Friday, September 9, 2011

Friday afternoon short takes: Debt crisis in Europe becomes critical, markets tank in U.S. and Europe but WSJ blames Obama (of course); Adobe introduces Flash Media Server 4.5, bringing Flash content to iOS devices

Short takes on a Friday afternoon where the stock markets worldwide are committing seppuku.

WSJ: US Stock Futures Lower; Little Solace From Obama Jobs Proposal

Oh, grow up! The stock market today is not reacting to President Obama's speech. Look at what is happening worldwide: the Dax (Germany) is down four percent and the CAC 40 (France) is down over three.

Let's let the adults talk about things...

naked capitalism: Few options left to save the euro zone

In June, I wrote that the chances of a euro zone breakup are now increasing, giving background for the current political turmoil surrounding Greece. My conclusion was “the policy decisions that governments and the EU are making cannot be maintained politically in the periphery or in the core”. A few days later, Nouriel Roubini wrote a very good note explaining then why the Eurozone could break up over a five-year horizon. We both stated that the key to maintaining the euro zone at all was the potential for closer integration of the member states. But the German Constitutional Court decision makes this nearly impossible.
The discussion in the comments is almost as good as the post itself.

ABCNews: Feds: Zawahiri Launched Al Qaeda Terror Plot for 9/11 Anniversary
U.S. authorities are scrambling to sort through information that the CIA developed in the past 24 hours indicating that at least three individuals entered the U.S. in August by air with the intent to launch a vehicle-borne attack against Washington, D.C. or New York around the anniversary of 9/11, according to intelligence officials.

Officials say the alleged terror plot was initiated by new al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's successor, who had pledged to avenge bin Laden's death earlier this year in a U.S. raid.
Computerworld: Adobe brings Flash-free-Flash to Apple iPad, iPhone

I didn't write about this yesterday but this may end up being a big thing, or maybe not. Basically what this is all about is Adobe recognizing that Apple won't be changing their minds about Flash anytime soon and rather than allowing a third party to come up with a HTML5 streaming option they've done it themselves through Flash Media Server 4.5.

Just to be crystal clear: this not about adding Flash to your iPhone or iPad, this is about allowing Flash content to be streamed to these devices by having the originating server convert the content so it can be viewed on an iOS device. It's an Adobe product, to be sold to Adobe.

The alternative would be that you don't use Flash at all, in which case Adobe loses, so it is easy to see why they finally are moving in this direction.

Oh, and this will certainly cost you From the announcement: Adobe Flash Access 3.0 is offered at per unit CPM pricing. Adobe Flash Media Streaming Server 4.5 is offered at US$995. Adobe Flash Media Interactive Server 4.5 is offered at US$4,500.

WSJ: Apple Wins Battle Over Samsung in Patent War

I've had this story as part of the Short Takes headlines seen at the top-right of this page all day. To me this all getting boring, but if this is your cup of tea...

mobiheathnews: US regulators remove two acne medical apps
In a watershed moment, the FTC this week fined two app developers who falsely advertised that their smartphone apps could treat acne. The apps, AcneApp and Acne Pwner, were sold in the iTunes App Store and Android Marketplace, respectively. The settlements ban the developers from stating certain health-related claims without scientific evidence. AcneApp’s developer has to pay the FTC $14,294 and the developer of Acne Pwnder must pay $1,700.
Turns out that these apps were removed from the app stores long ago, though the read question should be 'how did they get approved in the first place?'

More short takes:
  • Bloomberg: AOL Said to Discuss Deal With Yahoo Advisers – party like it's 1999!
  • More Bad News For Groupon: Sales Team Files Class-Action Suit – Of course, it's a boiler room. That's what the business model is.
  • CNN: Stocks plunge amid deeper fears about Europe – Hey, somebody got it right.
  • PCWorld: Google Music Comes to iOS as Web App – I didn't even know Google had a band?

Google finally brings Blogger to the iPhone

For the past year or so it has been possible to post to your Blogger controlled website from the iPhone through work around methods such as email. But until today Google hasn't had its own iPhone app. But Google finally solved that with the release of its own branded app, Blogger.
For Google, this is the 13th iPhone app under their name in the App Store, but for users of Blogger this will be the most important.

The free app allows you to manage all your blogs managed through Blogger, to post, edit and more. And while this doesn't negate the huge steps WordPress has taken to make their platform the preferred platform for many bloggers, this app will certainly help those already on Google's blogging platform.

Probably the best thing about the new Blogger app is its image settings which will certainly help when snapping pictures on the go and creating posts.

So far Google has not released an iPad version of the app which might be helpful as the web version of Blogger is a bit of a pain to use on an iPad (though a wireless keyboard helps). Of course, this iPhone app will install on your iPad, though because it lacks a landscape mode it isn't much of alterative to simply using Safari to manage your account.

Left: this site as seen with the new Blogger app; Middle: the posting dialogue box; Right: default settings for image sizes.

Morning Brief: President Obama outlines 'American Jobs Act'; Fed Chief Bernanke blames depressed consumers; MediaNews Group deal with Righthaven ends this month

Last night the President gave a speech before Congress timed to avoid the start of the NFL's first football game, but smack in the middle of rush hour on the west coast. But whether you were able to see the speech or not the reactions to it were incredibly predictable.

Called the American Jobs Act, the President's proposals are a mix of tax cuts and credits with investments, adding up to a $447 billion package. "It will provide a jolt to an economy that has stalled," the President said last night. "You should pass this jobs plan right away."

So does the President's plan have a chance of passing?

"This isn't a jobs plan. It's a re-election plan," said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.

"I worry a little bit about what he's going to do for Medicare, Medicaid," Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) told CBS News' Scott Pelley last night.

So there you have it. But for what it is worth, the UPI actually bothered to ask an economist what they thought the plan would achieve. According to their story, Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, said the Obama plan would probably cut the unemployment rate by a percentage point.

Apparently the Fed Chief thinks past of the problem for the slowing economy lies with consumers. Speaking at an event in Minneapolis yesterday, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said that “Even taking into account the many financial pressures that they face, households seem exceptionally cautious.”

According to the NYT story of the speech, the Fed Chairman did recognize the blows consumers have suffered. “The persistently high level of unemployment, slow gains in wages for those who remain employed, falling house prices, and debt burdens that remain high," Bernanke said.

But, you see, if only those laid off, unemployed consumers would just start buying cars, houses and jewelry the economy would be OK again. Damn those wretched poor!

Speaking of those pessimistic unemployed, reports this morning say that Bank of America could layoff 30,000 (Charlotte Observer) to 40,000 (WSJ) employees in a major restructuring. This is on top of the cuts to staff the embattled bank is making in its investment banking division.

Bank of America has become a catch phrase for everything that is wrong in banking today, but younger readers probably are unaware that this is not the same bank that helped build California and was once known as the Bank of Italy because it served the immigrant community of San Francisco. No, this current BofA is the result of Nation's Bank acquiring the company in 1998 and changing the new entities name to Bank of America.

In a phone interview with Wired, John Paton, the head of Digital First Media, the combination of the Journal Register Company and MediaNews Group, said that the deal MediaNews Group had with Righthaven will end at the end of this month. Righthaven is the Las Vegas company that files copyright infringement lawsuits against bloggers and other website owners over copying clips of news stories that appear on their client's websites.

“I come from the idea that it was a dumb idea from the start,” Paton told Wired.

The idea may be dumb, but as Wired reminds readers, the lawsuits have proved even dumber as most have been instantly thrown out by the presiding judges.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Once Magazine tries out the same business plan as Nomad, sharing subscription revenue with contributors

This is certainly a time of experimentation in digital publishing, where publishers try and figure out which business models will work for the web, mobile media and tablet publishing. Once Magazine, the San Francisco-based photo-journalism magazine started by Jackson Solway, is attempting to launch using pretty much the same business model as that being used by Nomad Editions: the publisher shares subscription revenue with their contributors.

At Nomad Editions, the publisher is the one with the platform and the contributors are those that create new "magazines", all designed in a similar fashion by the publisher's design team. Nomad Editions then adds the magazine to its own iPad newsstand and when readers subscribe to a particular title Nomad shares some of the revenue with the "publisher" of the individual title.
The model at Once Magazine is somewhat similar: each issue of the tablet magazine is made up of three photography features. The photographer will then get a share of the subscription revenue collected for that particular issue.

If one were cynical one could say it is a cheap way to get content. But let's be a believer and say that this is a potentially revolutionary way of paying photographers.

What we realized was simple: photographs look great on the iPad. Long-form narrative photography has a broad audience but has outgrown the cost and presentation of traditional print. Through new storytelling techniques only possible on digital platforms like the iPad, Once allows photographers to tell their stories in full.

In every issue, we publish three stories of about twenty-five full-screen photographs with captions, an introductory text essay, and interactive features. Our editors work closely with photographers and writers to develop an engaging narrative that is not possible in print. The stories are not centered on a specific theme or location, but chosen for their narrative appeal, journalistic insight, and photographic quality. 
A viable publishing platform in the digital age calls for a new business model. Along with new marketing strategies and delivery methods, we prioritize contributors: we split all subscription revenue directly with photographers.
– from the Once Magazine website
As for the app, it launched about two weeks ago while TNM was in hibernation and so far the app has gotten a bit of press, as well as 42 five-star reviews (though one often wonders about these things).

The app weighs in at only 55.6 MB, a pretty small size for a photography app. The reason for this is that the magazine offers only landscape view – probably a pretty good decision since most photographs use this orientation. There is only animation on the cover – the word "Once" being written out. After that the layouts are pretty standard. There is, however, some embedded audio, which is nicely used.

The app shows that you don't have to go overboard with programming.

The app is free to download, and like the British Journal of Photography app previously written about (see the previous post) this one gives you the "pilot issue" free. According to the story in the Bay Citizen, the plan is to charge $2.99 for future issues (for this issue the photographers were paid a flat fee).
Left: an animated GIF of the TOC showing the three photo features; Right: a typical feature layout with both photography and text, this one with some embedded audio content.

A look at the staff page at the end of the Once Magazine app makes one's jaw drop – I counted sixteen names, not counting the "advisors" and design team (which makes one sense that this app wasn't developed in-house).

So this app is the polar opposite of Letter to Jane, the indy magazine from Tim Moore. Moore, out of Portland, Oregon, is essentially a one-man show who has taught himself how to create an iPad app and has three editions so far in the App Store.

For Once Magazine, Jackson used ProFounder to raise funds to get things started, and certainly one doubts that all these people are actually on payroll. Additionally, some of the positions titles makes one giggle a bit (for instance, in addition to a CEO there is also a "publisher", though that person's only previous job out of college was as manager of a wine tour). So hopefully the cash bleeding won't be too bad because one would like to see more start-ups like this one, attempts to see if new business models can work for the new tablet platform.

Google acquires Zagat, publisher of restaurant guides

The Zagat website is letting its members know that the company that publishes restaurant guides has been acquired by Google.

This may be the most important announcement in our 32 years of business: We have been acquired by another great company, Google. Nina and I will continue to be active in the business as co-Chairs; however, the merger of our resources, expertise and platforms with those of Google will give us the opportunity to greatly expand. We have spent enough time with Google senior management to know that they fully share our belief in user-generated content, and our commitment to accuracy and fairness in providing consumers with the information necessary to make smart decisions about where to eat, travel and shop.
In any case, this acquisition certainly makes a lot of sense for Google. First of all, Google loves data, and Zagat's data is consumer generated – all the better. One can imagine Zagat's consumer reviews showing up on Google Maps very soon.

Second, this eliminates an obvious point of differentiation for competitors. There have been rumors that Apple and others might want to get into this space, but just as in search, Google is the preferred and obvious choice of consumers.

"Moving forward," wrote Marissa Mayer, VP, Local, Maps and Location Services on the official Google blog, "Zagat will be a cornerstone of our local offering—delighting people with their impressive array of reviews, ratings and insights, while enabling people everywhere to find extraordinary (and ordinary) experiences around the corner and around the world."

The skinny for publishers: stop being product-oriented and start being data-oriented. Build new products around the data rather than being fixated on ways to protect the old products.

Retweet: Rice University claims breakthrough in cell technology; 'full-duplex' allows two-way transmissions

Talking Points Memo found this story and has it on its website now, but since it might prove to be important for mobile technology I thought it a could idea to retweet it here.

Researchers at Rice University say they have developed a breakthrough in cell phone technology, called "full-duplex", which will allow cell phones and other devices using wireless communication to both "talk" and "listen" at the same time. This technology would allow for higher quality streaming of data without requiring two separate frequencies.

"Our solution requires minimal new hardware, both for mobile devices and for networks, which is why we've attracted the attention of just about every wireless company in the world," said Ashutosh Sabharwal, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Rice, in the university's announcement. "The bigger change will be developing new wireless standards for full-duplex. I expect people may start seeing this when carriers upgrade to 4.5G or 5G networks in just a few years."

You can read the entire announcement on the Rice website, but here is a nice video the university made which goes a long way in explaining the idea:

B2Bs continue to launch vendor developed replica editions without reader qualification mechanisms

A slew of new magazine tablet editions have been released following the Labor Day holiday. This is the first of several posts on the new iPad apps.

While the consumer magazine field continues to explore many different models for creating tablet editions of their titles, the B2B industry remains far behind. Part of the reason for this, of course, is the small staff sizes and lack of technology expertise many B2Bs deal with. As a result, most B2B publishers are at the mercy of the services their printers and other vendors can offer.
The result is that replica editions rule the day. These exact duplicates of the print edition are extension of the digital flipbook many of these vendors also offer. And while a few publishers are beginning to require that readers register to access the flipbook, most do not leading to unqualified readership and a complete lack of understanding of who is reading the digital product.

Yesterday a slew of replica editions for B2B publications hit the App Store including these two from RR Donnelley, the giant printing company. Donnelley currently has 26 different iPad apps under its own name, and 19 iPhone apps available.

Building Design+Construction is the former Reed Business Information (RBI) trade magazine that serves the commercial architectural and construction markets. The BPA audited magazine reaches 75,000 subscribers. When the book was closed, along with dozens of others, in the RBI divestiture of U.S. properties it was relaunched by its publishing team. It is now part of SGC Horizon, a division of Scranton Gillette Communications. (Disclosure: I worked for SGC from 1995 to 2000.)

The new iPad app, Building Design+Construction Magazine, is a typical RR Donnelley offering: it is free and was released under Donnelley's name, not the publishers. It offers minimal interactivity (just a few live links) and can be read in both portrait and landscape, though like all replicas it really doesn't work well in landscape.
For publisher desperate to have anything in the App Store to placate inquiries from advertisers who want to know what the publisher is doing about mobile and tablets, this kind of app does the trick, I suppose.

The app does offer the ability to read the stories as text only. Like all converted flipbooks, there are some enhancements added like an advertiser index and navigation tools.

Glass Magazine is a nearly identical application, only this one is being sold under the name of Dartmouth Printing Company. The 11 time per year trade journal is the official publication of the National Glass Association.

What both apps share in common is a little line stuck in their app descriptions: "Included patent-pending Media Deck ™ technology." The only company that uses this term is Blue Toad so one wonders if Blue Toad is doing these apps for the printers.

In the end I think B2Bs would be wise to demand more from their vendors than these unbranded iPad apps. If a publication is still BPA audited then reader qualification mechanisms seem a minimum requirement. Luckily, Apple is a little more lenient about links and forms when the app is free of charge.

Further, launching app under your own name is very easy process, and the $99 charge is hardly going to be a backbreaker any company – especially since the charge is incurred by the company, not the magazine title (in other words, if you have ten apps the fee is still $99).

Back in the mid-to-late nineties B2B media companies were spurred onto the web by pure play competitors like VerticalNet. We may need another pure play, a company that launches tablet-only B2B publications, in order to force the hand of the established B2Bs to start taking tablet publishing more seriously.

Morning Brief: The TechCrunch M&A lesson; Daily Herald becomes first Chicago paper to go behind paywall

The soap opera that is AOL continues. Fortune's Dan Primack says that TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington will be fired.

It is a strangely written story, the lead is in the sixth paragraph:

Instead, Fortune has learned that AOL executives have decided to terminate Arrington. It is unclear how this will officially occur. Maybe a pink slip. Maybe Arrington submits a (public?) letter of resignation. Maybe Tim Armstrong simply gives Arrington a phone call, and he quickly dashes off a note to TechCrunch employees on his iPad.
Frankly I don't really want to dwell on the details of the story so you dan click the link for what Primack has to say. But I think there is a major lesson to be learned from the TechCrunch saga, and the story of nearly all new media acquisitions: you can measure the value of the acquired asset in the traditional way media companies do.

In general, a media company acquiring another media asset looks at two factors: earnings and revenue. But with new media acquisitions the media company often brings in other factors like the amount of traffic the website generates (thinking that the audience size is being under exploited) and the segment the media target attracts, or as an alternative to its own print product (think CareerBuilder).

The problem is that sometimes these sights are more like acquiring a mid-sized radio station. Think of the scene in Working Girl where the buyer is informed that a hot DJ may leave the properties and that his deal might be worthless if they can't resign him to a contract. The inference is that the talent is what makes the property valuable.

This applies to many new websites, as well. That is why the New York Times acquisition of the blog FiveThirtyEight was essentially a contract deal with Nate Silver. No Nate, no deal.

This is also one reason I have been a big advocate of newspaper and magazine companies making acquisitions of app development start-ups: they don't need the revenue and income of the company – there is probably very little of that – but they need the development teams. This would be a true investment, something that can bring value to all the company's other properties, not just a blip on the P&L.

“It is our intention that no one without a subscription will have ongoing access to the Daily Herald newspaper content, or any other Daily Herald digital platform,” said Douglas K. Ray, chairman, publisher and CEO of Paddock Publications.

And with that lead paragraph, the Daily Herald, a Chicago area daily newspaper announced last week that it would go behind a paywall. In fact, unlike other newspapers that are offering print readers free access to digital content, the Daily Herald will be charging print readers as well – $1 per week. Non-print subscribers will be charge $19.99 per month for digital access.

“As many newspapers are starting to understand, we cannot afford to give away our content any longer online,” Ray said. “The reason is simple, unavoidable economics. Newspapers all over the country are realizing that they cannot rely solely on the income from advertisers to create and sustain the kind of journalism the community deserves, as new media have taken an increasingly larger slice of the available marketing dollars.”

In no other market can I recall a business using its own deficiencies as a reason for pricing its products. Imagine for a second if we had a company that makes widgets. It has been producing these widgets for years but now finds itself in a situation where fewer people want those widgets, and a similar product has come out that is giving the same thing out for free. In response to the situation the widget maker decides that he can't stay in business in this environment so what does he do? He increases his prices!

This is why the "other guys is doing it, too" line is always included in these announcements. See, the publisher says, this may seem like a strange idea but everyone else is doing it, too. In their announcement, the Daily Herald talks about the paywalls constructed by the New York Times and other papers, as if readers in suburban Chicago have been comparing the Daily Herald to the Times.

The good news is that the announcement generated plenty of web traffic, with over 1,400 comments on the story so far.

"This isn't the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal," says one commenter. "I get home delivery and I'm not about to pay for online viewing. That's what really gets my goat. Looks like I need to reconsider my home delivery, too."

Another: "With all the "Patch" news and community sites out there, DH basically will drive the nail in the coffin. Might as well have changed your name to Netscape or AOL."

Ouch, that one hurt.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Incisive Media releases is first tablet edition for the British Journal of Photography; iPad app offers the first issue free

The British Journal of Photography (BJP) has a tablet edition now in the App Store that offers the first issue free of charge, and two profile issues for $0.99 each. The BJP is published by Incisive Financial Publishing Limited.
The app was built using the Mag+ digital publishing platform and the first issue is quite extensive. In fact, the editor, Simon Bainbridge, makes reference to this in his Editor's Letter at the front of the free issue. "If you've never read us before, thank you for your patience with the download; a necessary evil in the course of bringing you a magazine app packed with in-depth articles, reviews, videos and, of course, hundreds of visually arresting, full-frame images," Bainbridge writes.

The download of the free issue does take a while, as it weighs in just under 400 MB. But as the app gives you both portrait and landscape views, as well as a fair amount of animation/video, 400 MB isn't extreme at all.

But I did have some trouble after the download as my iPad crashed continually when trying to access the issue. At first I gave up but decided to go over to the U.K. App Store to see if readers were complaining about the app – nope. So I decided to reboot my iPad, a hard reboot rather than just powering it down. To do this, by the way, you press both the sleep button at the top and the home button at the same time and keep them pressed until the iPad reboots. That did the trick.

So before proceeding, here is the magazine's own promo video about their app:

BJP for the iPad - Sneak Preview from Olivier Laurent on Vimeo.

Bainbridge's column also says that this tablet edition is not really meant to be read in one sitting, and he is right. There is a lot of content here – both within the issue and with the live content that can be accessed through the navigation at the top of the app.

There was clearly a lot of work put into this app, and assuming that my crashing issues were my own and not tied to the app, this is a great example of what can be accomplished using the Mag+ platform. So rather than continuing to point out all the features here why not take a look yourself – that, of course, is why many publishers are offering the first issue free.

The only question going forward, of course, is can they continue to produce tablet editions of this quality? As they will be publishing quarterly they might just be able to pull it off, and the Mag+ system that works right within InDesign, makes that possible.

As for the magazine, well, it speaks for itself – this is a very good publication and is well worth the £6.99 cover price. For U.S. readers this iPad edition may be their first chance to read the magazine, and with Borders closing down, the easiest way to access the content.
Left: The TOC is huge, this is only the first page, other pages are accessed via scrolling; Right: an ad for Hasselblad takes advantage of the Mag+ platform.

The Guardian is looking to build its development team; U.K. newspaper releases its first Android app

If the key to a true commitment to digital publishing is building one's own software development team, then The Guardian appears to be moving in the right direction. Guardian media reporter Jemima Kiss tweeted about this job opening found on company's website.

The position is listed as a "Graduate Software Developer":
As a graduate joining our software development team your role will include creating, developing, managing, and maintaining our software for a variety of delivery platforms, including and our mobile apps. You will work closely with editorial and commercial teams as well as external partners.
The Guardian was quick to launch both mobile and tablet apps but have been slow to follow-up on their initial efforts. I mean really slow to follow-up: it still have only the two initial apps, one news app for the iPhone and The Guardian Eyewitness iPad app. The iPhone app has had at least two versions released, but neither app has seen an update since February.

The Guardian did, however, release its first Android app today – you can find it in the Android Market here.

Georgina Henry, the head of, said: "We've seen over half a million downloads of our re-launched iPhone app this year, and with over 150 million activated Android devices worldwide the potential audience for this product is huge."

Digital First Media created to manage both Journal Register and MediaNews Group with John Paton as CEO

Two struggling newspaper companies will now be managed by a new entity, Digital First Media, according to an announcement this morning from the Journal Register Company. I'll post some thoughts on this at the bottom of this post, but first here is the press release (also see update below with blog post from John Paton):

Journal Register Company Announces The Creation of Digital First Media Inc.

Digital First Media to Manage Journal Register Company and MediaNews Group; John Paton Named Chief Executive Officer of Digital First Media

Digital First Media to Leverage Scale Opportunities between MediaNews and Journal Register Company Creating Local News Powerhouse with more than 880 Multi-Platform Products in 18 States Serving more than 57 million Americans per month

September 7, 2011

NEW YORK, NY. – Journal Register Company, one the of nation’s leading local news and information companies, announced today the creation of Digital First Media Inc. Digital First Media will manage both Journal Register Company and MediaNews Group Inc.

John Paton, as the Chief Executive of Digital First Media, will act as CEO of both Journal Register Company and MediaNews Group.
In a separate release, MediaNews Group, the nation’s second largest newspaper company as measured by circulation, announced its appointment of Mr. Paton as CEO and the new agreement with Digital First Media. Mr. Paton, a director of Journal Register Company, has also been appointed to MediaNews Group’s board of directors. Mr. Paton and Digital First Media will report to the boards of both MediaNews Group and Journal Register Company.

This arrangement provides MediaNews and Journal Register Company with immediate cost benefits, and the ability to leverage the combined scale and expertise of both companies for their mutual benefit.

“This allows these two great companies to accelerate our Digital First strategy of transitioning from what have largely been print-centric businesses to modern, multi-platform media companies focused on local news and advertising,” said Mr. Paton, who is also a director of the Newspaper Association of America. “I am very excited to be working with MediaNews Group and the Journal Register Company teams. This initiative creates a local news powerhouse with more than 880 multi-platform products in 18 States serving more than 57 million Americans per month for the benefit of our communities, customers and employees.”

“Media News is intent on continuing its transformation from a print-oriented newspaper company to a locally focused provider of news and information across multiple platforms. At the forefront of our efforts is developing a successful digital strategy. With ‘Digital First,’ John has implemented just such a digital strategy for Journal Register Company. We are delighted to tap into John’s experience as we accelerate further our successful transition to a digital world,” said Dean Singleton, who will step down as CEO of MediaNews Group. Mr. Singleton, who is the Chairman of The Associated Press, remains Chairman of MediaNews Group and the publisher of the Denver Post and Salt Lake City Tribune.

Digital First Media represents the codification into a management company of a digital strategy that Journal Register Company has been pursuing with great success since February 2010, when John Paton was named Chief Executive Officer of Journal Register Company. MediaNews will benefit from that experience, and from cooperation with Journal Register Company, as it continues its own evolution to compete in the new media landscape.

So, this is great news, right? "Digital first" and all that.

But is this really a move to drive digital publishing at both companies, or a way to further consolidate costs? Both companies are now owned by Alden Global Capital, so really this move was to be expected. Is the "digital first" label simply a misdirect, or is it genuine?

I've been a bit of a skeptic about the tag of "digital first" as it is being used at the Journal Register for one big reason: at least one of the big name consultants brought in by John Paton has been a huge critic of the iPad and the tablet platform, at least as it applies to Apple. TNM, on the other hand, sees this as a huge new area to be explored and developed by publishers. So far, at least, I think I have been right – and I know most TNM readers agree with me.

For me, digital means all the new digital platforms: web, mobile, tablets. At least so far I have been less than impressed with the digital publishing efforts of both these companies. But if this move means that Digital First Media will now create a digital development team that will assist their properties with launching new mobile and tablet products than this will be a great first move.

We'll see, won't we?

Here is a blog post by John Paton, CEO of Journal Register Company, and now the head of Digital First Media, as well.

Seems like the chief executive is still batting down the objections from digital skeptics – thought that battle was over a decade ago.

So where does this leave Dean Singleton? Singleton lost the CEO title at MediaNews Group during the bankruptcy, but retains the chairman's title. One had to assume that the money folks would be calling the shots from now on, so this seems to confirm that.

But what has happened so far, in the post bankruptcy era? Mostly consolidation as the Bay Area newspapers have been consolidated into just a few titles, with many communities losing their local papers (leaving the space to AOL's Patch and local news websites). If this truly were a "digital first" initiative I would have thought that those titles might have lived on as web entities in order to compete with the new digital news products. When you combine the loss of local nameplates with the closing of local sales offices, well, that sounds more like a cost reduction strategy than a shift in publishing strategy, doesn't it?

Morning Brief: Carol Bartz out at Yahoo! CFO Timothy Morse named interim CEO by board of directors; WSJ claims Groupon is having second thoughts about IPO

Last night the Internet was a twitter with the news that Carol Bartz had
been fired by the Yahoo! board of directors. As I don't follow new media companies as closely as old media companies attempting to do new media,
the news was a bit of a surprise to me.

So who is Timothy R. Morse, the guy who is now interim chief executive?

Yahoo! News Center:
Prior to joining Yahoo!, Morse was the CFO of Altera Corporation, a semiconductor company specializing in programmable logic devices for communications, industrial, and consumer applications, where he established scalable, cost-effective processes and controls. Morse previously served as the CFO and general manager of business development for General Electric Plastics. A 15-year veteran of GE, Morse also held a variety of positions at GE Plastics, GE Appliances and GE Capital in North America, Europe and Asia.

Morse holds a bachelor's degree in finance and operations and strategic management from the Boston College Carroll School of Management.
Yes, there will be a search for a new CEO, get your resumes updated.

9to5Mac: Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz canned, sends farewell via iPad

Mike Elgan Google+ post: Bartz is fired over the phone. She announces via iPad. Finally Yahoo seems to understand mobile.

More piling on, this one from How Bartz Didn’t Help Yahoo Mobile
Meanwhile, in mobile advertising, where the company should have been singing, it’s been way out of tune. Stats from IDC show that Yahoo has been losing market share in mobile advertising, even as the market has been booming. Efforts to launch new display ad formats and more localized content may have given a boost to its ad business but the benefits would have only been seen on its own properties, rather than the long tail of wider internet content.

So is Groupon reconsidering going public now? The WSJ sure thinks so.

There are lots of reasons an IPO from Groupon might not be a good idea. First, of course, there is the economy and the fact that the market has been sliding pretty badly. But investors don't know where to put their money right now with interest rates low, many foreign nations in deep trouble. etc.
Recent stock-market gyrations are scaring off some high-profile IPOs. A handful of Web companies have been at the center of an investor frenzy this year, fueled by the splashy debuts of companies such as professional networking site LinkedIn Corp. and real-estate site Zillow Inc.
But I have to think this is all about Groupon.
Groupon, in particular, has grappled with a series of missteps. When the company filed to go public in early June, it attracted criticism for its high marketing costs and unprofitable business. The company was also asked by the Securities and Exchange Commission to remove an unusual accounting metric, dubbed Adjusted Consolidated Segment Operating Income, which painted a more robust picture of its performance.

Last week, the SEC also contacted a Groupon attorney over a different matter, said a person familiar with the situation: a leaked internal memo from Groupon Chief Executive Andrew Mason to his staff, in which he touted the company and blasted its critics. Making public statements about the financial status of a company during an IPO process is prohibited by SEC rules.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

What to think about " magazines that occasionally commit acts of journalism"

The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal has a few thoughts on the TechCrunch/Michael Arrington issue (he wants to run an investment fund that would put money into companies being written about on the website):

Many websites are functioning largely as trade magazines that occasionally commit acts of journalism. Techcrunch, and Mashable to an even greater extent, are more like the new American Thresherman and Farm Power or Stone World or Successful Farming than they are the new New York Times. But it's hard to know when they're acting like the Times an when they are acting like Pluming and Mechanical Magazine.
First, it is clear that Madrigal needs an editor because the typos contained above are in the original post (and still there as I write this). Second, he certainly has a point about the niche these tech sites fill in the greater media world.

But I wouldn't elevate the NYT too much when looking at this issue, which is my criticism of David Carr's column. So I guess I'm just not all that concerned that anything Michael Arrington has done in the past, does now, or does in the future will in any way cause damage to journalism. The great advocates of the trade have already done enough damage, thank you.

Retail circulars go digital as newspapers work to find their own alternatives to preprint inserts

While many media writes obsess with the efforts to newspapers to install online paywalls, the revenue battle may be going on in the arena of preprint inserts, those Sunday circulars that have been a cash cow from so many newspapers for decades. Along with retail display advertising, these preprints have been slowly declining over the years as more and more advertising switch to digital alternatives.
But these inserts are a vital part of the revenue picture for newspapers, accounting from a large chunk – 35 to 40 percent – of newspaper retail advertising (and with classified advertising continuing to fall, this revenue category grows in importance.)

But the trickle of advertisers leaving the Sunday paper may become a flood if Google and other media alternatives can convince more retailers to explore the value to digital catalogs read through tablets and e-readers.

Some retailers, such as Target (see at right), Nordstrom and Ikea have launched branded iPad apps for their catalogs. While Target for iPad was launched under their own name, the Nordstrom app, Nordstrom The Catalogs, was released by Synapse Group. (Ikea's app, seen in this post, appears under their own name in the App Store.)

The move to tablet versions of retailer catalogs has tremendous momentum because in addition to developers who are looking to create branded apps for the retailers, big names like Google are pushing to have retailers include their catalogs in their own apps. Google Catalogs was released into the App Store a few weeks ago and is an attractive iPad app, though the app does crash and is in need of an important update as the app is essentially unusable in its present form.

Catalogue by is also digitizing retailer catalogs and recently updated their app, which now includes the circular from Best Buy. This app has many of the same retailers in it that the Google app does showing that their is both duplication and a lack of barrier to entry in the platform.

Left: Catalogue by recently added Best Buy circulars to its offerings; Right: the Google Catalogs app is attractive but needs an update as it crashes far too frequently to be useful.

The problem facing newspapers (and the postal service) is that retailers have been building their own databases through loyalty programs. But while these programs allow them to market directly to their customer base, they can not act as a substitute for their printed catalogs which can reach new customers and a mass market.

But the decline in newspaper subscriptions means the Sunday paper may be a less attractive vehicle for retailers. This may explain the move by the Chicago Tribune to use Groupon to try and drive Sunday subscriptions by offering a very cut rate Sunday only subscription. The loss in circulation revenue, while important, pales in comparison to the prospect of losing insert advertising.

But the newspaper industry's reaction to the digital threat to its inserts has been slow and runs counter to the efforts of many newspapers to drive online subscriptions. In the end, free models will have a distinct advantage over paid models here if the key criteria is market penetration. On the other hand, market penetration will remain a huge barrier to climb for the new digital catalog distributors, as well. That gives newspapers a small window to come up with their own alternatives before Google or others finally take this business permanently.

Like many newspaper and magazine publications being converted to the tablet platform, the retail catalog products are mostly replica editions of their print products. Some catalogs are attempting to enhance the reader experience by adding more native features in order to assist the potential buyer in making a product decision, while others simply add a few web links to their digital catalogs.

The Target branded app, for instance, can find your local store in order to deliver the proper circular, and contains some other features like Daily Deals. But circular itself is difficult to read due to the lack of a zoom capability. To get a better look at a product one has to tap on the product which pulls up the same information and picture in a new window – hardly improving the experience.

The Nordstrom app does have pinch to zoom, however. It also has a "Show Products" button which allows buyers to get more information on the products.

Just like digital newsstands, I think we will see some of new features found in the native apps move over to the replica apps soon as retailers demand more than just digital reproductions of their print catalogs.

Why wait to actual see a device to pass judgement?

Is it really necessary to see a new tech device before passing judgement on it? Here is Forbes's contributor Chunka Mui responding to a post by TechCrunch's M.G. Siegler:

My reading of the details, however, is that the Amazon tablet is not going to be all that huge. Barnes and Noble should be afraid. Apple, however, has little to fear.
The author then recounts Siegler's post where Siegler, who has seen the new Amazon Kindle tablet that is at the center of the story here, talks about how the tablet's form factor is more like those of the BlackBerry PlayBook and other 7-inch tablets.

He (Chunka Mui) may be right, but one would think that waiting until they have actually seen and used a device may be the best time to write a review of the device. But whatever, guess I'm old fashioned. But if this is considere the new way to do reviews then writing movie reviews just became a lot easier.

Morning Brief: Bonuses and layoffs; Time Magazine looks at the zine world; soap opera times at a tech news site

Just in time for the weekend News Corp. released its annual statement which includes information on corporate information about the size of bonuses being handed out to the guys in the corporate suites.

James Murdoch, deputy chief operating officer, and embroiled in the phone hacking scandal in the U.K., is scheduled to receive a $6 million bonus, a rather hefty 75 percent increase in his 2010 pay. But according to The Guardian he has is feeling a little awkward about the bonus:
But in a statement on Friday night, James Murdoch said he would not be taking the bonus in "light of the current controversy" over phone hacking at the News of the World. "I feel that declining the bonus is the right thing to do," he said.
Maybe he knew this news was coming down today: News International, the U.K. division he has run, announced that it would cut 110 positions. Tom Mockbridge, chief executive at News International said in a statement that so far 89 former News of the World employees have decided to take the company up on its severance offer while 23 employees have taken other positions at the company.

“These proposals are the result of long-standing plans which I, and the rest of the executive team, believe to be key to ensuring our titles, our brands and our future in print and digital remain an indispensable part of the national and international media," Mockbridge said in the announcement.

Time Magazine this last week looked at the "zine" phenomenon, the independent magazines, often labors of love, put out by writers and editors in their spare time.
Edited by Jenna Wortham, a staff technology reporter at the New York Times, and Thessaly La Force, the former online editor for the Paris Review, Girl Crush is part of a resurgence in the zine form, particularly among media professionals. Like their rough-around-the-edges predecessors, these zines are independently published and precise in their editorial vision, but they have more star power and more mainstream editorial influence. Strikingly, often the same men and women who are helping to keep large media outlets afloat by day are also the ones going home and working on indie publishing efforts by night.
Something about the article reads like an ode to print versus the web, and nothing is mentioned about the other option now available, publishing via tablet or eReaders.

But the real underlying story is about why these types of magazines don't get the ire of the mainstream media companies that employ these editors during the week. The answer is that as long as the ad teams are left out of the equation the corporate players really don't see these independent publications as anything other than an opportunity for some editors to blow off some steam.

Are you following the Tech Crunch soap opera? In a nutshell, the issue revolves around whether Michael Arrington has stepped down as editor of the AOL owned tech site to run a venture capital fund – Arianna Huffington told the NYT's David Carr "yes", while Arrington said, well, something else.

Carr wrote on Sunday that "It’s now hard to know whether AOL is Mr. Arrington’s partner, client, employer or banker."

It's a fun little drama, I suppose, but I always see these things resolving the same way: someone gets rich (Arrington sold TechCrunch to AOL for $30 million) and someone gets fired (might end being the same person, or it could be the internal people writing about the saga (no links to protect the offenders).