Friday, June 17, 2011

Focal Press announces Father's Day discount for 'The Photographer's Eye: The App', the iPad version of the Michael Freeman book

Publisher Focal Press has announced that in celebration of Father's Day it is discounted its book app The Photographer's Eye: The App by 75 percent. The app is the interactive version of the photographer and writer Michael Freeman's book The Photographer's Eye: Composition and Design for Better Digital Photos.
The app will revert to its original price of $24.99 after the weekend.

While the book is published by Focal Press in North America, the publisher Ilex Press represents the book elsewhere – and it is Ilex Press that is listed in iTunes as the apps seller. But a quick check of the UK App Store shows that the app is listed at £2.99 today, also a 75 percent discount.

The app was originally released a few months ago, but was updated last week to clean up some typos and other errors.

Despite being a Giants fan, I will be at Wrigley watching the Cubs and Yankees on Father's Day. If you have no plans then maybe spending some time with this photography could be a choice.

Besides, it's always nice to save some cash, right?

Retweet: WSJ's Drake Martinet interviews CollabraCam's Kyle Hilla; Martinet shares his tools of the trade

The WSJ's Drake Martinet today posted an interesting video interview with Kyle Hilla, the Grand Rapids, Mich. based developer behind the CollabraCam, video production app found in Apple's App Store.

CollabraCam is a $4.99 app that allows for the set-up of a multi-camera video recording situation. Think of it this way: instead of five TV cameras recording a baseball game you instead used five iPhones. Each iPhone would send its video signal to a "director", either another iPhone or an iPad. That "director" would then use their device to live edit the feeds, just as a television producer would live edit the feeds from the TV cameras.
The catch is that each iPhone would have to have the app on it – meaning each iPhone owner would have to buy the app themselves. Now $4.99 is hardly a fortune, but the App Store has kind of conditioned people to expect to pay 99 cents to $1.99 for most apps.

Martinet's interview is interesting, in general, but one line caught my attention and was worth retweeting. When asked about the idea of producing a lower cost app that would simply serve as a video camera app, while then having its original app be only a "director" app, Hilla said this:

"Holding off on that right now, didn't want to do that right off the bat – and now with the Lodsys patent (lawsuits) against developers with in-app purchase we're going to sit on the fence for a while," Hilla says.

This is the first time I've directly heard of a developer saying that the Lodsys patent lawsuits was acting to hold back app development.

Drake Martinet, in case you are not familiar with him, is Associate Editor, Social and Multimedia at D: All Things Digital, at The Wall Street Journal. He is based in the Bay Area and, in addition to his work at the WSJ, also maintains his own website.
Martinet's last post there is also worth retweeting. Two days ago Martinet posted his last story within shows the video recording "rig" he uses to shoot his WSJ video interviews.

Now I must admit that his video work is hardly state-of-the-art, but they certainly work. Martinet uses his iPhone to record his videos, saying they that "it obeys the “Best Camera” principal, by which the best camera is always the one you have with you."

I would have liked to copy the photo he posted of his set-up but the two hour difference in time zone discouraged me (didn't want to wake the guy up), so I'd encourage you to check it out.

Martinet whole set up, he says, costs him about $90, not counting the iPhone, of course. He uses a Glif to attach his phone to a Joby Gorillapod portable tripod with magnetic feet. Attached to his phone is a wide angle lens, available from Photojojo!, and a Vericorder microphone.

I used to use a Mikey from Blue Microphones on my iPhone 3Gs, but the company currently doesn't have a microphone solution that works for the newer iPhone 4 – too bad, I really like my Mikey!

But I bought the Glif tripod attachment. The people behind Glif, it you recall, got started thanks to a Kickstarter campaign, and the Glif is a pretty essential $20 piece of plastic.

The tripod choice is up to you, of course, any tripod you like that has a standard camera attachment tool will work. The Joby Gorillapod tripod Martinet uses is nice simply because it is so portable and can be had for under $25 on Amazon.

Morning Brief: Rough times ahead for BlackBerry maker; Maclean’s Ken Whyte takes over at Rogers Media

This should be the best of times over at Research In Motion (RIM), the maker of the Blackberry. The company has released a fairly well received new tablet, the BlackBerry PlayBook, and in many parts of the world, their smartphones remain popular.
But RIM slashed its profit forecast yesterday and reported that it is continuing to lose ground to its new rivals. Worse, in a market that continues to expand as consumers replace their feature phones with newer smartphones, RIM was forced to concede that it had recorded its first quarterly drop in sales since 2005.

As a result of this, investors are fleeing the stock. Ahead of this morning's bell, RIM's share price is down sharply in premarket trading.

"As bizarre as this may sound and we admit we may be early, we believe there is risk that its much lowered FY12 guidance may still prove too optimistic," the AP reported Sterne Agee analyst Shaw Wu as saying in a note to investors. "That's because even the latest outlook assumes a strong recovery in BlackBerry unit shipments in the second half of the year."

Ken Whyte, currently the publisher and editor of Maclean's will be taking over the job of president of Rogers Publishing, effective Sept. 1. Whyte will be replacing Brian Segal who announced he was leaving the company back in April.

Whyte told Marketing, a Canadian publication, "I’ve been here six years, and I think that with Maclean’s it’s the longest time in my career that I’ve been anywhere. It doesn’t feel particularly rapid or swift to me. It’s fun to be busy, it’s fun to be trying new things, chasing new opportunities and working with new people."

Rogers Media recently sold off 15 trade publications, including Food in Canada, Le Bulletin des agriculteurs, Canadian Packaging, HPAC and Meetings & Incentive Travel, to Vancouver publisher Glacier Media. Marketing reported that "Whyte said it has whittled its publishing assets down to a core group."

Many tech writers are having fun writing about a judgement day for Amazon regarding their Kindle app for Apple's iOS devices. They say, without hesitation, that Amazon's Kindle app is not in compliance with Apple's developer rules and they the app will have to either be pulled from the store or updated.

In politics this called reporting the process, an obsession with reporting on, or inventing conflict where none exists.

Just last week, when Apple "loosened" its developer rules, writers were stating that the change was directly a result of making sure Amazon and Netflix remained with the platform. Now they are saying the opposite.

Yesterday I attended a webinar where I asked about those same rules and got a response that was essentially "we don't know" – that was probably the right answer. So why do some writers insist on writing this stuff? It's more fun than actually covering the news, I suppose.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Many publishing companies are managing their business the way the government is managing the economy, by attempting to avoid addressing the big problems

Sometimes in order to see the tree you have to look at the forest. That is what I thought when I read several posts on the economics website naked capitalism today. Two provocative posts talked about the current, depressing state of world economics and how many policy makers are avoiding making the big, tough decisions necessary to set America's economic engine straight. (awkward sentence, I will admit)

But as I read the posts in question (this one and this one), and read the resulting conversation in the comments area, my mind would return often to the situation facing the media business.

In so many ways, what is being done with the economy, failing to solve underlying problems due to a lack of political will, reminded me so much of what is happening in both the newspaper and magazine publishing business: measures are being taken that are really just ways of avoiding addressing the big issues. The more the talk centered on world affairs, the more I thought of the problems facing smaller publishing companies.

Each month I get a stack of magazines delivered to me, and without fail each month I shake my head and say "how the heck do they stay in business?" It is a rhetorical question, of course, because I know exactly what many of these publishers are doing: dropping their BPAs, cutting their circulation and telemarketing costs by not "qualifying" their readership, laying off staff, combining jobs, eliminating middle manager positions like publisher, ad director or marketing manager, cutting frequency, outsourcing work.

None of these measures in anyway address the fundamental problems these publications are facing: loss of advertising, higher production and distribution costs, reader disinterest. Instead a bunch of half measures are usually introduced that have zero chance of changing the game, but can be discussed at industry association meetings: creating marketing arms, virtual trade shows, flipbooks, and the like.

Just as some commentators claim America is becoming a "zombie nation" for failing to tackle its deep-seated economic problems, or others talk about the "zombie banks" and how they should be forced to either fail or restructure, there is such a thing, I would argue, as "zombie" media companies – companies that fail to see that that the actions they are taking today do not address the fundamental problems they are facing. Instead, they are becoming "zombie" companies because they are requiring more and more funding to keep them going, or else they are becoming "vampire" companies, because in order to survive they are forced to devour their own employees, their customers or the their vendors.

But, sadly, I see few signs that the executives at these companies are facing their problems any more than those in Washington or Wall Street are facing theirs.

Magzter launches its own Zinio-like digital newsstand with iPad app; PDF editions of mostly Indian magazines

Proving that the only barrier to entry to the digital newsstand business is stocking the store, Magzter has launched its own newsstand with the release of its first iPad app.
The free app, Magzter - The Global Mobile Magazine Store, promises more than it can deliver due to its lack of a solid online presence, and its slim pickings of magazines, mostly Indian titles. The app is free to download, but unlike its more famous competitor, Zinio, the new service does not offer online reading, or its own smartphone app at this time.

Magzter has launched with 11 different categories of magazines, in which you will find 45 titles under those categories, but some of those titles are under multiple categories, meaning the total selection of magazines is less than that.

The real problem with these types of digital newsstands, of course, is that they offer PDF versions of the print titles – unless, of course, the publisher decides to enhance their replica editions with audio or video content, interactive features, etc. But publishers rarely dedicate any effort to doing this, do they? Instead, most publishers see these digital newsstand editions as simply another outlet for their titles, ease of conversion being the chief thing in their favor.
What Magzter has going for it is that it is a regional player and the fact that there is very little risk to the publisher involved in signing up to appear in yet another digital newsstand, as joining one of these digital newsstand agreements does not involve signing an exclusivity contract. But a publisher would want to make sure their branding and pricing strategies are not upset by a digital newsstand vendor severely discounting their products, or poorly representing them in the digital store.

That also means that the key to success for any company wishing to launch its own digital newsstand is pretty much sales (selling publishers, that is) and the reader interface (creating good reader apps and websites).

So while there may be only one Apple App Store, there could be many, many different digital newsstands launched, something to keep in mind when considering the merits of going in this direction versus native app development.

Bonnier will have ten of its apps preloaded onto the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 when it launches in Sweden

Swedish magazine publisher Bonnier said yesterday that it will have ten of its media apps pre-installed on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 when it appears in Telia stores in Sweden later this month.
The new Samsung tablet is scheduled to launch on June 29 in Sweden, and the tablet is loaded with tons of preinstalled material including magazines, newspapers, TV and films worth SEK 1000 (around $154), according to Bonnier's press release.

Bonnier apps that will be preinstalled include the daily newspapers Dagens Nyheter and Sydsvenskan, business daily Dagens industri, and magazines Allt om Mat, mama, Sköna Hem, Styleby and Yourlife, as well as the on-demand TV and movie services TV4 Play and SF Anytime.

"The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is the first Android tablet on the Swedish market that has a sufficiently large screen to work well with media products," said Peder Bonnier, head of digital media at Bonnier Tidskrifter. "It has been shown that there is a strong willingness to pay for products in tablet computers, and since we at Bonnier Tidskrifter believe in the power of the reading experience in the tablet, we want to make it as easy as possible to encounter our content."

The Boston Bruins win their first Stanley Cup since 1972; print outshines the web in capturing the moment

To the surprise of many hockey fans, and to the utter delight of the city of Boston, the Boston Bruins defeated the Vancouver Canucks last night in Vancouver to capture the Stanley Cup. The game seven match up ended up being a bit lopsided, with the Bruins winning 4-0, but surely the fans in Boston didn't mind one bit.
And as usual, newspapers were called on to provide the instant souvenir as editors designed their front pages for their readers. Because while the web can provide readers with instant and up-to-date information, website design is still in the Middle Ages.

Neither the Boston Globe's website, nor the Boston Herald's site, could really capture the emotion and spirit of the moment.

While print newspapers, dependent but not restrained by their page production technology, give editors maximum freedom in a situation where one story can dominate, most websites are too locked into their looks because of the constraints of their content management systems.
PhotobucketThe Globe, via, probably the best job of making sure their online readers knew the significance of the victory. It used its front page slideshow to have the story dominate the home page the best it could.

But the overall design of the page, with its leaderboard and navigation requirements, limited what the editors could do.

Compare the home page of to the front page of the Globe and one sees that in print the editors have maximum freedom express the moment: font sizes can be increased, pictures enlarged, and the number of stories can be as few as one, or even none.

In situations like this, whether it is a World Series win, a 9/11-like event, or even the death of a celebrity, I wonder if creating a system that allows for a landing page solution isn't better than trying to stretch the designs of these locked-in web home pages. In any case, web design is only an art two decades old. We are still in our Lascaux phase compared to the art of print newspaper design.


Usually after a sports victory one fears the reaction of the fans of the victorious team. Last year ESPN erroneously reported riots in San Francisco when there were none, for instance.
But this morning the news is that the riots occurred not in Boston but in Vancouver. The Vancouver Sun leads today with "Canuck hockey dream is now Vancouver's nightmare."

"As the final game was winding down — angry, perhaps inebriated young men surged towards the giant screen on Georgia Street," Ian Mulgrew wrote this morning on the newspaper's website.

"A few bottles were hurled, there was jostling, a fistfight and an eruption outside the Canada Post building — Whoosh! A car was consumed in flames, the hooligans rejoiced and a mob began to run amuck."

Bruce Arthur, writing for the National Post, the Postmedia Network national newspaper, has this headline "Tears and Tear Gas" over his opinion piece this morning. Sad.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Quote of the Day: BBC reporter – "Don't you want us to report what's happening to you?" Answer – "No."

The quote of the day surely comes from the BBC's economic's editor Paul Mason who twice today wrote about the general attitudes of the Greeks he talked to on the streets during protests.
This afternoon, in his third post about the Greek protests, Mason again returned to the theme of media credibility:

And I will repeat the point about hostility to the media: it's not a problem for me and my colleagues to be hounded off demos as "representatives of big capital", "Zionists", "scum and police informers" etc. But to get this reaction from almost every demographic - from balaclava kids to pensioners - should be a warning sign to the policymaking elite. The "mainstream" - whether it's the media, politicians or business people - is beginning to seem illegitimate to large numbers of people.

As one old bloke put it to me, when I said: "Don't you want us to report what's happening to you?" - "No."

Chromebooks now available through and Best Buy from Samsung and Acer

If it doesn't bother you that you will be sharing all your work and information with Google you will be happy to know that Chromebooks from Samsung and Acer are now available through and Best Buy.
Chromebooks are essentially tablets in the guise of a notebook. They run Google's OS and feature instant-on and long battery life like a tablet. For those who are very comfortable with a laptop, and very uncomfortable with multitouch navigation and virtual keyboards, a Chromebook might just be the perfect device.

A Chromebook tethers the user to Google in some pretty creepy ways: the device keeps apps and files "in the cloud", which, of course, means connectivity is vital. Both Samsung and Acer are offering WiFi and 3G models through Verizon (Acer's model is only available as a pre-order right now) with prices as low as $317.52 on Amazon for the Samsung WiFi-only model, up to $499.99 for the Samsung 3G model.

With so many computer owners admitting that just about all they do on their computers is surf the web, a Chromebook should work for them, and probably continue the trend of killing off Windows based netbooks. And since Apple has no interest in building a laptop significantly below the $1000 level, Google should face little real competition in this category for a while.

It will be interesting to see if customers who walk into Best Buy and say "I need a new computer, but all I really want is the Internet" are directed towards Chromebooks, or tablets.

NYC-based Radical Media develops interactive iPad app for Gagosian Gallery, to be updated quarterly

The NYC-based company Radical Media grabbed my attention with its wonderful app for the Walker Library's History of Human Imagination, Medicá. Now they have acted as developer for a new iPad app for Gagosian Gallery that combines video, animation and photography into, as they say, an "immersive interactive art experience."
Gagosian is a free app that is promised to be updated on a quarterly basis. Weighing in at 616 MB, the iPad user will have to dedicate a fair amount of space for this app, but it is certainly worth the investment in storage space.

The app can be used in both portrait and landscape, though because of the video content, it might be wise to keep your tablet in landscape. The navigation is smooth, if not always intuitive. I stumbled around a bit trying to get back and forth – but then again, maybe that is just me.

The Gagosian app is "sold" under the name of the gallery, so one won't be able to do a search for all the apps that Radical Media has been involved in. One two apps show up under Radical Media's own name: Medicá, mentioned above and seen briefly in the video below, and ONE Campaign, updated today for the iPhone. The iPhone app is an advocacy app for ONE, the nonpartisan advocacy and campaigning organization co-founded by Bono. The app description ends with the line "At ONE, we’re not asking for your money, we’re asking for your voice. Get the facts, get connected and create change with the ONE App today."

Another attempt at a TNM demo video – very embarrassing if you ask me. But if you are to get an idea of the animation and navigation of an app, video is a better solution. Once I get a newer iPad, one where I will be able to record the display directly, we're stuck with these amateur efforts:

Opposition calls for immediate election in Greece; BBC reports hostile reactions to the media due to role in crisis

Rumors are rampant that Greece may be facing immediate elections as its debt crisis continues to cause widespread civic unrest.

Prime Minister George Papandreou met with the President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias this afternoon, though the meeting broke up without any statement released. Meanwhile, leaders on the left, Aleka Papariga, general secretary of the Greek Communist Party, and Alexis Tsipras, representing a coalition of leftists parties, called for early elections, partially in response to growing public demonstrations against the austerity measures being instituted by the government.
Parliamentary sessions continued despite crowds of protestors. But only around 30 of the 300 MPs attended the sessions, according to the Athens News, an English language newspaper.

Paul Mason, writing for the BBC, today reports that protestors are particularly upset at the media, blaming the press for siding with "Big Capital" and against the interests of the Greek population. While Mason writes that be believes that the mass protests show that the unrest is revealing a "Greece against the world" mentality, commenters on the BBC site are for the most part sympathetic to the protesters.

A 24 hour general strike has crippled public services in Greece, though journalists called off a possible strike in order to cover events in the nation.

Update: The Beeb just tweeted that the Prime Minister has offered to resign, but only if a unity government supports the EU bailout. Since it is the bailout that is causing the protests, and actually reinforces the impression that the government is more concerned with representing the position of the banks than his constituents.

Morning Brief: WSJ reports talks between Freedom and MediaNews Group have broken down over price; the Chicago Tribune touts add content; UK readership study of iPad owners reveals good news for publishers

The WSJ today is reporting that talks between Freedom Communications, publishers of the Orange County Register, and MediaNews Group, the media company run for many years by Dean Singleton have broken down over price.
MediaNews, which went Chapter 11 in January of last year, claims (according to the report) that Freedom is worth about $700 million. Freedom, which went Chapter 11 about five months earlier, doesn't say what it is worth, but no doubt its employees are shaking in their boots at the prospect of being run by the notoriously lean MediaNews.

The O.C. Register in April unveiled a new, natively designed tablet edition which would be in stark contrast to many of the tablet editions being released by MediaNews, which, for the most part, are replica editions produced by flipbook vendors.

"There is a sense to this that we are bringing back the afternoon paper, but its just not paper," Claus Enevoldsen, Freedom’s Director of Interactive of Marketing, told TNM at the time of the new app's release. "During the day you have the web, and 24/7 you have your phone, and the phone is really what you use for breaking news."

Interestingly, the new app has been thrashed by reviewers inside the App Store. But a quick look at the names of the reviewers reveals that many are from one-time reviews, meaning that they may not be legit. However, a common complaint by others involves slow download times.

The Chicago Tribune, which unveiled a newly redesigned website yesterday, today said that they plan on filling their newspaper with, well, more news.

In a strange press release, the struggling media property said that over the next week readers will encounter "12 more full Business news pages per week, 10 more full Nation & World news pages per week, 6 more full Chicagoland news pages per week, 4 more full Opinion and Perspective section pages per week."

"We've added depth, dimension and range to the Chicago Tribune to meet the expectations of our most loyal readers," said Gerould Kern, Senior Vice President and Editor.

The new website, on the other hand, appears to be designed less to impress readers with the depth of its coverage, but with its mass.

"The site is complementary to our print edition and now highlights breaking news and a ribbon to emphasize news from today's newspaper," Bill Adee, Vice President of Digital Development and Operations, is quoted in the release. "With the support of the largest newsroom in the Midwest, is the destination for relevant, timely news and information for Chicagoans."

iPad readership studies are appearing at a quicker pace now, which will be useful for both publishers and developers. Yesterday The Telegraph reported on a study of 2,000 UK iPad owners released by the Imano Digital Agency. (Info graphic at left opens to a larger, longer version.)

The study confirms what other studies have shown, that the iPad is not really a "mobile" device, but is used more in the home. It also shows that iPad owners tend to spend more time with their tablets than they do other electronic devices, including their laptops or TVs, meaning that the tablet, once purchased, becomes the center of their media consumption world.

UK iPad owners apparently love their devices with 94 percent of respondents responding to the question "How do you feel about your iPad?" with "Best thing in my life!" (24%) and "Excellent" (70%).

But the most important news for publishers is that iPad users continue to prove to be big consumers of media, with 63 percent using the device to read books, 69 percent use it to read newspapers and magazines, and 98 percent using it to surf the web. A surprisingly high 45 percent said they use their iPad for business/work.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Dutch indy tablet magazine, IMAGZIN, talks about tech, design, tablets, in a natively designed preview edition

The app description is pretty minimal, and there is only one screenshot, but since it was free I decided to download and take this new Dutch indy magazine app for a spin: IMAGZINE Preview, from Wouter Schröder of The Netherlands. (Yes, the name of the app is misspelled!)
First released into the App Store this morning, IMAGZIN is an indy magazine of sorts from the same person behind the tech news aggregation site of the same name. Assuming you use Chrome and have Google translate the pages, you will find that the website grabs stories from here and there to populate its content.

As for the app edition, it is both free to download, at 343 MB, contains all the content within the app. Presumably if the publisher wants to continue with this he will have to either release individual apps for each edition or else launch a new app that will create a library to hold future issues.

Based on what little I could find out about the publisher, it would appear that Schröder is using the Adobe Digital Publishing suite to create this tablet edition. The layouts are in both portrait and landscape and the navigation is easy and well done.
Unfortunately, that is about all I could tell you about this new tablet edition simply because as of now there are no translation mechanism built within the iPad, and none of the stories contained in magazine are credited. In fact, there are no credits inside this magazine at all.

The app's approval may have caught the publisher by surprise because the cover says the website address is, but that site URL has not been activated as of yet. I wouldn't be surprised if Schröder is not using this new app as a calling card for future activities.

Chicago Tribune redesigns its website, replacing story holes with headlines; continues trend towards 'clean'

Modern newspaper website design appears to be obsessed with presenting its readers with a clean presentation rather than a curated editorial look. The newly redesigned website for the Chicago Tribune, for example, could easily be confused with a vendor created website for a small town newspaper or one of the many Patch sites being created by the AOl division.

Have a look:
Relying heavily on white space, the new ChiTrib website contains a rolling series of headlines along its left hand side, a center column for one or two news stories 'above the fold" (depending on the size of your display) and a right hand column that has a weather widget (that looks like it was created in a high school graphics class) along with a medium rectangle ad followed by more headlines.

The overall look resembles a WordPress or Blogger template – though not a premium one – rather than a look created by a group of news editors. Compare the look of the new site with that of the New York Times, The Guardian, or a Patch site:
Yes, I really don't like the look of the site, but I also know that this is apparently where modern newspaper website design appears to be going (is there anyway to stop this?).

The problem I have with this look is that I find it counterproductive. A large portion of web traffic comes in through search, so home page design is pretty irrelevant to single article design. So that leaves that portion of the traffic that comes in through the front door – this is a problem with Blogger styled sites like TNM.

But here one sees one, maybe two stories other than the group of headlines. The good stuff is 'below the fold' where the Trib site looks much more like that of other news sites.

I might also add that it is just plain weird seeing this new site without a leaderboard ad at the top, or at least some sort of element above the flag.

What do you think? Am I too traditional in my website news design preferences?

Groupon's market advantage is old school sales power; disadvantage is a lack of barrier to entry for competitors

This is certainly not the first time I've written about Groupon, a quick search of TNM will reveal a number of posts on the Chicago-based company.

But posts like this one on TechCrunch, which question the whole business model for retailers, or others that have questioned the wisdom of investing in the company appear to miss some important points that have to do with "in the trenches" management.

Groupon's unique market advantage has nothing to do with its model or its extensive customer base – both are easy to replicate, assuming you are willing to spend the money on building out your lists.
What makes Groupon so unique is that here we have a Midwestern company doing business the old fashioned way, through a huge commitment to sales. The reason for this commitment to sales is that without it the company simply would not be able to generate the level of revenue necessary to grow, or even stay alive. For Groupon, sales growth is like out running the sheriff – you either keep running or else face the consequences.

For any company which wants to create its own social buying service, volume of deals is the key to success. Google, for instance, is be dependent on retailers finding out about its services, preferring their terms and signing up. It is doubtful that Google will be employing a massive phone room to drive sales.

But Google's new effort points to the problem with Groupon, in general: a low barrier to entry. Google, of course, isn't the only company starting up group buying services to compete with Groupon and Social Living. The Boston Globe joined the NYT in signing on with Group Commerce to launch its own service.

For newspaper companies, the group deal is a great way to build one's customer list, negating the hugely impressive customer numbers Groupon touts. Group buying, seen from this perspective, is a means to an end, rather than a stand alone business.

While many media companies are downsizing their classified sales forces, and retail advertising phone rooms, Groupon is one of the few building up their resources. What Groupon probably knows, that others haven't discovered yet, is that as time goes on it gets harder and harder to generate new sales unless retailers have a positive experience with the service. And here is where Groupon is falling down. Rather than obsessing with growing their existing business through increased market penetration, Groupon would be wise to begin offering their current customers additional services on top of the daily deal.

A look at the GrouponWorks website shows that the complete focus of the company is one more and increased deals. The Groupon Merchant Services section is all about "the deal" not about helping their customers be more successful – other than through the deal. One can almost sense the desperation as the company looks to drive sales in order to maintain the momentum necessary to go public.

(Even this story that appeared last night seems to point to an almost clinical obsession at Groupon to drive deals rather than to group customer services. One could easily see a situation where the ability to do group buying deals is but a small part of some other retail services, such as credit card handling, etc.)

Comcast says it will begin offering Skype box for TV video calls; will Apple add FaceTime to its Apple TV?

It all makes perfect sense, if you think about it: why not use your television to make video calls? As a Comcast customer I can see who is calling me via my TV screen now, and thanks to a new agreement with Skype Comcast plans to bring TV video calling to its cable customers.
Many televisions are now incorporating Skype TV calling into their sets, assuming the buyer adds a webcam to their set (why aren't they built in?), so this is a totally logical move for Comcast.

"We've seen an explosion, already, in the use of Skype in the living room," the AP reported Neil Stevens, general manager of consumer services at Skype as saying.

The next logical move, it would seem to be me, would be for Apple to add FaceTime services to its Apple TV product. Already iPhone 4 and iPad 2 owners can use their devices to conduct video calls. Further, changes in iOS 5 will allow for wireless video streaming from those same devices to your Apple TV connected television. The next move is to allow FaceTime to stream to the Apple TV.

Currently, iPad 2 owners can mirror their display onto a television if connected to an Apple TV via an HDMI cord. But wireless connectivity is the way people want to go, not long cords dangling throughout one's family room.

It should be repeated here, however, that the lure of video calls is more in the "calls" than in the "video" – many people I know simply are not interested in video chatting, but are definitely interested in having their devices capable of making and receiving phone calls (especially since so many people are opting to eliminate their home phones and going completely wireless).

Morning Brief: Media industry records first revenue gains since 2007; Apple begins selling the iPhone 4 unlocked; Media picks debate winners, why bother watching?

Another study, this one from Pricewaterhouse Cooper, shows that last year overall media industry revenue grew 3.1 percent, the first growth in media revenue since 2007. The study, reported by Bloomberg last night, also predicted a similar level of gain, 3.5 percent, for this year.

Not surprisingly, digital products recorded the lion's share of the growth.

AdWeek explored the same report and says that the good revenue news is tempered by bad news for the magazine business saying that "underlying weakness in circulation will prevent publishers from growing print advertising at more than a modest pace."

Yesterday Kantar Media reported that the industry recorded a 4.4 percent increase in advertising revenue in the first quarter of this year. It also said, however, that the newspaper industry continues to lag behind, down 2.1 percent from a year ago.

Apple began offering its iPhone 4 for sale on its website in an unlocked state. Because the price of the phone is not subsidized by a carrier, the prices start at $649. Also, the phones will only work on GSM cellular networks, so Verizon customers are out of luck, though rumors are that the next generation of iPhone may be a 'world phone'.

Apple has been selling unlocked iPhones overseas for a while, but this is a first for the US market. But because the price is so high, it is unlikely that many will leap at the chance at buying an unlocked phone.

But, if you are a regular traveller to Europe, this may definitely be the way to go.

I will admit, I did not watch last night's GOP debate on CNN. Bachmann, Gingrich, Pawlenty, Cain, Santorum, Paul, Romney – isn't this the normal Fox News line-up?

But it hardly matters if you watched, the media will tell you who "won" and who "lost". Your own understanding of the facts and your positions really are irrelevant to the media, rather than report, they now see their job as to evaluate.

The Christian Science Monitor says Romney and Bachmann did well, while USA Today said the "GOP debate served up Muslim fears and pizza picks" – must have been a wonderful night.

As for ratings, well no one seems to be reporting those. But seeing as the debate was on CNN, not Fox News, it is likely that the normal audience for watching this crew would have bene confused – isn't CNN part of the evil empire?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Reengineering the enterprise to death: consolidating production is a good way to downsize revenue potential

A great way to drive yourself out of business is to downsize, as anyone who has seen the devastation of downsizing on the newspaper or B2B magazine business will tell you. For publishing executives who pursue such policies, the idea is that the cost savings created in one place will be made up with investments in another. Of course, everyone that is utter BS, even the executives themselves if they could stand to be honest for a minute. The real reason for downsizing is "I didn't know what else to do".

But while journalists decry the layoffs in the newsroom few talk about what happens when production under goes the knife. In the early nineties I left McGraw-Hill mainly because of the "reengineering" that took place under a new division president. The idea was to consolidate production at the division's dozen or so regional publications. I knew then, and know today, that the loss of locally based production ended any hopes of creating new locally run products.

In 1993, looking at the production resources we enjoyed in San Francisco, I launched a new magazine. No new staff was hired simply because we had the resources in place to create a new product. At the same time we launched custom publishing ventures such as producing and selling membership directories for regional trade associations. Although we no doubt had to bring on a few part timers to assist, generally we could do the work in house. The result was new revenue, new profitable products and real growth.


Reengineering the Corporation, a book that was required reading
in many publishing companies in the early '90's, and used
too often as an excuse to mindlessly cut staff sizes.

But management, dealing with the effects of the economic slowdown that followed the first Gulf War, wanted to "reengineer" the division. That was a hip new way of saying folks would be losing their jobs. Ultimately those positions were the source of some cost savings, but the custom publishing business was destroyed, and the monthly magazine soon went away, as well. One of the last things I did as publisher with McGraw-Hill was to paginate a huge membership directory myself on an Apple Performa 630, if you remember those. I did the work and handed it off to the production hub, located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Two years ago Gannett announced that it would create page production hubs in Asbury Park, Des Moines, Nashville, Phoenix and Louisville. Each of these hubs would produce pages for other newspapers in their regions, and would result, of course, in positions being eliminated on the local level. The plan has yet to be fully implemented, but staffers know their will be layoffs to come.

One of my biggest complaints with the US newspaper business is its lack of new product development – newspapers are so geared to producing the daily product that it rarely is able to create innovative new products that will stop the flow of ad revenue from leaving the industry.

But downsizing production pretty much kills off the idea of growth. Sadly, many publishing executives have abandoned the very idea of growth. It is as if they have never had experience with the concept. For too many, growth is having one product produce five percent more revenue year over year, when real growth may require a bit more work than that – like launching a new product, for instance.

But, of course, "reengineering" is not limited to editorial and production as sales staffers will tell you. But then it is pretty easy to see the devastating effects shrinking sales staffs have had in the B2B magazine business as the slew of 28 page magazine issues can attest.

Miami Herald runs Macy's ad celebrating championship that never happened; most accounts miss one big fact

This story about the Miami Herald running an ad from Macy's that celebrates an NBA title has been picked up by a number of sources.
But what the New Times failed to mention – and, by the way, the photo at left is courtesy of the paper – and what other sources failed to mention is that even if the Miami Heat had won yesterday the ad would still have been a mistake.

The ad from the department store proclaims "Congratulations MIAMI!" and is surrounded by a story that tells that the NBA championship had, in fact, been won by the Dallas Mavericks.

But going into last night's game, the Mavericks were leading the Heat three games to two. Had the Heat won last night it would have evened the series three games a piece. In other words, the production department at the Miami Herald blew it big time – that ad wasn't scheduled to run until later in the week, or never, depending on events.

As it turns out, the Heat went down, the Mavericks are champions, and Macy's is about to get a "make good".

One size fits all approaches to app development generally results in an ill-fitting media app of little appeal

However much I may dislike replica editions, or mobile apps that are simply RSS readers, the reality is that many media apps get launched that simply end up being ignored, and are easily replaced with better apps down the line. Sometimes launching an app that sinks like a stone is good for everyone involved.

The one question rarely asked by publishers about to launch new apps is what will be new about the app itself, what new content, or new service will it provide readers. The reason for this is that by being completely print centric, the goal of the mobile app ends up being simply to replicate the print product on a new platform.
One barrier holding back many new media apps is that the services and capabilities being offered the publisher by their own development teams, or outside vendors, is limited. I've looked at many mobile app services and generally see the same ol' widgets and RSS reader features. Many vendors come up with a list of options for their customers on the day they open up shop and they sell the heck out of their services, never bothering to update their offerings after they have started. One very good mobile app developer, one I've spoken to many times, hasn't even updated their own website in a year and half because they haven't added any new services in so long.

The mobile apps that I have enjoyed using the most over the past year have been apps that have presented a very different set of content options that what the publisher currently offers online or in their original branded app. The NYT app for iPhone, for instance, has an incredibly deep level of content, yet nothing that the paper's website can't offer me, just in a more readable format for my phone. It's The Scoop app, however, is certainly more fun and interesting in concept, though the paper doesn't seem very committed to expanding and improving it at this point.

Likewise, the Boston Herald Baseball 2011 app has proven quite useful, and now that the Red Sox are surging, probably is getting quite a bit of use from New England baseball fans. Meanwhile, the paper's main news app is a vendor created app that would have been wonderful in 2008, but looks dated now, and which sports a look that is consistent between apps developed by the same company, but does not give the Herald a consistent look with their own properties. Whose app is this anyways? The publishers or the developers?

This lack of imagination on the part of publishers is one reason that some of the most interesting work is being done by independent publishers – those are developing for the smartphone or tablet exclusively. Photography apps, historical apps, and book apps are providing traditional print publishers with plenty of new ideas that old media, because of the wealth of content at its disposal, could build on with their own offerings.

HP's Touchpad: will the launch of a WebOS tablet grow the market, or simply drive more developers to iOS?

It might sound counterintuitive, but it is possible that as more tablets are released, and more mobile OS platforms introduced, that developers will become even more committed to the iOS platform as a sort of base from which to begin app development.
There is no doubt in my mind that HP's new tablet, the Touchpad, to be launched into the US market on July 1, has a more than decent chance to be successful. HP is a tech giant, of course, that reaches into a wide and deep retail environment. No doubt you will see Touchpads wherever you go when shopping. Whether you will see consumers guys them is another question, but I'm not pessimistic.

But as HP's tablet gains traction the question becomes will developers create for the platform. I think they will. But the real question is will developers consider the platform as core to their work as iOS. This is questionable.

I have always assumed that once Android tablets became available that developers would flock to Android simply because, like smartphones, Android tablets would quickly overwhelm the iPad. I even thought it possible that by the summer we might see a flip in the habits of developers – instead of developing for iOS first, then porting to Android, the opposite would occur simply because of the market shift.

Well, there has been no market shift simply because while Android is outselling the iPhone, it is not outselling the iPad. Part of the blame for this goes to the manufacturers who over promised and under delivered: launching tablets that run on versions of Android not specifically geared towards tablets, or else, the case of Motorola, launching a tablet that is half-baked, without the apps necessary to lure buyers in droves.

One would think that HP, being a mega-seller of hardware, would be in a better position to succeed. The videos below, released on the company's YouTube channel, are certainly impressive (to a certain degree), and they are definitely better than those special effects laden commercials from Motorola that actually don't show the consumer anything. But while the word "magic" is used a few times, what we really are getting here is the same silly attempt to overwhelm potential buyers with features. (Rule #1, you sell benefits, not features.)

July 1 is launch day and if HP understands what buyers what they will make sure important apps ready to go for buyers. If they don't, they will have another nice piece of electronics that will join the other tablets that sit at Best Buy and other outlets while consumers play with iPads.

In the meantime, you can be sure that if sales are even modest that digital publishing solution providers will be able to help publishers develop for the platform, just as they have Android. But if the WWDC survey is any indication, WebOS is not a high priority for native app developers – at least for right now.

Morning Brief: NYT editorializes about iPad book app; advertising grows in Q1 except for newspapers, inserts

In what may be a first, the New York Times has published an editorial about an app – in this case, The Waste Land, a book app for the iPad of poet T.S. Elliot's major work.
"It’s always hard to say what a dead poet would have liked," the Times editorial begins, "especially a poet as particular, not to say critically sniffy, in his likes and dislikes as T. S. Eliot. But the guarantee of electronic posterity should be hard for even him to resist."

First published by Faber & Faber in 1922, it is safe to say that this is the first time the work has gotten the iPad app treatment. Developed and sold by Touch Press, of London, England, the app costs $13.99, and joins a couple other well received book apps: Solar System for iPad and Gems and Jewels, both also $13.99 to download.

Finally a bit of good news on the advertising front: Kantar Media reported this morning that ad spending was up in the first quarter by a healthy 4.4 percent.

“More than two-thirds of advertisers are increasing budgets compared with a year ago,” said Jon Swallen, senior vice president for research at the Kantar Media Intelligence, the NYT reported.

The bad news, however, is that newspapers continue to perform badly, down 2.1 percent from a year ago. Free-standing inserts were also down, sharply, in fact, 17.5 percent.

Media companies can not get enough of Sarah Palin, and the addiction to covering the less-than-one term Alaskan governor continues with the release of 25,000 emails from the short time she was in office.

But the public most likely will be disinterested as the emails apparently are as insightful and informative as a hour long lecture by Palin on the American History. Look for this story to go away fairly fast.