of all magazines available in the Children category.



It is hard as a publisher not to laugh at the idea of trying to produce a magazine at any print run when the cost is so high, but there is undoubtedly a market for extremely low run print products for events, coffee tables and the like. Because of this MagCloud may find a market.

But the addition of iPad support actually scares the hell out of me. I can see some media managers already trying to figure out if it will be better to have HP create its PDF flipbooks for the iPad rather than another vendor.

Far too many media execs think cheap and easy is the only way to go when thinking about electronic media. (I think about all the BPA meetings I've attended that are crowded with virtual trade show and flipbook vendors.)

The magazine world continues to split in two: one group of well funded publishers committed to the new formats of mobile and tablet publishing, producing native apps and editions that are head and shoulders ahead of the pack; and the other group still committed to PDFs of their print products, just trying to pretend they get it, and generally willing to outsource everything related to the new forms of publishing.