Friday, November 12, 2010

US Postal Service posts $8.5 billion loss; fourth straight year of losses; is it time to stick it to publishers again?

For the fourth straight year the U.S. Postal Service has posted net losses. This last fiscal year the net loss totalled $8.5 billion.

Blaming its losses on e-mail and competition from FedEx, UPS and other delivery services, the Postal Service said the economy has hit the agency particularly hard. In response the USPS has proposed cutting Saturday delivery service and hiking rates.

"We will continue our relentless efforts to innovate and improve efficiency. However, the need for changes to legislation, regulations and labor contracts has never been more obvious," Joe Corbett, the agency's chief financial officer, said in a statement. The agency has cut more than $9 billion in costs in the last two years Corbett reported.

Publishers are not in least sympathetic to the plight of the USPS, having had rates raised regularly. “They should be making the hard business decisions and not raising rates,” said Jerry Cerasale, a spokesman for the Affordable Mail Alliance early this summer. Smaller publishers have been particularly hurt by USPS policies, often at the expense of mass mailers.

Both sides of the paywall argument defend their positions in Monoco; James Murdoch advocates for tablet editions

When Murdoch talks, everyone listens, even when it is James Murdoch, Rupert's son. And so all the media news sites are quoting the talk given this morning by James Murdoch, chairman and chief executive of News Corporation, at the Monaco Media Forum.

"If you're going to monetize something, you should probably not give it away for free," Murdoch was quoted as saying by AdWeek.

“You cannot start developing pricing models [for online content] until you have a retail price . . . We are transforming the business of digital journalism at News International."

But so far the results his company are producing at The Times (UK) don't really add up -- at least not yet. Murdoch claimed this morning that The Times now had 105,000 paying customers, but this may include both duplication and single sales. Word is that less than half this number are recurring subscribers. But who knows, like Amazon, the numbers coming out of News Corp. are a little short on detail.

Further, the whole 'content has to be paid' theory begins to fall down the minute you start examining those who are actually making money on the web -- think "Google".

But News Corp. is definitely becoming tablet publishing's biggest advocate. "We go to the iTunes store because it's frictionless. They charge a percentage but the guy on the newsstand and the newsagent charge a percentage, and they don't even merchandise it properly," Reuters reported Murdoch as saying at the Monaco Media Forum.

Murdoch knows the downside, though, but this apparently will not deter the company. "The problem with the apps is that they are much more directly cannibalistic of the print products than the website. People interact with it much more like they do with the traditional product," Murdoch is quoted by Reuters as saying.

The thinking here sounds familiar to me: adopt digital solutions to shrink print production costs. For those free digital products like flipbooks and other replica editions the end result is simply fragmentation. But because News Corp. is betting that their customers will actually pay for access the results could be different -- assuming they are right.

Eric Hippeau, the chief executive of The Huffington Post, begs to differ. "We will never charge our users for content. We would lose engagement with a valuable audience," he is quoted by AdWeek as saying.

“Everyone who has tried to charge in the news category has had a terrible experience. It doesn’t work. News wants to be free.”

To me, this sounds as dogmatic as saying content must be paid. It is simply two sides of the same coin. Both can be right some of the time, and wrong some of the time.

Ultimately, readers will pay for content that they deem financially worth paying for -- the WSJ and Financial Times seem to fit into this category. But paywalls for general news? The track record is not conclusive, but we'll know more about its chances of success after the NYT institutes its metered paywall next year, and Murdoch's Times as a few more months of performance behind it.

B2B publishers take their New Media struggles to the iPad; flipbooks now being converted into iPad apps

No publishing industry is as backwards as B2B. It pains me to say that, having spent so much of my career in the industry. Trade publishers were led kicking and screaming onto the web, and now they are among the last to begin creating products for mobile devices and the iPad.
B2B publisher have a very different business model than consumer magazine publishers, of course. Most B2B publications are controlled circulation magazines, mostly dependent on print advertising to drive profits, with everything else considered an expense line -- editorial, circulation and production. Yes, a few B2B's can charge for subscriptions, magazines like ENR, AdAge and others. But not surprisingly, we are not seeing these paid B2Bs rushing to launch iPhone or iPad apps, there are too many issues yet to be resolved. (Let's ignore the events side of the business for the purposes of this discussion.)

The controlled circulation magazines, though, are starting to show up in iTunes and most are coming from the same vendors that supplied these publishers with digital flipbooks.

Ah, flipbooks. What can I say about flipbooks that I haven't said before? Flipbook vendors love to sell these Flash-driven replica editions to publishers. They are cheap to produce, cheap to deliver, and offer publishers what? (And the vendors always e-mail me to to protest the word "cheap".)

These flipbooks were originally designed to appear on the magazine's website, the idea being that it would extend the brand, attract new readers, and give advertisers further reach. Later, the idea was that these Flash versions of the magazine could be supplemented with interactive advertising and additional content. With rare exceptions this did not happen.

The other proclaimed benefit to flipbooks is that it will convert readers from print to digital, thus saving production dollars. This, in fact, may be happening to a degree. But I would argue that reader involvement with these products is minimal and the result is reduced advertising performance (I'd love to see evidence that flipbook ads generate the same number of leads as their print counterparts.)

Instead, the flipbook has become just another expense line -- something B2B publishers are familiar with.

Now comes the iPad and flipbook vendors are rushing to supply their clients with another digital solution: convert print magazines into free iPhone and iPad apps. One of the leading digital publishing vendors, Texterity, now has 57 iPad apps in iTunes and are releasing new ones at a fast pace.

Before explaining why I think these new iPad apps are a dead-end, let's look at a typical new iPad app for a B2B magazine.

Greenhouse Management & Production is published by GIE Media. GIE Media produces good magazines -- its Lawn & Landscape is a leader in the field -- but its websites are clunky, a bit outdated, and certainly not industry leading. Editorially, their magazines are pretty darn good, though, but their New Media efforts...

GMP has had an iPad app for a while now, and Texterity is also providing their client with Android versions, as well. All the bases are covered.

But let's face it, ever try and read a replica edition on your phone? You better really, really want to read that issue to struggle that hard to read the text. Replica editions make no sense on mobile phones, sorry. Even newspapers, often criticized for being the most backwards when it comes to New Media, understand that using RSS feeds make more sense.
So why aren't these apps RSS readers? Two reasons: one, most B2B publishers are not producing quality editorial online, reserving their original copy for their print editions and stuffing their websites with press releases; and two, their digital production vendors are not app developers, they are flipbook vendors, and that is what they are going to give you.

But what about these iPad versions? Well, at least they can be read.

Unfortunately, I just don't understand the thinking behind their creation. The GMP app opens to this page at right. Why is this here? What value does it bring to the reader? Why not just open on the cover and go from there?
What follows is typical replica edition -- well done, not at all buggy, a few links added in -- but otherwise an exact copy of the print edition. In portrait the app makes sense. Turn it to landscape, though, and the app returns to la-la land. The pages shrink down so that two pages are revealed. You might think this makes sense because that is the way readers read a print edition. But are print edition pages 4" X 6"? No. But they are here, so once again the reader is forced to make adjustments to read the page.

When the New York Times released the first newspaper iPad app they wisely chose to consider each page as separate -- there is one screen, so one screen equals one page, whether in portrait or landscape. A replica edition can not do this because the dimensions are wrong. The app then is forced into the format of another platform -- print.

There are two major reasons why these new B2B apps are doomed to fail.

The first reason is a recurring theme: the tablet is not the same as print. Repeat it over and over until it sinks in.

Unfortunately, this seems to be an issue that crosses over into other mediums as well -- B2B executives don't seem to understand that . . . the web is not print, mobile media is not the web, tablet publishing is not the same as all of the above. You simply can't treat every medium as a variation of print publishing. Each new platform has to be taken as a separate product venture. Porting over your print product to the web, to smartphones, to tablets is a dead-end -- it is the lazy man's solution to a very complex problem.

But without a doubt the other reason these types of apps are a problem is that they are counter to the whole business model of most controlled circulation magazines.

Publishers (and sales reps) know that one of the most important things a magazine has to sell is its readership. Publishers used to spend a fortune (and many still do) to make sure 90 percent or more of their readers are "direct request", that those readers were "qualified", and that those readers received, opened, and read that issue every month. GMP, for instance, has a BPA audited circulation of 20,278, best in the industry. It also shows that 86.7 percent of its readership has been qualified within one year.

So how "controlled" is an app that is free to download inside the iTunes App Store? Who are these people who are reading the issues? What value are they to the advertisers?

In the end, I doubt most publishers are taking these early iPad apps very seriously. Once you get over the initial rush at seeing your magazine on an iPad the reality will sink in that you've created a replica edition that few will see, and none will pay you for.

But you will get that bill from your vendor each month. Enjoy.

Friday morning short takes: no iTunes update means no sign of iOS update; Disunion, is it encouraging disunion?

Good morning:

The long awaited OS update for the iPad appears to be still a few days off after Thursday sped by without an update to Apple's iTunes software. iTunes software will need to be updated to accomodate the addition of AirPlay which will be included in the mobile OS update.

To recap: iOS 4.2 is the free update for iPad owners (as well as iPhone owners) which will bring multitasking, folders, AirPlay and other a slew of refinements to Apple's tablet. It will also unify all the iOS devices under one version of the OS.

Developers have been busy updating their app, though. I had over 20 apps that had updates yesterday, and a half dozen this morning.

Update: The Telegraph is reporting that it has heard that the update is being delayed until November 24. "The iOS 4.2 software update had been expected today, but Apple has delayed it release until Nov 24, a reliable source has told the Telegraph," the paper is reporting.

The 24th is the day before Thanksgiving, so I am very skeptical about this. But the key will still be the iTunes update -- I think iPad owners should be able to download the new iOS update around one day after iTunes is updated.

Have you been reading the New York Times's recurring feature on the Civil War, Disunion? It is very well done, but what has really interested me are the comments following the article. Rather do they actually talk about events 150 years ago. Instead, they usually reflect on the current state of the union.

If NYT readers are any indication, secession appears to be on the minds of a lot of people today, and very few would object to a formal division of the country -- as difficult and improbable as they would be.

I've seen no recent polls that ask the delicate question: would you be in favor of breaking up the country? The only polling on the question I've seen was by Research 2000 done for DailyKos. That firm was later fired by the blog site after a bit of controversy.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Factory Design Labs releases promo app for Audi A8

Factory Design Labs, the interactive ad agency for Audi of America, has released an iPad app that promotes the Audi A8. This is the second app released by the agency, the first app was for its client The North Face.
TNM likes to look at automotive apps because they often have the kinds of budgets necessary to show off the capabilities of the tablet platform. The first iPad app for an auto company was for Volkswagen. The Volkswagen Das app, coincidentally, was updated yesterday to bring in new features and content.

The VW app was of interest because it was patterned after the company's customer magazine. This app for Audi, though, is more a direct sales appeal to potential customers. The app, of course, is free to download.

The bad news here, though, is that the agency has used all the bells and whistles and has ended up creating a monster app weighing in at 611 MB. If you're not seriously interested in buying one of these luxury vehicles you might be tempted to delete the app to save storage space. Nonetheless, this is still a fun and well designed iPad app -- one that I will be showing off (just before deleting).

Audi also has an iPad app available for its German customer magazine. The magazine has gotten some good reviews in the German App Store, and ironically, one of the five-star reviews compliments the magazine for its modest size -- 84 MB.

NYT to add e-books to its best seller lists early next year

The New York Times announced yesterday that they will add a ranking for e-book sales as part of their best seller lists starting early next year.

“We’ve had our eye on e-book sales since e-books began,” said Janet Elder, the editor of news surveys and election analysis for The Times. “It was clear that e-books were taking a greater and greater share of total sales, and we wanted to be able to tell our readers which titles were selling and how they fit together with print sales.”

“To give the fullest and most accurate possible snapshot of what books are being read at a given moment you have to include as many different formats as possible, and e-books have really grown, there’s no question about it,” said Sam Tanenhaus, editor of the Book Review.

The Times currently has 14 book lists including hardcover and paperback.

One developer's app approval tale; newspapers should get inspired by the app ideas of independent developers

The Economy for iPad is the kind of app that should have been released by a media company. The app gathers up the latest financial information about housing, employment, manufacturing and other topics and displays it in a simple to use tablet application.
Developed by a self-described "bootstrapped startup company based in Seattle", Cascade Software Corporation, the new $2.99 has grabbed a bit of attention because of the developer's interesting experiences trying to get his app approved by Apple.

Ram Arumugam submitted his app to Apple and learned that it had been rejected because it used a non-public API in order to resolve a  problem making the iPad's keyboard disappear after the user was done typing. This use of private code is a no-no with Apple.

"Apple’s review team did a great job in following up with me (email and phone calls) and we discussed the matter in detail," Arumugam wrote on the Cascade Software website. "However, I couldn’t find out the approximate timeframe within which the app-review-board might make their Yes/No decision on the appeal. The appeal seemed to present a difficult problem."

So Arumugam e-mailed Apple CEO Steve Jobs, and as Jobs sometimes does, he responded back to Arumugam -- this time with a call.

"A couple of hours after I sent the email, I was at a noisy soccer (for kids) arena when I heard my iPhone ring. The caller-id, the caller saying “Ram, this is Steve” and that he was calling from Apple did suggest that it could really be Steve Jobs," Arumugam said.

In the end, Jobs was firm in explaining the company's position, and the developer was forced to resubmit he app without the unauthorized code. Cute story.

My interest in the app, though, is both as a consumer and as a media person. What strikes me about this app is that it does something that any entrepreneurial publishing company could have done: it takes information that is publicly available and packages it together in a new and useful way.

When I look at newspaper tablet editions that simply bring in the latest content from RSS feeds I am frustrated that the newspaper digital people are so unimaginative. Newspaper readers used to get full stock tables, box scores and standings. Much of this information has been eliminated from the print products because of the cost of print production. Why not use this for your tablet editions?

Morning Brief: People in the news; Next issue Media announces intention to launch Android digital storefront

Comings and goings:

A. H. Belo Corporation announced this morning that Douglas G. Carlston, resigned from the board of directors. Carlston, who had served as a Class I Director of the Company since December 2007, was to have his term expire at the company's annual meeting of shareholders in 2012.

Joyce Parente is moving from Men's Heath, where she was associate publisher of marketing, to Rolling Stone, where she will hold the same position.

No surprise, but it still sucks: is cutting staff. About a year after the merger with Bloomberg, the former McGraw-Hill title will be shedding staff including editors Phil Mintz and Will Andrews. Good luck guys.

Speaking of newspaper layoffs, The Herald (Everett, Washington), citing "flagging advertising revenue" has laid off ten employees and reduced the work hours of another five. “It starts with a difficult economy,” said Allen Funk, president and publisher of The Daily Herald. “The economy is forcing a lot of advertisers to cut back.”

In a sign of the declining value of winning a Pulitzer Prize, the The Journal News in the Lower Hudson Valley (N.Y.) has laid off cartoonist Matt Davies. Davies won his award in 2004. According to the Washington Post's Michael Cavna, this isn't the first time the Gannett paper has laid off its award-winning cartoonist -- it did it just last year before reversing its decision. One would think that two times will be enough.

In an interesting move, Peter Kafka from the WSJ is reporting that Next Issue Media said that they will be opening a digital magazine storefront early next year, but that the initial version will only be available for the Android platform.

While everyone, including paidContent thinks this is a move being made because "Apple holds too many cards in the sales relationship, the reality is that we already know what the tablet market will look like early next year: a few new Android tablets struggling to take off, and Apple's iPad already well established with over 20 million units sold.

One last thing to consider: there are those that announce products, and those that deliver products. This was an announcement -- almost as good as vaporware. And though I have no Next Issue Media will be creating a digital storefront, I think we are still at the announcement phase. Meaning this was more a shot across Apple's bow than a real voiced preference for the Android platform. Expect all this to get worked out by the Spring.

Apple released its Mac OS update yesterday as rumored, but its update for iTunes went missing. Both updates are crucial before the company can release its long anticipated iOS update that will bring multitasking, folders and AirPlay to the iPad.

One element that went missing was AirPrint which seems to be running into legal troubles.

If an update to iTunes is released today then we are probably on schedule to have an iOS update on Friday -- otherwise, it would arrive next week.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Retweets: Samsung Galaxy Tab review; Gartner's mobile phone sales report; Forrester's holiday sales predictions

I don't plan on buying an Android tablet (at least, not right away), but definitely think it is important for the media world that a good Android tablet or two get launched within the next six months or so. Why? Because smart people are already investing in iOS and Android apps, and the really smart people are developing tablet editions. A robust Android tab market would a major step forward for tablet publishing.

Some people think the Samsung Galaxy Tab is the first legitimate Android tab out there. My concerns are two-fold, and they are major: one, with a seven inch screen magazine and newspaper tablet editions might feel like they are being read on a blown up phone; two, priced at $399 with a data contract, and $599 without, I don't think Samsung has priced this thing so that they can effectively compete with the iPad.
OK, those are my thoughts. Today Matt Buchanan reviewed the Samsung Galaxy Tab for Gizmodo and, well, we'll let him do the talking:

"This thing is just a mess. It's like a tablet drunkenly hooked up with a phone, and then took the fetus swimming in a Superfund cleanup site. " Ouch.

But here is the important part: "It's not big enough. Web browsing doesn't have greater fidelity. I don't get more out of Twitter. A magazine app would be cramped." (My emphasis.)

Of course, readers are accusing Buchanan of being an Apple fanboy -- and, who knows, maybe he is. But let's just see what the buyers out there think. If Samsung sells millions of these, instead of thousands, then publishers will have to pay attention. But, in the end, whether this tab is a hit or not may not be that important. Everyone knows Android is here to stay, as is iOS, so developing for both makes tons of sense. As for Windows Phone 7 and the BlackBerry . . . time will tell.

Gartner's latest report on mobile phone sales shows no slowdown in the incredible growth of the industry. Total sales grew 35 percent in the just concluded third quarter with smartphone sales almost doubling.

All the major manufacturers grew their business except LG. "LG's strengths in stylish midtier devices are becoming less relevant in mature markets that are moving increasingly toward smartphones, and this is translating directly into market share," the report said.

In the meantime, Apple jumped ahead of BlackBerry maker Research in Motion, to fourth place among mobile manufacturers. Apple sold over 13 million iPhones last quarter, despite "its ongoing supply constraints".

The WSJ yesterday wrote about the holiday shopping forecast from Forrester Research. Forrester predicts that holiday sales will increase only 2.3 percent, while online sales will increase 16 percent.

I don't know about you, but I almost never hear a forecast for decreasing holiday sales. Just as predictable as the coming of the annual holiday shopping season are forecasts that this year will once again be a banner year.

Well, Forrester Research is probably right about an increase this year, after all, as bad as last year was overall, at least Black Friday sales were up 1.1 percent (2008 sales were down 3.4 percent). As for their online forecast, that one is another 'duh' based on past performance.

Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia releases special edition for the iPad; Adobe Air produced app weighs in at 573MB

Martha Stewart Living released a special edition of its magazine for the iPad: Martha Stewart Living Magazine for iPad. But while the results will definitely please fans of Martha Stewart, the dangers of using Adobe tools for tablet magazine production are beginning to be seen with this enormous app.
Weighing in at 573 MB in size, this $3.99 tablet edition takes several minutes to download on a very fast broadband connection.

The new app from MSLO is the second to bear the name of Martha Stewart. The first app, Martha Stewart Makes Cookies, was a special project by Callaway Digital Arts. Although the $7.99 app could be found under "Lifestyle" in the iTunes App Store, it was really a book project.

While I'm not a big Martha Stewart fan, I think those that are will love this special edition -- the size of the download notwithstanding. The question going forward is whether the publishing staff will stick to special editions or will begin creating tablet editions from their regularly scheduled print editions. (See video on TNM's YouTube Channel.)

The new tablet edition of Martha Stewart Living was created with Adobe's cross-platform publishing tools that bring both huge benefits and one major drawback to the iPad app. The drawback, as mentioned above, is the size of the app. At 573 MB, this magazine would fill up a blank CD. Much of the reason the magazine is so heavy is the video content and animation found within the app.

By having the all the content within the app, the publisher allows the reader to be able to access 100 percent of the content while not contented to the Internet. It is a self-contained product. That's great, at least until one begins to see that one can only download a handful of these apps before one's iPad starts running out of storage space (thank goodness I decided to buy an iPad with more storage).

Additionally, some iPad owners are complaining about slow back-up times. Background: when one plugs in their iPad to their computer the iPad immediately begins to back-up the device and also syncs content with iTunes. The more media one has downloaded the more time the process takes. Some users have said their back-ups are taking outrageous amounts of time and are canceling the process -- not that big a deal as long as their iPads don't break down.

Before getting into what is right about this app -- and there is a lot to like here -- let's finish with the negatives.

The Table of Contents here is great: a scrollable page that shows the depth of content here. But beware: scrolling is hard to do without accidentally touching story -- where upon the reader goes flying off to somewhere.

The app does not feature pinch to zoom, but the typography seems to take this into account. At no point did I find it difficult to read the text, but others might find some of the captions and other text a bit small.

So for giving up half of a gig of storage space, what does the reader get for $3.99? Well, a lot of content, that's for sure. But also a lot of great tablet publishing features.

First, the app allows the reader to access both portrait and landscape formats. Ads, such as this one (left) for Estée Lauder are designed for both modes and contains its own video which pulls up a new window rather than being embedded.

There is the obligatory "How-To Guide" -- something that is definitely worth including.
I mentioned the Table of Contents page above, and how difficult it is to use because the page is "touchy". But in landscape mode there is plenty of space along the edges to scroll. In the future, I would think the designers might make sure there is space in both modes to scroll efficiently without accidental touches.

The navigation, TOC aside, is really good. One can swipe to the next story, use a navigation bar on the bottom which appears when the reader taps the screen, or use a drop down navigation tool along the left.

But as a magazine publisher, what really gets me excited, of course, are the ads. Here is a list of the advertisers in this special edition, all of whom have video in their ads: Estée Lauder, Tiffany & Co., FedEx, Citibank, Curél, Nestlé, Macy's, Perricone MD, UPS, Marvin Windows, Cost Plus, and Robert Mondavi. Did these advertisers pay for their space? Probably not directly as it would remains pretty much impossible to properly price these editions without a bit of a track record. But it was good work on the part of the advertising folk to secure the proper artwork and multimedia content needed to make this iPad app work.

Finally, I should also point out the great animation found in one of the house ads. Looking at the enormous size of the staff at the end of the tablet edition one can see that MSL has the resources necessary to create a tablet edition such as this. Next we'll see if they can do this on a regular basis.

Morning Brief: iOS update to come as early as this Friday; a new career path for publishers -- school chancellor

Rumor has it that Apple will be releasing its much anticipated (at least by iPad owners) update to its iOS. IOS 4.2 will see its release on Friday, according to several sources including MacStories.
The OS update will bring multitasking and folders to the iPad, and AirPrint and AirPlay to all iOS devices. AirPrint will allow device owners to print wirelessly from their iPhones and iPads to wireless printers; AirPlay allows users to steam content to other iOS devices and the new AppleTV. This morning, however, MacStories posted a story that said references to AirPrint have been taken out of Read Me files associated with PCs and the OS leading them to conclude that the printing service may be delayed. (iOS users still have other options for wireless printing, though. For instance, Epson has its own app for printing, and third party developers have apps available in the iTunes App Store for wireless printing.)

In preparation for the big iOS update, Apple will be updating both its main Mac OS X and iTunes software -- possibly as early as today.

While most of the media world is scratching their heads over Mayor Bloomberg's decision to hire Hearst magazine executive Cathie Black to run NYC schools (they're friends, right?), the other side of the story is the move by the guy leaving, Joel Klein, over to News Corp.

Using Ezra Klein's column space, Dana Goldstein has an interesting read on the whole affair.

Reading stories on tech sites about smartphones is a lot like watching cable news programs on politics -- its all about process and who is winning and losing. It's all become cheerleading and prediction stories.

As someone who authors this site, I know that one of the problems with looking at the new mobile and tablet devices is that it is practically impossible to be intimately knowledgable about the various devices with their different OS's. TNM is decidedly in the camp of Apple -- there is no way around that. I own an iPhone and an iPad and that is the platform I am most familiar with. If this site were a profitable business venture I would no doubt invest in at least one Android OS device in order to properly keep up.

But that brings me to one of my biggest pet peeves about media writers (and aggregators): they appear to write about mobile and tablets without even the slightest first-hand knowledge of the devices and apps themselves. Most stories about media apps never include an original screen capture, and most simply repeat the thoughts of other writers who have had hands-on experience with the product being talked about.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Verizon begins marketing Apple's iPad

Verizon is now selling the iPad and they have created a commercial for it. As John Gruber wrote on his site, Daring Fireball, "I don’t recall any AT&T commercials for the iPad. It seems like Verizon is already a better partner for Apple."

Amazon institutes 70/30 split on newspaper subscriptions

Amazon will be institute a 70/30 split on newspaper subscriptions, in line with what is offered by Apple in its iTunes App Store. The new revenue model becomes effective on December 1.

"We are constantly working at improving the Kindle magazine and newspaper experience for both customers and publishers," Peter Larsen, Director of Kindle Periodicals, said in a press release. "Building on the recent introduction of Wi-Fi-enabled Kindles and the upcoming availability of newspapers and magazines on Kindle Apps, we're pleased to add an increased revenue share and a great new tool for making Kindle better and easier than ever for publishers."

The two biggest obstacles to profitable tablet subscriptions for both the iPad and Kindle remains working out recurring subscriptions and customer information mechanisms.

A status report on the state of US newspaper mobile efforts; some have chosen mobile websites over apps

A quick look at where we are today:

On July 11 of 2008 Apple launched its App Store for third party apps. At its opening there were 500 apps available for iPhone owners to choose from. Within a week over 10 million downloads had taken place. Today, there are over 300,000 apps available for iOS devices, and over 7 billion downloads have taken place.

One of the first apps in the store was from the New York Times -- and they were there when the first iPad apps appeared, as well. In fact, news apps have been part of the sales pitch for Apple ever since they began allowing third party apps onto their mobile devices.

So, more than two years into the new media revolution who well are U.S. newspapers doing?

No surprise that its a mixed bag. The simplest way to look at it would be to list the top ten newspapers by circulation and see what they have launched to date. Here you go:

As of today there are over 6800 iPhone news apps inside iTunes, and over 1100 for the iPad. Newspaper apps make up only a very small share of those -- most are from developers taking advantage of news feeds, along with other news outlets including radio stations, magazines, etc.

Newspaper mobile app efforts appear to be broken out into three camps: those that have decided to move forward with developing for the new platforms; those who have done the minimum -- usually employing third party vendors to create an iPhone (and maybe Android) app; and those that have created no apps at all to date. Only a very few companies have moved into mobile to the point where they are creating secondary products such as the NYTimes The Scoop entertainment app. (The Tribune Company is supposed to be moving in the direction of creating secondary apps, but so far their efforts have been limited to one app, LAT Star Walk, and none that are directly tied to a newspaper's editorial or advertising content.)

Hearst Newspapers, my old employer, appears to have bet the farm that mobile websites would be the answer, so, to date, they have launched no iOS apps. (My guess is that they will launch a series of apps with Verve Wireless, who they are partnering on their mobile websites.) Their decision was the equivalent of buying a condo at the height of the real estate market. They now get to sit back and watch the media world move forward while they either start again from scratch, or else work to defend their initial decisions.

McClatchy, who does not own a top ten circulation newspaper, has recently launched a series of mobile apps for their newspapers, but have done so using a developer (also Verve Wireless), so it is not surprising that the company has yet to launch a tablet edition for any of its newspapers. (See a pattern here?)

Other smaller papers have been more eager to launch apps -- again, mostly using outside vendors.

When it comes to tablet editions, those that have developed their own mobile apps appear to be in a better position to launch iPad versions. While magazines seem to be more enthusiastic about tablet editions than newspapers, we are beginning to see a few independent newspapers experimenting with the form -- The Oklahoman, for instance.

Note: because the number of apps inside iTunes is so high, I can not guarantee the accuracy of the information above -- though as of this morning it appears right. I will correct the graphic above if I receive additional information.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Short takes: free wi-fi in the sky thanks to Google; e-ink reader displays to go color, but will still be of limited use

Google has teamed up with AirTran, Delta and Virgin America to offer free wi-fi on every domestic flight from November 20 through January 2 of next year. The service is called Gogo Inflight Wi-Fi and you can learn more at its own dedicated website at

The New York Times's Eric A. Taub looked at the latest developments in e-ink displays on Sunday -- color. Taub quotes an analyst as saying that “Color is the next logical step for e-ink." Well, duh.

The problems with e-ink, though, severely limit their usefulness. While e-ink displays are definitely superior to LCD displays in sunlight, they are generally less sharp, and not very useful in scenarios involving animation or video. For the gaming they are all but useless.

As a result, e-ink will remain the display of choice for dedicated readers, but LCD should continue to dominate on multi-use devices such as the iPad and future tablets built to showcase multimedia.

A 99 cent app that will find the nearest Target, another app that will find the nearest Sam's Club -- gotta be a joke, right?

Well, Allstays LLC is flooding the iTunes App Store with these little apps. All the universal app does is bring up a map that shows where the nearest store can be found. One wonders why this doesn't violate Apple policies -- Apple has stated very clearly that they would reject any app that duplicates their devices basic functions. I would think map searches -- especially paid map searches -- would be a violation.

My first response to seeing these apps in the iTunes App Store was "fraud!". But the first apps released by Allstays were for rest stops, RV dumps, camp sites, etc. In other words, they were targeting campers. Also, these apps have built-in directories so when you are in the middle of nowhere and have no Internet connection you can still access the information. Sounds reasonable to me. In fact, I've been advocating local media outlets doing the same sort of thing for their local merchants.

The Washington Post releases its first tablet edition; content free to iPad owners until mid-February 2011

The Washington Post released its first app for the iPad this morning, a tablet edition that shares much in common with tablet editions from the New York Times and Financial Times.
Although a bit late to the game, the Washington Post has nonetheless used the time since the April 3rd launch of Apple's tablet to make sure it has included many of the features that have become standard in iPad news apps: swipe navigation, adjustable font sizes, e-mail and social network sharing of content, offline ('Read Later') reading of content, both portrait and landscape reading modes. As a result, this is a very satisfying newspaper tablet edition -- all the more satisfying knowing that readers will have access to the content free-of charge through mid-February of next year.
"The Washington Post App for iPad is more than just an extension of our paper or website. It's an innovative, portable experience with our content that enables users to interact in a multi-dimensional way, wrote managing editor Raju Narisetti on the paper's website. "Users can take full advantage of the experience that the iPad offers through our rich destination pages that provide everything a reader would want around a topic in one comprehensive place. We feel we've created a uniquely dynamic news experience for users to discuss and share their viewpoints about relevant issues of the day."

"Mobile is an integral part of The Washington Post's strategy since we are focused on reaching people anywhere and anytime, said Ken Babby, Chief Revenue Officer and General Manager of Digital. "We hope users will find that our app for iPad places us among the leaders in mobile innovation."
Like many other new apps, the WaPo decided to go with a single-sponsor approach with the first advertiser being ExxonMobil (that seems appropriate). The banner ad appears along the bottom of the issue and stays fixed there throughout.

Because the banner is fixed, layouts are stagnant and seem like a mobile app more than a tablet edition. All stories are on one page with the reader scrolling to read the full story, and swiping to access the next one.

Because of an additional navigation bar on top of the ad, one that accesses Live Topics and Read Later material, the landscape mode feels crowded. It would be even worse on a seven inch screen. As a result, I preferred the portrait mode to landscape.

I haven't been a fan of past Washington Post new media efforts, but I will not be deleting this one. If the editors live a while with this app themselves they may be able to recommend some adjustments that make it feel a little more "native" than simply a mobile app ported over to the iPad. But this is definitely a good start.

Update: I forgot to add that what the price would be for access iPad content after the period of free access expires on February 15, 2011: print newspaper subscribers will pay 99 cents per month and non-subscribers will pay $3.99 per month for full access to the content.

What is 'Good News for Everyone' and why does Google consider it a news organization?

Who the heck is 'Good News for Everyone'? And why is it filling up Google search results with fake news stories? And can we find these guys and jail them?

According to the main website is registered to 70 Holdings, LLC out of Los Angeles.

CNet noticed the company last week when hundreds of Google search results appeared under the name Red Label News. Like myself, they were more than a bit peeved that a whole lot of junk search results appeared using that name.

A little digging found that 70 Holdings owns 44 domains -- wonderful, we can expect weeks and months of Google being clogged up with fake search results.

Why won't Google do something about this? For the same reason Apple is struggling to deal with its media partners -- both companies have not developed media teams as part of business development instead of PR.

For Google, this creates a huge hole in their system and an amazing opportunity for competitive search systems. If we can expect Google search results to remain compromised another search company, if smart, can seize on this opening.

For media companies, though, getting their content properly exposed will remain more difficult as pages of search results continue to be wasted on 'Good News for Everyone'.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The end of the line for another magazine's print edition; U.S. News & World Report to go mostly digital

In a move that was not much of a surprise, U.S. News & World Report announced Friday that it would stop producing its monthly print editions after the December issue and concentrate on digital. The magazine plans to produce eight print issues next year that concentrated on special topics.
“We’re finally ready to complete our transition to a predominantly digital publishing model. This will allow us to make the most of the proven products, useful journalism, and great audience growth we’ve been sustaining,” editor Brian Kelly and president Bill Holiber wrote in a memo to staff.

Despite a complete lack of mobile products currently available to readers, the management at the magazine appear to be betting on the new digital platforms.

"The iPad and the next generations of tablets and mobile platforms will create a brand new set of opportunities for us. We know that the creative energy and team spirit of everyone at U.S. News will continue to keep us ahead of the pack," the memo concludes.

"... will continue to keep us ahead of the pack." How many publications that are "ahead of the pack" kill off their print editions? And how many bet on mobile before even launching their first mobile products?