Friday, September 23, 2011

Going for the gold: Splashtop launches Engine Connect at $999.99; iPad app designed for commercial broadcasters

This has to be a record: a $999.99 iPad app! The app, Engine Connect, is from Splashtop, and according to the app description is "designed for commercial broadcasting use, and not for personal home use."

I suppose the disclaimer is designed to discourage iPad users from casually buying an app priced at a grand. Engine Connect, I suppose, is not an impulse buy.

"Engine Connect is an app designed for broadcasters to control Vizrt content from an iPad using multi-touch capabilities," the app description reads. "As the use of presenter-controller graphics for TV is rapidly increasing, Engine Connect brings all the rendering power of Viz Engine™ to an iPad without sacrificing the quality of the rich media."

Hey, check it and report back to me. What do you think the chances are that the developer will pass along a promo code?

Follow-up: The new book app 'Journey to the Exoplanets' gets some marketing love from Apple in the App Store

Although it costs $9.99 in the App Store I hope you have been able to check out the great new book app from Scientific American and book publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Journey to the Exoplanets.

Despite the fact that the App Store description says that the app was released into the App Store on the 14th, it actually did not become visible to buyers until Wednesday of this week. For most developers, the process of getting your app into the store involves submitting a finished app to Apple and then waiting for it to get approved. Then, after getting notified that the app has been approved, the app very quickly appears in the App Store, often catching the developer flat footed.

Originally released on Wednesday, 'Journey to the Exoplanets'
is now being promoted by Apple with the App Store.

For many media apps, a fast approval can lead to problems, especially for 'library' apps – those apps that create a digital newsstand that pulls in issues from the media company's servers. Sometimes not all the issues that are displayed in the app are actually ready to be downloaded, causing readers to think the app is defective.

I wanted to talk to the team that put this particular app together but was shot down (ah, to be David Pogue). The questions I wanted addressed concerned not only the future of book publishing projects such as this one, but also the process involved in getting an app "embargoed".
Clearly Journey to the Exoplanets was an app where the publisher/developer worked closely with Apple. This is clear from the fact that 1) the appearance of the app was delayed to a specific date so that the publisher could properly promote the app, and 2) the app is now being prominently promoted in the App Store, surely this was prearranged (the app certainly deserves the special attention). What is this process like? How easy was it to get Apple to comply?

The app approval process, the mechanism of getting an app into the store, the process of developing and testing an app – all these things are important things for publishers to experience in order to fully exploit the new digital platforms. For far too many publishers, the mobile media and tablet publishing platforms are treated as no different than changing printers.

Possibly the biggest challenge for large publishers is the product marketing aspect of launching an app. For a book publisher, the process is old hat: PR, bookstore promotion, author tours, and the like. But the App Store is a whole new environment and I think the whole issue of in-store promotion needs to be explored more. I'll get right on it.

Morning Brief: The 'little' story with big implications provides a much needed diversion from economic news; CIA pulls, then restarts is advertising in Detroit area paper

At first it was just a tweet and a small story from the BBC. But now major media outlets are printing and posting the story: Faster than light particles found, claim scientists.

Maybe much of the media simply sees the story as a respite from all the bad financial news, or the GOP debate, but the implications contained at the core of the story are enormous for science.

Some background: during a seminar conducted at the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN) outside Geneva, Switzerland, scientists revealed that in tests conducted with neutrinos have found that their particles has traveled at a rate faster than the speed of light, something that is not allowed by Einstein's theory of special relativity. The rule has been at the foundation of physics for a century.

Shooting particles from the accelerator at CERN to a facility at Gran Sasso, Italy, scientists have regularly found that their particles have traveled faster than they supposedly should. Because this is a violation of the laws of physics, as we have understood them, they have been extremely cautious in claiming a discovery. Now they are calling on other scientists to conduct further tests to confirm or dispute their findings.

One has to be grateful for the news from CERN if only because it is not another story about the Congress or world stock markets – the news from both is not good.

Last night the House of Representatives finally passed a stop gap spending bill that would keep the government operating for seven weeks past the start of the new fiscal year that begins October 1. The bill provides some disaster relief for communities effected by the floods, wildfires and hurricanes, but only half the amount contained in the Senate passed version. Further, the House bill cuts a Energy department loan program designed to promote the development of energy-efficient cars.

European stock markets continue to sink today, with the German DAX right at the 5000 point mark, The Dax, French CAC 40 are both at 52 week lows, and many investors fear that they are on the verge of breaking through their current levels to sink to new lows. While stock futures initially showed that U.S. markets might open higher, news from the trading desks in Europe have soured the mood and futures now point to a lower open on Wall Street.

Update: Wall Street opened down then quickly recovered, though in fits and starts (and now down again). But the modestly higher open has apparently settled the nerves of the European markets which have recovered some of their losses. This has all the hallmarks of a market intervention, though I doubt investors will complain if there are currently attempts to calm the markets.

The Detroit Free Press, a paper I once worked at as an intern, is reporting a rather strange story today. According to the paper, the "CIA abruptly yanked all of its advertisements this month from metro Detroit's largest Arab-American newspaper because it ran an Associated Press report that said the intelligence agency was helping spy on Muslim Americans."

The Free Press goes on to report that it contacted the CIA who said that they would reverse the decision and begin advertising again. "The CIA has a long history of advertising with the Arab American News, and we regret any misunderstandings in this instance," CIA spokesman Preston Golson told the Free Press Thursday.

OK, all well and good, but I have a question: at how many papers is the CIA considered a major advertiser? Would that be an account for the major accounts department? or would a retail sales person handle the account? I could love to sit in on one of those sales calls? "So, Mr. Advertiser, any big events coming up that you would like to promote?"

According to the story, the advertising agency that handles the CIA is Gravity Media, but not surprisingly, the agency does not list the agency on its clients page.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Whitman named HP CEO: When hiring chief executives, how much does actual industry experience count today?

Well, they've pulled the trigger, again: the HP board has canned one CEO, Léo Apotheker, and brought in Meg Whitman.

Was there any thought about naming someone internally? Or someone with experience in the computer hardware industry? It doesn't appear so.

Meg Whitman has already been called a "celebrity chief executive" by one critic of the move. But that is probably more than a bit unfair for someone who has worked at Proctor & Gamble, The Disney Company, Hasbro and Stride Right, in addition to her more famous stint at eBay.

But of course Stride Rite is not making tablets, let alone servers. And Hasbro, though she was in charge of Mr. Potato Head (yes, it's true), did not build a mobile ecosystem around the little guy.

The old school way of finding a CEO that could compete with a company that is driving you crazy – in this case, Apple probably applies – would be to steal an executive from the competition. But HP's board always seems to be in a hurry to both create the vacancy and then to fill it.

The parade of HP CEO in just over 13 months:
Mark Hurd, Léo Apotheker, and today, Meg Whitman.

I suppose one could say that the media business is not much better at these kinds of things. More often or not, and no matter how large the company, it is someone who is related to the Chairman that gets the job with results that are just as predictably disastrous. The excuse, though, is that somehow these people have the business in their blood, as if newspaper or magazine publishing was an as-yet undiscovered gene.

Well, good luck to Whitman, and to the employees of Hewlett-Packard. I just hope Whitman doesn't make the mistake of coming to work her first day with an iPad in her briefcase.

Update: CNN is reporting that outgoing CEO Léo Apotheker will be getting $25 million from HP in order to get out of town – $7 million in severance and $18 million in stock.

Now think about this for a moment: his severance package was negotiated by the board of directors before he came on board. Apotheker had just been fired from his position at SAP, and no doubt got a nice severance package from that company – though I would guess there is no way that company's board would have arranged for so big a parachute. Now, one year later he is fired again. What a racket.

I wonder what Whitman's negotiated severance package looks like. Same board, same situation, bet it is at least this big.

St. Louis Public Radio releases a pair of iOS support apps

I really don't have much original to say about these two new apps released recently by St. Louis Public Radio, but they seem to be worth pointing out to illustrate the continued trend of radio and television apps.
For some people, these apps might seem unnecessary, why release a radio app when all I need to do is listen in my car or home stereo, right?

But radio and television is evolving very fast from mediums that are enjoyed on specific devices – home flatscreen TV in your family room, for instance – to mediums that are enjoyed everywhere. Every time I take out my iPhone and start listening to KCSM in San Mateo I am reminded of the days when I was very young and listen to CKLW on my transistor radio. The difference is that the reception is better now, and in stereo (and The Beatles and Beach Boys aren't on all the time, either).

Both apps, St. Louis Public Radio App and St. Louis Public Radio for iPad, were developed by Sky Blue Technologies, a Lafayette, Indiana firm that really should redesign their website.

Two different approaches to tablet subscriptions: Philadelphia Inquirer pushes long term subscriptions while the Boca Raton Observer wants customer information

The Philadelphia Media Network has released a new tablet edition of The Philadelphia Inquirer this morning. The free app is a natively designed tablet app for the iPad which requirers readers to subscribe to the tablet edition.

While the app looks good from the outside – I did not subscribe – it is sure to make quite a few potential readers upset.

First, the app does not allow for single copy sales and there is no preview issue included with the app. This means that there is no way to see if the product is something you would want to buy. At a physical newsstand at least the reader can pick up the newspaper and see the headlines; at a curbside box one can see the front page. This is a mistake of design: even if the publisher wants to deny a reader from buying a single copy the splash page of the app should at least be the front page of that day's newspaper.

The second issue with this app is that there is no way for home delivery subscribers to access the tablet edition without paying once again. According to the paper's website, the annual home delivery charge is over $300, and I would have to pay again for iPad access? Yikes.

By the way, that charge is $29.99 for 6 months, or $44.99 for 12 months.
Left: The subscription page; Right: a view of an article.

One of the cries of publishers who continue to demonize Apple is that the tech giant won't share customer information with them – one of the reason many customers like Apple, it should be pointed out.

But I've always found this objection fairly laughable; after all, if you want the information, why not ask for it. That is precisely what this new iPad app for The Boca Raton Observer does.

The new free iPad opens immediately to a log-in page where the reader must supply their name and email address before accessing the issues. Why more publishers don't do this is rather amazing.

The question, as yet untested as far as I know, is whether this simple registration process can't be expanded in order to fill the needs of other publishers such as trade journals. A qualification card, for instance, always starts with the simple yes-or-no question of whether you really want to receive the magazine and then moves on to some industry questions. Can't this be built into a magazine app?
Once the reader submits their personal information, they proceed to the issues.

The app, as built today, is not really a library app where the issues are downloaded one at a time. Instead, there are currently three issues preloaded into the app. Each of the issues is a simply replica edition which must be read in portfolio. I'm no fan of replicas, of course, but I'm not dogmatic about it (OK, maybe I am a bit).

While the replica approach keeps the file size down, the fact that there are three issues here means this app is already 252 MB in size. In order to add a new issue an app update will be required. One approach may be to add in the new issue and delete the oldest one, if the goal is to keep the app size to a reasonable level. At 252 MB I would say they could add a new issue, maybe two, before beginning to drop old issues. A better approach, of course, would be to create a library app where individual issues could be loaded or archived.

Imagine if the economy were booming: poor economic conditions are creating new opportunities but also slowing the growth of the new digital media platforms

There are good reasons why this website keeps an eye on the markets, and the economy in general. It goes back to when I started out in this business and my experiences through the nineties.

As a young pup fresh out of college, my J degree under my arm, I moved to California from the midwest in order to get my first position in the newspaper business. The move was necessitated by the fact that things were pretty bad in the Midwest back then – the Chicago Daily News had closed down a few years earlier, flooding the market with experienced journalists. Further, few were hiring due to the general "malaise" of the economy. Surely California would be better. It was.

California in the eighties seemed recession proof. While most publishers were not hiring in the early nineties, California was still growing. This continued right through the decade before slowing down following the first Gulf War. Then came the nineties and that little thing I think you've heard of called The Internet. Good times, that's for sure.

The things that really powered the Internet boom was venture capital, fear and enthusiasm. The fear part involved the idea that if one did not move quickly they would be left behind.

Today's digital media environment shares a lot in common with the '90s, but much is different, as well. Today the growth of mobile and tablet platforms is creating incredible opportunities, and in many ways, the slow economy makes this even a better time to invest in the platforms as it allows for a slower, more cautious approach, allows for efforts to at first fail but then begin again, and it keeps much of the more conservative publishers at the sidelines allowing some to get a first mover advantage.

But the economy is also keeping investment money on the sidelines. While a few VCs are still looking for the next Facebook (good luck with that) the true investment professionals know that their job is to find good places to invest now even if that means investing in companies with more modest ambitions.

But why pull the trigger when doing nothing is so rewarding? You see, every day that money sits earning nothing it also sits losing nothing. That is the attitude of many I talk to.

Here is what they see. With one party and much of Europe pushing for austerity, the threat of deflation is seen as more threatening by many than inflation. In an inflationary environment, money has to be put to use or else it loses value over time. In a deflationary environment, your dollar today is worth a bit more tomorrow simply because everything else has lost value.

Think of the real estate market: why buy a home today when you know you'll be able to buy that same home tomorrow for less. This realization causes you to delay (unless you currently do not have a roof over your head).

Cygnus Business Media is one of the few U.S. B2Bs showing any enthusiasm for the new digital platforms.

About eight or nine years ago, after leaving Reed Business Information I contacted a few firms to see if there would be interest in funding a B2B magazine start-up. Today I'm sure every response back would be 'are you kidding?" But back then it took only a week's worth of sending out emails to line up a trip to NYC to talk to investors. The only real problem was that my needs were a few million, they wanted to spend much more, so my business plan had to be expanded.

In the end, I didn't go in that direction (probably too bad) but the doors were open. Today I hear things are not so accommodating for media start-ups (if you have a different story please pass it on). Most of those interested in media are looking to buy, split up the assets and then divest as quickly as possible. M&A activity, always the obsession of some of the media watchers is artificially higher than it really should be simply from the trading of assets between the players.

And that is truly a shame because now is really a great time to invest in media...really.

When I look at the B2B media industry, for instance, I see a complete retrenched industry well behind the others in the move to mobile and tablets. B2B is an industry being run by executives that are not really looking to grow their businesses so much as keep them alive justs long enough to dump as soon as the investment market improves. But what is left of most of these companies after having laid off most of the editorial and sales teams? The answer is their readership and brands, and these still have value.

When I was asked the other day why now would be a good time to launch new products I responded that it is both easier to gain market share in a down economy, and to recover from a first failure. True, the rewards for success are less in a down economy, but they will be that much better when things improve – and everyone else is playing catch up.

Morning Brief: Markets open sharply down on weakening outlook for economy; Liberty Media wins court battle that could have prevented spinoff of Starz Group

Stock markets around the world opened in free fall today, with the German DAX and the British FTSE down over 4 percent, and the French CAC 40 down over five percent.

“Today, we really seem to be stuck in a negative spiral,” said Matthias Jasper, head of equities at WGZ Bank in Düsseldorf was quoted in the NYT report this morning. “Investors just want to keep their exposure low and watch from the sidelines.”

U.S. markets are expected to open down sharply, as well, following warnings from the Federal Reserve that outlook for the economy was poor.

Yesterday afteroon Moody's, one of the three big credit agencies, downgraded the ratings of three major U.S. banks, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Citigroup.

Liberty Media won a legal challenge initiated by New York Mellon Trust Co. that would have prevented the spinoff of its Starz Entertainment group, according to a BusinessWeek report today. The spinoffs are part of a financial restructuring of the company controlled by billionaire John Malone.

In Georgia executed Troy Davis last evening, still proclaiming his innocence. In Texas, Lawrence Russell Brewer, a white supremacist, was executed for infamous crime of dragging James Byrd Jr. to his death in 1998.

In the United States, only Alaska, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin, District of Columbia are without the death penalty. In both New York and Massachusetts the state courts have ruled he death penalty unconstitutional and currently without a death row.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Late afternoon update: HP board meets to discuss CEO's future; Dennis Publishing to start using Toura to produce mobile apps; James Capo joins Cygnus Business Media

The NYT is reporting the Board of Directors of Hewlett Packard are meeting to discuss replacing Léo Apotheker as chief executive.

Apotheker was hired by HP after he had previously been fired from the business software maker SAP. Apotheker replaced Mark Hurd who was fired by the board, but is now the co-president of Oracle.

If this were the seventies there is no doubt that rumors would be swirling that Billy Martin would be brought in to run HP, but instead the rumor is that Meg Whitman, the former CEO of eBay. Whitman was recently not hired by the voters of California be to their governor.

Dennis Publishing has released its first mobile app using the Toura mobile app platform. The app, Auto Express: Adding Value To Your Car costs 99 cents in the App Store.

Martin Belson, Commercial and Retail Director at Dennis describes the new app this way: "It's simple, functional and will really help people get the most out of their car. As a publisher, we're looking forward to future releases on Toura and we think there's a big opportunity for us to deliver our content to a wide audience."

Cygnus Business Media announced today that it had brought on James Capo as director of digital business development to create digital content strategies and products. Capo will be in charge of business and product development for the B2B media company's public safety digital platforms, which includes both and, two public safety portals. Capo will report to Paul Caplan, senior vice president of digital revenues.

Capo worked on the modest iPad app for Sustainable Construction Magazine released into the App Store in August (see TNM story here).

Prior to joining Cygnus Capo was an online services executive for the Associated Press in Washington, DC.

Google Chairman Eric Schmidt testified before a Senate panel this afternoon and at the core of the hearing was the question of whether Google is fixing search results in order to promote its own products.

Minnesota state senator Al Franken actually listened to Schmidt's responses to question from his fellow Senators and wondered about his answer to a question about the company's algorithm.

“You said, ‘I believe so,’” Mr. Franken said, according to the NYT. “You seemed fuzzy. That really bothers me because that’s the crux of this, isn’t it? And you don’t know. So we’re trying to have a hearing here about whether you favor your own stuff, and you’re asked that question and you admittedly don’t know the answer.”

The state of Georgia is set to execute Troy Davis, 42, for the 1989 murder of an off-duty Savannah Police Officer, Mark Allen MacPhail. Since his conviction, several eyewitnesses who testified against Davis have recanted or modified their testimony, and Davis has maintained his innocence throughout.

The case has received worldwide attention, in part because of Davis's claims of innocence, in part because of the recantations, and in part because of the history of justice for African-Americans in the South.

Just yesterday the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles declined to grant Davis clemency, leaving very few options other than possible intervention by the State Supreme Court or the U.S. Supreme Court. The President has no authority to grant clemency in cases where the state is executioner.

Davis's execution is set for 7pm this evening.

Reuters causes a stir by claiming that a group of French newspapers are "teaming up" against Apple's App Store policies; their weapon? free PDFs of their print products

I this story earlier today and was completely baffled by what Reuters was referring to. The story says that a number of French newspaper publishers are "teaming up" in hopes that "they can stop the technology giant from dictating the terms of their distribution."

Really? I thought. That's pretty strange considering they had just launched a new iPad app back a couple of weeks ago call ePresse. Is that what this article is referring to? Apparently it is.

ePresse, in case you haven't checked it out, is a digital newsstand that offers PDF versions of these same French newspapers: Libération, Aujoud'hui, Les Echos, L'Express, Le Figaro, Le Point, Le Parisien, L'Equipe and Le Nouvel Observateur. The issues can be downloaded for free, which in my book, is hardly an alternative to charging through the App Store. In addition, there is no registration mechanism so it doesn't provide an answer to the demand of some publishers that Apple play loose with customer information and hand it over the publishers.
And on top of all that, the app is buggy and tends to crash.

So will this get Apple's attention? It sure will. It should solidify the idea that newspaper publishers are completely clueless as to what their readers want – or at least what the new generation of news readers want.

Why am I so sure that French iPad owners don't buy into the vision these old codger want to sell them? Look inside the French App Store: Le Figaro's PDF app is getting hammered by reviewers who wonder why the publisher wants to sell them a PDF.
Seul problème dans tout ça : quel est l'intérêt d'acheter le pdf du jour ?
En résumé : 4 étoiles pour la navigation du "cube"
0 étoiles pour le pdf.

The only problem with all this: what is the point of buying the pdf of the day?
In summary: 4 stars for navigation of the "cube"
0 stars for the pdf.
Well, good luck to them. But I'm pretty sure that selling PDFs as a group will not prove to me more popular than selling PDFs alone.

Journey to the Exoplanets takes the digital book to a new level, and shows the advantages of apps versus e-books

The magazine Scientific American and the book publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux have teamed up to launch an interesting and groundbreaking new iPad book app called Journey to the Exoplanets. The new title is created to Edward Bell (texts) and Ron Miller (illustrations), but this is really the work of the editors, developers, programmers and publisher, as well as Bell and Miller – truly the result of intense collaboration.
The app, developed with the UK digital agency Brandwidth, made its debut in the App Store this morning and costs $9.99. To be found in the Books category, Journey is a hands-on introduction to newly discovered distant planets as well as an educational experience.

"Our knowledge of what's beyond our own solar system is expanding every day," said Scientific American Editor in Chief Mariette DiChristina in the publisher's announcement. "With Journey to the Exoplanets, you can take an interactive journey to visit new, fascinating worlds right on your iPad."

Journey to the Exoplanets provides science buffs, space art enthusiasts, backyard astronomers, and young adults with an extraordinarily rich experience,” said Thomas LeBien, Publisher of the Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux imprint. LeBien is also the publisher of the Hill & Wang imprint at Farrar, Straus and Giroux (FSG), as well. The project overseen by FSG senior editor Amanda Moon.

To give you a feeling for Journey to the Exoplanets here is the promotional video which can also be found on the application's supporting website:

So what then is an exoplanet? An exoplanet is any discovered planet outside our own solar system. According to Wikipedia, there have been 685 extra-solar planets in 563 systems so far identified.

This book app then is an attempt to both educate and entertain readers on the subject by explaining basic concepts such as "What is a planet?", while also entertaining readers through such features as Planet Builder where the reader discovers the variables that influences a planet's ability to sustain life (the reader can vary the distance the planet is from the star, the star's size, and the planet's size and age.

Left: Mariette DiChristina, editor in chief of Scientific American appears in the introductory video; Right: One of the many illustrations by Ron Miller.

To say that there is a lot of content here would be an understatement. So the fact that Journey to the Exoplanets is selling for $9.99 is more about the dynamics of app pricing and user expectations than a reflection of this app's true value. If the publisher had released Journey as a hardbound book, contain all these illustrations, but without the interactivity (obviously) it would most like be priced at two, three or four times this price. But with all this programming isn't this product worth at least what a printed version would be worth?

But in an age of free and one dollar apps, who knows what the market ultimately will bear? On the other hand, by selling the product through the App Store, one is now exposing the product to potentially a new audience.

Amazon puts out the official word on its Kindle Book public library lending program

As part of the Morning Brief post below I mentioned the program Amazon and Overdrive have launched for Kindle book lending at public libraries. Well, Amazon has rolled out a press release on the program, and here it is:

Kindle Books Now Available at over 11,000 Local Libraries
Kindle the only e-reader to deliver library books wirelessly; read on any Kindle or free Kindle app Amazon's Whispersync technology automatically stores and synchronizes bookmarks, margin notes and highlights - all available the next time you check out or buy the book

SEATTLE, Sep 21, 2011 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- today announced that Kindle and Kindle app customers can now borrow Kindle books from more than 11,000 local libraries in the United States. When a customer borrows a Kindle library book, they'll have all of the unique features they love about Kindle books, including Whispersync, which automatically synchronizes their margin notes, highlights and bookmarks, real page numbers, Facebook and Twitter integration, and more. For more information about borrowing library books for your Kindle or free Kindle apps, go to To start checking out Kindle library books, visit your local library's website.

"Starting today, millions of Kindle customers can borrow Kindle books from their local libraries," said Jay Marine, Director, Amazon Kindle. "Libraries are a critical part of our communities and we're excited to be making Kindle books available at more than 11,000 local libraries around the country. We're even doing a little extra here - normally, making margin notes in library books is a big no-no. But we're fixing this by extending our Whispersync technology to library books, so your notes, highlights and bookmarks are always backed up and available the next time you check out the book or if you decide to buy the book."

Customers will use their local library's website to search for and select a book to borrow. Once they choose a book, customers can choose to "Send to Kindle" and will be redirected to to login to their account and the book will be delivered to the device they select via Wi-Fi, or can be transferred via USB. Customers can check out a Kindle book from their local library and start reading on any generation Kindle device or free Kindle app for Android, iPad, iPod touch, iPhone, PC, Mac, BlackBerry or Windows Phone, as well as in their web browser with Kindle Cloud Reader.

"This is a welcome day for Kindle users in libraries everywhere and especially our Kindle users here at The Seattle Public Library," said Marcellus Turner, city librarian for The Seattle Public Library. "We're thrilled that Amazon is offering such a new approach to library ebooks that enhances the reader experience."

When borrowing a Kindle book from their local library, customers can take advantage of all of the unique features of Kindle books, including:
  • Whispersync technology wirelessly sync your books, notes, highlights, and last page read across Kindle and free Kindle reading apps 
  • Real Page Numbers let you easily reference passages with page numbers that correspond to actual print editions 
  • Facebook and Twitter integration makes it easy to share favorite passages with your social networks
  • Popular Highlights show you what our community of millions of Kindle readers think are the most interesting passages in your books 
  • Public Notes allow you to share your notes and see what others are saying about Kindle books
To start checking out Kindle library books, visit your local library's website.

Morning Brief: WSJ says the next Apple event is set for October 4; Kindle library lending program begins in Seattle; Glam Media buys social website company Ning

The WSJ's John Paczkowski said this morning that the date is October 4, the day Apple unveils the iPhone 5, and the first event where Tim Cook runs the show as CEO.

The date makes sense – even more so as the story seems to have been embargoed until this morning, appearing online at 3 AM.
While Apple could certainly change its plans anytime, sources said that the October 4 date has been selected by the company to showcase the iPhone 5. Sources added that the plan is now to make the new device available for purchase within a few weeks after the announcement.
"Sources", huh? Well, all this makes sense and is totally predictable, after all I started the week by stating that this was the week we'd learn the date for the event.

Amazon's Kindle library lending program has begun in Seattle, Brier Dudley of The Seattle Times reported yesterday. The first two libraries conducting beta testing are the Seattle Public Library and King County Library System.

"It's a big deal for us because so many of our patrons have purchased Kindles, and they've been asking for the longest time," said Bill Ptacek, director of the King County Library System.

According to Amazon, the program will be introduced to 11,000 libraries in the U.S. Amazon is working with Overdrive, a distributor of ebooks, audiobooks and other digital media.

Amazon has set up a Public Library Books for Kindle page which explains the program.

Glam Media has acquired the social networking site Ning, Bloomberg pegging the sales price at $150 million. Ning co-founder and chairman Marc Andreesen will join the Glam Media board.

It is a disappointing ending for the start-up that looked to have plenty of potential when first launched but seemed to have stalled. As a result, the sales price, if true, is only a bit more that all the money Ning raised through the years.

Scripps Media launches its first non-replica edition iPad app for their Memphis paper The Commercial Appeal

The Commercial Appeal, an E. W. Scripps Company daily newspaper in Memphis, Tennessee, has released a new iPad app edition that is miles ahead of what the company has released to date, and provides other newspaper publishers with some interesting things to think about when developing their own tablet editions.
Prior to the release of this new app, The Commercial Appeal for iPad, all the previous Scripps Media apps for the iPad had been "e-editions", replica editions produced by Tecnavia. These e-editions make no economic sense whatsoever because they provide the paper for free and are not what readers want on their tablets. But publishers continue to buy them proving either that newspaper publishers are gullible, or that the sales people at Tecnavia are world-class.

But the Scripps Media app for The Commercial Appeal is a move in another direction. This app, though free to download, requires the user to be a subscriber to the newspaper in one form or another. But yet the app does not completely lock out the reader, either.

When the reader opens the app one appears to make access to the news content. But upon tapping a story a message appears asking you to log in. There is no direct link to the paper's site because this would violate Apple's developer rules.

The app description page for this app, though, does contain a direct link to the subscription page where you can buy either a home delivery subscription of some kind (seven-day, Sunday only, etc.) or a digital only subscription ($9.99 per month). The app description really doesn't do a very good job, however, of letting the reader know they the content will require a subscription, so a little copy rewrite might be in order.

But as I said above, the app doesn't completely lock you out of all content. There are three areas where the reader can get the content: Classifieds, Obituaries and Deals. As a former classified advertising manager you can bet that I applaud the inclusion of classified ads here.

The app also includes the e-edition of the paper (visualize me banging my head against my glass desktop). Oh well.

Left: the news front page, with its stories taken directly from the paper's website. Tapping a story brings up a log-in message; Right: the app does provide free access to classifieds, obituaries and the deals feature.

The app creates Tasaka Digital and Whiz Technologies in the app. Tasaka Digital is, in fact, Guy Tasaka, a former NYT product manager, and a business development professional for a number of digital media companies such as Page Foundry, ScrollMotion and LibreDigital (now part of RR Donnelley). Whiz Technologies is a San Jose company that appears to have its work done out of India.

This app will not blow you out of the water with its imagination and concept. Essentially the app is a RSS reader app that takes its copy from the website. That same website provides the same stories that are found on the iPad app, and for free, which probably tells you what local readers will say about having to pay for iPad access.

So, in the end, while this app is a major step in the right direction, overall digital strategy remains a problem at Scripps. But then again, you could say that about a lot of newspaper companies out there.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Tablet-only newspaper, The Daily, releases a 'special edition' for the iPad: The Daily's Pro Football Guide 2011

One of the points I've tried to stress, when discussing tablet editions for newspapers, is the ability of the paper to produce special sections once they have gotten the hang of the whole app development process. A perfect example of this is The Daily's new NFL preview app, released a couple of weeks into the season (yes, it's late).
The free app, The Daily's Pro Football Guide 2011, is an interesting experiment in its own right. First of all, to repeat, it's free – that means that there is no app revenue model here. Further, it is advertising free, a head scratcher if there ever was one – not even a single sponsor.

The app is meant to be used in portrait mode, though it does work in landscape. I assume the developer designed the app this way to cut down on the size of the app itself. What the app has in portrait is the animations: the extra content that pops up when you tap on a button, and the animated charts and graphs. It all works fairly well, and since it is free the rather sparse video content will be perfectly acceptable to most readers (the app has gotten good reviews so far in the App Store.

In the end, the two biggest problems with this app are that 1) it should have been released a couple of weeks ago (it's possible that the NFL lock-out messed with the scheduling here); and 2) there is no viable business model that I can see for an app like this one.

The whole purpose of a special section like a Football Preview section is, of course, to drive advertising. So if an app comes out that is both free and without advertising one starts to search for other reasons (besides experimentation) to produce the app. Is the publisher trying to drive their fantasy business, for instance? Nope. Are they trying to get customer names? Nope, no registration process here that I can see.

Beyond that little detail (business plan) this is still miles ahead of where other newspapers are right now as far as producing special sections for a tablet. Then again, you'd expect that from the first tablet newspaper produced, right?

Left: the second page which serves as a TOC; Middle: the third page contains a lead-in video which can be viewed in landscape, but can not be streamed via AirPlay; Right: the 49ers page, my team, which will most likely blow their chances to draft Andrew Luck next year by winning more than one game.

I'm outta here: Apple to open new retail store in Sicily

Gotta go, I'm out of here, have to cover a retail store opening. You know how it is. Now which store opening should I cover?
Apple announced a bunch of new store openings: Paris, Vancouver, Sydney, Sicily and New Haven. OK, I'll let someone else cover that New Haven opening, but the others...

The new store in Catania, Sicily, to open on the 24th, will be the ninth App Store in Italy. The others are in Rome, two in Milan, Firenze (Florence), Torino (Turin), Caserta Marcianise (outside Naples), Bergamo and Bologna.

Outside of the U.S., Apple also has nine stores in France, 13 in Australia, 22 in Canada and 33 in the U.K. Apple also has a handful of stores in Japan, China, Germany, Switzerland and Spain. (Our readers Pedro and Bruno are no doubt lobbying for new stores in Lisbon and Luxembourg.)

Agence France-Presse releases its first iPad edition; attractive design, but missing key features for a news app

Founded in 1835, Agence France-Presse (AFP) is the oldest news agency in the world. But here in the U.S., one almost never sees stories with the agency's byline on it unless you are reading a foreign newspaper or website. That is too bad because AFP fills a major hole created when many papers cut back on their foreign bureaus and foreign news coverage, generally.
For consumers, specifically iPad owners, AFP has a bit of a solution for you: their own iPad app which brings plenty of international news, sports and analysis to readers directly.

The new app, AFP iPad Edition, makes its App Store debut today and is free to download and access the content.

I like the overall design of the app as it works well in both portrait and landscape (because of my tablet cover by iPad is usually in landscape).

The app has the feel, however, of a work in progress as there are at least three features missing that seriously hamper the app.

First, there is no download mechanism. With WiFi on the reader can access the content of the stories in the section they are in, but if WiFi is turned off they discover that the content in the other sections has not downloaded. It is to be expected that the video would not accessible when in Airplane mode, but there should be a way to download the content for offline reading. (The Financial Times app is a good example of how this should work.) The work around is to make sure you have opened the section you want to read prior to shutting down your WiFi.
The second feature missing is AirPlay support. While the video will stream the audio portion of the content to an Apple TV no video is streamed making AirPlay basically worthless here. This is a huge error in that any media app with video should take advantage of AirPlay.

Finally, the article sharing is limited to emailing the stories – adding social networking seems almost de rigueur (sorry for that one). Also, the app has no push notifications – very strange for a news app.

These features, however, can certainly be added in future updates. In the meantime, the app does have font controls and solid navigation, making this app a pleasure to use.

AFP has one other iOS app in the App Store. AFP Mobile is a paid app, $1.99, and has received pretty cold reviews inside the App Store. The three big complaints are that French is not an option, there are no push notifications, and that there is no ability to share articles through Twitter or Facebook – pretty much the same issues the iPad edition has.

Morning Brief: S&P downgrades Italian debt, as world contemplates default by Greece; the AJC will add circulars online and into its mobile app tomorrow

It would be negligence not to keep one's eyes on events in Europe and its possible consequences for the world economy. Last night came word that Standard & Poor's had lowered the credit rating on Italian bonds from A+ to A.

The downgrade, which followed a similar downgrade of U.S. debt, comes seven weeks after Italian authorities raided the Milan offices of S&P and Moody's, leading to cries of payback from Italian authorities. The raid, carried out by Carlo Maria Capistro, the chief prosecutor of the small Italian port town of Trani, was launched to discover whether the companies "respect regulations as they carry out their work," according to The Guardian report from seven weeks ago.

Today's downgrade of Italy was caused, S&P said, by the country's weak economic growth and the country's "fragile" government, a direct slap at Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. In response, the prime minister said “the valuations of Standard & Poor’s seem dictated more by newspaper speculation than by reality, and appear influenced by political considerations,” BusinessWeek reported.

Meanwhile, the NYT is once again leading with a story about the crisis in Greece which talks about the possible consequences of a default.

Despite all this, European markets are up strongly today, possibly reflecting pleasure with the S&P move.

Yesterday TNM reported on the updated apps released by Tribune Interactive that now contain advertising circulars originating from the Associated Press's iCircular.

This morning The Atlanta Journal-Constitution announced that tomorrow their AJC Digest mobile app will be updated to add in the iCircular products, as well.

We think it’s a win for the consumers who love the Sunday sales papers, and for the advertisers who have traditionally reached out to them in print with great offers,” said Nunzio Michael Lupo, senior director- digital products for the AJC

Monday, September 19, 2011

Post-Gazette has a second go at tablet publishing with its new iPad app, but design remains a major issue

In April of this year the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette launched its first tablet edition, PGSelect. The app was unique among newspaper apps in that it cost a couple of bucks to download, but then gave you the content for free. The content was limited, as the name would imply, but at least it was free once you ponied up two bucks.
In that post in April I complained that the real problem with the PGSelect app was not programming, it was design. I then looked at the Post-Gazette website and was equally unimpressed. But the print edition seemed attractive enough, so the problem, I concluded, lay with the digital design team.

Late on Friday the Post-Gazette had its second iPad app hit the App Store, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for iPad, and as the name would imply, this app gives the reader full access to the content. This time both the app and the access is free, with only a banner ad along the bottom (currently a house ad) that hints at any business model.

Unfortunately the design problems continue.

While the app description inside the App Store has screenshots that looks pretty good, when the user opens up the actual app one is presented with something far different. As one can see below, if the current lead story contains a photo the layout is OK – boxy, but OK. But if there are no photos, well then, it is a box-fest (and an art director's nightmare).

If the lead story in the section has a photo (left) then the page layout works,
if there is no photo (right) then the layout is boxy in the extreme.

Flipping through the various sections – Breaking News, Arts & Living, Business, Local News, Opinion, Sports – the look is hit or miss. Some sections look fine because of the graphics that accompany the stories, others are just a collection of boxes filled with headlines and part of the first paragraph of the story.

Is this an improvement over PGSelect? Yes, it probably is. And when you consider that PGSelect was an obvious experiment, then one can see that the paper is still feeling its way around tablet publishing (so maybe one shouldn't too hard on them).

If there one thing I'd like to see, however, it is more of an emphasis on the app being a viable business venture. The lack of real estate given to advertising means that there won't be much revenue coming into this venture's P&L statement anytime soon. Then there is the issue of subscriptions and registration (it lacks both).

The good news for the Post-Gazette is that they probably have time to continue to experiment with their mobile and tablet apps as the competition, the Tribune-Review, has failed to launch anything beyond a simple news reader app to date.

Media app updates: Tribune updates two of its newspaper mobile apps, adding circulars; the British Journal of Photography adds support for owners of the original iPad

The Tribune Company's interactive division today updated two of its newspaper iPhone apps to add in circulars to the Deals section of the app.
The iPhone apps for the Chicago Tribune and the LA Times have been updated with circulars provided by, the Associated Press initiative.

The circulars are from retailers that are currently part of the AP program and include Kohl's, Macy's, Sears, Walmart, Kmart, Target and others.

When the user opens the app up after updating the app will ask for the access to the users location so as to deliver the proper circulars, leaving out retailers that do not locations near the user. My circulars did not include Cub Foods or Star Market, for instance.

Tribune Interactive has not yet updated its Android mobile apps to include the circulars, though one can assume that will be coming. Also, since neither the LA Times or Chicago Tribune iPad app editions currently have a Deals section one would presume that a major update of those apps would be necessary to bring in the electronic circulars.

Incisive Media has updated its British Journal of Photography tablet edition which TNM looked originally here. The update adds stability fixes for owners of the original iPad.

In my original look at the app I took note of the frequent crashs I experienced with the app and that it eventually took a hard reboot of my iPad in order to get the app to begin performing properly. I assume this update solves those issues.

AOL has updated its Editions by AOL iPad app over the weekend. The app says that it now supports iOS 5. It also has integrated Read It later and Instapaper into the app. So far the reviews are good.

Zinio also issued an update this weekend to its universal iOS. The Zinio app sports a new interface and new settings. The last update to the Android app was at the end of August.

Other media app updates include the CNBC Real-Time for iPad app, which has added some content and a full screen reader mode, the CBC News universal iOS app which fixes some bugs, and The New Republic for iPad, which says it has fixed some bugs, but tells users in the description that if they continue to have issues they should delete the app completely (from both the iPad and their iTunes software) and reinstall it from the App Store.

Let's split: Netflix isn't the only company splitting up, as Tyco announces a split into three companies

This isn't exactly media news, but it is an interesting follow-up to the Netflix story.

As you should have read by now, Netflix is splitting into two companies: one will stream movies and will be called Netflix, the other will rent you movies and games and will be called Qwikster. The move will test the theory that two companies retaining one customer will be easier than one company retaining two. Or something like that.

Well, the traditional reason a company splits is because the value of the split companies when added together will be greater than the company if kept whole. That surely is the reason behind splitting industrial conglomerate Tyco into three different companies.

The three new companies will be ADT North American Residential, the home security division, Flow Control, the values and controls company, and Commercial Fire and Security, the fire detection systems company.

This splitting idea may have some merit, maybe TNM should split up, as well. TNM could split into two new companies: one that provides news and information about New Media and another than allows me to make a living. It's that second one that may prove a challenge, right?

Morning Brief: Embarrassed by internal leaks, Scotland Yard goes after The Guardian; Greek crisis starting to reach a boil; waiting on Apple, again

After handling the phone hacking scandal poorly, then seeing leaks appear in the press, Scotland Yard has decided that in order to clean itself up it will have to use the Official Secrets Act to try to force a journalist to reveal their source. The press is in the U.K. is howling.

The issue of forcing a media outlet to reveal its sources is always controversial, but the use of the Official Secrets Act to force The Guardian to reveal its sources is especially galling to many in light of the fact that Scotland Yard was so cozy to Murdoch's News of the World. Now the paper that has played a major role in revealing that the police did not investigate the phone hacking is itself being attacked by the same police.

Although the story has slid down the page at the NYT's website, for much of this weekend a story involving the Greek debt crisis led the paper's home page, clearly reflecting the seriousness of the situation.
Greek leaders struggled through the weekend to agree to a set of radical budget reductions that would satisfy foreign lenders’ demands even as they tried to stave off mounting resistance to those cuts at home.

Reflecting the urgency of the situation, the prime minister of Greece, George A. Papandreou, canceled a planned trip to Washington this week and held talks with his cabinet on Sunday.
The issue remains the same: what actions will the Greek government take to lessen the budget shortfall, will they implement more austerity measures, and will this satisfy the demands of other European leaders – especially Germany, France and the U.K., known now as the "troika".

"The troika thinks the recently announced property levy will not suffice to plug the budget hole and is pressing for measures on the spending side -- cuts in public sector wages and employment," an unnamed government official was quoted as saying by Reuters in the Athens News.

The uncertainty is again rattling the markets. In Europe the German DAX and French CAC 40 are down by over 2.5 percent again this morning. In the U.S., before the open Dow Jones Industrial Average futures dropped 138 points to 11308.

I don't go in for predictions, but here is one, nonetheless: one of big Apple rumor sites will announce this week that they have learned that Apple will hold a special event on such-and-such a date to unveil the new iPhone. My guess is that that date is the first week of October.

It appears as though iOS 5 should be available to download within two weeks or so, with the actual release of the new iPhone shortly thereafter. For the press the big story will probably be that Sprint will now carry the iPhone. As a former Sprint customer who absolutely hated the way the company treated its customers this is a big yawn. But it does mean that iPhone users in the U.S. will finally have some real choices, and possibly the big three will also have to actually compete against each other in order to get and retain customers. Or not.

CEO Reed Hastings announces Netflix will split into two companies; now it will be both more expensive and more complicated; customers continue to move on

The CEO of Netflix, Reed Hastings, issued a mea culpa via email last night, then informed the company's customers that while he may be sorry for raising prices on their services he wasn't done messing with the business model – Netflix will now split off its DVD rental business from its streaming movies business creating a new company to be called Qwikster.

"In hindsight, I slid into arrogance based upon past success," Hastings wrote to customers. "We have done very well for a long time by steadily improving our service, without doing much CEO communication. Inside Netflix I say, “Actions speak louder than words,” and we should just keep improving our service."

Unfortunately, his next paragraph starts with the word "But", and anybody who is married or in a relationship can tell you that you never say you're sorry and then follow that up with "But".

"So we realized that streaming and DVD by mail are becoming two quite different businesses, with very different cost structures, different benefits that need to be marketed differently, and we need to let each grow and operate independently. It’s hard for me to write this after over 10 years of mailing DVDs with pride, but we think it is necessary and best: In a few weeks, we will rename our DVD by mail service to Qwikster."

So there it is, Netflix has raised your prices and now we will start sending your two bills instead of one. Don't you just love us?

The letter is also posted on the company's blog page and what follows it is over 2,700 comments telling him what any business major could have for free: you are nuts.

"Seriously, you thought a good idea to make up for miscommunications was to separate the websites and make it more complicated for us to manages our queues? Really?" wrote the first commenter.

"You're continuing to make a classic mistake: thinking you're something different than what everyone believes you are. You're not a DVD company and a streaming company: you're where I go to watch movies. That's it," wrote another to a chorus of "amens".

"If a film I search for on Netflix is not available for streaming, will the website still tell me if the DVD is available?" one customer asks. "Or must I search twice?" Hastings responds to this one with "Ouch. You'd have to search the second place if we didn't have it in the first place," showing that once again the company has not thought this through.

It is sad to see a pioneering company like Netflix do this to themselves. But maybe Netflix will be remembered as fondly as Osborne Computer which now is known as much for The Osborne Effect, a business study in what-not-to-do. Maybe in years to come business majors will be studying The Netflix Effect, as well.