Friday, January 14, 2011

End of the week odds and ends: Sporting News signs deal to take over AOL's FanHouse; report says Windows Phone 7 launch results disappointing; and more

Here's a few items from around the world of media, aggregated, chewed on, and spit out here. Watch your step:

I really like the way Sporting News publisher Jeff Price is expanding the reach of the venerable brand. This morning's NYT reports that Price has struck a deal with AOL to license the FanHouse name and take control of the content.

Unfortunately, the move will involve quite a number of layoffs of FanHouse employees, the Times reports.
The integration of FanHouse into Sporting News will take place in March, and the result should be a huge gain in traffic of Sporting News, and the spreading of their reach into new quarters.

Sporting News continues to publish a daily iPad publication through their partner Zinio. Unfortunately, the iPad publication mimics print to such a degree that the tablet product looks more like a replica edition, though no print product actually exists. Nonetheless, it has been positively received and does not suffer the same fate many other magazine have in getting criticized for their subscription policies (read: Sports Illustrated) -- though this whole situation may change soon when iOS 4.3 comes out.

(I noticed that with the coming of 2011 all my back issues of Sporting News (tablet edition) have disappeared from my iPad, and restoring seems not to bring them back. Luckily they are still available online, though this doesn't really help much since I don't like reading magazines using my computer.)

Pocket-lint (yep, that's the site's name) reports today that a representative of LG expressed some disappointment in the launch of Windows Phone 7. The person quoted, James Choi, the marketing strategy and planning team director at LG Electronics, said he believes Windows Phone 7 is an easy platform for consumers to deal with -- so much so that it is a bit boring. (Click here to read the whole post which I found very interesting.)

My own experience with Windows Phone 7 was when I needed to find a new phone for my daughter who insisted that she wanted a physical keyboard -- so much for the iPhone. Since she had little experience with smartphones I assumed a Windows Phone 7 would appeal to her. To my surprise she picked out an Android phone, a Motorola Blur. Besides the keyboard, my daughter said that she didn't like the way the Windows phone forced her to accept a certain look -- maybe it had simplified things too much, even for a first time smartphone buyer.

No more Freakonomics at the NYT. Jeff Bercovici, who seems to break a whole lot of good media stories, reports that the economics blog will migrate to its own website at (right now the address bounces over to the NYT based blog).

Bercovici also has heard that the Times paywall won't go up until early February -- that makes a lot of sense to me. My guess is that its timing may be a bit linked to other events, such as a new iPad and iOS (because the Times has promised a new app, as well).

The Daily's launch gets pushed back over subscription issue; delay due to timing of the next iOS update?

So scratch that San Francisco Museum of Modern Art event from your calendar -- ain't happening, at least not next Wednesday. Peter Kafka of the WSJ is reporting that the event has been pushed back to a yet to be determined date due to "a new subscription feature that Apple is building into iTunes."

Translation: the new iOS update isn't ready to be launched yet, and that update is needed to make the new subscription mechanism work -- or so I am guessing.

According to the WSJ story, Kafka heard that the delay will be “for weeks, not months,” -- which makes sense since most writers are assuming that Apple will be scheduling an event some time around the last week of January and early February to unveil their plans for iPad 2 (and that iOS update).

The whole timing of the Murdoch event seemed strange to me from the beginning. Why the 19th? wouldn't that be well before Apple's own iPad 2 event? and therefore before the launch of any new version of iOS? I rationalized this scheduling by assuming that Murdoch's new tablet-only news product was designed to use the same subscription services currently available to iOS publishers -- the options that many publishers say they are dissatisfied with.

That appears not to be the case. Instead, the new tablet-only publication may need the iOS update to have its subscription mechanism function properly (pure speculation on my part).

Some rumors stated that the update would appear in December, and that it would include subscription changes specifically included to support Murdoch's project -- that didn't happen obviously. Now the expectation is that the update will arrive around the time Apple's new iPad is shipped (or at its announcement). And that may be when we will see a rescheduled event for The Daily.

Update (11:30 AM ET): While News Corp. has delayed its SF event, HP has set a time for their tablet event -- February 9th, where they are expected to unveil the PalmPad. The HP tablet will run WebOS and will supposedly blow everyone away . . . or not.

NYT columnist provides a gentle reminder of the possible level of technical expertise of many of your customers

A writing teacher at Brooklyn College, Helen Rubenstein, provided a gentle reminder of the technical expertise of the consuming public with a column today in the New York Times. It's a rather sweet little tale of the author's use of other people's WiFi for the past five years, and her attitude both towards using other people's Internet connections, and her own (apparently) limited knowledge of the consequences of an unsecured Internet.

The column's rather naive view of Internet security isn't really the issue to me so much as the fact that column should remind tech writers and new media consultants that the general public is not always quite as informed about things as they may assume. Whether it is encryption, video encoding issues, or whatever, most consumers just want an easy solution.

Of course, the same could be said of many media executives, as well, which explains why many companies are very reluctant to launch mobile or tablet publishing products -- the people at the top can sometimes be very poorly informed. As a manager once advised me: walk gently, explain thoroughly. It still seems like good advise.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Random thought: Will the iPad, and all those tablets to come, become the new afternoon newspaper?

Thanks to a story written by the NYT's Stuart Elliott today announcing personnel changes at Condé Nast (link in the Short Takes section at right) I stumbled up this story by David Carr that I somehow missed.

Carr wrote in response to a blog post on the Read It Later website which asked "Is Mobile Affecting When We Read?" Carr's story pointed to the company's data that showed when those using Read It Later were actually reading the content.

Computer users generally accessed the content around the same time the encountered it -- there was not a dramatic time shift. iPad users, however, were dramatically time shifting the content towards the end of the day.

What better proof of what many of have suspected from the beginning: the iPad would be a leisure device when comes to consumer media content.

Carr's take was -- or at least his editor's headline was -- "Is the iPad a Time Machine for Reading?". The way I would put it is this way: "Is the iPad the modern equivalent of the afternoon newspaper?"

If you are not familiar with Read It Later or Marco Arment's Instapaper here are the links for the products inside the iTunes App Store. If you have no iOS devices, you can still use their software on your computer by accessing it on their websites.

By the way, while I missed David Carr's piece when it first appeared, I didn't actually miss the blog post on Read It Later -- I just hadn't read it yet, it was saved for reading later using Instapaper!

Also: congratulations to Poynter's Damon Kiesow on finding a hidden photo that possibly reveals the look of the soon-to-be launched tablet newspaper, The Daily. If you missed it, Kiesow dug through the source code of the website and found what is probably a house ad showing a couple sample issues.

Late afternoon briefs: Google buys eBook Technologies; Apple iOS update may open up AirPlay to developers

What took them so long? Here we are on the 12th of the month and Google finally announces its first acquisition: eBook Technologies.

All kidding aside, Mashable speculates that the acquisition might be about patents. After all, a look at their website (Google cache, since the site's been taken down) will not leave one very impressed.

If I were about to launch an update to my iOS app I might consider delaying it (unless it was a bug fix). While tech writers debate the rumor that the new iPad might lose its Home button, I'm more excited about the fact that developers are supposed to be able to access the AirPlay feature to stream content from the device to an Apple TV or Airport Express.
To me, this begins to bring into play all sorts of great things media companies could exploit in their apps. In addition to streaming video content, creative media developers could create slideshows and other animations that could be viewed on one's television.

I already use my Airport Express to stream music to my family room entertainment center, and my Apple TV to watch content from my phone or tablet (that's already a lot of Apple products, isn't it?), but now I would have access to content directly from media companies that have updated iOS apps -- in theory.

I think opening up AirPlay is one of those things that will seem minor on launch, and become huge down the line.

Next week, so the rumor goes, Rupert Murdoch and Steve Jobs may share the stage at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art to unveil The Daily, News Corp.'s iPad-only news product.

So a thought crossed my mind: what is the NYT planning on doing when this is happening? That is, when will they unveil their metered paywall? From a marketing perspective, it might not be a bad idea to launch their new iPad app and their paywall shortly after The Daily appears -- assuming, and this is a big assumption, that their new tablet edition and their paywall, will cost the same or less than The Daily. At least then they could try and invite comparisons.

Then again, maybe The Daily will blow us all away. We'll see.

Never under estimate the role of customer satisfaction in determining which mobile platforms to develop for

I find it rather entertaining to read the tech sites as they debate whether iOS or Android or other platforms are superior, or will win the largest market share. Most of the arguments tend to get political in nature, which is too bad. But rarely do I hear the word "customer" when techies discussion the mobile market, instead the words "open" or "crapware" is often in the conversation.

As someone who grew up in Detroit, I can't help but go back to the conversations that took place when people discussed the auto industry. Detroiters would often talk about how American cars were getting better, that quality was improving, but then often asked "why are more people buying American cars?" The answer lies with customer satisfaction.
In a world where quality is the same, customer do not perceive much of a difference between products. If it is 1960, and your car seems to be breaking down all the time, you don't really question the quality of your car if everyone else's car is in the shop at the same time. Your level of customer satisfaction may not be high, but it there is little to difference between models and manufacturers.

This all changes when you suddenly buy a car that doesn't break down. Suddenly the level of your satisfaction rises dramatically. This customer will be hard to win back, even if you improve the quality of your product. You will have to do something to differentiate your product. For Detroit, it was a choice between innovation (styling, features, luxury) and price. Detroit (generally) went with price. With manufacturing cost high in the US due to the high price of labor and benefits (the best argument for universal health care, in my mind, has always been that it would help employers), this turned out to be a mistake.

Back to phones (and tablets): prior to 2007 the vast majority of smartphones were BlackBerrys. Watch the first two minutes of this video -- part of Steve Jobs's keynote address at MacWorld that introduced the iPhone. It is a good reminder of what the competitive landscape looked like in 2007:

Why go back to 2007 and revisit this? Because here we are three and half years later and lots of tech people are talking about Android this and Android that -- that I completely agree that Android phones and the platform is here to stay. But the idea that the iOS platform is in some sort of danger seems wildly out of touch with reality.

@Gamer Magazine releases tablet version for the iPad; project is a joint project of Best Buy and Future US

Many companies have begun creating publishing and advertising products that make them, in essence, publishers. Major retailers, such as Walmart and Best Buy, have created their own in-store networks which both create content and sell advertising. AdAge recently wrote about Best Buy On, "a multichannel network filled with original editorial content spanning everything from how-to videos and gift guides to new-technology primers and behind-the-scenes looks at popular movies."
But retailers and manufacturers still turn to publishers occasionally to launch custom publishing projects, or in-store promotional publications. One project launched last summer was @Gamer Magazine, the result of a partnership between Best Buy and publisher Future US.

This new magazine was created in the more traditional way: the publisher produces the magazine, creating the content and selling the ads.
@GAMER is the essential
magazine for all gaming fans.
With exclusive reviews and
previews of the latest games
and hottest accessories across
all platforms, @GAMER is
the authority on gaming.

-- @Gamer Media Kit

Of course, custom publishing is dramatically changing. A custom magazine no longer needs to be simply an ad for the customer, it can be a commercially viable consumer magazine that while promoting the retailer (or manufacturer) appeals to the reader's interests beyond the scope of the relationship between reader and retailer.

But in the New Media environment it is not enough to simply publish a print magazine, a fully functioning website is to be expected. But what about mobile and tablet publishing?

Yesterday, the first tablet edition of @Gamer appeared in the iTunes App Store. The free app is a preview issue of the magazine, drawing its content from the first four print issues that have been previously published.

Click the screenshot at left to view
animated GIF of the in-article navigation.

The app weighs in at 150 MB, its total size reduced somewhat through only offering the tablet edition in landscape. While the magazine has some video, it is used sparingly. There are a ton of game screenshots used throughout the reviews, however, so the amount of interactivity is fairly high.

What is interesting about this app is the navigation. While the reader can swipe to go from page to page, buttons are also available if the reader prefers to read in a more e-reader style. Also, there is no scrolling here: buttons are used to reveal a second or third page of copy. Once the reader gets used to the concept, it works extremely well.

Morning Brief: PC sales grew, but less than expected thanks to a shift to tablets (read: iPad);

Tech sites were mulling over the two reports released yesterday from Gartner and IDC which showed that while PC sales grew during the fourth quarter of last year, they grew at a much slower pace than expected thanks to competition from other platforms -- in particular, Apple's iPad.

According to the report from IDC, PC sales increased 2.7 percent in Q4, while Gartner said they grew by 3.1 percent. No matter, the fact is that they grew, but at a much slower pace than expected. In fact, US sales declined, no doubt reflecting the continued weakness of the economy -- but also reflecting the competition for consumer dollars from smartphones, the iPad, and other electronic devices.

According to the Financial Times account of the reports, neither research firm counted iPad sales in their PC analysis. Had they, "the overall market would be showing tremendous growth, with IDC estimating a 19 per cent gain in volume from 2009 to 2010," the FT story read.

According to the two reports mentioned above, the two companies that appear to be doing well selling PCs are Toshiba, and no surprise, Apple: Toshiba recorded a growth of 14.4 percent in both reports, while Apple showed either a 15.2 percent growth level (IDC) or 23.7 percent growth (Gartner). Apple market share now is between 8.7 and 9.7 percent according to the reports -- still low, but almost double what it was less than a decade ago.

(See AppleInsider post for more PC sales data.)

Yesterday the Illinois legislature passed a bill that will result in a massive (by percentage) increase in the state's income tax -- from 3 to 5 percent -- admittedly low by some state standards, but high when one considers both sales and property tax levels. Somewhat lost in the discussion has been the massive debt the state faces, and its mandate to balance its budget.

Illinois, of course, is not alone in having to face a budget shortfall. While Illinois was facing a $15 billion deficit, Texas may be facing a deficit as high as $25 billion, while California is looking at a $20 billion hole -- and these are only estimates.

Today Illinois is in the headlines, but recently it was recently elected Governor Jerry Brown who drew considerable attention his draconian cost cutting proposals. The idea was to not mask the shared pain that will result from not raising revenue when faced with a financial crisis.

The fact is that the chickens are coming home to roost after years to federal tax cuts, wars conducted off budget, and a Congress unwilling to say no to either new spending or the financial requests of administration officials. The states, and soon cities, will be hit very hard in 2011. Right now a majority of states are run by a Republican majority which has promised no new tax increases.

The result of all this may well be a softening of the economy right when things have begun to look ever so slightly better. This would not be good news for publishers who have been hoping to see a better advertising environment. It would also put pressure on tech companies entering the tablet wars this year -- it will no doubt lower the number of winners that will emerge in the space.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Newport Television releases a series of updated apps that add iPad support; mobile apps lack of native tablet design

The former Clear Channel Communications television stations now operated under the Newport Television name have released ten updates that add iPad support to their mobile apps. While these updates may now allow iPad owners to better use these apps, the apps themselves are nowhere near as well done as those being released by ABC Digital.
I initially downloaded the app for WHP - CBS 21News app, the station that serves the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania area. The app is a typical mobile app in that it brings in content using RSS feeds. The problem with the app is apparent when looking at the screenshot: the news stories are showing only the first paragraph of the story. I believe this is being caused by setting inside the RSS feed which is broadcasting only the shorten version of the stories. (This reminded me to go check my site setting to make sure I was publishing the full version for TNM.)

This problem may be what is causing the News Video section to lack any actual video.

But if the RSS feeds were the only problem with these apps it would be a minor problem. The real problem here is that once again a developer, in this case the Newport Television owned Inergize Digital, is simply porting over the mobile app to the iPad rather than developing a native iPad app. This the same approach I criticized Freedom Communications for in early December.
Because of the RSS issue in the WHP app, I also took a look at the newly updated app for Local 12, the station that serves the Cincinnati, Ohio (and Kentucky) area. This app was updated two days ago is and is functioning as designed. The app features more content, and as seen here, allows viewers to send in their photos to the station -- a nice touch. The developer listed here, though, is News Synergy -- another Newport Television owned company. On the News Synergy About Us page Inergize Digital is listed as a "preferred distributor of and the service provider for News Synergy". (Who know what this all means, after all, they are all owned by the same people: Providence Equity Partners and the CEO of Newport Television, Sandy DiPasquale.)

But again, this app really doesn't make it as a tablet product. Compare this free app to that for ABC7 San Francisco. That app was developed by ABC Digital and is completely native, meaning designed specifically for the iPad device rather than for multiple devices (iPhone, iPod touch and iPad). Currently ABC Digital ten iPad apps in the iTunes App Store including their first one ABC Player which has been one of the device's most popular apps since its release shortly after the iPad's launch last year.

Searching inside iTunes you will find that Local 12 now has two iPhone apps. This new one plus an older app called Local 12 Mobile Local News that was released by DoApp, the Minnesota developer of mobile apps.

Developers continue to create, and Apple continues to approve, apps that attempt to cash in on media brands

Demonstrating once again that Apple will force media properties to protect their own names inside the iTunes App Store, the company once again approved the release of an app bearing the name of separate media property.

This time the app is Drudge Report Plus. The paid iPad app ($1.99) is from Bluewater Publishing, a company that has 17 total iPad apps, and 45 iPhone apps. Most Bluewater apps are not free, and each app states that there is a support page for it -- but the reality is that most link to a website called Investment for Wealth, under the URL "".
Bluewater Publishing is the name under which David McMahon releases applications inside iTunes. While most of the apps link back to his investment site, a few appear to have actual support pages -- but those apps cost considerably more. Some link to pages that might have existed, but certainly do not anymore.  (At least one app had a dead link due to a typo in the URL.)

The good news is that few people appear to have been drawn into these apps (though the Drudge Report Plus app already has a one-star review from an unfortunate buyer which calls the app buggy and poorly designed).

The bad news is that no one seems to be minding the store at Apple. These apps may function properly, but the bait and switch (linking and pushing an investment site) is certainly a violation of the developer license. And if it isn't, it should be.

The release of this new app is a reminder yet again that media properties need to be vigilant in protecting their media brands -- even if it is Drudge.

Former alt weekly editor and former metro daily reporter launch local community news site for San Antonio

This morning saw the launch of another new local news site created by former editors and reporters of corporate news organizations.
Plaza de Armas is the creation of Elaine Wolff, a former editor at the alternative newsweekly the San Antonio Current, and Greg Jefferson, a former political reporter for the San Antonio Express-News. With them are Gilbert Garcia, another former San Antonio Express-News writer, and Sarah Fisch, a former San Antonio Current writer and editor.

The attractively built website launched this morning and the metro daily, the Hearst owned metro daily was nice enough to write about it. (Disclosure: I am a former employee of the Hearst owned Los Angeles Herald Examiner.)
Access to the full content of the web-only news site will cost readers $5.99 a month or $60 annually. The subscription is considered a "membership". Content will focus on city politics, business and culture, according to the website.

Readers of TNM may already know that I have serious doubts about the business model behind journalist run news sites without advertising -- but then again I am a former publisher and ad director (as well as journalist), so what would you expect. I actually like ad sales people, it's a fetish, I suppose.

But in order to sustain a local news site at $60 a year, a site would obviously have to attract a lot of paid customers. Therefore, I prefer a mixed model. You see what holds true for local readers I believe also holds true for local businesses -- they are underserved by their metro dailies. (More on this later.)

I see, though, that the new website's Facebook page already shows that 412 people have "liked" the idea so maybe I will be pleasantly surprised by the ultimate success of (In the meantime, congrats on the launch.)

Wizzard Media reaches the 1000 mobile app mark; software company creates paid apps for podcasters

Claiming to be "the world’s leading podcasting network", Wizzard Media this morning announced that they had reached the 1,000 mark in mobile apps. A look inside iTunes shows almost 700 apps for podcasters in the store, the rest are Android apps.

Wizzard Media's apps are generally $1.99, and generally are without many buyers. Apps like Gospelstudy with Paul W. Esposito or Being Buff: Marketing the Social Economy have no reviews or comments in the iTunes store.

But occasionally a podcast will either already have an audience, or will build one thanks to their iPhone podcast app. The app for the DJ Steve Dahl, for instance, has gotten lots of reviews, and not surprisingly is priced a buck more at $2.99.

What launching so many apps has enabled Wizzard Media to do, of course, is create its own ad network.

(The Wizzard Software website lists Subway, OfficeMax and many others as part of its mobile ad network. While this is certainly impressive, a look at its financials through 2009 paints a bit of a different picture of the company, so it is hard to judge how well this company is actually performing right now.)

A company like Wizzard Media with its 1,000 mobile app helps explain why the Apple App Store can reach such a high number of apps in its inventory -- and why the Android app store is growing so fast. So many apps are thrown in the store to live in anonymity that the numbers seem impressive, but fighting through the clutter becomes a major problem.

Morning Briefs: Demand Media sets $138 million IPO goal; Sun-Times Media announces personnel moves

Yesterday was split between digging out from a Midwestern snow storm and following and responding to Verizon's iPhone event; today starts with the East Coast digging out once again -- good luck, guys.

The NYT's DealBook reports that Demand Media has set the price: it hopes to raise $138 in an initial public offering. It's almost like 1999 all over again. Demand Media reported that its 2010 performance through August left it more than $6 million in the red, and that it lost $22 million in 2009.

But whether Demand Media's IPO is successful may come down to how investors feel about the way the company does its accounting, not its current financial performance. In its amended Form S-1 submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission Demand Media admitted that it does not account for the cost of its paid writers upfront, but instead spreads the expense over five years, obviously improving the bottom line.

No wonder, then, that Deal Book describes Demand Media as "the controversial online content publisher."

The Sun-Times here in Chicago announced some personnel moves: Jerry Alger will become publisher and general manager of the Sun-Times Media West Division, which includes The Naperville Sun, The Beacon-News (Aurora), The Joliet Herald-News and The Elgin Courier-News, as well as related publishing units. Alger has 40 years in the Chicago news market, according to the Sun-Times post about the appointment.

Meanwhile, Lisa Tatina has been appointed publisher and general manager of the SouthtownStar. She is currently the publisher of Post-Tribune of Northwest Indiana -- a title she'll retain.

As predicted, the tech writers are already posting stories about how the Verizon iPhone will stunt the growth of Android, or how Android will dominiate the market, etc. In other words, more of the typical stories tech writers like to produce.

But it shouldn't surprise readers that this is depth of the reporting they will get. Look at the coverage of political campaigns -- it is the same thing. It's called lazy journalism, and frankly it bores me to tears.

With the new year has come some new ads from Technorati, the ad network this site uses. I've noticed, and I'm sure many readers have noticed, that many of the ads appearing are, well, less than appropriate for the site. Some are down right obnoxious. I apologize for that, but think that as the year this should improve over time as new ad schedules start up.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Axel Springer releases iPad edition for Hamburg daily

As promised, here is my first look at the latest tablet edition from German publisher Axel Springer AG. The new free iPad app is for the daily newspaper Hamburger Abendblatt -- its rather long, official name is Hamburger Abendblatt HD - Die Zeitung aus Hamburg, and you don't need to know German to kind of figure out what that mean.
The app is a bit like the original New York Times iPad app in that it offers full access to a limited amount of content (as opposed to limited access to the full content). While readers currently can access the content, the press release from the publisher says that there will be an introductory price of 14.99€ per month, with existing subscribers charged 3.99€ for access.

The app uses an unique approach: with three lines of navigation, the app gives readers 24 stories in total, along with photo galleries and video content.
"For decades, we have provided the best information, subtle details and comprehensive analysis – from and for Hamburg and the region," Claus Strunz, Editor in Chief of the paper says. "With the successful approach we’ve used to feature local information, to expand regional news and to further strengthen our nationwide relevance, we are now pleased to be offering our content on this new generation of devices, the tablets. This underscores our position as number one and the clear innovation leader in the north of Germany."

This is all nice to say, but releasing an app that offers limited content and then charging both new and existing customers to access that content is a strange approach. Not surprisingly, there are a number of owner complaints in the German iTunes App Store about the limited content and pricing, as well as a few compliments that mention the unique design.

The publisher used Woodwing's Digital Magazine Solution to create their new tablet edition. The individual issues are bit large when you consider how little content you are actually getting, though this may be the result of the video content. Yesterday's edition weighed in at 78 MB in total. The app features both portrait and landscape modes. (I prefer landscape, but portrait screenshots look nicer in posts!)

Axel Springer AG has released a half-dozen other iPad apps including the well received tablet edition of the Berliner Morganpost, and the not so well received app for the magazine The Iconist (again, the issue is pricing). Their app for Die Welt recently was updated to include landscape mode and additional content.

Amazon releases new 'Gold Box Deals' iPhone app

Amazon and Apple may be competitors in selling tablet devices, but I've always felt they were more like partners: each may sell a device for e-reading, but Apple's iPad and iPhone each help Amazon sell merchandize. Amazon is certainly aware of that as it has just released a new iPhone app called Amazon Deals which gives owners access to the Gold Box deals section of the Amazon website.
This new, free app is now the fourth app currently in the iTunes App Store for the iPhone. Amazon also has three iPad apps: their Kindle and Amazon Mobile app are also available on the iPhone, and the their iPad exclusive Windowshop app which is an unique take on their online store.

In addition to Amazon Deals, Kindle and Amazon Mobile, iPhone owners can also download Price Check by Amazon, an app that allows users to scan bar codes to look up prices while at a brick and mortar store -- a great way to see if you can save money by buying online (if you can get the app to scan properly).

Looking through the Android store I can find three Amazon apps including an Amazon MP3 app. The only equivalent Gold Box app for Android, however, is from an independent developer.

Verizon to offer personal hotspot with iPhone purchase

Well, there you have it. Not a lot of real news here: Verizon customers will be able to begin pre-ordering iPhones as of February 3, new customers can order them starting on the 10th.
One incentive Verizon is throwing in is a mobile hotspot. That is pretty cool for those who own a laptop or iPad. I think this may force the hand of other carriers to develop a similar offer.

For those who are current Verizon customers and what an iPhone, the question will be do I buy now or wait until June when Apple will announce the iPhone 5? But will the new phone be 4G? Doubtful, though possible. Of course, Verizon might offer an early upgrade policy to encourage immediate sales. They have three weeks between now and the first pre-orders to announce more details.

Overall, I think most tech writers will consider today's event a real disappointment. Consumers will feel differently.
By the way, as I write this Verizon has their new iPhone splash page up (click on screenshot), but Apple's iPhone page still reads "Select your iPhone, then choose your AT&T rate plan" -- that's very unlike Apple. Normally the company takes down its online store for a moment -- very dramatic you see -- and then puts up the appropriate change.

Update: As you can see Apple has now changed its home page to reflect the Verizon announcement, though the link in the store still takes you to a page that only mentions AT&T -- that has to be changed, doesn't it?

Pre-event thoughts from a publisher's perspective

Why should any publisher really care about a Verizon event in NYC today? Well, you would be right if you thought this was no big deal, as long as you recognized that this is yet another little step towards a new media environment where mobile and tablets become as important to a publisher's brand as their website.

By adding the iPhone to their stable of cell phone products, Verizon will be dramatically expanding the iOS platform, great news for those companies who bet on iOS over these last few years. For those on the sidelines, time may not be running out quite yet, but we will certainbly no longer be at the beginning of the mobile media era.

For those who have been following the lifecycle of Apple's iPhone since 2007, it is sometimes important to be reminded that the majority of cell phones purchased are still not smartphones and that for all their troubles in the space Nokia remains the number one cell phone manufacturer and that Apple's total market share is still minuscule when looked at from a telecommunications perspective. That means there is still tremendous room for growth -- we are not looking at a mature market.

But looking at smart phones from a publisher's perspective, Apple's iOS has been the only game in town until the rise of Android. With its iTunes App Store, Apple has made it easy to enter the mobile media space, even if some times the experience has been frustrating. Even with only one carrier, AT&T, the iPhone has been the smartphone that has transformed the device from a simple communications tool to an interactive media consumption device (which, of course, is exactly what the iPad is, as well). The BlackBerry did what it did, but the iPhone really was a revolution.

Morning Brief: MySpace set to reduce staff by half; waiting on Verizon; press moves quickly from news to speculation

While Tuesday will include the Verizon-iPhone event this morning, it may also include a mass layoff at News Corp. owned MySpace, according to a report in the WSJ.

Liz Gannes reports that between 550 and 600 employees are expected to lose their positions today at the Beverly Hills based company -- that represents about half the staff.

News Corp. is widely reported to be trying to sell MySpace, which News Corp. originally acquired in July of 2005 for $580 million.

The Verizon/iPhone event is scheduled for 11 EST. A few websites will live blog the event such as Engadget and ZDNet.

It would be nice if there was some sort of surprise announcement this morning -- like Verizon will pay any early cancellation fees for AT&T customers wishing to switch (I can dream, can't I?). But don't expect any.

The inevitable backlash has begun: members of the Tea Party and the right wing are accusing the press and those on the left of using the recent Tucson shooting as an excuse to go after their movement. Unfortunately, they have a point.

One thing I noticed on Saturday, while watching the television coverage and reading the news reports online, was how easily journalists (should that be in quotes) moved from reading the news to relaying speculation. Everything was instant analysis as if the press was made up of people who are OCD.

The American public is often accused of having a short memory and a short attention span -- but the press is far worse. As a result, the story moved quickly from the shooting itself, the victims and the perpetrator to the political arena. Couldn't members of the press treat this story as straight news for at least one 24 hour news cycle? No.

As a result, I fear this story will quickly become about the "news" instead of about the event itself. Again, the US media will have only themselves to blame when this happens.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Daily: the question is not when will it launch (answer: soon), but how long will it be allowed to be in the red?

Update: Yahoo's The Cutline is reporting that Apple CEO will join Rupert Murdoch on stage when the News Corp. head unveils their iPad-only daily news product. The event will be at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, according to the report (which is why the attendance of Jobs would make a lot of sense.)

Original post:
One report by Jeff Bercovici at Forbes has spawned a bunch of posts about The Daily, Rupert Murdoch's iPad-only daily news product, each repeating the new launch date Bercovici believes is correct -- January 19th.

The 19th or the 17th (the date the WSJ's Peter Kafka said a few weeks ago the product would launch), really who knows. Frankly, knowing Apple, someone will forget to approve the app and it won't show up until Memorial Day.
But we all know it will launch one day, right? And as someone who has been through their share of product launches, I can tell you that the big question isn't when? or what? or if? but how long? As in "how long will Murdoch allow The Daily to run in the red before he pulls the plug or incorporates the staff and the product into another unit?"

We all know that many, many start-up fail. But a successful start-up on a new platform is even a bigger challenge. In order to succeed The Daily will need to sell subscriptions and lots of ads. While everyone is pretty much focused on the subscription side of things, most publishers would be losing sleep over the advertising prospects, unless Apple CEO Steve Jobs has said "hey, Rupe, don't worry about it, our iAds have you covered". (Frankly, if he said that I really be nervous.)

So what are the prospects for this new iPad-only product? Few seem to want to speculate, and fewer want to publicly say that Murdoch's new baby will fail.

The MacObserver gave the editors some advice concerning the potential audience and their wants and needs, but few have really discussed the business side of this launch.

The New York Times's David Carr has written the best piece so far, and that was back in late November when he speculated that getting 100,000 readers out of the gate would be a good number to shoot for. That's the number that crossed my mind, and is certainly far lower than the number Murdoch says be is shooting for (half a million after five years). Carr calculated that 100,000 readers would translate into less $20 million in revenue. I agree, it would be less than $20 million, probably a lot less. Because at $20 million, The Daily would have to cost $200 per year -- will iPad owners be willing to pay this much to read The Daily?

Word is that the entire project has a budget at $30 million, without a doubt the biggest investment tablet media so far. But with a staff of 100, this level of funding will only guarantee so much time, so the revenue achieved through subscriptions and advertising will really be used to extend out the time when The Daily can run in the red, not so much about getting in the black. To achieve that milestone, The Daily will need to see iPad sales explode, as well as to port over its product to those Android tablets, as well as other platforms.

One approach we know this start-up won't take is this: launch, promote, then sell out to a large media firm. That's one scenario we can dismiss right now.

'Life in the slow lane': pre-iPhone announcement fun

Wow, Verizon hasn't even made their iPhone announcement yet and already the carrier and AT&T are trading barbs. Business Insider's Jay Yarow posts that he has heard from AT&T's PR boss Larry Solomon who takes a little shot at Verizon -- all good natured ribbing, I'm sure.

Good, makes for a little fun in the mobile media world, and creates more competition for customers.

Axel Springer Schweiz releases a series of universal apps for their German language magazine titles

Zurich based Axel Springer Schweiz has released a series of universal media apps for their magazines during that past week. Each of the apps is free to download, though they only lead to their own in-app stores where the reader then purchases access to the magazines.
The new apps are Beobachter eMagazin, BeobachterNatur eMagazin, Bilanz, Tele, Handelszeitung and Stocks.

Each of the magazines are in German, though I believe Stocks has some English content, as well (or there is an English edition, I'm a bit confused about this).

Axel Springer AG has also released a new iPad edition of its newspaper Hamburger Abendblatt which I will look at later.
The trouble with these magazine apps is clearly spelled out in the only iTunes review so far written in the US store which complains that the app is "just a portal to buy their magazine". Now I see nothing wrong with this, after all if you are going to charge for access to the magazine there is only two ways to do it: create an app that already contains the content, or create a portal that takes you to the content.

The problem here lies in the fact the app does not offer you a sample issue -- so a great way to actually market the magazine is missed. Instead, only those already familiar with the magazine will want to pony up the $3.99 need to access the issue.

Packaging a tablet edition like this is a bit like polybagging an issue on the newsstand: it allows the reader to buy the issue, but doesn't allow new readers from perusing the magazine to see if they would like to buy it.

It doesn't appear that much thought or effort was spent creating these new apps as all the magazines appear to simply replica editions. As the reviewer stated, you have to really want to have these magazines on your tablet to be enticed into buying them.

NYT's Monday morning coverage exceptionally good

I admit that I am biased: the NYT, I believe, continues to do outstanding work on its website on major news stories. Today's coverage of the Tucson shootings is another example.

In particular, this photo page of the six victims is well done. Clicking on the individual photos brings up a pop-up feature of the person killed on Saturday.
Adam Nagourney's summary story is brilliant. In three web pages, Nagourney perfectly describes the scene, the actions of those who attended Rep. Gifford's “Congress on Your Corner” event, and the emotions of those who witnessed the crime.

The web team also created a timeline page that supports the main news story. They have done better work, but there are admittedly few real interactive elements available to use for this story. Nonetheless, the timeline adds to the overall package.

* * *

OK, the NYT is doing good work online, but what's the point?

Well, it's not that everyone should emulate the Times, few papers have their resources (actually, no one has their resources). But I would ask myself this: 'is our website design flexible enough the be able to create any of the features seen in the NYT online news package?'

Web design flexibility is often thrown overboard in favor of ease of posting, and an over concern with CMS and web posting policies. The ability to create new web pages on the fly is what separates good news sites from the rest.

Morning Brief: The circus is in town; BCS tonight, Verizon event tomorrow; average price of mobile apps declines

So it begins: the media circus is in town, with its on-air personalities, its absurd questioning of ill-informed bystanders, and the rest. But with so few Americans tuning in to CNN and the other cable 'news' channels (Fox News will no doubt play the story lightly -- for obvious reasons), not many viewers will be watching.

If the news outlets wanted to understand what is going on in Arizona they would have been there in November. All one needed to do was drive around the streets of the Valley of the Sun and seen the political signs being used for the election to understand the anger and bigotry that is now part of Arizona politics -- it was all out in the open for everyone to see.

Will this weekend's events quickly receded into the background? Tonight the BCS Championship football game takes place, and we all know how much the viewing public prefers football to news (which is one reason why the major networks interrupted their regular programming to cover events in Tucson on Saturday).
Tomorrow Verizon will take center stage at an event that most people believe was scheduled to announce that the iPhone will now be available to their customers. This will give the tech writers lots of opportunity to write again about iOS versus Android -- a favorite topic of many sites. But really, most media executives should be well beyond wondering which platforms to develop new products for -- develop for as many as you can.

Appmakr passed along a promotional email late last week announcing that they have added both Android and Windows Phone to the build-it-yourself services. Appmakr was one of the first third party vendors to offer simple app making services. Many of the app built by Appmakr have their name added to the end of the title (not a good idea) but by getting an Apple developer's license you can avoid this bit of branding faux pas.

The latest Distimo Report had two interesting tidbits in it this month. First, Distimo says that "while the proportion of free applications grew, the average price of the applications also declined". This may be reflection of the number of 99 cent apps thrown into the various app stores. Many of these apps are pretty much junk created by developers who are trying to capitalize on new smartphone users.

The second finding from the new Distimo Report was the growth in business oriented apps "indicating that increasingly more consumers see the iPhone as a productivity tool," the report says. "Despite their business reputation, BlackBerry App World attracts more entertainment focused applications. Google Android Market and Nokia Ovi Store show a more balanced category growth."

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Shooting in Tucson shows the weakness of US media; NPR News executive editor apologizes for false report

For me, yesterday was all about staying glued to the television and my iPad as I followed the news about the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), and the deaths of six other individuals in Tucson, Arizona. The task of following the news was made all the harder by the decision my the major networks to relegate the news to their cable channels -- assuming they had a cable news channel -- and the fact that the major newspapers, websites and radio news networks could not rely on the metro daily newspaper for leadership.

The Arizona Daily Star, a Lee Enterprises newspaper, was slow to report the incident on its website, eventually adding a banner on its home page. (Its web site design really is rather antiquated.)

The difficulty in reporting the news was evident on CNN's reliance on a Safeway employee's eyewitness account and little else. Nonetheless, CNN as probably the best source for news until MSNBC began to catch up. As for Fox News, they seemed early on to sense that part of the theme of this story was going to be their online hosts partisan rhetoric as they almost immediately began to explain to its audience that Rep. Giffords was a Blue Dog Democrat, as if it would have been a non-story had she been a more liberal member of Congress.

The real concern among media outlets will be the apparent gaffe by NPR. It was credited with the news that the member of the House had been killed in the attack, and many news outlets quickly repeated the report -- sometimes crediting NPR as the source, sometimes simply downplaying the source.
At the first word that NPR had said Rep. Giffords was dead I began going from website to website to see who was picking this up, and whether they could, in fact, confirm the report. The L.A. Times quickly wrote a headline with the report, while Talking Points Memo did as well, though making sure they reporting NPR as the source. Eventually most of the major news sites posted headlines that said Rep. Giffords was dead. But not the New York Times.

Both the NYT and Huffington Post were quick to create live blogs to allow readers to follow the news. I do not know if Huffington Post ran a false headline, but the NYT certainly did not. It's need to get independent confirmation was both wise and the professional approach to take. In a breaking news environment like yesterday, being first is not important -- the news will move too fast.

Just minutes ago Dick Meyer, executive editor of NPR News, posted an apology on its website:

In the course of reporting on the tragic events in Tucson on Saturday, NPR broadcast erroneous information in our 2:01 p.m. Eastern newscast, saying that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona had been shot and killed. That information briefly appeared on and was contained in an e-mail news alert sent to subscribers of that service. Thankfully, Rep. Giffords is alive today, though sadly other victims of the shootings are not. This was a serious and grave error. Corrections and properly updated reports were issued within minutes.

Meyer goes on: On behalf of NPR News, I apologize for this mistake to the family of Rep. Giffords, to the families of everyone affected by the shootings, to our listeners and to our readers.
Personally, I was taken aback by the unprofessionalism shown by many web properties that were quick to pass on NPR's report and that then allowed their readers to post over the top reactions to the news. Some of the fault lay with editors, others with those that monitor comments, I suppose.

Talking Points Memo, in particular, appears to be willing to post just about anything -- including a story that has the headline Don't Jump to Conclusions -- apparently posted without any sense of irony at all.

Lost Remote this morning posted the claim that the first report on Twitter that said the Congresswoman had been killed originated with Reuters. According to Steve Safran, Reuters took down the report, but by then NPR and BBC News had both reported the same news (while NPR's site posted the claim, I did not see the same thing at the BBC).

According to Meyer's online apology, NPR got its information from "two different governmental sources, including a source in the Pima County Sheriff's Department". Others, of course, got their information from NPR, and without any independent confirmation were willing to blast headlines that proved to be false.