Friday, August 13, 2010

Murdoch's motive in creating a tablet newspaper; move is partly defensive in nature, a reaction to RSS readers

News that Rupert Murdoch is interested in creating a tablet newspaper might spur the more cynical to believe that this surely must be proof that the iPad is a bad idea. But no matter what you think of the media world's foremost news peddler, the fact remains that Murdoch doesn't want to see News Corp. left behind.

An iPad newspaper based on content from the New York Post is hardly an appealing prospect, but surely the Fox News crowd has every right to read the news on tablets as anyone else, right? Of course, Apple's Taliban inspired app approval team could put a crimp in Mr. Murdoch's plans -- it will be fun to follow the proceedings.

Coming to a tablet near you (if Apple approves, of course). →

No matter what the merits of Murdoch's enthusiasm for the iPad, there is no question that Murdoch, who is the world's foremost promoter of getting paid for content, sees the rise of RSS readers as a threat to his world view. (Concerning his enthusiasm for the iPad, Murdoch is quoted by The Guardian as saying "I think we're going to see, around the world, hundreds and hundreds of millions of these devices. . . We'll have young people reading newspapers.")

Probably nothing gets under the man's skin more than seeing paid apps that reformat RSS feeds with News Corp. content into attractive looking tablet publications.

According to the L.A. Times, the plan is to run the paper using NY Post resources under the leadership of Post managing editor Jesse Angelo with a staff of reporters and editors of several dozen -- maybe small by newspaper standards, but huge by New Media standards.

Compared to most media start-ups the price to enter the tablet publishing arena is incredibly small. The only advantage one can achieve then would be time. The first mover advantage achieved by the Times and some of the other publications that have launched apps has proved worth the effort. Despite many iPad users criticism of some of the early app efforts, very few brands have felt a downside to their early efforts, and a few have reported very encouraging results.

Additionally,  the New York Times has been very open about its desire to forward with its own new web and tablet projects, as well as their announcement that they will become a mobile media publishing solutions provider. This probably spurred Murdoch to disclose his own plans to investors last week.

Update: Blogger ate the headline! I think I finally have it fixed.

Navel gazing on a Friday morning

Back in June I decided to stop publishing posts to TalkingNewMedia and move on to other projects. But a week into July I couldn't help myself and I posted something new. Then I decided that I would continue posting here but cut back the effort considerably while I began work on "the next big thing", whatever that turns out to be.

This decision was partly based on the nice feedback I received, especially from publishers and developers outside the U.S. I spoke to media pros in Spain, Portugal, Italy, Brazil, Luxembourg and other places that, it turns out, were happy to see that TNM was still alive. Traffic has rebounded a bit from the early summer lull, but TNM will never be an actual media venture since serving the media industry with a news and information service is, well, not worth it.

Looking at the recent traffic reports its fun to see all the international traffic. For reasons I can not explain, Belgium is where TNM gets the second most traffic -- maybe we need to do a TNM meet-up in Brussels?

But the Google maps shows no traffic at all in China and most of Africa, and I can not help but think this says something (though I'll leave that to you to decide).

One thing that has struck me about media journalism is the absolute pettiness of the media outlets that serve this industry. One thing they pretty much all share in common is an unwillingness to link and credit their sources. Every editor and reporter pretends that they have discovered a story for themselves. Give me a break.

Unlike the tech field, where sites routinely link and credit each other, the media field seems allergic to the idea that there are others out there working. I solved this problem early on by creating a small section that grabs headlines from a small list of sites to share with TNM readers. Let's be upfront, I thought, about what is out there.

The newspaper industry was saddened late last year when news hit that E&P would be folding, having failed to find a buyer. I actually posted test posts on the subject back in December before my official ribbon cutting on January 4. (My very first test post was about the first Sports Illustrated tablet demo.)

In January news came that the trade magazine would be rescued. But here we are eight months later and E&P still has its Nielsen era website design intact, a testament to the industry's resistance to change.

(In the area of B2B media, both Folio: and BtoBOnline have created websites that serve their daily e-newsletters instead of web readers -- what's up with that?)

If you read TNM regularly you know that I normally don't point the finger at the trade press that covers our industry. But it gets frustrating being in an industry where its thought-leaders tell publishers "don't develop for the iPad", or don't know a link from a quote. Come on, it's 2010, for crying out loud.

Here is an apology to the folk over at RareWire, the developer of the new Atlantic Monthly iPad app. I spoke yesterday to founder and CTO Matt Angell about his new company and their plans for tablet app development.

Sadly, I learned a tough lesson about what happens when you upgrade your smartphone's OS: some of your apps may stop working. You see I use a great little microphone from Blue called a Mikey. It attaches to the end of your iPhone and delivers great recordings. But for some reason yesterday I recorded 32 minutes of . . . nothing. And since I don't take notes, and since I love including as many direct quotes as possible in my interview posts, it turns out that this was 32 minutes wasted.

Hopefully we can redo the interview, but if not I know that RareWire will be releasing some new media apps very soon and I can use the occasion to give TNM readers a little more background on this new developer of tablet media apps.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

This Verizon-Apple rumor seems to have legs

Ever since the introduction of the iPhone as a product exclusively sold by AT&T (originally Cingular) there have been rumors that Apple would eventually sell the phone through other carriers in the U.S. But no.
This report from Bloomberg back at the end of June, though, seems to be living on as possibly being true: Verizon will get the iPhone in January of next year.

John Gruber of Daring Fireball, the blog about all things Apple, wrote this post concerning what all this means in regards to Apple's overall smartphone strategy.

As far as the media world is concerned, however, greater market share for the iPhone -- or sustained market share -- is important when considering your app development options. I would equate having an obsession with the events in the mobile market to following rumors concerning your print: you hear your print may file chapter 11, this certainly gets your attention and begins a thought process concerning your bill paying, negotiating with another printer, etc.

Nomad Editions will be one of many New Media ventures spurred on by the growth of mobile and tablets

Here come the start-ups, right on cue.  You've maybe heard of the new start-up created by Mark Edmiston, a media banker and former Newsweek exec. His new company, Nomad Editions, which will launch October 15, promises to deliver a weekly magazine designed specifically for mobile devices.

Here is how he sees this working:

Edmiston has only raised $600,000, according to the New York Times (but I don't think capital will be an issue knowing his background), and while Nomad Editions will have a small staff, content will actually be generated by freelancers.  These freelancers will then be paid through a subscription revenue sharing scheme -- think of it as Demand Media for the more talented. "There’s lot of talent out here that’s underemployed or not being fairly paid,” Edmiston told the Times.

Nomad Editions will then use a technology it calls Treesaver (cute, huh?) that will allow the content to be viewed on mobile devices. In reality, this will be simply web-based publishing using HTML5 where the mobile website will sniff out the type of device you are using deliver the appropriately formated content. The media folk may be impressed, but the tech folk will think this is all pretty simple to understand stuff.

The new company has already generated a fair amount of buzz, but the key now will be creating an interesting publication people will want to subscribe to.

Frankly, I think a lot of the ideas have merit and are not that far off from the ideas I have had to create new mobile media products. (There are enough differences, however, that I think my ideas are still better!) But, hey, Edmiston has the money and, therefore, a pretty good chance that he can launch and sustain his efforts.

You can see his ideas for yourself, read a FAQ, download a PDF of the press release, and sign-up for a trial subscription at the new company's website.

Oh, and here is the obligatory YouTube promo video, with enough "wows" included in the audio to give you the same sensation as too much cotton candy:

Some of the reaction to the news from Nomad Editions was hilarious, and had to make Edmiston smile.

One mobile news site wrote the oft-used "saviour" headline. You know what they look like -- "will the iPad be the savior of newspapers?" is a typical one. This one reads "Is mobile the saviour of magazines? Nomad Editions says yes". (I always thought the word was correctly spelled without the "u", but I guess both spellings are correct.)

The New York Observer used a question marked headline, as well: "Former Newsweek President Launches Nomad iPad Magazine, But Is He Totally Lost?" I can't remember if the author answers the question.

Whether Nomad Editions is a good idea or not is for time to tell. But one thing I know is that Nomad Editions will be only one of many other start-ups that will attempt to deliver newspaper or magazine styled content for the new mobile media devices without needing a print product to back it up.

Just as the early pure plays showed old media what could be done online, these start-ups will, combined with the more progressive existing publishers, demonstrate that mobile and tablet publishing has a bright (and eventually profitable) future.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Short takes: Google and DirecTV announce ad partnership; where are the local ads in newspaper apps?

Some thoughts on advertising while waiting for England to score a goal against Hungary -- it could take a while:

Google announced today on its TV Ads Blog that it has formed a partnership with DirecTV where Google will now be able to offer inventory on a selection of television networks available on the satellite television provider.

Buyers of space using the Google TV Ads will now have access to loomberg Television, Centric, Chiller, Current TV, Fit TV, Fox Business, Fuel, G4, Ovation, Sleuth and TV Guide.

"We’re partnering with DIRECTV because of our shared commitment to innovation . . . yada, yads, yads," said Mike Steib, Director of Emerging Platforms. Right. This is happening because the inventory is available, right?

This morning I wrote about the new OC Register iPad app, developed by Handmark. I forget to mention one thing, though, and it has been bothering me all day.

When you open the app up -- and you are a former publisher -- you immediately see the banner ad on the bottom of the page. The ad is for Zagat, one of Handmark's clients. It's an ad that often appears on Handmark developed apps because of their own ad network.

But I just don't understand why the OCR would need its inventory sold by an ad network. I have nothing against ad networks, mind you. This site uses Technorati, not that they are exactly getting me rich, or even sending me checks. But as a regional/local newspaper you would think the ad department at the Register would be eager to offer (or sell) this space immediately. What is going on there? Sell an ad! had a good story online that I should have linked to -- sorry about that. The story talks about how marketers are looking for more data from Apple before committing to Apple's high price points. Kunur Patel wrote the story and I suggest reading it at their site.

Anyone with any experience selling advertising, especially digital, could have seen this one coming a mile away. Apple may be selling branding here, versus lead generation, but only a few clients and agencies are going to let their egos get in the way of their usual ad buying practices.

"So far the results have been strong in terms of traction," Chris Allen, VP-director of video innovations, Starcom USA is quoted by AdAge. "We're meeting audience-delivery estimates, but what we are still lacking is engagement metrics. We definitely need to take it further with third-party tracking."

Read the rest here.

Gannett has announced that it has named Travis Fore vice president of local digital sales for Gannett's U.S. Community Publishing. Fore had previously been senior vice president of sales and service at Network Solutions.

Fore's previous ad experience was as vice president of sales and service at and director of local sales at

Freedom Communication's first tablet application is for the OC Register; Handmark is the the development partner

Freedom Communication has released its first iPad app for one of its newspapers. The app for the OC Register appears to be a direct porting over of their iPhone app, with the same RSS feeds and categories being displayed, but this time for the larger tablet screen.
Back in April Freedom Communications inked a partnership deal with the developer Handmark Inc. Today the media company has 14 iPhone apps for its media properties available. The latest batch, released the same day as the OCR iPad app, are for the Valley Morning StarThe Odessa American, and O A Varsity (an Odessa high school sports site).

The developer, Handmark Inc., currently has over 100 iPhone apps that bear their name as "Seller" in the iTunes app store. In this case, however, Freedom Communications is listed as the seller, meaning that the media company has its own developer account with Apple that would allow them to charge for their app, should they choose. In this case, the OCR app is free to download and does not require either registration nor a subscription.

I suppose that the fact that this is an app that is a variation of the iPhone app justifies, in their minds, launching the app as free. But I certainly would not have advised this strategy.
Unlike mobile apps, tablet apps do pose direct competition to the print product. I would have recommended that the company spend more time designing their first iPad app, and that they charge some sort of fee or subscription for the service. (This still could be done in the future, I suppose.)

As an app, however, the OCR iPad prooduct is clean and well designed -- Handmark apps have proven to be consistent performers. Additionally, some of the news features here are simply more enjoyable on the larger screen, such as the video content.

Back in 2008 when Apple opened up its iPhone to third party development, the NYT news app was a revelation. I truly enjoyed reading the latest news on my phone and understood that the smartphone would develop into a media consumption device.

But 2008 seems a long time ago now. Many of the news apps on my phone have been deleted, with only a few remaining. The reason is simple: reading the news on my phone is a short-term, immediate experience. I glance at a few headline, see if I've missed something and then move on.

Other apps have replace those early news apps: specialty news app for sports scores, for instance. Weather, games, maps -- these my most important mobile apps now.

The New York Times, as well as a select few other media companies, seem to understand where smartphone apps are going. Their specialty apps like The Scoop and Real Estate are probably only the first of many specialty apps they will launch.

AOL provides another example of this trend. AOL currently has 32 apps available for the iPhone, and a handfull for Android. Four of the iPhone apps can be found under News, but the others are scattered in other categories.

The iPad (and future tablets), though, are a whole other matter. Here the experience is more like print. No wonder, then, that the NYT decided not to launch a free iPad app that offered full access to the Times newspaper content. Although it is rumored that the decision by the Times irritated Apple, the decision makes sense looking back. The choice was not popular with iPad owners, however, as a NYT app was certainly one of the things buyers were looking forward to using with their new tablets.
The iPad app is as much a flagship product as the print edition itself. Unless a media outlet's content is head-and-shoulders better than anyone else's, the design and organization of content in a tablet product is vitally important.

I remain impressed with the Financial Times app because it allows for offline reading, video integration, and a more newspaper-like look and feel. The app was released by in mid-May, still the stone age of iPad apps.

The downside of one-size fits all apps for phones and tablets are that the ease of converting content is trumped by the reality that owners of these devices might want something else. Because of this, a few developers such as DoApp are including in their phone apps such elements as location-based weather, traffic through Google Maps, and social networking tools. These add-ons, in the end, may be more important to the end user than the latest headlines. Location-aware couponing and promotions are other phone app features you will see coming soon, as well.

As summer turns to fall, I think the real news in media apps will come from those companies that began their development from scratch, and who have rethought the whole notion of mobile media.

The PDF solution

Nothing gets a reaction out of app developers faster than saying that a recently released app goes "PDF". I inevitably get an e-mail stating that the developer didn't use PDFs in the app.

So let's straighten out what is meant by "going PDF": this is a phrase meant to describe the efforts of the publisher. Going PDF means delivering a finished print product to the vendor who then converts the publication into another format -- a Flash file for a flipbook, or an iPad app for tablet, etc.

The statement "going the PDF route" means, then, that the publisher is not really creating a new product but is letting the developer quickly and easily port over the print product into something else. Of course, the developer often sells the publisher on the ease of the conversion process, the low costs involved, etc.

"Going the PDF route" sounds negative, and it is to a certain extent. The fact that these apps essentially look like a flipbook for the phone or tablet means that very little thought was put into the creation of the new product by the editors and publishers involved -- and that is a shame.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

B2B round-up: the ad numbers are getting close to flat; Cygnus wins new supplement; an editor returns to GIE

The numbers may still be down, but the rate of fall at least looks to be slowing to a crawl.

American Business Media (ABM) released its May advertising numbers (see PDF here) and show that B2B ad pages were down 4.22 percent in May. Although this should appear to be good news, it must be remembered that the ABM reported May 2009 pages down a whopping 31.58 percent versus 2008, a startling number at the time.

And the compound effect shows exactly how badly B2B is suffering. May 2008's report showed a 10.92 percent decline, so the falling page counts this month are on top of two years of bad reports.

For the full year-to-date, pages are down just over seven percent, suggesting continuing moderating declines. Unfortunately, while a couple of ad categories are seeing increases, none are exactly robust. The single best performing category this year has been health care which is up a modest 2.76 percent.

Probably no company has generated more negative news over the past few years than Cygnus Business Media, so it is good to seem to touting some positive news.

Yesterday the B2B media company used PR Newswire to send out word that they had swung a deal with the Concrete Polishing Association of America to produce a quarterly supplement called Polishing Contractor that will be distributed in 30,000 copies of Concrete Contractor and Equipment Today magazines.

It's becoming rarer to hear of a former editor leaving their magazines and entering the industry they served . . . and then return to publishing. But GIE Media announced that Todd Davis is doing just that, returning to the publishing world to become publisher and editorial director of Nursery Management and Production, and editorial director of Greenhouse Management and Production.

Davis' time away from ink and paper was short, however. From 1994 to 2007 Davis was an editor of these same magazines before leaving to join a couple of nurseries. Davis got to miss the huge ad page declines of the past two year, so his timing may be spot on.

Mobile news media app round-up: WaPo releases first iPad app; readers are a dime-a-dozen, even in Europe

Summer is in its last month and as promised the new apps are beginning to come out fast and furious. Here is a quick look at some of the new iPhone and iPad apps (sorry no Android today) that have come recently:
The Washington Post Company has released its first iPad app this morning, in this case for Slate. The online magazine has written quite a bit about Apple's tablet, with Farhad Manjoo alone writing over a half dozen stories directly talking about the iPad or its apps, with a few more mentions in other stories. Then there was Jack Shafer's two stories: Apple wants to own you and The Apple Secrecy Machine. I'm assuming Mr. Shafer's material won't be appearing on a tablet near you, right?

The free app offers layouts in both portfolio and landscape and offers some nice navigation features. The app seems to be a single-sponsored product (Marriott Hotels & Resorts), which is a common way many media firms have decided to create their first tablet apps. (The New York Times iPad app Editor's Choice started out single-sponsored, but now contains two types of ads: a leaderboard along the bottom of the home page, and a display ad with the articles.)

The WaPo have also released an iPhone app for its property The Root. The Henry Louis Gates Jr. edited online magazine gets the usual RSS feed treatment. The app is free to download.

Reader apps. Reader apps. Do we really need more reader apps.

It seems the easiest way for a developer to get into the media space is to create an app that takes the RSS feeds of the online newspapers and reformats them. Then the developer feels justified in charging for the app -- great business model.

Nurullah Beyter has released a couple of reader apps under the brand name Limon. The apps, one for French papers, the other for German papers. The concern I would have, as always, is 'who is this developer?' Now I am all for new people entering the space, don't get me wrong. But a click of the developer website listed in iTunes goes to a dead page -- something all too common with this cheap apps.

The opening for these reader apps is created, of course, by the conservative nature of many newspaper publishers. While publishers sit on the sidelines, developers swoop in and grab their RSS feeds and start to make money in iTunes. I guess I can't blame them -- iPad owners use their devices to read newspapers and magazines, believe it or not.

A growing trend in the mobile app space is political apps. This one is a good example: Referandum (yes, it is spelled correctly), an app designed to explain and promote the September 12th referendum in Turkey.
Here is an explanation of the vote I found online:

A referendum to modify the existing constitution of Turkey. The revisions would make the military more accountable to civilian courts as well as give parliament a say in appointing judges. It would also allow public servants the right to collective agreement and the right to strike, and end immunity from prosecution for 1980 military coup leaders.

iTunes is already filling up with apps from political blog sites such as Drudge, which has literally dozens of unofficial iPhone apps, as well as an official one -- though it is impossible to tell the difference. Apps from politicians running for office is now becoming common.

Need I say it again: those media outlets that can build their own app making capability will be able to use mobile apps as another form of custom publishing.

Finally, rumors are out there (aren't they always?) that HP will be using Android 2.1 in its new tablet to be released . . . who knows when. One of the first stories was posted here.

Frankly I'm skeptical of these stories that originate in some obscure government filing. They are often have an element of truth in them, but they just as often are a snapshot of what a company is thinking of doing months ago. In the case of HP, they have recently purchased Palm, and with it a mobile operating system. That they would not utilize their new asset seems odd. But with all tablet rumors it is best to simply say "I'll believe it when I see it."

Monday, August 9, 2010

Google and Verizon issue joint policy proposal

You can read the entire post on Google's Public Policy Blog. Here are some excerpts:

Today our CEOs will announce a proposal that we hope will make a constructive contribution to the dialogue. Our joint proposal takes the form of a suggested legislative framework for consideration by lawmakers, and is laid out here. Below we discuss the seven key elements:

First, both companies have long been proponents of the FCC’s current wireline broadband openness principles, which ensure that consumers have access to all legal content on the Internet, and can use what applications, services, and devices they choose...

Second, we agree that in addition to these existing principles there should be a new, enforceable prohibition against discriminatory practices. This means that for the first time, wireline broadband providers would not be able to discriminate against or prioritize lawful Internet content, applications or services in a way that causes harm to users or competition...

Third, it’s important that the consumer be fully informed about their Internet experiences...

Fourth, because of the confusion about the FCC’s authority following the Comcast court decision, our proposal spells out the FCC’s role and authority in the broadband space....

Fifth, we want the broadband infrastructure to be a platform for innovation. Therefore, our proposal would allow broadband providers to offer additional, differentiated online services, in addition to the Internet access and video services (such as Verizon's FIOS TV) offered today...

Sixth, we both recognize that wireless broadband is different from the traditional wireline world, in part because the mobile marketplace is more competitive and changing rapidly. In recognition of the still-nascent nature of the wireless broadband marketplace, under this proposal we would not now apply most of the wireline principles to wireless, except for the transparency requirement...
Read the early reactions:
PC World: Google, Verizon Net Neutrality Plan Exempts Wireless
Huffington Post: Google goes "evil"
ComputerWorld: Google-Verizon proposal opens door to the death of net neutrality
Agence France-Presse: Google-Verizon nix 'net neutrality' for wireless

Hijacking your brand; Apple continues to approve "unofficial" news apps that take content from media outlets

A series of news apps appeared in iTunes today that claim to be "unofficial companion" apps that take the RSS feeds of media outlets and repackage them, even going so far as the use the name of the publications whole and without changes.
One of the apps, The Commercial Appeal, calls itself the "unofficial Commercial Appeal website/newspapers companion, created by a Memphian, for Memphians." The actual Scripps Media newspaper, The Commercial Appeal, has had its own iPhone app in iTunes since June 29th, but this app is called CommercialAppeal, leaving the door open for the brand name to be hijacked.

Both apps are $0.99 to download.

The app that uses the Scripps Media newspaper name was developed by Neal Kraus, who also has an app for The Memphis Flyer, an alternative weekly newspaper also in Memphis. Clicking on the links in iTunes that are supposed to take you to support pages, both apps lead you to dead web pages. But Neal Kraus does in fact maintain a website, as you can see (all personal photos).

I contacted the head of digital at The Commercial Appeal who said had "moved this to the proper channels". I also contacted someone at The Memphis Flyer but have not heard back as of yet.

As I have written before, I don't understand Apple's policies concerning media apps. While approving these types of news apps, Apple has rejected apps from award-winning editorial cartoonists because of issues surrounding satire.

Although the rules concerning RSS feeds are sometimes murky, one thing would seem clear, commercial use of an RSS feed (paid app) is not the same as quoting a story and then linking back to the original source.

Digging deeper into iTunes, I see that this new app isn't the only app with The Commercial Appeal name on it that isn't coming directly from the newspaper. Another app is called Commercial Appeal Garage Sales. This one is a free app, however, and comes from Resolute Games LLC which has 21 other iPhone apps in iTunes.

The description says "All the listings are vetted by The Commercial Appeal for publication, and include descriptions and a map so you don't have to type and type to find the sales with the stuff you like." Nice of the paper to do that, huh?

Exact Editions brings out strange mix of periodicals; Dazed & Confused gets the PDF treatment

First a bit of advice for PR people at magazines or app developers: don't say your app "is finally released" -- it makes it sound like things didn't go so well. And maybe they didn't.
The British fashion magazine Dazed & Confused has had their universal app released today by Exact Editions. Like the other apps from Exact Editions, this is really just a flipbook for the iPad/iPhone. The app is free, and there is no charge for the content either. So from that standpoint you get what you pay for -- no enhanced edition, but the advertisers get added exposure and the magazine gets extra marketing. I don't see anything wrong with that as long as the publishers are honest enough to know they really aren't in the tablet publishing business.
This Exact Editions app comes with one nice feature: it uses a Coverflow approach to the page thumbnail navigation. If you don't know what Coverflow is, it is the approach used by Apple inside iTunes to show album covers -- here they call it pageflow.

Like all PDF based apps, the pages take a second to come into focus, a dead give away that this is a converted flipbook. On the bright side, the app automatically downloads the issue, enabling offline reading.

One last thing: I visited the website to check out the differences (if any) between what was there and the iPad app. Scrolling down the page I found the link which -- after a long pause -- took me to the Exact Editions site and the flipbook of the same issue. There was no difference between the two products, though the pages did load quicker online, but this may be because the online version is not as hi-res as the iPad edition.

Update: I realize the headline does not fit the story. The reason for this is that I failed to mention that looking through the iTunes app store, one is struck by the strange collection of apps from Exact Editions. Besides a few periodicals, there are at least five battle story apps such as Iwo Jima 1945. They can be found under Books in iTunes.

Publisher and developer share responsibility for quality of tablet magazines; The Atlantic Monthly appears in iTunes

It's Monday morning and the Zinio site is down for maintenance, pulling dozens of magazines offline and their publishers out of luck.

It is the risk one takes when depending solely on third party vendors for development and maintenance -- something many publishers who use flipbook vendors know only so well. (The Zinio site was down only briefly, and appears up now.)
Publishers who choose to outsource their app development -- that is, most of them -- are stuck between a rock and a hard place, just as they are with their print production, dependent on their abilities of their vendors, while scared to invest in the talent necessary to do the work themselves. Publishers are so used to the ins-and-outs of print production that they rarely sit back and think about all the little things that go wrong with the most traditional of formats: bad inking, pagination and binding, constantly price fluctuations, postal issues, and the like.

Overall third party vendors are getting fairly bad reviews for their work for the iPad. Zinio, for instance, which launched immediately, was rewarded for giving early iPad owners access to content. But the Zinio app still has no search function, is way too dependent on their own website, and is at the mercy of their own publishing partners -- not their fault, of course. As a result, the app already appears outdated and primitive.

For publishers who decide to go with third party developed branded apps, the choice of developer is, of course, crucial. It shouldn't need to be said, but the number of apps in iTunes is not a good guide to who is a good developer.

The Atlantic Monthly's new iPad app hit iTunes this weekend, the second iPad app to appear in iTunes from the developer RareWire, they have no iPhone apps. Who is RareWire? Good question, because their website offers few clues. A "contact us" page was created, but remains blank. A "Who Is" look up only reveals that the company website is registered to a Vancouver, Washington p.o. box.

As a publisher I get nervous when my vendors are invisible and hard to contact.

Which begs the question, why was this app developed? Is the magazine really committed to the tablet platform? Was this a freebie? Who knows? I guess all we can do is look at the app as it appears.

The Atlantic Monthly app costs $4.99 to download, about a buck off the cover price. It's doubtful iPad owners will cheer, however, since the magazine offers a one-year (10 issues) subscription price of $24.50, or $2.45 per issues -- once again iPad owners are paying a premium over print subscribers.

(Frankly, this is the fault of the aggressive circulation strategies publishers use to maintain their rate bases. After all, publishers would prefer to get more from their readers, but generally stick it to their single copy readers rather than their subscribers. Nonetheless, none of these pricing strategies make any sense to me. With distributor costs associated with single-copy, and postal costs associated with mail subscriptions, you would think publishers would be more aggressive with the iPad -- but I think this remains a leftover of "we won't make the same mistake we did with online by giving it away, so we'll charge the maximum".)

What is this? Oh, it is the first page
of a two-page spread ad. 

The first thing one notices with this app is that the portrait mode layouts are the same as the landscape, leading to confusion right out of the gate. The very first two-page spread looks fine in landscape, but makes no sense at all in portrait -- see examples left.

If the reader opens up the app in portrait mode it is difficult to navigate around by swiping because the advertising department did not provide the iPad edition with different ad copy for both portrait and landscape views. For a good example of how this should be handled, look at the Wired app's handling of advertising.

There is a navigation button to be found on the bottom of the page which when pressed opens up a thumbnail page toolbar, though the arrow intrudes on the page when in portrait mode.

The page turning navigation (swiping) is smooth and well done, as is the zoom controls. Once one gets used to navigating around the magazine the reader can become comfortable. Since the advertisers are probably getting the added iPad exposure for free they probably won't be complaining. But art directors (as well as the ad agencies) will not like knowing that their spreads don't really work if the reader stays in portrait mode.

(It gets worse the further you go into the magazine. For instance, the spread on pages 40 and 41 does not align, and this continues to occur on every editorial spread throughout the book.)

The app's handling of video is nice (see below). The problem with the video was that it was podcast quality and seemed like a complete after thought.

Left: an arrows shows the reader this article contains video;
Right: a video window embedded inside the page that allows for full page view.

In the end, this app does not feel like a commitment to the form, but rather a rudimentary first effort, possibly pushed on the publisher by the developer. It is hard to tell if the publisher is seriously committed to the tablet as a publishing form or was talked into this by either the developer or the editors. In either case, it is hard to get too excited about this effort.

One bad sign is the lack of screenshots in the iTunes store -- just one shot of the cover. There is also no link to the developers site with this app. The other app in iTunes from RareWire, for 435 South, does contain a link to the developer's website, so maybe this was a mistake.

A more thoughts on iPad publishing apps after the break.