Friday, March 18, 2011

SPIN Play, developed by Bottle Rocket, enhances print with music, videos to create a whole new experience

This post has been edited. The original mentions some issues with AirPlay that I encountered. I wondered whether this was the fault of the app, or whether my iPad and Apple TV were the source. Opening the app another time reveals that the app is performing perfectly.

Few apps get nearly unanimous raves inside the App Store. It is part of doing business, I suppose, that some people are disappointed in an app, or don't like the price. The new app from SPIN magazine bucks that trend by taking the right approach towards tablet publishing.
Rather than asking the question "how do we publish our print magazine on the iPad?" the creators of SPIN Play seem to have taken the approach "what do we want to publish on the iPad?" or "how do we extend our brand to the iPad?". Either way, the results have produced a new product that takes advantage of the tablet's capabilities and unique features. And users are raving.

It helps that the publisher is working with Bottle Rocket, the developer behind such great apps as the three NPR apps (including the NPR Music iPhone app), ESPN The Magazine, and others.
PhotobucketThe list of apps created by Bottle Rocket is not nearly as long as that of other developers, but the reason for this is simple: a Bottle Rocket app is generally a well-thought out, custom designed application. Rarely are there negative comments about a Bottle Rocket app, and if there are, it usually has to do with the client side of the equation. (Strangely, I don't think I have posted about a Bottle Rocket app before today, my bad.)

By the way, if you really want a digital replica of SPIN, one is available through Zinio.

As for SPIN Play, the tablet app does what I'm sure the editors of the print edition wish print could provide: music, of course. Writing about a new CD for print always is only somewhat satisfying. I love reading old copies of DownBeat with their famous "Blindfold Test" column. In the column musicians listen to new recordings, guess who the artist is, and comment on the music. Reading the column one can almost hear the music in the background and imagine the musician there studiously evaluating the recording.
Tablet publishing can bring the actual music to the reader, while retaining the impact of editorial copy at the same time -- it is one of the reasons there are seasoned publishers (like me) so excited by tablet publishing.

The app is free to download and issues are a very reasonable $1.99 per, or $7.99 for an annual subscription. Inside each issue is 60 songs and 30 videos selected by the editors for inclusion. A reader gets quite a bit for their money.

This is where, in the original post, I wrote about encountering some problems with AirPlay within the app. What I encountered was that the app streamed audio fine to my AirPort Express but nothing to my Apple TV. Yet my other apps were able to stream to Apple TV -- meaning that the source of the problem had to be the SPIN Play app, right?

But after getting an email from Karl Gehrke, QA manager at Bottle Rocket, asking about what problems I seemed to be having I tested the app once again before responding.

This time . . . no problems!

I can't explain what I was encountering with the app because I can't duplicate them, but most importantly everything is working perfectly. This is what I would expect from a Bottle Rocket app, all the apps I have from them have been state-of-the-art.

Here is the magazine's promotional video, courtesy of SPIN and Bottle Rocket:

Retweet: Netflix inks its first original content deal

The Chief Content Officer at Netflix, Ted Sarandos, talks to Peter Kafka of the WSJ about their new original program deal, the yet to be produced "House of Cards", with Kevin Spacey.

This is the first time Netflix has signed up to distribute an original series so obviously this is a big deal.

The Money Quote

Concerning how much Netflix is going to shell out to get the show: "No comment. But I will say this: If the show proves very popular, it won’t be any more expensive than licensing a popular show off of a network. So economically, it’s not a seismic shift, if it’s popular. If it isn’t, then we’ll have paid more for an unpopular show than we normally would have."

I definitely smiled when I read that because this was what I was thinking, as well.

If Netflix is going to get squeezed by the networks and Internet service providers, who also happen to be cable companies, then they are making a competitor out of a company that could be a partner. In this situation Netflix really has nothing to lose by getting into original programming. John Gruber of Daring Fireball immediately thought of Apple, wouldn't this work for them, too? I tend to doubt it, because for all the bitching and moaning you hear from the studios and record companies, in the end Apple still makes money for them so usually Apple reaches some sort of accommodation with the other party.

No matter how much kicking and screaming the big producers and distributors do it remains true that consumers want their television (and movie and music) content everywhere, not just where the traditional media companies want them to have it. They can fight this all they want, but consumers will get what they want in the end.

Book retailer Borders to close an additional 28 stores

The bad news just keeps piling up for bankrupt book retailer Borders. Late yesterday the chain announced that it will close another 28 of its retail outlets -- this would be in addition to the 200 previously announced closings.

"We reached the determination about these stores after a further review of their ongoing economic viability," Borders spokeswoman Mary Davis said in its announcement.
The 28 stores are located in California (Bakersfield, Goleta, Hollywood, Milpitas, Pleasant Hill, San Diego and San Rafael), Connecticut (Fairfield and Stamford), Georgia (Atlanta), Hawaii (Kahului, Maui and Waipahu), Illinois (Wilmette), Iowa (West Des Moines), Indiana (Fort Wayne and Indianapolis), Kansas (Overland Park), Kentucky (Louisville), Massachusetts (Braintree and Shrewsbury), Oklahoma (Tulsa), Pennsylvania (N. Wales and Philadelphia), Rhode Island (Cranston), Tennessee (Nashville), Texas (Stafford) and Washington (Federal Way and Tacoma).

This will cut the number of Borders stores approximately in half.

“We are moving quickly right at the outset of the Chapter 11 process to restore stability to our business and protect our enterprise and its brand," Mike Edwards, President, Borders Group, said. "We now have financing to pay our vendors and other related parties in a timely fashion for post-petition goods and services, with the funding and related court approvals to operate our business effectively on a day-to-day basis. We look forward to continuing to meet the needs of our customer base and being a preeminent and innovative retailer in this space.”

Morning Brief: Libya says it will release NYT journalists as foreign pressure builds; Lincoln sponsors free access to NYT website; National Lampoon CEO arrested

Running behind this morning, maybe the time change has hit me. Oh well, at least it is spring here and the sun is shining -- 'bout time.

Things are heating up in Libya. Yesterday Qaddafi bragged that he would be in the city of Benghazi by that evening and that the people there should prepare (you can use your imagination in regards to what they should be prepared for).

But following a vote in the United Nations the dictator's tone has suddenly changed. This morning Qaddafi declared a ceasefire. And no wonder, the BBC quotes French officials as saying that air-strikes against the Qaddafi regime could begin "within hours".

Also, Seif Islam el-Qaddafi, son of Col. Qaddafi, told Christiane Amanpour in an ABC News interview that the four New York Times journalists that have gone missing were captured by forces loyal to the Qaffadi regime and that they will be released today. The fear has been that the four journalists, Anthony Shadid, the Times’s Beirut bureau chief, photographers, Tyler Hicks and Lynsey Addario, and reporter and videographer, Stephen Farrell, were being held by mercenaries more or less outside the firm control of the regime.

The Guardian: Libya declares ceasefire after UN resolution
BBC: Libya 'to halt military action'
NYT: Libya Says It Will Release Times Journalists

Last night, while trying to keep up with events in Libya I clicked on over to the NYT website using my iPad for the latest news. Up popped an ad for Lincoln (which, by the way, yesterday took the top spot in the JD Power dependability rankings -- congrats to them).
The ad, which you can see at right, said "Beginning March 28. The New York Times will charge for unlimited access to its Web site. Experience all that has to offer you for the rest of 2011 at no charge, courtesy of Lincoln. This extraordinary invitation is being extended to an exclusive group of visitor to"

Shock, surprise. Then click, then quickly a confirmation email arrives in my in-box stating that "You have successfully redeemed your free subscription to You now have access to the online benefits below" -- which basically are the website and smartphone level.

My question: just how exclusive is this offer? A quick search of the web has not revealed any articles on this ad campaign. In any case, thanks to whoever thought this one up -- it is definitely appreciated.

Timothy Durham, chief executive officer of National Lampoon Inc., has found an inventive solution to making money with print: a life of crime. The FBI arrested Durham on Wednesday, accusing the executive of running a $200 million Ponzi scheme.

Durham and co-defendant James Cochran were accused of using investor money to "maintain their lifestyles and to pay for personal expenses," according the indictment Reuters reports.

The Ponzi scheme actually has nothing to do with the National Lampoon, but centers a bankrupt company, Fair Financial Services of Akron, Ohio. According to the charges, the company provided companies with investor case to cover their business loans. But rather than employing the investor money in the way promised, the defendant are accused of using the money on themselves.

Reuters: "In 2008, Durham had $150,000 wired over so he could spend it at a casino, and Cochran took $50,000 to pay country club fees, according to the indictment."

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The New York Times digital subscription experiment: but if it succeeds will it actually prove anything?

If the New York Times succeeds in its metered paywall experiment, will it prove that metered paywalls can work? or that the New York Times is the exception to the rule?
If you accept the notion that the New York Times is an elite news sources online, it can be argued that it should be able to buck TNM's rule #1 of digital subscriptions -- which is that financial news products can charge for content, while general news products can not.

The executives at the NYT have had over a year to work out the details of their metered paywall model. In that time I can safely say that they have been trying to come up with something that will work for the New York Times, not necessarily the entire newspaper industry. What the Times produces (IMO) is quality journalism, designed and packaged by some of the best talent in the industry. Accepting that, and leaving aside any issues that one might have with the paper, one can see how a metered paywall could work, and this model might work.

But what does that mean for the Contra Costa Times, or the Duluth News Tribune, or even the Boston Globe?

More later, to be sure.

John Deere goes app: 'Mower Match' is an interactive brochure for their riding lawn equipment lines

A question: do farmers own iPads? construction professionals? landscapers? That is a similar question to one I used to hear in the nineties: do folks in such-and-such industry use the Internet? It was usually a rhetorical question posed by B2B executives as a way of proving that investing in the web was a waste of time. Oops.

Now the B2B media industry is facing the growing use of mobile devices such as smartphones -- and then there is the iPad.
The good news for the B2B industry was that in the nineties, when it was missing the boat on the Internet, it was also the most prosperous time in our nation's history. So, as the saying goes, a rising tide lifts all boats, and so most B2B magazines went on to sell a record number ad pages, allowing them to eventually begin investing in their first websites -- all after getting the bejesus scared out of them by VerticalNet.

But 2011 is most definitely not 1999. The economy still stinks, and so ad pages have remained depressed. Further, with so few B2B's investing in mobile or tablet publishing, it is pretty much been up to the clients or agencies themselves to begin experimenting with app development.

That is a roundabout way of bring us to this new iPad app from John Deere. Called Mower Match, the free app is basically an interactive ad for the company's lawn tractors and zero-turn mowers. Now if you are not a landscape professional, a zero-turn mower is one of those mowers that allow you to mow around a tree, or the dog, if necessary.
The dollars needed to develop this app clearly won't be going to a landscape magazine.(disclosure: a one time I was the publisher of a transportation construction magazine, Roads & Bridges and a landscape magazine, Landscape & Irrigation, where we received John Deere advertising.)

Also, just as very, very few B2Bs got into the business of building websites for their advertising clients out of fear that websites would help them market their products without the need of the magazine, so, too, I have yet to hear of a B2B getting into app development for their clients. The closest example I can think of is Penton, who has worked with developers to create new mobile apps for trade shows they are involved.

Not building ad clients websites did not prevent manufacturers from launching their own web initiatives, and not building apps will obviously prevent clients from experimenting with mobile and tablets.

John Deere is not the first company to launch a product for the iPad or iPhone, but they are certainly among the first. But this won't be the last, if history is any guide.

Detroit News editors make changes to online version of auto review after it appears in print, reviewer resigns

This post was 99 percent completed when the New York Times sent me an email about their paywall plans. Now here is the post, uncut, typos and all.

Editors at the Detroit News have made changes to the online version of a review of the Chrysler 200 written by staff reviewer Scott Burgess after the complete version of the review appeared in print. The changes, deletions of individual words and sentences, were made following a complaint made by a local auto dealer about the review. As a result of the changes, the reviewer has resigned.

The story of the edited review was picked up by the website Jalopnik under the headline How The Detroit News Sold Its Soul. I discovered the story through some tweets by Jay Rosen, journalism professor at NYU, and the publisher of the journalism website Press Think. Rosen found the story thanks to Romenesko who saw the Jalopnik story -- a good example of the way the web works, huh?
The knee-jerk reaction here would be to criticize the newspaper for caving in to an advertiser, or potential advertiser. My perspective, as both a trained journalist, as well as a former CAM (classified advertising manager) might be a little unique. . .

Scott Burgess's review reveals a writer (and possibly an editor) who did not understand the role of an auto "critic" writing for the auto section -- especially one working for a Detroit newspaper. The job is incredibly difficult because the writer is always going to find themselves walking a tightrope.

When I worked at Hearst's newspaper in LA in the classified department a decision was made to move the editorial duties for both the auto and real estate sections to a separate editorial department. This department was positioned in a gray area we would probably today call the "advertorial" department. It was a good solution for the advertising folks, but probably not a great way to produce good journalism. Ironically, the head of that department may have been one of the most strict and disciplined editors at the newspaper.

Other newspapers live with the fact that the writer in charge of automotive and real estate editorial content is a compromised creature: not quite as free to treat a "review" as a thorough look at a new product, while not simply being the voice of the industry.

The deans of automotive writers used to reside in Detroit. These reporters would generally try to limit their writing to news concerning the industry, the unions and workers in that industry, and economic news that might effect the industry. Any attempt at reviewing a product would limit the scope of that review to some essentials and analysis of the place of that new vehicle in the market.

The lifespan of these writers were usually quite long -- it might surprise you to know -- because it would take a real veteran to understand the ins-and-outs of the auto industry. These writers did not see themselves as restaurant critics who needed to have some anonymity inorder to write reviews without the influence of the industry -- these writers knew this was impossible.

For this veteran of the newspaper industry, it smacks of amateurishness to be shocked that a reviewer could have their copy changed in the way described by the post on Jalopnik. Even commenters on the site have little sympathy for Burgess.

But something is wrong at the Detroit News if the editors let the original story run and did not discuss the review with the writer prior to it appearing in print. The classified advertising department is not even a player here. The nice, clean, Utopia that some journalism advocates would like to construct does not exist in the real world, and it never has -- especially when it comes to the auto section of the newspaper.

New York Times announces that it will launch its metered paywall on March 28, free access up to 20 articles; will make in-app purchases available before June 30

Readers registered with the New York Times website were notified today via email of the newspaper's plans to implement their metered paywall. The new digital subscription protocol, which goes into effect on March 28, will limit online readers to 20 articles each month at no charge.

Here is the notice sent to registered readers in full:

Dear New York Times Reader,

Today marks a significant transition for The New York Times as we introduce digital subscriptions. It’s an important step that we hope you will see as an investment in The Times, one that will strengthen our ability to provide high-quality journalism to readers around the world and on any platform. The change will primarily affect those who are heavy consumers of the content on our Web site and on mobile applications.
This change comes in two stages. Today, we are rolling out digital subscriptions to our readers in Canada, which will enable us to fine-tune the customer experience before our global launch. On March 28, we will begin offering digital subscriptions in the U.S. and the rest of the world.

If you are a home delivery subscriber of The New York Times, you will continue to have full and free access to our news, information, opinion and the rest of our rich offerings on your computer, smartphone and tablet. International Herald Tribune subscribers will also receive free access to

If you are not a home delivery subscriber, you will have free access up to a defined reading limit. If you exceed that limit, you will be asked to become a digital subscriber.

This is how it will work, and what it means for you:
  • On, you can view 20 articles each month at no charge (including slide shows, videos and other features). After 20 articles, we will ask you to become a digital subscriber, with full access to our site.
  • On our smartphone and tablet apps, the Top News section will remain free of charge. For access to all other sections within the apps, we will ask you to become a digital subscriber.
  • The Times is offering three digital subscription packages that allow you to choose from a variety of devices (computer, smartphone, tablet). More information about these plans is available at
  • Again, all New York Times home delivery subscribers will receive free access to and to all content on our apps. If you are a home delivery subscriber, go to to sign up for free access.
  • Readers who come to Times articles through links from search, blogs and social media like Facebook and Twitter will be able to read those articles, even if they have reached their monthly reading limit. For some search engines, users will have a daily limit of free links to Times articles.
  • The home page at and all section fronts will remain free to browse for all users at all times.
For more information, go to 
Thank you for reading The New York Times, in all its forms. 
Arthur Sulzberger Jr.
Publisher, The New York Times
Chairman, The New York Times Company

The Times has launched an FAQ page to assist readers in understanding the changes about to implemented.

The Times press release also mentions that the paper will make 1-click digital subscriptions available by June 30, the deadline set by the new Apple subscription policies. One can expect new iPhone and iPad app before that date, as well.
As a registered reader of the Times, I have to admit that I am puzzled by the pricing strategy. The Times appears to be treating smartphone and tablet users as separate audiences. One almost would think that the pricing strategy here is intentionally designed to kill off their iPad app.

At $15 per every four week period of time, an iPhone owner can access the NYT through their app, while also reading the Times online, either through their computer or through an iPad's Safari browser. For $20 you can have full access to content through their iPad app and also any additional computers. But the Times also has a $35 level that grants full access using any device. I see no reason for anyone to pay this amount, even iPad owners since an iPad owner can buy the cheapest access and use their iPad's browser, if necessary.

Also, what if you don't own either a tablet or a smartphone? Sorry, no lower priced level than the smartphone level.

Guardian front pages story on plans by US to militarize social networks by spreading pro-American propaganda

The Guardian this morning is reporting that a new Los Angeles-based company, Ntrepid, has been awarded a $2.76 million contract to create fake identities that would spread pro-American propaganda on social networking sites. The program, run by the US military, is part of Operation Earnest Voice, according to the UK daily newspaper.

The new contract requires that the operation would use one server in the US and eight servers outside the United States in order to appear as if messages on social networking sites were coming from different areas of the world. The US home for the operation would be MacDill AirForce Base outside Tampa, Florida.

The Guardian quotes Centcom spokesman Commander Bill Speaks as stating that "The technology supports classified blogging activities on foreign language websites to enable Centcom to counter violent extremist and enemy propaganda outside the US."

According to the the spokesman, the fake personalities used online would be speaking in a foreign language, Arabic, Farsi, Urdu or Pashto, for instance, as using English to deceive a US audience might be unlawful.

The company involved in the new contract, Ntrepid, maintains a website home page, but nothing else. However, the company's LinkedIn page describes itself this way: "Ntrepid Corporation provides national security and law enforcement customers with software, hardware, and managed services for cyber operations, analytics, linguistics, and tagging & tracking."

Wired previously wrote about Ntrepid a little over a week ago though it appears the story did not get much play.

The first news source to write about this was RawStory with a story that appeared on February 22nd. Their story points out that Ntrepid's chief technology officer, Lance Cottrell, also runs a blog called /the privacy blog/.

The Guardian story appearing today as the lead story on the paper's website was written by Nick Fielding and Ian Cobain. The Guardian's headline states "exclusive". It should be noted that the story does not mention either the RawStory or Wired stories that have previously appeared online.

The article mentioned above does not quote any representatives from any social networking sites, but I would think that if a popular site was known to house US military personnel with fake personalities that could seriously influence the site's growth and credibility. Social networking sites are vulnerable to the whims of their young users now, imagine in the commercial consequences of the US military's involvement in popular websites.

Sock puppets, the US military, Facebook and Twitter -- it could get ugly (if it's not already).

Aside: I've gotten some feedback concerning my headline here. The saying "to front page a story" goes way back. It's an awkward phrase, to be sure, and it is used so seldom now-a-days that I could not find any other examples online of someone using it. Should it be "front-pages" a story, or "front page's" a story. Any ideas (other than dumping the usage)?

Morning Brief: Are the different messages coming from Japan and the US officials simply explained by cultural differences?; iPad users overload Time Warner servers

Reading the New York Times and then international news sources concerning the situation at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station the past two days has been quite confusing. For the past two days the Times has been sounding alarmed, using words like "bleak", "ominious" to describe the situation at the reactors.

Meanwhile, the Japanese government and other officials have been more calm and circumspect. Can this all be explained simply by cultural differences? Even the Times noticed that its tone was very different from what was coming out of Japan. Hiroko Tabuchi, reporting from Japan, made a TimesCast that tried to explain the understated way Japanese officials talk. But at the end of the video piece Tabuchi suggests that the Japanese government is speaking in public in a calmer tone simply to prevent panic, inferring that the situation is indeed more dire than the government is letting on.

Emperor Akihito speaking Wednesday
to the nation on Japanese television.

But is the Times right? Is Japan on the verge of a nuclear catastrophe?

The Guardian certainly noticed the change in tone coming from the Times saying in its live blog that the paper "has gone big today".

Until comments from Greg Jaczko, chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, that said "we believe at this point that Unit 4 may have lost a significant inventory, if not lost all, of its water" there were no statements coming out that directly appeared to contradict what Japanese officials were saying, only speculation from academics.

It will interesting to see if the Times has been getting off-the-record information from US government officials, or whether the editors are merely playing this somewhat differently than what we have come to expect from the NYT.

In yesterday's Morning Brief I wrote about the new Time Warner cable TV app for the iPad. The free app, TWCableTV, is the equivalent of the same kind of apps from Comcast, AT&T, DirecTV and Dish. But Time Warner, being late to the party, seemed to think launching an app for the iPad market was no big deal because they were unprepared for the rush of users that were about to flood their servers.

"We were pretty sure that our iPad app was going to be fairly popular," wrote Jeff Simmermon, Time Warner Cable’s Director of Digital Communications, on the Time Warner corporate blog Untangled, "but we had no idea that it was going to be the most downloaded app in the iTunes store yesterday. The demand was overwhelming, in more ways than one. At about 8 o’clock last night the app crashed under a much heavier load than we anticipated."

What followed was the usual "oops, sorry about that, we're working on it." Time Warner is not the first company to fail to anticipate a flood of users that can follow the launch of a new app. On the other hand, there are plenty of apps that end up falling flat.

But this should serve as more proof that consumers want to be freed from their living room sofas to watch content everywhere. The Time Warner app, like the other TV provider apps, simply allows you to watch limited programming within your home, on your own WiFi network, on you iPad. Imagine if a company gave consumers want they really want: a cross between DirecTV (or another provider) and a Slingbox.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A rumored Netflix deal for a new original series might have traditional networks and cable shaking in their boots

In my household the television is one quite a bit when my youngest gets home. But aside from one dramatic series, and Giants baseball, almost all the other television content watched comes from the Apple TV, on-demand programming, recorded shows, and movies -- and I bet this is becoming more and more common.

Yesterday, the New York Times picked up on a story from that Netflix was bidding on a new drama directed by David Fincher, House of Cards. The show is to star Kevin Spacey -- he'll also be the executive producer -- and is based on the novel by Michael Dobbs.
The thing is that the story is speculation until it is announced that Netflix actually is the winner in the bidding contest that also, reportedly, includes HBO and AMC. But that's not the point, is it? The point is that television, like music, film, books, newspapers and magazines is about to go mobile -- in effect, that is what being on Netflix on means. A Netflix subscriber still can get their movies on DVD through the mail, but more and more Netflix is becoming a streaming company -- streaming to your Apple TV, your LG, Samsung or Sony television, your blu-ray player, your iPad, your iPhone (and eventually Android). That device could be in your family room, but it just as easily could be on the road, in the backyard, etc. etc.

Yes, Netflix getting into original programming would be a big deal. But the networks and cable providers would be able to compete . . . if they change their way of thinking about streamed content.

Media odds & ends: Condé Nast continues iPad launches with new app for SELF, the Sun-Times does a Groupon; Livestation releases its own branded apps for iOS devices

Continuing its string of new magazine iPad apps, Condé Nast today released a new tablet edition of SELF Magazine. The first issue available is April, with an in-app purchase price of $3.99.
“The new app enhances the depth and breadth of SELF’s core content offerings with innovative and exciting interactive features,” SELF Editor-in-Chief Lucy Danziger said in the company's release. “Each monthly digital edition going forward will enable women to engage more deeply in their favorite SELF content with unique, sophisticated and joyful tools to inspire her to tap into her best self.”

Advertisers within the first edition of the magazine include Reebok, Aveeno and Tyson.
Also released today was a new version of the Vogue app which allows users to buy new Vogue Exclusive editions through the app. The first special edition featuring Lady Gaga was released almost two weeks ago and now another featuring Rihanna is available through the new app.

This makes 17 apps from Condé Nast available for the iPad, with another nine apps that are designed for the iPhone. Condé Nast has been releasing new tablet editions that have been developed using the Adobe Digital Publishing Suite. Last week Glamour received a new iPad app.

The Sun-Times group did a Groupon. Actually, this offer came out on Sunday, I've finally gotten around to mentioning it.

It's not a bad deal either: $30 for a year's worth of Sunday newspapers, plus a seven-day "e-paper" subscription. The offer says this is 54 percent off the regular price of $65. But like a lot of offers from circulation departments, they can't seem to get their prices straight.

The Sun-Times site says a one-year e-paper subscription, by itself, is $69.99.

Of course, who wants to read one of those online flipbooks? Nobody. But vendors keep selling publishers these worthless things, and publishers keep buying them. What's that saying about a fool and his money? Now a one-year Sunday home delivery package combined with an iPad daily edition . . . now that would be a winner.

Of course, the Sun-Times would have to release their first apps, now wouldn't they? Instead, I see a number of apps in the iTunes App Store that takes the RSS feeds from the Chicago newspaper and profits from them. (Puts head in hand in despair.)

Livestation, the folks that provide live television broadcasts of Al Jazeera English, have released their own universal app. The new Livestation app is a welcome addition to the app store, especially as it appears that the cable TV providers in the U.S. will continue to blacklist Al Jazeera.
Livestation released a series of apps in support of Al Jazeera for the iPhone, but this app will be quite nice on the bigger display of the iPad.

One thing missing from that app description, however, is any word about whether the app is AirPlay-enabled. If so, a user could stream the content to their Apple TV for viewing on a large screen TV. If not, an owner of an iPad 2 would have to use the new HDMI adapter cable to "mirror" their iPad's display onto a television.

Sadly, the first review inside the App Store is from a wingnut who accuses the company of supporting terrorism. Hopefully Apple will pull the review down, or the idiot will get sued by Livestation.

Meredith launches iPad apps for three titles, charts its own tablet course, but risks the wrath of its loyal readers

I am struggling this morning trying to decide whether I think Meredith's tablet edition strategy is brilliant or foolhardy. I also can't decide if their marketing approach is a step forward, or positively retro. It is, however, unique.
Yesterday the Des Moines, Iowa publishing company released three new tablet editions for their brands: Better Homes and Gardens, Fitness Magazine and Parents Magazine.

Each of the apps is free download, and each creates a library app on your iPad where you can then buy individual issues -- in the case of Better Homes and Gardens it is $3.99 per issue, Fitness charges $2.99, as does Parents.

Had these apps come out last year this would not have seemed unusual, a lot of publishers were waiting for Apple to introduce new subscription policies for in-app purchases. But on the iPad a reader is not given a chance to subscribe, and worse, print subscribers are given no chance to access the issues for free, one of the few policy decisions by Apple that benefit publishers.

So why is this? Is this a decision that was made last year that has not been altered by events? Or a decision that iPad readers will represent new readers, not legacy customers?
The problem may simply be that Meredith is one of those legacy publishers that severely discounts its print subscriptions, putting it a bit in a hole when it comes to electronic subscriptions. A quick check on Amazon (screenshot at left) shows that a reader can get an annual subscription to Better Homes and Gardens for $5.99, the same for Fitness. A three-year subscription to Parents costs $12.

As for the apps, each gives the reader one aspect -- vertical or horizontal (portrait or landscape is my preferred way of phrasing this). While Better Homes and Gardens uses horizontal layouts, the other two apps are vertical. This cuts down on the total weight of the app and allows the art director to concentrate on one layout. Magazine apps that use both orientations have certain creative and content advantages, one can understand a decision to stick to one orientation.

Rather than being replica editions with all the print ads, each app employs a sponsored section approach. “We had a very positive response to the tablet editions from our marketing partners,” Lauren Wiener, SVP, Meredith Women’s Network, is quoted in the company's release for the new apps. “We expect this market to grow rapidly over the next year as women expand their tablet experience. According to industry data we’ve seen, women already are approximately half of the current tablet marketplace.”

By creating their apps this way they are saying that these are in many ways separate from the print editions, though content-wise they would be considered "enhanced editions", with their video and interactive added content.

In the end these apps probably say more about the political battles inside Meredith than they do the state of tablet publishing. It is probably true that right now the demographics of iPad owners do not match up well with Meredith titles, but that will change as Apple gets to 40 or 50 million iPad owners. We'll see if then Meredith decides to change its pricing policies to reflect the emerging tablet publishing market.

Here is the company's promotional video for their new iPad apps:

Morning Brief: More apps take advantage of AirPlay; Time Warner releases first app for cable service; first tablet edition from Meredith's Better Homes and Gardens

The National Film Board of Canada has updated its classy iPad app to include AirPlay, allowing users to stream films from their tablets to an Apple TV for viewing on their HDTVs (and any other TV, of course).
News from Japan: The emperor delivers rare address as nuclear crisis deepens as government says a second reactor may have ruptured.
Streaming NFB films is a no-brainer, and it is good to see the developers updating the app so quickly after Apple released its iOS 4.3 update that allows third parties to use AirPlay streaming in their apps.

Another fantastic feature of the update is that now users can download films for later viewing. Now you can find a film to watch and save it for that flight you are about to take. The NFB app is one of those essential apps that every iPad owner should download -- and it's free, no less.

Apple has issued another update for its Remote app. The app allows you to control your iTunes and Apple TV using your iPhone or iPad.
The previous update, released not that long ago,add AirPlay support. This one fixes some bugs and adds a "skip back" button to be used when playing video.

A new app that I can not review (because I don't use the service) is from Time Warner Cable. The app has already gotten tons of reviews in iTunes, a sure sign that users have been waiting for it (apps for Comcast's Xfinity service, AT&T's U-Verse service, as well as DirecTV and Dish Network were all released earlier).

The app description says that you can watch live cable TV on your iPad, but here's the catch -- it only works at home, and if you also use their Internet service. As a result, a lot of reviewers are expressing their disappointment with the app, which others who subscribe to all the TM services are finding the app useful. YMMV.

Meredith has released its first tablet edition for Better Homes and Gardens. I'll post more on this later today. But you know they want to stress that this is not a mere replica edition by including screenshots of the app when it is landscape mode -- this is usually a sign of native design to come!

The app is free to download, creating a library app that users then have to download individual issues at $3.99 a piece. More to come.

Congress releases app! Or was it the Republicans?

Ya gotta be kidding me, this is an app from the Congress of the United States? Looking like it was designed by a 12 year-old developer, a new universal app for the Committee on Ways and Means is a spartan app that contains lots of press releases and opening statements from committee members, but not much actual news. Oh, and one other thing: it only contains this content from Republicans.
The age of "app as propaganda"® is upon us.

How is it that the Congress could allow an app like this to be released that is completely partisan? Is this a trend? or a mistake?

In any case, this might be the worst app in the iTunes App Store, rivaling this one for most worthless and inappropriate. It is also a waste of the taxpayer's money -- which is ironic since it is coming from folk who say they want to cut our waste.

The good news: there is no Android app at this time.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Pew's 2011 State of the Media report holds little good news for traditional media, while expressing concern about the growing role of device makers and developers

The 2011 State of the News Media report from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism has been released today and can be found online. In the report, the authors say that the U.S. news media market improved in 2010 following a "dismal" 2009, though they said that the newspaper industry continued to see ad revenue declines.

"We estimate that advertising revenues at newspaper organizations fell by 6.4% in 2010 from the year before," the authors report. "That compares to a drop of 26% in 2009. We estimate print newspaper ad revenue at $22.8 billion, with roughly $3 billion more for online."

As reported earlier, Pew also found that for the first time ever, online advertising revenue surpassed that of newspapers. The report also found that despite declining viewership, cable television ad revenue grew at a healthy 10.7 percent last year.

The Pew report does not break out magazine ad and circulation performance by consumer and B2B, so the report shows that ad revenues were essentially flat last year versus the year before. It did mention, however, that the industry was still recovering from two horrible years: 2008, where ad declines were 11.7 percent, and 2009, where performance was even worse, a decline of 25.6 percent -- all numbers derived from the Publishers Information Bureau.

(B2B magazines ad pages fell 3.08 percent in 2010, according to Business Information Network, with only the automotive category showing healthy gains for B2B publishers.)
The report's authors are not optimistic when they look at the new media in the U.S., pointing out that American newsrooms continue to shrink.

“In a world where consumers decide what news they want and how they want to get it, the future belongs to those who understand the audience best, and who can leverage that knowledge with advertisers,” said PEJ Director Tom Rosenstiel. “Increasingly that knowledge exists outside of news companies.”

The report's authors express concern that new organizations are increasingly dependent on independent networks to sell their ad inventories, while using aggregators and social networks to deliver a growing portion of their audience. Additionally, with many consumers of news now using mobile and tablet devices from companies such as Apple, the authors worry about the reliance of the news media on outside players to provide the news platform, while simultaneously grabbing a share of the revenue, and controlling the audience data.

The report is produced each year by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, a nonpolitical, nonpartisan research institute, and is funded by The Pew Charitable Trust. The entire report, along with graphical material can be found on the dedicated website.

DC's revolving door: former FCC chair, Michael Powell, now the new president of cable TV trade association

Finished with serving the interests of the broadcasters and cable TV industries as head of the FCC under George Bush, Michael Powell is being rewarded by being named the new president and chief executive officer of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association.
“Michael Powell is one of the most well respected and influential visionaries in all of telecommunications, and we’re so proud to have him join the cable team,” Patrick J. Esser, Chair of the NCTA Board of Directors and President, Cox Communications, said in the association's press release. “Michael’s exemplary record of leadership, deep commitment to public service, and vast insight into public policy make him an ideal fit to lead our industry in Washington, D.C., as we address the regulatory challenges that lie ahead and continue to help policy makers understand cable’s commitment to jobs, investment, and innovation.”

They love the guy, make no mistake about it. And they loved him when he was head of the FCC as Powell worked hard to loosen media ownership rules and fought against net neutrality.

So what happened to the other guy, the guy who was the head of the NCTA. He, Kyle McSlarrow, starts his new job as president of Comcast starting in April.

Responding to the naming of Powell, Craig Aaron, managing director of Free Press, a nonprofit organization working to reform the media, made the following statement:

If you wonder why common sense, public interest policies never see the light of day in Washington, look no further than the furiously spinning revolving door between industry and the FCC.

Former Chairman Michael Powell is the natural choice to lead the nation's most powerful cable lobby, having looked out for the interests of companies like Comcast and Time Warner during his tenure at the Commission and having already served as a figurehead for the industry front group Broadband for America.

During his time as a public servant, Chairman Powell once dismissed the notion of a digital divide as no different from the Mercedes divide that afflicted him -- after all, he said, not everyone who wants a Mercedes can have one.

Thanks in no small part to the policies he pursued at the FCC and to the cable lobby's unyielding fight against any real competition in the broadband market, the digital divide is still with us. But today we can finally say, at least in Michael Powell's case, that the Mercedes divide is closing.

Online media resource: USGS currently lists 30 earthquakes off the coast of Japan, just today

Update: Apple has just announced that it will delay the launch of the iPad 2 in Japan, previously schedule to be available there starting on March 25, Reuters is reporting.

"We are delaying the launch of the iPad 2 in Japan while the country and our teams focus on recovering from the recent disaster," said Apple spokeswoman Natalie Kerris.

In a blog post Kevin Rose relays an e-mail from a friend who works for Apple in Japan. He reports that despite the disasters there the Apple retail store remains open:

Why? Because with the phone and train lines down, taxis stopped, and millions of people stuck in the Tokyo shopping district scared, with no access to television, hundreds of people were swarming into Apple stores to watch the news on USTREAM and contact their families via Twitter, Facebook, and email. The young did it on their mobile devices, while the old clustered around the macs. There were even some Android users there. (There are almost no free wifi spots in Japan besides Apple stores, so even Android users often come to the stores.)
Original Post:

The U.S. Geological Survey keeps an online database of earthquakes that make a very good reference tool for online journalists. The page recording the earthquakes for the Asia Region currently lists 30 earthquakes for March 15th alone -- that's today, of course.

The largest quake so far recorded today is a 6.2 after shock off the east coast of Honshu, Japan's largest island, and home to Tokyo. Two other earthquakes today have registered 6.0.

LinkedIn launches its own news aggregation service

The professional social network website Linkedin is getting in the aggregated news business. The beta news page, called LinkedIn Today, is available to registered members through a new tab option on their home page found under the "More" option.
The news page is fairly buried for now, but LinkedIn has included it as part of its iPhone app, and no doubt a tablet version might be right around the corner (though one can easily access the feature through the iPad's Safari browser and simply going to the Linkedin website). Stories saved online on the LinkedIn website are then available on the iPhone app, using the Instapaper model.

(I didn't see a LinkedIn Android app in the Android Market, though I know a beta version has been talked about -- has this been released?)
The LinkedIn news feature allows users to customize their news categories. But like a lot of the aggregated apps out there, like Flipboard and Zite, I find the idea of aggregated news through social networking sites and RSS feeds far from satisfying, though clearly many others are OK with them.

Editors at traditional news outlets will not find the promotional video below very funny, however.

"LinkedIn Today delivers today's top headlines that matter to people in your industry. These headlines aren't curated by an editor, but are based on what people in these industries are sharing on LinkedIn and Twitter," the video brags.

LinkedIn's news page continues a trend of aggregating content from online news sources, then presenting them in a new layout. The stories do link directly back to the source of the news, which so far, at least, has prevented the news media from shutting down their RSS feeds to prevent such aggregation.

LinkedIn has also just announced today on their blog that they are working with Snaptu on their own app for feature phones, servicing that shrinking, but still large segment of the cellular phone business.

“The Snaptu platform provides the complete technical and distribution structure to help publishers and service owners massively expand their mobile user base and unravel the immense monetization potential in the global market. We are delighted LinkedIn has joined the likes of Facebook and ESPN to offer an outstanding user experience to all mobile users, regardless of their device,” Snaptu CEO Ran Makavy wrote on Snaptu's website blog.

Project: the developers have conducted a coup d'état, and now editors and writers are slaves to the programmers

Have you ever received a magazine in the mail where the trimmer was misaligned and all the pages ended up stuck together? It's very rare, of course, but when it happens it kind of ruins the whole magazine experience, doesn't it? That's what reading Project is like sometimes.
Project is the tablet-only (actually, iPad-only, since there is no Android app) magazine from Virgin Digital Publishing. TNM looked at the first issue produced back in November and was generally kinder to the publication than many of the traditional media writers -- but then again they are fighting hard to convince their colleagues not to develop for the iPad.

Unfortunately, with issue three the developers appear to have taken over and what has been produced is a bit like that print magazine with its pages not trimmed -- it is exceedingly hard to read.

Once again the magazine opens with a video cover. This time we have Stephen Colbert and a nude model doing . . . something. But the video can not hide the fact that they people involved here don't look very happy. Check it out yourself, the model is lucky she didn't have a heart attack.
The silly cover aside, I struggled to get past the first page, an ad from Lexus. As I swiped to go to page two I became stuck. The ad is creative enough, a Lexus swinging from a hook. But the ad's motion was jerky and scrolling was not smooth. Is this the fault of the agency or a lack of computing power by my first generation iPad?

Worse, I simply could not exit the page by swiping to go to the TOC. I was stuck. I tapped the page hoping that the navigation tools on the bottom would pop up and I could use those to move on. No luck. I was dead in the water.

I stopped the app by hitting the home button and the powered down my iPad. It had been a while since I rebooted the thing, so I felt now was a good time to get a fresh start. By the way, a lot of users are so used to the instant-on feature of their iPhone or iPad that they forget they have an actual computer in their hands, and like any computer it needs to be rebooted occasionally.

So now I was back live and went immediately into the app again. Damn, that cover video is on again! OK, onto the ad. OK, a little better, but still jerky. Swipe . . . and . . . nothing. Yikes.

A tap did bring up the navigation tools this time so I could move on, but this was not good. On I went as page after page challenged the ability of my iPad to render and properly display the magazine. Come on guys, give my iPad a break!

Seven Publishing's Marc Langsman and Jolyon Segal are listed as the magazine's digital producers, with Michael Pledger as the lead developer. These guys should be listed at the top of the editorial credits page because the developing here is far more obvious and apparent than the editorial content. The writers and editors are taking a back seat as the developers drive the car -- and its heading towards a wall.

By the way, issues are now only 99 cents so if you have not checked Project out yet it won't now is a pretty good time to do it. The app itself is free. The latest issue was around 335 MB and took awhile to download, and then to install. It is continues to be one of the drawbacks of these native magazine apps. But the app works in both portrait and landscape and all the media is there for you for offline reading. This is certainly one of those magazine app that will wow fellow travelers on a long distance flight -- and consequently sell more iPads for Apple.

The funny thing here is that issue three of Project was created for the first generation iPad. On the magazine's website blog the editors playfully consider what the new, more powerful iPad 2 will allow them to create in future issues:
Still, it’s set us thinking . . . specifically: what can Project do with the iPad 2′s new features? By the end of March we’ll have two cameras, a gyroscope and a faster processor to play with – but what does that mean? So far, our slightly jetlagged brainstorm has suggested:
- “…a live FaceTime webcam of us, y’know, actually typing a feature.”
- ”…the ability to walk round a 360º, 3D, full-length image of Megan Fox, scrutinising her every feature.”
- “…some sort of haircut-judging service.”
- “…exactly the same stuff we did before, but with a white bezel.”
I shutter to think what they will come up with.

This situation reminds me of when Shockwave was first created and was being demoed on primitive websites. The animated content took forever to load on dial-up connections and then the things would simply explode on your screen -- and occasionally crash your computer.

Programming has often been one step ahead of the hardware required to render it properly. That is certainly the case here. But this is where experience publishers and editors need to step in and remind the creatives that the user experience is what counts. Developers shouldn't create magazines for fellow developers, they are supposed to be for the readers.

Morning Brief: Stock markets set to plunge following Japanese market collapse; third explosion reported; will Apple to include magazine templates in developer code?

If you are in the stock market you better hang on tight, it might be a very rough ride today. U.S. stock futures are falling following a more than 10 percent decline in the Nikkei today.
Investors are in Japan, and worldwide, are reacting, of course, to the horrible news coming from Japan following the countries 9.0 earthquake Friday and the tsunami that then ravaged the nation.

Now, the news coming from Japanese officials concerning their damaged facility at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant is ominous. A third explosion was reported today, along with a fire that released large amounts of radioactive material. Despite the attempts by Japanese officials and nuclear industry lobbyists here and around the globe to paint the situation in Japan as not serious, the situation has grown critical, with the New York Times using words like "catastrophe", and claiming that this situation "already made the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station the worst nuclear accident since the Chernobyl reactor disaster a quarter century ago."

Showing that nuclear power makes strange bedfellows of conservatives and liberals, Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo yesterday wrote a post on his site defending nuclear power saying that the controversial form of energy is actually safe.

"But even at these moments when we see the most frightening side of nuclear power," Marshall wrote, "I think we should still draw back and look at the global -- meant both literally and figuratively -- costs of different fuels and consider the possibility that nuclear power is actually safer for our own health and that of the planet."

TPM currently has as its main headline "C-R-I-T-I-C-A-L - Nuclear Crisis Spins Out of Control"

But remember, its safe!

Yesterday the Pew Research Center reported that online news consumption now outpaces newspapers -- not a very surprising finding for those in the New Media business.

On yesterday's Talk of the Nation from NPR, host Neal Conan talked to Tom Rosenstiel, Project Director, Project for Excellence in Journalism, Pew Research Center. (The audio file and the full transcript can be found on the NPR website.)

Responding to a point from Conan that metro papers are not doing so well, compared to local newspapers in more rural areas, Rosenstiel agreed:
They're not. We say that newspapers, since the year 2000, have lost 30 percent of their reporters and editors. It's probably more like 40 percent at big metro papers. My old paper, the LA Times, it's over 50 percent. My hometown newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, closer to 60, 65 percent of the newsroom is gone. But at the small papers, you may be looking at 10, 15, 20 percent shrinkage. That doesn't sound great, but, you know, compared to 65, feels pretty good.

Gadget Daily News speculated yesterday that Apple might be creating a set of template tools for developers to use to create iPad magazines. The Xcode tools would make it easier for publishers and individual developers to create new iPad apps for magazines and other periodicals.
The idea is certainly not new, and I would have thought solutions such as this would have appeared already. According to the report, Apple will include these new templates by the end of the year. That is almost two years after the launch of the first iPad.

In the meantime, publishers remain stuck with three choices: built their own app development teams, use digital publishing solutions from Adobe or WoodWing, or use third party vendors to create native or replica edition apps. Luckily, there are lots of gradations of these choices. Unfortunately, publishers are finding these choices to be very expensive -- certainly smaller publishers feel in a bind.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Tulsa World releases replica app for iPad; publisher sets subscription price almost at home delivery levels

The Tulsa World is not about to undercut its legacy print edition with a new tablet version of its newspaper. The cost to read the replica edition of the Tulsa World - iPad Edition will cost you $16.99, one dollar less than getting the paper home delivered.
The Tulsa World is an independently owned daily with a circulation of around 93K on weekends, a slightly more than 100K on Sundays.

As for this new iPad app, I have to assume that this new tablet edition of the Oklahoma daily is produced by Zmags, the same company that has produced the paper's iPhone app and produces a flipbook readable through your browser. The only two features that separate reading this tablet edition from any other flipbook is that readers can access an RSS feed of news from the Tulsa World website, and stories can be shared Facebook and e-mail. Otherwise you are reading a PDF of the print newspaper.

And what an expense PDF experience you will have! The Tulsa World is offering three choices for access the paper on your iPad: one month at $16.99, three months at $94.99, and a year at $179.99 -- no single copy issues are offered. This seems like one of those situations where the publisher is trying to prove to his management staff that there is no future in New Media.

Apple begins to promote AirPlay-enabled apps

Guessing that AirPlay will become a big deal with iPad and iPhone owners, and it will, Apple has created a section of its iTunes App Store to showcase apps that are AirPlay-enabled. (AirPlay apps allow their users to stream content from their mobile devices to an Apple TV for watching on their televisions, or listening to content through their stereos.
Newsy released an update to its app this weekend and now users can stream the news analysis videos to their televisions (through an Apple TV). Newsy is not one of the apps listed on the page, unfortunately, but it should be.

The first app that appears to have been enabled was from ESPN the Magazine for iPad -- it lists its last update as March 2, well ahead of AirVideo, which I assumed was one of the first apps to add AirPlay capability.
One of the newer apps updated comes from Major League Soccer. MLS MatchDay 2011 is an universal app that has now been AirPlay-enabled just in time for the new season which starts tomorrow. The app is free to download and comes with video highlights that can be streamed to an Apple TV. But the app also contains the ability to buy live matches through an in-app purchase -- which means, of course, that Apple will be getting their cut. Think about that one for a second, Apple is now getting a cut of sporting event revenue thanks to the launch of its iOS devices.

MLS has also released an Android app, as well. But as you can see, if you follow the link, the app is meant for Android mobile phones, not for tablets, and there is no live-game streaming.

But responding to a comment on the MLS website, Chris Schlosser, Director of Digital Strategy at Major League Soccer, said it will come eventually. "We will bring live video to Android as soon as Google updates their systems to enable in app purchase and live streaming...3.0 should allow this," wrote Schlosser.

Newsy updates its iOS apps to take advantage of AirPlay

The video news app Newsy has updated its iOS apps to make them AirPlay enabled, taking advantage of the recent Apple mobile operating system upgrade.
Apple's iOS 4.3 upgrade allows third party developers to incorporate AirPlay into their apps, where prior to the update only Apple apps could use the streaming feature. AirPlay allows iPad, iPhone and iPod touch owners to stream audio and video content directly to their Apple TVs in order to enjoy the content on their televisions.

"We wanted to enable Airplay because our video news content works great on both mobile devices and Apple TV. Newsy is dedicated to providing our viewers multisource video news where, when and how they want it,” Newsy President Jim Spencer said in the company's release.

The addition of AirPlay is a natural for Newsy. Although its videos work great on the iPad's large display, using AirPlay is a great way to share the content with others. Additionally, many iPhone and iPod touch users will prefer to stream their videos to their big screen TVs rather than watch them on their mobile devices.

Here is a promotional video, and like Newsy itself, it has a bit of an amateurish look, I'm afraid. The reason for this may be that Newsy videos look more natural on smaller mobile screens rather than the iPad or now on your television:

Morning Brief, the second: Report of explosion at another Japanese reactor; newly released documents reveal questionable practices at BofA; troops from Saudi Arabia reportedly enter Bahrain

Loads more important news and fast moving developments this morning:

Technicians at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant are fighting to stabilize a third reactor following another hydrogen explosion at the facility. Technicians are reportedly injecting more sea water in an attempt to prevent a fuel rod meltdown. The explosion, caused by a build-up of hydrogen, injured at least 11 workers, according to a report by the BBC.

While officials continue to maintain that no massive release of radioactivity has been released, the level of concern seems to be rising.

Meanwhile, the NYT reports that 17 Navy personnel have been treated for exposure to what it describes as "low levels of contamination" caused when the military personnel flew through a radioactive plume from one of the damaged nuclear power plants. This is getting ugly.

Video of the Number 3 reactor at the Fukushima Nuclear Plan:

Speaking of "ugly", that is how Yves Smith describes the situation now at banker Bank of America.

Months ago WikiLeaks warned that they may release potentially damaging documents concerning a major US bank. But now a website named has released documents from a source that shows that Bank of America, through its subsidiary Balboa Insurance, engaged in “force placed insurance” whereby the lender buys insurance when the homeowner fails to keep up their own insurance premiums.

Naked Capitalism has a good explanation of both the practice and its implications.

"And if these allegations are indeed accurate, they make a mockery of the settlement charade underway among 50 state attorneys general, Federal regulators, and what amount to banking industry crooks, aka servicers," writes Yves Smith, creator of Naked Capitalism.

The BBC is reporting that troops from neighboring countries have entered Bahrain at the request of the kingdom.

"Gulf Cooperation Council forces will arrive in Bahrain today to take part in maintaining law and order," said Nabeel al-Hamer, a former information minister, via Twitter.

The action follows some of the most intense protests in Bahrain occurred over the weekend. Al Jazeera English reports that protesters overwhelmed police and cut off roads.

Morning Brief: State Department spokesman forced to resign over statements; Engadget editorial leaders exit; the iPad 2 sales experience varies depending on store

One week after speaking at an M.I.T. seminar and stating that the government's treatment of accused WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning as “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley resigned.
The Pentagon, which says Manning is not being "abused", also admits that the soldier has been in solitary confinement, forced to sleep nude night after night, and has, until recently, not been able to communicate with the outside world. Amnesty International has said that "the conditions inflicted on Bradley Manning . . . amount to inhumane treatment by the US authorities" and "appear to breach the USA’s human rights obligations."

In a blog post to readers Saturday, Josh Topolsky, editor-in-chief of AOL-owned Engadget, bid his readers adieu. Also leaving Engadget, according to the WSJ's Kara Swisher is Managing Editor Nilay Patel.

Word is that the moves are not related to the recent acquisition of the Huffington Post and the new leadership role of Arianna Huffington -- though it is certainly not going to help the transition. More than likely, this move has been long in coming thanks to “The AOL Way", which already cost Engadget two other editors.

Apple's iPad 2 went on sale across America on Friday, and unlike previous launches, the newest version of the popular tablet was just available on at the Apple web store, but at many retail partner locations, as well.
My local Best Buy had line before 5pm, though nothing like those seen at Apple retail stores in San Francisco and New York. Michael Baker, seen at left, was in line to buy his wife an iPad, as was, strangely enough, just about everyone else in line.

At Walmart, however, Greg Kozik (right) and others were there for themselves.

Kozik already owns the first version of the iPad, but wants to buy the new version for his business. Inventories of the iPad 2 were very low at my local Walmart. The staff there telling all buyers that they were sold out even before 5pm, but then allowing a few customers to wait inline so they could purchase a unit -- an obvious, but strange tactic to avoid disappointed customers.
Mike Albro, the store manager at the Best Buy in Gurnee, IL told me that they received enough iPad 2 units to satisfy those who were willing to queue up on Friday. The store then received a second shipment of tablets on Saturday, though they were limited to 3G iPads that work on the Verizon network.

Local Verizon stores also received iPad 2 inventory in time for the Friday launch. My local store went from offering the first iPad sold with MiFi devices to provide Internet connections to the new iPad 2 3G units that work on the Verizon network. The store no longer offers WiFi-only models. The same was true, as you would expect, at the local AT&T Wireless store.

Bloomberg quotes Piper Jaffray Cos. analyst Gene Munster as stating that Apple may have sold as many as 500,000 iPad 2s this weekend -- though, as always, we take anything said by an 'analyst' with a grain of salt.