Friday, March 30, 2012

News Corp. wants its used car ads back, will launch new website to compete with Auto Trader in the UK

According to the UK website Motor Trader, Rupert Murdoch's News International wants to launch an online website to attract used car advertising in direct competition with the UK site Auto Trader.

Motor Trader has discovered that Murdoch's UK unit is looking to hire a "Head of Product and Content" to help launch the site. The report hints that the new site will use a typical Murdoch strategy of cutting the prices for advertising in order to bleed Auto Trader, which is owned by Guardian Media Group and Apax Partners (though to be fair, that is my interpretation of the report).

News International will have a tough task, no matter what its tactics. Regaining classified business is much harder to accomplish once the business is lost – something any classified manager will tell you.

Most observers, while trying to explain why the newspaper industry is suffering so badly, will point to the loss of classified advertising as one of the core reasons for the decline. Most attribute the loss to the rise of the Internet, but as TNM readers probably know I hold an alternative view. My belief is that newspapers have in the past, and many continue now, to view themselves as newspaper companies first, publishers second. The consequences of this are that newspapers tend to protect their print product against all comers, even other print products, rather than considering the merits of launching their own new products. The fear, of course, is that by launching their own new products they will compete against themselves.

The reality is that the business – used cars, real estate, help-wanted – has moved on to other platforms, other companies. Creating a competitive website will mean that they will have to hire new sales teams that are both comfortable selling digital and also knowledgable in selling the category. I have no doubt News International can do a decent job at this, but it would have been easier if they did not lose the business to outside interests to begin with.

Just to reinforce that point: most of this business (used cars) started to migrate to the auto traders long before the rise of Internet publishing.

The approach most newspapers in the U.S. have taken has been to wait until it is too late and then invest in online properties such as Classified Ventures and CareerBuilder. The problem with this approach is that it is outside the newspaper. Rather than transforming the classified department into a cross-platform selling unit, it continues the us-and-them approach.

Mag+ updates its reviewer app to support new iPad; New Republic issues update, promise 'retina' support soon

More app updates are flowing into the App Store as publishers and developers rush to make adjustments that will improve the look of their publications on the new iPad.
One update this morning comes from Moving Media AB, the company behind the Mag+ digital publishing platform.

Today the company updated its Mag+ Reviewer app.

The app is used in conjunction with the free Adobe InDesign plug-in. A developer or art director builds their tablet edition inside InDesign and then can preview the results on their iPad through the reviewer app.

Today's update brings the app 'retina' display support, as well as new features and bug fixes.

The New Republic, now majority owned by Chris Hughes, co-founder of Facebook, updated its iPad app this morning, as well.

In this case, the app update only fixes some bugs, but the app description promises that another update will occur soon that will add 'retina' support.

I'll be keeping a close eye on this tablet edition to see two things: will the change of ownership bring a new vision of tablet editions to the title, and will the editorial content begin to change due to the new ownership. My hopes are both will occur.

In the land of Insanity, only the sane are considered crazy

Short news items read this morning while drinking my coffee.

UK: Unite, the UK's largest trade union, represents gasoline truck drivers. These drivers voted to strike four days ago. In response, the Tory government recommended that citizens horde gasoline, leading to panic buying and shortages.

BBC: Woman seriously burned decanting petrol

A woman suffered serious burns when petrol ignited as she was decanting it in the kitchen of her York home because her daughter had run out of fuel.

The woman, who is in her 40s, suffered 40% burns in the accident on Moorgate in the Acomb area on Thursday evening.
In a local election last night, the candidate from Respect, George Galloway, defeated opposing candidates in what had been considered a safe Labour seat.

The Guardian: George Galloway wins Bradford West byelection
George Galloway, the leading figure in Respect, has grabbed a remarkable victory in the Bradford West byelection, claiming that "By the grace of God, we have won the most sensational victory in British political history".

It appeared that the seat's Muslim community had decamped from Labour en masse to Galloway's call for an immediate British troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and a fightback against the job crisis.

On a turnout of 50.78%, Labour's shellshocked candidate Imran Hussain was crushed by a 36.59% swing from Labour to Respect that saw Galloway take the seat with a majority of 10,140.
Greece: When things go bad in your country there can only be one explanation – they are to blame. Who "they" are will, of course, depend on your point of view. But one group always picked out are immigrants, especially so-called illegal immigrants.

Athens News: Police detain 491 people after street checks
Police said 455 officers were involved in the operation, in which a total of 1,023 people (283 Greeks and 740 non-nationals) were stopped and checked on the streets.

Kathimerini: Greece to cut spending by 12 bn euros by 2014, PM says
Greece will cut state spending by about 12 billion euros by 2014 to meet conditions under an EU-IMF debt rescue, Prime Minister Lucas Papademos told Parliament on Friday.

"In 2013-2014 a reduction in state spending of about 12 billion euros is required under the new economic program,» Papademos told lawmakers in response to parliamentary questions.
Today the European Central Bank announced that they will no longer accept Greek bonds as as collateral for loans after the country was downgraded by credit rating agencies.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Godengo acquires Texterity; joint company will create a unified platform; The Globe and Mail reports another round of layoffs are occurring at BlackBerry maker RIM

Berkeley, Calif. based Godengo today announced that it had acquired Texterity, the Massachusetts based maker of replica editions. In the announcement, the combined company promises to create a unified platform to serve magazine publishers.

“Godengo and Texterity have complementary expertise, specializations, and cultures, and together we’ll offer a level of functionality and flexibility to clients that is well beyond anything currently in the marketplace,” said Peter Stilson, Godengo’s President and CEO, and the CEO of the newly combined company.

“The publishing industry has been looking for a true partner that can meet the full scope of needs in cross-platform digital and mobile integration, and now it has one,” Stilson said.
CIO, a Texterity iPad app

The current president of Texterity, Carl Scholz, will become the President of the combined company, which will be rebranded in the future.

Godengo's main product has been Revista, an online publishing and advertising solution designed for magazine publishers. Texterity is known for its digital flipbooks, and for the universal apps that are replica editions, which appear under the Texterity name in the App Store, rather than that of the publisher.

These replica editions have proved very popular with publishers, though readers have not given the apps very favorable reviews inside the App Store. All of the Texterity app reside outside of Apple's Newsstand.

The Canadian daily The Globe and Mail is reporting this afternoon that the new CEO of Research In Motion is moving some of the company's management out.

“Lots of high level people within RIM were let go today,” The Globe and Mail quoted on anonymous source. “Quite a few. Big shake up.”

The paper speculates that the move has been made ahead of the company reporting its year-end results, which many expect to be less than stellar. Often these kinds of moves are made as sort of the answer to an anticipated question from analysts.

The Globe and Mail's Iain Marlow stated that the sales and marketing department, which has already suffered layoffs was again targeted in the latest round. Nothing builds sales like reducing sales and marketing, right? I know quite a number of B2B publishing executives who seem to hold the same view – and are achieving the same results, I might add.

Update: the earnings call is giving us more details of what is going on at RIM: co-CEO Jim Balsillie is stepping down from the company’s board and two executives – Software CTO David Yach and Jim Rowan, COO, Global Operations – are out, as well, according to sources listening in this afternoon.

Watching RIM disintegrate is not a pretty sight. Sometimes one wonders why some tech writers appear to be so happy when they see a company fall apart. But despite the fact that BlackBerry shipments decreased 21 percent in the latest quarter, and that profits fell 19 percent, the company could still report a positive number concerning earnings per share – something even some high flying companies can not report. Forget what I said, the company reported a net loss for the quarter. That certainly makes the situation look more dire.

Nearly reach 50% of mobile users now own smartphones: but note of caution, just because a cell phone is labeled a "smartphone" doesn't mean it is being used that way

New findings from Nielsen say that nearly half of all mobile phone subscribers now own a smartphone – and that phone is most likely an iPhone or Android phone as fewer and fewer buyers are opting for a BlackBerry.

But the two seemingly separate findings are most definitely related and is why readers should be cautious about these findings. While it is logical to assume that former BlackBerry owners are choosing either an iPhone or Android phone to replace their old keyboard phone, other feature phone users who are now mostly buying inexpensive Android phones may not be buying and using those phones in a manner common to, say, iPhone owners. In other words, the phone may be called a "smartphone" but that does not mean they will be big data hogs and open to your media apps.

If my analysis is right, it may help explain why Apple's iOS platform continues to account for the lion's share of web traffic from mobile devices.

Will this change? Yes, if the economy picks up and consumers are willing to pay those larger cellphone bills from carriers. If not, consumers will continue to opt for inexpensive cellphones and then be as frugal as possible with their carrier plans.

Another interesting finding in the Nielsen report was that Apple's iPhone share of smartphone sales grew to 43 percent of sales made over the past three months. That gain, however, came almost exclusively from RIM's BlackBerry – again reinforcing the notion that iPhone users see and will use their phones as smartphones. (My wife is a former BlackBerry user who moved to the iPhone a year and a half ago and hasn't looked back.)

The report's findings appeared today on the Nielsen blog.

The San Diego Union-Tribune gets ready for Opening Day by launching a weekly tablet edition for the Padres

Let's talk more baseball! The A's beat the Mariners today in Tokyo which means that they are both now in first, and in last, as is everyone else in the division.

As I've written in the past, in fact one year ago today, the beginning of the baseball season was always a huge event at the newspaper I worked for in Los Angeles – the Hearst owned Herald Examiner. The beginning of the season meant a special section, Tommy Lasorda giving the sale team a pep talk, and eventually tickets in the nose bleed section on Opening Day. The Dodgers won the World Series my first year at the paper and the team was always in contention.
Newspapers still do preview issues but few have taken the next step of creating a mobile or tablet app dedicated to their local baseball team.

One that has is the San Diego Union-Tribune. The paper has passed through the hands of Copley (I worked for them, as well, but in Santa Monica), to Platinum Equity, and just this last November was sold to Doug Manchester, owner of the San Diego Marriott Hotel and Marina.

In plenty of time for Opening Day, the Union-Tribune has launched a tablet edition dedicated to the San Diego Padres. Padres Insider is a very simple app that creates a whole new weekly sports product for its readers.

The app is free of charge, and provides the content for free, as well (more on that in a second).

The weekly digital magazine is modest in size (probably a good thing) and can be read in both landscape and portrait. Layouts are what we've come to call "native", with scrolling text boxes sometimes, and sometimes just scrolling pages.

The photography is optimized for the new iPad and looks great. The app description promises video features, live stats and recaps of every game. Since the Padres are still in Arizona in the Cactus League, much of this won't appear in the app until after Opening Day.

I admit that I love these simple native apps. The ability to launch one of these opens up a world of possibilities.

I only have two complaints – one minor, one major.

The minor complaint is that the app description does not contain any screenshots of the actual app. This may be because those in charge may be waiting for the app to go live and want real screenshots. But swapping out screenshots is so easy there really is no reason to wait for the app to go live.

The more serious concern involves the business plan for this app – or rather the lack of one. The app is free, which makes sense, but why not charge for the content – even a token charge of say $1.99 a month or $9.99 a year? The app resides in Newsstand so subscriptions would be easy.

The reason might be found in the fact that the other tablet app for the Union-Tribune – found here – is also free and is based on the news content of the website. The paper's promotions say the app is free "for a limited time", but charging for the app only makes sense if one charges for the website, too.

The paper also offers an e-edition through Technavia. Readers know how much I really don't like those hard to read replica editions.

The paper's management team appears to be throwing everything against the wall and seeing what sticks. Rather than taking this shotgun approach (two bad cliches in one paragraph!) the team should concentrate on creating products that they feel are worth charging for. Believe in your team, learn the platforms, and bravely launch – that's my philosophy in a nutshell (another cliche, I'm ready for the baseball season!).

Website owners see their mobile readership numbers grow, changing the way they think about content and target audience; Chrome use grows at the expense of IE

Once or twice a year Josh Marshall gets a bit techie and posts an article about readership trends on his site Talking Points Memo. While Marshall usually cautions his readers that the short post is non-political and might not be of interest to them, I love these posts because they are little tidbits of research that usually confirm what I have heard from other new media websites, or see right here at TNM.

Marshall's post, under the title of The Ascent of Mobile looks at the growing number of readers he is seeing accessing his website using a mobile device. While Marshall says the percentage of users remains far lower than that seen from readers using a PC, the numbers are growing steadily – now reaching 20 percent of all readers.
I hope Marshall won't mind me grabbing his readership chart, seen at right. Here Marshall points out that iPhone, iPad and Android readership numbers continue to climb, while those of Blackberry and Windows Phone currently barely register.

"What continues to surprise me is that pace of growth of iPhone usage hasn’t slackened at all," Marshall writes. "If anything it seems to be accelerating."

Others are reporting the same. I wonder, however, if TPM's international readership is also growing. If so, the two trends may be related: as Apple's share of the US mobile market is being eaten into by Android, its share elsewhere appears to be growing.

As I usually have to point out, it is interesting to see Android as one number. The reason for this is that tracking Android tablets as distinct from smartphones is either impossible or a waste of time. I'd be curious to know what Marshall is seeing in the way of readership growth from Android tablet users – this site continues to see the Android tablet user as a tiny minority compared to iPad readers.

One thing to keep in mind is that Talking Points Memo does not have any mobile apps (or a tablet edition). TPM does have a mobile website, but those readers are represented here. Because of this, TPM's share of mobile appears higher than it would if these readers were using an app – in that case, Marshall would be seeing the percentage of readers accessing his RSS feeds exploding.

Further, if I were consulting Marshall I would caution him about equating all this new traffic to "mobile" as tablet use is getting mainstreamed, so to speak. Many users, especially young users, are reading online with their tablets in much the same way they did their PC. This behavior is leas a reflection of reading habits as a reflection of device migration.

Marshall may be seeing this himself when he writes about device migration: "My own sense is that iPhone or other handset devices will never be the primary way people will want to read news. It’s just too small — totally functional and extremely useful but not what you’d probably gravitate towards if you were at home and had a desktop or tablet to use. But I can easily imagine tablets becoming the preferred way to reading news."

Here Marshall is being a bit old fashioned. The issue isn't that mobile won't be a preferred way to read TPM, but instead that TMP should be thinking about what it should be delivering to mobile. The new NYT and WaPo mobile apps centered on their elections coverage are good examples of this. Websites often think they are "new media" because they are online, but are often as traditional as the old print media world. To break out of this, websites need to understand that their content is what is of value, and their websites but one possible product. Only delivering the same content to mobile and tablets is the online equivalent of creating a replica edition from a print product.

(This is definitely one of those "do as I say not as I do" situations. TNM, too, should be creating new tablet and mobile product lines – but, as many of you know, my commitment to continuing with a B2B website for media professionals has wavered several times over the past two years.)

As far as Talking New Media is concerned, tracking this site's traffic got more complicated the minute the iPhone app launched. As a B2B website, we're talking traffic numbers that are a fraction of Marshall's. But the trends look very much the same. The RSS feeds are getting more traffic via the mobile app, and the percentage of users accessing the site through an iPad is exploding. What I am not seeing is any real spike in Android tablet users, but this may be caused by Android tablets registering strictly as mobile devices (though to be honest, I've been looking for users there but not seeing a spike).

One trend that continues is the growth in the use of Google's Chrome browser. I personally use Chrome while working on TNM because of its built-in translation service. I then use Safari for personal use, as well as on my iPhone and iPad, of course. (The Kindle Fire is starting to collect dust, but does occasionally get used for web browsing.)

Here is the breakout for the past month:

Browser Percent
Chrome 29.90%
Firefox 27.12%
Safari 25.40%
Internet Explorer 14.41%
The decline in the use of IE continues and is accelerating. Meanwhile, because Safari is the default browser on iOS devices, its growth continues. But Chrome has quickly reached parity with Firefox as the preferred browser of PC users.

For many media apps, a new update involves only improving the look of their graphic files

Following the release of the new iPad, many media companies and developers have been issuing updates to their tablet apps. But while some magazine publishers and digital publishing vendors are contemplating major changes to the way they create their tablet editions, many other publishers are issuing very minor updates.

The Washington Post for iPad
The reason for this is that their apps currently allow Apple's own system to render their text, making the most crucial element of their app already compliant with Apple's new, higher resolution iPad.

So many app updates only increase the resolution of the graphics that to be found in the app. A good example of this is The Washington Post for iPad, one of many apps updated this morning. The iPad news app now sports a sharper looking introductory graphic.

But the biggest change is that the app finally supports notifications, something one would have considered absolutely necessary to build in from the beginning. Notifications are routinely used by apps such as that of the New York Times to push out a breaking news item to readers – and example might be a decision from the Supreme Court on the health care reform bill.

The Post's app also added in Facebook share, another "duh" item on any developer's check list.

Other media apps making similar 'retina' display updates to their graphics include Mashable for iPad, and the sports score app SportsTap.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The New Republic drops its paywall in first major change instituted by new majority owner

The New Republican this afternoon announced that it would be tear down the paywall on its website. The move is the first major change in direction for the magazine since Chris Hughes became the majority owner of the 98 year old title.

"We are pleased to announce that, as of today, all articles on the TNR website are now accessible free of charge to subscribers and non-subscribers alike," the magazine said in a post signed simply "The New Republic Staff".

"This decision is in line with our desire to enable new readers to discover and share the best of what TNR’s writers produce each day. While readers will continue to need to subscribe in order to read our content in print or on tablet devices, access to recent TNR content on the web will be free."

Hearst's unimaginative replica edition for Food Network Magazine leaves the market open to digital start-ups

Imagine for a second that you were tasked to create a tablet magazine. Next imagine that you had access to video content, lots of video content. The two naturally go together, right?

Well, they do if you are thinking about creating a tablet magazine. But most publishers don't think this way. For traditional publishers, the goal is not to create a tablet magazine but to get their print magazines onto tablets. It is a subtle but important difference.
A perfect example of this is the new tablet edition released by Hearst Communications for Food Network Magazine.

The Food Network is a popular cable channel that is owned by Scripps Networks Interactive and the Tribune Company. Food Network Magazine is a joint venture of Hearst and Scripps.

Unfortunately, Food Network Magazine the app not a joint venture but rather Hearst's idea of what readers what for their iPad – an exact replica of the print edition.

The app is free to download and one month subscriptions can be bought for $1.99 and annual subscriptions for $19.99. You will have to pay this even if you are a print subscriber.

This is true of all the Hearst tablet editions which is why the reviews of the tablet editions are almost always negative.

Previously, Hearst was releasing apps for Food Network Magazine that were stand alone apps - such as the last one for the December 2011 issue. Food Network Magazine December 2011 cost $3.99 to download and was, of course, also a replica edition.

My assumption is that the people at Hearst only see tablets as just another distribution channel to sell single copies. Nothing in this tablet edition makes sense – from the lack of cooking videos to the continuation of the left page - right page formula (could you please point out the left hand page on my iPad?).

Left: the library page for the app; Middle: the advertiser of this two-page spread is not revealed until one reaches the second page; Right: the table of contents uses fonts that probably make sense in print but are far too small to read in a replica edition.

Eventually someone committed to digital publishing will produce a great cooking magazine, it is inevitable. Rather than still images with text, cooking videos will demonstrate techniques. Further, these videos can be streamed onto a TV making them essentially a new cooking channel. Both Scripps and Hearst are in danger of seeing their franchises become obsolete.

Here is the standard video walk through of the new app:

The Guardian Eyewitness gets an app update that brings in better graphics, but so far not higher resolution photos

Speaking of The Guardian (see story below): the British newspaper has updated its photojournalism app this morning. The Guardian Eyewitness has been a very good, if under appreciated, iPad app. But the paper has not issued regular updates for the app (something I would recommend even if TNM has been negligent in that area, as well).
The update updates the graphics but does not appear to update the resolution of the photographs – at least not yet. The update also adds multi-tasking and background downloading of images – though this is really not all that important here.

The one thing missing from the app is direct streaming of the photographs through AirPlay. On a new iPad or iPad 2 one can stream the photo to an Apple Tv through mirroring, but it would be nice if the app did this directly (much like a YouTube video).

I would think that future photographs would now be rendered in higher resolution – we'll watch to see if The Guardian beings doing this now that they have updated the app.

The Guardian extends its sports live blogging to the U.S.; Opening Day game in Japan blogged

Most people, and few baseball fans, are probably aware that today is Opening Day of the baseball season. Really.

As I write this, the Oakland A's are playing the Seattle Mariners in Japan. Both teams were pathetic last year, and seem to be promising their fans the same level of play again this year. Not surprisingly, the game has gone into extra innings with the score 1-1. The snoring coming from the packed house in Tokyo is deafening.

Even ESPN has been advertising that Opening Day is next week Wednesday with the game between the Cardinals and the Marlins (now called the Miami Marlins, if you haven't been keeping track).

But The Guardian's new U.S. website is live blogging the game this morning, bringing the practice of live blogging sports events to this country. The Guardian has been live blogging soccer (ah, I mean "football") matches for quite some time, even fighting the Premiere League over the issue.

The Guardian is clearly committed to the art form (live blogging, that is). The U.S. news site has been live blogging MLS games – giving more attention to the professional soccer league than most other news sites.

The Guardian seriously messed up recently when it posted a live blog on an international friendly between England and the Netherlands while the U.S. was playing a friendly against Italy. England ended up losing its game, while the U.S. won in Italy for the very first time. The U.S. win was historic, while the English lose was largely irrelevant. Worse, it gave the very strong impression that The Guardian's U.S. site might only be of interest to English expats – something I don't think they were intending.

Their live blogging of both MLS and today's incredibly boring game between two bad teams is a sign that The Guardian is serious about covering U.S. sports – even if it proves to be painful for the reporters.

Side Note: it is interesting that the live blog of today's baseball game has a UK website address, though it is being blogged by David Lengel, who is based in Brooklyn (according to his Guardian biography). But the blog is appearing only the U.S. home page while the UK home page is featuring a story on UK football.

Day Three at the Supreme Court; Apple wants to offer refunds to Australians who want to return their new iPads

It's the final day of arguments at the Supreme Court as opposing sides argue the constitutionality of the new health care law, known now as Obamacare.

Yesterday's session seemed to tip the hand of Justice Kennedy whose tough questioning has led many court observers to believe that the justice is leaning hard towards overturning the law, especially as it pertains to the mandate which requires citizens to either buy health insurance from a private provider or pay a penalty (or tax, as it is administered through the IRS). Opponents to the law say this is unconstitutional, while defenders say that the government has a right to legislate this, just as many states require auto insurance.

The President would like to campaign over health care in the fall, but he has few friends on the issue. When the President and the Congress threw out the public option, liberals were left supporting a law that benefitted the health insurance lobby, while conservatives could claim the new law was an intrusion into their rights. By seeking a compromise that would satisfy no one, but would pass the Congress (even without Republican support) the President ended up burning both sides of the issue and is now left on an island trying to defend the law before the Supreme Court.

Many observers who last week thought there was a good chance the Supreme Court would uphold the law, now believe that in June part or all of the law will be struck down. The consequences will most likely influence the November election.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has taken Apple to court over the issue of 4G.

Apple has been advertising their new iPad as having 4G capabilities even though the new tablet is not compatible with the only 4G provider in the country (another provider will be offering 4G soon, but that network too will be incompatible with the new iPad).

Apple is said to want to offer refunds to any Australian consumer who wants to return their new iPads. That's a smart move, returns would be minimal. But the ACCC seems to want some sort of fine, or even a commitment to launch a compatible version (unlikely).

"It's been completely indifferent to the Australian market," Colin Golvan, senior counsel for the ACCC said in the Federal Court in Melbourne today.

Maybe the ACCC should worry more about the small and incompatible 4G networks being set up, no?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Distimo study says Apple's Newsstand is generating $70K in sales per day for publishers

Every time I read another study that says that Apple's iPad is generating new readers or strong subscription sales I am reminded that it has only been two years since the launch of the original Apple tablet, and that far too many media consultants said they "don’t see a good use for the machine."

The latest report to come out originates from Distimo, a company that constantly is looking at the various app stores.

According to the report they issued today, Apple's Newsstand is now generating more than $70,000 per day for the top 100 grossing publications, despite the distribution channel being only six months old. In case you don't have a calculator, that adds up to $25.5 million a year – an impressive number, but still small compared to traditional channels.
Not surprisingly, the introduction of Newsstand pretty much puts to bed the debate that originally was conducted: paid apps versus in-app purchases (subscriptions). Distimo points out that the high revenue being generated from Newsstand "is almost solely based on in-app purchases" – meaning individual issues and paid subscriptions.

Other findings you might find interesting: China has surpassed the U.S. in being the largest market for free apps, but the U.S. is still the highest grossing country for the Apple App Store for iPad. The Distimo report gives the advice that developers should target Australia, Canada and the UK, in addition to the U.S.

Pyramyd launches a new replica edition app for its étapes: – painfully slow download tests a reader's patience

One would think that a magazine all about graphic design would care about, you know, design. But in the world of tablet publishing we've come to understand that even the most picky editors and publishers lose their design values once the job of creating a tablet edition is required.
The new tablet edition from étapes: magazine, seen in the App Stores as Etapes international, is a replica edition built using the digital publishing solution from Wigoo.

The app is free and once installed the reader can access a back issue for free in order to test out the magazine. Beware: it is a slow download. No, really, a very slow download. No, seriously, really, really slow. Got it?

Weighing in at 235.74 MB, the preview issue is one of those click and out of lunch types of downloads. Imagine how bad it would be if this were a natively designed tablet edition?

Well, actually, étapes: does have a natively designed app. Etapes: The Digital Issue was an app that launched last June. TNM wrote about the app then but apparently the app was simply an experiment – you can read that report here.

The new étapes: app is one of those magazines critics might use to show how bad magazines look on the new iPad's 'retina' display. And yes, the fonts are bad when one uses pinch-to-zoom to magnify them (do you like the silly graphic I created below?).
But the reality is that one doesn't zoom in that far to read a magazine. So who cares if the fonts are a bit less than sharp?

The problem here isn't the fuzzy text and less than retina-quality scans used to create this tablet edition, the problem is that this was a magazine designed to be read in print and the publisher has made a decision to go with a design once for all environments type of publishing solution – rather than honoring the art of magazine design by re-imagining their magazine for the tablet.

As far as the replica edition goes, once the reader successfully downloads the issue things go better. The navigation is smooth and the pages load quickly. But did I mention how slow the download was?

comScore releases first study of digital display advertising performance based on its vCE model

Digital marketing intelligence company comScore has released a whitepaper based on a new study that attempts to examine digital display ad delivery and validation. The study is part of comScore's efforts to establish its own measurement criteria called validated Campaign Essentials (vCE).

In comScore's own words, vCE validates whether or not impressions delivered as part of a campaign were in-view, delivered in the right geography, seen in brand safe environments, and absent of fraud.

The study finds that 30 percent of the ads looked at were "not in-view", meaning were placed below the first web page (below the fold, so to speak). This varied widely from site to site.

Those ads that had "very basic demo targeting objectives" performed well in the study, though as more demographic variables were added to a campaign the performance level decreased with only 36 percent of all impressions achieved delivered to an audience that match the desired profile.

Keeping ads away from objectionable environments proved difficult, with 72 percent of ads getting some impressions from areas where "objectionable content" resided. According to comScore, while this did not mean that there was a large number of impressions derived from sites that housed inappropriate content, 92,000 web viewers were exposed to ad impressions in these areas.

comScores says in its study that "fraud is an undeniably large and growing problem in digital advertising. The results showed that an average of 0.16% of impressions across all campaigns was delivered to non-human agents from the IAB spiders & bots list."

In conclusion, comScore says that "there was little to no correlation between CPM and value being delivered to the advertiser" and that ads with very good in-view rates did not necessarily have a higher CPM than those placed in low in-view locations.

"In other words, neither ad visibility nor the demographic target delivery is currently reflected in the economics of digital advertising," comScore concluded.

Ad campaigns looked at in the comScore study included those from General Mills, Kellogg's, Ford, Sprint, Kraft Foods, Kimberly-Clark, Allstate, E*Trade, Discover, HTC, and Chrysler. Eighteen campaigns were studied that resulted in 1.8 billion impressions on 380,898 site domains.

Retweet: Open Journalism and the way forward

The Guardian's editor Alan Rusbridger today tweeted his ten principals of open journalism, and although this site tries to shy away from strictly journalism topics (journalists more than make up for the absence here), I thought it worth retweeting the ten points:

1. It encourages participation. It invites and/or allows a response
2. It is not an inert, “us” to “them” form of publishing
3. It encourages others to initiate debate.We can follow, as well as lead.We involve others pre-publication
4. It helps form communities of joint interest around subjects, issues or individuals
5. It's open to the web. It links to, and collaborates with, other material (including services) on the web
6. It aggregates and/or curates the work of others
7. It recognizes that journalists are not the only voices of authority, expertise and interest
8. It aspires to achieve, and reflect, diversity as well as promoting shared values
9. It recognizes that publishing can be the beginning of the journalistic process rather than the end
10. It is transparent and open to challenge – including correction, clarification and addition
It's a nice list and I can not argue with anything in it.

As a publisher, what I generally object to are the efforts to make any principal of journalism into a business model. In a nutshell, this is my biggest problem with the advocates of "digital first" - they aren't so much talking about the business of the newspaper trade as they are journalism.

But you'd never know talking to them, and they'd never admit it. As a result we have popular digital media consultants advocating all sorts of odd things: ignoring new digital technologies like the iPad; ad-free models and paywall, paywalls, paywalls; calls for wanton aggregation of junk; and, of course, lots of layoffs in the name of efficiency. In other words, the digital promoters have morphed into the new conservatives – and it is their way or the highway.

None of this relates to what is going on at The Guardian. I remain interested, intrigued, and enthusiastic – especially about their willingness to market their approach.

As an example of that, here is the Three Pigs video that has sat on this site for a while but that many may have missed:

Despite online claims, magazines do not look "so bad" on the new iPad, they are simply more accurately displayed

One can drive a lot of traffic writing about things that are simply not true – especially when it involves a new Apple product. But after using the new iPad a couple of weeks it is time to call BS.

An issue of Dwell from 2010, available through the Zinio digital newsstand app.

The latest meme being pushed is that magazines look bad on the new iPad. This time, however, the writers are placing the blame on the publishers and digital publishing vendors. The fact is, however, that magazines don't look bad, it is simply not true. Yes, some magazines are using digital publishing techniques that are displaying their fonts in a less than crystal clear fashion. But guess what? This has always been the case – where were these writers when these same magazines were originally released into the App Store?

The problem, as we've discussed in the past, is that many digital publishing systems are rendering text as images rather than using the iPad's text rendering system. The reason for this is so that the digital magazines will more closely approximate the look and feel of the print magazines, even when the digital magazines are being laid out in a more native tablet look. A reader wants their issue of The New Yorker, for instance, to look like the New Yorker, not some plain text document.

Dwell's  fonts may not be perfectly sharp on the new iPad, but they weren't that way before either, so why the complaints now?

But lots of problems arise when a publisher uses this method of design. For me, the lack of font customization means that I have to live with the publisher's font choices, which sometimes are good and sometimes not. While many newspaper apps have opted to use adjustable fonts, most magazines do not. The result is that digital magazines usually are better designed than their newspaper equivalents, but can also be harder to read.

I've looked at almost all the magazines inside my iPad, and while it is easy to see the difference between the new iPad's so-called 'retina' display and the older model, the fact is that those magazines that were hard to read on the old iPad remain so, while those that were well designed remain so.

Yes, if you zoom in as far as possible to examine the fonts of magazines that have not been optimized for the iPad you can see that smaller text is less than sharp. But it wasn't sharp before, either.

I find that many replica editions are actually easier to read on the new iPad. These magazines reproduce their 10-11 inch pages on the 7.5 inch tall display – meaning that fonts that were designed to be read at the larger size are shrunk down, making them far harder to read. But the iPad's display helps, somewhat.

I continue to be convinced that those who want their print magazines reproduced exactly for the iPad are making a big mistake. I am betting that a few years from now we'll look back and wonder why publishers thought designing a digital magazine this way was a good idea.

But let's not pretend that the new iPad is making something that once looked great now look unacceptable. Nothing has changed except that the iPad's display is simply beautiful. Digital publishing vendors are, no doubt, working hard to adjust to the new specs, but I can tell you that digital magazines inside the Zinio digital newsstand, for instance, look fine.

Yes, publishers who optimize their apps for the new display will see better results, any art director that believes that the proper way to design a page is to create on 30 percent larger than shrink the page is on drugs. The big issue facing publishers developing for tablets remains whether to go with a native solution or a replica one. The sidebar issue also remains the same: which solution to use and whether to accept the compromises made by the vendors.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Ziff Davis Inc. releases new iPad edition of PC Magazine; print edition of the magazine shuttered in 2009

If I had made a list of all the magazines still missing from Apple's Newsstand you'd probably would have been surprised to see PC Magazine on that list. After all, when the company went totally digital in 2009 and shutdown its print editions, one might have thought that the management at Ziff Davis would have jumped at the chance to test the tablet platform.
But, of course, this is not the same company it was back in the eighties and early nineties. The company has been bought and sold by private equity firms, declared bankruptcy, and only last month apparently changed hands again – though to be honest, few have been paying nearly as much attention to the company now-a-days.

But the new PC Magazine app is kind of a relaunch of the magazine format for the title. The iPad edition, designed in portrait only, looks and feels like a magazine. In fact, it is maybe a bit too close to the format, the editors seemingly trying hard to replicate the old print look with its natively designed app.

Dan Costa, writing on the title's website, said "I knew our all-digital strategy was the right one, but there were things I was going to miss about working on a print publication. I enjoyed the curation of stories each month, the glossy product shots, and the ability to serve an audience of subscribers as opposed to random—albeit welcome—Web visitors and search engines."

Single editions of the digital magazine will cost readers $3.99, while a monthly subscription will bring down the price to $1.99. An annual subscription is $19.99.

The app is a work in progress, as Costa admits online. One bug I found was that the embedded audio that is supposed to accompany the Kickstarter story appears to be missing as I tapped and tapped the button for the audio but could not get it to work on my new iPad. (If you are able to get the audio to work let me know, it might have been an issue with my iPad.)

According to Costa the "next version rolls out in 30 days."

All-in-all, the tablet edition is fine. But what the digital magazine lacks – because of the demise of the print edition – is full page ads. In fact, the app description brags of a "completely ad-free reading" experience.

As a publisher I see that this is nothing to brag about. Not only is the revenue from ads going to be missing, but also one of the big draws of tech magazines. Yep, believe it or not, readers like ads - at least in certain kinds of magazines. What would Vogue be without the ads (besides out of business)?. The old computer magazines were the same: readers picked them up to see what new gadgets and software products had become available. Of course, once the computer industry matured, less and less interesting new products became available and readers had to settle for pages of virus software ads – yuck.

Well, those days are over, and today many of the tech (and media) journals are the last to make their debuts on the iPad. One can certainly understand why PC Magazine is late to the party, having shutdown its print edition. But the iPad may well see the reemergence of many other shuttered titles – if not by their original owners, but possibly by companies willing to buy the rights to the title and launch a strictly digital version into Apple's Newsstand.

Road construction funding, politics, cognitive dissonance, hypocrisy, and the media industry, too

As the former publisher of a B2B transportation construction magazine, I can't help but look on the latest mess in Congress with a wry smile.

In case you are unawares, a little background: the Highway Trust Fund, which pays for road and bridge construction and maintenance projects, has not been fully funded since the expiration of the last bill in 2009. Since then the Congress has merely passed funding extensions. But the Senate passed a $109 billion, two-year surface transportation reauthorization bill a couple of weeks ago – and in a bi-partisan fashion 74-22.

Caution! Rant ahead.

But the GOP controlled House has stalled the bill up to this point. If the bill does not get passed, or another extension not agreed upon by March 31, road construction projects will grind to a halt and construction workers will find themselves on the unemployment lines.

You would think, therefore, that this one would be a no-brainer. And let's face it, despite the posturing of GOP House members, the bill will probably pass – in one form or another.

But why does this kind of thing happen? The reason is simple: the GOP controls the House, the GOP is not in favor of public spending on public works. They haven't been in the past, and their position has hardened over the years.

So that means that those folks who own construction companies are all Democrats, right? Ha ha. Sure.

No, construction executives are overwhelmingly Republican, demand low taxes, and generally want government spending cut. It's just that they are not so much against spending on transportation projects, as long as they are in their segment of the business. I remember long conversations over drinks with construction executives that centered on this very issue. Contractors are very much aware that their personal political views are in stark contrast with their own business interests.

I attended a trade association convention once in San Antonio, shortly after Bill Clinton was elected president. The keynote speaker was none other than the former president, George H.W. Bush. The man was treated like a hero, it seemed that everyone in that room had voted for the guy and were genuinely sad he had lost the election. But after Bush had left the room following picture taking and autographs (my mother has a picture of me and the President), we all returned to our tables. One executive said to me "I'm going to miss that guy, but Clinton will make me rich." He was no doubt right because just two years later a massive highway bill was signed into law and the following few years were the most prosperous the industry had ever seen (my magazine did pretty damn good, as well).

This ability to vote one way only, even if it is against one's one best interest is an American tradition. Millions of Americans do it all the time. And this kind of behavior is not limited to construction. The media business is no different.

For years media moguls have been working to make sure their readers are in no financial shape to be media consumers, demanding the same policies most contractors demand, as well: low taxes on the wealthy, while cutting funding for education.

In general, the media business is fighting efforts to keep the Internet free of government control. Meanwhile, their customers are in the opposite camp, demanding an unfettered, uncensored, and generally open web.

If the House fails to pass the transportation bill contractors will be irate, but they will have only themselves to blame – it will be the scorpion and the frog again. But I seriously doubt this will happen: House members are already seen as the Grinch, and spending, despite the claims of the right, comes easily to all legislators.

Condé Nast begins releasing app updates for its tablet editions to support the new iPad's 'retina' display

Whether they are responding to some of the criticism of their tablet editions, or simply continuing with their own plans, Condé Nast began to issue app updates for their digital magazines so that they can take advantage of the higher resolution display of the new iPad.
This morning app updates were released for GQ, Wired and Condé Nast Traveler.

An app update was also released for Vogue on March 16 that was related to the new iPad, as well.

All the updated apps say that the new support for higher resolution magazines will begin with the April issues – meaning, I guess, that back issues will not see updates to their files.

Several websites, including Mashable, voiced complaints about how bad some of the back issues of magazines looked on the new iPad.

To be honest, it certainly appears as though Condé Nast was planning on adjusting to the new iPad all along. But the way publishers are adjusting is bound to be controversial, as well: upping the file sizes of their digital editions by changing from .png files to .pdf. The change, though, will certainly lead to better looking magazines. Whether publishers and vendors can increase download times to compensate will be one the challenges that must be faced.