Thursday, July 21, 2011

Morning Brief: Atlantis landing ends shuttle program, nation enters the "we can't" era; Condé Nast experiences some blowback; NYT Co. posts loss due to write down

With this morning's landing of Atlantis, the space shuttle program comes to an end, and so begins an era when politicians haggle over the price of everything and the value of nothing. While the shuttle program may have ended, the debates over the role of government continues.

The Atlantis lands this morning. Infra-red picture,
then reversed, courtesy of NASA TV

But politicians are, sadly, reaching a consensus on what government's role will be in the future: end government programs, shift the money to the private sector. As a result, shuttle programs are ending, space telescope projects are threatened with defunding, and education dollars shifted to for-profit corporations.

It's gonna get ugly.

Update: Wow, I like this photo of the shuttle landing taken by the NYT's Philip Scott Andrews.

Speaking of ugly, did you read this piece in the Observer? It is the inevitable blowback from the far too premature decision by Condé Nast to get in bed with Adobe and forego native app development.

I suppose one could be on either side of the debate concerning digital replicas versus native apps, but one thing that I think most people would agree on is this: expecting anybody to have the answer to tablet publishing issues only a few months after the introduction of the first real tablet computing device is silly. So putting all your eggs in one basket is a recipe for failure – the equivalent of walking into a casino and putting all your money on 21, unless you have inside information known to no one else, then you are just gambling.

But the real lesson here, kind of touched on in passing in Nitasha Tiku's take down, is that "digital wonder boy Scott Dadich", by promoting a production solution that added no new personnel, make everyone's job that much more crazy, was simply saying what most publishers want to hear: we can do this with minimal cost, and no new hires.

It is why many flipbook vendors have blasted me when I say that their sales pitch for digital replica editions can be boiled down to "it's cheap and it's easy". They hate that I say that, despite the fact that their own websites proclaim the same thing.

Ultimately, the responsibility for much of the publishing media industries issues with digital publishing can be laid on upper management's search for easy and cheap answers. A far better way for any magazine executive to look at the issue of tablet publishing would be to lock themselves in their own office for a few minutes and think about all this by themselves. Do you have the answer? No. So, if you do a little research do you think you can come up with the answer in the next ten minutes? No. Good, so proceed knowing this rather than pretending that the answer is easy, and for God's sake kick out the first guy who comes into your office who says "I've got it!"

It's been only 16 months since the first iPads were shipped to U.S. consumers, did you really expect the era of tablet publishing would be mature by now?

There was a saying about burlesque: never follow kids or dogs on stage. Similarly, one doesn't want to be following Apple in reporting their quarterly results.

But the New York Times Company did just that this morning, reporting an overall loss of $119.7 million due "in part" to writing down the value of its regional newspapers.

Without that write down, and the cost of funding layoffs, the company would have posted a profit of $82.9 million – a more than ten percent decline over the same period last year.

Like most other newspaper companies, the NYT is still experiencing revenue declines, 2 percent overall, and 4 percent in advertising.

But most startling number might be online advertising: it grew, but only 2 percent. This tells me that the NYT is not seeing significant revenue yet from mobile and tablet publishing efforts, which admittedly have been modest.

The NYT's report also said that so far the NYT has signed up 224,000 paying customers, while 57,000 others are reading the paper digitally using a Nook or Kindle.