Thursday, December 30, 2010

Done for the year

Well, I didn't quite hit 1000 posts for the year thanks to that little sabbatical but 875 posts is not bad. Thanks to a little kitchen accident last night I'm not in any shape to sit at my desk and write today, so this is it for 2010.

2011 will start with a look back at the year that just ended and the dramatic changes to the New Media landscape brought on by two tech giants, Apple and Google. We'll also make some predictions just for the fun of it.

Until then, have a happy and safe New Years.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Morning Brief: at the center of WikiLeaks spat; ABC figures show that iPad mag sales have slowed

Late last night editor-in-chief Evan Hansen and senior editor Kevin Poulsen responded to criticism that they are withholding chat logs pertaining to conversations by Bradley Manning, the US Army Pvt currently held being held in solitary confinement at the Marine Corps Brig at Quantico, Virginia. Manning is facing a court-martial for allegedly passing on classified information to WikiLeaks, which led to the publishing of diplomatic cables by The Guardian, Der Speigel and other news outlets.

The two responses, contained in one post on are long on defense, short on new information. Not surprisingly, Glenn Greenwald, one of Wired's fierest critics concerning the way the magazine has handled the chat logs, has fired back in his Salon response.

I'll stay out of the way in this spat, though it is hard to defend a media outlet's refusal to be more transparent -- shades of the NYT and Judith Miller, it will probably not end well for the publication.

John Koblin, writing on, says that the ABC is reporting that iPad sales for those magazines reporting have dropped. His post shows that most publishers are seeing a drop off in sales once the initial tablet edition has been released. For instance, Koblin says that Vanity Fair sold 8,700 digital editions of its November issue, down from 10,500 from August through October. Likewise, GQ sold 11,000 of its November issue versus an average of 13,000 copies between May and October.
Koblin reports the numbers without much comment, simply ending with the thought that publishers are hoping sales will return to pre-November numbers in the new year.

That didn't stop the editor of the website from putting this headline online: People Just Aren’t Buying Magazine iPad Apps. To the writer's credit, Chris Rovzar, the actual post does not claim any such thing.

The thing to keep in mind is that even if you take the worst sales month for Wired's tablet edition, October, and compare it to their print sales, you will see that their new tablet edition equals 17 percent of single copy print sales. Any circulation managers out there want to dismiss adding 17 percent in sales?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

State of the tablet: some newspapers continue to struggle with the concept that the tablet is a unique platform

As the new year approaches we all know that the conversation in mobile media will soon turn to the business affairs of companies like Apple, Google, Verizon, RIM and others as these companies make big dramatic announcements soon about new tablets, old products on new carriers, and the like. Just about every media tech writer likes to watch Steve Jobs strut on stage to announce "one more thing". This next year won't be different.
But for New Media teams at newspapers and magazines, 2011 will be a whole new ballgame.

2010 started with the big announcements from the tech giants and a few publications immediately shot out of their chairs and started work on tablet editions or Android apps. The rest waited: waited all year long, or else slowly began work on their own new electronic "products".

"Products" is put in quotes here because this is one of the big issues facing print publishers: will they create new electronic media products for these new platforms, or will they simply try to port over their existing products? It's the battle of "replica" versus "native" -- and while many publishers don't get the difference, readers do.

It is estimated that Apple will ship close to 16 million iPads in 2010. The US launch of their first tablet was in early April, with the iPad being launched in many European countries at the end of May -- that means 16 million represents about two-thirds of a full year of sales. Estimates for 2011 are in the 40 to 60 million range worldwide.

Then there are the new Android or BlackBerry platform tablets projected to be launched in 2011. All-in-all, 2011 is shaping up to be the year in which tablets go from being an early adopter device to a mainstream device. (If the crowds at the Apple Store were an indication of this I think I'd bet heavily on mainstream adoption of the tablet.)

Of course, this does not mean publishers are, in general, ready for the move to tablets. Even those who launched iPad apps this winter appear to be a bit confused.

Take these two new tablet editions of metro newspapers from the Atlanta Journal Constitution and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The publishers of these newspapers have looked at Apple's new platform and have come up with very different ideas of what a tablet edition should be.

The AJC has, for the most part, adopted the New York Times model of iPad app: the app uses RSS feeds to populate native layouts for easy reading on the iPad.

But where is this copy actually coming from? I still can't figure it out. A look at the business section shows that the first story is about luxury condo sales -- but it is five days old! Hitting the refresh button on the top of the page produces few changes.
Nonetheless, the app looks and feels like it belongs on a tablet.

Now look at the new iPad app at left from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

"Free for a limited time. An exact replica of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper, accessible online," the app description says (and by the way, that is the entire description right there. I guess there was simply not much to say about the app.)

Apple does not have a retail store in Milwaukee, choosing to open two stores in the suburbs and one in Madison, so maybe the publisher of the paper, Elizabeth Brenner, has never actually seen an iPad -- who knows, I certainly wasn't going to call to ask "whose brilliant idea was this?"

At right is a screenshot of the "Pages" navigation. No word on whether the second edition of Apple's iPad will come with a complimentary magnifying glass.

The AJC and MJS apps share one thing in common: they have both punted for now on their pricing strategies.

The MJS app is completely free at this point: free to download, and with no subscription requirement within the app. This means that if the tablet edition was an attractive product a reader could choose to dump their print editions and go with their free option -- the circulation manager, though, need not worry.

The paper has a mobile app developed through DoApp Inc., one of the better mobile app vendors. But readers have complained of some technical issues, as well as the limited Green Bay Packers coverage -- very important in that neck of the woods. The paper decided earlier this year to launch a paid app through Spreed called Packer Insider 2010 as an alternative. Ironically, they would have been better off asking Spreed to launch them an iPad app as their app for The Globe and Mail, while not perfect, would certainly have been better than this replica edition.

As for the AJC, they, too, are offering their app and content for free (for now). But the AJC is requiring readers to register with their site to gain access. Why more publishers aren't doing this is beyond me. If you offer someone something for free like an app registering seems fair.

The problem, though, comes after the 30 days of free access -- what will the price be after the introductory period runs out. Right now the paper charges $17.99 a month for home delivery, will this be the price? Or will they create a new price structure. The publisher still has a couple of weeks to answer that question.

Here is the demo video from the AJC:

Monday, December 27, 2010

A closer look at the new special edition from Scientific American for the iPad: Origins and Endings

After almost nine months of living with the iPad and reading media apps, one develops certain likes-and-dislikes: for instance, apps with both portrait and landscape modes is a "like"; an obnoxious video that plays every time the app opens, whether you want it to or not is a definite "dislike".
The new special edition app from Scientific American has many of the features that I've grown to like in a magazine app. It also has the added benefit of having superior content, of course.

Origins and Endings: Scientific American is a special edition of the magazine and the publisher's (Nature Publishing Group) debut on the iPad (they have no mobile apps at this time). The app costs $3.99 and was released just before the holiday weekend. Whether this will be a good thing or not time will tell, but this app deserves to be promoted by Apple in the New & Newsworthy section of the iTunes App Store.

The app tells a compelling story: from the origins of the universe, of life on Earth and our early human ancestors through to what happens to our bodies after we die, the odds of an apocalypse, and the end of time. Our interactive feature "How Much Is Left?" demonstrates how long it will take before some of Earth's most crucial resources are depleted, whereas "The Future of Biotech and Agritech" offers smart suggestions for alternatives. Finally, in the app's Innovations section we explain how computing began long before the transistor and how that technology evolved into technologies today, including your iPad. We explain the origins of many everyday items and phenomena found in the kitchen, office and the fields of entertainment, transportation and medicine.
- iTunes App Description
The app utilizes navigation techniques that may become standard in tablet magazines: swiping to go from story to story, and scrolling to read within the story. This way of navigating was described in the Bonnier tablet video released a year ago, before Apple announced its iPad launch. I find it logical, though I know some tech writers are getting used to the idea of swiping for one action, scrolling for another.
The app offers both portrait and landscape modes, as well as plenty of audio and video built-in. Because of this the app weighs in at 384 MB, smaller than some big apps. And because the user does not have to download the edition after installing the app, the download times seem very reasonable.

Maybe I'll return yet again to writing about this app after I have lived with it longer and read all the content. But for now I must say this one was a very good Christmas present.

Morning Brief: the unofficial holiday week kicks off; one retailer blew it out; media events in Hungary get noticed

It's the week between Christmas and New Years and for many a holiday week of shopping, travelling, relaxing, and everything except work. But us Internet slaves are here just in case.

I spent the entire day yesterday out of the house so that I wouldn't be forced to watch what has become of my once-great 49ers. Oh well, I can still spend the winter watching reruns of the World Series.

Out at the mall I could see that things were fairly busy, despite the lake effect snow we were having. But one store was positively jammed: the Apple Store. The place was packed with folks looking at iPads and iPhones, Macs and such. But a huge majority of those in the store seemed to be taking advantage of Apple's set-up services. Now my wife asked "why do you need someone to help you set up your iPad?" -- and I agree. But there they were, nonetheless.

I went into the store several times to see if I could make it to the back to check out phone cases and each time I found the place packed to the gills. The thought kept getting in my head about those columns I read back in April and May from our supposed media gurus: "The iPad is retrograde", "I don’t have $500 to throw away" wrote one media blogger who I never read anymore simply because I know it is no longer 1999.

I also thought about those writers who proclaimed when Apple announced it had sold 3.2 million iPads in the first quarter following its launch. "Where's the market?" asked some, assuming I suppose that the world was about to end and there wouldn't be a second, third or fourth quarter to follow.

I have no idea how many iPads or Samsung Galaxy Tabs will be sold during the holiday season, but I bet there will be a boat load (actually, a few plane loads). And then January will happen and guess what? Apple and others will announce new tablets. Predictability can be fun, too.

How long can the dinosaurs continue to be denial? Forever. Believe me.

Media and tech news may be minimal this week, but that doesn't mean there aren't some important things going on out in the world. One story that I don't think has gotten enough coverage here in the States, and which I've tried to promote by including headlines in the Short Takes section, is events in Hungary.

Today the Washington Post gets around to writing an editorial about moves being made by Prime Minister Viktor Orban to limit press freedom. Their editorial, titled The Putinization of Hungary? obviously compares moves being made in Hungary with those by Vladimir Putin in Russia.

Of course, the Washington Post is pretty quick to see tyranny abroad while promoting it at home. This is, after all, the same paper that allowed Marc Thiessen to write that WikiLeaks must be stopped column back in August.