Saturday, August 28, 2010

Here come the cheap iPad knock-offs; ViewSonic rumored to introduce Android tablet at IFA

Here they come -- I think. The first Android OS-based tablets appear to be on the horizon, though with the track record of many of the manufacturers one still needs to be cautious.
Following up on the Samsung Galaxy Tab news, ViewSonic is now rumored to be ready to introduce its own tablet at IFA 2010 in Berlin next week. This one, too, will supposedly be a seven model running the Android OS, and with 3G, WiFi, Bluetooth and both front and rear facing cameras (this will be standard with all new tablets I'm guessing). It will also boot Windows 7 supposedly, though I haven't a clue why someone would want this (unless they don't really want a tablet but want a keyboardless PC).

The tablet, if real, is certainly a knock-off of the iPad, only thicker and with more buttons that will make it a bit less comfortable to use.

But no matter, the key is that Android-based tablets will soon be on the market, meaning those publishers who have wisely developed for the iPhone and iPad, and have entered the Android phone app market as well will have their efforts rewarded. For everyone else it will be catch-up time.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Is USA Today's staff shake up a good move towards a more modern newsroom, or simply more staff cuts?

Announced as a "radical" overhaul of its newsroom staffing, USA Today said that it would begin to focus more on mobile and tablet publishing, while de-emphasizing its print edition. Oh, and it will eliminate 130 positions effecting both its newsroom and business functions.

USA Today Publisher David Hunke, who was named to the post in April of last year, said that "This gets us ready for our next quarter century," according to the AP report.

Hunke said that the focus will be on producing content for all platforms, including mobile and tablet.

(While this has been reported widely and without comment, the statement makes no sense whatsoever. Were reporters stories previously considered print-only? Was a story developed for one product prevented from being used on another? Of course not.)

Hunke is a Gannett veteran brought to USA Today, the chain's premiere position, after serving as chief executive officer of the Detroit Media Partnership and publisher of the Detroit Free Press. The company press release announcing his promotion to USAT stated that Hunke "is a highly talented, multi-faceted leader, who drives excellence throughout his organization while making the tough business decisions. At the same time, he has the courage to be innovative and take chances," the release quotes Craig Dubow, Gannett chairman, president and chief executive officer.

The new USA Today →
Less reporters, more Glenn Beck?

"Tough decisions" is usually newspaper talk for layoffs, rarely for radical rethinking of the products. But in this case, I do not doubt Hunke's commitment to electronic formats. But it does present a chicken or egg type of questions -- were the layoffs the result of a move away from print, or was the reorganization the result of the layoffs.

Most likely cuts had to be made to control costs and simultaneously there had to be a rethinking of strategy -- continuing the paper's current direction simply was not going to be acceptable. This April, pretty much coinciding with the one year anniversary of getting a new publisher, ABC reported that USAT circ had fallen a dramatic 13.58 percent. Hunke's most famous move in Detroit was to cut back on home delivery, giving you a clue as to whether the solution here would be innovation or slashing. Today we got the slashing.

If, and it is a big if, this move leads to USAT becoming a more aggressive player in mobile and tablet then it might be a good thing. But USAT is already one of the most popular news apps in iTunes and was one of the first to release an app for the iPad -- an app I've had since day one but never reviewed, why? Because while attractive, it is still USA Today -- and that, in the end, is where the paper's problems originate.

Imagine all print publications are gone, all that remains are mobile and online versions of the newspaper. What app do I open up to read the day's news? The New York Times, The Guardian, the Financial Times? or USA Today?

Back in the mid-nineties when publishing a monthly trade magazine for a Chicago area media firm I seemed to be on the road all the time, going to trade shows and seeing customers with my reps and editors. Every morning USA Today would be at my hotel room door, the only paper available most of the time. It was, for all intents and purposes, a monopoly -- much the way Gannett papers are in many towns. To read a Gannett newspaper is to read the Cliffs Notes version of the news.

But in a time when many people can get their news online or through their devices, every paper competes with every other -- location becomes less important for much of the news.

Mobile media and tablet publishing make it possible for almost anyone to publish, but it makes it nearly impossible for a company to sustain a dominate positions. The WSJ continues to show good numbers but it would be a mistake to automatically assume that it is doing everything right. Its unique position as the leader in financial information makes it an automatic read for many.

But if I want to know what is going on in Congress, or in Pakistan, I have a number of good choices -- and I will pick the publication that I think will do the best job. I suppose there will always be a place for someone who can give me a quick read, but is anything quicker that Google News? And that is who USA Today finds itself up against now, in addition to its traditional print competitors. On top of that every RSS reader out there has duplicated the USAT look and feel -- small boxes containing small snippets of news brought in by the wire services, or other newspapers. An RSS reader can look and feel like USA Today and contain some content from the New York Times -- even USAT can't do that.

Gannett owns more than old newspaper titles, so this company is not going away. But look at the corporate website -- it had to be designed in the nineties.  But let's try and not be too cynical, maybe Hunke and crew are serious about their move to mobile and tablet publishing, but not too good at articulating it in a way that doesn't scream reengineering. Right now all the mobile apps inside iTunes are from individual properties, typing "Gannett" into iTunes doesn't bring up an impressive array of apps. When the day comes when it does, then we will know they were serious about their commitment to modernizing.

Local news group Patch mimics web pioneer's model; similar model attempted in B2B, and it didn't end well

Last week AOL-owned Patch announced that it had launched its 100th local news site and said it would expand quickly to reach more than 500 neighborhoods by the end of the year.

"We believe Patch is a revolutionary and efficient approach to producing relevant, quality local journalism at scale, and we couldn't be more excited about expanding into hundreds of new communities across America this year," said Warren Webster, President, Patch Media.
Patch also bragged that it would be "the largest hirer of full-time journalists in the U.S. this year" -- an easy claim to make seeing that most news organizations continue to cut back its news staffs, not grow them.

For those intimately involved with the growth of Internet publishing, there is nothing terribly revolutionary about the Patch approach. I suppose we have now reached a point where a new generation of Internet publishers are entering the scene, and to them everything is new and revolutionary.

Patch's approach is simple enough: each new local news site gets a full time editor, local reps are hired and a regional manager keeps an eye on things. [At least that is the way I understand it based on the recruitment ads popping up on job boards.]  Many of the editors being hired are quite young and inexperienced but they will report into four regionally based editorial directors, who themselves will report into Patch's editor-in-chief Brian Farnham.

Patch's money comes from AOL, of course, who purchased the firm back in June of 2009 and promised to spend a significant amount of money to build out the network of local news sites.

But back to the concept.  The reason I don't consider Patch isn't revolutionary is simply that it has all been done before -- though I will admit that it was done in a different segment, at a different time, and, of course, with different players.

Substitute "B2B" for "local" and you get VerticalNet, a company that was well funded with investor money, went on a major hiring spree, made a lot of noise and then imploded. For many in the B2B media industry, VerticalNet is more a curse word than a name of a real company.

VerticalNet was a company of another era -- the late nineties -- and its approach was to hire editors from industry trade publications, launch an industry site, and then sell the ads with teams representing multiple sites.

Back then the money came from VCs, and the lure to join VerticalNet was the opportunity to get shares of the company and cash out at some point after an IPO. Everyone would be rich (some actually did cash out in time). Because of this VerticalNet attracted some pretty good talent -- experienced editors who knew their industries. The edit teams were certainly thin compared to their print counterparts, but since this was the early days of the web updating a site once or twice a day seemed like a miracle of technology.

The VerticalNet business model depended on sales reps quickly learning to sell these new sites, and for national advertisers to get excited about advertising on the network of industry sites. The ad staffs may have worked hard but the business model -- rapid expansion, IPO, repeat -- made little sense long term.  In 2000 the company reported that it revenue had grown to $112.5 million from $53.5 million the previous year. Unfortunately, the company also reported a loss of $311.3 million.

When VerticalNet finally went public, and its stock price soared to silly heights, the company became a poster child for "irrational exuberance".

Today, Patch's lure to media people is the down economy: come in and get a job, we're the only ones hiring. If the economy were booming, and media companies were hiring, Patch would be seen as the hire of last resort. But the economy is not booming, and media companies continue to downsize, so Patch is taking advantage. Besides, working for a local news site has to be far more attractive than an alternative such as Demand Media, right?

Looking at some of the Patch websites (I won't get too specific here) one sees a mix of veterans and recent grads. (One editor's picture looks like it is from high school -- it's not).

Many of the site biographies try really hard to show that the editor has the credentials to do the job. One rather troubling element of these biographies, though, is the sections on politics and religion, as if this sort of disclosure will give readers assurance that the editor is fully open about their biases. As someone who grew up in media management in California, with its strict employment regulations, this just seems like a bad approach. Credibility as an editor must be earned, not quickly gained through a spiffy bio.

But I'm not posting this story to really talk about the editorial strategy of Patch, I'll leave that for the content sites,

Like VerticalNet, Patch has its own ideas about how to generate revenue, and Patch management appears to be just as convinced they are on the right track as VerticalNet was. Time will tell, of course, and I am wise enough (I believe) to not judge business models too early on.

I like the concept creating independent local news site and building a network, such as those being created by Patch or Main Street Connect. But the reading habits of consumers may prove to be an obstacle.

Back in January I reported on the talk given by Hal Varian, Google's chief economist. Varian said that his data showed that news consumption on Google was a work day activity -- going up during the day, down during the evening, and way down over the weekend. "What that says to me is that reading the news online is a work time activity . . . Most people aren't paid to sit at a computer and read newspapers. They're snatching things throughout the day," Varian said.

This is where mobile media and tablets come in. Most news apps on smartphones are simple RSS readers that have failed to incorporate local merchant information, maps, shopping tools, and the like. Local news and local merchants seems to me to be a match made in heaven.

Additionally, the tablet best reproduces the leisure time experience of reading the (hyper) local paper. One can do it on the weekends without feeling out of touch (where as news generated by the major publishers feels immediate). Certainly one can use the browser on an iPad to access a Patch site, for instance, but there may be room for developers to create local news apps, as well. I hope we see some VC money invested in this area to provide an alternative approach to web-only news products. (Remember, you can't have content everywhere if you are either print-only, or web-only.)

Patch and the other local news ventures are not creating a revolution -- despite their PR -- but it they are filling a real need. VerticalNet, which was founded in 1995 and really did lead a revolution, grew fast and burnt out fast. Sadly, today B2B media companies are some of the most backward on the web, and almost nonexistent in mobile media.

The newspaper industry, in contrast, is firmly committed to web publishing, and many of the nation's leading papers are also leading efforts to experiment with mobile and tablets, as well. If these new local news businesses can find a way to succeed at being a pure play that would be a real revolution. Otherwise, they would be wise to look a diversifying their media offerings rather than depending on the web alone.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

More short takes: Glamour magazine's October issue hits the streets, literally; ABCi shows off its mobile audit report

The Placer Herald reports that the October issue of Glamour is available -- all over Interstate 80 in Rocklin, California -- thanks to an accident involving two big rigs. Both drivers were uninjured, though the magazines appear a bit abused.

Lauren Gibbs of the local paper wrote the story and took the photographs, though she failed to mention the cover story of the issue. Newspaper people!

The ABCi showed off its new standalone mobile audit report today.

The report allows publishers to report on their audiences by mobile device type, by day and day part, by audience access points such as mobile apps, mobile browsers, and e-readers/tablets, as well as the traditional page views and unique users.

ABCi is working with both Verve Wireless and Handmark on the project.

More fun from PCWorld. Today the PC magazine's website has two stories that seem to say the opposite thing.

There's this one from Barbara Hernandez who reports that research firm iSuppli says there will be "no iPad killer coming until 2012" -- or that's the headline anyway.

Then we have this one from Ian Paul which says there will be a "flood" of new e-readers coming soon.

Of course, the two stories are not necessarily contradictory, I suppose. While the Hernandez story talks about hardware makers fighting Apple's iPad, the Paul story is really talking about devices that would compete more with the Kindle.

Nonetheless, it is interesting to see the stories the ol' PC magazine thinks are important -- everything is about mobile media, apps, tablets, e-readers, hardly anything about traditional computers.

Short takes: tech media updates

Netflix released an update to its very popular mobile apps of iOS today in iTunes. The updated app now supports iPhones and iPod touch products.
In my household this is big news. You see the other day I finally bought the cord necessary to connect my iPad to the flatscreen in the family room allowing my youngest to view her YouTube videos and Netflix Internet streamed movies on the big screen. She was thrilled. Now she'll be able to watch use those same apps to watch videos through her iPhone (as well as watching directly on her phone). (It looks like the app is limited to watching on the iPhone only, not through video-out to a big screen -- we'll see if this changes.)

The point for media: another move towards content everywhere. Build an app using the iOS (or soon Android) and be able to have content available on phones, tablets, televisions -- a publisher now has access to many devices when it develops mobile media products.

The reaction and ratings are a good lesson for developers: the number of five-star reviews far outnumber the number of one-star review -- but there are still one star-reviews from users who think the new app is buggy. The reality is that many users do not reboot their phones at all and hence new apps tend to crash occasionally. But any app that has five times the number of five-star reviews to one-star reviews is a huge success.

Apple has announced that it will hold an event next week, September 1. It is expected that the company will introduce a new iPod touch (it's amazing how many media folk want to capitalize the word "touch") that will have a front-facing camera, new iTunes TV rentals, and a new iOS-based Apple TV product (priced at $99 supposedly).

While Apple is currently underplaying its TV products, the new iPod could push forward the company's FaceTime video chat platform, as well as be another push towards non-carrier phone calling (see Google phone story below).

The one thing not expected to be unveiled, and the one thing I'm most eager to see, is the updated iOS for the iPad. Currently iPhone users have limited multi-tasking and folders for apps -- both things are missing from the iPad right now. It looks like these features, and possibly some surprise features, will have to wait for a different update later in the fall.

The AP's Rachel Metz has a nice review of the Dell Streak.

Reading the review one is struck by the decisions that some of these competitors to Apple seem to make. For instance, despite is bulk -- it has a five inch screen -- Dell is selling the device as a phone. Metz writes: "The Streak's enormity is inescapable. It's a little less than 6 inches long and 3 inches across, so it looked mammoth in my petite hands. I felt like a little kid holding her father's smart phone."
The problem is that the product, according to the reviewer, doesn't seem like a complete product. For instance, the Dell Streak comes with an older version of Android, which makes zero sense to me. It also comes with a front-facing camera but the camera is promoted for videos, not video chat. It is also sold through AT&T at a price point of $299 (the 16GB model of the iPhone is priced at $199).

Google adds free outgoing phone calls to Gmail service; relying on ad models, Google drives the price down to $0

Late yesterday Google pulled a little surprise by rather quietly adding Google Voice services to its Gmail product. Now users of Gmail can make outgoing calls within the U.S. and Canada for free -- even to landlines -- and to international numbers for an additional fee.
The new service was introduced without the usual big special event and has led to speculation about Google's ultimate motivation. Some think the move is a direct attack on Skype, the hugely popular (especially in Europe) service that offers free Skype to Skype phone calls, but charges for calls to landlines. The new service is also strong competition for long distance carriers. A call to a landline in France, for instance, is only two cents per minute.

The service is easy enough to use: Gmail subscribers download a software package and once they have restarted their browser they sign into their Gmail accounts and will find that they can no make calls directly from the dialogue window (see above right).

If you are a Google Voice users, another free service, a call from your computer will show your Google Voice phone number when received on the other side of the call.

This move is another step towards services that are able to drive the price down to zero.

This is an area publishers must pay attention to. While there is increasing talk of the need to drive revenue through subscription models, the fact remains that new digital technologies -- and that old one, the Internet -- have driven prices for some services, including news and information, down to zero.

(Although it must be added that many, too many B2B media firms have degraded the quality of their content themselves that it is hard to say if the price of industry information is zero, or whether it is just true that the price of the information they provide is without value. How much, for instance, is a reader willing to spend for a service that essentially edits press releases for easy consumption?)

While many media commentators remain convinced that the new model for media is a return to subscription pricing, Google seems very content to continue to pursue their advertising strategies. As the world's foremost advocate for advertising, Google has been able to prove that users don't mind the introduction of ads into their services so long as the services themselves remain free.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Two weeks vacation . . . this morning

The French get eighty weeks vacation, so something like that, so I'm off this morning running errands. Back late this afternoon. Talk among yourselves.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Samsung posts sneak peak video of Android based tablet, to be formally unveiled September 2 at IFA show in Berlin

Finally, a new tablet that doesn't appear to just be more vapor ware. Samsung today posted a video that teases the release of a new Android tablet that promises to do for tablet publishing what Android phones have done for smartphones -- expand the market to non-Apple product consumers.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab will feature a seven inch screen (versus the iPad's 9.7 inch screen), will run Android 2.2, and will offer Flash support and video calling.

The new tablet is expected to be unveiled at IFA, a consumer electronics show in Berlin, on September 2.

The question, of course, is will it be released fairly quickly after its debut, or will it another much hyped, never launched tablet?

Just as many people say people who buy Apple products will buy anything from the company, there is a built up demand for an Android based alternative to the iPad. Publishers who have developed for both Apple's iOS and Google's Android platform will certainly feel their efforts justified once new Android tablets are released.

Although I do not like the smaller screen size -- not as good for newspaper and magazine content -- Apple has left a huge opportunity for competitors when it comes to other specs. For instance, features such as a front facing camera for video chat, HDMI out for video, SD card or USB ports, and built-in printing capabilities, these are the major spec complaints about the iPad.

Here is the sneak peak video from Samsung:

Poynter unveils prototype of new website, invites your comments; new site to use off-the-shelf WordPress theme

The director of Poynter Online, Julie Moos, posted a story that links to the organization's new prototype website and invites reader comments and input. The new site is scheduled to debut in November, the 35th anniversary of Poynter.

Moos reveals that the new site will use WordPress, and that the theme, designed by Chris Bavota. His Magazine Premium theme, the one being considered by Poynter will set you back $39.97 if you want to copy Poynter.

Earlier this year I interviewed Laura Fisher who helped design the Ann Arbor Chronicle website using WordPress was originally written for the website but was crossed posted to TNM here.

The key to using a WordPress theme (and I suppose it applies to Blogger, as well) is the ability to make custom changes to the template and to update the look and feel of the site periodically. If you can do this, small to medium publishers may find that using an open source solution can bring new flexibility to their websites (as well as cost savings).

I look forward to taking a peak at the Poynter site as they progress.

Short takes: iPad case keyboard; replica editions and Google ads; building a case for mobile & tablet advertising

This was a nice catch by AppleInsider:
Since Bluetooth keyboards must broadcast their presence in order to be recognized, the devices must file with the FCC. This is where new devices often get discovered for the first time. One such device is a good looking iPad case with built in Bluetooth keyboard.

You can read more here.

Speaking of AppleInsider: the site often breaks interesting news about Apple and their mobile products, which is why I link to it. In comparison, MacRumors grabs news from elsewhere, then prevents others from adding to the information or linking to their own sites that contain any additional news.

I ran afoul of MacRumors a few months ago when I linked back to TNM a few times with reviews of media apps. One of the moderators over there then proceeded to ban me -- a first! I suppose this should be a badge of honor -- that guy was definitely evil, probably a newer member of the team because my own experience over there were mostly positive. In any case, my advice would be bookmark AppleInsider and leave MacRumors to the Tea Party crown running the place.

paidContent spoke to the CEO co-founder of Exact Editions yesterday and reported on his views about Google Ads his company's flipbook editions.

According to the story, Adam Hodgkin, the co-founder of Exact Editions, says that publishers should charge for digital subscriptions rather than go with an ad model.

“But it would be fair to say that our experience is that magazines that charge will make much more from selling digital subs than they will from running ads in the margin of ‘open’ pages. Like two or three orders of magnitude more," Hodgkin is quoted in the story.

Well, rarely have I heard a better argument against replica editions. What the CEO has said ehre is that these kinds of products do not engage the reader and therefore, can not drive response to advertising. Thank you.

But I don't think this is exactly what Hodgkin was saying. After all, what is the business model of these replica edition makers? Cheap and easy Flash (and increasingly HTML5) editions, sold to publishers who are not very enthusiastic about electronic publishing to begin with, don't believe in the long term success changes of e-publishing, and don't want their ad sales teams wasting time selling low cost ads.
Here is a little exercise for you to do: open up your iPad (if you don't own an iPad you can stop here -- but then again, why are you reading TNM?) and look at the advertising in the People magazine iPad app edition. Now I have to say that I do not read People, ever. But look at those ads, see the ways the reader can interact with them, respond to them. Now compare that to either a Google ad or an ad in a replica edition of a magazine. If you are lucky the replica edition ad will have a live link in it -- most do not -- that at least will put it on a level playing field with the Google ad.

But there is no real comparison. The iPad will be better both for branding and for direct response. I have no data to back up that claim, so you can disagree all you want. But once tablets get more traction we'll start seeing a ton of data on ad response levels -- maybe not from Apple, but certainly from the agencies buying space.

[Edited to properly identify Adam Hodgkin's relationship to Exact Editions.]

The problem of advertising within mobile media products for small consumer and B2B publishers is a serious issue. What pricing models really work when readership is initially zero and then grows over time.

But this issue is no different from what happened when the web first beckoned many publishers. It is almost gospel that it was a mistake to give away web ads early on as it lowered the value of Internet advertising long term.

But that is not the way I remember it -- I was there in the trenches. The way I remember it is that agencies demanded the advertising be part of print ad schedules as 'added-value". The choice, then was to go out and hard sell the web advertising, risking your print schedules, or else give in to the agencies.

So why did we end up giving in? Because in the end we knew that in order to actually sell the true value of the web we needed to know what that value was. And we didn't.

We didn't know because, of the most part, those put in charge of the web were there for reasons quite separate from their abilities to manage the web -- often politics, connections, nepotism, you name it.

Sadly, at many publishing companies the electronic publishing side of the business still lacks professionalism and an honest-to-goodness dedicated team. But past practice aside, publishers need to understand that building an advertising model for mobile and tablet products will require transparent reporting, level-headed expectations, and honesty.

That is why the whole question of tablets or mobile media "saving" newspapers or magazines is totally absurd. Right now we don't even know if many of these products can break even. Most of us involved believe that they can, in fact, be very profitable. But one needs to build the models first and then implement them in a professional manner. Taking the easy way out, say through creating replica editions is no way to test out the platforms.

Tribune Company starting to get it; entertainment app shows potential benefits of in-house development

This morning Tribune Interactive released their first non-media property iPhone app since the rather buggy Mobile Zodiac app, released during the early days of iPhone app development. LAT Star Walk is a paid app that gives out-of-towners a tour of the Hollywood Walk of Fame -- it will cost you $2.99 to download.
The app immediately brought a smile to my face: it was good to see the company branching out from their rather stale RSS readers apps. Will this be the first of many localized consumer apps?

* * *

When I looked at the L.A. Times iPhone app when it was released back in June I was already getting tired of the format. These RSS reader apps are, for the most part, unimaginative. They are simple apps that repurpose web content for distribution on smartphones. A few add interactive features like weather and traffic (though most don't) and none seem to have been developed with the cooperation of the advertising departments.

As someone who served as a classified advertising manager in the industry, I am always amazed how far down the food chain the classified folks have fallen. I suppose I should be glad that I was a CAM back in the days when classified advertising revenue paid the bills.
But what has been most discouraging to see is that newspapers seldom do a decent job of promoting and marketing their modest moves into mobile media. That is why it was also nice to see that The Tribune Company appears to be supporting these early efforts. A link for the iPhone app is built right into the L.A. Times and Chicago Tribune website navigation bars, and can be found on some (but not all) of the radio websites, as well). Today the Trib has a promotional spot on the home page, as well.

(Disclosure: I used to compete against the Times when I was with Hearst in Los Angeles.)

The new Chicago Tribune app, a paid one, is still an RSS reader, however -- completely a product of the newsroom and the app development team. The potential of local shopping, attractions, entertainment and more are completely missing. (They even left out a sports link in the main navigation tool -- it is under "Sections", but come on, this is Chicago! At this time of year you would think they would have a dedicated Bears area.)

And where is the mobile app for RedEye, the only Tribune product read by anyone under the age of 50? (OK, that was snarky.) I would get the app developers in a small conference room with the RedEye team and grill them on what they would like to see in an app specifically designed for their readership. That could be fun -- I'd like an invitation to that meeting.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Apple and Google want your TV - continued

Their Apple TV has been one of the company's few bombs, but now Apple appears ready to try to go after the TV market again, this time with a less powerful product, but one that has a much better chance at success.

Now more rumors are floating out there that Apple will introduce a new tv box that will run iOS and hence can run the apps previously built for the iPhone and iPad, as well as any new ones developers want to create.
This is basically the same plan as Google's, but with Apple still ahead of Android in the number of apps -- particularly paid apps -- Apple has a very good chance to succeed. Also, and maybe most importantly, Apple can move quickly because they should already have a product ready to go -- the iPad, sort of.

By creating a new box that is essentially a striped down iPad, Apple will have its killer TV product. Imagine an iPad without the screen, with an HTML out, and no battery. There you go, a device that will run iOS and all those apps, send a video signal to your TV, has WiFi for content downloading and transferring (using such apps as AirVideo), and doesn't been a battery because it will be tied to entertainment center.

Of course, all this is yet more rumors, including the ones about the device costing $99 and being released some time in September.  We'll see soon, right?

But for publishers who have dawdled, the number of bets against mobile and tablets are adding up, and those making those bets look more and more like dinosaurs.  Publishers can continue to listen to these same gurus, and attend their conferences, but the world is moving on -- and at an increasingly quick pace, apparently.

Of course, in the end, all this emphasis on the TV has everything to do with advertising, and who will be able to bite into the giant pie that is television advertising. Google and Apple want in. Apple may have an advantage creating an attractive hardware device that runs apps, but Google has the more advertising sales oriented corporate culture. Apple will have to change its thinking in this area of succeed, and Google will have to improve its hardware track record to get in the game.

ShopKick iPhone app shows the potential of reward programs tied to merchants; most local media apps currently lack shopping tools, stick to news content

An app that got quite a bit of press last week was ShopKick, a shopping rewards app that claims to offer discounts at several major retails, as well as a rewards points scheme.
USA Today wrote a fluff piece last week that, as usual, did not actually include the author trying out the app for themselves. Sadly, this is pretty much to norm for mobile media reporting. Whether any of these reporters actually own a smartphone or know how to create a screenshot is always a question lurking in the back of my mind.

I didn't write about the app for the simple reason that the app really only worked New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, with Chicago promised within the week. This weekend then was my first opportunity to fire up ShopKick for myself.
The app currently works with Best Buy, Macy's, American Eagle, Sports Authority and Simon shopping malls, so off to Best Buy I went.

The free app is easy enough to understand: fire up the app, create an account and begin earning points for visiting the stores that are currently part of the program. The concept is easy to understand, but the success of the scheme is completely reliant on the developer selling more retailers on the idea. Additionally, the app won't work, of course, if it isn't on.

Ah, and there is the rub: if the app isn't on you simply can not earn points or get discounts. It is the achilles heal of all rewards programs -- if the user fails to make a habit of using the program on an on-going then eventually the program is forgotten.

For me, though, the interesting thing here is that developers are seeing huge opportunities in local shopping applications -- unlike local newspapers who continue to take the easy way out with their mobile apps by sticking with RSS feeds and the occasional traffic map. Driving readers into local stores was always the main sales point when selling ad space. As ADVO and local shoppers began to offer local merchants traffic driving alternatives to display space, newspaper ad teams began to back off direct response promises. Mobile media is precisely where the local ad teams, if working with their mobile developers, could gain an edge.

The one thought in the back of my mind is this: would ShopKick be open to partnering with the local papers, integrating their services into local media apps?

Here is the obligatory video demo:

The advertising disconnect

Near the end of a short post today at The Wrap which discussed the announced departure of Caroline Little from Guardian America a sentence stood out that forced me to reread it again and again.

The story explained that the advertising environment had hit the properties run by Little hard and that the staffing level had fallen to as close to zero as you would want to consider. Then, in what could have been a throw away sentence, the story speculates on Little's successor:

Little said Guardian had not chosen a successor, but were likely to choose someone with more advertising experience.

I found this startling: did Little not have advertising experience? what exactly was the background of someone who had previously been Chief Executive Officer of Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive?

Little's resume is certainly impressive: graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Wesleyan University with a degree in English; received a J.D., with honors, from New York University School of Law in 1986; as General Counsel for Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive and Deputy General Counsel for U.S. News & World Report; then named Chief Executive Officer of Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive.

It used to be that it was hard to get promoted in the media business if you didn't come from the advertising side. I used to hear many journalists complain that their products were completely dominated by the ad folk, journalists simply couldn't get promoted into leadership positions outside of the newsroom.

But now there are dozens of media conferences created on the future of media that do not even include ad people, as if the future of media will be an ad-free zone. (The same seems to be true for mobile media, as well: Digiday Daily's John Gaffney swooned last week over the mobile media rants of American Media CEO Kevin Hyson -- these guys don't even do mobile media, why should I care what he has to say?!)

If the media world wants to get serious about digital and the future of the media business it will have to understand that there is no such things as "build it and they will come" -- someone has to go out and sell it. To do this you will need to build world-class publishing teams -- and world-class publishing teams include revenue generators, not just content creators. Isn't this obvious?