Friday, April 13, 2012

Top mobile iOS news apps tend to be simply universal versions of the tablet app

If tablet editions designed for Apple's iPad are moving in a direction of native tablet design (see below), the situation on the mobile side is more confused, with some developers pushing the platform forward, while many others apparently more interested in the tablet side of iOS.
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It is important to point out, of course, that news apps can appear under both "News" and "Newsstand" if the publisher has utilized that distribution method. For the iPad, many publishers have moved their apps into Newsstand, while broadcasters don't have that option and are to be found under News only.

Apple opened up third party apps for the iPhone back in 2008 and they began appearing in the App Store that fall. The iPad was open to news organizations from Day One. As a result, many of the first apps for the iPad were simply ported over versions of the mobile app, optimized for the larger display. But this began to change as more and more magazine publishers began to launch apps.

It made very little sense for, say, Vogue, to launch a magazine app for the iPhone. But once the iPad appeared it became almost mandatory that an app be produced. Now Vogue does have two mobile apps, but neither of them try and port over the print or tablet magazine (Vogue Wish List and Vogue Stylist).

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I don't mind seeing Wolfgang Puck on
my iPhone, but Wolf Blitzer?
It could be argued, however, that this is a more imaginative use of mobile than many of the news apps that are popular in the App Store. The majority of those at the top of the charts in the App Store are not that different than their tablet cousins.

These apps progressed very quickly from simple RSS feeds of news from the organization's website, to offering live television – such is the case with CNN's mobile app. But few take advantage of location services or notifications in any creative way. Two years ago there were tech sites discussing the possibility of apps pushing notifications to mobile owners as they shopped – some of these launched via experimenting developers, but the trend never was picked up by local newspapers or television stations. AOL owned Patch has a decent news app for its products that uses location services to send you to the most local Patch property, but it does nothing else creative with the technology (and even the directory is pretty useless since one can only find businesses by name or category, not keyword).

The cell phone has turned from a feature phone into a smart phone; the device itself has turned from a way to make calls, to a communications device that is also a media player, navigation tool, etc. etc. The possibilities remain endless and creative developers have been jumping into the space for the past four years. But media companies seem to be stalling out. The New York Times Company, for instance, has six total mobile apps, the most recent being NYTimes Election 2012.
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One of the earliest mobile apps released by the NYT was their real estate app, NYTimes Real Estate. When it launched I was quite sure we'd see every classified department in the country jump on the bandwagon. But classified managers don't care the weight they once did when many were driving the lion's share of the revenue.

The Hearst newspaper in Houston, though, just launched this month its own real estate app, Houston Homes. It's a nice app that uses location services to help you find homes (just as the Zillow app has been doing for quite some time). Whether this is the first such app for the Hearst Newspapers is something we'll track as the months go by.

Kobo announces deal to bring McClatchy newspapers to the Kobo newsstand

Update: I received an e-mail from James Calloway, VP Strategic Development at McClatchy that confirms that something went very wrong with their Kobo editions. Kobo has since pulled the digital editions and will relaunch them in the near future. TNM will update this story when they reappear again in the Kobo newsstand.

Kobo, the eReader service formerly associated with the Borders book chain, announced today an agreement to bring the McClatch newspapers to the Kobo newsstand. Additionally, the company said that users can enjoy a free 14 day trial for any of its periodicals available.
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“McClatchy’s strategy is to make its publications available to consumers in whatever form and location they want,” Christian A. Hendricks, McClatchy's Vice President, Interactive Media, said in the Kobo announcement. “Devices such as the Kobo Touch eReaders are an important part of that strategy.”

The strategy makes sense, even if the effort appears to be far less than what other publishers would consider acceptable.

I had not previously downloaded the Kobo app for either of the devices that I own – iPhone or iPad – and so wanted to see these Kobo editions at work. The Kobo newsstand is, frankly, not much help.

The newspaper and magazine listings give you a description of the periodical, but no screenshots of the edition. Each newspaper is priced on a monthly manner – generally $9.99 and up. The NYT properties are at $14.99.

The sign up process is very quick and downloading the iPad app – the app I chose – was also a snap.
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Sadly, this is where things got freaky. I signed up for the Miami Herald, one of McClatchy's big titles. To do this I needed to give Kobo my billing information including a credit card. No problem there, since every newsstand will require this.

Returning to my iPad I attempted to download the first issue of the Herald, but nothing was happening. It said it was downloading but I was getting nothing. I paused the download (a nice feature) and restarted it and presto my first issue.

When I saw the results I think I could understand why there are no screenshots in the Kobo newsstand. Is this really what the future of tablet newspapers looks like? (That's snark, by the way.)

Something went terribly wrong here, so I will end this week assuming that this was all a terrible mistake and on Monday the Miami Herald will stop looking like this.




Magazine apps using native design approach begin to dominate the News category sales charts

One could interpret the "Top Charts" in the App Store many different ways, but one thing is becoming clear: over time, media apps that are using native digital publishing solutions are dominating the charts.

As of this morning, the Top Free App and Top Grossing are dominated by apps that have using a digital publishing platform that allows for native tablet design rather than merely trying to replicate the look and feel of print.

But one should probably not go to far with this. TNM, from day one, has been an advocate of approaching each platform on its own, and for designing specifically for that platform. But this morning, one sees that the major publishers are dominating the charts – those companies are less constrained, let us say, in their production choices.
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Whole Living Magazine, the recently released tablet edition from Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia made its chart debut today in the number three position.

Most, though not all, the magazine or newspaper apps seen in the top ten charts have recently been undated to accommodate the higher resolution specs of the new iPad. A notable exception is Condé Nast's Bon Appetit, which was last updated on February 14. But Condé Nast has been issuing 'retina' updates for its magazine apps, with Vanity Fair and Glamour updated just yesterday.

This all appears to be good news for the big guys, and is evidence to justify their investments made in tablet publishing. But for independent publishers, hoping the App Store would not become yet another newsstand dominated by the big boys, this morning's charts can't be seen as a good sign. Marketing within the App Store remains a major issue for all publishers, but most especially for those trying to establish their new brands.

Wisconsin team launches their own personal magazine into the App Store: Overnight Buses Travel Magazine

In theory anyone can publish a tablet edition into the Apple App Store or into the Amazon.com Kindle store. All it takes is the desire to do it, a few dollars to buy a developer license (if necessary) or the desire to learn either Xcode or some an off the shelf (or should we say, online) publishing solution.

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Hi-res for iPad image here.
I suppose it is surprising that more people have not decided to take the plunge.

Two that did are Jennifer Kuhn and Thomas Tegart from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. They recently launched a strictly tablet-only magazine this week called Overnight Buses Travel Magazine. The magazine is a stand alone app, you won't find it in the Newsstand. It is as simply put together as you can image. Analyzed from the perspective of a digital publisher, it is simply a collection of pages created using the Baker Framework.

Because of this, the digital magazine only works in portrait and the app IS the magazine – for now there is no library where the reader downloads issues – and so the app weighs in at 42.8 MB.

The app you see today in the App Store originally appeared earlier this year as a paid app, but Tegart, a former NYC practicing lawyer, chose to go free about a month ago. But just this week the app was updated to include the new design and to make the app compliant with the newest version of iOS and the specs needed for the new iPad.
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Tegart does the coding and operations work, while his partner Kuhn does the creative, as she currently works at Jigsaw, an advertising agency in Milwaukee where her and her cohorts have won a Clio for their work for St. Vincent Regional Cancer Center.

"Both of us really love traveling," Tegart told me yesterday afternoon, hence the magazine's theme.

As far as the app is concerning and using Baker Tegart says "you're basically building a website."

"It's all locally on the iPad, and then Baker you go to Xcode and it wraps it up into an app. Each page you see is a web page, so they're not images the text is selectable, as if you were looking at a web page."

Because of this, the text looks just fine on the new iPad, which is important since Tegart hasn't bought a new iPad yet and was concerned about the magazine's look on the new tablet. As for Kuhn's design work, it is as good as you'd expect, and far better than many other independently produced tablet magazine.

The plan is to publish Overnight Buses Travel Magazine quarterly and eventually to get it into Newsstand, assuming this gets supported soon by their publishing solution. Tegart wants the magazine to be ad supported rather than paid subscription based but knows it will take a while to build a loyal reader base.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Condé Nast update Vanity Fair and Glamour apps

Magazine publisher Condé Nast is methodically updating their magazine app to make sure they are adjusted for Apple's new iPad. Today they issued two more updates, this time for Vanity Fair and Glamour.

Both magazine apps promise higher resolution issues starting with the May issue, which has been the common practice at the publisher.

Reading some of the reader reviews inside the App Store some readers have complained of large issue file sizes and slow download speeds. I have not downloaded any of the new issues as of yet (very busy this afternoon), but will be curious if the art directors made adjustments in order to keep the sizes down to around the same level they were before the update.

Users of the GQ app have been experiencing issues with it, some saying that there is, in fact, no retina support. But a few have written to say that the app should be deleted first, then reinstalled to have the changes take effect.

MSLO launches a new tablet edition for Whole Living, and updates it two other magazine apps; print subscribers can now access the digital issues free of charge

A new tablet edition has been launched by Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (MSLO) for its title Whole Living. Whole Living Magazine joins Martha Stewart Everyday Food Magazine and Martha Stewart Living inside Apple's Newsstand.
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All three tablet editions now offer print subscribers free access to the digital editions by signing into their accounts – the one big complaint previously voiced about the older apps. The two other apps have also been updated to add in support for the higher resolution display of the new iPad.

Single issues of Whole Living cost $3.99, but a monthly subscription is available for $1.99 per month. A 6-month subscription costs $8.99, while an annual subscription is priced at $12.99.

The only issue currently available inside the new app is the May issue which weighs in at 358 MB. It is a fairly slow download.

The May issue can only be read in portrait, but the animation found inside the issue accounts for its size.

Although this app does not utilize any video content in its cooking stories, it does do a great job of handling recipes and step-by-step cooking instructions by embedded links. It is very well designed and is easy to navigate.

It might actually be a bit too easy to navigate as I found myself bypassing many of the ads in the magazine by using the well designed table of contents.

There aren't many reviews inside the App Store at this point, the app being so new, but they are all positive. The two previous apps were often downgraded because they required print subscribers to pay for the digital issues. That issue has been solved, but now a few reviews have complained about bugs and crashes on those apps. I encountered no such problems with this new Whole Living app and would expect readers to be very satisfied with this new tablet edition.

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Here is the TNM obligatory video which shows you the basic navigation and design of the new app:


The big book publishers learn who their friends really are, and also what their customers think of them

It is always a traumatic moment when a restauranteur reads the first review of their new restaurant. It is even more traumatic when they start reading those customer reviews on Urbanspoon and other social media sites. Even the good reviews often say something that causes a restauranteur to cringe just a little.

Imagine what it is like this morning for the big publishers caught in the Justice Department lawsuit over price fixing in the book business. While some express a bit of sympathy for the publisher's point of view, most customers are positively full of glee. Like the big music labels, few, it seems, find that there is much to like about publishers.

The problem for the book reading public is that they have direct experience with the old big box retail chains and the pricing they found there. They remember wanting to buy that big cook book, but thought $50 was a tad too high price to pay. But Amazon.com is selling that same book for $30, and offering free shipping to boot. Who doesn't like cheap books? (Cue Tom Hanks.)

Even Apple is getting hammered. They chose a strategy that promised publishers higher prices at the expense of the reading public. People who are discovering this are not expressing much sympathy for Apple. Worse, Apple may be great at PR surrounding product launches, where they have the tech websites wrapped around their fingers, but the news stories online have comment threads, and Apple is finding that their customers are suddenly not so happy with them. But still Apple remains silent.

Amazon.com, on the other hand, immediately sent out a release: "This is a big win for Kindle owners, and we look forward to being allowed to lower prices on more Kindle books," Amazon said yesterday in its statement.

Smart. Plus the DOJ probably is happy, as well. Only those adamant that government should stay completely out of business matters, see the DOJ's move today as a bad thing.

For the big publishers, though, reading those comment threads has to be painful. Book publishers, many are saying, are old fashioned, greedy, bad at business, anti-consumer. For many, the lower prices found on Amazon.com are a good thing. Period.

For Apple, the lawsuit is a natural outcome of their drive to gain content. Just as Apple promises its developers greater return by selling through the App Store – and promotes it heavily during product launch speeches – it wanted to to a foothold in the book market by offering publishers a way to make more money. Fair enough, until the prices start getting fixed.

The agency model that both Apple and Macmillan want to defend are great for the seller (the publisher) and the retailer (Apple), but not that great for the consumer. The traditional wholesale model was great for the seller, the distributor and the publisher, but not so great for the consumer until online retailing appeared. Then it was great for the seller (Amazon) and the consumer, but not so good for the publisher (and really, really bad for the distributor who was locked out).

There is probably no system that is great for everyone, but publishers really fear Amazon most of all. But this whole episode should get them thinking about their customers.

Amazon probably thinks things couldn't be going better. But one thing Apple has learned, is that having the content is the thing. Amazon may win this battle, but they've made no friends in the book publishing business. For Apple, their inability to change their ways of handing press relations and their clumsy interaction with the publishers led them to this lawsuit and its customer feedback.

Many think Apple has gotten too big. I just think they've grown too fast (cue Tom Hanks again, this time in Big) and are having a hard time adjusting. But whatever the case, this lawsuit may be the thing that finally damages the brand.

As for authors and independent publishers, the perfect outcome would be one that keeps both the wholesale and agency model existing side by side. Authors need outlets for their work, and the ability to publish freely is vital. A great outcome would be one that makes Apple loosen its rules for publishers and authors, but keeps the iBooks store going; meanwhile, by not handing the keys to the entire eBook market to Amazon, it would force the online retailer to serve the interests of their content providers and developers. Publishers and authors want a fair return on their products and work; consumers want to pay a fair price and not feel forced into one retail channel. Somewhere there has to be a middle ground – let's hope the players and the DOJ find that space.

Google changes its Blogger system, leaves bloggers wondering if they've fallen off the face of the Earth

This website, along with thousands of others across the web, is finding itself in a difficult situation: either use Google's new system of else move on and off the grid – literally.

Bloggers who use Google have known for a while that the new platform was coming, we've all seen the preview statement on our dashboard for weeks.

What we didn't know, but should have guessed, was that the migration was not voluntary - either use the new system or take down your website.

Early this morning I got the first warning signs: Google no longer believed I had an account. I had fallen off the grid.

I noticed it when I checked for news. All my search bots were missing. Any attempt to recreate them was useless, I could not sign into Google (though, in reality, I have never signed out). Google no longer recognized that I existed.

I tested my Gmail account to see if that was still working, and it was. But otherwise I had fallen off the grid. Now, in the near future, falling off the Google grid might mean you literally no longer exist. But this morning it simply meant that I could not get my work done.

The problem with Google is that it does things and never feels that they have any obligation to explain them or accomodate its customers.

TNM's AdSense account is a good example of this. On the day this site launched I created an AdSense account and began running ads from Google. Meanwhile I started to check out other ad networks. Then, within weeks I received notification that my AdSense account was being terminated. No explanation was given, and after two years I've still not heard anything from Google as to why they did this. At the time the account was terminated my total traffic probably added up to two readers – and one has accidentally come to TNM by mistake.

If Apple had owned the publishing and ad system one could have simply picked up the phone and called someone. But not with Google. The company has a phobia about direct communications. The only time I've ever spoken to a Google representative about anything I mentioned the issue about AdSense, they promised to get back to me on it, and, of course, never did.

But all that is water under the bridge, as is the two years of work I did creating Google news bots. Once again I will be thinking about the future of this site – at least on this platform anyway. While Google may say they are improving their system, wiping out their users settings and information is simply not acceptable.

In the meantime, my other project, still to remain nameless, will have be on another platform – this one is too unpredictable.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Mag+ releases version 3.2 of its system, now supporting the new iPad's 'retina' display resolution, other features

The digital magazine production platform provider Mag+ today released version 3.2 of its software. The new update will provide support for the new iPad's higher resolution display, as well as provide other features and updates.
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The announcement from Mag+ also included the news that the company will start supporting apps for the iPhone starting in June. The company said that a developer/publisher will be able to build the mobile apps in InDesign and launch them for "as little as $199."

The update also includes the ability to build tablet editions for the Kindle Fire. The company will update its system later this month to support Amazon's new in-app subscription and purchase abilities.

The updated Mag+ system will also now allow for a publisher to designate a free issue, allowing the reader to preview a complete issue in the app library rather than simply a condensed preview issue.

Macmillan CEO responds to lawsuit, defends decision to use the agency model, and will fight to keep it

Some TNM readers may have seen this response from Macmillan's CEO John Sargent, but I think it is worth reproducing here (see below).

It's interesting that the release seems to suggest that the DOJ really does want to get the sued publishers to renounce the agency model of selling eBooks employed by Apple. But I still have my doubts that the DOJ wants to go that far. On the other hand, I'm sure that Macmillan is not fighting to defend most-favored-nation clauses, so what is it that Macmillan's CEO won't agree to other than ending the agency model?

Here is the statement in full, as posted on the Macmillan Speaks website.

Dear authors, illustrators and agents:

Today the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Macmillan’s US trade publishing operation, charging us with collusion in the implementation of the agency model for e-book pricing. The charge is civil, not criminal. Let me start by saying that Macmillan did not act illegally. Macmillan did not collude.

We have been in discussions with the Department of Justice for months. It is always better if possible to settle these matters before a case is brought. The costs of continuing–in time, distraction, and expense– are truly daunting.

But the terms the DOJ demanded were too onerous. After careful consideration, we came to the conclusion that the terms could have allowed Amazon to recover the monopoly position it had been building before our switch to the agency model. We also felt the settlement the DOJ wanted to impose would have a very negative and long term impact on those who sell books for a living, from the largest chain stores to the smallest independents.

When Macmillan changed to the agency model we did so knowing we would make less money on our e book business. We made the change to support an open and competitive market for the future, and it worked. We still believe in that future and we still believe the agency model is the only way to get there.

It is also hard to settle a lawsuit when you know you have done no wrong. The government’s charge is that Macmillan’s CEO colluded with other CEO’s in changing to the agency model. I am Macmillan’s CEO and I made the decision to move Macmillan to the agency model. After days of thought and worry, I made the decision on January 22nd, 2010 a little after 4:00 AM, on an exercise bike in my basement. It remains the loneliest decision I have ever made, and I see no reason to go back on it now.

Other publishers have chosen to settle. That is their decision to make. We have decided to fight this in court. Because others have settled, there may well be a preponderance of references to Macmillan, and to me personally, in the Justice Department’s papers – often without regard to context. So be it.

I hope you will agree with our stance, and with Scott Turow, the president of the Author’s Guild, who stated, “The irony of this bites hard: our government may be on the verge of killing real competition in order to save the appearance of competition. This would be tragic for all of us who value books and the culture they support”.

Since we are now in litigation, I may not be able to comment much going forward. We remain dedicated to finding the best long term outcome for the book business, for Macmillan and for the work you have entrusted to our care.

Thanks.

John

Justice Department sues Apple and major publishers over agency model, but rumors of a settlement could keep the agency model alive

Is it a good thing that Apple let's publishers set their own eBook prices, or does this model, called the agency model, lead to price fixing and higher prices for consumers? Or are both things true at the same time?

The U.S. Justice Department today filed suit against Apple Inc. and major book publishers over the agency model, as well as clauses in Apple contracts that require publishers to price their books inside Apple's iBooks store at the same or lower levels than through other outlets.

The publishers involved include Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin and Simon & Schuster, though Bloomberg is reporting that several publishers have already settled.

The whole episode may be much to do about nothing, if rumors that are flying prove to be true.

For instance, the agency model, which lets publishers set their own prices as long as Apple gets its cut, may survive the Justice Department's suit. The settlement might simply be a promise that these same publishers will return to selling their products through Amazon using the previously standard wholesale model (where publishers sell their products to a retailer or distributor at a discount and the retailer then sets the retail price).

The pricing clause, known as a most-favored-nation clause, will probably disappear, however.

Consumers are, no doubt, applauding the suit as it seeks to encourage publishers to let Amazon and others discount prices. But those discounted prices have led to many bookstores going out of business.

Publishers generally like the agency model because they can set the sales price, but the practice leads to fixed prices, something that the Justice Department will not look kindly on.

Neither the book publishers nor Apple appear to be looking for a fight unless the DOJ decides it wants the agency model to disappear completely. So a settlement that keeps this in place, while getting rid of the most-favored-nation clauses seems a legal no brainer.

But all this will involve lawyers, but thankfully no patents.

Note: Just to be clear why I think the agency model could survive the lawsuit. If the publishers agree to return to the wholesale model in places other than in the Apple iBooks store, the DOJ might say that this creates competition between the two outlets, which they would see as good. The thinking being that if books are over priced in iTunes consumers could turn to Kindle or Nook editions. We'll see if the settlements go in this direction.

Debating with myself (part two): is the B2B media industry still worth investing in?

The second in a series posts about issues I am still debating in my own head. The first post, about newspaper paywalls, appeared yesterday.

No media sector has been as devastated by "investment" than the B2B media industry. Few people inside the industry like to talk about it publicly, not least because they may be dependent on those same PE firms for their next job, but media professionals certainly talk quietly among themselves about what has happened to their industry.

The conversation, though, came a little more out in the open when William Pollak, former President/CEO at ALM Media, penned an article claiming that the private equity people were not happy with B2B industry leaders because they see the industry as slow to adapt to the changing face of publishing, calling B2B editors "bastions of Old-Think", for instance.

I find it hard to argue with the logic except when one considers that they, the PEs themselves, own most of the major players in the industry and are installing its leaders. If the industry is slow to move to digital it is because the PEs have been making all the moves.

Responding to the post was Rex Hammock, owner of the content marketing firm Hammock Inc. He lays into the PEs for installing the management teams that they now complain about, and for not understanding the very industries they were investing in:

"These savvy investors installed some of biggest jack-asses you can imagine. Really. They were idiots who knew nothing about business to business media — or business, for that matter.

They fired people and merged companies and bought other companies for amounts that made some previous owners look very, very savvy. If they were lucky, they sold out to the next guy who was left holding the bag — thus, making themselves savvy."
The two positions are not in conflict: PEs are right that the B2B media industry has been slow to move to digital, and critics are right that the investor companies have devastated the industry by buying and selling properties like Monopoly cards and installing the same old faces who know next to nothing about B2B.

Looking back just one decade ago, many of the big B2Bs are either no longer around, or have divested so many properties that they are not heavy hitters any longer. In the late nineties, for instance, two of the largest B2Bs were Cahners and Primedia. Cahners eventually changed its name to Reed Business Information and two years ago divested just about all its U.S. titles (or closed them down). Primedia acquired title after title in the nineties, and sold off title after title the following decade. The company was sold off – one PE to another – to TPG Capital last year. Most of the titles an outsider might be familiar with had been sold off long ago (like New York and Modern Bride).



So does that mean that one shouldn't invest in B2B? I struggle with this issue all the time. The reason is that I spent so many years involved in B2B – first at McGraw-Hill, later at Reed Business Information as well as several smaller publishers – and because I have also been involved in the mergers and acquisitions industry, either as a buyer or seller, or as a consultant.
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Macfadden is one of the few B2B media firms
in the U.S. launching tablet editions


Evaluating a media investment kind of comes easy to me. I actually like looking at P&Ls (call me sick) and understanding the value of a media property or investment comes in awfully handy if you're trying to grown a business.

But B2B isn't just about P&Ls, as many PE firms have sadly found out. So many sales have occurred in the past two decades that had insiders shaking their heads. What looked good on paper turned out to be a bad investment because the buyers had no real idea what they were buying.

You'd think this wouldn't be true of private equity firms, but my own experience is that they are shockingly clueless when in comes to accurately evaluating B2B investments.

The reason for this is that the value of a property is far more than its P&L. PEs are pretty good at discovering what the true financial picture of a property or company is. They can see when some of the expenses have been moved out of a P&L by shifting them into another line. Almost any magazine can be made to look profitable if the administration and operational costs can be brought out to zero.

But B2B properties need to be evaluated by more than revenue and expenses. The value of a title is also in its readership and the editors and sales staffs that manage the day-to-day operations. A B2B title with a solid core of qualified readers is a gold mine, and one with a circulation list left to decay has little to no value. Why buy a title with poor readership when one can launch a new title just as easily? Why buy a title where the editors and sales staffs have split their time on other titles and know next to nothing about the industry or its companies?

This decay in the quality of the titles and staffs is most often laid on the doors of the owners of these B2Bs who have cut back on audits, staffing and management.

A publisher, for instance, used to be someone who was an expert in their industry, who often was on the board of the major trade association, went to Washington to advocate for their industry, and often knew more about the industry than many of the company executives in it. Today a publisher is someone who baby sits multiple titles and staffs and who consults with the B2Bs executives about staff cuts. The last time I held the title at a B2B media company I had nine titles that bore my name. When I left may have been publisher of nine titles but I directly managed exactly one sales rep. It was, in a word, insane.

So why would someone want to invest in this? Well, because companies need information and that is what a good B2B product gives them. One company needs to sell to another, and B2B products such as magazines, websites, newsletters, data products, trade shows, seminars, webinars (etc. etc.) all facilitate this. B2B is not going away, even if many of the B2B media companies appear to be.

The problem with investment community, of course, is that there are few investments made in growing businesses. Oh, I know, Wall Streeters will debate this, but the reality is that any good PE can make money by buying a dog of a property – the key is exploiting the property in such a way that money can be extracted. You've certainly heard, I hope, of the ways a Bain can come in and make money. Even if the property is bought at too high a price and sold at too low of one, the fees extracted from the purchased property can generate enough return to justify the investment.

This is why not all those bad investments went sour – at least from the standpoint of the PE.

But there are still B2Bs out there who are making good returns serving their customers – readers and advertisers. While it is true, as William Pollak points out, that B2Bs have been slow to move to digital, anyone looking to invest would see this as an opportunity. And while Rex Hammock may be right that many B2B have been betrayed by the PEs that have bought them, it is also true that many of the properties have solid, but often hidden potential based on their strong readership and brands, and their knowledgeable and able staffs.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Amazon Appstore for Android SDK and In-App Purchasing API now available for developers

Amazon took a step towards creating an app environment that will be more familiar to those developers who have launched media apps in Apple's iOS platform. Developers can now access the Amazon Appstore for Android SDK and In-App Purchasing API through the Amazon Appstore Developer Portal.

"With the Amazon Appstore for Android In-App Purchasing API, you can reach customers with existing accounts who have already bought apps, including millions of Kindle Fire customers," the Amazon Appstore team announced to developers this afternoon.

"Our simple, secure, and trusted 1-Click purchase experience is easy for customers to use, increasing conversion rates for purchases within your app. Plus, we designed our In-App Purchasing (IAP) solution to be simple and easy to integrate so you can be up and running quickly."

According to the email sent developers, the New York Post was one of several beta partners for the SDK, along with Glu Mobile, G5 Entertainment and Storm8.

Here is the YouTube video posted a while ago on the introduction:

Gartner forecasts that worldwide tablet sales will reach 119 million units this year, almost doubling 2011 sales

Usually forecasts by analysts come and they go and few remember them unless they are so wrong as to be laughable. Gartner Inc. today released a forecast that says that there will be 119 million tablets sold this year worldwide. Whether we all remember to hold them to that estimate is doubtful.

The research firm forecasts that Apple will sell almost 73 million units this year – that puts in on the high end of estimates – but it must be said that puts it on the high end of forecasts, but those estimates appear to keep increasing.

Gartner also forecasts almost 38 million Android tablets will be sold this year. Here is where I have my doubts – not so much about the number so much as to whether we'll really be able to confirm that number due to the way Amazon and others report their sales (or shipments).
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"Despite PC vendors and phone manufacturers wanting a piece of the pie and launching themselves into the media tablet market, so far, we have seen very limited success outside of Apple with its iPad," Carolina Milanesi, research vice president at Gartner, said in the company's release of the study.

"As vendors struggled to compete on price and differentiate enough on either the hardware or ecosystem, inventories were built and only 60 million units actually reached the hands of consumers across the world. The situation has not improved in early 2012, when the arrival of the new iPad has reset the benchmark for the product to beat," Milanesi said.

Gartner projects sales out to 2016 where it has Apple selling almost 170 million tablets. OK, that's where I start to tune things out, but you can see all their projected numbers here.

To me the issue remains market penetration: that point when a majority of the desired audience owns a device. We're already getting far closer to that level with tablets than any forecaster projected back in April 2010, the month the iPad launched in the U.S. If we get to 50 percent plus one of all newspaper and magazine readers owning a tablet and downloading media apps we will have reached the point of no return. Based on these numbers it looks like we'll get there pretty soon.

Macworld gets own tablet edition inside of Apple's Newsstand; designers takes a mixed approach to design

The magazine for the Mac community, Macworld, has finally made its appearance inside Apple's Newsstand. While one might have thought that this title would have been one of the first to launch a tablet edition, it is nice to see the title in the Newsstand, nonetheless.
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The creators at IDG of this new app, formerly called Macworld Digital Magazine, have used the Mag+ platform to create a kind of hybrid digital magazine: a replica edition when one reads the advertising pages, and a native design look for the editorial pages.

This approach allows the publisher to have all the print magazine's display ads appear including the modular ads – those ads that are less than a full page in size. Then the art director can reformat the editorial pages to adjust for font sizes, build scrolling text boxes, and use scrolling to expand the page size and to combine adjoining editorial pages.

The approach works perfectly and creates a tablet magazine that provides a good model of many other books, including B2B magazines that are trying to figure out in what direction to go in.

"Mag+ was the right blend of functionality, ease of use and price point for us to put together a digital edition that we thought worthy of the Macworld name," Thomas Alexander, Product Manager Mobile, IDG Consumer & SMB, wrote me this morning.

"I do know that we collectively decided to layout all of the pages for the iPad format to ensure the best user experience. Pinching and zooming on every page of a PDF replica was a No Go," Alexander wrote.

The only place where the lack of pinch-to-zoom is sorely missed is on the smaller ads and ont he product guide where I found it hard to correctly tap the right product number. But by using Mag+ to reformat the editorial text, the designers have made reading the digital magazine very easy and pleasant (as opposed to the standard replica edition).

One might have expected the digital edition of Macworld to be a bit more, well, techie. The tablet edition here is pretty much what you will see in print. The tablet edition does not take advantage of the iPad's ability to display video or play audio. There is also no animation here either.

On the bright side, the app edition, because it can only be read in portrait and has no large files embedded in it, weighs in at only a bit over 130 MB and is a quick download.

Print subscribers won't be happy to learn that they will have to pay for the new digital edition, and at the same price as print (actually at a higher price since there is a promotional rate for the print magazine currently available on the magazine's website).

The only option to subscribe is a $1.99 monthly subscription, no annual rate is available. But that is still the best option as the single issue rate is $6.99.

Let's hope the editors of Macworld begin to experiment with the tablet format. Any interactive material created for the tablet edition will be useful online, as well. The model here is probably The Verge, which produces beautiful videos, but has no tablet edition. In the old days you might see a publisher like IDG grab up a property like that in order to incorporate their approach into the established title. But the days of aggressive M&A like we saw in the late nineties appears to be over.



I should mention that this is actually the second app baring the Macworld name. The first was Macworld Daily Reader.

That app was not a version of the print magazine and I think the developers got tired of reading reviews that said so. As a result there is a reminder in the app description that if they want a digital version of Macworld they can go to Zinio's newsstand, and now the new iPad edition. That app is both free to download and gives the reader free access to the content as it is essentially reformatting the material found on the website.



Here is the obligatory video walk through of the new app. Sadly, because of the lack of embedded video or audio, I chose to do a voiceover – hopefully it won't be too painful to listen to. Muting might be an option.

Debating with myself: Paywalls

The great thing about publishing an industry website is that one gets to act as an authority on all topics under discussion – even if one really isn't all that sure of one's position. In fact, readers expect it and judge your work based on their own experiences. But the reality is that sometimes one is a bit less sure of where they stand on certain topics – this is especially true of New Media.

For instance, TNM has always been an advocate of native tablet design. The reason is simple: I believe that every platform is a new medium that will require the publisher to create products that work best in that environment. This isn't some new concept, but just an extension of the idea that TV isn't radio, which isn't the movies, which isn't... you get the idea.

But there are also situations where I haven't really drawn a firm conclusion yet. So I thought I'd entertain myself by writing a couple posts about those areas that are still be argued in my head – and maybe your's, too.



Paywalls
Newspaper paywalls are the solution-du-jour of the industry, the thing that promises to reverse the perceived error made years ago when newspapers launched their website and did not require a subscription to access the content.

Like most industries, the newspaper business has a pack mentality and today it is fashionable to say one is launching a paywall.

Press+ has helped make this possible with their metered paywall solution – a way of letting in many readers but forcing many others to pay if they prove to be regular readers.

Few newspaper executives want to take the contrary view that paywalls make little sense on the web. Alan Rusbridger of The Guardian is an example of someone holding the contrarian viewpoint.
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But like many debates concerning publishing theory, the paywall tries to simplify a very complex issue.

Had newspapers embraced digital in the late nineties and sought to drive advertising online we might live in a world where your local newspaper still has a monopoly on advertising and Google was frantically trying to convince advertisers of the merits of search engines. But papers sought to protect their print advertising by discounting digital, leading to a situation where many papers enjoy good readership online with very little revenue to show for it (at least as compared to print).

I continue to see both sides of the equation and feel both have merit – but only in certain circumstances.

Having been both a newspaper and magazine publisher, it is easy for me to see that certain kinds of publications will be able to drive digital subscriptions, while others will struggle. In B2B, for instance, a product that has information that is considered financially beneficial to the reader is worth paying for. The newspaper I published for McGraw-Hill, for instance, cost the reader a fortune to subscribe to. But companies needed the information found inside the paper in order to bid on construction jobs – no bids meant no work. So, in the end, the cost of my paper was just the price of doing business, like buying asphalt to pave a road.

No wonder then that papers like the WSJ and the Financial Times are doing well in digital. The FT, it always amuses me, brags about their digital strategy, especially their decision not to cooperate with Apple and sell subscription through Newsstand. I think they are fooling themselves. Being a financial paper means you can sell digital subscriptions – so they would have found success inside or outside of Apple's platform. Bragging the you've found a way to sell food to a starving rich man seems to be going a bit too far.

But I'm less convinced of the merits of paywalls for everyone else. Newspaper publishers and editors have always, always over valued the content of their news pages. Occasionally a little light comes in when research tells them that their readers really like the coupons, the classifieds (in the old days), the comics. That content they are really proud of is nice, but for many readers is less of value than they think. Besides, if that content were so valuable why would a publisher ever consider downsizing their newsrooms?

Media app updates: Bonnier and Hearst update their tablet apps to add 'retina' support while keeping the business model unchanged

Publishers continue to issue updates to their iOS media apps in order to make adjustments for Apple's new iPad.

This week Bonniere released updates for many of their magazine apps including Saveur, Scuba Diving, Boating Mag, Cruising World Mag, Science Illustrated Magazine, Florida Travel + Life Mag, Transworld WAKEBOARD, Field & Stream Mag, Sport Fishing Mag, Caribbean Travel + Life Mag, Marlin Mag and Outdoor Life Mag.
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There are a few other magazines in the App Store not mentioned above that I'm sure will see updates soon – I may have even missed them.

None of the magazines in the Technology Group which include Popular Photography and Popular Science have been updated yet. Most (if not all) of these magazines are using the Mag+ platform to create their tablet editions.



Hearst Newspapers also issued 'retina' updates for their four newspaper apps inside the Apple Newsstand: Albany Times, San Antonio Express, Houston Chronicle and San Francisco Chronicle.

All four newspaper apps use the identical app design, which locks in the editors to certain layouts. But readers have, for the most part, been positive about the apps.

In the case of the San Francisco Chronicle, one review says it all: "Better than anything else local." As the Chronicle is surrounded by newspapers owned by Digital First, you'd think this would not be the case, but the darling of the academic crowd continues to lag far behind other newspaper chains when it comes to mobile and tablet publishing.

While the Hearst Newspapers app allows for current subscribers to sign-in in order to access the content as part of their print subscription, Bonnier continues to make print subscribers choose between print and digital.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Kantar Media issues report on tablet edition advertising (executive summary: there's not much of it)

I don't think TNM readers will find much new in the latest study issued by Kantar Media. But research on tablet publishing is precious so it is worth mentioning and linking back to Kantar.

The study looked at ads inside tablet editions from such magazines as GQ, In Style, National Geographic and found, well, that for the most part there is a whole lot less ads in tablet editions than in print editions.

I suppose any publisher could have told them that but this month's study will be a baseline for future studies so all-in-all this is a worthwhile endeavor.

What Kantar says they found was that the all you see in tablet editions pretty much come from the current customers of the magazine, though it points out that one category seems to be lagging behind - pharmaceuticals. (Kantar wisely points out that pharma ads must include disclosure information, often found in an adjoining ad – something that is difficult on a tablet.)

Kantar found that, in general, the advertising found in tablet editions is about 60 percent of that found in print. But this number is highly suspect simply because it does not account for native tablet editions versus replica editions. Obviously a replica edition will contain all the ads found in the print edition, and for no extra cost. Native tablet editions, however, may be single-sponsored, or have all new ads. Future studies would be wise to classify the digital edition first, then count the ads.

Finally, Kantar Media points out that most advertisers are repurposing their print ads rather than building all new interactive ads for tablet editions, with many not adjusting for the change in orientation possible on a tablet (portrait/landscape).

A PDF of the study available on the Kantar Media website here. Simply register to gain access to the study. It might well be worth your while to download a copy this study in order to compare ad growth (we all hope) that occurs over the next year or two.

Instagram says "yes" to $1 billion from Facebook

I hope the folks over at Groupon have a learned a lesson today: if someone offers you a billion dollars there is only one thing to say: "yes".**

I'm sure we'll hear more about why Facebook decided that Instagram was worth $1 billion to them, maybe they really, really liked the recently launched Android app, though I doubt that was it.

Executives pay very large sums of money usually for one reason: fear. Maybe it is fear that the company in question will be a major competitor. Maybe it is that one of their competitors will buy the company first. I'm sure we'll hear soon enough.

But in the meantime, all that cash will now go into the hands of a few folks at Instagram. Let's hope it is put to good use rather than spent to keep the campaign of Newt Gingrich alive.

One thing for sure, real estate values in the Bay Area are not going to crash anytime soon based on all this cash being thrown about.

** Groupon was offered by $6 billion by Google and, of course, said "no". They will be working very hard, for a long time, to make that offer seem like one that could be turned down.

Modern trade shows now often feature dedicated mobile apps, as well as tablet editions of the show daily

If you've ever worked in the B2B media publishing business, you probably have an opinion about show dailies – those printed show newspapers that appear in the morning at your hotel door and at the show itself, they purport to give attendees news about the show.
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For the publisher, they are a pain to produce and are often break-even propositions. In the past, these daily print products could be lucrative, but the real reason to produce one was to be able to sell the exhibitors, and hopefully translate that business into future business inside your main B2B magazine.

Show dailies are not yet at the stage where a publisher can get away with going totally digital. As a result, the early efforts appearing inside the App Store, and inside the Newsstand, are replica editions such as this one from NewBay Media for the National Association of Broadcaster's annual convention set to begin later this week in Las Vegas. The NAB Show Daily News is an exact copy of the print edition most attendees will pick up at the show or at their hotel.

NewBay Media will produce four editions of the show daily, and so launching an app inside Apple's Newsstand will insure that readers receive their digital copies automatically each morning.

(NewBay Media is a relatively new company, formed in the fall of 2006. The company bought titles from CMP and IMAS Publishing Group early on. In late 2009 it bought several magazines from Reed Business Information as it was divesting its titles including Broadcasting & Cable and Multichannel News. Then last year it bought several title from Penton including Mix and Electronic Musician. Like almost all decent sized B2Bs today, it is owned by a private equity firm – in this case The Wicks Group.)

Producing a truly native tablet edition, rather than this hard-to-read replica using the Paperlit platform, would be better – but producing a show daily is hard enough so why go in that direction unless one decides to go digital only. (I doubt the show producers want that just quite yet.)
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If you've never produced a show daily the idea is to have a set design, with standard layouts. Each day most, if not all the ads are identical. Most of the editorial is written in advance with photographs taken the prior day added in, along with an story or two that was actually written at the show.

Because of this, creating a tablet edition using a replica maker's platform shouldn't be too much of an additional burden, though it will, of course, be an additional cost.

But a publisher bidding on the job might decide to mention that they plan on a digital version of the show daily, which might impress the show producers (though it is generally the fee and any revenue split promises that wins the job).

While tablet editions are new to the show daily world, mobile apps are becoming old hat. Core-Apps is one company that has been producing apps for trade shows for a while now. The company produced a mobile app for the 2011 NAB Show and has released a 2012 version just in the past week.

2012 NAB Show is a universal app, though it is mobile in nature. That is, its real purpose is for navigating the show floor and learning more about the exhibitors.

The app has a standard set of features: a scheduler, a list of the exhibitors, a map of the show floor, a session schedule, list of speakers, as well as other items pertaining to the show.

The concept of a mobile app to navigate a trade show is great in theory. Whether attendees use them is a good question, though I would certainly be one that likes the concept – assuming it wouldn't drain the battery life of my cell phone.

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Chicago Sun-Times seeks to prove that the future is for the hyper-rich and the brain dead

Back in my Hearst Newspaper days, some New York executive who obviously was paid far too much, decided that what Los Angeles needed was a splashy tabloid for residents to read when they rode to work on the subway. The fact that Los Angeles did not, at that time, have a subway, or any real mass transit at all, was besides the point. A trashy tabloid would be perfect.

Hearst eventually thought better of the idea and the tabloid idea was trashed, though not before some circulation truck drivers dumped the prototype tabloids out onto 11th Street in front of the newspaper offices (so employees could see what brilliant ideas management was coming up with).

The same sort of strategy is being employed now by the new owner of the Chicago Sun-Times. the effort is being led by some another New Yorker, Michael Ferro, but this time, at least, in a city with a thriving mass transit system.

The Sun-Times, changes its political positions about as often as a grandfather clock, depending on the ownership of the paper. Now it is in the hands of another group of wealthy investors who think they know just want the lower classes of the city will want: a Chicago version of Rupert Murdoch's New York Post. (Never mind that the Post is a money loser.)

Time Out Chicago's Roebrt Feder has his own take on the new, bottom of the barrel Sun-Times. But one can complain all you want, unless you have the money to own a newspaper, you'll have to watch as others take a stab at newspaper nirvana.

The new Chicago Sun-Times

The reality is, of course, that the Sun-Times, like the Daily News before it, is hanging on by a thread and really has little chance of survival. The Tribune, which dominates the market, is itself a shadow of its former self, having been beat down by bad management before its sale, after its sale, and apparently forever. A daily newspaper that dominates both Chicago and Los Angeles (the Tribune Company also owns the L.A. Times) should be producing obscene profits, but both papers are instead bleeding reporters.

The rush to move the Sun-Times to the right and 'down market' will surely work as well as its past moves in that direction.

The Tribune, which hadn't endorsed a Democrat for president since it started publishing in 1847 until it endorsed hometown candidate Barack Obama, is known as one of the most consistently conservative papers in a town that only elects Democrats. In the past, the Tribune won its subscribers through superior reporting and the fact that the other dailies split the rest of the market.

Today, no one can count on anyone to subscribe to a paper – not wealth, not education. In fact, it is these demographics that are the quickest to migrate to tablets. But while the Tribune Company's tablet editions are not the worst in the App Store, they, like the paper, are conservative and unimaginative. The Sun-Times's tablet edition, on the other hand, is nonexistent (though they promise something soon).

So who is going to buy the new, trashy-splashy Sun-Times? Who knows, but unlike the days when the truck drivers would throw the crazy tabloid prototypes out the back of their trucks to stop them from being delivered, today they are delivered without much protest – after all, it's still a job.

Bloomberg Businessweek issues update that fixes big iPad bug; Condé Nast issues retina update for Golf Digest

The April Fool's Day update issued by Bloomberg Businessweek, the one that prevented users from opening the app after updating, has finally been corrected. Of course, the humor was unintentional, and I;m sure subscribers are happy this morning to see the update listed in the App Store.

Bloomberg Businessweek+, though, is getting some confusing reviews inside the App Store this morning. While some users are expressing job that the app is functioning again, others are complaining that the app still is not working and that their past issues still are not appearing. Whether users are properly updating the app, or whether some may need to delete the app before reinstalling is not known.
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Condé Nast over the weekend issued an update for its Golf Digest Magazine app.

The app brings in 'retina' support for the new iPad with the May issue of the magazine. The current April issue, which previewed the Masters, featured Tiger Woods on the cover. That turned out to be a poor choice as he had a pretty miserable tournament over the weekend.

In case you did not hear, Bubba Watson won his first major of his career, defeating the South African Louis Oosthuizen on the second hole of their playoff after each ended the tournament at ten under par.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

MLB shows how not to do customer service; app issues are annoying, customer service issues are fatal

Based on the way my teams are playing early in the season it looks like 2012 might be a good year to go light on baseball. But I'm generally a closet optimist, one of those guys that cusses at the TV when their team plays poorly but secretly turns on the television to watch the bottom of the ninth just in case my team scores the ten runs needed to send the game to extra innings.

Last season, following the WS win by the Giants, I ponied up for the monthly subscription to MLB.TV so that I could watch my games on my Apple TV and iPad. Baseball fans were forced to choose between paying for the iPhone or iPad app, but at least a subscription to MLB.TV meant that you could move from your iPad to your Apple TV to watch the games.

This year MLB took a different approach, one universal app, and the promise to be able to watch games on any device. Well, it's not working out that way, and so yesterday I cancelled my subscription.

A few app bugs won't make this veteran of mobile apps cancel a service, but poor customer service will.
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While surfing back and forth between two games yesterday my service suddenly stopped. I got an error message on my Apple TV – something about multiple locations, as if I was watching games in two places. I wasn't, just on that one TV.

I then moved to my desktop computer to try and watch the end of the games but could not sign in because it said I had used my email address too often. Really? I don't even know what that is supposed to mean.

I called customer service.

Now, it is important to understand that at this point I was merely annoyed. Bad things with technology sometimes happen, no reason to lose it over a game you really don't care that much about (Blue Jays against the Indians).

But things went down hill the minute I tried to communicate with MLB.TV.

First came an long, long introductory message about blacked out games that day. Clearly MLB gets lots of calls on this issue, I understand that. But the message here was 'we don't want to talk to you, go away."

Eventually I got to a message about canceling my service or customer support. Ont o support where the guy on the other end of the line could offer me no help. Frankly, he didn't even try.

Enough, it's time to cancel. To do so one ends up calling The Philippines. There they are more than happy to process your cancellation. They didn't ask why I wanted to cancel or what they could do to reverse the decision. I even offered up an explanation. They weren't interested. My account had been cancelled and that was that.

But that's not even the end of it. I then received my email telling me my account had been cancelled but that the service would continue until some time in May (it's a monthly subscription, remember).

OK, I thought, that's fair. After all, when one cancels a magazine subscription in Apple's Newsstand you know that you must deal with the fact that it won't really be cancelled until after that month or that year, depending on the subscription you purchased.

So I called customer service again and explained that if I was forced to pay for the month we should at least get my service to work. Their solution? A refund.

It was at this point that I wanted to give the finger not only to MLB but to all those Apple haters out there that can't deal with Apple's new position in the world. You see, as a long time Apple customer, I can remember all those times I needed to customer service. I remember all the call centers I reached, as well: Mississauga, Ontario, Winnipeg, Nashville, Austin.

Every time I either reached some one who would patiently help me, or was passed up the ladder to some one who definitely could. The goal was to solve the problem and keep me as an Apple customer – even when I was really angry about something. And in other cases I was directed to go to the Apple store, where I could speak to someone in person.

Now, this is not to say I've had lots of troubles with my Apple products, but when you can trace back your experiences to 1983, you know there are going to be issues at some point. The key is customer service, something MLB apparently knows nothing about.

So 2012 will be the year without baseball, or at least, with a lot less baseball. It's probably just as well. It was 56 years between World Series victories for my Giants, the chances I'll experience it again are slim. But I'm one of those guys that played baseball, loves baseball, if only because it means summer, good memories, and leisure time.

But MLB.TV has me rethinking my love of the game. Maybe I'll catch some high school games this spring – the local team, I see, won 4-2 yesterday. That's the ticket, a return to local baseball.

MLB, you're outta here. Ejected from the game.

Boy, that felt good.