Friday, December 10, 2010

Friday Afternoon Amusements: Verizon, the iPhone, and analysts; Angry Birds = big ad dollars; some holiday cheer

Glad its Friday? Me, too. Here are a few random items, some left over from earlier this week:

I missed this post on TechCrunch about the incredibly popular mobile app Angry Birds. The app, and the way it is being handled in the Android market versus the iPhone market illustrates a few good points.
According to the TechCrunch story, Angry Birds has been downloaded over 30 million times since it was launched. In the iTunes App Store, there are four different versions of the game -- a free "Lite" version for the iPhone, plus a standard 99 cent version. There is also a $4.99 iPad version, plus a just released "Seasons" version in time for the holidays -- it costs $1.99.

But over in the Android world, the app is free and Google is providing ad support through its AdMob team. You remember the whole AdMob acquisition issue, right? Back in January it was one of the most important issues out there until Apple dropped its tablet news on the market. At that time everyone was talking about the Google acquisition of AdMob, and the effect Apple's acquisition of Quattro Wireless would have on the FTC review.

Now here we are, almost a year later, and the developer of Angry Birds is pretty optimistic about mobile advertising -- boy, is he feeling good. "By end of year, we project earnings of over $1 million per month with the ad-supported version of Angry Birds,” Peter Vesterbacka, of Rovio Mobile, is quoted by TechCrunch as saying.

John Gruber of Daring Fireball also saw the piece a little late this week, as well. (He beat me to posting a reference to it, I was holding it until this afternoon -- darn that guy!) He posted it, I think, because he sees that how it illustrates that an ad supported app in the Android market can generate big dollars just like some of the paid apps in iTunes.

For me, however, it illustrates what a dedicated mobile sales team can accomplish if given the right product and the right numbers. It also might provide some guidance to those developing tablet solutions for both the iOS and Android markets. If Apple's iAds can't prove a profitable way to go, one could keep sales in house, while relying on network sales for your Android products. Just a thought.

Fortune ran a story that has some fun with the various predictions from analysts concerning future sales of iPhones on Verizon once that carrier (we assume) gets the device next year. Some of the predictions are hilarious, but these are "analysts" after all.

But the real story might be to see how well the iPhone does at Verizon versus Android at Verizon. Right now Android accounts for 80 percent of all smartphone sales at the carrier. Just a little over a year ago RIM's BlackBerry accounted for 93 percent -- this shows not only the growth of Android since it has been introduced, but also smartphones, in general. How much of all of this will go to Apple?

Finally, how about a little holiday cheer care of the North Point Community Church, from Alpharetta, Georgia. I don't know who found this first, but no matter. It is a great illustration of where we are in the life of tablets -- last year only the guy "playing" the iPhone could have been part of the "North Point Band".

Enjoy your weekend.

Murdoch's The Sunday Times releases tablet edition

The Sunday Times has released its first tablet edition, a free app that for now let's readers access a sample issue, but will charge £1.79 per issue in the future -- no word on what US readers will be charged. (The promotional video can be seen at right.)
The app is very much like other newspaper tablet editions such as those released by the New York Times, Financial Times, or the ten apps recently launched by the Canadian chain, Postmedia Network Inc. Layouts are for both portrait and landscape with copy flowed in. In this case, however, I would image that copy will be stagnant since the app will reflect the paper as produced -- but we will see when the app really goes live with the first Sunday edition.

Stories do not flow into multiple pages the way the NYT app does, however. Instead stories simply scroll like a web page. I noticed, also, that pictures only appear in the landscape mode, not portrait -- strange.
Another difference is that sections are downloaded one at a time. That is, you can choose which section you want to download and the size is displayed -- this is a very good idea since many iPad owners have complained about the massive size of some magazine downloads. The News section of the sample issue, for instance, is 58MB, while the sports section is 31MB.

The app allows you to go directly to the Sunday Times website where today you will encounter an interesting feature about the new app. The feature tells readers that "In order to view the app, you will need an iPad..." Thanks for telling me that!

More informatively, though, the story tells UK readers that access will cost them £1.79 a week (as mentioned above) or will come free as part of their £2 weekly subscription to the website. Early adopters will want to check out their apps on Sunday morning to see what this app looks like "live".

As for the paper itself, the sample issue makes plain that its point-of-view with its ode to Sarah Palin prominently highlighted. Members of the Labour Party, or Democrats, beware. Also, the light-weightedness (not really a word, I know) of the Sunday Times sample issue comes at a strange time considering the student protests and WikiLeaks news seen on the front pages of other UK papers and websites today.

Important first research on the news reading habits of iPad owners; RJI survey finds high customer satisfaction

The Reynolds Journalism Institute (RJI) at the University of Missouri published a study, the first part of a multi-year research project, that aims "to understand how Apple iPad users consume news content." The 20 question study, concluded in November, shows that iPad owners are very happy with their new devices, an important point to consider when media companies decide whether to develop for the platform, or else wait for an Android tablet market to mature.

photo courtesy of RJI
More than 1,600 iPad owners were survey in the study. Not surprisingly, the audience revealed was "predominantly well-educated, affluent men between the ages of 35 and 64 who tend to be early adopters". In fact, 80 percent of the respondents were male -- not good news for those publishers of women's titles. More than half had household incomes over $100,000, and nearly half bought their iPads pretty much at launch (April and May).

An astounding 93.6 percent of those surveyed rated their satisfaction as either very satisfied (70.2 percent) or somewhat satisfied (23.4 percent). (Comment: I will admit a certain level of disappointed with the iPad very early on, but grew more and more happy with the device as new apps appeared, and its primary use as a media consumption device became apparent.)

Here is the important findings for media professionals from the RJI study:
  • Newspaper apps were preferred over newspaper websites

  • 84.4 percent of users follow breaking news and current events with their iPads

  • iPad users tend to be those that more closely follow the news, in general, but once a user starts to use their tablets to consume the news the less they use print newspapers.
  • 931 respondents also subscribe to a print newspaper, but 58.1 percent of those subscribers of "printed newspapers and use their iPad at least an hour a day for news said they are very likely to cancel their print subscriptions within the next six months." Ten percent of those who say they do not currently subscribe to a newspaper had actually cancelled their print subscriptions and switched to reading the news on their tablets.
  • There is a lot of good stuff in this finding and I would strongly recommend reading the findings here. I'm sure I will be referring back to the report often.

    Finally, a big thank you to the the Digital Publishing Alliance who funded the project. This is what publishers need: real data to help them make their decisions. Thank you.

    Thursday, December 9, 2010

    Late afternoon headlines: Cyber warfare and Senate rules

    A lot of news to follow, so much so that I haven't had time to write anything myself. I didn't even notice that a snow storm had started. When does baseball season start again?

    Pro-WikiLeaks cyber army gains strength; thousands join DDoS attacks
    Is there really any evidence of this? I'm in no position to know, but it will be "interesting" to find out.

    Boston Globe:
    Senate blocks vote on bill with 'don't ask, don't tell' repeal
    Funny, it looks like all but one of the "no" votes came from the Republicans, yet the headline reads that the "Senate" blocked the vote. In reality, 57 Senators voted "yes", 40 voted "no". In the strange world of American democracy the 40 "no" votes won.

    Seattle Times:
    Costco reports strong quarter; will phase out selling Apple products
    So, Costco is saying "no" to Apple while . . .
    Best Buy Mobile offering iPhone 3GS for free on December 10th
    Best Buy seems to have finally gotten the hang of this whole Apple-thing. I know that the mini Apple store at my local Best Buy is finally manned by people who actually like Macs and iPads and such -- and even know a "little" bit about them, as well -- though I still hear silly things like "you can't plug in regular computer speakers into a Mac, you need special speakers."

    Retweet: Columnists take a look at Justice Department claims of crackdown on financial fraud and see ... fraud

    Ryan Chittum of the Columbia Journalism Review has a story that I must retweet. Titled "The Obama Administration’s Financial-Fraud Stunt Backfires", Chittum then spotlights some recent stories in the NYT and Bloomberg by journalists that took a look in the claims of Eric Holder’s Justice Department that it is cracking down on financial fraud. Here is Chittum's story.

    The original stories are from The New York Times’s Andrew Ross Sorkin, who wrote this examination of "Operation Broken Trust" and found some problems with the Justice Department's claims.

    Chittum then recaps efforts by Edward Wyatt at the Times and Bloomberg’s Jonathan Weil -- all good stuff.

    The bottom line: there is no real crackdown on financial fraud going on at the Justice Department, just a lot of 'smoke and mirrors', as Chittum says.

    Postmedia Network releases ten free newspaper apps for the iPad; apps now dominate the Canadian App Store

    Released last week, the ten new apps from Postmedia Network now dominate the Canadian iTunes App Store News charts. All free, all identical in construction, the apps are for the Calgary Herald, the Edmonton Journal, the Ottawa Citizen, the Montreal Gazette, the Regina Leader-Post, the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, the Vancouver Sun and Vancouver Province, the Victoria Times Colonist and the Windsor Star.
    Of the top ten free news apps for the iPad available in Canada, only the apps from The Globe and Mail and The Economist on iPad make the charts -- all the other eight are Postmedia Network apps right now.

    These apps pretty much follow what I like to call the NYT/Financial Times model: they are native apps that essentially RSS feed readers, but they layout the stories much like a standard print front page. Touching a story leads you to a separate page where the story is fed into a standard layout. The reader then swipes to reach a second or third page, with the second page often used to stream an advertisement along with the copy.

    The front page of the print edition of the Windsor Star,
     care of the Newseum.

    In my opinion the formula works and has become the alternative to the replica edition used by many other newspapers and their app vendors. In essence, this way of creating a newspaper app makes a tablet newspaper out of the paper's website, rather than the print edition. The advantage is that the news can be constantly updated and the format feels familiar. The argument against this would be that it is essentially another way to layout a website, so why not use the browser instead. My answer would be that web reading is different than tablet reading -- except when it's not (that is, when you are, in fact, using the browser). We could get into a long conversation here about the philosophy of tablets versus the web, but let's move on before this story gets too much longer!

    Each of the ten new apps opens with a video explaining the navigation and features of the news app. The video, sadly, looks like it was shot using someone's iPhone -- and not necessary an iPhone 4. But the video does the trick I suppose and could easily be upgraded later on.

    In fact, most complaints I have about these apps are relatively minor and future updates could make improvements.
    Once a reader has read a story
    the story becomes grayed out.

    One things I found strange was that when the reader taps on a story to read it when they return to the section front they find that the story has been grayed out. I suppose someone thought this would be nice, but I found that it annoying. Also, the headline fonts are so small that the pages just didn't look right to me. Oh well.

    The Postmedia apps contain plenty of what are now becoming standard app features: social network sharing, offline reading capabilities, and the like. The apps make some of this more complicated -- for instance, stories are stored by section -- but readers will probably get used to the ins-and-outs of the apps and grow into them.

    The commenting feature is nice, though many stories don't allow commenting at all -- something we are seeing more and more due to rude comments from trolls.

    Finally, I don't think a chain of newspapers has accomplished what Postmedia has here. They should be very proud of these tablet editions. When you compare these apps to those recently released by Freedom Communications the contrast is dramatic. The key now is to make occasional updates to the apps over time.

    Left: The Vancouver Sun iPad app, one of ten recently released by Postmedia Network Inc.; Middle: The section navigation in the Windsor Star iPad app;
    Right: While the apps have a commenting feature, not all stories allow them.

    Now, what is the business plan?

    Morning Brief: Everyone (it seems) wants to be in the cell phone business; Google engineer brags up their numbers

    It seems like all the big electronics companies want a piece of the cell phone business. Intel, for instance, has made clear its intentions to challenge the ARM processors that currently dominate the market today.

    Another major electronics player, Sony, wants in, too. SlashGear is reporting that a source at Sony Ericsson has confirmed that a PlayStation Phone will be released in March of next year. No surprise that the game machine vendors would want in: smartphones are eating into the market now, and the smaller tablet formats will no doubt do the same as they are introduced.

    Just how big is the mobile marketed getting? Well, Google's vice president of engineering Andy Rubin bragged on Twitter last night that there "are over 300,000 Android phones activated each day."

    Of course, these kind of numbers will inevitably lead to an argument about Android versus iOS -- a silly argument when you consider that Apple is really a hardware company that uses its software to drive hardware sales, and Google is really an advertising company that is using its software to drive advertising sales -- so something along those lines.

    This whole cyber warfare episode has me more than a little concerned.

    This is the way I see it: when governments and corporations take the law into their own hands by going after entities through extralegal means there will inevitably be payback. When the payback comes in the form of retaliation through extralegal means you are creating an environment where anything goes. Anarchy. And a free press does not function well in this kind of environment.

    Wednesday, December 8, 2010

    Another look at the charts: media apps in the App Stores

    Every once in a while it is good to look at the iTunes charts just to see if I'm missing something new in the area of news apps.

    For the iPhone, not much has changed for paid apps: CNN App for iPhone is at the top, followed right behind by Instapaper -- still the most useful utility out there. The right side of the political spectrum still loves its apps, making the Drudge Report the fourth most popular paid app.
    One app that got my attention, though, was the sixth place paid app for the Harvard Business Review. HBR Today is still only available for the iPhone when an iPad app would certainly be welcome. You can currently get the app for only 99 cents, which is probably why it has inched up the chart.

    Free apps for the iPhone are headed now by some newer apps like CarBuzz, put out by Wapit Ltd. The latest reader app to get popular is SkyGrid which some people are comparing to Pulse. But reader apps are a dime a dozen in the app store, we'll see how long this one stays near the top. The Fox News app remains near the top, as does apps from the NYT, NPR, the Beeb and USA Today.

    The new app from the International Herald Tribune rounds out the top ten of iPhone news apps. I looked at the iPad version here.

    On the tablet side, the newish 60 Minutes for iPad is now the most popular app in the App Store, which means that at $4.99 per sale CBS Interactive seems to be doing well with it. There have been complaints about video quality and consistency, but the 60 Minutes brand still appears to carry some weight out there.

    But just to show how the charts only measure a short time frame, the app I mentioned this morning, Mac|Life Essentials Guide for iPad, is already listed as the fourth most popular.

    Both the rest of the paid and free lists look about as you'd expect them with the NYT, Instapaper, USA Today and other media properties making up the bulk of the charts.

    What's missing? Project, the new app from Virgin Digital Publishing. While the app is listed under "Lifestyle" you won't find it cracking the Top Ten. One reason may be that buyers are encountering trouble downloading the issues (I have no trouble). As a result the app is starting to get more negative comments from iTunes buyers -- both in the US and UK stores.

    The Canadian store is dominated by the recently released apps from Postmedia Network, with the Vancouver Sun at number one. Guess that means I better post something about these apps tomorrow!

    Short Takes: CEIR report claims that US visa policies are having a negative impact on the trade show business; WikiLeaks FAQ; remembering more 'liquid' media days

    The Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) yesterday released a report that claims that the trade show industry is losing business due to the barriers placed upon international attendees.

    According to the report's introduction, the difficulties of obtaining a US visa in a timely fashion is leading to lost business for trade show organizers.

    "Exhibition organizers continually receive complaints from foreign nationals who are unable to attend exhibitions in the US. This challenge is compounded by the difficulty of obtaining US visitor visas for business travelers. When people are unable to attend an event, business does not happen, sales are not closed, and opportunities are lost," the CEIR commissioned report states.

    Two subjects seem to make TNM's page view numbers jump: technology and politics. I've always known that anything related to the iPad, media app stories, and "Google" will make the numbers jump. But I've tried to shy away from anything that reeks of politics here but the WikiLeaks stories is merging with other things political so lately I've posted related stories and thoughts -- and the numbers have jumped. Sigh.

    But if you are a media person trying to get your hands around this whole WikiLeaks mess, here is a good place to start. The Future of the Internet blog page has this FAQ which should be useful.

    Gawker is always good for a little media gossip. This story about Gregg Birnbaum leaving The Post after a run-in with the boss certainly fits the bill.

    But the story uses the word "boozy" to describe Post editor Col Allan. It reminds me that my own days at a metro daily date back to the days when the next door bar was the place to find wayward editors and ad managers. Those days of long, liquid lunches seem to have ended in the early nineties, didn't they? Or do they still exist in your media market?

    Retweet: Sonoma Index-Tribune drops website paywall after Patch launches its own Sonoma news site

    A nice catch from Jim Romenesko concerning a local wine country newspaper's reaction to new competition (I'm not a fan of Poynter's redesign, though.)

    The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, Calif.) is reporting that the local twice-weekly Sonoma newspaper, the Index-Tribune, has dropped its paywall for their news site Sonoma News. The paper had created the paywall charging $5 per month for news access, only three months prior.

    The lifting of the paywall comes as the AOL-backed Patch has launched its own news site for Sonoma. (Did anyone tell AOl that the population of Sonoma was 9,128 in the last census?)

    Mac|Life releases 'Essentials Guide for iPad' while readers await updated version of its main magazine app

    Back at the end of August Mac|Life released its first tablet edition and readers and this site raved at the results. Now the Future US magazine has released its second app dubbed Mac|Life Essentials Guide for iPad.
    The magazine is taking a "go slow" approach to its tablet editions. The first app has yet to be updated causing a definite souring of reviews inside iTunes. We'll see if this app placates loyal Mac|Life readers.

    The new app will cost readers $1.99 and may prove useful to new iPad owners, which the app is apparently targeted at.

    Their timing is pretty good. It is, after all, the holiday shopping season.

    The middle nineties were exciting times for print publishers who were eager to explore the brave new world of Internet publishing. One of the things we publishers felt was a major priority was reserving URLs for our publications. (What URL, for instance, should the magazine Roads & Bridges buy for our web edition? -- We ended up with -- bad choice. Even today the URL is available.)

    There doesn't seem to be the same rush when it comes to mobile and tablet editions. For instance, do a search in the iTunes App Store for "PC World" and you'll find an iPhone app from Karl Bailey that is not what you might have been expecting:
    The PCWorld app allows you to retrieve information on all 43 English & Welsh police forces. Information provided include nearest police station to a searched address or geolocation & crime statistics for that force & local area.
    The only iPad app to be found is for the Greek edition of PC World -- another of those dreaded replica editions from PixelMags. (There are two reviews in the US store complaining that you can't change the language to English! Wouldn't that be a killer app -- one that changes the language of any replica edition magazine to the language of your choice?!)

    I often wonder about what goes on at Apple when an app comes in with the name of an already existing magazine. I assume Apple has decided that they are not in the business of policing brand names.

    There have already been cases where newspapers have had their names snatched by a developer who were simply taking the RSS feeds of the publication and making their own app out of them. In August I wrote about an app that "hijacked" a paper's brand name and content. "The Commercial Appeal" was from an independent developer that called the app the "unofficial Commercial Appeal website/newspapers companion, created by a Memphian, for Memphians" -- it can no longer be found in iTunes.

    It is probably still the case that publishers can either launch their own app, thus saving their space, so to speak, or else continue to stay vigilant by searching the app stores (don't forget those Android stores) to make sure someone isn't out there doing business under your name.

    Morning Brief: "Page 9" gets Danish newspaper's app rejected by Apple; US Homeland Security signs up Walmart stores for campaign to make Americans snitch

    You knew this was going to happen at some point. Those rather racy full page photos, often found in the pages of European tabloids would try to make an appearance in the apps submitted to Apple's iTunes App Store.

    The Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet has apparently had enough of Apple's App Store policies and has gone public. Under a headline that read "Comment: We do not need an American nanny" (Google translation), editor Poul Madsen has written a blistering critique of the American computer company:

    Since 1976, Page 9-girl was an encouraging element of Ekstra Bladet. She is simply today's happy ray of sunshine among the major stories of murder, abuse and wasting.

    The Page 9-girl is not an American or a British pinup model that peeks out from behind a pound of makeup. She is the neighbor's beautiful daughter. An innocent Danish institution on par with The Little Mermaid.

    No Dane has ever gotten the strange idea that Page 9-girl would be banned. But now, narrow-minded, American tasters from computer giant Apple (have) decided that the sweet Danish girl is offensive - for the Danes in Denmark.
    (Again, rough Google translation)
    The comment goes on to complain that Apple is fostering a "nanny state" and that Danes should not be forced to adhere to the standards set by "a private American company".

    A look at the incredibly long home page for the paper (it has to set some sort of record) will show that the editors of Ekstra Bladet are not shy when it comes to exposes a little flesh ("Page 9" feature here to spice up your morning). Did Apple think all papers were as boring as those in the Bay Area?

    Shop at Walmart and you will soon start seeing the image of Janet Napolitano, Secretary at the US Department of Homeland Security, at the checkout lanes urging shoppers to report suspicious behavior to the authorities.

    "If you see something suspicious, in the parking lot or in the store, say something immediately. Report suspicious activity to your local police or sheriff. If you need help, ask a Walmart manager for assistance," Napolitano says in the video.

    The reaction from YouTube users in the comments section is as you would expect.

    Tuesday, December 7, 2010

    US State Department brags that it will host 'World Press Freedom Day' in 2011 -- and no, I'm not making that up

    It really takes some nerve bragging that you will be hosting 'World Press Freedom Day" next year, on this day of all days:

    The United States is pleased to announce that it will host UNESCO’s World Press Freedom Day event in 2011, from May 1 - May 3 in Washington, D.C. UNESCO is the only UN agency with the mandate to promote freedom of expression and its corollary, freedom of the press.

    The theme for next year’s commemoration will be 21st Century Media: New Frontiers, New Barriers. The United States places technology and innovation at the forefront of its diplomatic and development efforts. New media has empowered citizens around the world to report on their circumstances, express opinions on world events, and exchange information in environments sometimes hostile to such exercises of individuals’ right to freedom of expression. At the same time, we are concerned about the determination of some governments to censor and silence individuals, and to restrict the free flow of information. We mark events such as World Press Freedom Day in the context of our enduring commitment to support and expand press freedom and the free flow of information in this digital age...
    Maybe Joe Lieberman can be persuaded to introduce the keynote speaker, Julian Assange.

    (If you don't get the reference to the Senator, check out the link. Senator Lieberman has told Fox News that "the New York Times has committed at least an act of, at best, bad citizenship, but whether they have committed a crime is a matter of discussion for the justice department.")

    The promise of the electronic newsstand may be illusive; do readers prefer branded apps or an e-newsstand?

    For some publishers, as well as some developers, the promise of the electronic newsstand is both the creation of a new marketplace for publications, as well as a way to sell products outside the confines of Apple's infrastructure. But this 'promise' might just be an illusion, judging by the results so far.

    Next Issue Media grabbed a few headlines last month by announcing that its service, billed as a kind of Hulu for magazines, will open for business early next year -- following the trend of a number of new tablet ventures, announce early, launch late.

    L'Express, the latest branded app released
    by digital newsstand company Zinio.

    It created a bit of publicity by saying that it would launch first on the Android platform, choosing this way to launch supposedly because of obstacles being put up by Apple (meaning that Google is will to play ball in exchange for a competitive advantage?). The company's website, however, still prominently displays its idea of its magazines on the iPad, as well as the magazine displayed in color on e-readers that currently are black & white only -- illustrating that much of the 'promise' of the next newsstand is still just a theory.

    But the real issue here is reader habits -- in particular, tablet reader habits. Since Day One of the iPad's launch back in April Zinio has served the market with its own electronic newsstand. The Zinio app has been one of the most popular to download, but is it generating significant business. Who knows, but the company is certainly not bragging about its sales in public.

    Instead, Zinio continues to release branded apps for some of their magazine customers. The latest branded app to be released is for the French magazine L'Express. Following the usual model, the app is free to download, then readers buy individual issues or a subscription through the app.

    So far there seems to be two major problems with the concept of the "electronic newsstand" for tablets: first, these continue to be replica editions, sometimes with links or some embedded content; second, individual branded apps continue to get more attention, and probably more sales than magazines found on an e-newsstand.

    As far as the replica issue goes, publishers need to stay focused on the feedback buyers are giving them within the App Store. Only in markets where content is a sparse, say in a new app store in another country, are readers open to replica editions. The biggest lure of replica editions remains ease of product, not reader satisfaction.

    The problem with the newsstand concept may simply be buying habits: readers subscribe to a limited number of magazines, either because of cost, time constraints, etc. How many magazines can you read on a regular basis? The idea that consumers will browse an electronic newsstand and start buying magazines in bulk seems far fetched -- they tend to buy single copies just like a brick and mortar newsstand. Because of this, readers seem to like to have their magazines as individual apps. This may also be the result of the fact that most individual apps offer readers more interactivity because many of those apps are "native" apps, rather than replicas.

    I am certainly open to changing my mind about all this, so little research has come out about the reading habits of tablet owners that I would be fascinated with any new information on the subject. But the good news is that Next Issue Media and others appear determined to launch newsstands based on their own ideas, and their own hopes for the future of the market.

    Morning Brief: WikiLeaks founder in custody in London; Tribune bankruptcy goes to creditor vote on four options

    WikiLeaks founder has been Julian Assange arrested and taken to magistrates court in London this morning, but before his arrest he published an op-ed in The Australian. Here are some excerpts:

    In 1958 a young Rupert Murdoch, then owner and editor of Adelaide’s The News, wrote: “In the race between secrecy and truth, it seems inevitable that truth will always win.”

    His observation perhaps reflected his father Keith Murdoch’s expose that Australian troops were being needlessly sacrificed by incompetent British commanders on the shores of Gallipoli. The British tried to shut him up but Keith Murdoch would not be silenced and his efforts led to the termination of the disastrous Gallipoli campaign.

    Nearly a century later, WikiLeaks is also fearlessly publishing facts that need to be made public...

    Democratic societies need a strong media and WikiLeaks is part of that media. The media helps keep government honest. WikiLeaks has revealed some hard truths about the Iraq and Afghan wars, and broken stories about corporate corruption...

    In its landmark ruling in the Pentagon Papers case, the US Supreme Court said “only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government”. The swirling storm around WikiLeaks today reinforces the need to defend the right of all media to reveal the truth.

    Tribune Company creditors will begin voting on December 22 for one of four reorganization plans for the bankrupt media company. Reuters is quoting Delaware Bankruptcy Court Judge Kevin Carey as saying "I shudder to think what lies ahead," Carey said.

    Also being investigated are the deleted e-mails from former chief executive Randy Michaels. Michaels resigned in October following the publicity surrounding claims that Michaels fostered "a sexist and hostile workplace", according to Reuters.

    Claiming that it will stock 3 million books, many of them free, Google launched its own online bookstore yesterday in direct competition to Amazon. I'm quite sure that today Amazon's founder Jeff Bezos is whispering to himself those say words Steve Job said about Google: "That "Don't be evil" slogan Google's known for? Bullshit".

    The Washington Post's Fast Forward column today penned a rather negative review of Google's apps, stating that the Android version offered fewer fonts than the iPhone/iPad version, and that buying a Google ebook then moving the content to a Barnes & Noble device led to "a fussy file-transfer procedure, required by Google's Adobe-supplied DRM, that involves installing a copy of Adobe Digital Editions, opening the book in that free program, then employing that program to sideload the book on the Nook."

    Google tends to launch things in a hurry so I wouldn't come to too many conclusions just yet. But concerning Google's battle with Amazon I can only say that this reminds me of something an engineer who worked for General Motors once told me many years ago. He said that it is easy to take market share from a competitor when the customer is unhappy with the product. But when the customer is satisfied, as GM was finding with those that had bought their cars from Toyota or Nissan (then known as Datsun) then it is harder to win back market share.

    That's the challenge for Google ebooks, battling an Amazon that has a very high customer satisfaction rating.

    Monday, December 6, 2010

    Nomad Editions: new launch pushes two big ideas, now the actual products will have to prove the concepts

    Today TNM looks at three different visions of tablet publishing: from a native app from the Portugese news magazine Visão, to the converted mobile apps of Freedom Communications, and finally to the new mobile magazines from Nomad Editions.

    Nomad Editions, the Mark Edmiston run new venture that promises to bring us a whole roster of new digital weekly magazines, is built on two big ideas: that there is a market for magazines built for mobile devices, and that editors can make a decent living producing these new mobile magazines by getting a percentage of the take. Both concepts will face a severe test now that the first two Nomad Editions have been launched.
    Late Friday charter subscribers were informed that they could log into the Nomad Editions website and access their first digital magazines. Two magazines are available: Real Eats, edited by Sean Elder, and Wave Lines, edited by Jon Cohen. Since subscribers pick and choose the magazines they wish to receive, I was able to access Real Eats but not Wave Lines. Two additional magazine will launch soon: Wide Screen later this week, and u+me in January.

    Readers access the magazines online as they would an electronic flipbook. But because the magazines use a platform the company calls "Treesaver" the magazines don't act like a flipbook. Instead, the magazine page changes layouts a bit like a web page. You can test this out by simply changing the size of your browser window. For most articles, the first page looks great, but the problem is that last page where sometimes a whole new page is created for just one sentence, or even a pull quote.

    Left: the Editor's Note as seen on the iPad; Right: page two of the same column with its 'widowed' copy

    But the big idea here is that readers can start reading their magazines on their computer desktop and continue on their cell phones or their tablet -- after all, all of this is just HTML, right?

    Yes, but because the magazines are not designed to be read on any particular device, the results vary considerably based on the device you are using. Will this matter to readers? Probably not, assuming the content is engaging -- and we'll leave that to others to decide.
    As for the 'big idea', that people want to read their magazines on mobile devices, well that is where I start being a skeptic.

    You see, one or two years ago, when I first starting using my iPhone, the idea of reading periodicals seemed to make sense. But I've changed my thinking radically since then. I no long want to read something designed for larger screens (or print) on my phone for two reasons: its just plain hard work and tough on my eyes, and my reading habits are different on my phone, I want content fast and simple.

    Now Nomad Editions system does a good job of reformatting content for the phone, as you can see from the screenshot. It is pretty simple to read, no need glasses. I would say that it works . . . if I really wanted to read magazine content on my phone. For me, the proper device for this is the tablet.

    On the iPad the experience is definitely better. But it begs the question why use the browser when an app might be better. The reason is simple: because the concept is to reformat the content for any environment quickly and easily the browser is the only way to do it (unless the app itself were a browser solution).

    It is hard to pass judgement on the idea that magazine readers will flock to publications for mobile media devices. It may simply be that Edmiston was thinking more about the iPad than smartphones. But the New York Times story, written in August, says Edmiston is an "avid reader of books on his iPhone".

    "The launch of the Nomad Editions Writers Roster demonstrates the level of dedication we have to deliver top-notch, original content to our readers," Edmiston said in his company's original press release. "Without the reliance on advertising dollars, writers and editors with decades of combined magazine experience now have the flexibility to concentrate on one thing—providing the best possible editorial and media aesthetics to each Nomad Edition reader based specifically on his reading interests."

    Which brings us to that second 'big idea': that the company, and the editors who create these digital magazines, can make a decent living doing this.

    The basic business model here is that readers will have access to any of the roster of magazines created by Nomad Editions for 30 days free of charge. After that time, readers will be charged $6 for three months of content.

    Writers then earn 30 percent of the subscription revenue per week, with editors getting five percent plus a cut of any ad dollars generated.

    Based on this formula, and the introduction at some time of some advertising support, Edmiston told the NYT that a writer could "make anywhere from $50,000 to $60,000 a year if their area of expertise attracts an average of 50,000 readers," according to the NYT story.

    I'll leave it to the editorial types to say if that is good money or not. But the "average 50,000 readers" number scares me a bit. Since Wired magazine is currently do a little over 30,000 copies per issue on the iPad right now, it seems a bit of a stretch to say that a newly launched magazine can reach this level of readership.

    But, of course, we are still very early in the tablet game, aren't we? The trick will be to keep the Nomad Editions ship afloat while the tablet market grows and more readers begin to use their tablets, e-readers or mobile devices to read magazine content.

    Quick addendum to Revista Visão post

    I always like to mention the reaction from buyers inside iTunes to the media apps they have purchased. In the case of Revista Visão there are no reviews in the US App Store -- no surprise there. But inside the Portugese App Store the reaction to Revista Visão has been overwhelmingly positive: 33 five-star reviews versus only two one-star reviews. The only complaint written so far has to do with a slow download time, something that is not directly tied to the app and its design.

    The point here is that readers continue to react very positively to native apps versus replica or simple RSS reader apps. Another example would be Project, the Richard Branson led digital magazine. Here the reviews are evenly split between raves (five-star reviews) and boos (one-star reviews), but once again the vast majority of complaints have to do with download times, not the magazine app itself (this is true of both the US and UK App Stores).

    Freedom Communications punts on tablet strategy, releases series of iPad apps modeled after mobile apps

    Today TNM looks at three different visions of tablet publishing: from a native app from the Portugese news magazine Visão, to the converted mobile apps of Freedom Communications, and finally to the new mobile magazines from Nomad Editions.

    After getting my "J" degree I left the cold of the Midwest and moved to California. I joined Hearst Newspapers in Los Angeles starting in the classified ad department to make the rent so I could stay in California. (Here comes a story.)
    I remember one enjoyable weekend visiting the La Brea Tar Pits. At the museum visitors watched a short film that explained the tap pits and how animals used to come to the pits to drink the water but would become stuck in the tar and would sink in -- only to have their bones discovered thousands of years later. The tar pits are famous, of course, for the mammoths and pre-historic wolves who met their end in the slimy goo.

    Strange how that this story came to me after viewing these new iPad apps from Freedom Communications.

    The struggling newspaper company has released 13 new tablet apps following their first iPad app release in August for the Orange County Register. I wrote a post concerning that first app that was ... well, a bit dishonest. Frankly, when I first saw that app I was appalled. Surely, this was just a stop gap measure, something to be released and later modified?

    The developer, Handmark, has been a leader in the developer of media mobile apps. Their apps are generally free of bugs, offer standard features, and serve the purpose of a generic RSS feed oriented mobile app. TNM has written a number of times about the company and their apps, and I have spoken to representatives there on a number of occasions including in March when Jon Maroney, Senior Vice President of Mobile Publishing, said the company was gearing up for the iPad.

    "The reason you work with a company like ours is because the iPad comes out, and in six months there will be a software upgrade. And in the meantime there's also some new Blackberry's out, and that's going to break whatever works today. There's going to be new versions of Android coming out and more changes to the Android ecosystem. We take care of all that for you from a development standpoint," Maroney said at the time.

    But then that OC Register app came out and I was taken aback. My post held back a bit -- even complimenting the app for being "clean and well designed" -- whatever that meant. Clearly I was working really hard to say something nice. I followed that part of the post with a section that talked about the "one-size fit all" apps, and how they simply could not compare with iPad apps that were designed "from scratch" like the NYT or Financial Times. I was making a point -- don't just take your iPhone app and just blow it up for the iPad.

    That, sadly, is precisely what Freedom Communications has done with these apps.
    These new apps for the Freedom portfolio of newspapers are not universal apps -- ones specifically designed for the iPhone that also offer iPad support -- these are actual stand alone iPad apps. The papers involved here are The Yuma Sun, The Odessa American, The Telegraph (Alton, IL), The Brownsville Herald, The Monitor (McAllen, Texas), The Gaston Gazette (Gastonia, North Carolina), the Northwest Florida Daily News, The Daily Press (Victorville, Calif.), the Burlington Times-News, and three prep sports apps. All are RSS readers -- plain and simple.

    I don't what else to write. Look at them yourself. Is this your idea of a tablet newspaper?

    It's been eight months since Apple launched the iPad in the U.S. and now Freedom Communications has released 14 iPad apps, all free, and all without any local advertising (the OC Register app has an ad for another Handmark developed app). This is no longer a stop-gap measure, this is now a strategy.

    I suppose this is one vision of tablet publishing. But to me this is a scream from the muck: "Look, I'm a dinosaur, and I sinking fast!"

    Revista Visão brings its new look to the tablet; designers bring native app design, strong layouts, logical navigation

    This morning TNM looks at three different visions of tablet publishing: from a native app from the Portugese news magazine Visão, to the converted mobile apps of Freedom Communications, and finally to the new mobile magazines from Nomad Editions.

    Over the Thanksgiving Day holiday our home was filled with some students from the University of Wisconsin-Madison who are part of the International Learning Community there. Besides eating us out of house and home (as the saying goes) they also entertained us with their language skills -- which were formidable. Roy and Luis were both studying Portugese and I was jealous then, and even more jealous now that I have downloaded the new app from the news magazine Visão.
    Revista Visão (Vision Magazine) is a free iPad app from the leading news magazine from Portugal and it should be viewed by other publishers -- whether you can read Portugese or not.

    The app reveals that its creators are serious developers immediately: there is no portrait mode, a decision that at first seems strange (being that print magazines are naturally in "portrait mode"), but which turns out to be brilliant. First, I prefer to read in landscape, so I have a bit of a built in bias. But the real reason this works so well is that landscape is the natural shape of most photography, and this app takes full advantage of the iPad's display.
    There are the usual bells and whistles here, but they do not overwhelm the app. In most stories the reader scrolls down to reach the second or third page of a story. One feature, though, offers the reader a continuous scroll (seen below in the animated GIF).

    Yes, there is video and animation here, as well, which is handled well. But the best thing about Revista Visão is that the iPad app does the two things a good tablet publication should do: it thinks "native", that is it is designed for the device; and it takes advantage of the publication's strengths, in this case the excellent page design of the print magazine.

    Back in 2007 Visão under went a redesign -- you can see the post from the consultants used for the project here -- and the result was dramatic layouts, good use of photography, etc. What is impressive here is that the designers did not try to replicate the exact print layouts for the iPad but instead used the same vision and sense of design to create something new.
    Revista Visão was released last week and today Medipress has released another app for the Portugese market, CARAS. While Visão is a serious news magazine, CARAS is a celebrity magazine. Depending on your own magazine's persuasion I would rush to download one of these apps while the content remains free. Revista Visão, in particular, is a great example of native design for the tablet, and will provide a sharp contrast to the next group of apps I'll look at next.