Friday, February 11, 2011

Publishing groups, Sony, and other content companies tend to talk big about Apple, but carry very small sticks

Sony chief executive officer Michael Ephraim was not shy in speaking for publishers of content worldwide: "Publishers are being held to ransom by Apple and they are looking for other delivery systems, and we are waiting to see what the next three to five years will hold," he told The Age today.

Ephraim, of course, is not the only one speaking, and warning, Apple that "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore." But screaming out the window and banging some pots and pans may be all these executives will able to do for quite some time as the balance of power certainly does not lie with newspaper and magazine publishers.

As for Sony, well, Sony is not the player it once was. Even Sony's CEO knows this as he talks about trying to launch a new music service themselves, while acknowledging that his company must still distribute content through Apple's iTunes.

Reading the statement from the European Newspaper Publishers’ Association, or the head of the Flemish Newspaper Association, one is tempted to ask "who are you kidding?" If you don't want to play the game take your ball and find another place to play...if you can."

As someone who has been a publisher in both the newspaper and magazine industries, I sympathize with their positions. But fighting Apple head-on will be as much of a winning strategy as fighting the USPS -- the track record of such efforts does not bode well.

But while income from publishers and even companies like Sony are but a small portion of the revenue and (especially) profits Apple generates (when compared to hardware), it really doesn't make sense for Apple to continue to pick these fights. Yes, it has the power dictate its own terms, but it is content that makes Apple's iPad and iPhone a device worth having.

If the events of the past few weeks should teach companies anything, it is that consumers will pursue the content. If Comcast doesn't want to offer Al Jazeera, then consumers will find the channel online. If you want to buy an artist that records for Sony, then you will find it somewhere.

But it would be a mistake to continue to overstate the power of content providers. When the developer of Angry Birds can make millions developing games, the few thousand subscribers a magazine can produce simply pales in comparison. At some point here, Apple and their content 'partners' need to get some adults in the same room to work out the issues of data, pricing and subscription models. Those who are currently willing to boast of their own power probably shouldn't be invited to attend the meeting.

On this momentous day, a final word of appreciation for LiveStation and Al Jazeera English

This site is not about politics, current events (outside of media) and the like. But for the past several weeks, as a former newspaper manager, I couldn't help but be obsessed with events in the Tunisia and Egypt.
But only once did I leave my desk to turn on the TV. Why? Because my US cable company had months ago made a decision not to offer Al Jazeera English as part of their channel offerings. It was a cowardly, un-American decision -- it was noy made due to a lack of demand, I was never even given a choice. Was it not a political and ideological statement on the part of the major cable providers?

But Al Jazerra English is available both online and as an app, served by LiveStation. And once again today I want to say a special thanks to both entities.

But the executives at the cable companies should be aware, and a bit frightened: people and companies will find a way around the decisions of cable executives if they continue to make silly, unbusinesslike decisions based on their own political convictions. The mainstream media world is already reeling from the forces of technological change and fragmentation. But if media executives add to this dramatic change the element of ideology, they are asking for even more trouble.

Morning Brief: Nokia says its wedded to Microsoft; Quebecor CEO blows smoke, then Quebecor building gets smoke bombed by students

As was rumored, Nokia today announced in London that it will ditch its Symbian mobile operating system and has entered into a partnership with Microsoft to produce cellphones using the Windows Phone OS. Nokia CEO Stephen Elop and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer issued a joint statement outlining the deep partnership deal.

In addition to using Windows Phone in its smartphones, Nokia will will begin using Bing as its default search engine and Microsoft's adCenter advertising platform, as well.

Are you gonna hate yourself in the morning?

Canadian-born Stephen Elop, who before joining Nokia as CEO last September, was the former head of the Business Division at Microsoft executive.

The move is all about "ecosystem": the bringing together of hardware, software and commerce (my own definition, I suppose). Apple and Google have it with their mobile operating systems, app stores, and the like. Now Nokia hopes that by creating a deep strategic partnership with Microsoft it can create the "Third Ecosystem".

“Today Nokia and Microsoft intend to enter into a strategic alliance. Together we will bring consumers a new mobile experience with stellar hardware, innovative software and great services. We will create opportunities beyond anything that currently exists,” Elop said on the company's website.

“In this partnership with Nokia, Microsoft brings its’ Windows Phone software and the brand mobile consumers want like Bing, Office and of course Xbox Live,” Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is quoted.

Here is the YouTube video Nokia and Microsoft produced to announce the deal:

Update: The consequences of the Nokia-Microsoft partnership will be felt most acutely in Finland. reports that Nokia's CEO Stephen Elop told reporters in London that "there will be substantial reductions in employment in various locations around the world and that too will affect Finland."

Finland's Minister for Economic Affairs Mauri Pekkarinen put a sobering number on those words: ”You’re talking about 20,000 people, it’s a big number,” said Pekkarinen.

The CEO of Quebecor, Pierre Karl Peladeau, speaking before a National Assembly committee last week, said that he was against strengthening worker protection laws in the province. His company has engaged in a lock-out of 253 employees at its Journal de Montreal since January of 2009, but has managed to produce the paper without missing an issue thanks to much of the work being done by Quebecor's own wire service, QMI.
Yesterday, Macleans reports, Montreal students smoke bombed Quebecor headquarters. The students were protesting tuition hikes recently imposed in Quebec. "It's the libertarian ideology promoted in the various media properties of the company and their anti-union attitude that pushed protesters to target this company," the students said in an issued statement.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Daily changes cover and adds story as events in Egypt make Craig's List Rep. story fade in importance

It seemed an obviously bad decision by the editors of The Daily: featuring the Rep. Christopher Lee/Craig's List story on its "cover" this morning, while completely ignoring the continuing events in Egypt.
But tablets are not print newspaper, are they? So the editors have adjusted by changing the 'cover' of the front of today's edition of The Daily, and inserted a hastily written two page story so that the iPad-only digital newspaper appears more timely and relevant.

And now Egypt awaits word from Hosni Mubarak about whether he will step down as President, leave the country, surrender some powers, or stubbornly remain to fight yet another day.

Yahoo today announced that it would launch a tablet-based digital newsstand that it hopes will attract publishers to offer their content through their service, named Livestand.
“Adoption of tablets and mobile phones is exploding, and digital media isn't keeping up," said Blake Irving, executive vice president and chief product officer for Yahoo! in a statement. "Consumers can't find the publications they buy off the newsstand, and publishers and advertisers can't reach the audiences they want to serve.”

Yahoo! hopes to launch the digital newsstand for Apple's iPad and Android tablets in an app some time in the first half of this year.

Egyptian state TV now showing Al Jazeera feed in radical change in direction; nation awaits word from Mubarak

In what has to be an incredibly important change, Egyptian state television has stopped showing inconsequential programming and is now showing the Al Jazeera feed of events in Tahrir Square.
Now the nation awaits on Hosni Mubarak, who it is said will address the nation within the next 30 minutes as the armed forces have taken control of the country. Is this but a first step towards a transition to democracy, or in effect a military coup?

Again, let me say that kudos must go to LiveStation which is bring Al Jazeera English to the US, while as the Qatar-based station remains, in effect, blacklisted by US cable operators.

Discussion boards and tablet apps from ForumRunner; Sports media guides and the potential of tablet publishing

While all eyes are on Al Jazeera television (LiveStation app here) watching events in Egypt, let's put a light on a couple of apps that might get your ideas flowing:
This new app from GCS Publishing, - Jeep Discussions, got my attention this morning, an app that is essentially just a discussion board, but one that makes it easy to read on your iPad. Is it a better solution than the built-in Safari browser? I don't necessarily think so. But forums are rarely discussed when the conversation turns to mobile and tablet apps, let alone website design. Discussion boards are kind of the old men of the Internet, but they drive a huge amount of traffic, and many of them have been become default substitutes for lame B2B magazines and websites. (I won't even go into the crazy, insane attitude the company I formerly worked for had about forums.)

It looks like this app is really not from GCS Publishing since a look at their website shows that they are not very technologically savvy. Instead it looks like this app is really from ForumRunner, under the developer name End of Time Studios, LLC. The company has 54 universal apps in the App Store, as well as numerous apps in the Android Market.

The little app from Wehaa Design, a website design company from Milwaukee, also attracted me simply because I was hoping this would a new take on the traditional sports media guide.

Sadly, this app for the Milwaukee Admirals, a hockey team in the American Hockey League, is a simple replica copy of the print media guide. The app looks pretty silly in portrait mode as many of the layouts are designed to be two-page spreads, but improves in landscape.
But the idea of a media guide on the iPad seems a natural. An inventive publisher could include lots of photography, as well as video highlights of team games in a multimedia media app.

But this app already weighs in at 126 MB, yet it has no audio or video, no thumbnail navigation, no animation, and no pinch-to-zoom. So why the size? It must be poor optimization.

Nonetheless, think about what you could do on an iPad in a media guide that you can not do in print: the possibilities are endless.

Is today the day Mubarak finally steps down?

The New York Times is flashing the following headline on its website: Egyptian Army Officers Are Meeting to Discuss Taking Over Government, State TV Reports, while The Guardian's main headline is Hopes rise that Mubarak will quit tonight.

The Daily might have considered the story in Egypt to be small potatoes compared to the Craig's List nabs representative story, but in the real world -- outside of News Corp. headquarters in New York -- the world goes on.

Morning Brief: iPhone goes on sale at Verizon stores, bundle up; The Daily releases second update this week

It's minus 10 outside right now, really. But thanks to a countdown feature in the SF Chronicle, I know that Giant pitchers and catchers report to spring training on Monday in Scottsdale, Arizona. I'm there, baby, I'm there. Go Giants!

Photo by Antonio Perez, Chicago Tribune

In the meantime, winter remains. What a lovely day to stand in line outside a Verizon store to buy an iPhone. Stores have already opened at many locations and so far, while there have been reports of lines, they don't seem to be rival the long lines seen outside AT&T and Apple stores when the iPhone 4 was introduced last summer.

You don't think it's the weather, do you?

The Daily has issued its second app update this week. And once again users are asked to delete their current app before updating to the new one.

All the things mentioned in the update are bug fixes, attempts to improve the performance of the app in the face of criticism by users of crashes and stuttering performance.

I own experiences with the app haven't been too bad, though the first version of the app certainly crashed far more than a professionally created media app should. My biggest complaint was the slow performance of the animation features. It looks like rather than fixing this issue the developers have simply phased out their use.

A far bigger problems is the content: it's simply lightweight journalism. Today's issue features the exploits of Rep. Christopher Lee, the Republican from Western NY state who resigned yesterday, caught in a bit of Craig's List shenanigans. Sure it's a story, but it is typical NY Post fare.

Other stories featured are The right track to bike safety, The changing face of plastic surgery, and I've met Big Broker -- and he is us. Oh, and of course, there is a story on Lindsay Lohan.

I suppose you've heard to the magazine launch tomorrow, right? No? Not a member of the Tea Party? Me neither.

But if you want to learn more you can subscribe to Tea Party Review, the Steven Allen edited magazine, set to debut tomorrow at CPAC, the annual conservation conference.

No word on whether a tablet edition can be expected soon, but judging by the magazine's website design I'd say they won't be going in that direction very soon.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Woodwing gets ready for flood of Android tablets; Adobe releases Flash Player 10.2 with full hardware acceleration

It was probably good timing on Woordwing's part to issue a press release touting its tablet publishing solutions for multiple devices (read: Android). Today they announced that they have a Reader App for the Samsung Galaxy Tab ready to go, and will be supporting Honeycomb "soon as Android 3.0 becomes available".
Of course, missing from the announcement was a sign of webOS support, but with HP not committing to a ship date yet for its new TouchPad, webOS will have to wait. But one can expect that vendors, including Woodwing, will support the device assuming there is demand there.

When the whole Apple v. Adobe fight first began, Mac supporters were quick to fire back at the other side with the simple response "fix your software". That is, Mac users wouldn't be so against Flash if it didn't perform so poorly on their computers. Stop being a memory hog, stop slowing down my computer, and stop crashing, and we'll take your damn Flash content, I suppose." (I can't speak for every Mac owner, but I believe this sentiment is shared by most.)
Today Adobe launched Flash Player 10.2, an update to the Web plugin that is said to offer full hardware acceleration support for video. AppleInsider has a good run down on what all this will mean, and the limited effect it will have on most video found on the web now, but this is certainly a step in the right direction (or, at least, I think it is).

I've always believed that the whole "we can run Flash" positioning taken by competitors of Apple was a trap: it only works so long as Apple continues to bar Flash from its iOS devices. A change in stance, for whatever reason -- better software from Adobe, DOJ threats -- and suddenly the differentiator is gone. If Adobe and Apple make up, I guarantee you both companies will take advantage PR-wise. If Apple simply "gives in", then they can say "OK, now we support Flash, but it still sucks". Either way, the differentiator is gone.

HP unveils the TouchPad, a webOS driven tablet identical in size with the iPad; WiFi model to ship in the summer

With its 9.7 inch display you would be forgiven for thinking you were looking at an iPad, but it's not, it's HP's second shot at creating a tablet. This time, however, the technology giant has made sure their new product can favorably compare to Apple's market leading tablet.
The key here is that the tablet runs webOS, a well-thought of operating system, but one with low market share numbers -- and, more importantly, far fewer developers supporting it than either Apple's iOS or Google's Android.

“Today we’re embarking on a new era of webOS with the goal of linking a wide family of HP products through the best mobile experience available,” said Jon Rubinstein, senior vice president and general manager of HP's Palm Global Business Unit. “The flexibility of the webOS platform makes it ideal for creating a range of innovative devices that work together to keep you better connected to your world.”

The specs of HP's new tablet are impressive: Qualcomm Snapdragon dual-CPU APQ8060 1.2-GHz processor, a 9.7" display at 1,024 x 768 resolution, 16 or 32 gigs of storage, WiFi, Bluetooth, A-GPS, front-facing 1.3 megapixel camera for video calling, and a micro-USB connection for charging and connecting to a PC.

What exactly does "planned" availability mean?

Essentially, these are the specs of a current iPad or with the addition of the camera, the expected second generation iPad -- including those internal storage numbers. What the webOS tablet will do, that the iPad can not, is run Flash -- one of those points of differentiation that would not be very important if Apple would simply create a Click to Flash option for its iOS devices.

The odd thing here is that once again HP has made its announcement way ahead of any actual product shipments: the WiFi models are promised this summer, followed by 3G and 4G models later. That is too bad because the tablet HP has come up with looks like a legitimate alternative to the iPad.
What media executives will wonder, of course, is do they add a webOS device to the already long list of devices they are developing for. My guess is that vendors will make this decision easier by including webOS in their bag of tricks.

HP certainly thinks webOS will be no obstacle for media companies. Late into their presentation today Steven McArthur, SVP of applications and services, made his pitch to publishers, then introduced Randall Rothenberg, chief digital officer at Time Inc., who showed off Time, People and Sports Illustrated magazines.

AT&T to offer unlimited calling to any mobile number -- assuming you have an unlimited messaging plan

The name of the game in mobile telephony is no longer minutes, it's data. The move announced today by AT&T is further evidence that profits, in the future, will be made on data plans, not minutes sold to cell phone owners.
AT&T joined Sprint in offering its customers who currently have unlimited calling to other mobile lines, but the restrictions may limit the appeal of the benefit to those who already qualify.

"Unlimited messaging is available for $20 per month on an individual plan and $30 per month for a FamilyTalk Plan, which allows for up to five lines," the AT&T press release announced.

With Verizon now able to offer Apple's iPhone to both its current customers, and starting today, new customers, AT&T will continue to scramble to retain its current customer base.

Media app update news: Hoodgrown and Project update their iPad apps; ESPN updates its main scoreboard app

New app launches often get all the attention from the press, but updates are an essential part of the new media app environment. Updates not only bring in new features, but fix problems with the original app, or problems that have cropped up over time due to OS updates.
Chris "Cartel" English has issued an update to his Hoodgrown Magazine tablet edition. The new app gives you access to his three issues so far published for the iPad. The app itself is a shell app -- that is, it is only .7 MB in size, and once installed the reader then downloads the individual issues which tend to be rather large. The February issue, for instance, weighs in at 187.8 MB, and I must warn, does take a while to download.

English tells his readers in the iTunes App Store to delete the old app before downloading the new one. His update brings a polished look to his app, already one of the best tablet-only publications out there. (By the way, is it better to update an app, or launch a new one? New apps, after all, show up first in the App Store, while updates get seen by readers who already have downloaded the app, but remain buried in the App Store? Just a thought.)

English is working with Alligator Digital Magazines and has nothing but good things to say about them. A second magazine is about to launch, pending approval by the Apple app team.

Project, the tablet-only edition from Virgin Digital Publishing, has updated its iPad app, as well. The update is minor, but the publisher is able to promoted its third issue's release date of February 17th.
Project landed with a thud back in November, with most media writers pretty disappointed in the effort. My original post back on November 30 said that the initial reaction was positive, but it didn't take long for that to change. I was pretty happy with the app at first but didn't find myself returning to it -- a problem typical with many tablet editions.

So why is this? The reason I think is more simple than most media writers will admit to: who has time to read all the content available out there? Before tablets and smartphones, one was limited to the number of print publications one could consume -- nothing has changed with the advent of tablet publishing. For all the emphasis on bells and whistles, relevant content is still the most important element in a publication's chances at success. This was apparent from the day Wired was released. So many new readers downloaded the app and commented not on the magazine's content but on its tech aspects -- this was sign that these were not "natural" Wired customers and that eventually the number of downloads would decline.

So what would I like to read: how about a jazz magazine in English?

ESPN has updated its ScoreCenter app, the oldest app in its portfolio. There is really not much to mention here other than this being a good time to remind TNM readers that ESPN, like Google, continues to be dedicated to launch and supporting its mobile and tablet apps.

Morning Brief: Nokia CEO memo admits his company has fallen behind; Are you a sinner? There's an app for that

Nokia's CEO has, according to Engadget, issued a company wide memo that spells out what many observers already know: his company is behind the competition when it comes to smartphones.
According to the memo obtained by Engadget, Stephen Elop, the former Microsoft executive who took over as Nokia's CEO in September, lays out the situation in a brutally honest look at the company: "While competitors poured flames on our market share, what happened at Nokia? We fell behind, we missed big trends, and we lost time," Elop writes.

"The first iPhone shipped in 2007," Elop writes, "and we still don't have a product that is close to their experience. Android came on the scene just over 2 years ago, and this week they took our leadership position in smartphone volumes. Unbelievable."

What may indeed be unbelievable is the rumor that Nokia is thinking of partnering with Microsoft to promote the Windows Phone 7 platform.

How did I miss this app? My God, this is what I've needed since I was a little boy! Confession: A Roman Catholic App has hit the iTunes App Store and is ready to save souls -- at $1.99, what a deal, right?

But apparently the app, developed by South Bend, Indiana-based Little iApps was not devine after all, because the company has had to issue an update to fix some bugs such as "fixed prayers not displaying on iPad prayer tab" and a few others.

According to the developer the app is the first known iOS app to receive an imprimatur from the Catholic Church.

Sadly, even the developer admits his universal app won't take the place of a traditional 'confession'. The app "does not and can not take the place of confessing before a validly ordained Roman Catholic priest in a Confessional, in person, either face to face, or behind the screen. Why? Because the Congregation on Divine Worship and the Sacraments has long ruled that Confessions by electronic media are invalid and that ABSOLUTION BY THE PRIEST must be given in person because the Seal of the Confessional must be Protected and for the Sacrament to be valid there has to be both the matter and the form which means THE PRIEST," reads the app description.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Google brings translation to the iPhone; the pesky subscription and data issues gets another workout

I'm actually surprised that Google hasn't decided to not develop for iOS, but to instead keep apps like this for Android alone. Google Translate is pretty much the perfect app for smartphones.
The new app made its debut inside the App Store today, so what do you get for your money (oh yeah, its free)? The app will translate 57 languages when the user types in a sentence or two. It will also translate 15 different languages when you speak into your phone. In 23 languages, the app will speak the translation back to you.

The list of languages supported is extensive: Afrikaans, Albanian, Armenian, Azerbaijani, Arabic, Basque, Belarusian, Bulgarian, Catalan, Chinese (Simplified), Chinese (Traditional), Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Filipino, Finnish, French, Galician, Georgian, German, Greek, Haitian Creole, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Icelandic, Indonesian, Italian, Irish, Japanese, Korean, Latvian, Lithuanian, Macedonian, Malay, Maltese, Norwegian, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish, Swahili, Swedish, Thai, Turkish, Ukrainian, Urdu, Vietnamese, Welsh, Yiddish.

(The Android version has been out for a while and included a conversation mode that is not on the iPhone version, though I don't know if that feature is still available.)

The issue of subscriptions continues to be the number one issue facing publishers working with Apple. For those few non-print publishers out there developing for iOS, the whole issue is, well, a non-issue: these tablet and phone publishers like the system the way it is, with Apple handling the billing. The issue of data sharing can be gotten around using surveys and in-app registration.

But print publishers have the many issues, and discounts for their print customers is probably tops on their list.

The current controversy surrounds Apple's apparent demand that all apps allow for users to purchase subscriptions directly through the app. For Amazon and other book resellers, this is going to be a problem. Amazon can either allow Apple to take a cut, or else turn the whole buying mode off. Then the app would turn into a simple reading app.

I'm not sure newspaper and magazine publishers are quite so against in-app purchasing as some other media sites think they are. For the ENPA and other representatives of media companies, the issues of concern center around control of data and pricing.

The easy way around this is to develop new products, ones that stand on their own. But if you have never worked for a print media company you might not understand how the mindset works against this. At far too many newspaper and magazine companies, the over arching goal is to drive the current product -- everything must support the print product, whether it is the website or new mobile products. Imagining their companies as developers is like imagining their companies growing: ain't gonna happen. As a result, those companies that have created subsidiaries, whether truly independent, or only somewhat, are in a better position to develop and launch new mobile and tablet products based on the content or data of the parent company. I thought Tribune Interactive was heading in this direction, but it appears not to be.

In the end what we have here is a disconnect between media companies and their customers: most print publishers want to make their print products more profitable by growing, or at least keeping steady their subscriber numbers -- they can sell print, everything else is a struggle; readers want to read their products on their new electronic devices, print is so yesterday -- but they don't want to have to pay twice, and they really don't care that publishers need to sell advertising to survive and prosper. It's a mess, but being completely focused on the profitability of the print product is not help matters. And worse, Apple really doesn't care about your legacy products, it sells hardware, and they are getting damn good at it.

Short Takes: Sean McManus gets promoted out of news and into sports; a quick look at InformationWeek Select; Hippeau back on the investment side after HuffPost sale

A round-up of some miscellaneous news items I found of interest on this Tuesday afternoon.

This press release from CBS probably wasn't intended to tell us what CBS thinks of its news division, but . . .

Sean McManus, who has served as president of CBS News and Sports since 2005, has been promoted to the position of Chairman, CBS Sports. In this role, he will focus on the expanding portfolio of sports properties across all CBS Sports operations... In assuming this new position, McManus will step down from his role as President of CBS News.

Jeff Fager, Executive Producer of 60 Minutes will take over as Chairman of CBS News, with David Rhodes, formerly of Bloomberg, assuming the title of President of the News Division.

I downloaded, but forget to write about the InformationWeek iPad app released a week ago. Called InformationWeek Select, the app is about what you'd expect from the name: select stories drawn from the website of the UBM weekly.

The only advantage of these RDD driven tablet editions are that they can be read offline, though I noticed that the photos are missing. The app can be used in both landscape and portrait modes, and utilizes a single-sponsor model -- in this case, Oracle.

Kara Swisher has a piece online at the WSJ about the return of Epic Hippeau back to the investment side of the media business. Hippeau was CEO at The Huffington Post, of course, and before that was with Softbank, which bought Ziff-Davis . . . you get the idea.

Now Hippeau has landed at Lerer Ventures, which is run by Huffington Post co-founder Kenneth Lerer, who was a major investor in the website. What a business.

Like all things media, internal politics eventually trumps good publishing practices, leading to personnel changes. Whether it is a battle over editorial turf, or who should be running the web or app development, it is more often politics that decides who is in, and who is out.

Sarah Chubb, in charge of Condé Nast digital is leaving the company after 20 years -- or as the internal memo has it, Chubb will "explore other opportunities".

According to the Peter Kafka written piece on the move, Chubb had advocated for creating "a homegrown platform for publishing the company’s magazines for Apple’s iPad and other tablets."

But Wired magazine creative director Scott Dadich supposedly won the internal battle, and well, out goes Chubb.

But, of course, if this is all true, it probably won't make Ms. Chubb feel better to know that she was absolutely correct -- developing native tablet platform solutions was the right thing to do. Instead we are left with these massive Adobe driven tablet editions -- though to be fair much of the criticism of the Condé Nast tablet editions involves pricing, but size of download, and lack of native features is a common complaint, as well.

The Daily releases its first app update to fix crashes; iMags brings iOS users free magazines from Luxembourg

A number of media apps have been updated this morning, including a much needed update to The Daily.
Also updated this morning was the USA TODAY for iPad app, as well as the two Weather Channel apps for iOS devices. The reasons are the same: fix bugs that were causing crashes.

The Daily app, though, has an unusual warning: it asks its users to delete their current app before upgrading to version 1.0.1. This is often a good idea when an old app has been crashing, but frankly users rarely comply.

I deleted the old app and upgraded and have not had any problems with the new app. I noticed, however, that today's edition of The Daily lacks any animation on its portrait mode cover. The old version was very slow to download the animation and as a result -- as you can see from my post from yesterday -- the cover would appear to be without any illustration at all for several minutes.

Nonetheless, there are already lots of negative reviews inside the App Store from users who are complaining about the upgraded app. I wonder if the warning message has been added more recently in response to these complaints.

Our friend from Luxembourg, Bruno Pinto, informed TNM today that his new project has been released inside the App Store: iMags, a new digital newsstand app featuring access to free magazines.
The app gives you access to schéi Vakanz, Business Review, Made in Luxe, and 352LuxMag -- all from Luxembourg, and all offer free access. (Despite its name, Made in Luxe is in French, as are the other magazines)

Like the Zinio Magazine Newsstand & Reader, the apps are available as replica editions. The magazines can be read in both portrait and landscape mode, with no layouts adjusted for the change in aspect.
The developer, Bruno Pinto, now has 15 apps available for the iPhone, and nine for the iPad. They include entertainment apps, as well as education apps like Citations Francophones du 20e siècle which is a French quotations app which comes in a free version and a 99 cent version (that's 0,75€ in Europe).

The app is currently to be found under 'Books', but should probably be under the 'News' category. You can also check out the iMags digital newsstand online at the website here.

Morning Brief: Huffington Post, AOL and ad sales; is it worse to be made 'redundant' or to be 'laid off'?

The usual media critics have now had their say about the AOL acquisition of The Huffington Post, and, again as usual, the conversation is about content, content, content -- as if money mysterious floats in every time a celebrity writes another mindless piece.

The best piece I've seen so far was from Emily Steel and Russell Adams from the WSJ simply because they mentioned ad sales. "One person close to the situation said people in AOL's sales department are excited to have a fresh, high-profile, buzzy ad space to sell." Exactly.
Arianna Huffington has been aggressive at building out her website's ad sales team and aggressively going after the site's share of Internet ad revenue. This is almost the exact opposite approach pursued by AOL, and those media gurus who will tell you (amazingly with a straight face) that the future is content aggregation and the almost mystical power of extracting money from readers that will ensue if you just listen to their BS.

If Huffington will bring her aggressive revenue generating attitude to AOL this will be good. But both Huffington and AOL CEO Tim Armstrong have rather elitist opinions concerning those who actually generate the news content. The Huffington Post has been criticized in the past for the fact that only the high profile writers are compensated for their work, while most of the bloggers who produce the most copy and drive the most traffic are compensated with the honor of being published on the website. As a result, the quality of the editorial is about the same: a mix of TV personality stories with current events -- more current events at HuffPost, more hair advice at AOL.

In this regard, Arianna Huffington and Tim Armstrong have a lot in common. But if you think this is part of the new wave of editorial you haven't been around long. The late eighties and early nineties was a time of word counting in many newsrooms as new publishers and editors entered the scene, waving their MBAs, and often distributing the latest book about the philosophy of management, usually with the word "reengineering" in the title.

Like today, it was all about under valuing employees, slashing costs, and failing to understand that the other part of "profit" is revenue. What killed off these folks? The Internet boom. You can't charge a writer or sales professional peanuts when they are in high demand from new companies. But now, with unemployment (and under employment) so high, it is easy to see that one can launch hundreds of local news sites with cheap labor. It's harder, though, to make money at it.

The Brits have a certain way of describing being laid off that I've always found grating. Today The Guardian announced that Tim Brooks, who has served as managing director at Guardian News & Media, "has been made redundant". God, that's an ugly way to say that the company has brought in big, burly men to clear out the desk of an employee.

Similar to "reengineering", the reason given today for the elimination of Brooks's position was "ongoing reshaping of business".

Is Motorola really going to price the XOOM at $799? Well, yes and no. The price being floated around is the price of the tablet without a data contract. So the question isn't whether consumers will pay this high a price for an Android driven tablet -- they won't, they will buy the iPad instead -- but whether consumers are willing to sign yet another data contract.

"This is very aggressive pricing in the face of consumers' clear willingness to treat Apple products as the "gold standard" and worthy of a premium, with competing products representing some kind of compromise, which is typically reflected in pricing," Forrester Research analyst Charles Golvin was quoted as saying by eWEEK.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Late afternoon news briefs: Guardian reporter kicked out of Russia; Google Middle East executive finally freed

The Guardian's Moscow correspondent has been kicked out of Russia. Luke Harding has been expelled for what looks like retaliation for The Guardian's printing of WikiLeaks cables that said that Vladimir Putin's state has become a "virtual mafia state", according to a post on the the British daily's website.

The paper reported that Harding was refused entry into the country after having flown to Moscow this weekend. After having his passport checked he was informed that "For you Russia is closed" -- sounds like a scene from a movie.

"This is clearly a very troubling development with serious implications for press freedom, and it is worrying that the Russian government should now kick out reporters of whom they disapprove," Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger is quoted as saying. "Russia's treatment of journalists – both domestic and foreign – is a cause of great concern. We are attempting to establish further details, and are in contact with the Foreign Office."

I hope everyone saw the headline in the Short Takes area today: Google Middle East marketing executive Wael Ghonim was released by the Egyptian authorities earlier today after begin missing for the past ten days.

Ghonim tweeted his recent: "Freedom is a bless that deserves fighting for it."

The WSJ reported that efforts had been made this weekend to lobby newly named vice president Omar Suleiman for his release.

Ghonim is reported to be unharmed from his ordeal.

An Amazon Kindle blog post previews some of the changes we can expect in the next software update for the popular e-reader. They include public notes, real page numbers, ratings and new newspaper and magazine layouts.

Current Kindle owners can manually download the software update (here), but all users will get notified once it becomes generally available (what the difference?).

If you own a Kindle it would be really nice, I mean really very nice, if you would subscribe to Talking New Media. The Talking New Media Kindle Edition will set you back $1.99 per month, but you get 14 days for free. But hey, it's a better way to support TNM than opening up a PayPal account, right?

The stock market is up today, but AOL is down a little over three percent following its announcement that it had gobbled up The Huffington Post. I suppose this shouldn't be a surprise, the buying company usually sees its stock fall following a purchase announcement.

Verizon customers are apparently already starting to receive their new iPhones. New customers will be able to order their phones starting on Thursday. Spreading out all those iPhone customers, notoriously data hungry, is probably a good idea.

But all those Verizon iPhone owners will also be iTunes App Store customers. That means even more customers for those iOS media apps. It will be interesting to see what the impact will be, if any.

There is nothing like a Super Bowl game to drive web traffic and commenting by readers. Ask the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: their live blog had over 900 comments on it through today -- not too many compared to a site like The Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington's own post about the sale to AOL currently has over 4,100 comments on it. But still, not bad for the Journal-Sentinel.

Thwapr launches iPhone app that let's users (including reporters) send, share large video files from their iPhones

I've got to think that reporters will find this new app from Thwapr pretty handy when attempting to share large video files with their editors.
For journalists out in the field recording video on their phones, one problem has always been sending those files to their editors if the video is longer than about a minute. One option, of course, is to upload the files to YouTube or some other service, but that is hardly a good solution. What you want, of course, is to instantly send those raw files to someone who can piece a video feature together.

Thwapr is a start-up company with a management team of former Apple, AVID and MTV folk. The company is all about cloud-based mobile video sharing, and this app, I think, will get the company some attention. Previously, the company was known for 'share to phone' services for marketers.

Thwapr has a YouTube channel with videos about their services. This one is about their new iPhone app:

Groupon goes 'epic fail' in its attempt at Super Bowl advertising; Tibet ad gets called out for being 'tasteless'

One expects a company like Go Daddy to produce truly awful advertising since its target audience appears to be the 14 to 16 year old male demographic, but Groupon's initial Super Bowl advertising spots were almost as winch-creating.

The Timothy Hutton ad seen here generated YouTube comments like "Very Tasteless" and my favorite "Seriously? Holy cow, talk about tasteless. This may well be the "Springtime for Hitler" of Super Bowl ads."

Rob Solomon, Chief Operating Officer at Groupon, was quoted by AdAge as saying that the company wanted to reach a huge audience with the Super Bowl. "After two years in business earning 50 million subscribers to date, we feel it's time to use TV to reach an even broader audience."

Well, the company managed to reach that large audience, but did they realize the damage that could be done by taking the wrong approach?

The good news for Groupon is is that LivingSocial, Groupon's main competitor, probably didn't do itself any favors either. It's ad, which sees its main character eventually in drag, may not have been as tasteless, but it certainly didn't make me want to be a LivingSocial customer.

This ad is in the current mode of "our customers are stupid" currently favored by ad agencies. You see lots of these kinds of ads, from the Doritos pug ad, to Pepsi Max ad where the people shown are just plain mean and unlikable. Ad agencies continue to say in their client's ads "if you use this product you are an idiot!"

But LivingSocial did one thing right: they have disabled comments on their YouTube Channel, something Groupon probably wished they had done, as well.

The Daily finds it can adjust somewhat to breaking news, but the iPad app itself has some serious issues

This is the start of the second week of the life of The Daily and today presented a bit of a challenge as the news of the Huffington Post purchase by AOL had to be accommodated by the iPad-publication.
To do this, the editors simply inserted a new story into the file being sent to readers. Since pages are not numbered in the iPad app, this doesn't present much of an issue -- nothing needs to be relaid out, nothing needs to be removed, simply add in a new story. One knows this is the way the editors handled the new story because the TOC does not include the Huffington Post story.

The decision to use animation for the front cover when in portrait mode appears to have been a mistake. In landscape, the cover appears instantly and the reader can move on to the content within. But in portrait mode, the cover loads so slowly that for several minutes one is left with no illustration at all.
I noticed this flaw one the first day of the launch of The Daily, but let it go as either a slow load or a slight first day hiccup. But here we are in the second week of The Daily and I find that I can do without that cover animation. Today, for instance, the animation simply zooms out of a static picture.

The app is also crashing a lot. This may be caused by the fact that I have not rebooted my iPad in quite a while (iPad and iPhone owners get so used to the instant-on of their devices that they forget that it is a good idea to power down their iOS devices occasionally and allow for a reboot).

The Daily itself is far more a digital news magazine than a digital newspaper. Most of the content is not very timely and this may prove to be good. After all, I really don't see a tablet newspaper with a native app design being able to compete with an RSS driven news app -- the web (and hence RSS feeds) are in a better position to provide up to the minute news. If I were creating a digital "newspaper" for the iPad I would go with a design more like the NYT or Financial Times model. But The Daily works best in this magazine-styled look.

But which came first: the design or the editorial philosophy? It probably doesn't matter, the design and the content philosophy are a good match.

What about The Daily as a daily read? That's not really TNM's focus, but I'm impressed by the fact that I haven't deleted the app yet. This morning's editorial only hints at the News Corp. presence behind The Daily. How long before we get the full Monty? I expect it to come out well before the 2012 elections. It would have been wise to have created The Daily completely absent editorials and opinion, but I think the temptation to use the iPad to spread the corporate line was too great. But for now The Daily is toning it down a bit.

European newspaper publishers call on Apple to be more flexible in its user information and subscription rules

The European Newspaper Publishers’ Association (ENPA) issued a statement on its website which directly calls on Apple to all to loosen its rules concerning subscriptions and customer information sharing.

"The business model of newspapers is dependent on publishers and editors knowing their readers. It is essential that this close connection is maintained. Without direct access to their subscribers, this vital bond between newspapers and readers would be broken, to the detriment of both," the statement says.
In addition, the ENPA says newspapers should have more leeway in setting tablet subscription prices for their existing print customers. “The print edition of a newspaper remains the engine room creating an incredible range of news and informative content. In the current environment, new online and mobile business models often operate in combination with the print edition,” said Valdo Lehari Jr., ENPA vice president and chair of the association's Digital Task Force.

The gulf between publishers and Apple appears to be widening as publishers continue to want to reward their print customers with discounted pricing for digital products, while Apple makes clear that they do not want iPhone and iPad owners paying more for access to media than those who are also print customers. Both sides continue to be talking past each other as publishers and their associations issue statements, and news comes out of Apple only through rumor and the occasional developer rules update.

Morning Brief: The Huffington Post sells out to AOL; Super Bowl ad winner didn't spend a dime last night

I find this to be a head scratcher: AOL has bought Huffington Post for $315 million, almost all of it in cash.

For Arianna Huffington, this is the pay off for her meager investment in new media back in 2005. AOL, this is another example of the company trying to buy its way to revenue growth and a future.
With the completion of the deal Huffington will become president and editor-in- chief of the Huffington Post Media Group, which includes Huffington Post and AOL news content, as well as MapQuest and Moviefone. Huffington, in essence, becomes the face of AOL.

The reaction to the deal was interesting in and of itself:

The Telegraph: Is The Huffington Post really worth $315 million? (Yes, probably it is.)

The Guardian: Who gets the $315m? (Yep, Huffington is rewarding her friends, inline with the way she does business.)

WSJ: Is it crazy? (The author says that "we’re getting a little worried about Armstrong" and then "The Huffington Post deal also is essentially Armstrong’s mea culpa that his own content-first strategy wasn’t working." Frankly, I've not had the same confidence in AOL's news strategies up to this point. For all the huff and puff coming from AOL about its Patch expansion I've yet to see anyone at Patch really talk a serious game about revenue. The build-it-and-they-will-come strategy seems way too naive for me. If they went out and sold some damn ads I might be impressed.

Daring Fireball: "They deserve each other." (Guess John Gruber is not a fan.)

Everyone has their opinion, I suppose, about the best and worst of the Super Bowl ads. I, frankly, was underwhelmed by the imagination of the ad community this year. This ad for Doritos seemed to get some of the most favorably feedback:

But one of the big winners last night had to be a company that didn't spend any money at all: Apple. I counted at least five ads that prominently promoted either the iPhone or iPad. The companies were Comcast's ad for its Xfinity iPad app (that had to be a first, a Super Bowl ad for an app), AT&T and Verizon's ads for promoting either faster data or better connections for the iPhone. (All these ads, I believe, were local buys, or buys into the pre-game shows.)

In the past, Apple was known for a company that didn't do much broadcast advertising. The growth of the iPod, then the iPhone, changed all that -- along with a growing bank account. Now the company can be seen everywhere promoting especially the iPhone and iPad. But Apple probably didn't think it would be necessary to spend upwards of $3 million for 30 seconds when they had the telecoms doing their promotion for them.