Friday, February 18, 2011

The Bay Area News Group releases its first tablet edition; iPad app is identical to that for the Post-Dispatch

The Bay Area News Group, part of MediaNews Group, has released its first tablet edition. The free app will serve as the iPad edition of for the group made of the San Jose Mercury News, Contra Costa Times, Oakland Tribune, Marin Independent Journal, Santa Cruz Sentinel, San Mateo County Times, Palo Alto Daily News, East County Times, Tri-Valley Herald and other local publications.
If the Bay Area News app looks familiar, it should. It is identical to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch app talked about this morning. In other words, like Handmark, Verve Wireless is offering its clients an off-the-shelf app, customizable to a small degree, but otherwise exactly the same as offered other newspaper clients.

The good news, I guess, is that at least these apps from Verve Wireless appear designed for the tablet. That is unlike the apps for newspapers like Freedom Communications, which are really just variations of the iPhone designed app.
What's truly sad about all this it that for now this new Bay Area News Group app stands alone, thanks to the complete lack of apps produced by Hearst Newspaper for its San Francisco Chronicle property. How is it that the home to Silicon Valley can be so backwards when it comes to New Media, mobile and tablets? (Don't answer that.)

The Bay Area News Group app does offer a couple of improvements over the app produced by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch team: first, the app description plainly tells users that the app is "Free for a limited time" -- a warning that is missing from the P-D app; second, the bottom navigation buttons are clearly for photo galleries -- I couldn't figure out what the P-D app was trying to give me.

Considering the time and effort put into launching an app, an off-the-shelf, your app looks like my app, approach is not optimal. It reflects a lack of commitment to digital publishing, and tablets publishing, in particular. But then again, these apps don't hold a lot of promise of revenue. They are designed to tap into mobile advertising networks. Once again, the advertising people appear to have been frozen out -- or at the very least, they are not showing much faith in the abilities of their sales staffs.

I did a search of the Android Market but did not see an equivalent tablet app, though I do see that Verve Wireless does have several Android phone apps for such newspapers as the Post-Dispatch and the

Disclosures: I once worked for Lesher Communications in management, competing against what was to eventually turn into the Bay Area News Group. My paper, The Valley Times, was part of a group of newspapers eventually bought out by MediaNews, and the Times was closed in favor of the Tri-Valley Herald, the competitive paper (we were kicking the Herald's butt). I also mentioned Hearst Newspaper: I used to work for Hearst at the Los Angeles Herald Examiner.

Before the week is up I suppose I should point out another new media app, this one from Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. Martha Stewart Everyday Food Magazine is the second tablet edition put out by the company. The first one was released back in November for the company's flagship Martha Stewart Living. That app was well received except by print subscribers who were not happy to have to pay again for the content -- something that the new Apple rules recognize.

The new app gives readers the January/February issue for free so that they can preview the magazine. The current March edition is priced at $2.99.

Three pictures: you tell me the story they tell the world

In about a three minute span I saw these three pictures -- back-to-back-back. You can imagine the impression the succession of image had:

Top: Globe and Mail, AP or Reuters
Middle: Mark Hoffman, Journal Sentinel
Bottom: The White House

The Top picture has just appeared on The Globe and Mail site, unattributed but possibly from either Reuters or AP. The picture shows the results of government troops firing on demonstrators in Bahrain.

The Middle picture is from Milwaukee Journal Sentinel photographer Mark Hoffman and is part of a slideshow of pictures taken, probably yesterday, at the Capitol in Madison, showing demonstrators protesting the governor's plans to end collective bargaining rights for state employees.

The Bottom picture was just released by The White House. "President Barack Obama joins a toast with Technology Business Leaders at a dinner in Woodside, California" is the caption.

I give you these three pictures without further comment.

Mid-Morning Briefs: WSJ speculates, others aggregate; The Daily continues to lead with the big domestic story; suggestion: end the week with some pinot noir

This must be the kind of journalism that the advocates of aggregation dream of: the WSJ writes a story about governments about to crack down on a big tech company, so aggregators grab the story and run with it.
The problem with the story, as you will see if you read the whole thing, is that the authors have not not provided a single shred of evidence to back up the story's premise, no regulators in either the United States or Europe were quoted saying they will be starting an investigation. The closed the authors got to a quote from a regulator was a spokeswoman for the European Commission saying they were "carefully monitoring the situation" -- another way of saying they showed up for work today.

The thinness of the story has not stopped other media properties from aggregating the story big time. Isn't there a saying that goes something like "aggregation without curation is plagiarism"? If not there should be.

In any case, if it is true that Apple worked closely with News Corp. on the creation of The Daily, I seriously doubt Apple will want to do that again.

I see The Daily again today put had ongoing protests in Wisconsin as their lead story again today. The lead story was pretty balanced, all-in-all, and there were no additional editorials or opinion pieces about the issue today.

I think that this the editors of The Daily, following the now famous memo issued on Monday, will be concentrating most of their efforts on domestic stories. It is easier to accomplish with a smaller staff, and with the New York Times continuing to lead with Bahrain, this gives The Daily a point of differentiation.

While I have been slavishly working to bring you the latest new media news, my wife is off with her friends in California having a good time . . . as you can see. The good news, I suppose, is that our weather here in Chicago has been better than that in Northern California.

But the wines aren't as good, are they? That is the happy threesome at Skewis Wines, a great producer of pinot noir, located in Healdsburg in Sonoma County. We were lucky to get on their distribution list a few years back, and this week my wife and her friends were able to visit Hank and Maggie Skewis at the winery. Thanks to the recession you might be able to get on their list now, as they do not have national distribution -- the wine's too good, the production too small, you know how that goes. But you might want to check them out at their website and get on the list while you can.

Update: Did you know today was National Drink Wine Day? No kidding. I thought every day was National Drink Wine Day? Maybe just at my house.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch uses Verve Wireless to launch first iPad edition; app and content are free, why buy print?

Publishers and media critics have been quite vocal in their criticism of Apple's new subscription policies, claiming that they are potentially hurting their businesses. But then you see an app like the one for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and you wonder: really, who is doing more damage to their business, themselves or the tech companies?
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch for iPad is a pretty nice app. Developed with Verve Wireless, the app provides for both portrait and landscape reading, is fairly easy to navigate, and except for a strange content glitch here and there, is pretty thorough.

But the app is free, and once installed, the content is free. The app's description gives no clue about future changes to this situation, so I immediately wondered if readers in the St. Louis area might just decide to bag their print editions for this app. Sure there are few local ads -- which is still maintain drive readership almost as much as editorial content -- and one wouldn't get those Sunday inserts, but free is free.
The online story at least hints that this situation won't be permanent. "Search for Post-Dispatch in the app store," the story says, "and download your free introductory subscription today."

I wonder how many customers get mad when they finally find out that this won't be free forever. It would have been nice to include this in the app description, don't you think?
But, as I said above, the app is pretty good. The main navigation is at the top of the page where the user can locate the various sections. The in-app instructions are really badly done and should be completely redone for an app update. On the bottom are some additional navigational buttons. At first I thought the "STL sports" button would take me to the sports section but instead it took me to a strange looking page with duplicate stories. I really have no idea what this section is about.

The front page of the print edition, courtesy of the Newseum.

One thing for sure, though, the tablet edition works much better in landscape mode that in portrait. In portrait, the layouts look very, how shall we say this, very tabloid-like. That wouldn't be bad but the Post-Dispatch doesn't look anything like this in print. Far from it. (See screenshot, care of the Newseum website.)

But in landscape mode it looks a bit better, especially once you dive into the sections.

The app doesn't leave much room for advertising. The front page ad for Bommarito, a local auto group, is only seen in landscape and is replaced with a house ad in portrait. Because of this, unless there are redesign changes, the app will have to depend eventually on paid subscriptions.

The managers at the Post-Dispatch have certainly thrown the kitchen sink into this tablet edition, there is a lot here, from weather to videos, to social network sharing. I certainly think this is a better solution than a replica edition, that's for sure. But now the key will be whether the team can tweak this app into shape over the coming months. Oh, and it would be nice if they warned those who download the app that eventually they will be charged.

Thursday, February 17, 2011 quickly becomes the go-to-place for news on the protests and political shenanigans in Madison

Just two weeks ago The Capital Times announced that it had acquired the local political website -- and in an amazing bit of serendipity the website has become much in demand as the place to follow the protests and actions in Madison, Wisconsin's state capital.

For those not following the events in Wisconsin, a little background: The new Republican governor Scott Walker, has proposed a budget bill that would strip most state workers of the right to collective bargaining. The governor, however, inserted a special exemption for local police, firefighters and the Wisconsin State Patrol. Walker, the candidate, was endorsed by the Wisconsin State Troopers, the Milwaukee Police and Firefighters associations and the West Allis Professional Police. (!)
As I write this, has reported that Democrats have walked out of today's legislative session, preventing Republicans from achieving a quorom -- they are one representative short. "Clearly they just decided to check out today," Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald is quoted as saying by Greg Bump, the Budget Blog editor.

Bump also reports that Senate Democratic Leader Mark Miller’s office has released a statement: "Democrats believe it is wrong to strip people of their right to have a say in the conditions of their employment and to use state law to bust unions. Over the last several days tens of thousands of citizens, young and old, union and non-union, labor and management, from every corner of the state, have travelled to the Capitol to peacefully and respectfully exercise their right to speak to their elected officials. These people deserve to be heard and their rights ought to be respected."

In the meantime, schools in Madison, and in several other Wisconsin communities, are closed today as teachers continue boycotting their classrooms to join the protests.

Ireland's RTÉ News releases first iPad media app; features live news, sports, business, live video streaming

Based on the feedback of users in the Irish iTunes App Store, the new iPad app from RTÉ News is a much appreciated launch. The free app gives users access to the latest news, as well as live video streaming.
RTÉ News is far and away the Republic of Ireland's most popular and important news organization. Run as a division of Raidió Teilifís Éireann, a state supported broadcaster, RTÉ News broadcasts in both English and Irish, though this app is entirely in English.

This new app does not take the 'magazine' styled approach increasingly favored by many developers, but instead throws it all out there, much like its website. But the website, having a bigger palette to work with is more attractive and less crowded than this media app.

But that doesn't in any way take away from the fact that this app does what it needs to do: provide iPad owners with another way to get RTÉ News content.
The design leaves room for a medium rectangle ad, located on the bottom-right of the front page. That spot is currently reserved for a house ad, but one assumes this could eventually house a paid ad. The layouts feature both portrait and landscape modes, and I didn't sense any shuttering or other navigation bugs.

"Building on the success of the RTÉ News Now app for iPhone and Android, the release of our News Now app for iPad continues to meet the needs of our audience for delivering up-to-the-minute, dynamic RTÉ content across a widening range of platforms," Múirne Laffan, Executive Director of RTÉ Publishing said.

A new iPad app for the entertainment weekly RTÉ Guide, Ireland’s largest selling magazine, is anticipated to be launched in March. According to the Irish tech site, Silicon Republic, the app is expected to adopt a freemium model.

“You can download the app for free, and there’s some content available but to get into the digital version of the magazine, you pay for that,” Laffan said to Silicon Republic.

The Daily dives hard right: uses issue of ending collective bargaining rights to establish its political leanings

You just knew a moment would come where The Daily would let it go and reveal its political preferences. Even as the company's chairman, Rupert Murdoch, proclaimed that The Daily was aimed at 'everybody', one had to wonder when the moment would come when its editors would come out strongly for a candidate, a party, or an issue. It turns out the 'issue' was unions, and the efforts of Wisconsin's new governor
Today's edition features a 'cover' with the headline "No Class", as well as an editorial and opinion piece to come out strongly against Wisconsin unions representing state employees.

In its editorial, the editors of The Daily state that "It's difficult to imagine a more selfish group of people than the public-sector employees – many of them public school teachers – gathered on the steps of Wisconsin's Capitol this week."

The editorial throws gas on an already enflamed situation where thousands of state employees have gathered in Madison to protest the efforts of new governor Scott Walker to strip all state employees, except those belonging to the three unions that supported his campaign, of their collective bargaining rights. As a result, most schools in the Madison area continue to be closed as both teachers and many of their students have gone to the state house to protest.
In his opinion column, Will Wilkenson makes no bones about his party loyalties. "Given the Democratic Party's reliance on the support of public-sector unions, it's hardly surprising that left-leaning politicians and pundits have give the unions a pass," Wilkenson writes. What follows is his argument for the elimination of public-sector unions, and the rights of government employees to collective bargaining.

One can not be surprised that The Daily would have eventually revealed itself to be another in the line of News Corp. media properties that support right wing policies and politicians. But the surprise, to me anyway, is that the editors have decided that now is the moment to strike. One would thought that next year's presidential election would be the time for such a moment.

But things don't seem to be going so well at the iPad-only digital news product if editor Jesse Angelo's memo is an indication. "Folks, Egypt is over - time for us to get focused on covering America," New York Magazine reports the memo as stating.

"We need to get out there and start finding more compelling stories from around the country - not just scraping the web and the wires, but getting out on the ground and reporting. Find me an amazing human story at a trial the rest of the media is missing," the memo purportedly states. And, indeed, The Daily has found its story apparently.

I keep hearing that The Daily has extended its free subscription offer until February 28. But I'm not so sure that is universally true. As you can see by my version of The Daily, my free subscription is still set to run out soon.
As someone who was born in Detroit, whose father was in the auto industry, there is simply no way I could, in good conscious, subscribe to The Daily after today. I grew up listening to stories about Walter Reuther, and the sit-down strike against GM in the '30s, and talking to many, many auto workers who had joined the middle class thanks to the union movement. Hell, I grew up in the suburbs, lived in a new, if small, ranch home built in the fifties, attended good schools, all because the middle class existed thanks to unions, collective bargaining, and the blood of those who died trying to win better wages and benefits. Sorry, it's my heritage The Daily is going after, as well as the entire middle class of this country. Count me out.

Steve Varga releases Pennant for the iPad, an interactive history of baseball, just in time for spring training

Winter is just too damn long in the Midwest, and Opening Day still feels like a long way off. But pitchers and catchers have reported to spring training and for millions of baseball fans, hope springs eternal that their boys might win the World Series this year. (I know, my team, impossibly, hysterically, ridiculously, won last year. I'm still giddy.)
Just in time for the new season comes this wonderful new app from Steve Varga who calls himself a "Freelance Creative Technologist". Pennant is one of those apps for the iPad that really shows the potential of the form.

Pennant was created, Varga tells us on the app's supporting website, using open-source records from Retrosheet, then worked into a database, sprinkled with data from The Baseball Databank. (I think its great that Varga gives us these details.)
The app allows you to view every teams performance from 1952 through the 2010 season. (Of course, it would start in 1952. After all, the Giants last World Series win before this year was in 1951. Varga must be a Yankees fan, or worse, a Dodgers fan!)

The data covers over 115,000 games, and as any baseball fan will tell, the sport is all about statistics. Users can see the results of every game in that time span, replay each play within the game, and compare statistics. (Someone has to tell Nate Silver about this app.)

The app will cost you $4.99, but I noticed that bleacher seats for the Giants spring training games are now over twenty bucks, $4.99 seems like a bargain to me.

Pennant Preview from Steve Varga on Vimeo.

Warner Bros. releases app editions for its two films Inception and The Dark Knight, more film apps to come

Is this the future of film distribution, distributing via app? Who knows, but the concept is sure interesting, isn't it?
Yesterday the film studio Warner Bros. released two apps for films directed by Christopher Nolan: Inception and The Dark Knight. Both apps are universal and free to download. The apps give viewers the first five minutes of the film plus a portion of the bonus material, which extensive. Unfortunately, neither app's description mentions that you will have to pay to gain access to the full content, though at the bottom left of the App Store description it says that there is an in-app purchase available -- Inception: App Edition costs $11.99, while The Dark Knight: App Edition will set you back $9.99 (it's an older release).

This new app approach is clearly a major initiative for Warner Bros.
“Warner Bros. is bringing more than 100 million Apple device owners a highly innovative new way to experience their favorite films,” said Thomas Gewecke, President of Warner Bros. Digital Distribution.

“For many, watching a movie is a social activity and App Editions are the first mobile product to deliver this capability on a global scale. They offer a fully connected experience, allowing viewers to engage with others around the world in real-time through Facebook and Twitter. In 2011, Warner Bros. will release a full slate of App Editions including new release and catalog films.”

Warner Bros. has several apps available for Android, including two Inception game apps, but nothing so far on the scale of these iOS apps.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

More media app updates: The Weather Channel adds push notifications for issuing severe weather alerts

When I lived in California a weather warning was almost unheard of. Generally a warning involved the "Santa Anas", the strong, dry, offshore winds that were feared during the fire season of late fall.
But here in the midwest we have blizzards, thunderstorms and tornados. Hey, we have weather, way too much weather.

So the addition of push notifications for The Weather Channel apps makes a ton of sense. Today The Weather Channel Max for iPad was updated to include push notifications for severe weather.

Other media updates today included the CNN App for iPad which improved comment posting and other fixes. The Washington Post which just recently updated its iPad app has issued an update to its iPhone app that fixes some bugs and adds a "Most Read" option.

The Guardian issued updates today to both its photojournalism app and its iPhone app. The Guardian Eyewitness has added pinch-to-zoom, a fantastic addition, so that users can zoom into the photographs. It has also worked to streamline the app and fixed some bugs. This is still one of my favorite apps, and one I recommend to all iPad owners. The Guardian for iPhone app has also been updated to fix some bugs, and also says it has fixed subscriptions. I don't know what this means since the app is free for US users, so they may be referring to the non-US app here.

I also see that Journal Communications has updated its app for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, though it remains just a replica edition.

Google looks to lure publishers with 'One Pass', lower commission rate; Google Music service to launch with upcoming Android 3.0 upgrade (Honeycomb)

Hoping to capitalize on the controversy surrounding Apple's subscription policies, Google unveiled its own payment system called One Pass. The system will take a smaller portion of revenues generated, ten percent, than Apple's in-app purchasing system.

Google's system is the antithesis of Apple's rigid system: Google One Pass promises "business model flexibility", allowing metered access, day passes, per-pay article charging, and multi-issue packages. It also allows publisher to issue 'coupons' to existing subscribers in order to give full access to a publication's print customers.

"Google One Pass operates across multiple sites, so you can easily manage content across all of your online properties," Google claims on its website. "It also offers payments in mobile apps, in instances where the mobile OS terms permit transactions to take place outside of the app market."

Google One Pass will have a limited impact on tablet editions so long as the iPad rules the roost. Many tech writers have placed their Android hopes on Motorola and its upcoming XOOM launch. But Motorola said today that its WiFi only model will retail for $600 unsubsidized, and its 3G model at $799. (Apple's WiFi models start at $499, and its 3G models start at $629.)

Until the Android tablets can effectively compete with Apple's iPad, Google stands a better chance of attacking its Silicon Valley rival more effectively on smartphones, where Android currently holds a market share advantage. That is why the decision to launch Google's competitor to the Apple iTune store with the upcoming launch of Honeycomb seems odd. The Guardian quotes Sanjay Jha, chief executive of Motorola Mobility, as saying that the new service is tied to the introduction of Honeycomb, a version that will first be seen on new tablets.

Nonetheless, Google is quickly lining up media delivery capabilities that will seriously compete with Apple. How is this going to be possible? By driving the price to zero -- the usual Google business strategy.

For Google, the goal is increasing eyes, if they have to give away the products, whether that be the mobile operating system, or decreasing or eliminating the commission on media sales, they will. Conversely, Apple is banking on its user interfaces continuing to attract consumers to their products. Whether Apple holds an 80 percent market share of tablet owners, or a 20 percent share, Apple is banking on media companies continuing to want to reach those readers, listeners or viewers.

Update: Rick Edmonds has a post on that mentions that Media General will use One pass at its Richmond Times-Dispatch newspaper. It is currently using the Journalism Online pay system at its Hickory, North Carolina property.

In this regard, One Pass could be both competition for Apple's subscription system as well as competition for Steven Brill's Journalism Online model, though I continue to have my own doubts about the concept of metered paywalls. I will say it again . . . we'll see.

Borders Group files for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection; secures $505 million in debtor-in-possession financing

In a widely anticipated move, Borders Group has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, filing in bankruptcy court in the Southern District of New York. The move will result in 193 of its 642 stores being closed.
The universal explanation of Borders decline lies with its failure to adjust to the move to online retail selling of books and music. Unlike its rival Barnes & Noble, Borders was late to introducing its own e-reader, partner with a company to promote the Kobo, a device that has not proved as successful as the Kindle, or even B&N's NOOK.

For six years, starting in 2001, Borders outsourced web sales to Amazon, before finally opening is own online retail store in 2008. But then it was too late. Additionally, the Borders either could not, or decided it would not compete aggressively on price. This is especially apparent in high priced books such as cookbooks -- and example, Bouchon by Thomas Keller is priced at the publisher's suggested price of $50 on the Borders website, it is $31.50 on

On a personal note, the Ann Arbor-based Borders has always been my bookstore of choice. Its store located just outside the University of Michigan campus was always one of my stops -- along with Schoolkids Records, which itself recently closed. At the time, Borders was an unique Midwest institution, the kind of huge bookstore that we imagined existed only in some place like New York. The company was founded by two brothers in 1971, who themselves were students at UofM. The current flagship store in Ann Arbor may not be in the original location but it is still referred to as Borders #1.

The original Borders company was sold in 1992 to Kmart - 'nuff said.

This is TNM's 1,000th post. Launched officially on January 4th of last year, this site would have hit this milestone earlier were it not for the decision to close shop at the end of June. You, the readers of TNM, convinced me to start posting again in mid-July.

In the past year we have seen the introduction of the iPad and the rise of Android phones. Soon will come a rush of tablets that hope to compete with Apple's device.

Unfortunately, we have not seen much recovery in the media industry. Some top tier consumer magazines have seen their ad pages increase this year, while many others have continued to struggle. B2B media was already in the dumps last year and, if anything, things have gotten worse. At the last B2B media company I worked at, management has so decimated its own sales capability that some magazines are produced with less than a dozen ad pages -- and most (all?) of their BPA audits have been eliminated (though I see that this has not stopped them from continuing to display the BPA logo).

In other words, we as an industry are still struggling to define our futures. For many stubborn owners and executives, the fight is about print, postal rates, and employee expenses. Those publications will die off (I don't make predictions here, but that one was a no-brainer).

For those who see the rise of tablets and mobile platforms as an opportunity to rethink their business, launch new ones, and reinvigorate ones, TNM remains here to discuss the news and express our opinions.

Media critics can't understand why Apple doesn't listen to them . . . they have short memories

The media and its media gurus sometimes express concern that Apple just doesn't listen to them. Why, oh why doesn't Apple understand that we know best.

But from the perspective of the folk in Cupertino, the media and its supposed thought leaders have hardly been friends of Apple. In fact, it seems that from the first day Steve Jobs announced the iPad, the media has been quick to judgement. Sure there have been fanboys, as they are called, but many have been picking a fight -- and as John Gruber would say, providing plenty of "claim chowder".

This is not to say that Apple has gotten its relationship with the media correct, far from it. But this is to remind those of us in the publishing business that relationships go both ways. If today there are those writing to decry the policies of Apple and its App Store, let me briefly hold a mirror up:
The media didn't wait until the actual product was launched to begin expressing its doubts: "I’ve been covering and reviewing notebooks and battery technology for the past decade, and I know what the current technology is capable of," John Breden writes on the B2B website for Government Computer News. "There is no way that a 1.5-pound computer is going to be able to drive an IPS display for ten hours as Steve Jobs claims. It just can’t happen." Oh boy, please stop now before things get worse. But no, he goes on: "Unless Apple has also developed some new type of power source, such as nuclear cells or magical hamsters on tiny spinning wheels for the iPad, don’t expect the claims about battery life to hold true." Turns out that Jobs was underestimating the battery life the iPad would get.

Why I won't buy an iPad (and think you shouldn't, either) -- Cory Doctorow, writing on boingboing says that "Gadgets come and gadgets go. The iPad you buy today will be e-waste in a year or two." And this was the day before the first iPad was even delivered.

Here is another review of a device not seen and not used: The Top 7 reasons I won't be getting an iPad -- Mike Butcher, European editor of TechCrunch, for The Telegraph. After listing seven reasons why he won't buy an iPad -- and remember, this is a tech editor talking, he ends with "I reserve the right to change my mind on all of the above. Once I’ve actually seen one." That was brave.

Amazingly, Claudine Beaumont, The Telegraph's technology editor, had to write her own list of reasons why she won't buy an iPad either. She writes "Don't get me wrong, the iPad looks lovely – all sleek lines and tight curves. But how do you use the thing?" I guess she won't downloading the Telegraph's own iPad app any time soon.

Morning Brief: Magazines begin offering annual subs through the Apple App Store; Hickory makes history

The Bonnier magazine Popular Science was one of the first to update its iPad app and begin offering annual subscriptions through the App Store.
The Popular Science+ app was updated yesterday and the only change to the app listed in the description was the added ability to buy a one-year subscription for $14.99 directly through the app.

“Our iPad readers let us know they wanted the ability to buy annual subscriptions using their existing iTunes account, and we’re happy to deliver on their demands,” said Gregg Hano, VP, Group Publisher of Bonnier’s Popular Science on the magazine's website. “A yearlong subscription to the digital magazine will bring the cost per issue down significantly, rewarding loyal customers while still giving them access to the high-quality extra interactive content, video and custom design that only the digital experience can offer.”

The Hachette Filipacchi Media property, Elle, also updated its Elle US app yesterday adding an auto-renewable subscription plan, as well. The Elle subscription is priced at $18.99 for a year's worth of magazines.

WoodWing Software, The Netherlands-based company which provides digital publishing solutions to publishers, was quick to announce this morning that they are ready for the change in subscription policies. WoodWing said that the company's tablet publishing solution now offers support for the new subscription schemes offered by Apple.

“This new option is a major step forward on the way to establish the iPad as the digital media channel of choice for magazine and newspaper publishers,” Hans Janssen, CEO of WoodWing Software said in a company release. “By instantly supporting the new iTunes option to subscribe to the iPad editions of newspapers and magazines, WoodWing meets the needs of both customers and publishers worldwide. For customers, it’s the convenience that counts, and for publishers, it opens up interesting new business opportunities.”

But while Bonnier and Hachette Filipacchi have been adapting to the changing subscription rules, for some companies the change appears onerous.

Rhapsody issued a statement yesterday that all but says they will pull out of the store unless Apple is more accommodating.

"Our philosophy is simple too – an Apple-imposed arrangement that requires us to pay 30 percent of our revenue to Apple, in addition to content fees that we pay to the music labels, publishers and artists, is economically untenable," Jon Irwin, president of Rhapsody said in a statement. "The bottom line is we would not be able to offer our service through the iTunes store if subjected to Apple’s 30 percent monthly fee vs. a typical 2.5 percent credit card fee."

In the meantime, there is still time for all parties to make adjustments. Apple has set a June 30 deadline for developers to make their apps compliant with the new subscription rules.

"We will continue to allow consumers to sign up at from a smartphone or any other Internet access point, including the Safari browser on the iPhone and iPad," Rhapsody's Irwin wrote. "In the meantime, we will be collaborating with our market peers in determining an appropriate legal and business response to this latest development."

So will we see lawsuits, or a push for antitrust action?

I think opposition to the new Apple subscription policies among magazine and newspaper publishers is overblown. Take this article in today's NY Post. "The plan appeared to land with a thud," Keith J. Kelly writes.

But like an Iraq War story that purports to say there are weapons of mass destruction out there but provides no evidence, Kelly's story fails to quote even one publisher who is upset with the policy. In fact, the story quotes Hearst as saying "We're pleased to see subscription agreements coming to the tablet world."

Instead there is one anonymous quote that states that none of the big publishers have come forward to say they are on board -- something that was instantly proved in correct with the two updated apps mentioned above.

In the end, I think we will find that newspaper and magazine companies will not find too much objectionable in the new Apple subscription policy. The real problem lies in those media companies that offer "subscriptions" to services such as music and video streaming. Netflix, Rhapsody and others aren't going to want to lose 30 percent of their revenue to Apple, just as they wouldn't want to lose that revenue to a television maker or stereo manufacturer. Sony doesn't get 30 percent because the DVD you bought is being played on their DVD player. So Apple will have to adjust its policies to recognize that sometimes Apple's iPad or iPhone is a marketplace, and sometimes it is just a "media player" -- retailers and distributors get paid, manufacturers of devices do not.

It's complicated, but it would help if Apple brought in some media professionals to help them out. (Yes, I'm available! The Peninsula is a great place to live.)

OK, what's the real news today: well, of course, it's last night's winner of the Westminster Kennel Club dog show. let's go to the LA Times write-up:

It's official: History was made when judge Paolo Dondina of Italy awarded the Westminster Kennel Club dog show's coveted Best in Show title to Hickory, a Scottish deerhound, on Tuesday night.

Hickory, a 5-year-old female whose full name is GCH Foxcliffe Hickory Wind (the GCH stands for Grand Champion), is the first Scottish deerhound ever to win Best in Show at Westminster.

Photo courtesy of The Westminster Kennel
Club website

All hail Paolo Dondina for being the first judge to recognize the obvious: Deerhound's rule, Poodle's drool (or something like that). Well, in any case, as the former owner of a Deerhound I can tell you that we didn't need a dog show to tell us that Deerhounds are magnificent animals. But it is nice to see one finally recognized as Best in Show.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Apple subscription policies get skewed by those confused by the change; focus in on the words "in-app purchases"

Quite a number of posts have appeared online about the new Apple subscriptions policy, and the forum boards have been lively, to say the least. Unfortunately, some of the discussion on the boards have gone off the deep-end, either because the trolls are out, or because of a basic misunderstanding about what is being said in the Apple press release.

MG Siegler, writing on TechCrunch, does a pretty good job of summarizing the issues, but does tend to skip past a few points when he starts talking about Hulu and Netflix. For many who read these stories one would think that Netflix might be tempted to pull their app. Not at all. This policy change won't effect the vast majority of those who like to stream their movies. Why? Because most Netflix customers were subscribers to the service before the iPad ever appeared. They went onto the Netflix website and signed up. The iPad app simply provided them another way to view the content. Nothing in the subscription policy changes effects those who bought their Netflix subscriptions this way -- they can still stream their movies as usual.
So where would the change be? It would involve those "in-app" purchases. Remember that phrase: in-app purchases. If you are not currently a customer of Netflix you can use would have to sign-up, right? Well, if you do that through the app then Apple wants its cut. Right now many apps go around Apple's App Store, and that is what Apple wants to stop. Basically they are saying "look, you are acquiring new customers because we created this wonderful device. We won't charge you or your existing customers for using it, but if you add a new customer and make money at the same time, well then we want our cut."

So what will these kinds of services do? I predict that it will vary from company to company. Some won't mind paying a finder's fee to Apple, many will. The solution will simply be to have your customers sign up online, outside the app. That would make your app simply a "reader" of the content. You would have to eliminate the ability of your app to sign-up customers.

That is why it is possible that this change will not effect Amazon or Netflix, or any of the other companies that have created reader apps for iOS devices. This might hurt Amazon slightly, but I personally prefer to go online and buy things directly anyway. I do question whether Amazon's shopper app, Windowshop, might get a look, however. But the Kindle app? No problems as far as I can see.

So why did the Sony Reader app get rejected? That remains a mystery. The current thinking seems to be that it included some sort of subscription element, maybe a way to subscribe to newspapers and magazine directly through the app that bypassed Apple's App Store. If so, making the Sony Reader app purely a "reader" app would solve the issue. But then again, maybe Apple was playing bad in the sandbox with a perceived competitor -- it is certainly their right to do that.

Peter Kafka of the WSJ seems to echo the sentiments of many of the European newspaper publishers: we'll pick up our ball and play elsewhere, Apple.

Kafka ends his post this way: "Apple’s plan will have significant ripple effects, but one of them won’t be a flood of digital magazine offers from big publishers like Time Warner’s Time Inc., which has been quite clear that it’s not happy with Apple’s terms, and will work with other platforms like Google’s Android instead."

But if you read the comments after the story you get a bit of stark reality. As one commenter who claims to be a developer states "iOS is where the money is. Android users expect to get things for free. If Time hasn't figured that out yet, they certainly will, sooner rather than later."

The next comment goes much further by talking about the user experience of the App Store (good), the fact that most apps are paid in Apple's system, free in Google's. And that's one of the points of Siegel's post: the Apple App Stores are designed to make developers money. Apple sells things: hardware, software, apps. Google's system is designed to make things free so that they can aggregate as many eyes as possible to sell advertising.

So if Kafka is right we will start seeing publishers pulling their publications from the App Store soon. But if the developers are right, Time won't do something that foolish. Right now the iPad is where the game is being played. They will have to wait at least another six months before the Android tablets have any traction. And things may look very different six months from now . . . or maybe they won't.

Amazon updates its Kindle iPad app, but does not alter the way users buy books; WaPo adds offline reading

A couple important iPad apps were updated today, though none were drastically altered to conform to the changes in the way Apple wants to handle subscriptions and in-app purchases.
Amazon updated its Kindle app for the iPad last night. The update adds "real" page numbers to thousands of books, with more to come, adds a percentage-read meter, and allows users to lookup words on Google and Wikipedia without leaving the app.

Most importantly, though, the app does not change the way users buy their media: pressing the "Shop in Kindle Store" still takes the user to the Amazon website using the iPad's built-in Safari browser. Will this be changed? Who knows for sure.

Another app that was updated last night was The Washington Post for iPad. The update made some stability and bug fixes and extended the complimentary subscription "for a limited time".

For readers, the most important improvement to the app will be the ability to download sections of the tablet edition for offline reading, such as on flights. The offline reading function is just about de rigueur for most newspaper tablet editions if readers are to use their tablets on the go.

Warning, for dog lovers-only: Deerhound wins group!

I'm in big trouble. I was supposed to record yesterday's first night of The Westminster Kennel Club dog show for my wife, but forgot. What's worse is that Hickory took the group. That may not mean much to you, but for a former Deerhound owner it's a big thing.

Courtesy of The Westminster Kennel Club

For those of you not familiar with the annual event, The Westminster Kennel Club Annual Dog Show is one of those otherworldly events that happen in NYC inside Madison Square Gardens once a year. The event is broadcast by USA Network and for a couple of hours the country gets to look at lots of interesting breeds and to cheer on their favorites. The show is broadcast over two nights with only the "Group" stage competition broadcast. That's where the breed winners compete within their assigned groups.

For a hound dog lover like me, it can be rather strange to see a massive Irish Wolfhound compete against a Dachshund -- actually, three Dachshunds because they come in Longhaired, Smooth and Wirehaired, but you knew that.

Last night, the night I forgot to record, featured four groups: Hound, Toy, Non-Sporting and Herding -- you'll have to look them up on the Westminster site to figure out what they mean. Suffice to say that I like the big dogs, not those "toys".

For quite a number of years we owned a Scottish Deerhound, the most amazingly beautiful breed, hands down (OK, you can have your favorite, I suppose). The Scottish Deerhound is pretty rare in the US -- in fact, there aren't really that many worldwide, but they are amazing animals. But a Deerhound has never won the Best in Show award at Westminster.

But "Hickory", owned by Sally Sweatt, Cecilia Dove and Dr R. Scott Dove, won its breed judging, then took first place in the Hound group. (Just to be fair: a beagle came in second, a Norweigan Elkhound took third, a Petits Bassets Griffons Vendeen (or PBGB for short) was fourth.)

So tonight they will judge the remaining three groups -- Sporting, Working and Terrier -- and then it's on to Best in Show. So tonight could be the night a Deerhound breaks through.

Responses to Apple press release: from the analytical to the outrageous, everyone has an opinion about Apple

When Apple actually bothers to issue a press release you can be sure it will get lots of attention. Today's release concerning subscriptions was long-awaited, and will be much debated. Here is a sampling of reactions so far this morning (and it's not even 9am here in Chicago!):

Apple Rolls Out Long-Awaited/Feared Subscription Plan - Peter Kafka, WSJ. The money quote: "Apple’s plan will have significant ripple effects, but one of them won’t be a flood of digital magazine offers from big publishers like Time Warner’s Time Inc. , who have been quite clear that they’re not happy with Apple’s term."

Apple launches subscriptions to App Store: Boon for traditional media? - Larry Dignan, ZDNet. Quote: "Bottom line: Apple’s move to add subscriptions to the App Store is like the gun that starts a race to garner subscriptions among traditional publishers." I don't see it this way, as publishers are still struggling with both the platform and the business model -- and I consider myself pretty optimistic about tablet publishing.

Steve Jobs Responds To All The Cry-Baby Publishers About Apple's Subscription Payments - Jay Yarow, BI. You can always count on Business Insider for the outrageous, it drives traffic.

Meanwhile, Jesse Angelo over at The Daily, Rupert Murdoch's iPad-only digital news product, sounds, well, a bit desperate. New York magazine has part of a memo the editor sent to his staff imploring them to "Find me the oldest dog in America, or the richest man in South Dakota." Well, he says more than that, but you can click on over to the New York site and read the rest of what they have. I'd like to have read the whole memo, though.

Apple announces new subscription policy for the App Store; publishers keep all revenue from existing readers

This morning Apple announced its long-awaited revisions to its subscription policies inside the iTunes App Store. The new policy will allow publishers who create new apps to be able to keep 100 percent of the revenue generated from existing readers when they bring those readers into the system.

Apple will continue to receive its 30 percent cut on all payments processed within the app store, but now customers will be able to review and manage all of their digital subscriptions from within the personal account feature.
“Our philosophy is simple — when Apple brings a new subscriber to the app, Apple earns a 30 percent share; when the publisher brings an existing or new subscriber to the app, the publisher keeps 100 percent and Apple earns nothing,” Apple CEO Steve Jobs said in the company release.

“All we require is that, if a publisher is making a subscription offer outside of the app, the same (or better) offer be made inside the app, so that customers can easily subscribe with one-click right in the app. We believe that this innovative subscription service will provide publishers with a brand new opportunity to expand digital access to their content onto the iPad, iPod touch and iPhone, delighting both new and existing subscribers.”

(Allow some are reading this to mean that booksellers would required to sell through the App Store, I don't read it this way -- there appears to be a bit of wiggle room here as the word "subscriptions" is consistently used.)

Another change implemented will allow publishers to get customer data through an opt-in process:

Protecting customer privacy is a key feature of all App Store transactions. Customers purchasing a subscription through the App Store will be given the option of providing the publisher with their name, email address and zip code when they subscribe. The use of such information will be governed by the publisher’s privacy policy rather than Apple’s. Publishers may seek additional information from App Store customers provided those customers are given a clear choice, and are informed that any additional information will be handled under the publisher’s privacy policy rather than Apple’s.

Morning Brief: Verizon offer essential gives away an iPhone for signing up for FiOS package; Sideways releases white paper on digital tech and reading habits

One reason why I am one of those skeptics in regards to the rumors of a smaller, cheaper iPhone from Apple is that the iPhone is already competitively priced. Witness this new offer from Verizon which essentially gives away an iPhone 4 when you sign up for a package services.

The deal is this: sign up for a FiOS of High Speed Internet 'triple play' or 'quad play' package and order a new iPhone 4, then get a $200 Verizon Rewards Card which essentially offsets the price of the phone.

The problem, of course, is that so many Americans already have cable TV, or an Internet service, or a cell phone commitment that few customers are in a position to change all their services to one company.

Sideways LLC, the software company that also has its own branded tablet magazine in iTunes, released a new white paper which you can find here.

I'm a sucker for any research one can find on tablet reading habits, and electronic publishing data aimed at publishers. The current white paper from Sideways doesn't produce any Earth shattering findings, but will provide publishers with some ammunition to use on their corporate overlords, or while selling advertising to reluctant agencies.

Here are some of the findings directly from the company's release:
Highlights of the report include:
  • Younger generations of readers will grow up with a new idea of books and magazines and will not accept reading as a passive experience.
  • Tablet and e-reader users are not only receptive to enhanced content, but are expecting it in digital books and magazines.
  • Book apps provide authors and publishers with control and flexibility. For example, they can set the price for books, have sales, and adjust prices to market conditions.
  • E-reading will increase as the number and variety of e-readers grows and prices for devices and content fall.
  • The vast majority of iPad users read books on the device.
  • iPad usage is shifting users away from reading content in their workspace to at home and at their leisure.
  • iPad users now prefer reading periodicals and books on the device as opposed to print, computer, mobile phone, or e-reader.
  • Readers of some of the most well respected, high circulation monthly magazines spend more time with the digital versions of these publications than with the print copies.
  • Digital reading could lead to an increase in reading overall as an already popular activity becomes more widely available, easier and less expensive.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The PC community remains an evil empire: selling customers what they don't need remains too common

For the past few months the talk of the few months about the troubles publishers are having with Apple, it is easy to lose sight of the way the PC community works out in the real world. While one company tries to create easy to use products that free the user from plug-ins, add-ons, and the like, the ease of use of iOS products, and the way consumers have responded to them gets lost.

All this came back to me in an instant while trying to coach my aging mother on what to buy so she can be better engaged with the world, and communicate better and more often.

On her way to buy an iPad which I'm sure would have had a real impact on the quality of her life, she was hoodwinked by bad advice and a retail environment that pushes out the old PC products to make way for the same thing. She went in wanting to buy an iPad, and came out with a laptop and so many future troubles that the PC is destined for the back of the closet.

The AzCentral iPad app from the publishers of The Arizona Republic -- not a good example of a tablet edition.

Let's recap why the iPad (and possible future non-Apple tablets) would have been the smart buy.

Instant-on: you want information at your disposal, well there is nothing like the instant-on effect to show that "booting up" is for losers. Instant-on transforms a work device into an utility. If you need to get a file, look at something on the Internet, watch a video, and your laptop is off you think twice before pressing that button, don't you. With Windows you must wait to load, wait to hear that your hard drive has stopped. You wait.

Internet: with the 3G model my mother could have bought unlimited Internet access for $25 a month -- a smaller data level for $15. No card to buy, not contract, nothing. $15 or $25. And how hard would it be to get on the web? Press the home button and unlock the iPad and you are online instantly. No card, no settings, nothing. It's just that easy.

The NYT: if you are elderly, which is easier: launch a browser and typing in the URL of the NYT, or simply pressing the icon on the NYT? Sure, you can create an alias for the NYT URL, but do you want to explain to my mother about how to create an alias? You even where any of her applications reside?

Finally, e-mail: with a PC you have either web mail or Outlook. You have to boot up your computer, go online or launch Outlook to access e-mail. With an iPad it is just like your phone. As long as the device is on you will get e-mail, you have to do nothing.

This is about a device that is so easy to use that Rep. Giffords, recovering from being shot in the head, is using an iPad to try and get back in touch with the world.

So why did my mother end up with a laptop? For the same reasons millions of people get them: they are sold them by companies that can accessorize the sale with extended warranties, Internet cards, contracts, and more software. They sold by companies that load up these devices with trial applications, with virus software, with peripherals.

And they are sold by people who only know the world of Windows. Ask any Mac owner what it has been like these past two decades as we go into store after store and listen to retail sales people explain to prospective buyers that "Macs need special speakers, better off getting a PC". "You better buy a PC if you want to run Office" and on and on.

(My favorite is the one where the retail salesperson tells the customer that displays don't work with Macs, that is why Apple only makes the iMac and laptops.)

This post originally was going to be about what apps one should download -- free only -- if you are new to an iPad, with special emphasis, of course, on media apps (after all, that's what we do here).

I was going to mention the NYT app, of course. But second on that list would be The Weather Channel app, after all, old folk like to talk about the weather, right? But just think for a second how a Weather Channel app is a different experience from the past. Now one can instantly access the weather, not only for local but for where your grand daughter is going to school. You get instant weather maps, alerts, all instantly. And this isn't an iPad thing, of course: all smartphones will do this for you. But how different experience is this for someone who has only once before had a computer, and that came with a dial-up connection to the Internet.

I was going to mention that the Arizona Republic has an iPad app, as well. But it is a simply RSS driven app before suited for a smartphone than the iPad. Since they subscribe to the print paper I would have told them to not bother, read your print edition as you have for years.

What else would I recommend for an older person: solitaire, Kindle, Windowshop, Netflix (!), games (too many to list), Virtuoso Piano Free 3 (she used to play piano in her youth) -- and I'm sure you can name more. All of these are free, all of these are available instantly, and none come with install disks.

The more I think about it, the more I am sick to my stomach knowing that once again the PC community has swindled another customer. My aging mother, too old to drive, ended up going to the store for a gallon of milk -- she walked out with a cow, a milking machine, a bottling machine, and truck to transport the beverage to her house. Another great sales job by a Best Buy sales person.

Rumor round-up: Microsoft to pay 'billions' for providing Nokia with its mobile OS; is a smaller iPhone on the way?

According to a Computerworld post on Sunday the decision to go with Windows Phone 7 was the result of Microsoft winning a bidding war by promising to pay the Finnish telecom "billions" over the life of the deal.

Nokia CEO Stephen Elop is quoted as explaining that the deal will be a big one for Nokia: In fact the value transferred to Nokia is measured in Bs not Ms,” Elop is quoted as saying.

Of course, this may well be a quick justification for going with the company where Elop served as head of the business division; or, it may the valuation of the deal as estimated by Nokia. Elop, for his part, tried to dispel talk that he is essentially a 'plant', brought in by the Nokia board to complete a deal with Microsoft. "I am not a Trojan horse,” the Nokia CEO said.

Speaking of rumors, this one just won't go away: Apple is planning to launch a smaller version of the iPhone. That, at least, is what the WSJ wrote yesterday, the latest in a string of rumors concerning a smaller iPhone or iPad.
According to the WSJ story, the new iPhone would be lower in cost, allowing carriers to possibly subsidize the entire cost of the phone. It would be a move quite out of character for Apple, which usually enjoys staying away from being the low price provider of hardware.

Another Apple rumor that just won't die is the second one mentioned in the WSJ story: a major revamp of MobileMe, the service offered Mac owners that includes online storage, e-mail and information syncing. Currently the service costs users $99 per year, but the rumor has been that Apple would make the service free to Mac and iOS owners. With the recent construction of a huge server farm in North Carolina, this one has some legs. I have been a MobileMe customer from the start and endured Apple's botched launch. But the service makes sense for those customers who want to keep their contacts, calendars and e-mail accounts synced from device to device.