Friday, February 10, 2012

Greece is without Apple retail stores, but the Greek App Store contains plenty of offerings from Greek newspapers

Just as TNM was obsessed with events in Egypt a year ago, now the focus is on Greece. Blame it on being a news junkie. But the events in Greece, however, do make for a good excuse to look at the apps inside Apple's Greek App Store to see what is being offered, and what is popular.

Much of the world (and me, too) have their eyes glued to events in Greece as the nation struggles to overcome massive government debt, a divisive political atmosphere, and Euro partners that don't appear to be acting so much as partners but as bill collectors.

Strangely, I haven't looked inside the Greek App Store until this morning, checking on what apps are popular, and what news organizations are pursuing mobile and tablet publishing.

Apple does not have any retail stores in Greece (and probably won't for a while, I imagine), but they do have an App Store. Unlike the app stores for France or Italy, for instance, the Greek App Store is pretty much in English.

While there are quite a number of Greek news apps inside the iPhone section of the App Store, the only Greek media app to crack the top ten for the iPad is from the upstart Sunday paper Proto Thema (Πρώτο Θέμα, or First Theme). ProtoThema HD is a free app that gives readers a replica edition of the populist weekly.

Other apps, such as ΣΚΑΪ (Sky), are universal apps that basically bring in the website RSS feeds without much native formatting. Another, for the iPhone only, is Ethnos, a newspaper with a strong circulation.

(The top three iPad apps today in the Greek iPad Newsstand, by the way, are National Geographic Magazine-International, Guardian iPad Edition, and Newsweek for iPad.)

Today would be a good day to be reading these mobile and tablet apps. The Greek stock market is in free fall (dropping over four and a half percent) after the coalition partners first agreed to the terms of the newest bailout offer, only to have Eurozone finance ministers add more demands. The leader of the right-wing party Laos, Georgios Karatzaferis, has said that his party will vote "No" on Sunday to the new pact. But the move is completely political as they are a minor member of the coalition, and by bugging out now, they can force the main parties to take the blame for the new austerity measures if they approve the bailout in Parliament on Sunday.

In the meantime, Greece is in the midst of a 48-hour general strike. With a technocrat as Prime Minister, Lucas Papademos, who was appointed to his post, many on the street are feeling unrepresented in the government. The center-right party is positioning itself to win snap election, but recent polls show the Greek populous may be looking in another direction altogether.

Here is the promotional video for ProtoThema HD. Of course, it is in Greek, but you'll at least see the app in action:

The Guardian has launched a live blog today to cover events in Greece. But also of interest, they also launched a Flicker page (very inventive there) called Greece - life in an economic crisis.

The page allows readers to upload pictures to a central location, but offers the photographers some sensitive rules:
By posting your pictures here you a) acknowledge that you have created the pictures or have permission to do so; and b) grant us a non-exclusive, worldwide, free licence to publish your pictures as described. Copyright resides with you and you may reuse your pictures however you wish. You will be credited and paid if we make other uses of your pictures.
Already there are nearly 200 photos that have been uploaded. Many of them are excellent.

Cosmopolitan gets an iPad app update from Hearst, though readers remain frustrated with the publisher's digital efforts; digital catalogs continue to grow in number with shoppers eager to dump their print versions

The strange thing about digital publishing is that sometimes it is so clear to readers that the publisher's heart is just not in it. Sometimes it is that fact that the publisher outsources the production of the digital edition, and sometimes it is simply that the publisher still believes in print first, only later allowing the content to appear online or in a mobile or tablet product.
Today Hearst Communications updated its app for Cosmopolitan, but readers are still incredibly frustrated with the app and with the policies of the company.

The first complaint is that here we are approaching mid-February, the March issue is already on the newsstands but the latest issue available in the iPad app library is January. Whether this is a problem with the magazine's creative department, or a conscious decision by the publisher is hard to say, but reviewers inside the App Store are trashing the app because of this.

The second complaint is one that is often heard: print subscribers are being asked to buy a new subscription if they want to acces the digital edition.

Having worked for Hearst, albeit many moons ago, and in the newspaper division, my instinct tells me that the company simply thinks these things are annoyance. The company long ago had the opportunity to create a digital division in San Francisco, but the company remains very much NYC based – bad idea. Further, you can see that the UK version of Cosmopolitan doesn't even have its own in-house app, instead relying on PixelMags to make a replica edition. (Different division, I get it, but it reflects the general corporate attitude towards digital editions.)

Esquire, another Hearst title, is showing the cover of the March edition, so maybe the trouble with Cosmo is simply Cosmo. But Esquire also does not offer existing print subscribers free access to the tablet edition, so this must be a corporate decision to anger their existing customers.

Catalogs continue to be a growth area for the iPad. Nordstrom's catalog can be found both in a newly updated branded iPad app, as well as inside such catalog aggregators as Catalogue by TheFind.
The newly updated Nordstrom The Catalogs app now has embedded video content. The app itself is pretty minimal, but at least it is up-to-date and functional.

The app appears under its seller's name, Synapse Group, rather than the retailer's. I assume Synapse is in charge of the Nordstrom loyalty program and this app is just a add-on to their services.

The Catalogue by TheFind app continues to get updated – it was updated again on February 7 – with more catalogs added. But you can see the problem with the app once you dig into it. Yes, there are lots of catalogs here, which is great, but the catalog for Williams-Sonoma, for instance, is still the Thanksgiving edition.

In fact, this is common: the Harry & David catalog is from the holidays, as are others. Not very useful.

But readers love the idea of digital catalogs replacing their old print versions. Reviewers like the idea of the app, just not its execution. But iPad owners have lots of choices now for catalogs. Google catalogs continues to add retailers to the app – and while users complain about bugs and crashes, it is still the one place you can find that up-to-date Williams-Sonoma catalog, complete with embedded videos.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Smithsonian Institution releases a new iPad app for Smithsonian Magazine: a well-designed, brilliantly executed and entertaining tablet edition

Buried within the mass of replica editions released over the last 24 hours I found a new iPad app for Smithsonian Magazine. The app, the third for the iPad from the Smithsonian, is as well-designed and inventive as you might expect from the institution.
The free app can be found inside Apple's Newsstand, and offers a free preview issue (the December issue), so publishers will want to download the app just to take a good look. Readers can buy an annual subscription for $19.99, or a monthly one for $1.99. Individual issues are priced at $3.99.

Print subscribers get free access (as they should).

I downloaded the preview issue simply because it was there (and I can't possibly buy every magazine released for the iPad, can I?).

The December issue is 230MB and downloaded very quickly. Yes, very quickly, thank you. Readers will love that, especially travelers looking to download something in a hurry before boarding a plane.

The issue opens with a very short video. Now I know some consider this a gimmick, but if done well I think creatives should have this in their bag of tricks to pull out when they want. I loved the cover (which you can see below), and video simply told me that this was, indeed, designed for the iPad.

“This technology will change the nature of magazines in a fundamental way, while preserving the core experience of a magazine as curated content,” Bill Allman, chief digital officer at Smithsonian Enterprises said online of the new app. “What’s great about these new tools is that they take a magazine like Smithsonian, in particular, to a whole other dimension."

Maria Keehan, Smithsonian Magazine’s art director, clearly plans to use the new digital edition to bring added material to tablet readers. "Where you see one picture in the magazine, there might be three on the app that are equally as beautiful,” said Keehan. In our cover story on the Haleakala Crater in Hawaii, actually being able to hear a person’s voice—you can watch a video of Clifford Naeole chanting the traditional Hawaiian songs—is so incredible.”

There is no reason to go into all the details of the magazine, you can check it out yourself. But I will be interested to see if anyone can come up with any reason to complain about this one: it loads fast, offers free access to print subscribers, discounts the subscription for new readers, and is well designed. I suppose should pusher of PDFs will have to post a negative review, just for kicks.

All the crazy iPad rumors are proved wrong again (apparently) as Apple prepares for iPad 3 launch event

With just about any set of Apple product rumors, it is a wise idea to always answer any new rumor with the response "show me the pictures". Once the pictures start showing up you are probably on the right track.

This morning the WSJ's All Things D reporter John Paczkowski posted that he has heard that the iPad 3 intro event will be scheduled for the first week in March. This might just be another rumor, but it falls in line with what one would consider the normal time frame for an iPad launch. The first iPad event, if you recall, was at the end of January of 2010, with the actual product launch the first week of April. Last year the event got moved up to the first week of March with the actual launch shortly thereafter. Expect that same pattern for the iPad 3.

The pictures of iPad 3 components are starting to appear – or at least they may well be the pictures. But I wouldn't bet against these being legit simply because they confirm the most conservative rumors about the next iPad.

To recap, this is what the consensus seems to be about the next Apple tablet:
  • 9.7 inch display: forget about those silly 7-inch tablet rumors, please.
  • Higher resolution: 2,048 x 1,536 pixels, to be exact. This has been widely rumored and may be the most exciting thing about the new iPad 3 for many. But while I think pushing the specs is great, I can't think how this really changes things for users. Those fuzzy replica editions will just be fuzzier unless the vendors up the resolution of this apps, after all.**
  • Faster process and faster graphics: for an original iPad owner like myself, faster processing is a must. The first generation iPad isn't a turtle, but it can sometimes be frustratingly slow. But again, this won't really change the user experience unless new software takes advantage of the faster speeds (and it will, as I will explain below)
  • Better cameras, etc.: I'm sure there will be some additional hardware upgrades, though, again, these won't get me very excited, I bet.
OK, Mr. Cynic (me), if these upgrades don't get you excited then what will? Software.

As an iPhone and iPad owner, I know that any hardware upgrades are only of value of new software takes advantage of them. The ol' spec war we used to see in PCs was important because we loved seeing the processing times of a Photoshop file continue to go down. But, you know, my under powered Mac mini can process a photo so fast now that I simply don't think about this anymore.

But with mobile and tablet devices, the processing power is being put to use to power all new features. What are these features? Well, one of the first a few years ago was Facetime; then it was Siri.

The iPad 3 will no doubt have Siri. But it will also have anything else Apple wants to introduce in its newest version of iOS. What most rumor sites continue to ignore is the fact that a new version of the operating system generally gets released just prior to the hardware release. This new OS release is what contains many of the goodies that users get excited about.

** I am quite sure that developers will find ways to make the higher resolution pay off for them. For media folk, however, higher resolution means larger files are needed for their publications. Users are already complaining about the size of many magazines, higher resolution could make things worse.

FT & NYT report that Greek leaders reach austerity deal

While most news organizations are reporting that the Greek coalition leaders were unable to reach a deal on the latest bailout, refusing to make cuts to pensions, the Financial Times is reporting that, in fact, an agreement has been reached.

"We now have an agreement. Concrete details of measures to be finalized within next 15 days," Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos was quoted as stating this afternoon (local time).

If you think this will end, even for a while, the drama ongoing in Greece you would be wrong.

The unemployment figures are now in from November and the numbers are not good: 20.9 percent are unemployed.

"The main reasons behind this deterioration - which is expected to continue until the first quarter of the year at least - are the increased uncertainty over the economy's prospects, the prospect of additional austerity and a possible increase in the grey economy," said Nikos Magginas, at National Bank.

"The fall of employed people by an annual 9.4 percent in November was shocking," Magginas said. Bank.

The newly agreed to terms for the next bailout will only make the situation worse.

The Athens News outlined the measures to be taken:
  • A direct cut to the minimum basic wage by 22 percent at all levels of pay contracts
  • A further reduction of 10 percent on the basic wage of first-time employees between the ages of 18-25, bringing the total reduction on this category to 32 percent
  • Reduced basic wages to remain frozen throughout the 2012-2015 period
  • A timetable of negotiations with social partners until July for the drastic revision of the National General Collective Labour Contract (EGSSE) “to harmonise it with that of countries at similar competitive position”
  • A reduction of 2 percent on social insurance contributions to the IKA private sector fund
Both the Athens News and have continued to be good news sources for English language readers, though Twitter is clearly the most timely format.

Many journalists have begun tweeting their news reports directly, partially as a way to alert their media outlets that other sources have additional information.

Less honorable news outlets, however, have been using Twitter to simply drive traffic to their own websites, then have a shell of a story online that is really just a link to the original story produced by another outlet. This might be called piracy by some, but modern media executives call it journalism.

Update: The official announcement from the Prime Minister (with the inevitable poor Google Translation):
Αθήνα,9 Φεβρουαρίου 2012
Ολοκληρώθηκαν σήμερα το πρωί με επιτυχία οι διαβουλεύσεις της κυβέρνησης με την τρόικα, σχετικά με το θέμα, το οποίο είχε απομείνει ανοικτό για περαιτέρω επεξεργασία και συζήτηση. Οι πολιτικοί αρχηγοί συμφώνησαν με το αποτέλεσμα των διαβουλεύσεων αυτών.
Κατόπιν τούτου υπάρχει γενικότερη συμφωνία για το περιεχόμενο του νέου προγράμματος εν’ όψει και της αποψινής συνεδρίασης του Γιούρογκρουπ. Όπως είναι γνωστό, το πρόγραμμα συνοδεύει τη νέα δανειακή σύμβαση με την οποία η Ελλάδα θα χρηματοδοτηθεί με 130 δισεκατομμύρια ευρώ.

Athens, February 9, 2012
Completed this morning with the success of government consultation with the Troika on the subject, which was left open for further elaboration and discussion. The political leaders agreed on the outcome of these consultations.
Therefore there is a general agreement on the new program in view of tonight's meeting and the Giourogkroup. As is known, the program came with the new loan agreement with which Greece will be financed with 130 billion euros.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

GIE Media launches an iPad edition for its bi-monthly trade industry title American Manufacturing

The Ohio headquartered B2B media company GIE Media has launched a new iPad app edition for one of its trade titles, American Manufacturing. While the app breaks no new ground when it comes to how to distribute a controlled circulation magazine on tablets, it does do a decent job of bridging the gap between native tablet design and replica edition.
The free app, American Manufacturing, is a stand alone app, offering no Newsstand support. As a result, there is no way to subscribe to the tablet edition. Additionally, there is also no notifications support, so the publisher would not be able to alert readers that a new issue is available. Finally, there is also no registration mechanism.

As you can see, the app does not really address the fundamental issue of controlled circulation publications for tablets: how to limit the distribution of the product to only "qualified" readers, and either locking out all others, or charging them a subscription fee.

The app does, however, attempt to bridge the gap between replica and native designs.

Upon installing the app one is taken to the library where one issue is available – January/February. (There is also "News Feeds" that can be downloaded, presumably an RSS feed.)

The issue available weighs in at 205MB – a moderately large file. The reason for its size is that the app works in both portrait and landscape ... sort of.

In fact, only the editorial pages have been redesigned to work in both orientations, while the ads from the print magazine have been left in their original, portrait layout. The editorial pages have also been enhanced with additional tablet features such as pages that scroll, embedded photo galleries, and the like.

To accomplish this, it appears that only the full page ads have been brought into the tablet edition, allowing the designers to design new editorial pages without having to work around modular ads.

I think it works to a certain degree. Yes, it would have been nice to have new ad copy for the full page ads, but getting B2B clients or their agencies to supply new artwork for the tablet edition would probably have been a nightmare.

Left: the column from the associate publisher/editorial director is re-designed for the tablet edition; Middle: ads, however, are left in their original portrait layouts, though embedded video can be found on some; Right: the TOC, redesigned for the iPad app.

American Manufacturing, the print magazine, is an unaudited bi-monthly with a rather incredibly low page rate of $1750 per page. It also purports to distribute to Central and South America. So we are not talking about a multi-million dollar venture here.

I mention this because all this has to be taken into account when measuring the business potential of a tablet edition for a B2B title. Do you, for instance, charge an additional fee to appear in the tablet edition? Do you charge readers who are not qualified? These are just some of the issues B2B publishers will have to work through as they begin to experiment with tablet editions.

For GIE Media, they have taken a first step with one of their titles.

(Lawn & Landscape, a much healthier B2B title owned by GIE Media, also has an iPad app. But that app avoids all these issues by simply being a replica edition created by Texterity (and "sold" under the Texterity name, rather that that of GIE Media). That app, too, is not in Newsstand, and does not charge for content.

Lawn & Landscape is a pretty thick magazine compared to American Manufacturing, and a monthly to boot. That would put quite a strain on a creative department if the publisher decided to launch a native designed app such as the new one for American Manufacturing.)

Managing notifications is proving a difficult challenge for media companies weak on social media skills

If a media company were a "friend" of yours they would be like the guy who posts 20 updates on your Facebook wall, leading you inevitably to "unfriend" the offender.
Thus I "unfriended" USA Today... today.

It doesn't surprise me that the Gannett newspaper would not understand the basics of social media – don't annoy – this is an area that so many old school companies appear to be poor at managing. (I receive at least one email a day from Williams-Sonoma which are now totally ignored, completely defeating the purpose of the promotions).

I turn notifications on for very few apps now simply because are such an abused feature. Many publishers have started to explain what they intend to use them for – generally to inform readers that a new issue is available.

For publishers new to the app game, and hence to notifications, here are a few simple rules to remember:

  • Notifications are not tweets – the reader/user is not expecting a steady stream of notifications from your media property.
  • Determine what stories reach the level of importance that a notification is warranted – many social media savvy media firms tweet many, or most of their news stories. That's fine. But a notification means that the news is both important and time sensitive. The notification from USA Today that the Giants had won the Super Bowl, sent out hours after the game... no, not worth a notification.
  • Do I need to know this now? – Since most readers/users get their notifications on their mobile phones, the issue of timeliness arises. This is a tough call. It would be nice if newspapers, in particular, could have separate notifications by category. For instance, I really don't need to know that the Fed is holding rates where they are at, but someone else might.
One reason media firms make a mess of notifications is that they assign a person to create these and, frankly, to them everything is worth sending a notification. Eventually we'll all get this down to a science, but if we don't, readers will be routinely turning off notifications, depriving media firms of a powerful communications tool.

Update: More information on the new CLOUD Magazine app from cloud storage solutions company Brinkster

As I promised in my original post, here is more information about the new tablet magazine, CLOUD Magazine, from cloud storage solutions company Brinkster Communications Corp.
As I suspected, the publishing team used Mag+ to create their new tablet magazine app, according to Jared Stauffer, President & CEO of Brinkster.

"We built the app ourselves using the Mag+ platform. This method worked well for us and we would highly recommend it," Stauffer wrote me last night.

As for why they created their own industry app:

"Sure, there’s a lot of information out there about the Cloud," Stauffer said, "but who’s it aimed at? Most of it is only relevant to large enterprises, Fortune 500/1000 companies with 1,000+ employee companies. These companies have a CTO/CIO and IT teams the size of most small businesses. And, these larger companies have much larger resources to tap in to when migrating to the Cloud," Stauffer explained.

"So how much of it is applicable to SMB (small and medium businesses)? Not much. We created Cloud Magazine to fill the gap."

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Gartner reports that PC shipments fell sharply in Western European countries hit by worsening economic times; Apple one of the few reporting sales gains

The fourth quarter of 2011 saw PC shipments in Western Europe fall by 16.3 million units, according to a report today released by Gartner.

According to the report, PC shipments were especially hard hit in Italy, Greece, Portugal and Spain, falling 30 percent or more. But shipments in the U.K. also fell by 19.6 percent, while shipments in France fell as well, 11/8 percent. Even Germany, which has been bragging up its economy, saw PC shipments fall 8.2 percent.

"The UK market has been a prime illustration of the underlying weakness in PC demand across Western Europe," said Ranjit Atwal, research director at Gartner.

"Despite aggressive pricing and special holiday deals for PCs, consumers' attention was caught by other devices, such as smartphones, media tablets and e-readers," said Meike Escherich, principal analyst at Gartner.

One of the lone bright spots was Apple, which recorded a 17.2 percent gain in vendor shipments in the U.K., and a 15.3 percent gain in France.

It should be noted, however, that the Gartner numbers do not include shipments of "media tablets", meaning that the overall health of the industry might look somewhat different if tablets were included in the overall numbers.

Previously Gartner reported that U.S. PC shipments had also declined in Q4 of 2010, though only be 5.9 percent. Again Apple was the exception as they saw the shipment of Macs soar by 20.7 percent.

Apple informs developers of high resolution requirements for screenshots of their iPhone & iPod touch apps

Apple sent out an interesting email to developers today informing them of the need for high resolution screenshots for apps developed for the iPhone and iPod touch.

We would like to make you aware of the following:

Required iPhone & iPod touch Screenshot Upgrade for Retina Display

When you create or update your apps in iTunes Connect, you must upload screenshots that are high-resolution. We require your screenshots as high-resolution images so that your app is optimized for the Retina display.

The requirements for high-resolution images are 960 x 640, 960 x 600, 640 x 960, or 640 x 920 pixels. Images must be at least 72 dpi, in the RGB color space, and the file must be .jpeg, .jpg, .tif, .tiff, or .png. You can update your screenshot files at any time in iTunes Connect.

New Notification for Binaries Exceeding Cellular Network Download Size Limit

Admin and Technical users will now be notified if your resulting binary size for the App Store exceeds the cellular network download size limit of 20MB. Exceeding the limit requires your app to be downloaded over Wi-Fi. This information can help you determine if you want to resubmit your binary in order to reduce the size of your app.

The App Store Team
I don't know if this is just a reminder to those developers with older apps in the App Store that they need to upgrade their screenshots, or a hint that there is something else coming down the pipe that developers should be aware of.

Brinkster, a cloud hosting company, launches its own industry iPad magazine into Apple's Newsstand

If the B2B media industry won't serve your industry's needs with a trade magazine why not launch your own?

That is the idea behind CLOUD Magazine, a new tablet magazine launched into Apple's App Store today.
The app is free to download, and although it says that a subscription is $2.99, the March/April issue can be downloaded free of charge.

I attempted to contact the company behind the tablet magazine, Brinkster, via e-mail and telephone but did not hear back from them. Brinkster is a cloud hosting company out of Phoenix, Arizona.

Jared Stauffer is the president and CEO and is listed as the editor of the new magazine, though the one person I spoke to said that Doug Penick, who is listed as Design Director, might have been the person behind the magazine's development.

The first issue is 34 pages, and as you would expect from a magazine produced by a company within an industry, it contains a few pages promoting Brinkster. But otherwise the tablet magazine contains the kinds of articles you might expect.

Cloud Magazine is a professional Cloud computing resource for small and medium business leaders. The magazine is intended for owners, CEOs, CFOs, and other senior management who feel the energy of the Cloud, but are having difficulty finding solutions that apply to businesses of their size. Cloud Magazine is also a resource for progressive IT managers looking for ways to express Cloud concepts to their less technical colleagues.

Our primary objective is to educate you, providing the knowledge you need to take advantage of the tremendous opportunities the Cloud provides. Our second objective is to help reduce anxiety. The Cloud has been quietly evolving for years, but many are just starting to understand it and may feeling behind and a little overwhelmed. And finally we aim to keep you entertained along the way. Thanks for reading!
The app can only be read in portrait which saves time on the download, which weighs in a less than 100MB. Whether the app uses a digital publishing system such as Mag+ I do not know, but the layouts are easy to navigate and clearly designed solely for the tablet.
The magazine reminds me of Small Times, a magazine launched by Ardesta to promote nanotechnology. The magazine was eventually purchased by Pennwell, but the title essentially no longer exist.

The idea is simple enough: every industry needs its trade journal to promote the industry as a whole, if one doesn't exist why not launch one yourself. With the rise of tablet publishing, this is now easier than ever.

(If the folks at Brinkster get back to me I'll follow-up with more details.)

Apple's Newsstand for iPhone hits 1,001

The Newsstand for iPhone has passed the 1,000 mark this morning. Whoopie.

There will be a cake in the conference room, and a memo will be distributed blandly talking about the accomplishment.

That's it, you can all go back to work now.

2012 looks like it could be a nice rebound year for media... as long as the real world doesn't interfere, that is

What is the saying about "may you live in interesting times"? It is considered to be a curse, or course.

Well, these certainly are interesting times.

Waking to see what the latest news was this morning I noticed to, seemingly contradictory stories about oil prices. OK, TNM does talk about world events occasionally, but never commodity prices.

But the stories were, in fact, not contradictory: U.S. oil prices were down, but "Brent" oil was up. Brent refers to North Sea oil. That oil is more subject to events in Europe and to the supply issues involving European countries. With Europe in a deep freeze, and with the Iranians threatening to cut off oil to Europe in retaliation for sanctions, oil there is rising in price – especially in comparison to U.S. oil.

It may seem might a minor thing to many, but it is simply a sign that things are not going very well over there.

That's when my thoughts returned to the media world.

For the fast few years (for many, the past decade) media professionals have been looking for their fortunes to turn around. 2007-2008 was a wild ride that really caused a lot of pain. So each of the past few years media pros have been wondering if the next year would see a rebound in things important to them such as ad pages.

This year looks pretty good so far. The economy in the U.S. appears to be improving (slightly), with unemployment taking a dip (though still high). Compared to Europe, things are certainly looking good so far.

Election years are often up years, I hear – though my own memories of election years since 1992 are that they are often mediocre ones. But analysts have been pretty optimistic about the chances that 2012 will be a good year for the economy in the U.S. if, and here is the point, if external events, especially in Europe, don't derail things.

Greek protesters today display their displeasure with German demands for further austerity measures.

So what could happen? An oil disruption? A war? Strikes? Revolution?

If you've read the headlines this morning you know that other than the last item the others are certainly threatening to occur.

There is not much one can do about any of these if you are a media professional. So maybe it's best to simply not check the NYT website (or Google News). But my suggestion is that you find a really funny joke to tell on your next sales call so that your client's mind will be taken off the news and put back on the size of their ad schedule.

Monday, February 6, 2012

New research from Gfk MRI reaches some controversial conclusions regarding digital magazines

A new study from Gfk MRI promoted late last week reaches some interesting, if confusing, and possibly erroneous, conclusions.

Nearly three-quarters (72%) of Tablet owners who read a magazine on their device in the last 30 days say they would prefer all digital magazines to be formatted in the same way, according to new research from the GfK MRI iPanel--composed exclusively of Tablet and eReader owners. Almost the same percentage (70%) said they would like to be able to buy items by clicking on the ads in a digital magazine.
I can see the eyes of replica makers lighting up with glee when they read these findings. But I'm exactly sure what Gfk MRI was actually asking readers, nor am I sure what they are saying.

What does it mean "formatted in the same way"? Same way as all other magazines? or the same as the print edition?

Also, the survey comes to two seemingly contradictory findings: 67 percent say they would prefer to read an electronic version of a magazine, but also that 65 percent say they find reading print magazines more enjoyable than electronic ones.

National Geographic, with its native tablet design, is still getting good marks from iPad owners.

Gfk MRI's SVP of Research, Risa Becker, thinks she knows what to conclude: "Although magazine publishers are experimenting with different formats in order to differentiate their digital brands, this is not necessarily resonating with digital readers adopting the new Tablet technology."

One of the problems with this survey, and one too often made by companies, is lumping both tablets and eReaders into the same survey, as well as not differentiating between larger tablets and smaller ones.

In any case, if one wants some instant research results I would suggest looking at the top apps currently appearing in the App Store. While the NYT remains number one quite a number of new titles are in the top ten.

Of the top ten, five are replica editions (Consumer Reports, Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, Travel + Leisure, and Women's Health), five are natively designed (NYT, The Daily, Engadget Distro, National Geographic and US News Weekly). Overwhelmingly, the native designed apps have much more positive reviews than the replica editions.

Many of the complaints are just plain silly – many believe that the free apps would offer free issues – but a uniform look is not winning any raves from iPad owners. Maybe Kindle owners are different. But we'd need a better designed study to find out.

Apple's Newsstand to cross 1,000 app mark for the iPhone (maybe today); majority of publications, though, are not really designed for mobile reading

Some time later today (or possibly tomorrow) the Newsstand feature for the iPhone will cross the one thousand app mark (the iPad did that in mid-December).
Like the media apps for the iPad, most of the publications inside Newsstand are replica editions released by such third party vendors as PageSuite, PixelMags, Tri Active Media, and others. Unlike the iPad apps, however, most don't appear to really be designed for mobile use, but are instead simply universal apps that can be read on the iPhone, as well.

Most use the standard business plan of offering the apps for free and then charging a subscription fee within Newsstand. The apps from Tri Active Media, however, usually charge for the app and then charge a subscription fee, as well. Needless to say, these apps rarely have any reviews on them as buyers avoid the double fees (the reviews that are written, however, are scathing.)

I'm long past advocating for native apps at this point, as so many publishers seem quite willing to have these apps released in their name. Well, actually, most replica editions appearing in Newsstand are actually released under the name of the vendor, not the publisher.

Good luck reading this without a magnifying glass.

It continues to be a mystery why publishers buy these apps, but the reason may simply be that these publishers are not smartphone and tablet owners themselves – in other words, they really are that technologically challenged. (Some tweets today concerning Dropbox have me pretty convinced of this.)

If Apple wants to change this they will have to supply a solution themselves, just as they did when they launched iBooks 2 and iBooks Author.

Now the fact is that there are already some very good digital publishing solutions out there for magazine and newspaper publishers. But most are geared towards mid-sized to large media firms that can absorb the costs. An iBooks Author for magazines, though, would change all this, however.

One could argue, though, that with so many publishers appearing in Newsstand that Apple would have no incentive to do this – after all, they are already getting their 30 percent fee for all those sales within Newsstand.

But I would argue that replica editions benefit the Android products more than Apple. One app is just the same as the next – all are hard to read. But Apple wants to maintain market dominance not so much for its App Store than for its devices. It wants the iPhone and iPad to remain the leading products in their categories. If all the best designed periodicals are on iOS devices then this would, like digital textbooks, translate into more hardware sales. At least in theory.

So while hitting the 1,000 mark for the iPhone Newsstand may seem like a great accomplishment, it might be seen by some inside Apple as a source of frustration, and even a threat.

Greece negotiations will test how much citizens will tolerate in order to stay part of the Eurozone

Imagine for a moment what Tea Partiers would say to the idea that a group of European leaders wants U.S. workers to take a pay cut and give up some of their retirement benefits?

But this is essentially what the negotiations going on in Greece today are about, and it will interesting to see how much the Greeks will tolerate should the government agree to European demands. The reward, from the perspective of Eurozone leaders, is that Greece gets more bailout funding and gets to continue to play in the Eurozone club.

Police line up to face Greek protests (and a dog) in this 2010 picture. More protests can be expected this week.

According to the BBC report, negotiators want further government spending from Greece, reductions to Greece's minimum wage of up to 20 percent, cuts in civil service jobs, and cuts to the size of pension programs.

In response, two Greek labor unions have called for a 24-hour strike for Tuesday, and protests are expected today in the capital.

Already the parties involved in the negotiations have missed a self-imposed deadline, but quickly the sides back tracked and claimed that there was, in fact, no deadline.

The only deadline is to have a staff agreement for the second bailout and the agreement of the political leaders before Eurogroup," said an anonymous official in an Athens News report.

This is essentially true as the next payments are not due until March 20, any deadlines imposed now are merely designed to rush negotiations.