Friday, May 13, 2011

СТРАТЕГИИ: Ukrainian business magazine, Strategy, releases iPad app that uses simple, native tablet layouts

As many web readers know, Google has had a monumental meltdown of its Blogger system. Many stories that were posted on Wednesday and Thursday of this week have apparently been lost. I have tried to retrieve some of them thanks to TNM's iPhone app (lots of copy and paste), but some will just have to stay lost, I guess. I thought this one interesting enough to repost at the top of the website.

One advantage to looking at foreign media applications is that one is not distracted by the actual content, I suppose. In the case of this magazine app, СТРАТЕГИИ на IPAD (Strategy for iPad), the lesson here is how deep the new tablet platform has reached in such a short time.
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Who knows how many people own iPads in the Ukraine, there is no official Apple dealer in the country according to one source I read. But now the country has at least one iPad magazine app!

The free app also gives you free access to the one issue found inside the library. Weighing in at only 18 MB, the download was very quick, but the app surprisingly does give you both portrait and landscape orientations. And while the app does contain some multimedia content, it is really a very simply assembled app – and yet I bet Ukrainian readers will appreciate the end product.
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Strategy – I won't continue to use the Cyrillic in case your browser can't handle it – is a Russian language business monthly magazine. Its website translates very easily using Google's Chrome browser.

(I use Chrome a lot since I often find myself on foreign language websites. Otherwise, it is Safari.)

The tablet version uses the Adobe Digital Publishing Suite and was developed by Adobe's partner in Russia, Terem Media, which has three other tablet apps in the App Store at this time. The app is being sold under the Terem Media name, though the support page does take you to the Strategy website where there is a nice support page, complete with a "User's Manual".
I noticed one very, very minor programming error, but otherwise the app was very easy to navigate, despite the language barrier. It goes to show you that app navigation is becoming fairly standard.
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Of course, I know of a few developers who might consider this tablet edition a bit boring, programming-wise. I understand that and certainly sympathize with that point-of-view. But then again most print magazines are pretty predictable, as well, aren't they?

Quite a number of publishers, or would-be publishers have complained to me about the enormous costs associated with using the Adobe tools. In Eastern Europe, at least, there is a digital publishing partner that can help. But for those of us here in the US seeking affordable, easy to use tablet publishing production tools remains a top priority.

'Houston, we have a problem!'

Google has really blown it big time. As you can see below, all the posts created Thursday have disappeared from site. As you may have heard, Google's Blogger platform sprung a leak, or in as they say in the tech community, has been "upgraded" – another way of saying "crashed".
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I don't know if the posts will reappear or not, but interestingly, they can still be found on TBM's iPhone app. (If you haven't downloaded the mobile app you can do so here.

As I write this I see that I'm getting an error message from Twitter: "Twitter is over capacity."

Gotta love New Media, huh?

Well, until I can bde assured Blogger won't delete anymore posts, and until I can get those old posts back on the site, I see no reason to add any additional material into the system. So, let's just pretend that today is a holiday and head on out to Wrigley to catch the Giants while they are in town, OK?

See you next week.

Salt Lake City becomes one of the few cities where both of its rival daily newspapers now have tablet editions

On April 18 I wrote a piece about RSS driven newspaper apps looking at several new tablet editions including the newly launched tablet edition of the Deseret News. One month later, its arch rival, and also distribution partner, The Salt Lake Tribune has released its own first tablet edition. This makes Salt Lake City one of the few cities in America where competing newspapers each have their own iPad editions (New York being obviously another).
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The two daily newspapers in Salt Lake City are very different from each other: the Salt Lake Tribune is the larger paper, with a daily circulation of 113,032 based on the latest ABC report, while the Deseret News has a daily circ of 73,075. The Trib is owned by MediaNews Group, the group formerly run by Dean Singleton (he is still “executive chairman of the board"), while the News is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Both papers, however, are published under a joint operating agreement (JOA) by the Newspaper Agency Corporation.

Both newspaper apps are fairly similar looking, as you can see above. But the Deseret News app is a universal app, hiding its mobile origins fairly well on the iPad. The SL Tribune app, however, is solely for the iPad. In fact, in its own post about the app, the paper uses the word "native" to describe the app (as opposed to "replica").

"This is part of a continuing effort to deliver Utah’s most complete news report in whatever format readers want," Salt Lake Tribune Deputy Editor Tim Fitzpatrick is quoted in the Tribune story introducing the app. "This is our first step into tablets, and there will be many more."
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Both apps are free to download and both apps offer their readers free access to the content. Since the Deseret News app was the first to appear in the App Store, and it was completely free, I wonder if the SL Tribune felt it had to go free, as well, or whether this is the kind of decision forced upon the newspapers by their JOA.
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Both apps treat stories pretty much the same, allowing font size adjustments, though the SL Tribune app allows for the changing of the font from Arial to Georgia. The SL Tribune app also utilizes push notifications, while its rival's app does not.

For readers in Utah, however, the two papers probably provide enough differentiation that their apps don't need to be that different. The Deseret News, for instance, in its story today about presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, a Mormon, calls the candidate "Mitt" in its headline (which I found to be extremely creepy). Meanwhile, the SL Tribune app description brags that its app contains the political cartoons of Pat Bagley, who was quoted in a story that former President Bush "radicalized me ... I used to be kind of a moderate Republican. I've been pushed to the left."

Whether one app is better than the other I'll leave to you. But one thing for sure, the SL Tribune app is a vast improvement on the replica apps released by other MediaNews Group properties such as those of the Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

The newspaper special advertising section as an app: digital ad products could be a huge new opportunity

So, do newspapers still do as many sections today as they did in the past? For me, the special section was both a great opportunity for a boost in revenue, and a terrible burden. After all, you do a new special section one year, and if it is successful, you are pretty much forced to do it again the next unless you can come up with something to replace it with.
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Because most newspapers have failed to integrate digital publishing throughout their company almost all special sections remain strictly print affairs. Yet once creating new tablet app become as common as the next day's print edition, I think we will see lots of innovative special section apps.

When I downloaded this new app from Societe Emeraude Diffusion France I immediately thought about the 'special section'. Sure, Avenue Montaigne Guide 8 is not about just some small town shopping area, but isn't it, basically, just a special section?
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The free app is all about a very ritzy avenue in Paris where your typical small town merchants – Gucci, Dior, for instance – have their businesses. OK, I admit, selling Dior is not the same as selling MaryJo's Cupcake Parlor, but you get the idea.

The app goes shop by shop, providing editorial content on all, with some supporting the effort with ads.

I compared this app to a recent special section run in The Miami Herald. That section was fine, 24 pages, plenty of ads. But the nice thing about digital ads are that they don't have to be size related – on an iPad you would think that all the ads would be "full page" – plus they offer interactivity and other benefits.

I've often wondered why I don't see more "special sections" on newspaper websites, or on their mobile applications. Now I wonder why we don't see more special section apps. My guess is that the reason is that the ad departments are not full partners in the paper's digital strategy. Maybe it's time to change that, no?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Late afternoon briefs: Axel Springer CEO, in Bloomberg interview, looks towards digital; TRAFFIQ updates its media calculator app; TNM unabashedly asks for millions from George Soros and Rupert Murdoch

In a Bloomberg Television interview today Axel Springer Chief Executive Officer Mathias Doepfner expressed optimism both for the newspaper business, in general, and for the role mobile, and especially tablets will play in the future.

Doepfner represents Europe's largest newspaper publishing company, publishers of such newspapers as Die Welt, Bild and Fakt. In the interview with Andrea Catherwood, conducted in Berlin, Doepfner says "the biggest challenge is 'are we able to transform into a true multimedia company?' and 'are the new distribution channels in the digital world new business for us or a threat.' I'm deeply convinced it's much more of an opportunity and I think we are proving with our recent developments. We have now 30 percent of our total sales, roughly, deriving from online business," Doepfner states.

Axel Springer's CEO then goes on to express his views of mobile and tablet publishing. The full interview, care of the Bloomberg website is below.

Axel Springer has been busy launching tablet editions of many of their media properties, some under the company's name such as the iPad version of Die Welt, while others can be found under the brand's name, such as the app for Auto Blid. Axel Springer's Polish division, Axel Springer Polska, has app versions of many of its titles, as well, including the Newsweek Polska.


A week ago today I posted a short story about TRAFFIQ Media Calculator and got plenty of grief over pointing out some errors in the app.
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Today the TRAFFIQ Media Calculator app has been updated, fixing the problems mentioned in the post. The app is, I believe, the only media buying tool in the App Store (if it is not, let me know of some of the others).

The app is a universal app, but I think it is best on the iPhone simply because that is where I do the most calculating. But if an iPad is all you have, well, it will work there, too.



We've heard about government regulators accepting jobs within the industries they have previously regulated, now comes this news: Meredith Attwell Baker, former Commerce Department official in the Bush administration, has announced that she is leaving the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to go work for Comcast. The announcement comes four months after the FCC gave approval to the Comcast NBC Universal merger. Really, what can one say?



It doesn't look like Fox News will be missing Glenn Beck much. Today it gave space to Dan Gainor space online to go after George Soros in an rather strange rant. The center of Gainor's outrage is the idea that the famous investor has given money to such media outlets as NPR and ProPublica. But worse, apparently, is the fact that these media organizations have, wait for it, journalists on their boards. Oh, my.

See the connection here? Millionaire gives money to journalism organization, which in turn have journalists, therefore . . . hold it, I'm confused. What's the problem here? Oh yeah, Soros.

Gainor never gets around to telling us why Soros is such an evil influence other than to say he is "liberal". But does it really matter?

For the record, if George Soros would like to invest a couple of million into TNM I'd be open to the idea. And if he can convince Rupert Murdoch to do the same I'd be open, as well.

'The Story So Far': new report on digital news economics summarizes current developments in digital journalism

The Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism has released a new report that will be of interest to those invovled in New Media. "The Story So Far: What We Know About the Business of Digital Journalism" attempts to summarize current knowledge about the business of digital journalism, reviewing the financial situation at newspapers online, hyper-local news sites, and others involved in the online news media.
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Bill Grueskin, Ava Seave, and Lucas Graves are the co-authors of the report than can be downloaded in PDF form on the Columbia Journalism Review website (here is a direct link to the PDF of the report).

Brian Stelter of the NYT had a good post on the report yesterday, so anyone seeking an executive summary should read his post on the Times's website.
The report, despite being about and for journalists, does talk at great length about advertising. In particular it touches on something that I find important: the effectiveness (as opposed to simply the efficiency) of web advertising.

Elevated from comments: Schwäbische Zeitung for iPad

Unfortunately Google's comments system sometimes throws a comment into TNM's spam folder, where it usually sits with tons of fake comments from the company that has been hired by Dish Network to flood bloggers with pro-Dish comments.
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This morning I found, to my horror, this nice note from Patrik Staeblert, part of the team that created the Schwäbische Zeitung iPad app, which I wrote about last week Wednesday. You can read my original post here.

I've released the comment from the spam folder so it can now be found with the original story, but I thought I'd reproduce it here in a separate post in order to encourage other media pros to download and take a look at their tablet edition.

Here is the comment, with a few minor edits (I left the original comment unchanged on the post):

Dear Douglas,

I stumbled across your post the other day and to be honest: I was quite surprised that somebody on the other side of the globe is taking interest in our App (I am one the guys in the picture happily holding his iPad).

But what even surprised me more was your blog entry, as you totally got the intention of our app - although you don't speak German. That is: We want to offer our readers an easy-to-handle app with regional news that is not simply a pdf of our newspaper, but a separate product.

Just two quick notes: Firstly, you are totally right with your supposition, that the appearance of our app in the App Store caught us somehow by surprise. But the day after that, we started with our daily edition. Secondly, you write that our edition is 28 pages in size, which is only half the truth.

The thing is: Our edition actually contains two parts: On the one hand we have the most important international, national as well as those regional news, that we believe are of interest in our whole distribution area (roughly 25-30 articles). On the other hand though, our app also contains a lot more local news, which might not have appeared on your iPad. The reason for that is that it is 'news-on-demand', so to speak. Because in our app, you find a menu, where you can individually choose, which towns and villages in our distribution area are of interest to you (there are more than 40 categories). And after that, you get all the news from these areas on your iPad in addition to the first mentioned articles. So for example, the app of yesterday contained an overall of 150 articles - if you choose to read all categories. Anyway, cheers for your commendation (at least I received it that way).

If you have any further questions or suggestions, fell free to write me an email.

Regards,
Patrik Staeblert
If you would like to contact the author to learn more about their app, you can find his email address in the original post's comments area (I don't want to post here it here out of fear it will get picked up by spammers.)

Staeblert is right that I missed the additional news that was contained in the app – and he is also right about my lack of German! That probably caused me to miss the content.

Thank you again to the author for the feedback.

Miami Herald launches first tablet edition, offering readers full access to content for only 99 cents per month

Unless I have missed an app inside the App Store, it appears that The Miami Herald is the first McClatchy newspaper to launch a tablet edition. After so much bad news, poor earnings, staff layoffs at many of their newspapers, this launch might be finally some good news.
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The app, The Miami Herald iPad Edition, is a free download which offers iPad owners the top stories that appear for free. But once opened, the app asks you to either sign into your print account or to buy a subscription. If you do opt to pay, you then get complete access to all content within the app. A click of the Sections button reveals all the sections, along with a little "lock" icon which shows that you won't be able to access the section until you have signed in or paid for a tablet subscription.

The subscription cost, however, shouldn't deter anyone: only 99 cents per month. This is very aggressive, and might make a few print customers angry, knowing that the website currently quotes $14.99 per month for a subscription to the print product. But it should be remembered that the newspaper's website is still free, so this is typical of many newspapers, caught between a free Internet and a home delivery model.
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One thing that struck me right away when finding this new app in the App Store was that it was not launched by McClatchy – the 'seller' is listed as The Miami Herald. Does that mean that this was a local initiative? If so, the paper's publisher, David Landsberg deserves credit for this project and for getting the ball rolling at the newspaper chain.

As someone who recently cancelled their seven day delivery of the Chicago Tribune (though I retained Sunday delivery), if I lived in South Florida I would definitely be tempted to subscribe to the paper through the app, while continuing the print edition on Sunday. That is why I would priced the app a bit higher, but I can not argue with the pricing decision here. If corporate is not pushing digital initiatives, then someone has to get things going. (I suppose it's possible that this was a corporate initiative, though I have seen no evidence of that.)

I do have one major complaint, though: as I mentioned above, all the sections other than Top News are locked until you pay for a subscription or sign into your print account. OK, fine. But lock classifieds? Really? (It took me five minutes for my blood pressure to come down after seeing that. As a newspaper guy, and a former CAM, this really, really pissed me off. To me this is another sign that the ad folk are not being treated as equal partners in digital publishing decisions.

The app as a whole has a single sponsor: Baptist Health South Florida. As TNM readers should know I think this is a good approach to launching a first app. There are no other ad spots right now in the tablet edition, though this could change over time.

The app has good features: font control, the ability to save articles, and the ability to e-mail stories or share them through Twitter or Facebook. All the content from the newsroom can be found within, from the blogs to weather and the rest.

Other than locking away the classified advertising I see little wrong with this app. It's a good start, and something other McClatchy papers can build from.

Nomad Editions releases its first iPad app; while business model stays the same, the design concept has moved to tablet publishing model

Some time yesterday the first iPad app for Mark Edmiston's Nomad Editions launched in the App Store, and with its appearance the company appears to have changed their magazine design model from one design for all platforms to a create for tablets model. Unfortunately, the designs have stayed the same, but maybe that will change soon, as well.
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At launch, Nomad Editions, launched by former Newsweek President Mark Edmiston, along with designer Roger Black, touted their concept that they could design magazine products for mobile devices, and sort of one design, many devices approach (which I strongly disagreed with).

"There is clear demand for good content on mobile devices as evidenced by the amazing growth of e-books and the terrific response to the magazine ‘apps’ launched on the iPad” said Edmiston, in the company's launch statement. “We believe that there is even greater potential for content designed from the ground up for mobile rather than taking an existing format and converting it to mobile."

When the first magazines launched late last year the first editions of its magazines were browser based, one design that flowed the copy based on the device's browser. For me this was simply an HTML version of the flipbook. The biggest weakness in the design being that readers have shown consistently that they do not like reading magazines on their PCs, and further, that reading them on their smartphones, while initially a novelty, was also the wrong platform. Print and tablets seemed to me to be the two logical platforms.

But the early Nomad Editions magazines didn't seem to be geared for the iPad, despite the words of the CEO, it needed its own app. Well, now it has one.



The Nomad Editions app is free to download and creates a library where readers can download issues of the specially created magazines. Currently launched on the Nomad Editions platform are BodySmart, Real Eats, U+Me, Uncorked, and Wide Screen - all are new launches, exclusively available through Nomad Editions. Readers get access to one free issue, a very smart idea, and then can buy individual issues at 99 cents a piece, or get a year's subscription for the very reasonable price of $9.99 per year.

These prices seem unsustainable to me, but are very attractive and probably are able to be offered thanks to the financial backing Nomad Editions is getting.
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Besides the design, which I will discuss more below, the other element of the company's strategy lies with its cooperative publishing model. Publishers, if I may call them that, receive 35 percent of the revenue brought in from reader purchases. No doubt the decision to go to in-app purchases through Apple's App Store will effect the total revenue brought in.

The business model is worth testing, and it is not that different from a model I have been thinking about, though my model doesn't completely lock in editors to one business. Nonetheless, the model has merit. Further, the first magazines appear to be well written and conceived. Nomad Editions are not merely vanity publications but honest-to-goodness attempts at new magazine launches (though the magazines tend to be small due to the number of issues that must be produced each year).

But the concept begins to fail for me when it comes to the end product's design and readability. The screenshots in the App Store or at the company's website are attractive, but they don't really give you a good idea of what you will find inside.

Previously, when testing the issues online, I felt that they were fairly readable, though I simply didn't want to read a magazine on my computer. Now, because of the app, the magazines seem to me to be on the right platform. But, sadly, the designs have not changed.

The reason for this is that the company started with the idea of designing using HTML for online reproduction. This end product would be flexible enough to flow the copy properly when displayed on a small screen like an iPhone, or a larger one like an iPad – all through the device's browser.

Now the same design comes to the iPad app. The result is sort of a replica edition of a digital product. In other words, rather than changing their designs to fit the platform, they are again locked into a design concept. I don't think Roger Black would have created this look and feel had he started out designing exclusively for a tablet. Why would, for instance, a tablet page display a thin column of copy surrounded by grayed out pages? Why wouldn't the designer design specifically for the portrait or landscape display canvas rather than waste so much space? It is ironic that the biggest weakness of the Nomad Editions may be the thing most promoted initially: design (even the "covers" don't fill up the screen).


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Going forward, though, Nomad Editions might stand a pretty good chance of succeeding (I wouldn't, and didn't think that five months ago). The magazine subjects are intriguing: I'm interested in exploring Uncorked, Real Eats and others, for instance. Additionally, some of the problems I see in the design might be fixable.

What is missing from these magazines? Basic iPad functions (if Nomad Editions didn't have the support of Apple I would go so far as to say that their app would have been rejected). The app does not allow for pinch-to-zoom, for instance. There is now way to adjust the fonts or font sizes; there is no mechanism to allow sharing of stories or to promote the articles within the magazine (a really poor marketing decision, don't you think?); no social media networking, etc. Now that the first Nomad Editions app has been launched these features could come in the future.

I would never bet against a well funded start-up such as Nomad Editions. Further, I think they are now more on the right road than where I thought they were back at the beginning of the year. it's possible that now that Nomad Editions has bet the farm on the iPad that they could be one of the first major publishing start-up successes of the platform, especially with Apple's support.

As June deadline approaches one company quits the App Store, company behind iFlow Reader blames Apple's in-app purchase rules

I hadn't heard of the iFlow Reader, so its decision to quit the App Store, blaming Apple's agency commission structure, is hardly a big deal to me. But the company's "open letter" to Apple, along with its accusation that its in-app purchase policies have made it impossible to do business, will resonate with some developers who wonder if they can make a successful business out of iOS retailing.
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The app, created by BeamItDown Software, has the unfortunate name of 40,554 Free Books and So Much More - iFlow Reader HD, possibly the longest name in the App Store, and hardly something that rolls off the tongue. But the company has come out swinging by changing its app description inside the store:

Thank you for your interest in the iFlow Reader. You can still download this product, but you should be aware that we are going out of business on May 31, 2011. We do not want to do this. We have a great product and lots of great customers who love our unique approach to ebooks. Unfortunately for us and for you as an iOS user, Apple has decided that it wants all of the ebook business on iOS for itself and it has made mid-game rule changes that make it impossible for almost anyone but Apple to sell ebooks at a profit on iOS. They are now requiring us to give them 30% of the sale price of any eBook that we sell. This is greater than our total profit on these ebooks so we cannot possibly make any money on the sale. This makes it impossible to stay in business. For more information, you can go to our website at iflowreader.com.
The company here is making a rather strong accusation: Apple wants all eBook sales to go through iBooks. But the issue here is that Apple wants to enforce its existing in-app purchase rules that companies that have to offer in-app purchasing as an option if the purpose of the app is to facilitate sales. For instance, the Pandora radio app is essentially a player app and would be fine under Apple's policies except that under settings it offers the ability to upgrade to a commercial free format for $36. Clicking the button takes you outside the app to make the purchase. This would appear to be a violation of Apple's guidelines.

So Pandora, it would seem to me, has two options: drop all upgrades from within the app and make it simply a player app, or do update their app so that users are offered the ability to buy the upgrade through an in-app purchase. Apple has given developers until June 30 to make their apps compliant to in-app purchase rules.

For some companies this will be a minor annoyance: the commission Apple charges is offset from the savings a company gets by not having to handle transactions. But if you are already a retailer, like Amazon.com, things get tricky. Amazon will not want to pay Apple a penny for any books sold, so it has two choices: make their app simply a reader app, or leave the platform. (Amazon doesn't allow Apple to have its iBookstore on the Kindle, by the way.)

My guess is that some will leave the store, either because their margins are too small, or to make a statement. I doubt Apple will be too upset either way. But an iPad without the Kindle or Pandora app is not the same product we have enjoyed this past year and would create a major point of differentiation between Apple's tablet and any competitive tablets. Unfortunately for companies like BeamItDown Software, manufacturers have not been putting much competitive pressure on Apple with their new tablet introductions. In anything, the launch of the XOOM and PlayBook have to have Apple feeling pretty good about things.

Spanish gaming website zonaBlade.com launches a companion tablet-only magazine app: BLADE Magazine

One gets a sense that there is this group of individuals out there that have spent the last year playing around with iPad development, and in particular have started working with Adobe's suite of tools, or WoodWing, or some of the other digital publishing packages and are now ready to start launching their own tablet magazines – either just for the fun of it, or to actually try and launch their own new publishing businesses.
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You can see this in some of the new apps being launched like this new one called BLADE Magazine, for instance. The tablet-only magazine is the offspring of the Spanish gaming website zonaBlade.com.

I can't quite figure out if this is a side project of those involved here, or part of some bigger venture. The "Director de Blade Magazine" is José Manuel Artés, who is also Content Director at Grupo Intercom. Other members of the team are Issac Viana, editorial coordinator, Raul Pérez, editor, José Antonio Cabeza, editor, Javier Gutiérrez, graphics editor, and Juan Francisco Bellón Molina, art director.
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The app's "seller" is listed as Toni Mascaró, who I assume is the same person who runs the consulting firm eMascaró – but this is all a bit hard to track down due to my lack of Spanish language skills (typical American, right?) and the fact that no one is listed as the developer in the app or online.

In any case, I'm more impressed with the vision to actually launch the tablet magazine more than I am the magazine itself. The app looks like it was designed as a traditional magazine (the website will point you to a PDF version of the book) which then was ported to an iPad app using either Adobe or WoodWing tools. The app has the tell-tale signs of being designed this way from the text boxes and the navigation. The magazine is not a replica (after all, there is no print version) but it was designed almost as if it were coming from print, then multimedia was added in, and the copy flowed into iPad templates.
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The free app takes you to the library upon opening where you can download the premiere issue for free. It weighs in at around 361MB thanks to the embedded video and the fact that both portrait and landscape modes are utilized. An ad, seen at left, had copy in both orientations, as well.

The size of the download became a real problem were because three times the download stopped and gave me a warning that the server was not responding. There is a "resume" button that is supposed to restart the download but I found that this did not work. As a result I had to cancel the download and start over. I almost gave up, but on the fourth try the download was completed successfully.

While there are no reviews so far of the app inside either the US or Spanish App Stores, the website has gotten a few congratulatory comments on it.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Investors bet heavily on app developers, even as media investment bankers shy away from new media, in general

Here is a retweet, of sorts: TechCrunch is reporting that Sequoia Capital and IDG Ventures have invested $5 million a piece in app developer Sourcebits, a Banglarore-based start-up that has launched such apps as Skyfire and Night Stand.
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The company will use the investment to set up engineering and sales centers in the U.S. (it maintains an office in Decatur, Georgia) and add to their design engineering teams in India and Europe.

I found this story a bit ironic in that I had just deleted a post I wrote concerning the lack of investment being made by the traditional media bankers. I deleted the post because I have already complained in the past about the lack of imagination, and frankly balls, being shown by the traditional NYC-based media bankers. The firms are currently sitting on investment portfolios of companies that are the poster childs for old media thinking.

But, as they say, you can't teach an old dog new tricks. But the question still must be answered: who will fund new digital publishing ventures, if anyone? Will they all be angel funded, or self-funded?

You would think that firms like VSS and Abry Partners would realize that their investments skew pretty, well, analog. Well, maybe not.

Microsoft's acquisition of Skype will be impossible to evaluate using traditional M&A criteria

Everybody, it seems, has an opinion about the news that Microsoft has purchased Skype. Most people are pretty negative about the acquisition, and how can blame them. At $8.5 billion and little if any profit, we are looking at a deal worth ten times revenue. The deal simply can't be evaluated in traditional M&A terms (but if it could it would be considered absolutely crazy).

Right now Microsoft's stock is down, though I wouldn't read too much into that as the purchasers stock almost always goes down following an acquisition announcement.
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Charles Arthur of The Guardian posted his own evaluation and I agree with most of Arthur's conclusions:

So what then is Skype? It's a trophy. But Microsoft would be wise not to think it's won the match. The most interesting thing will be Google's reaction: it has its own VoIP service, Google Talk, and we'll know whether it thought Skype was a clever acquisition from what it says in the next few days. The numbers, though, suggest that Steve Ballmer has made headlines, but it's not going to help the stock.
For me, the problem with acquiring Skype lies with Skype itself. It has been a great product for many people, and is so widely used in Europe that it has becoming a generic name like Kleenex or Google. I've heard many people even call using FaceTime "Skyping" when they were being imprecise. But Skype itself seems like a dead-end: rather than something that is being integrated into other apps and systems, it is sitting by itself sort of the way AOL found itself isolated as a lone community once the web boomed.

For me, as someone with extensive M&A experience, the move by Microsoft only makes sense to me if the company knows it is heading in a certain direction but the presence of Skype is that strategy's biggest drawback – like someone saying they want to go into the search engine business but realize that they will be prevented from doing so by another company (you have heard about that company, Google). If you could get rid of that competition in the stroke of a pen then your business idea can proceed.

Is Microsoft really that strategic? And at $8.5 billion, will it be worth it? Or are they getting punch drunk from all the negative press?

NRC Media follows in the steps of The Guardian Eyewitness by launching its own news photography app

Once The Guardian released their nice Eyewitness app last year I expected to see a flood of similar iPad app. After all, newspapers and magazines have a huge inventory of photographic work and all it would take for many newspapers to launch their own photographic apps would be a commitment to the platform and some imagination. A year later it is sobering to think that the industry is really this backward.
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(And to make matters worse, The Guardian has not launched another iPad app since.)

This new app from NRC Media, In beeld, is one of the few that has taken the approach of The Guardian Eyewitness. The free app does things a bit differently: where as The Guardian delivers one photo to you each day, where as NRC Media delivers one photo series each day, the number of photos in each series can vary.
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This approach makes sense: The Guardian, by limiting themselves to one photo must make sure that photo is something special; here, the editor may decide that the series tells a story better than just one photo would.

Programming wise, the In beeld app works in both portrait and landscape, though it feels more at home in landscape. The app itself is small, only 2.7MB in size, so when the app opens there is a bit of a lag as the app grabs the latest content. The app could use an alert telling users that it is updating.

I tested the app in Airplane mode and it works fine – though readers will have to remember to open the app while they still have an Internet connection to make sure they have grabbed the latest photography.

If I were the publisher of a daily newspaper (anybody got an opening?) I would definitely be talking to my staff about apps such as these. This is a great way to promote your photography staff.

But I think a paper should charge at least a nominal amount of the app (99 cents to $2.99 at most) and rewarding the staff with a bonus or revenue share is a good way to create a more entrepreneurial environment (assuming labor agreements will allow such things). The app fee is also a way of being able to justify and evaluate the financial performance of the app development.

Adobe releases group of Photoshop reliant companion apps for the iPad; paid apps will require many to upgrade

Don't expect Adobe to launch a fully functioning version of Photoshop for the iPad any time soon. That is the message from today's launch of three companion apps: all are low priced iPad apps that are designed not to be a substitute for Photoshop, but are designed to work with your desktop versions.
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Adobe Nav for Photoshop is a $1.99 app and acts as a kind of remote control for Photoshop. The app allows users to use their multitouch device to use Photoshop, either at the same time or remotely. The catch is that you must own Photoshop CS5 (or the new CS 5.5), as the app will not work with CS4 (that means I'm out of luck until I upgrade).

Adobe Eazel for Photoshop is $4.99 and is a finger painting app that again forces the user to use Photoshop while taking advantage of the iPad's multitouch capabilities.

Finally there is Adobe Color Lava for Photoshop, a $2.99 app that allows users to make a mess of their work through dabs, swirls and smudges. It, too requires Photoshop CS5 or higher.



It will be interesting to see the reaction to these new apps. When old media companies release mobile or tablet apps that are pricey, or create paywalls for their websites, they are accused of trying to protect their legacy print products. They are dinosaurs.

But here we have a major tech company that, rather than introducing stand alone tablet apps, created companion apps that force the user to continue owning their high priced legacy applications – even forcing upgrades for many owners.

There is a big lesson here, however, for media companies developing for tablets: Adobe has not tried to reinvent the wheel here, instead they are adding multitouch capabilities to their existing products. In other words, they are using the iPad to expand their products.

For too many publishers the goal for releasing a tablet or mobile app is to simply extend the reach of their existing products. Indeed, the goal is to "replicate" the print product for the new medium. Instead, one of two approaches would be better: either consider the tablet or mobile platform as requiring all new products, or else use the new platforms to add new capabilities: geolocation services, multimedia, new navigation, etc.

The Adobe video below touches on thinking behind their new iPad apps. Notice how Thomas Ruark, senior computer scientist at Adobe, immediately dismisses the idea that you could put Photoshop on the iPad. Why? (Because it would not only require a complete rewrite of the program, but the pricing environment for tablets would require much lower pricing, as well.)

Morning Brief: Microsoft buys Skype; Al Jazeera English, Monster launch Android mobile apps; Google to go ahead with digital music service despite lack of content contracts

The planned Skype IPO appears to be not happening. Word today is that Microsoft is buying Skype for $8.5 billion. This is the second time Skype has sold itself off to a large tech firm. In 2005 the company was sold to eBay for $2.6 billion, though that didn't work out so well.

Such is the life of VC backed firms. (TechCrunch says that Microsoft is paying $4.5 billion more than the bid from Google. If true, it would be a major black eye for the M&A folk behind this deal.)


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Most media apps may launch initially for Apple's iOS platform but eventually move on to the Android platform as a way of extending the reach of the brand. Two more Android app launches today include Android apps from Monster.com and Al Jazeera English. Monster's Android app has actually been out for a while, though the company has just now released a press release. Al Jazeera's app for their English service is new, however, and joins their app for their Arabic services in the Android Market.

But as with most media apps for Android, the screenshots show that both apps are still geared towards mobile users, as opposed to the new Android tablets.



The Hollywood Reporter says that Google will unveil plans for its digital music service today at its I/O conference in San Francisco. The service, dubbed Music Beta, is a cloud storage service along the lines of the recently launched Cloud Drive, Amazon.com's cloud service.

The new cloud service from Google will be available first on an invitation only basis, according to the Hollywood Reporter. The service will be limited to 20,000 songs and will be free in its beta form.

Word is that the service is Flash driven: that means no iOS users will be able to use the service. Nice move.



Another week, another layoff announcement at a McClatchy newspaper. This one involves the Lexington Herald-Leader in Kentucky. The paper announced yesterday that it will cut 15 positions. Revenue declines are again blamed.

For some media companies, layoff notices are usually accompanied by news of some new initiatives, generally concerning digital, that the company says will turn around the situation. Not so for McClatchy, which appears determined to downsize themselves into the future.

Last week McClatchy announced 20 job cuts at its paper in Raleigh, North Caolina, the News & Observer. They followed that up with 26 job cuts at the Charlotte Observer.

Monday, May 9, 2011

World Press Photo releases tablet edition of its photo contest winners into the App Store

Each year World Press Photo, an independent, nonprofit organization based in Amsterdam, founded in 1955, releases a yearbook of photo contest winners. This year the book costs 24.00 € on the organization's website bookstore, and is available in seven languages.
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Currently in the Amazon.com online bookstore the 2011 edition is being offered for pre-order at a discounted price. The site says the book will be available on June 30th.

But late last week World Press Photo released an app version of the book, available for download for $4.99 in the App Store. The app, 2011 World Press Photo Contest, presents to readers all the award-winning photos from the contest, photographer biographies and camera details.

The jury of the 54th World Press Photo Contest, chronicled in the print book and tablet app, selected a photograph by the South African photographer Jodi Bieber as the World Press Photo of the Year 2010. The photo had first appeared on the cover of Time Magazine in the August 9, 2010 edition.

Her winning picture shows Bibi Aisha, 18, who was disfigured as retribution for fleeing her husband's house in Oruzgan province, in the center of Afghanistan. At the age of 12, Aisha and her younger sister had been given to the family of a Taliban fighter under a Pashtun tribal custom for settling disputes. When she reached puberty she was married to him, but she later returned to her parents' home, complaining of violent treatment by her in-laws. – World Press Photo website description of the winning photograph by Jodi Bieber.
The app weighs in at 263MB and contains all the material. The book has been converted for the iPad so that the reader can use the app in both portrait and landscape.

As photography renders exceptionally well on the iPad, the tablet edition of this book may well become the preferred platform for many readers.

Zillow reports that 28.4% of all single-family homes with mortgages are under water due to lower home values

About four years ago my family went on a short trip with another family to do a little spring skiing. At dinner one night I had a discussion with someone about the deteriorating home market, repeating something I had read in the WSJ about the number of homes then in default (late on a mortgage payment, but not in foreclosure). For some reason the person I was speaking to thought I was just making up the numbers, things couldn't be that bad, could they?
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Today, however, Zillow has reported that things are, indeed, that bad. According to the online real estate information company, 28.4 percent of all U.S. homes with mortgages currently have negative equity – that is, are worth less than the total amount outstanding on the mortgage. It is simply an astonishing number, and along with continuing high unemployment, one of the reasons the U.S. economy continues to under perform.

Things are not much better on the foreclosure front, either. According to Zillow, in March "one out of every 1,000 homes in the country was lost to foreclosure."

"Home value declines are currently equal to those we experienced during the darkest days of the housing recession. With accelerating declines during the first quarter, it is unreasonable to expect home values to return to stability by the end of 2011," said Zillow Chief Economist Dr. Stan Humphries.

According to Zillow's report, the Phoenix area is suffering the worst, with 68.4 percent of all homes with negative equity. Tampa is at 59.8 percent, Atlanta at 55.7 percent, and Sacramento at 51.2 percent.

$299.99 for an iPad app? Construction Centrics launches pricey family of applications for the construction industry

I download a great number of apps in the course of the week, deleting most of them after briefly looking at them, and maybe writing about them here. But here is one app that I really can not afford to download, Construction Superintendent – Journeyman, a three hundred dollar app just released last week into the App Store.
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The app was released by Construction Centrics LLC, a company out of Chesterfield, Missouri. The company's website doesn't reveal very much about the company other than the fact that they seem to be only developing for the iPad and that they have plans for a second app, Construction Superintendent – Professional. Most of the website is under construction, not a good sign for anyone doing a little investigation of the company prior to buying (and I would guess that a $299.99 app isn't one of those impulse buys, right?).

But before one dismisses this as some sort of scam one must remember that the construction industry lends itself to high priced tools. While at McGraw-Hill a subscription to my newspaper, the Daily Pacific Builder, was always over $1500 a year thanks to the bidding information that could be found within it. Additionally, estimating and bidding software, as well as project management software has always been expensive.

So assuming that this new company's tools for the iPad are legit (and there is no way for me to test them myself) then Construction Centrics is simply the latest company to enter the technology field with project management tools for contractors — only this time for those using iPads.

Condé Nast updates its The New Yorker Magazine iPad app, introducing discounted in-app subscriptions, as well as free access for print magazine subscribers

The New Yorker, like other Condé Nast magazines with iPad apps, has issued an update this morning which will now allow readers to subscribe to the tablet edition from within the app, as well as allow print subscribers to sign into the accounts to access the issues for free.
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The editors of the magazine posted an alert on the magazine's website informing readers of the updated app.

The last time we addressed you was to announce that The New Yorker would be available on the iPad—every Monday, wherever you happened to be. The reaction to our iPad app was instructive. Readers generally found it easy to use and beautiful to look at; they were delighted to know that they could get the magazine instantly, without thought to distance.

They were less delighted about one important point: they wanted to subscribe to the magazine on the iPad or to get access to their subscription if they had one already; until now, the only way to read the magazine on the iPad was to buy single issues, at single-issue prices.
The app itself, The New Yorker Magazine, remains a free download. The app opens up to the library allowing readers to buy individual issues for $4.99, or two subscription offers – $5.99 for one month, or $59.99 per year. (The New Yorker, of course, is a monthly magazine, producing 47 issues in a year.)
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With the adoption of Apple's in-app subscription model, The New Yorker has also changed the way it will offer print subscriptions. The magazine's website now touts print plus digital access subscriptions. To get a new subscription to the magazine one would now pay $69.99 for an annual subscription, but this price would now include access to the iPad edition and the website.

Some media writers have said that the new app changes from major publishers such as Condé Nast represents a move towards the way Apple would like to see things. But really this is just giving the reader what the reader has been demanding all along: the same sorts of discounts for digital that publishers have been offering print readers for years. From this perspective, it is pretty clear that Apple was far more tuned into what media customers were saying than the publishers were. In the end it pays to read those negative App Store reviews and to not dismiss them out of hand.

SFGate.com paywall goes up, proves leaky, irritating

It is sometimes a bit too easy to laugh about some of my experiences at Hearst Newspapers, the place I first entered the newspaper business professionally: I recall the effort to create a tabloid newspaper in Los Angeles, all the better to attract subway riders (L.A. had no subway); or the all-color Sunday edition, printed on a brand new press, so beautiful that it scared the heck out of management, forcing them to quickly dump the project lest the company be forced to actually buy new presses to produce the gorgeous paper for real (I was able to snag a copy before they were burned, it really was beautiful).
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Now the management at Hearst has installed a paywall at its premier newspaper website, SFGate.com. I call it their "premier" not so much because of its design (it is still lacking there) but because it continues to be a top news site based on traffic, consistently in the top ten in traffic among US news sites.

It's not much of a paywall. In fact, one has to stumble onto it by accident, clicking on one of the stories that are actually behind it. For instance, I couldn't find a news story behind the paywall on the site's front news section, but found one in the Sports section. As you can see, if you aren't willing to pay for access to the e-edition you'll have to wait until Wednesday to read this minor little backgrounder about a 49er draft choice.

The rumor hit last month that Hearst was about to construct a paywall for SFGate.com. I ignored the story at the time – I guess I've learned my lessons over time in regard to Hearst Newspapers. Here we have a newspaper publishing company headquartered in New York City, and a major newspaper in San Francisco. Put the two together and you would think that Hearst Newspapers would be a leader in New Media. Well, you'd think so.
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During my tenure at Hearst, admittedly a while ago now, I found the company to be too NY oriented – it never seemed to understand California and its California properties. At my daily in Los Angeles, we were on the two year plan: every two years a new publisher was brought in from New York. After two years, about the time it took for the new publisher to begin to understand the market, a new one would be brought in again. (Eventually the ad director told me that I would be wise to accept the offer I received from Copley Newspapers. Three years later the paper was closed down by Hearst.)

Now Hearst has instituted a leaky paywall in San Francisco and supposedly has plans to launch a tablet edition for the Chronicle, as well.

Well, we'll see how this all works out. But it seems to me the company would be well served to simply establish a new headquarters for Hearst Newspapers – get out of NYC and move to the West Coast. Do what Facebook did: buy a place in Palo Alto and start fresh. Well, that's my advice anyway.

Advertising on tablets, trust but verify; while publishers tout new combined audits, marketers express doubts

The topic of advertising on tablets is heating up because of changes publishers are making to their circulation claims, assisted by rule changes at the ABC and BPA. Publishers have always been eager to take advantage of their digital readership by lumping them in with print circulation numbers, and now that the audit bureaus, stung by declining numbers themselves, have signed on to their member's views, suddenly some publications have been able to report surging growth in the number of readers they are reaching. But many advertisers and their agencies are not buying it.

At stake here is the value of an ABC or BPA audit, and the truth is that the value will continue to decline if publishers and the audit bureaus continue to create doubt in the minds of the advertising community that publishers are dealing with them straight.
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But, of course, much of the publishing community haven't been playing it straight of years. While many of my fellow publishers will no doubt not appreciate my point of view, it is a sad fact that far too many publishing firms have been playing fast and loose with their numbers for years.

In the past decade I have worked at several media firms that were being less than totally honest with the advertisers concerning the number and quality of the readers they would reach by placing an ad with a particular magazine. One firm simply made up the numbers, something that is easily done because none of their books were audited. At another, the circulation director stopped qualifying any readers at all on unaudited magazines – not surprisingly those books were losing advertisers left and right. This same circulation director was also in charge of supplying web reader numbers: those numbers appeared to have been drawn out of a hat, leading to widespread skepticism by the publishers and sales reps. In the end, few wanted to sell digital.

But the audit has always been a point of differentiation: audited books were trusted by both advertiser and agency alike, and so the cost to audit was deemed worth it for publishers wishing to attract grade A advertisers. But as David Carr of the NYT wrote this weekend, agencies are starting to balk at the notion that the numbers being presented to them are automatically valid. Told that digital readership numbers can count as part of the rate base, some media buyers are hesitating. Both Carr and Adweek's Lucia Moses quote from a letter sent by MediaVest’s Robin Steinberg to publishers warning them that they will need to provide verification for their new combined numbers, and proving that their digital readers are engaging with their products.

“We don't believe digital copies should automatically count,” Steinberg is quoted in the Adweek storty. “We need to know what the value is. We need additional information on who received it, did they open it, how long did they spend with it.”

For new digital publishing start-ups this may prove to be good news. If the marketing claims being thrown around by traditional media companies are going to get scrutinized very closely then it means that start-ups will simply be in the same boat as the big guys – after all, we all knew that the numbers claimed by new media companies would be received skeptically, now at least one agency in on record as saying that they won't just automatically give a pass to the traditional media guys.