Friday, December 9, 2011

News aggregation apps and Google Currents: should publishers jump in or opt out?

It's been a wacky past few hours as I, along with other publishers no doubt, have been playing around with Google's new toy: Google Currents.
Google Currents is another of those news aggregation apps for Android and iOS but with a bit of twist: everyone who publishes is invited and the only barrier to entry is the time needed to get your Google Currents entry completed.

The whole process can be completed in less than 30 minutes assuming you have an icon already built, or can modify an existing iOS or Android icon.

As you can see at right, TNM now is inside Google Currents (I think I'm probably the only subscriber at this point!), and by the end of the day hundreds of other independent publishers will be there, as well.

For established brands, the one day advantage they had over everyone else will soon be lessened unless Google agrees to promote them in the Featured section of the app.

It's hard for me to really evaluate Google Currents, which is why I try not to make predictions. I don't use Flipboard or Zite or Editions, but Google Currents seems like something I would open on a regular basis.

The question that still is bouncing around in my head, though, is why would publishers of paid circulation magazines be so eager to jump on board? Do they see Google Currents as an extension of their free websites?

From Google's perspective, this is a great little marketing tool to sell advertising. Inside Google Currents anyone can see how many people are "subscribing" to a particular publication (I think the word "channel" might be better). Forbes, for instance, shows over 136,000 "subscribers". But then again, what does it mean to be a subscriber? Forbes has no clue who these new readers are unless they have turned on the email opt-in feature in their Google Currents producer controls. But they could, of course.

I thought Google Wave might be a big deal, it wasn't. Google Currents? Ask me next week, or next month.

I see that I wasn't the only playing around with Google Currents over the past day.

Chris English, the publisher of the indy tablet magazines Hoodgrown and Maybach was establishing his own channel for Hoodgrown inside Google Currents (see at left).

But English has also been playing around with OnSwipe's tablet publishing solution, as well.

As you can see below-right, that has gone live, as well.
OnSwipe redesigns your website into a Flipboard-like look for browsers used on tablets. I haven't been a big fan simply because I'm not crazy about the boxy look, but also because I think the iPad's Safari browser can render most sites very well.

But I will admit that the OnSwipe version of the Hoodgrown website works well. Further, if your site isn't that attractive on the web, and you have to go through lots of corporate hurdles to make a change, using OnSwipe is a good way to create an attractive website for that portion of web readers using an iPad.

I've worked for more than a few publishing companies where getting a redesign of my magazine's website would take an act of God to get through the corporate bureaucracy. Using OnSwipe, clandestinely, might get you your new website in a hurry – and when the big cheese finds out about it you can say you were just playing around with a new technology.

Developing for new digital products such as tablets: the battle for market share and brand protection

This is one of those "automatic writing" exercises I occasionally produce. You may find it complete hogwash, or of some value.

Two years have now flown by since I first began writing posts here at Talking New Media, and it is safe to say that the landscape for publishers looks completely different than it did in late 2009. Then, the big issues involved web publishing and whether mobile would become a viable platform.

As a former newspaper and magazine publisher, I lamented the lack of commitment to sales – both print and digital – that many publishing executives seemed to have. Cost-cutting ruled the day then, as it does now.
Image and video hosting by TinyPic

The first iPad app post on TNM
featured the newly launched NYT app.

But in two years we have seen both the continued growth of mobile, and the rise of the tablet platform; and while many publishers have embraced the new digital platforms, many others have either decided to stay on the sidelines or else outsource these digital products to outside companies.

But in conversations I have had with print publishers, I have been struck by a basic misunderstanding many seem to have about what the new digital platforms will mean for their businesses. Many seem to look at mobile and tablets as they once did of the web: simply as new products totally unrelated to their print products.

Thinking of it another way, it would be like a soft drink maker contemplating whether to get into the frozen food business – it might involve a brand extension, but whatever they do in the new category has no effect whatsoever on their core business.

This is the wrong way to look at things.

While I often say that the new digital platforms – mobile and tablet – should be looked at as new, unique product areas, it is not true that they are as different as soft drinks and frozen foods. Readers are migrating to the new platforms and a publisher risks their overall market share when they fail to realize that they must compete just as hard in digital as they had in print.

Far too many publishers seem to believe that all that is necessary is to make their existing print products available on the new reading devices, in what form they are available is seen as irrelevant.

But as readers migrate, they are looking within the various app stores for many of the same brands they used to seeing in print. But when they open up that new digital product they are most definitely judging the product with new eyes, seeing the product's readability and features as they exist in their new digital formats. Your well designed, easy-to-read and navigate print product will only be a memory if your digital product is hard-to-read and hard to navigate.

(The page size of a replica edition on an iPad is approximately 65% of the size of the print page, yet many magazine apps make no adjustments whatsoever to their fonts and instead force the reader to zoom in to read.)

Let's do a little thought experiment: say that only ten percent of current print readers in the U.S. will own a tablet by year's end. Of that ten percent, half will actively read newspapers and magazines on their tablets. That means five percent is up for grabs.

What many of the publishers seem to think is that simply by having their products available for download on, say, the iPad this will be enough to guarantee that they will maintain their market share. What they fail to see is that readers will be comparing their new digital product with other new digital products. The fight for share will be won or lost in that new digital market.

If print and digital were separate markets – like soft drinks and frozen food – this might not matter. So what if we lose in the digital arena, we still have print.

But print readers are migrating and so the loss in one arena will translate into a loss in total market share. (Using the figures above, five percentage points would be at risk.)

Morning Brief: UK faces European isolation after using its veto; Zinio gives away $25 gift cards at opening of Grand Central Station Apple Store

The U.K. used its veto to try and prevent the reopening of the Lisbon treaty, a move favored by Germany and many of the other EU countries.

The move by Prime Minister David Cameron was seen as further isolating the U.K. from the rest of the Eurozone.

“David Cameron requested something we all considered unacceptable, a protocol in the treaty allowing the U.K. to be exempted for a certain number of financial regulations,” said French President President Nicolas Sarkozy.

British papers are trying to assess what this means, and what the consequences might be.

Michael White, The Guardian: So is today's isolation splendid or miserable? Is it better or for worse? Well, plenty are dashing on to radio and TV to assert both options with glib over-confidence. In refusing to join the emerging fiscal union Cameron has forced the EU majority to create what are known as "inter-governmental" arrangements, not formal EU arrangements. Paris and Berlin will not be pleased.

Yet I do not hear the sound of champagne corks or celebration among British Eurosceptics. Beware of what you wish for, is a wise saying. Who knows what happens now? But Europe, for all its follies and failings, has become a scapegoat for weaknesses that are really our own. We may be about to rediscover that awkward truth. It was why we joined in the first place.
Gavin Hewitt, Europe editor for the BBC wrote that the moves by the countries of the Eurozone were a "major step was taken towards closer integration. It was not as a result of popular demand by Europe's people. It came about because Europe's leaders believed their project had "never been in such danger"."

But as for the U.K., Hewitt said that the result of Cameron's veto will be a more isolated U.K.

"The main obstacle to treaty change was Britain. Never has the UK been more isolated in Europe. David Cameron has antagonized many European leaders. In their view he used his veto at a time of Europe's hour of need."

Zinio, the digital newsstand, is celebrating the opening of Apple's Grand Central Station store, as well as the holiday season, by giving consumers $25 gift cards.

If you are in NYC today I'd say it might be smart to head over to Grand Central Station.

Speaking of Apple: Apple sent a message to its developers with apps inside iTunes recommending that developers include higher resolution screenshots. "We recommend uploading your screenshots using high-resolution images so that your app will be optimized for the Retina display," Apple's notice said.

There was also a reminder to check to see if all contracts have been signed inside the iTunes Connect website. Three contracts may apply: one for paid apps worldwide, another Apple's iAd Network, and finally one that applies to all free iOS apps.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Google Currents: Publisher's strong urge to get paid suddenly disappears when news aggregation apps launch

Something strange happens to a publishers strongly held conviction that they should get paid for their content when confronted with news aggregation apps, especially one backed by Google. Suddenly the ad model is back in vogue.

Google's rumored news aggregation app, code named Propeller when the WSJ's Kara Swisher wrote about it a month or so ago, launched this afternoon under the name Google Currents.
You'll have to search for it by name because for some bizarre reason it doesn't show up when searching for it under Google's name. (I see paidContent's Laura Hazard Owen noticed this, as well). The same holds true, by the way, inside the Android Market – you'll need a direct link.

One can hardly blame a publisher for wanting to be part of a new Google project, or any news aggregation app that stands a chance of success. But news aggregation apps are becoming a dime a dozen with no end in site.

Google's app feels a little different in that it is really an aggregation of mini "publisher editions". The user adds content sources from the Library (see below) and then can browse the content from a specific source in a simple, but attractive layout.

I found it ironic that one of those sources turned out to be Saveur, which had updated its own iPad app today, adding it to Apple's Newsstand. Readers who download that branded app will be forced to buy a subscription to the magazine to access the issues, and then will be confronted with a hard-to-read replica edition. Here, inside Google Currents, the articles are much easier to read in their native tablet formats. – and, of course, they are free.

Now, I've always maintained that you could sell a publishing executive just about anything, the makers of those Flash flipbooks can attest to that. So I suppose it shouldn't be surprising to see the urge to sell magazines subscriptions disappear so quickly when presented with an opportunity to be part of Google Currents.

If you think signing on with Google is a bad idea you would be mistaken. I like the app, and unlike other Google apps that have sometimes been a bit buggy at launch, Google Currents worked flawlessly for me on my iPad. But one thing that I found pretty funny: near the end of the app description the text suddenly refers to the app as Google Propeller. Oops.

To learn more about how all this works from the publisher's perspective you should visit the Google Currents platform page.

Left: The Library where users can add content from publishers; Right: Saveur's article in Google Currents are free to access, while the publisher is requiring readers to subscribe inside its own branded app.

One quickly can see why this might work for Google, and for their publishing partners. One day into the launch Google Currents says that Saveur, for instance, already has over 10,000 users subscribing to its offerings inside the app (that is an amazing number if accurate). Forbes has over 9,000. (These numbers will be no doubt higher by the time you download the app!)

Of course, those who sell the ad space will want to make sure they don't exaggerate their reach, all one would need to do is look inside the app to see the number of subscribers any publication really has.

The promotional video can be found after the jump:

Quark launches its own digital magazine for the iPad; Bonnier moves Saveur into Newsstand but fails to upgrade its vision for the magazine on a tablet

Desktop publishing software company Quark has released its own digital magazine into the App Store. Jabber will serve as a vehicle to demonstrate the possibilities of its own digital publishing solutions centered around QuarkXPress 9 and App Studio.
As you would expect, the magazine comes with both portrait and landscape layouts and is packed with interactive content and animation to produce a showcase for potential users of their tablet publishing packages.

“Tablets like the iPad have opened up a totally new opportunity for the design community to rethink magazine design,” said Gavin Drake, vice president of marketing for Quark. “With Jabber we aim to give creative professionals fun, interesting, and informative content in an app that is our take on the future of the digital magazine. With Jabber we’ll trial new approaches to digital design to push the envelope of what’s possible for designers without having to code.”
Quark's App Studio is currently is capable of creating customized apps for the iPad, though the company's website says that it an Android solution is "coming soon".

Art directors and others can download a 30-day trial copy of QuarkXPress 9 on the company's website.

Back in June, Bonnier released its first iPad app from its food magazine Saveur. I've been a reader of the magazine for quite a number of years, and when working for an online video company once had the occasion to pitch the previous publisher video creation services.

When the iPad app was released I was, frankly, stunned. The potential tablets present to food magazine publishers is almost limitless, after all. My expectations, apparently, were way too high because the magazine turned out to be little more than a replica edition lightly enhanced with some digital features.

Today an update came out that moves the app into Newsstand and adds live web content into the magazine issues, according to the app description. But I was fooled for a second thinking that it was a new app and was ever so close to buying a subscription. But instead I downloaded the preview of the latest issue, and as you can see below, it is still very much a replica edition. That means two-pages spreads are cut off, text is unreadable without zooming in, and all the potential of the tablet publishing is ignored.

The December issue, which I bought in print, is still a great read, and the magazine appears to be fairly healthy. But Saveur was always a bit of a step child inside the old publishing company, World Publications, and now it seems to still be that within Bonnier. While many of the magazines, such as Popular Science, are leading the charge toward tablet publishing using the Mag+ platform, Saveur is using a replica solution (MagLight).

The food category, I'm afraid, is still looking for its killer tablet app.
Left: The cover of the preview version of the December issue of Saveur; Middle: A two-page spread, or rather, half of a two-page spread since this replica edition makes few adjustments for being on a tablet; Right: A full page of text, have fun reading it.

Mag+ announces its three finalists in its Creativity Contest

Mag+ today announced its three finalists in its Creativity Contest and are now allowing web readers to vote for their favorite publishing idea.

The three finalists are Ryan Hoback from the US:

Black Book Brewing has launched a ‘Tussle’ campaign for home brewers to find the brewery’s next ale. As part of this initiative, they have created an iPad magazine that tells the brewery’s backstory and provides an engaging and exploratory experience designed to enlighten users about the world of home brewing. Through storytelling, photography and interactive design, this magazine gives people the chance to learn, share and become part of something special.
Diana Ortscheid and Marie Stübner from Sweden:
VintageMUM – a vintage and shabby chic inspired digital crafting & lifestyle magazine with a Scandinavian touch. We want to inspire the reader through cosy pictures and smart crafting for the whole family. With VintageMUM you will discover how easily you can create and decorate your home by following our thorough guides and illustrations. We give you crafting with a touch of love…
And Natasha Mead from New Zealand:
Milk is a DIY fashion magazine exclusively for the iPad. Each issue features 6-9 new and easy to follow tutorials ranging in cost and time required. Taking it’s cues from street style and high fashion trends alike, Milk is a source of both inspiration and instruction.
After the break you can see the three demonstration videos, or you can view them on the Mag+ website, where you can vote for your favorite. Voting closes at 3PM EST on December 16th. The winner gets the $2,500 publishing fee waived, essentially launching the winner into the publishing biz. (Yes, you should have entered!)

The New York Times releases a mobile app for the election season; app gives the reader free access to the top stories, but otherwise requires a digital subscription

Based on the quality of the GOP debates, and the candidates involved, one would think that the first election media app to be released would be from The Onion. But, unfortunately, neither The Onion, The Daily Show or SLN has yet to enter the political news app arena.
That leaves us with the NYT, which is not a bad way to start off the election season, I guess.

The new NYTimes Election 2012 iPhone app is a free app that offers readers the top six news stories free of charge. To get more readers will have to either sign into their existing NYT + Smartphone or All Digital Access accounts.

I will go out on a limb by saying that quite a number of readers will object to having to pay for the content, being as it is pretty much all online and can be accessed for free, assuming you haven't hit your metered paywall limit.

But the idea is a good one: in order to make a digital subscription worth it for readers the NYT is creating additional digital products that can be accessed with through their subscription. This is absolutely the right approach, publishers can no longer consider their existing print product as their brand – their brand is all the products created that distribute their content. Create or die. (OK, I'll get off my high horse now.)

The new NYT is a good solid mobile app which hopefully will be ported over to Android, as well. There are only a few star ratings inside the App Store, but no written reviews. There is one one-star rating, but I have to assume that came from Donald Graham.


Morning Brief: The Guardian's interactive climate change map; Newsstand integration for Hoodgrown, Hearst's Express-News; Newsstand nears the 1,000 mark

The Guardian's website has an interesting interactive map that attempts to answer the question "Which nations are really responsible for climate change?"
The map takes data on CO2 emissions and other factors and breaks them down into eight different mappings.

Unfortunately, while the map is being featured on the newspaper's home pages of both its UK and US editions, the feature is completely missing from the paper's iPad app – no doubt for technical reasons (though I suppose it could have been a deadline issue, as well).

TNM reader and frequent commenter, Chris English has issued an update to his Hoodgrown Magazine app.

The update brings Hoodgrown into Apple's Newsstand, makes the app iOS 5 compliant, and adds Twiter and email sharing of stories.

The older issues that are available inside the app are mostly available free of charge, but the app will require $4.99 subscription for six monthly issues. No doubt this will put some pressure on Mr. English to get these issues out on time – good luck Chris!

The lastest issue available inside the app this morning is Issue 7, but the new app icon seems to suggest that a new issue will be available very soon (maybe Chris will give us a preview here in the comments later today). Update: I was five minutes too soon with the post, the new issue has just hit the app. It's priced at $0.99.
Also issuing an app update late yesterday was my old employer Hearst Newspapers. The app for the San Antonio Express-News has been updated to add it into Newsstand, as well.

The apps for the four Hearst papers are identical, though the Houston Chronicle app is still awaiting an update that moves it into Newsstand.

Speaking of Newsstand: almost 40 publications issued new or updated apps that support Newsstand into the US version of the App Store. This brings the total number of periodicals available in Newsstand to 914 (for the iPad, less for iPhone and iPod touch). No doubt Apple will be touting Newsstand when it hits 1,000, which should be soon.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Dennis Publishing's iPad app for The Week UK takes a good approach to app and text design

The tablet edition for The Week UK from Dennis Publishing was updated today after being originally released last month. The app does a lot of things right and could be a good app to copy for those looking to find a solution to smaller displayed tablets.
The free app, The Week UK, will be charging a subscription fee of $35.99, but for now issues can be accessed free of charge thanks to the sponsorship of Rolex. The app states that single issues would normally be $2.99.

Upon opening the app you are immediately requested to give the publisher your email address, though this can, in fact, be bypassed. One can also register your print subscription, but according to the app description print subscribers are only going to get free access until February 16 – current readers will not like that one bit. (Update: I'm told the pricing may change from what is currently in the current app description.)

But the app does some other things that might be worth learning from. First, the idea of at least one free issue is a good one to get the reader interested. Second, the single sponsor model for early issues is a tried and true way to start off for many new tablet editions.

But once inside the actual issues this is where some techies might be disappointed, but I think readers will be delighted. The actual issues are pretty simple in design – basically using a mobile publishing model of simple text layouts. This model, kind of a cross between a Kindle Edition and an iPhone mobile app, might work wonderfully for those trying to find a formula for distributing their magazines onto 7-inch tablets like the Kindle Fire. Since the fonts can be adjusted reading is very easy and comfortable on the iPad and would be, as well, on a smaller tablet.

The app lacks a lot of the bells and whistles one might find on an app from some other publishers, but this model fits The Week very well.

If you are considering publishing for the smaller tablets you might want to take a look at this one and imagine the app not as you see it on the iPad but how it might look on a Kindle Fire.

Left: The sign-in process at opening; Middle: the registration page, which can be bypassed; Right: the article index and cover page.

OK, so if this app might work on smaller tablets, maybe I'd be smart to look inside to see if Dennis Publishing has already released a version of The Week UK there.

Sure enough there is one and so I immediately subscribed to that app to take a look at it on my new Kindle Fire (this line of work on getting very expensive with all these tablets coming out).

The Kindle Edition (found here) is, like other magazines inside the Kindle Store, a replica edition with what's called "Page View", with a "Text View" added. This makes reading the magazine much easier. It, too, has font controls to assist readers, like myself, who occasionally need to reach for the reading glasses.

McClatchy tries to provide some good news: revenue is only down a little, I mean a little more

It's funny how last month when Apple reported its quarterly results some of the tech websites jumped up and screamed how disappointing the results were, with some sales numbers coming in less than what some analysts had projected. By that measure all that is necessary to produce disappointing numbers is to have some say that in the next quarter all the world's money will end up in Apple's hands – and when it doesn't, well, what a horrible quarter.

But that is the price some companies pay when they are announcing record breaking results, sometimes good isn't good enough. So when a newspaper company, coming off of horrible results says that their results were not nearly as bad as other quarters the same voices can be heard proclaiming what a wonderful quarter the company had.

Take McClatchy which today provided new earnings and revenue projections which they, and other media outlets, are pretty pumped up about. To the numbers:

Management noted that it saw improving advertising revenue trends that began in September and continued in October and November 2011. Advertising revenues were down 8.7% in October and 2.4% in November (down 5.6% for the two months combined), compared to declines of 10.1% through the first nine months of 2011. Total revenues for October and November combined were down 4.9% compared to declines of 8.7% through the first nine months of 2011.

OK, there is no question that a 5.6% decline is better than a 10.1% decline for the previous months – though both declines occurred at the same company remember. But how did McClatchy do last year, were they up against a good quarter? Here is what the company said last year about the same quarter:

Revenues in the fourth quarter of 2010 were $369.9 million, down 5.9% from the fourth quarter of 2009. Advertising revenues were $287.4 million, down 6.9% from 2009, and circulation revenues were $69.0 million, down 3.3%.

So McClatchy says that so far its ad revenue is down 5.6% for the quarter versus last year's 6.9% decline. I suppose there is good news in there somewhere, right?

"As we look to the fourth quarter, we are pleased to have seen the improvement in revenues in recent months. We expect cash expenses to be down in the mid- to high-single-digit percent range, excluding severance costs associated with our restructuring plans," McClatchy's CEO Gary Pruitt said in the company's press release.

"As we look ahead to 2012," Pruitt continued, "we have limited visibility but will work hard to maintain our ad revenue momentum. We're adding digital sales staff and expanding our sales training. We will continue to be vigilant in controlling expenses and, of course, we will continue to reduce debt. Finally, we will be opportunistic, as we always have been, in considering transactions that will strengthen our company and will be open to digital investments that give us a strategic advantage in our operations."

Layoffs and sales training. Sounds like 2012 is going to be loads of fun.

Listen, I'm not trying to be a jerk about this, but at some point earnings announcements need to start talking about what the newspaper company plans on doing to reverse these revenue drops, other than threatening more layoffs or sending the staff to therapy.

On the bright side, I suppose, the company does talk up their ownership stake in both Classified Ventures and CareerBuilder, both of which are contributing to the bottom line. There is a lesson in there, don't you think?

The bad news for the newspaper industry is not limited to just the U.S., I'm afraid. The British journalism site is reporting the Wolverhampton Express & Star, is planning to cut up to 50 jobs, or ten percent of its staff.

"It is very disappointing that we have had to make this very difficult decision but 2011 has been an extremely challenging trading year and 2012 is not looking any better," Alan Harris, managing director at the paper is quoted as stating.

What is particularly worrisome is that a year ago there were voices expressing optimism that 2011 would be a rebound year for the industry – I've not heard that about 2012 so far. On the other hand, there is a philosophy among traders in the stock market that you know you've hit the bottom when no one talks about stocks going up – call it contrarian trading.

Data Conversion Laboratory launches online eBook conversion services for small publishers, authors

Data Conversion Laboratory (DCL) has launched a new online suite of services targeted at small publishers, companies and individual authors that streamlines the process of converting printed books into eBooks for distribution through Apple's iBook store and other new digital book retailers.

EPUB On Demand allows publishers to begin the conversion process online at the DCL website, converting electronic files, such as PDFs, Word and other formats, into EPub and mobi.

"We've been in business 30 years now and our services for that whole time was how to get information from what publishers have into what they need, new electronic forms," Mark Gross, President & CEO of DCL told TNM yesterday. "eBooks is just the latest incarnation of what we're doing."

"It's targeted to the smaller publisher, individual authors, and these days everyone's a publisher, " Gross said, "and are doing NOT hundreds of books a year, but are doing five, ten, fifteen, twenty, or even one book a year. This is a streamlined way to get into the process and get what they need."

The service will support all popular eReader devices and follows the same quality controls as the company's other conversion services. While a larger publisher would be assigned an account manager, this new services allows the publisher or author to begin the process online.

"You go onto the website, there is a series of questions on what kind of book is it, what do you want done, what format do you want on the other side of it, what kind of book is it, how many pages, and it proceeds to give you a price on it and let's you order right there," Gross said.

"Once it's sent in, it undergoes the same process, the same quality reviews, as anybody else. It's not an automated book converter. I don't know if you've tried any of those they don't provide particularly good results."

DCL began in the business during the early days of the PC industry, converting files for customers
such word processor documents into WordPerfect.

"Our initial business was helping people move from large computers into small computers, all B2B stuff," Gross told TNM. "What we are trying to do with the on-demand service is have a way to have small publishers work with us."

At the end of the process, DCL will load the new ePub file into the system of sellers like Apple, or the customer can handle that themselves, depending on their needs.

Morning Brief: Pakistani group claims responsibility for sectarian attacks in Afghanistan; Sun-Times paywall goes up Thursday; HP acquires German web-to-print company;

If Afghanistan didn't have enough troubles already yesterday's attack against Shiite pilgrims was a disturbing new development. The attacks that took place in three Afghan cities killed at least 63 people, according to the NYT report.

A Pakistani group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, claimed responsibility for the coordinated attacks, raising fears that sectarian violence, previously rare in Afghanistan, will be a new complicating factor in the already violent landscape of the Asian nation.

“Never in our history have there been such cruel attacks on religious observances,” President Hamid Karzai said in a statement. “The enemies of Afghanistan do not want us to live under one roof with peace and harmony.”

The Chicago Sun-Times is the latest to launch a metered paywall – they said they will launch their web initial tomorrow.
Readers will get 20 free page views of any website associated with the Sun-Times, that would include the sites supporting their suburban papers.

“We think the time is long overdue for us to begin charging for our content,” said Jeremy Halbreich, Sun-Times Media chairman, who was echoing pretty much every other newspaper publisher says to justify the building of a paywall. “It is certainly award-winning content and we need to find new ways to support it.” Yeah, yeah, award-winning. Wait for it, next comes talk about the New York Times (you'll find that part near the end of their article).

The Sun-Times paywall is using the Press+ system, sold by R.R. Donnelley.

My opinion of these paywalls remain the same: metered walls often are irrelevant when the news site is not a dominate player on the web. They become more important with major papers like the NYT and WSJ (though the WSJ's paywall is a solid wall, not a metered paywall). I visit the Sun-Times website once in a blue moon, and usually to read Andy Ihnatko's columns. Other than that ...

HP yesterday announced that it had acquired Hiflex Software GmbH, a privately held global software solutions provider. The acquired company specializes in web-to-print and management information systems solutions for printing services.

"HP wants to break the traditional barriers of how and where business customers print, making it easy for them to produce custom or personalized materials anywhere, anytime,” said Vyomesh Joshi, executive vice president, Imaging and Printing Group, in the company's announcement. “Hiflex’s technology provides a powerful platform to deliver on this goal as part of our overall cloud printing strategy.”

The acquisition by HP is a further investment in cloud printing services, an area that has not as yet really taken off as many consumers and companies stubbornly remain hard wired.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Crain Communications releases its first iPad app for its AdAge title through the Toronto developer Polar Mobile

Could you imagine a publisher producing a new print magazine or newspaper and allowing the name of their printer to be prominently displayed? Never, publishers rarely even mention the name of their printers inside their publications. But for some reason some publishers don't mind that their app developers are given total credit for their apps rather than the publishing company. Maybe they aren't very proud of their work?
This thought crossed my mind when looking at the new iPad edition of Advertising Age, the advertising news weekly from Crain Communications. AdAge is one of the first advertising or media media magazines to launch an iPad app, the media and advertising industry's trade publications still mostly missing from the App Store.

Readers will find the app under the name of the developer, Toronto-based Polar Mobile. Polar Mobile is also responsible for the iPhone apps for other Crain properties such as Business Insurance and Crain's Chicago Business (under the app name of Crain's Chicago Daily News).

The free app, Ad Age News for iPad, is simply an extension of the website and is not to be confused for an actual tablet edition. The app simply takes the "Latest News" RSS feeds from the website's categories and displays them in a consistent layout.

Looking at the new iPad app and then the AdAge website one wonders what the purpose of the new app would be. All the app seems to accomplish to allow readers to avoid the advertising to be found on the website. No subscription fee, no advertising. Some business plan, huh?

Left: Layouts are simple in design with any artwork floating in the middle of the page, and without an ad spots; Right: The settings page is basically an ad for Polar Mobile, the developer – the publisher's name is conspicuously absent.

If an app such this one had been released a year ago I would chalk it up to the publisher attempting to get something, anything, onto the iPad. But we are 20 months from the launch of the first generation of the iPad, why release something like this now?

The app lacks basic font size controls or any other customization features. Stories can be shared through Facebook, Twitter or email, but there is no way to save stories for later reading.

Because the app does not allow for downloading of content, the app is worthless for reading on an airplane unless you had previously visited a story while still with an Internet connection.

It is strange to see so many publishing companies that otherwise proudly display the name of the company on their print products willingly let their mobile developers essentially become the publisher of their digital products.

The thing is that getting an Apple developer account takes, what, two minutes? Maybe less if you type fast. Is the publisher trying to save the $99 annual fee?

But the real problem lies in marketing. The publisher's name is part of their publication's brand, why else call it "Crain's Chicago Business", why not "Donnelley's Chicago Business" (assuming RR Donnelley is the printer)? I would imagine that the editorial staff at AdAge, which covers advertising and marketing for a living, have to a bit taken back that the app can be found not under their own companies name but under the developer's. This may explain why, at least at the time of writing this post, no mention of the new app can be found on the AdAge website.

Post #1000

Wow, 1,000 posts in one year – and the year isn't even over yet. Thank you to TNM's contributors for submitting your posts for TNM and for using this website to express yourself.

Most posts for TNM are written at a very quick work pace, and barely edited – it shows, I know. As a former publisher, I am a huge advocate for the art of editing, but to do this properly you need a second pair of eyes. Far too many B2B magazines are edited by one person, who often is in charge of a second or even third magazine title. No wonder then that these editors write very little: they are busy editing the copy of their contributors.

If TNM is to continue into its third year of publishing, I think it will be necessary to move forward in some way. One idea is to make TNM part of a group of independent media websites, cross posting with other sites, and possibly creating a single tablet edition. (If there is anyone publishing an independent site that wants to talk about this, please contact me.)

The other option would be to fold TNM into another media property. Good examples of this would be Jim Romenesko's move to Poynter, or Nate Silver's move to the NYT (though Jim's move didn't end as well as it should have). I'm open to this, as well.

But for now we'll just have to wait and see what 2012 brings. I'd like to thank TNM readers for hanging in there during the past two years and watching to growth of the new digital platforms with me. Happy post number 1,000.

For magazine and newspaper publishers, the publishing solution should fit the device, not one-size fits all

Two different conversations I've had this week brought to the forefront an issue that is at the center of the tablet publishing debate: replicas versus native app design. By looking at what book publishers are doing, publishers of newspapers and magazines might be able to work out their own tablet strategy.

This post by Jakob Nielsen about the Kindle Fire has gotten a fair amount of attention for the criticism it levels at the new 7-inch tablet.

"The most striking observation from testing the Fire is that everything is much too small on the screen, leading to frequent tap errors and accidental activation. You haven't seen the fat-finger problem in its full glory until you've watched users struggle to touch things on the Fire," Nielsen writes.

Later Nielsen says about magazines found in the Kindle Fire that they simply don't seem to work. "The magazine reading experience could be good but actually is miserable because the content isn't designed for the device or for interactive reading."

But this is nothing new. The objections voiced here really apply to the kinds of magazines being released for these smaller tablets, whether they are the Motorola XOOM or the BlackBerry PlayBook. Yet publishers seem eager to release replica editions for these small tablets, as well as for smartphones. For me, Hell is where you are forced to read material on a mobile device, forever.

So why are publishers releasing these replicas for small tablets? I think the answer is simply convenience. It is easy to create a replica for all the new tablets being released by Apple competitors. If you are a magazine publisher on a budget – and who isn't – having an cheap and easy solution that covers all new tablets seems fantastic.

The second conversation that involved this topic was one I just concluded with Mark Gross, President and CEO of Data Conversion Laboratory, a company that provides electronic document conversion services. The question of eBooks and apps was asked (see interview tomorrow): is the electronic book publishing industry moving towards two kinds of digital products: eBooks and apps, and will these two merge at some point?

The recently released biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson is a good example to look at. Reading the book in ePub format on a Kindle or iPad is acceptable, but the use of this format on the iPad is like driving to the grocery store in a Ferrari. Where are the photos and videos of Jobs giving keynote addresses? Where is the audio from the interviews Isaacson conducted? I don't want this material interactive on my eReader, but it would feel at home on my iPad.

Likewise, reading magazines that are not converted into a more text friendly format on a 7-inch tablet is like driving a 40-year old Pinto cross country. You might get there, eventually, but it more likely that either you or the car will burn out first.

The new iPad edition of the Belgian newspaper De Standaard takes advantage of the iPad's larger display.

The problem, as I see it, is that the Kindle Edition format, or rather the ePub format, is not sufficient today for magazine publishers. Any magazine simply converted into text seems a non-starter, and so the alternative is seen as the replica edition rather than creating native apps for every sized tablet in the market.

In my opinion, the Kindle Fire is no worse a reading experience than the Motorola XOOM – they are both poor when reading an 11-inch magazine reduced down. On the other hand, I can read my Kindle Store books fine (though it isn't as pleasant an experience as it was on my old eInk Kindle).

Tech writers can talk all they want about the poor scrolling found on many Android tablets, but this isn't as big a deal as the size issue. Let's face it, Apple hit a home run when they went with the 9.7 inch display. Many people thought it was too big and that Apple's competitors would beat Apple by introducing a smaller tablet – there are even rumors that continue to swirl around about Apple introducing a smaller sized iPad. It's possible but I would consider it highly unlikely.

Of course, magazine executives are being hired and fired for their commitments to digital, so what are you to do? Isn't it better to launch first and ask questions later? It is if you have an endless budget for tablet editions.

For me, the answer lies in creating the best possible product for the device that it is to be consumed on. For the iPad there are many digital publishing solutions available, and the costs are dropping as companies attempt to attract publishing customers. For the smaller tablets, the solution may be to look at these devices more as eReaders than as tablets. Looking at it from this perspective the question a publisher might ask a vendor would be "what digital publishing solutions do you have for the Kindle and NOOK?"

But the urge to create one-size fits all publishing solutions is very strong. You've designed your magazine for print, you don't want to redesign it again for digital – hence the continued life of the online Flash flipbook, probably the most worthless product ever shoved down the throats of a publisher.

But here is my word of caution: a poor digital product will be blamed on the publisher, not the tablet. Here is a typical review of Hearst's Popular Mechanics edition for the Kindle Fire (spelling corrected):

Like the previous reviewer, I've canceled my subscrition due to the poor compatability of the layout of the pages of this magazine with the Kindle. The text is broken into multiple columns, sidebars, and boxes which are difficult to continually scroll and resize to read, there is no provision to zoom into photos, etc. I was really looking forward to using my Kindle Fire not only for reading books, but magazines, too. Unfortunately, until the magazine publishers start formating their emagazines to optimize them for viewing on a reader or computer screen, I guess I'll just keep waiting.

Notice that the reviewer didn't blame Amazon for the poor reading experience, they blamed the publisher.

Morning Brief: BP claims Halliburton destroyed testing evidence; magazines scramble to adjust for the possible loss of Saturday postal service; EU to look at Apple and its book publishing agreements

The first trial involving the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is scheduled to begin on February 27 of next year, but the parties involved are already pointing the finger at each other as they hope to avoid blame for the spill.

BP has accused Halliburton of destroying evidence related to cement slurry testing and says the corporation of failing to provide computer modeling results.

"Halliburton has steadfastly refused to provide these critical testing and modeling results in discovery. Halliburton's refusal has been unwavering, despite repeated BP discovery requests and a specific order from this Court," CNN reported BP as claiming in court documents.

All this is key to the court case because the cause of the spill was laid to faulty cement at the well site. BP, which is the party responsible for the Gulf of Mexico drill site, is blaming its contractors, Transocean and Halliburton, for the accident.

AdAge's Nat Ives yesterday looked at the effect the elimination of Saturday delivery would have on some magazined. Obviously newsweeklies that attempt to deliver on Saturday, or at least in time for weekend reading would be most effected.

"We know that our readers value getting The Economist and reading it on the weekend," Paul Rossi, managing director at The Economist Group, told AdAge. "There's a direct connection between renewing customers and delivery. So it's important to us."

The bottom line seems to be that magazine publishers will simply have to live with the decision should Saturday delivery be stopped as the alternatives, such as newspaper carrier delivery are not acceptable, and most likely hugely complicated.

The BBC is reporting this morning that the European Union is looking into whether agreements between Apple and five book publishers are anti-competitive. The five publishers, Hachette Livre, Penguin, Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster and Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holzbrinck, reached agreements with Apple concerning book pricing for Apple's iBook store.

The Beeb reported that the UK's Office of Fair Trading has carried out its inquiry, but has yet to report any findings.

My guess is that all this comes to nothing as any company trying to start up an online store would have to come to agreements with those publishers it wants inside. Those who chose not to sign up are bound to complain about the terms, leading inevitably to calls for an inquiry. Unless those that ended up signing on also complain, I would think that it would be hard to make a case that the agreements are illegal. (But we'll see, right?)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Late afternoon news briefs: Clashes in Russia over elections; Kastoff releases batch of replica editions;

Riot police entered the streets of Moscow today as crowds opposed to Vladimir Putin's planned return to the presidency. According to The Guardian report, police arrested hundreds of demonstrators including opposition leaders Alexey Navalny and Ilya Yashin.

Journalists were detained, as well.

Sparking the violence were reports of fraudulent voting, including videos uploaded to YouTube (see below) and entries on Facebook and Twitter.
"Groups of society have emerged that have a lively and serious interest in the vote results," the political analyst Gleb Pavlovsky told The Guardian. "They consider the results their own and that's why they are fighting for it."

Kastoff Enterprises, a Quebec, Canada software company, has released a series of new universal apps for its publishing partners today.

Apps for Chickasaw Times, Rodeo News, Frisco STYLE Magazine, Iowa Lawyer and My Business Magazine are all replica editions in their rawest form. Each app is free to download and access the content. All the apps, most importantly, can be found under the Kastoff Enterprises name rather than the publisher's.

These apps join the almost two dozen other universal apps released by Kastoff including the replica app for Qualified Remodeler which is a trade magazine published by Cygnus Business Media, a company that has been experimenting with their own tablet editions.
Left: The Chickasaw Times app; Middle: Each app opens to a page where readers can download the latest issue free of charge, this one is from Iowa Lawyer; Right: Qualified Remodeler's replica edition.

At the opposite end of the tablet edition spectrum would be this app from the Berlin daily newspaper Der Tagesspiegel.

The free app has gotten an update that brings the app into Apple's Newsstand, fixes some bugs and allows to Facebook posting right from the app.

The app has gotten good reviews both inside the German App Store, as well as from expats in the U.S. App Store.

The app requires a subscription or a single edition purchase, though there is a 30-day free trial so this would be worth downloading if you are a newspaper publisher looking for an alternative to a fuzzy PDF approach.

Cox TV Connect app lets viewers use their iPads as an additional television screen

Cable providers are adding all sorts of features to their iPad apps – from using the app as a remote, to being able to program their DVRs. Cox Communications is allowing those who download their iPad app to stream content to their tablets to serve as an extra television screen.

Cox TV Connect for iPad is a free download that works for subscribers of the company's Cox TV Essential and Cox Preferred, Premier or Ultimate Internet service. In other words, you need to have both the Cox cable as well as the Cox Internet service in order to use it. Further, the app description says that "not all channels are available at this time."

"Cox offers convenience through convergence and TV Connect is a new way we are making viewing more convenient and flexible for our customers," Steve Necessary, vice president of video product development and management said in the launch announcement. "Our TV Connect offering will continue to evolve and expand, adding even more value to our services."

Launched just last week, Cox customers are giving the new app a big thumbs up in the App Store with no one-star reviews so far and mostly five-star ones.

None of the cable television offerings have gone the extra step of offering live television outside the home. The reasons are varied but generally boil down to broadband volume and contracts. One solution would be to offer the service only where WiFi is available.

One wonders if the clock is ticking, though, on hard wired television. Further, the networks are moving quickly to offering much of their programming in the form of an app, with broadcasters such as PBS and HBO and others already on the second and third iterations of their mobile and tablet apps.

Retweet: Lang hire at Time Inc. has media observers more worried than ever about the future of print

The hiring of Laura Lang, the head of the giant interactive agency Digitas, has quite a number of media observers wondering why someone with no magazine experience, let alone print experience, would be the right choice for Time Inc. Others don't doubt the choice, but are nonetheless concerned that the hire basically is the death knell for their favorite print titles.

David Carr's column today looks at the hire and what it says about the magazine industry:
It’s a bold hire and Ms. Lang has an excellent reputation, but it’s a bracing moment for the print romantics among us. Time Inc., the home of Olympian brands like Time, People and Fortune, will be run by an executive who would not know a print run from a can of green beans.
I disagree: Lang will be able to tell the difference between a print run and a can of green beans – the print run is the thing that is not the can of green beans.

I agree with a lot of what Carr has to say but it's clear that the columnist has never been a publisher of a magazine. He writes:
A good magazine will do many things for a brand, including bestowing luster and creating awareness by osmosis. What magazines have not been able to do is to provide reliable measures of effectiveness.
That may make sense when looking at the industry today, but that is actually the opposite of the truth when looking at magazines historically. Magazine advertising succeeded precisely because advertisers were able to both target their audiences and track their results.

For B2B, for instance, audiences were restricted to only qualified readers, audited for their buying habits. A typical well run B2B magazine could tell you how many of their readers bought products you sold, how many readers were in a decision making role, and how many planned to buy new products this year. Then, using what was affectionately called "bingo cards", readers would respond to the print advertisements so that effectiveness could be measured.

Over time, however, some publishers gamed the bingo card system – one Wisconsin-based B2B went so far as to send the leads generated from the ads to all their advertisers, even if the reader was responding to only one ad.

But B2B executives soon scaled back on both the BPA audits and the bingo cards simply as a cost saving measure – the things that made their media so effective were eliminated by these PE firm installed execs simply to cut costs. The result, of course, is a decline in advertising.

On the consumer side it is the cutbacks in reader surveys and other market research that has effected the print side.

The reason so many publishers want the customer data from Apple is because they have stopped surveying their readers themselves and have forgotten, or never knew, how to get this information. If a customer subscribes to your iPad edition it is easy enough to learn about them: ask them, an incentivize the survey to improve survey results. This is old school for many, but new for many now running media companies.

The hiring of Lang has many advantages, my only concern would be that her lack of print experience might skew her views towards the value of the existing print readers and advertisings. But this doesn't have to be the case, especially knowing how so many current print publishers under value their print readers and advertisers.

The rise of digital is not a zero sum game for print. Yes, money thrown at digital has to come from somewhere, but it doesn't all have to come from print. But print has to fight for its dollars, or rather it has to learn how to fight for its dollars. Too many publishing executives have no clue how to do this and so are making matters worse by cutting back audits, print sales staffs, and market research for their print products. They can proudly say that they have been proved right that print is dead. They should know, they are the ones who killed it.

The old media conundrum: profits v. demand

Over the past few weeks I have engaged with a series of interesting conversations with managers at several large media firms that have left me, well, a bit confused, and more than a bit depressed. Sure, we all know that many old media managers "don't get it" when it comes to digital, but it took me completely by surprised how some companies that appear from the outside to have made the digital transition successfully, are, in fact, still lost when it comes to what their customers want.

Take, for instance, that case of the media company that has over the past couple years introduced a digital version of its old media product – let's call this company Stickboard.

Stickboard (remember this isn't their real name) was selling one of those very traditional forms of advertising, and while they faced considerable competition within their form of media, their real competition was, they were sure, new digital products. So this old line company introduced a new digital version of its product and buyers flocked to it.

This sounds great, right? But, it turns out, the digital product is not as profitable as the old traditional one. While Stickboard (not their real name remember) can sell out its digital inventory it struggles to sell its older products.

The new digital product gives the customer total control of their advertising message, which can be changed during the day; the old product was static. The new product costs a bit more, but requires investment on the part of the company and hence is less profitable than the old one – but over time the new digital product will be cheaper, just not now.

In any other business other than media, the common response to this problem would be to phase out their old product and produce more of the new one.

But this is old media remember, so their response has been to push hard on the old products. Not surprisingly the company blames its sales staff for selling what their customers really want, and not selling what their customers are rejecting. Sales people and sales managers are getting fired until the company can find the right managers and staff that are capable of shoving the old products down the throats of their customers.

A talk to the management team in charge of production finds that there is a real distain for anyone that comes into the company from the outside and has experience with digital. Those from outside the industry don't understand the business, these people told me, we need managers that understand the business the way its been for the past decades. The executives who, in fact, understand the new digital business, listen to these managers and agree that unless customers start to go back to the old media products, profits will be hurt (this despite the fact that the sales from digital have led the company to reporting good quarterly results).
It was a sad picture I saw, and it certainly convinced me that long term this company was in trouble, despite the fact that many currently see this company as a success story. What this company wanted would have been the equivalent of a typewriter company that got into the PC business, but felt that they needed to push typewriters in order to be profitable.

This company really needs to address the digital profitability problem by looking at its digital pricing and production costs, not by trying to convince its customers to buy something they don't want.

But many of the company's managers did not really care much for the sales staff, and didn't want to hear what their customers were saying. This conflict within the company will no doubt come to a head unless the head of the division takes the bull by the horns and forces the backers of the old media products to talk to the customers.

Part of the problem with digital media has been that it has been either given away – magazines and newspapers are the worst culprits – or under priced. This is understandable in many cases because the media firms were often out in front of the advertisers.

In the late nineties, when most publishers began selling digital, many customers didn't have their own websites. Ad agencies made things worse by demanding that digital ads be thrown in for free into annual proposals – 12 full page print ads and a slew of freebies thrown in such as free banner ads, e-newsletters, email promotions, etc. Some tried to put a stop to this but found that agencies would simply pull their print and move the schedules to magazines willing to drop their digital draws.

But for this particular company, which had just created these new digital products, this legacy problem does not apply – they created their new troubles. Put shoving old media products down the throats of their customers, which they are now working hard to do, is hardly the answer to their digital profitability problems.

Morning Brief: Two radio giants form alliance for daily deals, apps; Lee Enterprises attempts to restructure its debt, faces higher interest payments

No one, apparently, wants to be left behind in the rush for Groupon-like features, even radio giants like Clear Channel and Cumulus Media.

Clear Channel, the NYT said last night, will begin running ads for SweetJack, the daily deals site that is owned by its competitor Cumulus. At the same time the radio stations that Cumulus runs will become part of iHeartRadio, the app released by Clear Channel.

Clear Channel probably gets the best of the alliance as their iHeartRadio app is not exactly well thought of inside the App Store (the main complaint involves the forced use of Facebook).

Samsung may be gloating about its victory over Apple in court last week – Apple's attempt for an injunction preventing Samsung from selling its Galaxy Tab was defeated – but it still faces the daunting task of getting buyers to prefer its product.

A trip any Best Buy or other electronics store shows that there are often crowds around the table containing tablets from Samsung, Motorola, etc. But buyers seem to be walking out of the store with iPads under their arms, more often than not.

Part of the reason for this, I believe, is that the seven inch form factor is too much like a mobile device. Consumers have been moving to smartphones at an amazing pace, the last thing most buyers want is another mobile device.

I will admit, however, my own bias against these seven inch tablets may prove to be wrong and more a personal preference. But in any case, as long as Apple continues to be the only one committed to the ten inch form factor it will continue to dominate sales to those who want their tablets to be closer in size to a magazine than to a smartphone.

Another newspaper company has announced that it will file a "prepackaged" bankruptcy, one of those gimmicks that corporations can take advantage of. This time it is Lee Enterprises, the publisher of 54 daily and over 300 weekly newspapers across the U.S.

Lee Enterprises will be attempting to refinance about $1 billion in debt, while getting lenders agree to extend loads. The company will not, according to the St. Louis Post Dispatch report (a Lee paper) be shedding any debt, and in the end will be paying higher interest rates on the current debt it owes.

"Although the refinancing will require Lee to pay higher interest rates, it and our strong cash flow will keep Lee on solid financial footing as we continue reshaping our company for long-term growth by expanding our digital platforms, building audiences, driving sales and improving our balance sheet," Lee's Chief Executive Mary Junck said in the company's announcement.