Friday, June 24, 2011

Friday media app updates: Nomad Editions tweaks its UI; SF Chronicle and Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin updates

For some reason it seems that many of the media app updates land on Friday. I'm sure this is purely a coincidence, but once again this week a slew of my media apps got updated today, here is a look at a few of them:
Nomad Editions had their app update released last night (so technically it was Thursday when the app update hit the App Store).

The updated app description says it has a "complete UI redesign", as well as a new icon and some bug fixes – and I was able to notice some nice changes to the app.

There are now seven magazines available through Nomad, though Good Dog did not reveal any issues currently available even though the website seems to imply that there should be two issues out.

One of the smarter things the folks at Nomad have decided to do is to offer the first issue of any magazine for free. This encourages readers to explore the company's offering before subscribing. The cost is still very reasonable, as well: 99 cents per issue or $9.99 per year.
(If you are not familiar with the Nomad business model you can start here, there have been numerous posts about Nomad that have appeared on TNM.)

The two problems I continue to see with Nomad are fairly minor and can, I believe, be corrected. First, the current app is "sticky", making navigation a bit herky-jerky – a little WD40 applied by the developer should correct that.

The second remains magazine design, the very thing that was touted as the company's strength. I find that the magazines look to me like those issues in Quark or InDesign just before the editors get to them, with articles that are a paragraph too long or short. In short, the magazine's look unedited. The very system created by Nomad may be at fault here but the solution seems clear and rather obvious: the editors of the Nomad Editions need to be encouraged to look at their magazines before "publications" so they can make the necessary adjustments – if they are already doing this, then there are even deeper problems to be worked out.

Hearst Newspapers have released an updated version of its San Francisco Chronicle for iPad app. I like the overall look of the app in that it retains the look of a newspaper, while performing like a tablet edition. The update supposedly brings in navigation enhancements and fixes bugs and improves stability – all under the hood things.

One of the annoying things about the app remains its auto-refreshes. Touching the sections "cover flow" device and then returning to the home page forces a refresh, which is complete unnecessary and makes the app appear buggy. Also, while some sections have images, others simply have text – this is probably an error that will be corrected. I also find the load times pretty slow, but not too bad.

The app still offers downloaders the first 30 days free, with the subscription at %5.99 per month or $59.99 per year.

I used to work at Hearst many years ago and always thought it was too NYC oriented to succeed on the west coast. Today Hearst Newspapers is producing its apps from NYC, and call it a west coast bias, but I don't understand why they haven't created a new media division in San Francisco.

Having said that, I think this is a pretty damn good app – I especially like the way they have built their 'Download & Go' feature. Still having a property in San Francisco in the middle both the Internet boom, and now the mobile media boom, and not taking advantage of the situation is a sin.

Three other updates to mention:

CBC News has updated their universal iOS app: Read news even without a connection. Turn on "Offline Reading" to save articles to your device. The app saves Top Stories, plus the sections you read the most. Turn either of these options on or off: iPhone users can find the options by tapping "More", then "Edit Home". iPad users can find these options in "Settings".

Also from Canada The Globe and Mail: News app has been updated. It promises "substantial stability improvements", as well as the usual bog fixes.

Finally, Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin has been updated once again. The first time the app appeared in the App Store it was pulled, then reintroduced. So technically this update only brings the app up to version 1.0.1.

Nothing major here, just some bug fixes. The first look at this app from Germany can be read here.

Penguin Group begins to fulfill vision set out by its CEO last March with release of app version of 'On the Road'

A year ago in March, Penguin Group CEO John Makinson gave a speech in London where he outlined his vision for how the company would take advantage of the new tablet Apple soon would be launching.
“We will be embedding and streaming audio, video and gaming in to everything we do. This will present us, and the platform owners with technology challenges," Makinson said.

"The ePub format, which is the standard for ebooks at the present, is designed to support traditional narrative text, but not this cool stuff that we’re now talking about. So for the time being, at least, we’ll be creating a lot of our digital content as applications, for sale on app stores and HTML, rather than as ebooks."

The CEO of the book publishing concluded: "The definition of the book itself is up for grabs."
One year later a look inside the App Store reveals that Penguin has been extremely slow to fulfill its promise. It's first book, The Pillars of the Earth, was released long ago and since then its app efforts have been modest to say the least.

Last week Penguin released its first real effort at book app building with its Jack Kerouac's On the Road app. Regularly priced at $16.99, the app is available now for $12.99 through July 5th.

The book app has gotten only a small amount of press, probably due to the fact that those most interested in the app are not on the company's list of reviewers, while those who are on that list probably are in no position to properly review the effort. In the year since Makinson made his speech, the wheels at Penguin appear not to be grinding on but rusty and stuck.

I have not downloaded the Kerouac book myself – how many copies of On the Road do I really need – but the initial reviews have been somewhat positive, if lacking in real detail. One can tell that some of the articles were written by people, like me, who were not looking at the actual app but at the screenshots provided by Penguin.

When you look at Penguin's effort at book apps one is reminded of the first CDs that were released. At first they were straight conversion of LPs, then some efforts were made to accomodate the new format.

Blue Note Records, for instance, started putting alternative takes on its CDs. But one annoying thing they would inevitably do, was to put the alternative take of a song right up against the original, the idea being that one could compare the two side by side. But to avoid hearing two nearly identical songs in a row one would have to "program" the CD. But that is a bother, and how many people choose to do that?

Then there were the liner notes and photos that could and should be included with a CD release. Eventually the record producers got the hang of it and their CD packages got better and more imaginative. But the best releases only came after the record producers starting thinking about their CD releases from day one, rather than converting them from the LP.

The same is true right now for book publishing: the very best book apps being released are from publishers who are thinking about the app from the beginning, and often are not planning a print issue at all.

"Books" like NYPL Biblion: World's Fair, or Above & Beyond: George Steinmetz are way ahead of what many print publishers are doing right now. A great example of this is the fact the Joe Zeff Design, the producer of Above & Beyond, recently updated the book, adding more photographs and enhancing the audio. Print books, once published, are considered finished products.

An app, on the other hand, is an evolving product, meant to be updated to fix bugs, add content, and most importantly, respond to the input from readers. Are print publishers creating a culture internally that will be able to think like an app developer and constantly innovated and improve its products?

Morning Brief: Conrad Black, faces resentencing hearing in Chicago; Recorded Books to bring Zinio's digital newsstand to libraries in U.S., Canada, Australia & U.K.

A U.S. District Judge will today conduct a resentencing hearing today in Chicago for the former head of Hollinger Inc., Conrad Black. For Black it could mean a return to jail following his conviction for fraud and obstruction of justice, or it freedom based on time served.

The Chicago Sun-Times, at one time part of Black's media empire, reports that the prosecutors are calling for more time for Black.

“He fails to acknowledge his central role in destroying Hollinger International through greed and lies, instead blaming the government and others for what he describes as an unjust persecution,” the Sun-Times quotes a recent filing from prosecutors. Prosecutors also allege that Black had inmates clean and cook for him during his time in prison and insisted that he be called "Lord Black", the honorary title Britain saw fit to give the media man.

Public libraries in the U.S., Canada, Australia and the U.K. will have access to Zinio's digital newsstand through an agreement with Recorded Books, a producer of audiobooks. The new service, Zinio for Libraries, will allow patrons to access to the Zinio newsstand through their library cards.

“People love going to their public library to read a large selection of magazines, but printed copies can easily get damaged, lost or destroyed,” Rich Freese, president and CEO, Recorded Books in the press release announcement. “Books, music and audiobooks are transitioning to digital formats and now with Zinio for Libraries, we can offer thousands of digital magazines from most every major global publisher.”

The new service will launch at the American Libraries Association conference on June 24.

TNM readers have probably already seen this video of Conan O'Brien talking on his show about the new version of Final Cut Pro released recently by Apple. If not, here it is below.

I have not tried the new Final Cut Pro simply because my video editing needs are rather simple. But I hated when Apple updated iMovie and based on reports concerning the new Final Cut Pro, I can sympathize with those who regularly used the professional grade editing software in the past and are now faced with adapting to a new, dumbed down version of the vital software.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Bonnier's tablet strategy appears geared more towards ease of production than the reader experience

At first blush one might be led to believe that Bonnier, the Swedish media group which dramatically expanded in 2007 with the acquisition of 18 Time Inc. titles, is one of the more committed publishing companies when it comes to tablets.
After all, the publisher now has 44 iPad apps inside the App Store, releasing 21 new apps in the month of June alone.

But for loyal readers of Bonnier titles, their apps continue to be a mixed blessing. For one thing, a print subscriber is still forced to buy a tablet edition even though Apple now allows publishers to give their iPad versions away to print subscribers. If you are a print subscriber you are forced to make a choice – and maybe this is on purpose.

But for the company originally behind the Mag+ digital publishing system, many of their own magazine apps are little more than replica editions, with no landscape layouts, and no added interactivity. So while Bonnier may have solved the problem of how to create tablet versions of their print editions quickly and easily, it is clearly struggling with the challenge of utilizing the new platform to create unique reader experiences.
One of the newly released magazine apps is Spa Mag. Despite the lengthy app description, the actual app is simply the print magazine digitally reproduced. As a result, the first two-page spread reveals the problems that lay ahead.

In the end, the only reason readers might be attracted to these tablet editions is to save trees and save a few dollars: a one-year subscription to Spa, for instance, is $9.99 on the iPad, but $14.97 for the print edition.

The one Bonnier magazine conspicuously missing from the App Store is the one that has the most potential on a tablet: Saveur. The cooking magazine would be wonderful on the iPad if, and this is a big "if", the publisher committed to approaching the tablet in a more New Media way than other Bonnier titles have.

A look at the magazine's attractive website shows that the team at Bonnier has a good eye for design, but is still committed to using its website mostly to promote print. For instance, the Techniques section screams out for cooking videos to show readers these cooking techniques. Instead what the reader gets is a short blurb with a photo (or two).

(I suppose the one thing New Media about the site is the huge amount of content that is actually aggregated from its competitors. Under "grilling", for instance, there are ten short articles from Saveur and 11 from others sourced from outside the property including from Bon Appetit.)

Update: SZ Magazin app back in the App Store

Yesterday afternoon I wrote a post about two tablet editions: Food Network Magazine and the magazine app for the German daily newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. Unfortunately, right around the time I was ready to post the story I found that the German app was no longer available in the App Store.
I speculated at the time that the reason might be that the app description did not mention that an in-app purchase was necessary to download the latest issue. I also found that the issue download was a bit slow.

Well, now the app is back in the App Store (German link here, US store link here) and the revised app description seems to allude to the previous download issue. It also now includes the in-app purchase information, as well: .79 € in Europe, and 99 cents per issue in the US.

Wehaa brings out a replica edition for the Athens News, but sadly it isn't 'that' Athens News

For one brief moment I got pretty excited when I saw an iPad app for the Athens News. I've been reading the online version of the Greek English language newspaper every day in order to stay up on events in the economically troubled nation. But alas this new iPad app was not for that Athens News but was for the Athens News that is in Ohio.
This Athens News app is a free download produced by the digital publishing company Wehaa of Franklin, Wisconsin. That means replica editions.

Wehaa has been business launching replica apps for weekly papers since late last year. Today the company released new ones. In addition to the Athens News app there are replica editions for Illinois Times, El Planeta (a Spanish language newspaper from Boston), San Diego CityBeat, and the B2B magazine Irrigation & Green Industry.

(I really wish the B2B magazine app had been around when I was the publisher of the Green Media group. Now, as a competitor, one can more easily keep track of the ads appearing in it!)

Each of the apps are released not under the publisher's names but under Wehaa, which limits each publisher to offering the apps and access to the content for free.

For free distribution publications, that is, ones that tend to distribute their newspapers at restaurants, grocery stores, vending machines, a free replica edition probably makes sense – the new iPad version is just another way to gain distribution; and this appears to be Wehaa's target market, free distribution publications.

But for B2B this model doesn't really make sense – most B2B try to "qualify" their readership in preparation for a BPA audit. But with so many B2Bs dropping their BPAs, or in the case of Irrigation & Green Industry, bypassing BPA for the far less stringent VAC, this might not be an issue.

As for these particular replica editions, I find them poorly created, with pages that don't fit the display because of variations in page sizes. In addition, the swiping between pages is sticky and difficult. While one can zoom into the page the action is clunky, with the page redrawing every time one touches screen.

But my guess is that the publishers chose to let these replica apps appear in the App Store because they were simply part of the package of services offered by the vendor, and caused no additional work on the part of the publisher. Cheap and easy, it is what far too many publishers go for when it comes to tablet editions.

Morning Brief: Reed signs up with RapidBuyr, a group buying service for business; Gartner sees huge growth in marketing automation apps; B2B group buying

As if to prove my point about a lack of barrier to entry for companies wishing to start a group buying service, now there is RapidBuyr, a group buying service to businesses. The Concord, Mass. company has just announced that Reed Business Information has signed up to use the service, adding it to services offered by BuyerZone, the company's lead generation company.
“At BuyerZone we’re constantly striving to offer our users the most valuable services when it comes to business purchasing decisions, which makes RapidBuyr an ideal partner for us,” Mie-Yun Lee, president and founder of BuyerZone was quoted as stating in the announcement. “We look forward to working with the RapidBuyr team to provide additional information, tools and resources to our audiences.”

RapidBuyr was only launched in April of this year and, in addition to Reed, is also currently working with American City Business Journals.

Gartner released some research which should make the folks at Apple smile: according to the information technology research and advisory company, half of all major marketing automation vendors plan to develop applications for Apple's iPad which the next five years.

"The initial use of iPads and tablets by marketers will be the extension of existing marketing applications, such as campaign management and marketing resource management (MRM) functionality, to be supported by the device, either disconnected or connected to the network and home-based application," said Kimberly Collins, managing vice president at Gartner.

"By 2014, 65 percent of major marketing automation vendors will extend 25 percent of their functionality to the iPad. MRM vendors will lead this charge with adaption of functionality for reviews and approvals. Marketing fulfillment vendors are likely to enable access to content via tablets as well."

It looks like Apple won't have a monopoly on the term "app store" – at least that is the signal being delivered by U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton.

According to a Bloomberg story, the judge said failed to show “real evidence of actual confusion” among consumers.

“I’m troubled by the showing that you’ve made so far, but that’s where you’re likely not to prevail at this early juncture,” Hamilton said in her Oakland, Calif. courtroom yesterday.

Well, you win some, you lose some. Yesterday Apple won a patent on its multitouch technology which could have an even bigger impact on its business than this more consumer oriented claim.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Google adds voice search feature to its Chrome browser; voice search is fun, but remains hit or miss

Have you tried Google's new voice search feature? It is available only if you use Google's own Chrome browser, of course, but that is my "work" browser of choice because of its built-in translation feature.
Assuming your search is simple, say something like "New York weather", the feature works like a charm.

Try something a little more obscure, well, like all voice features it returns pretty silly results.

After doing a couple simple searches I tried something more unique: "Albigensian Crusade", a topic of special fascination for me. Google returned very strange results. So I modified the search: "Cathars Albigensian Crusade", it returned "katharsis alba jessica say", whatever that is supposed to mean.

Oh well, we're still not there yet, clearly. Can Apple, with its partner Nuance doing better than this? (See this story for background.)

U.S. and German magazines create native iPad apps, but take different approaches to development and sales

Sometimes it is interesting to look at tablet editions side by side to see the choice publishers make when developing their tablet editions. One may opt for a replica, another for a native app, for instance.
Hearst Communications continues to launch tablet editions for its magazines, but is remains shy about committing to Apple's in-app subscription policies. As a result, each new edition of Esquire, for instance, will cost you $4.99 – and if you are a print subscriber, well, tough luck.

The recently launched (and very recently updated) app for Food Network Magazine opts for the paid app approach: $3.99 to download, rather than offering a free app with a purchase from within the app. Since this issue is labeled "Summer 2011", one can assume that the publisher does not intend, at least for now, to offer monthly editions, unlike the magazine itself.
The emphasis here is ease of use, simplicity, utility. The app is 194 MB, reduced in size by the absence of a landscape mode.

The most popular feature of the iPad version is its in-app shopping list which lets you compile a list from the recipes, then let's readers email that list to themselves. It's actually pretty low tech really, since there are other ways to handle this including utilizing iOS printing. But it works and so far have been positive, save a few comments about app bugs.

SZ Magazin from the Munich based daily newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung is also a native app version of the print magazine – or at least it was until it was pulled suddenly from the App Store. In the original app description there was no mention of a required in-app purchase for the issue (only 99 cents) so that might have been where the app ran into trouble.

But assuming the magazine appears again soon, you might want to download it just to see some of the interesting things inside. This tablet edition creates a library where the downloads are post installation – and a bit slow. This app, though, gives you both landscape and portrait views, but otherwise is fairly simple, as well. (The ad from Mercedes-Benz utilizes both orientations and contains embedded video.)

The app could use pinch to zoom because several times I wanted a better view of a picture, but otherwise I found it easy to use.
Of course, one just has to mention the crossword puzzle that is in the app and which I tried to replicate with an animated GIF here.

Süddeutsche Zeitung, for the record, has a daily circulation of around 440,000 and is Germany's largest broadsheet daily.

With huge patent win, Apple now a 'chip in the big game'; will it stick in their pocket, or stick to their rivals?

In 2007 Steve Jobs introduced the original iPhone. During his keynote he talked about how Apple was introducing three new products: a widescreen iPod with touch controls (which got huge applause), a revolutionary mobile phone (even bigger applause) and a breakthrough Internet communicator (puzzles, muffled applause).

Now we know, of course, that the most revolutionary thing about the original iPhone was how it would use the Internet to bring books, newspapers, magazines, games to consumers on their cell phones.

Technologically, the biggest feature was multitouch which Jobs described this way:

"It works like magic. You don’t need a stylus. It’s far more accurate than any touch display that’s ever been shipped. It ignores unintended touches, it’s super-smart. You can do multi-finger gestures on it. And boy, have we patented it." (emphasis mine)

That patent, 7,966,578, to be exact, was awarded yesterday to Apple, and it could cause problems for competitors for years to come – and, one would imagine, provide lots of work for patent attorneys worldwide.

From the patent application:
1. A method, comprising: at a portable multifunction device with one or more processors, memory, and a touch screen display; displaying a portion of web page content in a stationary application window on the touch screen display, wherein the portion of web page content includes: a frame displaying a portion of frame content, and other content of the web page, comprising content of the web page other than the frame content; detecting a translation gesture by a single finger on or near the touch screen display; in response to detecting the translation gesture by the single finger, translating the web page content to display a new portion of web page content in the stationary application window on the touch screen display, wherein translating the web page content includes simultaneously translating the displayed portion of the frame content and the other content of the web page; detecting a translation gesture by two fingers on or near the touch screen display; and in response to detecting the translation gesture by the two fingers, translating the frame content to display a new portion of frame content in the stationary application window on the touch screen display, without translating the other content of the web page.
What follows are more details, and more importantly, more applications for multitouch: web page content, word processing, spreadsheet, email or presentation document, a map, a scrollable list of items.

Theoretically, the patent could prevent some of Apple's competitors from doing business in the U.S. Or, as PC Magazine speculates, the patent could provide Apple with "a tidy new income stream."

But I am reminded of a scene in Clear and Present Danger where the President talks to Ryan (played by Harrison Ford) about whether he is going to tell all. Then he smirks and says "You're not gonna do that. You've got yourself a chip in the big game now. You're gonna tuck that away. You are gonna save that for a time when your own ass is on the line and then you're gonna pull it out, and I'm gonna cash it in for you, right?"

Apple has a chip in the big game and if Apple wants to it can hold that chip for when it really needs it.

Or, like Ryan, Apple could decide it doesn't "dance" and proceed to go after their rivals with a vengeance.

Onswipe launch gets hyped by the tech press; Slate launches Flipboard-like website for iPad readers

Backed by a ton of investment money, sycophantic tech site support, and lots of bombast, Onswipe supposedly launched its new service yesterday in NYC. I say supposedly because as this morning I can find no trace of evidence that the event even happened. The promised live streaming never occurred, and the company's website has not changed one bit – not even the company's own blog mentions the event, and a Google search reveals no news stories from the actual event.
All that did not stop Jeff Sonderman at Poynter from writing a press release for the company and for other sites such as Mashable and Wired from writing stories about the company, often embedding the same video that was released two months ago.

The PR strategy has definitely worked as a search of Twitter shows these same stories being retweeted endlessly (though one tweet asks "Where are you?", referring no doubt to the lack of a live stream of the launch event).

(I signed up with Onswipe back in February, got a confirmation back then heard nothing until I received the launch event.)

As of now one can see an example of Onswipe's technology being used on the iPad version of Slate which transforms the normal web version of the site into a Flipboard-looking version. (Notice that there are no ads to be found on this version of the website.)

For me, this looks like an alternative way to create websites, not necessarily tablet editions. I could definitely see TNM, for instance, using Onswipe to create a new version of this site for viewing on a tablet. But is this a good solution for GQ or other magazines? Maybe, if there are alternatives to the Flipboard look.

As someone who has sat in on countless sales presentations from flipbook makers, website designers and hosting services, there is something vaguely familiar going on here. A company promises a cheap and easy alternative to the more costly, time consuming chore of app development. The sales pitch from the flipbook guys has always been "you're struggling with making money online why not bring your magazine to the web?"

With the replica edition folk the sales pitch appears to be similar – don't bother with apps, go with replica editions. No surprise then that Michael Schreck, the new CEO of Zmags, wrote yesterday in support of Onswipe-type solutions claiming that "apps are a bridge to nowhere."

"OnSwipe’s newly announced capability to help content owners create an “app-like experience” without needing to build an app is another good example of a creative approach to content delivery. It’s something we’ve been doing for years for literally thousands of the top brands and publishers around the world (From Audi to Virgin Mobile)," Schreck (or the PR department) wrote.

The problem, of course, is that while browser-based solutions can deliver a browser-like experience will it also deliver an app-like experience? We won't really know, of course, until someone can build a tablet edition that can favorably compare with something like Biblion.

For me, I love these new alternatives to native app development. But I don't see them as replacing native apps, just an another option for publishers to consider.

I've written here in the past about my first encounter with VideoEgg and the revelation that the company wasn't really selling a software solution but was instead building an ad network. Isn't Onswipe's business model the same?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Retweet: VillageVines is now

At least a couple of times I have talked about Groupon and the trend towards social buying enterprises that assist publishers create their own deals feature, such as Group Commerce.

On the positive sign, I see Groupon's commitment to sales as a net positive (unlike companies that layoff sales reps when sales go down, how does that make sense?). On the negative side, I fail to see the barrier to entry that prevents other companies from effectively competing with Groupon (and others like Living Social).

So this story by Tracy Duryee on All Things D really caught my attention because it reinforced my own conclusions (I would have skipped right by it if it had contradicted them, of course).

Duryee's story is about, the reincarnation of VillageVines. The site is another group buying site but with quite a big difference.

Duryee and's co-founder Ben McKean explain who it works:
Members who sign up for the service pay $10 to book a reservation at a restaurant and in return get 30 percent off their entire bill, including alcohol. The restaurant keeps all of the profits.
Simple. It works because if a restaurant doesn't have open seats it simply doesn't have to worry about people coming in with a coupon. In fact, there are no coupons involved at all. is live and offering deals in ten cities.

Now if you are a restaurant which system works best for you? I don't know, but I've signed up and we'll see if I end up using it more than Groupon (which I never use).

The hits just keep piling up for Gannett and McClatchy; 700 job cuts at Gannett's US Community Publishing

It's hard to keep track of the number of times one has heard that "the recovery is just around the corner", only to then hear of more industry layoffs.

Today Bob Dickey, president of Gannett's U.S. Community Publishing division announced that 700 positions would be eliminated, representing about 2 percent of all employees.

"National advertising remains soft and with many of our local advertisers reducing their overall budgets, we need to take further steps to align our costs with the current revenue trends<" Dickey wrote in his memo to employees. "Each of our local media organizations faces its own market conditions, challenges and opportunities. Therefore, it has been up to each local publisher to determine his or her unique course of action."
The independent Gannett Blog has been keeping track of the layoffs and have identified about 20 percent of the lost positions.

To industry observers, the layoffs are hardly surprising considering the enormous pay increases top management earned in 2010, despite a steep decline in newspaper ad revenue. The huge bonuses were attributed to stronger earnings – earnings achieved through cutting costs, creating a predictable cycle of actions.

In April, the NYT's David Carr profiled Gannett's efforts to right the ship, which at that time included staff furloughs. "...Gannett is a high achiever when it comes to downsizing. In the five years that Mr. Dubow (Gannett's CEO) has run the company, its work force has gone from 52,000 employees to just over 32,000."

Carr also quoted the company's position regarding dramatically increasing its management's pay: “The company achieved substantial expense reductions through a variety of efforts, including continued centralization and consolidation efforts and salary freezes, positioning the company for growth as economic conditions improve.”

For a newspaper chain with such a wide and deep reach into so many American communities, the actions of Gannett – slash and burn with no substantial rethinking of its business model – is creating exactly the kind of opening new players such as Patch, Main Street Connect and others are counting on.

Then, when you combine this with the institution of pay walls, you can certain visualize a completely new media landscape in the area of news arising – and soon.

Disclosures: none, really – Gannett is one of the newspaper companies I not worked at.

McClatchy did not announce any layoffs today – at least not that I am aware of.

Instead they said that April and May revenue had fallen 9.1 percent.

"We have seen an improvement in revenue trends in the second quarter of 2011, helped in part by retail advertising associated with the later Easter holiday in April," said Gary Pruitt, chairman and chief executive of McClatchy in its press release.

This way of presenting ad declines as positive news is not new as many other companies in the past three years have been doing similar things. But it should be remembered in July of last year the company reported that its Q2 2010 ad revenue was down 9.7 percent from 2009.

In 2009, when announcing a huge increase in earnings, McClatchy also reported that ad revenue was down 30 percent. And just to pile on, in 2008 the company reported that its Q2 revenue was down 15.6 percent, and in Q2 of 2007 they reported revenue declined 9.8 percent.

Making all this news worse is the knowledge that every reported decline was versus a previous year's decline – that's quite a streak the company has going there.

Backgrounder: Greece debt crisis part of a bigger economic crisis among European nations

The news from and about Greece is being reported to American media consumers in fits and starts: riots in the streets a week ago, government instability this week. Yet Americans don't seem to ever get the whole picture and it is apparent often in the comments seen on stories that do appear online.
For many there is little sympathy for reports that Greece might just default on its debt. Yet the conversation turns 180 degrees for some when reports talk about the austerity measures being considered in order to get Greece's financial house in order.

A few days ago the NYY produced a very nice interactive map that illustrated the debt levels found in Europe, as well as some historical data. But if debt were the only issue involved here this story would never make it out of the Business section. The missing element here is unemployment.

Here is a look at debt as a percentage of GDP, and also unemployment levels for each of the nations often grouped together under the unfortunate acronym PIGS - Portugal, Ireland (and sometimes Italy) Greece and Spain:

Nation Debt as % of GDP Unemployment Rate
Sources: Eurostat, CIA data, IMF

One can see the situation Greece finds itself in, but by looking at the current unemployment rate one can also see that further austerity measures might provoke much anxiety internally.

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou today tried to address concerns about new austerity measures with a statement:

"I am well aware of the hardships many people in Greece are experiencing today as the country takes these difficult but long overdue decisions," the English language paper Athens News reported. "As I have said before: if there were an easier route out of the crisis, we would have taken it. But there is not. The only way for Greece to return to growth and create jobs in a sustainable way is to restore competitiveness and put its public finances on a solid footing. That is the route Greece has embarked upon, with the European Union's full support and solidarity.

Also, while Spain's debt level is not a major concern when compared to other European nations, its high unemployment rate is clearly a major influence on domestic politics.

(For the sake of comparison, the debt as a percent of GDP for the U.S. is either 59% (CIA/Eurostat) or 93% (IMF) depending on the source. Japan is seen as the country in the worse shape, with its debt standing at 225% of GDP as of last year.)

US government already in the newspaper bailout business - just ask Donald Graham and the Washington Post Co.

It is not much of a secret that the Washington Post Company has been held aloft by its Kaplan Education Subsidiary. As reported by Bob Garfield for On the Media, 75 percent of the company's profits come from the for-profit education division.

Or at least they used to. With enrollment falling due to the economy, and with government regulators looking into the practices of the industry, the Washington Post's CEO Donald Graham probably has lost a few nights of sleep.
But he should be sleeping like a baby again now that the Department of Education handed down new rules involving the for-profit education industry that were far weaker than those originally proposed. As a result, US tax payers will continue to subsidize his company in a major way.

While the graduation rate at public and private non-profit colleges and universities is 55 percent and 65 percent respectively, the graduation rate at for-profit colleges averages 22 percent, according to a report from The Education Trust (PDF). Additionally, the median debt college students can expect to have after school is an astounding $31,190 – compared to $17,040 for private universities, and $7,960 for public colleges.

But as Katie Leslie of the AJC reported two weeks ago: Students at for-profit institutions represent just 12 percent of all higher education students — but they account for 46 percent of all student loan dollars in default, according to the Department of Education.

(As of last year, for-profit universities like the University of Phoenix and DeVry, receive 25 percent of all Pell Grants, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.)

In essence, the government is taking money away from public education and giving it to corporations like The Washington Post Co. No surprise then that politicians, who covet the support of the media, are continuing to turn a blind eye as companies profit from this redirecting of education funding.

Simply put: there is no need of a bailout for the newspaper industry, they are already getting one.

Condé Nast's Wired tries its hand at the single-sponsored tablet special section app with 'Creating the Nebula'

The special section is still a tried and true method for pumping up ad revenue at many newspapers (and magazines, too). For some smaller publications, the measurement for whether the special section can succeed is judged by how quickly a sales rep can sell the back page ad spot. Think of it as almost the equivalent of the single-sponsor section.
Condé Nast's Wired magazine is experimenting with using the iPad to produce special sections. WIRED Creating the Nebula is a free iPad app that is sponsored by Cadillac. The app description says this app is the first of a four-part series.

Directed and produced by Annaliza Savage, the app is basically a way of presenting a video documentary about artist Reuben Margolin and efforts to build the world's largest moving sculpture.

As a concept for a special section, this app is brilliant: the app itself is simple (overly simple, but we'll get to than in a second), and the single-sponsor method makes it easy to get off the ground. In fact, whether Cadillac is actually paying anything for this is a good question – I could imagine that this might have been thrown into a proposal as an added-value the same way many publishers threw in web advertising as added-value in the bad old days (you don't still do that, do you?).
If there is a problem here it is with the app itself. Since all it is a video player with chapter navigation the quality of the video player is the most important factor in whether this app succeeds. In this regard WIRED Creating the Nebula is about as bad a video vehicle as can be imagined.

First, there are no video player controls, meaning that once the video starts the only way to stop it is to shut down the app. There is no scrubber, no volume controls, and most importantly, no AirPlay capability. The video player can easily be expanded to fill the screen, but that is about it.

The lack of AirPlay and video player controls so astounded me that I felt it important to click on the support page listed in the app description. No surprise I suppose that it took me to the regular Wired app support page, which did not say anything about this new app.

Second, because this app is essentially a video carrier, it weighs in at 501 MB. A few extra megabytes certainly could have been spared to include some text beyond the one paragraph under the information symbol.

Overall this one looks like a rush job, put out there in a hurry to keep a major advertiser happy. But it is free, so readers can't complain – and like I've said, it's a good concept.

Monday, June 20, 2011

DYI app making for publishers choices continues to expand along parallel path to native development

On Wednesday of this week OnSwipe will hold its launch event in New York and one shouldn't be surprised to hear once again that "apps are bullshit" as the company shows off in more detail its "insanely easy tablet publishing" solution.

For print publishers, especially small publishers, the holy grail of tablet publishing is an easy, inexpensive, and brilliant do-it-yourself solution that will allow the publisher to reach iPad owners (and eventually owners of tablets that don't run iOS). But the problem, though, is, and continues to be, that most DYI solutions just do not compare with native apps.
Because of this, most newspaper and magazine publishers who have not built their own development teams have opted to create tablet publications using tools from WoodWing, or Mag+.

The advantage of these solutions is that they can be integrated into the current print production workflow: any art director who is an InDesign expert can work with WoodWing, for instance, to create tablet editions that utilize many of the features of native apps.

Developers, though, look at many of these converted magazines and immediately scoff: 'they're just converted print!' some argue – and they are right. But readers do seem to like these tablet editions; they are easier to read that PDF replica editions, contain more interesting layouts, and often have embedded audio or video content that seems to make them more modern than print.

But there are others who feel even InDesign tools may be too much for them. Bloggers, for instance, may simply be interested in writing and don't want the bother of doing production like a print art director. OnSwipe has a plug-in for WordPress, for instance, that promises to created an "iPad compatible theme", giving the reader a native app feel to a website read through the iPad's browser.

For me, as a former newspaper and magazine publisher, the problem all DYI solutions suffer from is that the end products of each of these solutions tend to look the same. Familiarity with the digital publishing solutions offered by these vendors means that you can spot the vendor used the minute you open up the app. Open the Detroit Free Press mobile app for the first time and one immediately knows what app solution the publisher chose. Getting a vendor to add new iOS features appears to be far easier than getting them to build in customization tools that will help the publisher make their app look less than the other guy's app, and more like something the reader feels comfortable with.

Despite these negatives, and despite sitting in on countless digital publishing webinars, I'm still most interested in finding the right DYI solution for TNM simply because I know that investing in a more expensive, and likely better, solution is simply not going to pay out in the end.

This is probably why the folks behind Inkerro, whoever they are*, have chosen to launch their iPad app using the DYI solutions from Red Foundry. Inkerro Magazine, seen above, is a free app that, once you have played around with the Red Foundry interface a while one can see what choices the publisher decided to make.

It will be interesting to see what OnSwipe unveils on Wednesday, and their bluster of its founder, Jason L. Baptiste will be prove to be well founded, or merely hype. Stay tuned.

* For whatever reason, the publisher behind Inkerro have not included any contact information online, and their app only sends an email to "curious (at)".

Retweet: Flurry says mobile app usage exceeding desktop web use - a case of apples & oranges?

As an advocate of native app development (as well as innovated web development) I would naturally find this study from Flurry Analytics to be of interest.

In a blog post on their website, the company proclaims that their study shows that consumers are spending more time each day on mobile apps than they are desktop or mobile web browsing. It is a fairly dramatic finding if one were comparing similar things, but I think this is not the case.

Here is a chart from Flurry with their findings - click to go to the blog posting itself:


The problem here is that using a browser is a limited activity - one doesn't play games very often through a browser (though some do) or take panoramic picture, etc.

Mobile apps, however, do a variety of things, including being a substitute for the browser experience. So really this is a case of comparing apples and oranges.

But, and I'm sure this is really the idea behind the study, the growth of mobile app usage is simply astounding, and is all the more amazing when you consider how far we've come in the time since third party app develop started.

Chicago Tribune's first tablet edition debuts; look is consistent with newly unveiled website redesign

It has been a long time coming, but the Chicago Tribune finally has released its first tablet edition, a free app for the iPad.
Chicago Tribune for iPad is a well designed application, even if its overall look is borrowed from its recent ill-conceived website redesign. The look is boxy and simplistic, just like the website, complete devoid of any sense of style and creativity.

The iPad edition is currently sponsored by NorthShore University HealthSystem, and the app description gives no hint that it will eventually require a subscription to access the content. Instead, the app requires you to sign into your current account, sign-in using Google or other methods, or simply create a new account. In this way the Trib is gaining some user information, but no revenue.

As for the app's features, well, they are slim pickings. As you would expect from a native app, rather than a replica edition, the app works well in both portrait and landscape. But the app does not allow for offline reading, making it pretty useless on a plane, and of questionable use on a train. Readers that do not own the 3G model are out of luck as there is no way to download the content for offline reading, a feature that has been a regular part of tablet apps for quite a while now.

The app also doesn't take advantage of push notifications, another feature you would expect from a news app. The weather can no be customized beyond the three choices of Downtown, O'Hare or Midway.

Left: The registration page; Middle: The home page with navigation instructions overlaid on top; Right: a typical story layout.

Had the Tribune Company released this app a year ago one might have been impressed with its overall usefulness. But we are now in the era of the iPad 2, awaiting the fall release of iOS 5. Offline reading, AirPlay video streaming, push notifications are not just common, but are quickly becoming the norm in news applications.

This first app, if simply a starting point, will work – I can say that much. It opens, it does not crash, and it allows access to the content. But is it really much more useful than the website (which by the way, delivers all its video in Flash, making it useless to iOS device owners)?

Morning Brief: ICANN plans huge expansion of Internet domains; NY Post locks iPad Safari users out of its site

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) voted to increase the number of new website domain suffixes, ending the rigid rule of standard web addresses which current allow for only 22 (such as .com, .net, etc.)
PhotobucketBeginning next year, ICANN will begin accepting applications for new addresses which will allow for addresses to end in any word, in any language.

"Icann has opened the internet's addressing system to the limitless possibilities of the human imagination," the BBC reported Rod Beckstrom, ICANN's president and chief executive officer saying. "No one can predict where this historic decision will take us."

Someone at the New York Post thought this was a great idea: lock out readers who own iPads from accessing their newspaper's website, forcing them to download the app and pay for a subscription, while keeping the website open to all other readers. If you own an iPad, and using Safari surf over to the Post's website you are greeted with this message:
Thanks for coming! editorial content is now only accessible on the iPad through the New York Post App. If your are a current New York Post App subscriber, please visit the App Store and down the latest version to access through the INDEX. If you are not a current New York Post App user and would like to subscribe, please download from the App Store. Thank you.
The strategy may be one of the most wrongheaded things done by a newspaper yet. Doing a Google search for news and stumbling upon a story on the NY Post website, one no longer can access the story, redirected to this warning page.

(If you really, really want to read the NY Post you can use any number of other browsers available in the App Store, or even use Safari with JavaScript turned off. But, who would want to bother?)

Will the loss of web traffic be worth the added app downloads? I doubt it, don't you?

In any case, this is the most audacious pay wall yet constructed, though probably the most foolish. Currently the Post is charging $1.99 for its iPhone and iPad apps, then charging a subscription fee of $6.99 per month, or $74.99 per year. If the new strategy works it will certainly upset the common wisdom that web users won't pay for casual access to the news.