Friday, July 29, 2011

End of the week news tidbits: 1836 was a very good year; talks in the House and with North Korea go nowhere; Klinsmann named coach of U.S. National Men's Team

The media's attention will be on activities in the House and Senate this weekend as lawmakers work overtime to try and slow the economy even further by slashing spending in a recession. The President said he needs a debt ceiling bill on his desk to sign by Tuesday.

National debt as a percentage
of GDP.  Original chart
courtesy of Wikipedia.

Everyone is talking about the debt, but here's a little history, though: the last time the U.S. had no debt was 1836. At no time since then has the debt been completely eliminated. Little events like the Civil War, WWI and WWII grew the debt – not to mention wars in Iraq (twice) and Afghanistan. Now, however, everyone in Washington seems to agree that the debt has to go away, along with jobs and economic growth, apparently.

Update: The House has just passed its debt ceiling bill, now on to the Senate. If it passes there, and it's not expected to, the Congress will be sending a Constitutional amendment to the states – when all that was necessary was a simple vote to raise the debt ceiling. Yes, the country has gone mad.


Norway won't like this little revelation, but it appears that mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik got his ammo via U.S, mail order firms. Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) criticized U.S. lax gun laws, according to The Hill website, which then allowed its readers to threaten the Congresswoman's life in its comments area.

The U.K.: Scotland Yard said it would formally open an investigation into claims that officers had their computers hacked by private investigators working for Murdoch's News of the World. Earlier today The Guardian reported that a senior police officer has voiced suspicions that his phone had been hacked by the paper. Detective Chief Inspector Martyn Underhill, who was involved in investigating the death of Sarah Payne, said he received a call from the paper threatening to print a story about his involvement with the Payne family where the information could only have originated from illegal hacking.

North Korea: did you know the US was holding talks with North Korea this week? Me neither. No surprise, nothing came out of the meetings. The hostilities between the two countries have still not been officially ended, meaning that the Korea War is on year 61.


Zinio released an updated version of its iOS app today. The updated app offers lots of upgrades including bookmarks and a new interface. Interestingly, though, the company issued a press release through PR Newswire that was picked up by lots of PR friendly websites, then the released was pulled. TNM, which normally received information from Zinio, never received the release which may mean it was released prematurely. Well, in any case, the Zinio app update is available for download now.

National Football League: I don't know if I'm actually happy that the league and the players settled their contract dispute. I would have loved to have gone through a fall season without the NFL just to feel what it would be like. Besides, both Bay Areas will only end up sticking it up again this year, right? Well, since the meaningless preseason will start soon, the NFL has updated its NFL '11 for iPad app to reflect that fact.


U.S. Soccer has named Juergen Klinsmann as coach of the U.S. Men's team. Klinsmann was a star player for many years, and was the coach of the German Men's team at the last World Cup. It's a start, I guess.

The Giants victory yesterday contained a few firsts: the victory ended the Phillies streak of winning every series played since some time in June, was the first time they lost two straight at home since April, and was the first game where Carlos Beltran played for the Giants since his trade from the Mets. Beltron went 0 for 4, which means he is already comfortable with the Giants's style of play.


Tomorrow will be progressively brighter during the day until evening, when things will get darker.

Have a good weekend.

U.S. News & World Report launches iPad edition; charges paltry 99 cents per month for tablet subscription

At 99 cents, the digital subscription to the new weekly tablet edition of U.S. News & World Report is either a bargain, or a sign that the weekly news magazine is aware of its weak position.

The new free iPad app, U.S. NEWS WEEKLY for the iPad, is a nicely designed tablet edition that allows readers to access a content, though the amount of content is fairly limited, for a subscription price of only 99 cents per month.
Readers who download and install the app are given a choice to either subscribe immediately or download one copy for free. Unfortunately, that one issue may be enough to convince readers to say away.

In portrait the issue features House Speaker Boehner and President Obama on the "cover" with the words "Stalement". But tap on the picture all you want you won't find an article that accompanies the photo.

Instead, the content is rather lightweight stuff that despite the July 28 date for the issue, already feels out of date.
The app also works in landscape, where it is a bit more attractive than the text only equivalent found in portrait. But here again the app gives you the impress that there is a story behind the picture of the House Speaker and the President.

Clicking on the first story one is taken to a rather old fashioned pop-up ad for Fidelity. The ad is button sized, totally out of place on the iPad's 9.7" display - why isn't this ad full screen, or at least much bigger?

When the ad disappears one is taken to the first story, "Secrets of Six First Ladies". Really.

With Washington in crisis, with the phone hacking scandal burning in the U.K., with much of Europe in financial crisis, with the attacks in Oslo, we get a drawing of Ronald Reagan kissing Nancy.

OK, so the news magazine format is outdated, and this magazine is without a clue, but what about the app?

Well, if the content weren't so bad and insulting to my intelligence I might actually like this tablet edition. But one major thing would have to change. Don't charge me 99 cents for a month's worth of weekly issues, charge me 99 cents for a month's worth of access to the contents. There is a huge difference: the world moves way to fast for iPad owners to want to read news reports once a week that were written days ago. Give me a tablet edition that is organized like an old weekly news magazine, but is edited like an Internet news site.

Left: The first feature in the free edition of U.S. NEWS WEEKLY for the iPad; Right: the subscription page where you can sign-up or download the free issue.

Morning Brief: The Economy and Rep. Boehner stall; House committee moves on bill to force ISPs to track and store data on its customers web activity for 12 months

The NYT is reporting this morning that the economy, well, sucks – in case you didn't know that. GDP grew at a 1.3 percent pace, not exactly robust, though not official at recession levels.

Meanwhile, Republicans in the House delayed a vote on a debt ceiling bill because many members did not believe it embraced austerity enough. Of course, in the U.K., where the Tories have adopted the same strategy, the economy has slowed even more than in the U.S., growing at only 0.2 percent this spring. I guess this is what we can all look forward to.
House Speaker John Boehner planned to bring his perpetual debt crisis bill up for a vote yesterday early evening before things started to fall apart. Following instructions from the philosophical oracle of the right, Sarah Palin, who reminded freshman Republicans that they were sent to Washington to destroy Washington, Boehner discovered that he did not have the votes necessary to pass his bill.

No matter, the President had already said he would veto the bill and the chances of it getting through the Senate have always been zero.

Note: The markets opened a few minutes ago and the Dow is currently down triple digits.

So while the House could not get itself in a position to take a vote, the House Judiciary Committee did, passing a measure and moving it to the full house that would force Internet service providers to save logs of all their customer's online activity for 12 months.

Passed with mostly Republican support, though some Democrats apparently voted for the measure (I could not find a record of the yeas and nays), the bill was designed, supposedly, to assist law enforcement with tracking child pornographers.

Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) disagrees, however. “This is not protecting children from Internet pornography. It’s creating a database for everybody in this country for a lot of other purposes,” Conyers said, according to a report from DigitalTrends.

At first the bill would have only include IP addresses, but a late rewrite of the bill made it so ISPs would have to store customers’ names, bank account numbers, IP addresses, credit card numbers and home addresses.

The party of small government, indeed.

It appears that Jefferson County, the Alabama country that includes the city of Birmingham, may avoid filing for bankruptcy after all.

The county owes $3.2 billion thanks to the county following the advice of consultants who recommended that the county issue bonds to build its new sewer system that were linked to derivatives. Great advice.

Now the county will have to file for bankruptcy unless it can reach a new agreement with its creditors. Yesterday the NYT reported that the creditors have made a new proposal, leading the county to delay filing.

See, newspapers aren't the only ones dying because they follow the advice of consultants.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Even new media faces the issue of timeliness

Nothing quite gets to a writer on the web than to post a fresh story only to learn, seconds later, that their story is already either old or flat out wrong.

I thought about that when looking at the NYT home page just now and noticed that story "Dow Edges Up" sitting directly across from the stock tables that show that, in fact, the Dow was edging down. Oh well, it's only down a point, right?
The problem really isn't that the story is wrong, it's that news writers constantly want to assing a overall reason for the market's moves. Yesterday the market's crashed and the common wisdom was that the cause was the continued stalemate involving finding a solution to the debt ceiling. But here we are, 24 hours closer to the "deadline" without a solution in sight, clearly the markets must be tanking, right? Well, no.

Yesterday, when I wrote an afternoon brief that mentioned the markets I added this paragraph at the end:

Analysts are, of course, pointing to the debt ceiling impasse as the reason. But if nothing changes on that front tomorrow, and the market goes up, what will they say about that? Apple, right?
The reason was simple: I had my doubts that the markets would continue to fall over the debt ceiling issue, not unless there was to be some real news, like the President announcing that he had moved all his money abroad and everyone else would have to do the best they could, he was moving to the French Riviera.

But just to remind those who read TNM about what it used to be like in the newspaper business let me recall the story of a real stock market collapse.

In 1987 I was working as classified manager at the Santa Monica Outlook (once the Evening Outlook). Being on the west coast, by the time our offices opened at 8 the market would have already been open in NYC for a while.

As I pulled into the parking lot on Monday morning, October 19th, I was about to turn off KABC news when a reporter started talking about weakness in the stock market. I listened for a while and then went in.

I decided to walk across the office to the editorial department to say hello to the editor. The Outlook was a fairly small newspaper, but not really small. The Outlook served the west part of Los Angeles, as well as Beverly Hills, and of course Santa Monica. It was, in short, a newspaper with some damn good demographics. (For reasons that remain a mystery, Copley could not make a go of it and closed the paper a few years after I left to head to Northern California.)

I remember saying to the editor that he would have a huge story to cover that day and remember the strange look that came over his face. "The stock market," I said, and then explained what was apparently happening with the markets. He shrugged and I left, more than a little disappointed that the editor of the paper might not be that interested.

The markets had been soft all the previous week, losing 108.35 points on Friday to close at 2246.74 on record volume. Investors had a good reason to be worried, the London markets had been closed on that Friday due to a huge storm that hit the UK that day – now called the Great Storm of 1987. Investors don't like to see the markets decline on a day when they can not trade and so were ready to dump stocks on Monday.

But the market declined slowly through the trading day until early afternoon when the slide became a crash, losing many points per minute in the last hour or so of trading.

“I was stunned," one trader remembered. "It was almost surreal. It was so rapid. It hit you all at once. I equate to a category five hurricane. We didn’t have these Bloomberg computers on our desks as do do now and we had to go out and watch TV and other things."

When all was said and done, the market closed down 508 points. Today that might not seem like a disaster. But when the Dow closed at 1738.74 the losses amounted to 22.61 percent – far, far eclipsing the declines seen after 9/11 on a percentage basis. Worse, the market closed at its lows, making people nervous about the next day's trading.

As the market slipped, I listened to the radio reports. Every 15 minutes of so I would walk over to the editor and simply say "200", the number of points the market was down. Then "300". Each time there was a shrug. But finally, at 12:30 PST when I walked over I saw there was a group of editors gathered around a radio and as I got close the editor turned, saw me and said "we got it".

That day's afternoon edition blasted the news about the markets, which led to the paper selling out that day. But other papers that printed an afternoon edition calmly wrote the market's "weakness", reporting that the market's were down a bit, looking positively out of touch in process.

Right now the NYT shows that the Dow is down over 50 64 points, making the story that says "Dow edges up" obsolete. But now there is a new headline: "Dow little moved by positive jobs sign", no doubt written the minute the Dow turned negative. It, too, is already outdated. And so it goes.

Johnson Press names Microsoft veep, former head of BBC new media, Ashley Highfield as new chief executive

Johnson Press, the regional newspaper group owned by The Scotsman, has named Ashley Highfield as its new chief executive, the BBC reported this afternoon.

Highfield has been Managing Director & VP, Consumer & Online UK for Microsoft. Prior to that gig Highfield was the head of new media at the Beeb and was responsible for the launch of the BBC's iPlayer while also editor-in-chief of BBC Online.

Highfield has a rather unique career biography for some named to head a newspaper company. He started his career as a computer programmer before joining Coopers & Lybrand as a management consultant. He has been with Microsoft since January 2009. (Whether this position was a reward for launching the BBC iPlayer for Windows only is unknown.)

Highfield has been a governor of the British Fill Institute since 2008.

Tehrkot Media releases its first book app for the iPad: a faithful reproduction of the Civil War photographer Alexander Gardiner's 'Sketch Book of the War'

Released into the App Store two weeks ago, Gardner's Photographic Sketch Book of the War is the first iPad book app from Tehrkot Media of South Carolina.
The book app is a faithful reproduction of the Civil War photographer Alexander Gardner's book of the same name, originally published only one year after the end of the war. At only $4.99, the iPad version is a definite bargain over printed versions of the book currently available.

The iPad book contains 100 photographs from the original two volume work. The publisher notes that the text contained in the app is faithfully reproduced, including misspellings and other mistakes. Originally only 200 copies were printed of the book in 1866, which was priced at $200, a fortune back then. The publisher says that a complete set of the works were sold at Christie's in 2009 for $92,500.

As the nation remembers the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Conflict, our goal is to bring this work of art and these images back to life and to make it widely available to those around the country, as well as around the world, who share our love of photography as well as the history of this great country. – from the press release.
The app itself is simple enough, and altogether appropriate for the content: designed in landscape only, which matchs the photographs, the app is light on supplemental multimedia material (meaning there is none), but allows the reader to appreciate the photographs using the iPad's 9.7 inch display.

Each photograph is presented as it appeared in the original book. A button on the bottom of the page allows the reader to pull up a caption or to "zoom". Zooming actually pulls up a new page with only the photograph which then allows the reader to pinch to zoom into and out of the picture – a perfect way to use the tablet's capabilities.

Left: for the most part the book app is a faithfully reproduced copy of Gardner's book; Right: supplemental material with the app's navigation bar at the top.

While I might have wanted some sort of additional content, like an audio narration or video from the battlefield sites, at $4.99 a buyer could hardly complain.

The book has seem to slip by the notice of Apple's App Store team, which is a shame. Hopefully they will promote the book in the App Store to encourage sales – and, I suppose, to encourage Tehrkot Media to continue using the platform.

As a side note, the publisher maintains an interesting Tumbler blog that is promoting the book, and provides interesting reading itself.

Morning Brief: Tribune Company lays off more at the LA Times; Reed Elsevier reports a slight uptick in earnings

Last night came word that the Tribune Company was instituting another round of layoffs at the Los Angeles Times, a paper once known for having an massive newsroom.
Nancy Sullivan, Vice President, Communications, said in a statement that the layoffs were caused by the economy. "As we continue to evolve our business and react to the difficult economic environment, we are downsizing in some areas and adding resources in others," the AP reported Sullivan stating in the announcement.

Reed Elsevier, which divested most of its B2B titles in the U.S. at the end of 2009, reported somewhat improved earnings today. The media company said revenue grew one percent, with operating profit up two percent.

"The first half has seen the growth trajectory improve with our large subscription and data revenues strengthening and most of our cyclical businesses recovering," said Chief Executive Erik Engstrom in a statement.

The company did best in information, as well as RE's scientific and medical journals business. Overall sales, however, were weak, especially at the company's B2B magazine, exhibitions unit and Lexis Nexis.

"Sales fell short of our expectations, driven by weaker-than-expected sales at LexisNexis Legal & Professional and Reed Business Information," Reuters reported Michel Veul, an analyst at SNS Securities in Amsterdam, as stating.

The House today is scheduled to vote on a debt ceiling bill that most think has no chance in the Senate. The Senate, meanwhile, is waiting around for the House, while sitting on its own version of a debt ceiling bill that has no chance in the House.

Both bills are nearly identical, and neither bill adds revenue or acts to create jobs.

Meanwhile, the Republicans are beginning to act like Democrats, criticizing each other – one side stating that new House representatives should go along with the party leadership, while the other stating that they are standing up for party principals.

All the while Americans yawn. That includes the markets: today the market opened up flat.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Late afternoon news briefs: Markets tank, probably because the Mets are about to trade Carlos Beltran; S&P cuts Greece's credit rating, yet again

The day started here at TNM with severe thunderstorms and power outages. It is ending with severe thunderstorms and power outages. Oh, and a flood warning that is popping up on my iPad.

The markets have closed at if you are in investor this wasn't a good day. The Dow sank 198.75 points, or just over 1.5 percent, and the Nasdaq fell 75.17 points, or just over 2.5 percent.

Analysts are, of course, pointing to the debt ceiling impasse as the reason. But if nothing changes on that front tomorrow, and the market goes up, what will they say about that? Apple, right?

Cyprus had its credit rating cut because,
well, just because.

Greece had its credit rating cut today by Standard & Poor’s. The rating was already in junk category so no doubt S&P cut it just for the publicity involved in the move.

Meanwhile, Moody's cut the rating for Cyprus. Really? Cyprus?

The New York Times just tweeted that the Mets and the Giants are "on the verge of completing a trade that will send Carlos Beltran to the Giants in exchange for a top prospect who is likely to be Zack Wheeler, a right-handed pitcher taken in the first round of the 2009 draft."

As a Giants fan I suppose that is great news. But that will leave the team with, what, one good good bat in the line-up. Look for Beltran to break the major league walk record if the deal is completed.

In the U.K., The Independent is reporting that The Court of Appeal has upheld a judge's ruling that media monitoring services which provide summaries of news, which originate from the websites of newspapers, need licenses from the newspapers themselves.

The case involves the Dutch-based media monitoring company Meltwater, its UK subsidiary Meltwater News UK Ltd, and the Public Relations Consultants Association, but it will interesting to see if this has ramifications broader than just this ruling.

I know that if such a ruling were to occur in the U.S. there would be a number of companies severely hamstrung, including the e-newsletter company SmartBrief. Then there is that guy that steals whole articles and sends them out every evening (we won't link to or even mention his name).

Survey reveals that editors get the importance of mobile; Google Shopper iPhone app offers local deals, well sort of

A recently released study conducted by the American Society of News Editors with the American Press Institute shows most editors understand the important of mobile, though the study also shows that editors feel their biggest challenge is dealing with staff cutbacks.

The study, found here, found that just under 85 percent of respondents found that "exploiting mobile opportunities as a way of distributing content and building audience" was either important or very important.

But almost 84 percent said that it was very important to "maintain quality writing and editing, despite budget and staff cuts," reflecting the reality of today's newsrooms.

What editors were less enthusiastic about was the prospect of creating new niche products, whether print or digital, or developing content sharing strategies, possibly reflecting a fear that they were merely ways to "do more with less". Editors surveyed were also less thrilled with creating local news blogs.

While the survey is good news for those advocating continued digital development and new strategies for building audiences through new content, it provides a cautionary note that established print editors may not be the most enthusiastic supporters of some of these initiatives – suggesting that new digital teams may be the best route to launch these efforts.

While it is true that some newspapers have embraced social buying programs, either through partnerships with companies like Group Commerce, or by launching their own like Gannett's DealChicken, none (as far as I know) have brought those programs to mobile.

Google, on the other hand, has added a "My Offers" section to its iPhone Google Shopper app. The app provides either a list of offers to be found near-by, or a map showing the offers.

Of course, what Google considers "near-by" probably has more to do with where you live. A NYC or SF resident can probably expect plenty of deals to be found near-by, while someone like myself . . . well, not so much.

But these are the kinds of mobile products newspapers should be embracing. But to do so, these initiatives would have to be driven by the advertising teams. Unfortunately, I am not finding that new media efforts are being driven by the ad teams, instead most new efforts – whether for mobile or tablets – seem to be the exclusive domain of the editorial department.

Braves and Pirates provide a lesson: you see what you want to see, you know what you want to know

If you haven't seen the replay of the way the extra inning game between the Atlanta Braves and the Pittsburgh Pirates ended last night then you can see a video replay on ESPN's website.
For those in situations where watching videos online is not approved here is the background: the game between the Braves and the Pirates went to the 19th inning last night. Both teams are in playoff contention, so the game was pretty important.

With runners at first and third, and less than two outs, pitcher Scott Proctor – batting, I suppose, because there were no one else left to bat – hit a ground ball to third. The third baseman for the Pirates, Pedro Alvarez, threw home to catcher Michael McKenry who appeared to tag the runner out far in front of the plate, twice.

Then, the runner stepped on home and was called safe.

The Pirates went crazy, the announcers, including the Braves announcers, were puzzled by the call, and every one eventually went home – mad or confused.

Fast forward to today and the discussion on the boards online. Surely the question is, as ESPN asks, was this the worst call in baseball history?

Well, actually, this isn't the way the headline read, instead it reads "Was it really the worst call ever?" And that is enough of an opening for some readers on the website to look at the videos more with their hearts and conclude that he was possibly safe.

He wasn't, he was out.

But fans are fans. But so are partisans. And this little lesson in cognitive dissonance helps explain much of what is going on in politics today. Americans act more like fans than citizens, and so are more than eager to justify positions that on the surface appear to be in conflict: kill social security, but continue sending me my checks; keep government out of the health care system, don't touch Medicare; the rich get all the breaks, don't raise taxes.

Given an opening by some media outlets, citizens are encouraged to maintain their denial, hold onto positions that on the surface appear to make no sense. In other words, are provided cover.

For some Braves fans they can watch the video of last night's game a million times, and the longer they see the video the more they will convince themselves that their guy was safe.

Stock market opens down, are investors finally concluding that we are controlled by 'rogue elephants'?

The stock market is a terrible indicator of anything other than panic. Until very recently the stock market indices have climbed despite bad economic news (though corporate earnings have been strong) and few signs that the future holds anything other than recession.

But people care whether the market is up or down, call it the same behavior associated with checking the daily astrology column – they know it doesn't mean anything, but, hey, why not?

This morning the markets opened down sharply, with the Dow down more than 100 points or one percent, and the Nasdaq down over 50 points, or two percent. Is it the case that investors have finally realized that Congress, and the Tea Party led Republicans really are willing to force the government into default?

David P. Barash has an interesting, and sometimes fun column this morning in the New York Times. Writing from Seattle, Barash recaps the negotiating strategies that appear to be being used in the debt limit talks, comparing them to the game of chicken. Surely, the players will eventually flinch and all this posturing will be finished. Or will it?

Barash, a professor of psychology at the University of Washington, says that it is also possible that the Republicans are actually acting more like 'rogue elephants', appearing to be, and actually, totally out of control. In this scenario, Barash states, it would be better if the President just took the Republicans at their word and moved on to govern without them.
Others have concluded the same thing, but those that have also ask the question of whether a move by the President might also rattle the markets, leading eventually to a downgrading of US credit, a downgrade that the President would be blamed for.

Of course, as all this is going along, no one is really paying much attention to the fact that jobs are not being created and the economy is continuing to sputter. Yesterday I took this picture (above) of the Border outlet near my home. The store has survived all the other rounds of store closings until now.

But the real issue here is not one store: in the same shopping center two other major retailers have closed their doors and other smaller ones have, as well. This medium-sized strip mall, located in a fairly middle-to-upper income city, is now 60 to 70 percent vacate (or it will be once the Borders finally closes its doors).

A drive to a neighboring town, less wealthy than the first, revealed a mall that was almost completely vacate, only a couple of very small retailers hanging on.

This very much reminded me of growing up outside of Detroit in the seventies. I never thought, never, that the U.S. would return to those days.

But things will get worse, guaranteed: both parties are sold on austerity, which means more cut backs, more lay offs, less economic activity.

And that's the best case scenario. This morning the markets are not reacting to that possibility, but the possibility that 'rogue elephants' now control our future.

Morning Brief: Economy slows both in US and UK as the cult-of-austerity takes hold; Kobo to go the HTML5 route

Major thunderstorms, power surges and outages are making life a bit more interesting here in the Midwest. Not that we need life to more interesting seeing as events seem to be reaching a crescendo in Washington.

Stock futures this morning fell following news that durable goods sales declined. No surprise since consumer demand remains weak because, you know, cutting back is the new growth strategy.
In the U.K., Labour is on the warpath following news the economy had grown only 0.2% in the spring, and only 0.7% over the past 12 months.

"The economy has effectively flatlined for nine months and this is very bad news for jobs, living standards, business investment and for getting the deficit down," said Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, according to The Guardian.

"Every other major economy in the world has faced challenges like high world oil prices but their economies have continued to recover while Britain has barely grown at all over the last nine months." Well, every major economy except the U.S.

Geez, there go the lights again.

The addition of Nook and Kindle editions to iOS devices presents an interesting dilemma for publishers. Developing a Kindle edition usually means assuming that the end product will be read on a Kindle, with any additional readership elsewhere a bonus.

But for publishers looking to make their two editions more alike this will present a problem of creating a consistent presentation.

Then again, the opposite view has just as much validity: while there are readers eager to view a magazine in what might be called a native iOS format, there are others just as interested in a more book-like experience.

Kobo said yesterday that it is developing an HTML5 web app specifically designed to service iOS users.

The press release calls Kobo "a global leader" in eReading because it has 4 million users. But clearly they are not going to get Apple's attention at those numbers, not to mention the reader has been tied somewhat to Borders, the now bankrupt book retailer in the middle of liquidating. Further, how many of those readers are using the Kobo app on an iOS device versus a Kobo device itself?

The situation, therefore, is pretty dire for Kobo, and with Apple insisting that any in-app purchases go through their system it means that Kobo must either comply or find a way to go around the Apple store. And so we have another HTML5 advocate.

Kobo believes in providing an open platform for users, and our HTML5 development will support the company's current app strategy to reach a broader base of users worldwide," said Michael Serbinis, Kobo's CEO. "HTML5 allows us to add more features and update our popular Reading Life social experience far more quickly, providing an agile method to deliver advanced enhancements to consumers without limitation."

Another argument for "open". But do customers really like "open", or do they like "it just works"?

Man, the power supply is making strange noises. I think this post is over.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Newsday brings PDF version of amNewYork to the iPad

The morning tabloid amNewYork is owned by Newsday, which itself was bought from the Tribune Company by Cablevision two years back. The free morning daily depends on distribution, getting the product into people's hands easily and inexpensively in order to make its business model work. Distribution via the iPad, then, would seem to make a lot of sense.
Today Newsday released a universal app for amNewYork, a free download that also gives readers access to the free tabloid once the reader has registered.

As you'd expect, this is a simple replica edition. Issues can be read directly, assuming you have an Internet connection, or downloaded for reading offline. Since the newspaper is hardly blowin' out their numbers, ad wise, the 24 page issues are fairly quickly downloaded.

The problem with replicas like this, of course, is that the look rather strange in landscape. In this case, amNewYork doesn't really fit the screen very well. In portrait, however, the experience is more pleasant. On an iPhone . . . well, it's good that the target audience skews young, because reading is otherwise quite a challenge.

With a publisher claimed circulation of around 345K, getting readers to migrate to a tablet would represent quite a boat load of savings, making this experiment well worth trying.

This is the third universal app released by Newsday. The first, the app for the flagship newspaper, said that content would be available free for a limited time. That was late last year. The content remains free and the app has remained unchanged since its last update on December 22.

The second app is called Newsday FunBook 2011 and cost $4.99 to download – its was released July 1 of this year. Probably the less said about that one the better as reader reviews have not been kind.

Top left: the reader registration page; Top right: downloading an issue.
Bottom left: the cover seen in landscape; Bottom right: 2 pages in landscape.

Retweet: My Summer at an Indian Call Center

Andrew Marantz does something very difficult: he writes an in depth article about his experiences at an Indian call center without getting heavily bogged down in politics. It is especially noteworthy that he does this because his article appears in this next month's issue of Mother Jones.

My Summer at an Indian Call Center is a sometime sunny, always insightful look at life as a call center employee in Gurgaon, a low paying profession that employs hundreds of thousands of Indians, and one American last summer, Andrew Marantz.

In the Delhi area alone, maybe 100,000 call-center agents make their living selling vitamins to Britons or helping Americans troubleshoot their printers. I am almost certainly the only one who acquired his conversational skills accidentally—by being born in the United States.

While Marantz shies away from talking about the number jobs moved offshore from the United States, or the huge number of American companies that have call centers in India, Mother Jones does provide a handy chart, as well as links to related stories.

While I would heartily recommend Instapapering Marantz's story, I would also recommend looking at this one: Overworked America: 12 Charts that Will Make Your Blod Boil from last month. Here is one of the charts used in the story. The chart shows the gains made by the top 1 percent of wage earners (red) against the rise in productivity (green) and the average overall gain in wages (blue).


A few rhetorical questions about Gannett's DealChicken

I try and stay optimistic, especially when I see traditional publishers attempt to break into the digital space. In fact, I just this morning wrote on another site questioning the basic premise that "digital" is by definition challenging to print publishers – isn't that why TNM readers come here, to hear about digital?

But back to Gannett: today the media company announced that they are rolling out their own group buying service nationally. Called, believe it or not, DealChicken, the social buying service was previously tested in Phoenix and now it is being launched elsewhere, supposedly.
So here are a few questions about DealChicken, if they may really just be rhetorical:

1. If DealChicken is being rolled out nationally, why does the website say "Coming Soon"? Has it launched or not. (In fact, the program is only available still in select markets.)

2. The press release talks about " a new and unique daily deals business", what is unique about DealChicken?

3. GroupOn is successful because it is committed to sales, especially inside sales. Gannett says “DealChicken builds on Gannett’s unparalleled local market presence and digital strength,” said David Payne, senior vice president and chief digital officer.

So . . . has Gannett hired a new sales staff for DealChicken, or added on to the sales staffs at its local newspaper sites? Or is this being handed to the existing local sales teams, teams that have been downsized over the past decade?

OK, enough. I think launching one's own digital brands is great. Really. This is precisely what the company needs to do. But Gannett just yesterday announced a new addition to the executive team, Debra Goetz will join Gannett in a newly created position of veep of marketing. This on the heals of the announcement last month that the company was eliminating 700 positions.

Apple adds New Home section to App Store; promotes RE apps from service companies as well as publishers

As a former classified advertising manager (CAM) I cringe every Sunday when the Chicago Tribune hits out driveway. The once massive help-wanted section is now a couple pages stuck in the back of the Business section. Real estate, too, has suffered, as much from the economy as from media fragmentation, but it, too, is not what it once was.

Sadly, the loss of real estate advertising within the newspaper industry comes at a time when newspapers, if creative, could become relevant again to realtors. With the explosive growth of both mobile and tablet publishing, realtors will need to find ways to gain access to these new devices, either through their own apps, through new media apps from and national real estate companies, or through local apps, created by whoever is smart and skilled enough to create them.

The Apple App Store's
New Home section.

Apple today revealed their own real estate section of sorts. The App Store's "New Home" section is mostly a way to help organize and promote real estate apps that are already in the App Store, attempting to keep them from getting lost in the thousands of apps there.

"New Home" to Apple, of course, doesn't mean new construction, it simply means "real estate" as many of the apps there are from familiar faces such as, Zillow and Coldwell Banker.

Apple has organized the area into three categories: Finding Your Home Build & Decorate, and Tools for Living.
There are a couple apps from publishers to be found here: the Wall Street Journal has its WSJ House of the Day app here, an app that is a voyeuristic look at gaudy homes for the super wealthy; and Martha Stewart Living Magazine for iPad is here, as well, though the app still does not offer subscriptions and the app has proved to be buggy.

Both apps, interestingly, are probably miscategorized: the WSJ app is under Build & Decorate, while the Martha Stewart app is under Tools for Living, when it really about decoration – proving once again that Apple is rather stubborn about not bringing into the company those who are at all familiar with dealing with media.

While mobile and tablets are presenting newspaper publishers with a golden opportunity to rejuvenate their real estate business, I can think of three serious obstacles to newspapers becoming serious players in their space.

First, many newspapers have lost contact with their customers over the years as the real estate business declined in their papers. When I worked as a CAM in the Los Angeles area, and again in the Bay Area, attending real estate meetings, and making sure my local Coldwell Banker marketing people were happy was a full time job. I remember fighting off other CAMs because the regional Coldwell Banker office was in my territory and remember taking a huge gamble by having a meeting with others in the newspaper company with the client and asking the client directly who they wanted to have handle their account (luckily they were very happy with us).

Second, the decision by many publishers to outsource app development means that they can not create new apps in a timely fashion, and on their own timetables. Like the Sun Times, which has decided to outsource its printing to the Tribune Company, not having complete control over production means one is severely handicapped.

Finally, with media gurus advocating for publishers to stay away from anything to do with Apple, and pooh poohing the iPad as a useless toy, the reality is that too many publishers are listening to voices that want to keep them locked into outdated publishing strategies. I admit that I remain in a minority, I simply don't see mobile and tablets going away. But sadly the denialists are in ascendancy, clearly the iPad is a failure, and tablets will go the way of the Internet. Oh, wait a minute . . .

While a couple of newspapers have launched mobile or tablet real estate products, none seem committed to them. The New York Times app for the iPhone was one of the first, but the app has not been updated since October of last year, and complaints are still be written about crashes and searches (though these may have been fixed by now).
NYTimes Real Estate, though, does touch a bit on a point of differentiation that could help newspaper apps succeed.

Our application combines award-winning New York Times Real Estate articles with in-depth property search tools designed to surface listing details for the most desirable properties on the market.

While I would say that strong editorial would be more useful in a tablet app than a mobile app, this is, nonetheless, one area newspapers are at an advantage.

The NYT mobile app also includes other features that are useful such as local school information, sales information, etc. The phone app also smartly uses maps so that buyers can find homes nearby – though a look at the app this morning reveal very few listings, making on wonder if appearing on the map is an upcharge.

Morning Brief: Barnes & Noble announces its own newsstand for the iPad, to come; NYT profiles Anonymous hackers; the sad spectacle of U.S. politics

It's a bit hard sometimes to figure out what is in the mind of tech companies that announce products way in advance of their actual launch – which sometimes happens and sometimes not. I guess the temptation to yell "hey, lookee here, we're doing something, too" is just too strong.
Barnes & Noble yesterday fell into the same trap by announcing that "soon" iPad owners will be able to access newspapers and magazines from its NOOK newsstand on their iPads. I guess you'd call it a slap back at Apple which has forced retailers like B&N to strip out their direct buy links from their apps, making them dedicated reader apps rather than marketplaces.

“Millions of iOS device owners have downloaded our free NOOK apps, and with our upcoming NOOK for iPad update, our customers will have access to one of the largest digital collections of interactive magazines and top newspapers through a highly advanced, seamless reading experience,” said Jamie Iannone, President of Digital Products, Barnes & Noble in the company's announcement.

Now all they need is to actually update the app.

The New York Times today profiles those arrested in the Anonymous hacker episodes. The article is fairly depressing: those arrested are typically young, politically committed, and hardly what you would call hard core hackers.

One of those interviewed, Drew Phillips, said that when the FBI came knocking on his door his response was “What, did I download one too many movies?” Now Phillips is facing up to 15 years in jail for their activities which included hacking into the website Paypal in retaliation for the company cutting off donation processing for WikiLeaks.

One of those arrested, Keith Downey of Jacksonville, Fla., said “I need to set up a donation Web site for my legal expenses. I definitely will not use PayPal.”

So why exactly did the President take to the airwaves yesterday? His speech made him look weak the same way Rep. Boehner always looks orange. Obama pleads for compromise (again) while the opposition goes on its merry way.

In the end, no is now talking about higher taxes on the wealthy (they win again), Obama has offered up cuts that will effect the poor and the middle class, while the Republicans simply want a big club to strike at the President.

Politics has become like a new version of American Idol where all the contestants NOT chosen to appear on television are the ones on their screens; where the audience, no matter their political persuasion, get to laugh and throw things at those on television. Tell me this whole this whole thing wasn't thought up by someone in programming at Fox.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Cooler heads prevail when dealing with Apple's App Store purchase rules: most retailers quietly update their apps

It's the end of the world as we know it, or not. As Apple's June 30 deadline came and went the world did not explode and few apps got booted out of the App Store. Instead, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other quietly updated their apps, taking out direct links to website retail stores, essentially converting their apps into "reader" apps.

The Kindle iOS app, prior to the update,
still with its Kindle Store link in tact.

Back in February, Apple let it be known that it would ban apps that had links to out-of-App Store retail sites, forcing retailers and publishers to either use the Apple in-app purchase option or else convert their apps to "reader" apps – apps that can display content but in which customers can not buy the service within the app. Netflix, as an example, is popular with iPad owners, but one must become a customer directly on the Netflix, using that user information in their iPad app.

Tech writers spilled a lot of ink wondering if Amazon would pull out to the App Store, and which publishers would join in some phantom rush to other platforms. But no such thing has happened, instead, Amazon today updated its app to bring it into compliance.

Some writers have even said that Google had withdrawn its Google Books app. Well, no. An update was just issued for the app and it can be found safely inside the App Store – no need to see if the sky is falling.

But that doesn't mean competitors to Apple like the rules. No, Amazon made their opinion quite clear by letting customers know why this update is occurring: "This update removes the Kindle Store button from the app" reads the app description. The description then goes on to promote the Kindle Store and its newspaper and magazine offerings.

Of course just because an app has been updated doesn't mean the user has to go ahead and do the update. My iTunes program is currently telling me that I have updates waiting from Amazon and Google, but I can either just ignore them, or safer yet, delete the apps from iTunes, keeping them on my device instead. These apps are all free, after all, so if necessary they can be downloaded again later.

The Wall Street Journal said today that it will comply with App Store rules, though they have not issued an update just yet.

"We remain concerned that Apple's own subscription [rules] would create a poor experience for our readers, who would not be able to directly manage their WSJ account or to easily access our content across multiple platforms," a Journal spokeswoman is quoted as stating in the WSJ story on the app.

Meanwhile the WSJ is currently promoting its appearance in an iPad 2 commercial in its app description: "See us featured in Apple's latest iPad2 commercial."

Guess there is no reason to piss off Apple by making too big a deal out of all this seeing as how they are giving them free publicity, huh?

Short takes: Gondon asks 'What killed Quicken?', while Elizabeth Drew asks 'What were they thinking?'

With so much news breaking – Oslo, debt ceiling, Pirates in first place – there was bound to be good stories to read in the media. Here are a few that might interest you to save in Instapaper:

Gordon's Notes: What killed Intuit's Quicken?

John Gordon writes about the demise of Quicken and comes up with a few good answers but ultimately blames the decline of the middle class.

Quicken is not an interesting product for people with millions of dollars to manage. They will largely use professional money managers. Quicken is not an interesting product for people with very limited savings and investments, particularly if the investments are largely concentrated in 401K accounts. The natural market for Quicken was individuals and families with significant financial complexity but not wealth.

Over the past fifteen years that market went away.

I think Gordon is absolutely right about this. But I also think that the same phenomenon can be blamed for at least part of the loss of newspaper subscribers – notice that I used "subscribers" versus "readers". While newspaper circulation continues to fall, those used to their morning paper are not abandoning the news, they are abandoning the newspaper subscription bill.

If newspapers want to survive they better make sure their demographic does not disappear.

Elizabeth Drew: What were they thinking?

Writing on The New York Review of Books, Drew about debt ceiling negotiations and asks the obvious question about the Obama administration's negotiating tactics.

In early July, when Obama suddenly injected Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid into the deficit and debt negotiations, many, perhaps most, Democrats were dismayed. They believed that the President was offering up the poor and the needy as a negotiating gambit. (His position was that if the Republicans would give on taxes, he’d give on entitlements.) A bewildered Pelosi said after that meeting, “He calls this a Grand Bargain?”

Geoffrey Wheatcroft: Letting Murduch in through the back door.

Also in The New York Review of Books, Wheatcroft looks at the phone hacking scandal and provides a good summary of events in the case so far, concentrating on the relationship between the Murdoch press and politicians.

On election day in 1992, the Sun surpassed itself with the front page headline, “If Neil Kinnock wins today will the last person to leave Britain turn out the lights,” and once the Tories had been re-elected (and Kinnock had resigned as Labour leader) a Tory fundraiser said off the cuff that they really owed their victory to the tabloids. This remark produced the gloatingly boastful front page announcing: “It was the Sun wot won it.” It probably wasn’t, but Blair was persuaded that it was.

Irish-Vatican and UK-News Corp. events explore similar themes: representative governments do battle with the behind-the-scene power brokers

It is not hard to see the similarities between two ongoing scandals: the Catholic Church child abuse scandal in Ireland, and the U.K. phone hacking scandal.

In both case, powerful, behind-the-scene players are seen as power brokers, with the upfront politicians often placating the powerful players who promote them.

In the U.K., that player, of course, is Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. It's U.K. division, News International owns important newspapers in The Times, The Sun, and until recently, the News of the World. It is also a partial owner of BSkyB, the biggest British pay TV provider.

Prime Ministers from both the Conservative and Labour parties have courted the support of News International, and Rupert Murdoch himself has been seen at 10 Downing Street, and David Cameron, then out of power, got into a bit of trouble for accepting a flight to visit Murdoch in Greece back in 2008.

As the phone scandal erupted Cameron found himself in the middle of things: not only did he employ a former News of the World editor to be his communications director, but his party was seen as supporting News International's efforts to take over the rest of BSkyB. This has presented an opening for Ed Miliband, leader of Labour who has surprised many with his strong denunciations of both the Tories (no surprise) and News Corp.

What happened in Ireland last week has almost gone unnoticed here in the U.S. Enda Kenny, Ireland's Taoiseach (Prime Minister), and leader of the Fine Gael party, gave a speech which directly accused the Vatican of frustrating attempts to investigate cases of child abuse. In a country that is strongly Catholic, the speech was a sharp rebuke of the Church, and a clear sign that Kenny would not act in fear of the Vatican.
The Irish leader's speech was the subject this weekend of Maureen Dowd's New York Times column.

She described Kenny's speech this way: Pulling back the curtain to expose the profane amid the sacred would have been remarkable coming from any leader in one of the many countries scarred by pedophile priests, but from the devoutly Catholic prime minister of a nation whose constitution once enshrined the special position of the church, it was breathtaking.

She, too, saw parallels with the phone hacking scandal, referring to Rupert Murdoch as "the pope of Fleet Street".

This issue here, of course, is the influence media and church leaders have in their ability to present messages to their readers, viewers or followers. When does the words of a politician outweigh the constant drum beat of reporters, news anchors or clergy? Rarely.

So it is news, indeed, when politicians decide to rebel. But one should be cautious here: for every action there will be a reaction and we are seeing it already in the pages of the WSJ, The Australian and Fox News. With the attention of most of the press on the debt ceiling issue, is it likely News Corp. will have to worry about the phone hacking scandal coming to America thanks to the speeches of politicians? I have my doubts.

Retweet: The Guardian interview with Alan Moore

Every once in a while I like to simply point to an interesting article appearing elsewhere, like this interview appearing right now on the home page of The Guardian: an interview with Alan Moore, comic book author, whose latest work is League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Century 1969.

Alan Moore. Photograph by Murdo Macleod, courtesy of The Guardian.

The interview conducted by Subhajit Banerjee is worth reading in whole, assuming you are into comic books, or graphic novels, or whatever they might be called. I'm not, to be honest.

But I am interested in what the author has to say about his books, how he sets in them, and most importantly, his thoughts on tablet publishing.

When Moore is asked about whether his books could benefit from hyperlinks and such through appearing on a tablet Moore explains who his books are laid out for print and how things are done for a certain reason.
So what I'm saying is that I don't think these devices are quite there yet but they have some very interesting possibilities. But before we would be thinking about putting something like the League into that format, I would want to think long and hard about the possible advantages of that new medium and the ways in which my storytelling craft would have to be adapted to best effect from this new medium. Much the same as when comics were just a 24-page thing that you drew on pieces of paper. I was always trying to find what the medium was capable of and to push it as far as possible. Like I said I've been having some thoughts about this. People shouldn't be too surprised if they were to hear something about me working in this kind of area.
It shouldn't be surprising that an author who really thinks through how his work appears in print would be concerned about how they would appear on a tablet. This may be why most of the good work currently being done on tablets is either coming from independent publishers who are working exclusively on the new platform, or from those who are in control of the appearance of their publications in print and on the tablet.

Last week, while talking about the tablet editions being produced by Tribune Interactive, I lamented the sameness of the iPad apps and commented briefly about how they appear to be produced away from the local products. I assume that local editors, so concerned with the look and feel of their local newspapers are being left out of the design decisions of the tablet editions.

I know I am beating the drum incessantly here, but to me it is obvious that if a publisher does not treat their tablet editions as separate though related products they will end up producing a tablet edition that is weak and ill conceived.

Morning Brief: Apple adds 33 more countries to App Store roster; U.S. media slow to reject single-sourced jihad claim; the debt ceiling talks and highway robbery

Need to reach readers in Anguilla? Well, now Apple makes it a bit easier by opening up its iTunes App Store and Mac App Store to another 33 more countries – 123 in total now.
The list of new countries may not make a media mogul salivate, but they do fill in some gaps in Apple's coverage, necessary if the company is going to downloads-only for new software:

Algeria, Angola, Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Bahrain, Barbados, Belarus, Belize, Bermuda, Bolivia, British Virgin Islands, Brunei, Cayman Islands, Cyprus, Dominica, Ghana, Grenada, Guyana, Iceland, Montserrat, Nigeria, Oman, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and The Grenadines, Suriname, Tanzania, Trinidad and Tobago, Turks and Caicos, Uzbekistan, Yemen
But based on the pictures I've seen online of Anguilla, I would think it best that you convince your boss that you need to visit the country in order to determine if it is a good place to do business.

As events unfolded Friday in Oslo, the media was hard pressed to inform readers who was behind the twin attacks in Norway. The first "credible" reports said that a previously unknown group called "Helpers of the Global Jihad" had taken credit for the attacks.

Where did that information originate, and why was it that the American press was so late in moving away from this information?

Reports this morning point to a single source for the original information that "Helpers of the Global Jihad" had claimed responsibility: Will McCants, adjunct faculty at Johns Hopkins University. His post here appears to have been the source of the information.

The real question, in my mind, was why one third party source good enough to go with at the NYT? Later, once the NYT had passed on the claim, other news sources followed suit. This unanimity in the press is why I passed on the information myself in my first post on the subject.

But my last post Friday said that it looked like the attacker was "Nordic" and that one person was to blame for both attacks. I passed on that information because I could see that the Norwegian press was further along on the story, and was quoting people directly involved in the case. After posting my update I saw that The Guardian, within its live news blog, was reporting the same information.

But the U.S. media continued to be several hours behind and continuing to stubbornly report the McCants claim. Why was this? If one blogger, equipped with Chrome, could translate the reports coming out of Norway, why couldn't the NYT and Washington Post?

The news this week will be dominated, no doubt, by the debt ceiling issue.

I can't help but feel that I am watching a bank robbery in slow motion. One side insists on huge cuts that will effect the poor and middle class while demanding guarantees that the wealthy will not have their taxes raises, while the other side is saying that they will agree to cuts that will effect the poor and the middle class and say they will not raise taxes on the wealthy.

And yet the two sides currently won't come to an agreement. Yet.

Face it, they will come to an agreement in the end. And at the end, one side will say there was not enough cuts, and the other will say there was not enough sacrifice on the part of the wealthy. But in the end, there will be cuts that will effect the poor and middle class, and there will be no increases in the tax rates of the wealthy.