Saturday, April 21, 2012

Retweet: We're the news media, and we don't want you to know jack

If you didn't read this post on ProPublica or on The Guardian's website this morning this is your opportunity:

News organizations cultivate a reputation for demanding transparency, whether by suing for access to government documents, dispatching camera crews to the doorsteps of recalcitrant politicians, or editorializing in favor of open government.

But now many of the country’s biggest media companies, which own dozens of newspapers and TV news operations, are flexing their muscle in Washington in a fight against a government initiative to increase transparency of political spending.
The post is written by Justin Elliott and goes on to recount the efforts by big media firms to prevent or water down an FCC proposal that would require them to post online the details of political ad purchases.

The media's objections are not a surprise – certainly not if you have worked in the industry. Conservatives think that the media has a media bias, and many in the media see their management and ownership and believe it has conservative bias. That kind of thinking is very convenient if you are searching for a way to blame media for its political coverage.

But the reality is that the media is a business, and businesses don't like regulation, and anything that might negatively effect revenue.

If the movers and shakers that influence our politics are know that everything they do will be out in the open they may well cut back some of their activities – and that will take money from the pockets of the media companies. They don't like that.

ProPublica has, themselves, shown a light on media's position on this, but don't expect media companies to be shamed into doing the right thing. As in the Godfather, "it's just business, nothing personal."

Friday, April 20, 2012

Retweet: The New York Times Company earnings call

It's earnings time and in the newspaper industry no earnings presentation is listened to as closely as that of The New York Times Company. Yesterday the company reported their earnings and if you were a media site that lives off of rewriting press releases then the news was good: net income rose to $42.1 million. If you paid a little more attention, then you found out that the reason for the good net income was the money that came in from the sale of the Regional Newspaper Group.

For many others, the real news was that revenue fell slightly, with ad revenue falling more than slightly – 8.1 percent to be exact. But what caught everyone's attention was the fall in digital ad revenue. That seemed like quite a trick.

You see everyone knows print revenue, especially at newspapers, is in decline. Those that post small decreases are applauded, those whose revenue falls more dramatically get a lecture on the sad fate of the newspaper business. Then the conversation turns to digital where everyone expects at least some sign of growth – even if the growth can not compensate for declines in print ad revenue. If that category doesn't show growth then "what the heck is going on?"

PaidContent ran a piece on the NYT's explanation about the digital numbers, but I think it missed the drama and obfuscation apparent when you listen or read the transcript of the earnings call. So without further ado, here is a highly abridged version of both the NYT's presentation and some of the Q&A session that followed (italicized type means a NYT Company representative is speaking, plain text is some on the conference call asking a question):

Arthur O. Sulzberger: ... Our first quarter results are a testament to our successful digital strategy. Just one year after launching digital subscriptions at The Times, subscribers to pay digital products across the company totaled approximately 472,000. Our strategy has provided a model for the rest of the industry, and we continue to see reports that a growing number of U.S. newspapers are adopting metered models. Even as the advertising environment remains challenging on both the print and digital fronts, this year we expect to build on that strong start as we embark on our second year of paid digital subscriptions. We are exploring opportunities to deepen our readers engagement through mobile, video and social media, all of which have been growing rapidly...

James M. Follo: While total revenues for the company were flat, the advertising environment again presented challenges in the first quarter. Digital advertising revenue was down 10%, driven by ongoing challenges at the About Group, which saw a 24% decline in advertising revenues, while digital advertising revenue at the News Media Group decreased 2%. Print advertising trends improved slightly from the fourth quarter and finished down 7%, while overall advertising revenues were down 8%...

...Returning to our digital initiatives. As we recently announced, in conjunction with the anniversary of our digital subscriptions as of March 18, The Times Media Group have 454,000 paid digital subscribers, up 16% from the fourth quarter. This number includes subscriptions to The Times, the International Herald Tribune digital packages, eReaders and Replica editions. The Boston Globe had 18,000 paid digital subscribers to as of March 18, also including eReaders and Replica editions...

Moving on to The About Group. Total revenues decreased 23% to $24 million in the first quarter, with decreases in cost-per-click and display advertising both contributing to the decline. About is beginning to show progress in its turnaround efforts, particularly on the display side, but there is still more work to be done.

Alexia S. Quadrani - JP Morgan Chase: Just a couple of questions. First on, could you give us some color of how -- what you're seeing in April so far in terms of print advertising trends. I think you said that Q2 should be similar to Q1?...

Scott Heekin-Canedy: ...April is off to a slow start compared to the last couple months of Q1, as Jim noted. We saw a sequential improvement in Q1, but as I've said in the last several quarters, the month-to-month results are very volatile. And it's in large part, a reflection of the way advertisers approach their spending plans. They tend to be characterized by last-minute decisions and short-term planning horizons. So in April, we're seeing a slowdown compared to February and March...

Craig Huber: (Responding to a previous question and answer) You mentioned lower click-through ad rates, can you just help us just to quantify how much you're seeing down? Do you have rates online?

Arthur O. Sulzberger: Well, look, page views are up. I won't be specific here. I'll help you out though. Page views are up 6%. Ad rates are down. I think Google disclosed their ad rates were down, I believe, somewhere around 10%, 12% in the quarter. That would suggest a lot of the -- and I'm not -- we actually performed better than that in the ad rates side, but we're not going to be specific about that. So the rest of it is really click-through rates. And the click-through rates is both volume of ads on the pages and the number of clicks on those ads when people see it. These things we can do on that -- on the click-through side that is both in our control and not in our control.

The above transcript comes from Seeking Alpha who allows bloggers quote excerpts from their transcripts – I hope I have not exceeded their limits here, but I thought it was important to reproduce segments that talking about digital media. There was more, but in keeping with the spirit of their reproduction policy I've tried to limit this as best as possible.

This didn't sound like the NYT team's greatest earnings presentation. What seemed missing to me was any real answer to the question "what are you doing to turn the ship around?" Maybe the sale and its boast to earnings gave the management team a sense that no one would notice those inconvenient details about ad revenue, especially digital ad revenue.

In response to yesterday's call a number of writers went on to express their own views on the prospects for the company. Rick Edmonds from Poynter ran through some of the troubling details, concluding: "But right now, 2012 is looking no better than 2011 for advertising, especially if digital remains problematic. The Times Co. will be challenged to come up with a next generation of innovations, robust enough in generating revenues to take up the slack. For now, Wall Street liked what it heard and shares were up almost 5 percent at closing."

He could have added "but what does Wall Street know?"

But this is supposed to be a new media site, so let's just consider the issue of digital. From my perspective, the reason digital advertising is troublesome is simply that as the NYT Company has pursued a paid content strategy around both the web and the new digital platforms of mobile and tablets, it seems to have left advertising on the sidelines – I'm sure they would dispute this. But I can't remember reading a column that centered totally on the new ideas for digital advertising that would be coming with the advent of new mobile and tablet products.

The NYT apps, for instance, have not been nearly as innovative concerning the ad side as they have the paid circ side. Further, the mobile apps, while good and very useful, could have come from any of the major newspaper companies – the standard model of RSS feeds and banner ads is typical of most all other news companies. As for the NYT's tablet edition, I mentioned months and months ago that the ad side didn't appear to have been part of the team at the time of the app's development. All the talk in the press was about the battles internally involving circulation and pricing.

This earnings call should be a wake up call that the ad side needs to be front and center. So many media observers and investors seem to be concentrating on the value of the new digital platforms on sustaining and growing readership. That's fine, but an equally important question should be how do these new platforms sustain and increase advertising. I naively assumed that by this date the NYT would have a whole catalog of mobile and tablet apps available for iOS and Android users, and that half or more of these would be advertising driven – that is, products that came not from the editorial side of the business but the ad side. But a look inside the App Store reveals eight apps in total – six for the iPhone and two for the iPad. It is as if they are not even trying any longer.

Swedish custom publisher, Appelberg, relaunches its own customer magazine back into the Newsstand, providing a showcase for the company's digital publishing prowess

Eearlier this month the Swedish customer publishing company, Appelberg Publishing Group, launched a new iPad app version of its customer magazine. TNM caught the release and immediately posted a story about the new app. Since the magazine is in Swedish, I could not tell that the issue to be found in that new app was just a partial edition, there to provide the Apple review team a look at the new app with its natively designed digital magazine.

Johan Nohr, art director at Appelberg, contacted me the next day, expressing surprise that I had seen and grabbed, and written, about the new app so quickly.
"I’m very happy to see that you’ve featured our new iPad app Appelberg in your blog, and you are spot on about the reasons for us having the app and why we feel like it’s time to upgrade from the old one which was pretty much just a pdf reader," Nohr wrote me.

"I’m also amazed that you managed to find, download and even review the app in such short time! It’s quite funny actually, because we didn’t mean to publish this version of the app publicly. The version of the app that got released yesterday was intended for Apples review process only, and the final version will be more sophisticated and include lots of more material such as stories, images, animations and video (for instance, the cover image begins with a film from the photo shoot). Hence why the app you saw and reviewed is so light and starving for content."

Nohr then told me that Appelberg had already pulled down the new app and would relaunch it on the 20th (today). We arranged to hook up later via e-mail so that he could further explain their design choices. I sent Nohr a short list of questions and I liked his answers so much that rather than incorporate them into a follow-up story I've decided to get reproduce them here completely as they came to me:

1) You recently launched an app for your customer magazine, Appelberg. What digital publishing platform did you use to create this new app and why did you decide to use that platform?

Since we first started our journey into tablet publishing (summer 2010), we’ve worked with a few different platforms and solutions. These have spanned from the simplest PDF reader that we used in the beginning, to a highly experimental, custom-made HTML5 solution that for various reasons didn’t really cut it, to the production tool we use today.

We recently had a look at the different options available for tablet publication. We tried some of them, met a lot of people and drank a boatload of coffee doing both. We finally decided to go with Mag+, a Swedish production tool that not only suited the way we work at Appelberg, but also had a price model that was way more compatible with custom publishing than the other options. Most platforms, at least at the time we evaluated them, had a price model that assumed you sold subscriptions and issues, and that’s not often the case with us.

2) Your previous app for Appelberg was a replica edition, why the release of this new app?

The replica edition (that was essentially a PDF reader, with some links and video content on the side) worked out well in the beginning. But things inevitably changed, and production tools became more sophisticated and technically advanced. So we felt that we needed to stay updated with what was happening in order to be able to provide the best possible product for our clients. Nowadays, you can’t just publish a PDF on an iPad and call it a day – readers require something more captivating than that.

3) As I understand it, your company is the custom publishing division of Stampen AB, creating branded magazines for outside customers. Have any of your customers asked you about creating tablet versions of their magazines?

A big part of our job at Appelberg is strategic consultancy: We help our clients identify, select and communicate in different channels depending on the story. For some companies, getting a tablet app early isn’t the best option and some probably don’t need to make an app at all. But for others, it’s vital.

One of our largest clients in the industrial segment is the Swedish bearing company SKF, for whom we produce web content, a newsletter and an international customer magazine called Evolution (distributed four times a year, 40 pages, 120 000 copies in 12 language editions). Since they are such a tech-oriented company, they felt the need to be on the forefront of new technology. As part of their communication strategy, making a tablet version of Evolution was important. (You can read more about it, in Swedish, here)

The Evolution tablet edition was the first sharp project we produced using Mag+. We learned a lot from doing it, and the end result is something that we are very proud of. As a matter of fact, the second issue was recently released.

4) If so, are there plans to bring these magazines to the Apple App Store and will these be replica editions of the printed magazines, or reformatted versions?

As of now, all of the tablet magazines that we produce for our clients will be published in the Apple App Store.

5) The publishing industry remains in a depressed state in the U.S., how would you describe the situation in Sweden?

I’m not really the best person to answer that, so I asked Maria Westman, Editorial Director at Appelberg, to comment:
“The situation in Sweden is a bit different compared with the one in the U.S. Of course the publishing industry has taken a dip, but Sweden is a smaller country and readers still want printed publications. Swedish publishing agencies have been very creative over the past few years. To survive, they’ve had to think and publish in new formats, and to deliver solutions other than the printed magazine, such as tablet and mobile solutions and movies.”
Thank you to Johan Nohr and Maria Westman for giving TNM readers more information on their company, the new tablet edition, and a look at the state of publishing in Sweden.

So how does this new tablet edition inside the newly released app compare to what I saw two weeks ago?

The tablet edition I saw then was a natively designed issue that would be familiar to anyone who has read a digital magazine that used the Mag+ platform. It still is, of course, but as Nohr said in his e-mail, now there are the bells and whistles you might expect from a tablet edition produced to show off the digital publishing skills of its publisher.

The easiest way to show you would not be screenshots, but a quick run through of the digital magazine itself, which you can see below:

Thursday, April 19, 2012

American Express Publishing updates its apps for Food & Wine and Travel + Leisure; moves both apps into the Newsstand and starts offering subscriptions

American Express Publishing has decided to join the majority of major publishers who offer their magazines inside Apple's Newsstand and are selling subscriptions. The company this afternoon updated its apps for FOOD & WINE and Travel + Leisure.

The move brings American Express Publishing in line with what its competitors have been doing for quite some time, but there is no doubt readers will be extremely happy about this development.

Print subscribers will now be able to log into the apps and access their digital editions for free. Meanwhile, new readers will be able to buy individual issues at $3.99 a piece, or subscribe on a monthly basis at $1.99 or on an annual basis for $19.99.

Because the update moves the app from the "desktop" of the iPad into the Newsstand, there will no doubt be readers complaining that their app is suddenly missing. The digital team at American Express Publishing has tried to prevent this by writing a very good and detailed "What's New" section of the app description:
SUBSCRIPTION OPTIONS ARE NOW AVAILABLE, and current subscribers to the U.S. print edition of FOOD & WINE magazine can still access the digital edition every month AT NO EXTRA COST! Simply download and launch the free app, tap "Buy" on the navigation bar, and follow the prompts for access.
The new library page of FOOD & WINE
Hi-res iPad image here

FOOD & WINE is also now available through the Apple Newsstand. As part of this upgrade, you'll be able to access all your previously purchased or downloaded issues from one convenient place. Newsstand is only available if you upgrade your iPad to iOS5. Once you upgrade, you'll also need to update your app so that you can view it through Newsstand; the Food & Wine icon on your iPad will disappear, and you'll find the app in the Newsstand folder. You may have to re-download older issues that you've already purchased (there is no additional charge). If you do not upgrade to iOS5, you can continue to access your issues the way you currently do.
A word of warning: I don't really know how much of all this is new. It is hard to keep track of every single magazine app out there – though Lord knows I try. The online FAQ for FOOD & Wine that says it was updated February 13 says that print subscribers can get their issues free of charge once they log in. But this FAQ may have been updated without changing the date. All I can go by is what the app description above states.

All the articles on these apps all seem to date back to their original release, even the original TNM post from October of 2010.

Who would want to buy the maker of the Blackberry? Bloomberg reports that RIM has hired J.P. Morgan

Bloomberg reported this morning that Research In Motion (RIM), the maker of the BlackBerry has hired J.P. Morgan, confirming an early report that the company would be hiring a banker.

The Bloomberg report, as it should, dances around the subject of whether this means the entire company (or some of its major assets) will be put up for sale. It uses the technique of letting someone else say it, quoting a William Blair analyst as saying "the way I interpret hiring a banker is to sell parts of business, an outright sale or an equity stake by a third party."

Well, here at TNM, there is no reason to beat around the bush: hiring this particular banker means a sale, just as the Blair guy says.

For a couple of years of my career I was in the mergers and acquisitions game – I often think I should have stayed there as there is certainly more money to be made selling media properties than there is managing them, right?

One gets to know who is the consultants and who are the M&A players. All the M&A guys will tell you they are also consultants and analysts, but don't believe it for a second. The money is in M&A and those companies always recommend a sale.

Of course, the problem with RIM is who would buy it? Samsung seems like the logical choice. They have a ridiculously large array of products, flooding the market with so many models that one needs Excel to keep track of them all. If the price were right, why not just add the BlackBerry?

The WSJ speculated a couple of weeks ago that maybe Microsoft would want to buy. They already are working with Nokia, of course, but could buy RIM and market it through Nokia, helping out their partner (who definitely needs help if you've read this post).

The WSJ story also mentions Amazon, which is an intriguing idea. They also mention Samsung.

Another buyer, and one that I'm sure J.P. Morgan would love to find, is a private equity company (or companies). Sales to PEs are always profitable because within a number of years the PE will be selling and the original M&A firm often picks up the deal. Funny how that works, isn't it? Makes you wonder if your "consultant" is really consulting for you or the buyer?

Well, that's the way the game is played once you have thrown your company to the wolves.

This morning Nokia reported really, really bad sales numbers. Later in the morning, Nokia then announced that Colin Giles, executive vice president of sales, had resigned. Nokia said the resignation is "to be closer to his family". Come on, he's not a politician, is he?

Not surprisingly, his position will not be filled, as the company seeks to trim costs.

The University of St. Thomas launches a tablet edition of its magazine into Apple's Newsstand; editors choose to use the Mag+ platform, then find their contact is an alum

I admit it, I have a soft spot in my heart for digital publishing projects that come out of a school setting. One of the very first magazines ported over to the iPad came out of a project at Abilene Christian University (ACU) when they launched a tablet edition for The Optimist back on April 6, 2010!
Yesterday afternoon the University of St. Thomas, a private, Catholic liberal arts university in Minnesota, released an iPad edition for its "flagship publication" (as the app description describes it).

This tablet edition is fun to compare with that early app from ACU. Where The Optimist was simply a replica edition in the most simplistic form, St. Thomas Magazine features an embedded video introduction, embedded audio, and native tablet designed pages with scrolling texts and photo galleries. For the most part the digital edition is designed to be read in portrait, but those galleries are to be viewed in landscape.

The photography is gorgeous here, even if those photos of snowy days had me shivering a bit.

The app and the content are free, as you'd expect for a publication of this type. There are two publications available in the library of the app that can be downloaded: the Winter 2012 edition of the magazine and a small promotional brochure. The Winter edition weighs in at 231.1 MB but is a pretty quick download. The promotional publication is very well done and completely native, as well. Unlike the magazine, it was designed to so it could be read in both portrait and landscape.

The magazine is the product of the University Relations department. Brian C. Brown, who is Director of Publications, Senior Editor, and Mike Ekern, who is Director of Photography, led the charge to create the new tablet edition.

"What pushed us in this direction would be a couple things," Brown told me yesterday afternoon. "I think the last figures at the end of 2011 were that they were 55 million iPads out there. They sold 3 million more, of course, just in the weekend that the iPad 3 was released. When we think about 20 percent of our audience – with a college educated audience maybe that's going to be a little higher – almost 20 percent for the U.S. owning a tablet, it just seemed to us a safe direction to go in."

"What were looking for was just an opportunity – as you see with a lot of the multimedia pieces we have – is to make more of a seamless user experience. Where in the print magazine they'd have to read the article then go to the web extras, here we can provide those for them," Brown said.

Brown credits Ekern for being "at the forefront of a lot of the technology changes we've had in our department." Together they began searching for a digital publishing solution that they could recommend to create the magazine app.

They looked at the Adobe Suite "but that was really priced out of our range," Brown admitted. "We understood that this is going to be a new venture for us, and we didn't have a lot of extra resources around to invest at this time."

"Because its a relatively new technology (tablets) we're in that difficult spot to keep having to prove the worth of that product first. So we did some research and we found a product called Mag+."
Left: cover of the Winter 2012 edition opens with a video introduction; Middle: the Table of Contents page with its scrolling text box; Right: the edition features plenty of photograph, much of it, unlike this shot, intended to be viewed in landscape.

"In a bit of serendipity as Mike (Ekern) and I were doing our research and really landed on Mag+, and we were ready to present that idea to our vice president," Brown related, "we ended up finding out through the contact, they said, well our sales rep for the U.S. is Mike Haney."

"Well, not only is Mike Haney a graduate of the University of St. Thomas, he worked in our department as a student, and our graphic designer knew him and that's who he worked with. Of course, we knew he had been working at Popular Science."

(TNM's two-part interview with Mike Haney, conducted last year, can be found here.)

Mag+, as TNM readers should be well aware, is a plug-in system that works with InDesign.

"We hadn't had anybody using InDesign in our department, our designers have been using Quark," Brown told me. "So I recommended that we seek out freelancers to get us started to help us created the templates that we would use going forward."

Mag+ helped them line up Patrick Albertson to help create the Winter issue you see currently in the iPad app. Brown sees the current issue available as "a quiet launch" with the big launch coming with the Spring issue coming out in mid-May, which Albertson will also help them create.

The two years since the release of The Optimist, to yesterday's release of St. Thomas Magazine, shows the maturity of the tablet publishing platform. Whereas the main goal of the students and facility at ACU was to take the baby step of simply launching an app, today many educators look to tablets as a necessary and effective way of reaching their audience.

Because of this, simply launching an app is no longer as important as producing a product that accurately and effectively represents the university to prospective students, facility and alumni. All three groups with ties to the University of St. Thomas should be very happy with the results so far.

Here is a short scroll through the first part of the Winter 2012 edition of St. Thomas Magazine as seen on the iPad:

Nokia reports massive losses as sales continue to slide

Nokia, the former giant of the cell phone business, today reported earnings for Q1 and they showed that the transition under new CEO Stephen Elop will be a difficult one. Nokia reported huge losses of 1.34 billion euros (or $1.768 billion) as sales dropped 29 percent overall, 52 percent for smartphone devices.

We are navigating through a significant company transition in an industry environment that continues to evolve and shift quickly. Over the last year we have made progress on our new strategy, but we have faced greater than expected competitive challenges," Elop said in the company's statement.

Nokia blamed losses on "greater than expected competitive challenge", and said it was proceeding with its transition strategy, though Elop admitted that the results so far have been "mixed".

"We have launched four Lumia devices ahead of schedule to encouraging awards and popular acclaim. The actual sales results have been mixed. We exceeded expectations in markets including the United States, but establishing momentum in certain markets including the UK has been more challenging," Elop said.

"At the same time, the lower price tiers of our industry are undergoing a structural change, and traditional feature phones are challenged by full touch devices. As a result we are taking deliberate measures to continue to renew our Series 40 platform, and we plan to strengthen our line-up in Q2 2012. We are making investments in our Mobile Phones business unit aimed at addressing the gaps in our offering."

Nokia reported that it had sold 11.9 million smartphones in the quarter, versus 24.2 million a year ago. Smartphones actually account for a smaller percentage of total mobile sales that they did a year ago (14.4 percent versus 22.3 percent).

Nokia's cash reserves also tumbled 24 percent as the company sought to finance its transition and deal with its losses.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Retweet: 49ers chief executive talks to the Mercury News about the team's software-driven new home

Mike Rosenberg of the San Jose Mercury News posted today part three of his interview with the CEO of the San Francisco 49ers, Jed York. The interviews center on the new stadium the NFL team will get in 2014.

For those not familiar with the Bay Area sports scene, the 49ers play at old Candlestick Park (or whatever they are calling it today). It was built in 1960 to be the home field of the Giants, who had moved to San Francisco in 1958. From day one there were issues with the stadium such as the land deal and no-bid contract awarded. Its location was also a problem: Candlestick Point is south of the City, located a spot where the cold fog is guaranteed to gather late in the afternoon and early evening. Going to a game at the stadium required a jacket, and maybe even a blanket, even in the summer.

It was built at a time when baseball was getting its "modern" stadiums, a phase that all baseball fans are glad is over.

The 49ers did not move to Candlestick until 1971, playing for years at Kezar Stadium, located at the southeastern corner of Golden Gate Park. The stadium was demolished and rebuilt as a smaller venue that is in use to this day.

The new Santa Clara Stadium
For the 49ers, Candlestick worked out slightly better for them than the Giants. While the weather can be cold in the summer at the 'Stick, it is usually quite nice in the fall. This is caused by the cooler weather not drawing in fog the way the hot interior of California does in the summer. Many outsiders get terribly confused by Bay Area weather because of this. But rainy season comes earlier in Northern California and Candlestick, being somewhat under sea level, used to become a mud bath before the drainage was improved.

The team, having won five Super Bowls, and having such a loyal fan base, deserved a better home for the team. But the Bay Area, where I lived for years, is unlike, say, Detroit (where I grew up). Detroit and its surrounding communities seem to build their teams new homes every few years. But AT&T Park, the new, gorgeous home of the Giants, was built using the teams's money – in other words, the Giants have a mortgage. So getting a new park in San Francisco prove impossible. So on to Santa Clara for the 49ers.

What struck me about the interview with Jed York were the two questions involving the technology inside the stadium. Here is the segment:
We have high standards for technology here -- what can people expect?
It's not putting something in there that's a hardware-driven stadium; you want to make sure it's a software-driven stadium. Smart phones in two years are going to be different than what they are today, the same with tablets. I'm not going to limit what HP, Apple, Google create. I just want to make sure that the experience is enhanced and you can use those devices to the fullest capability and beyond.

What will get your jaw to drop when you walk in?
Not one big thing, it will be how everything works together. It will be a ticket-less, cashless building, a building that is smarter than anything else that has been there. You have a home entertainment experience now and some people think it's better than actually being at the game. We want to make sure your experience at the stadium is better than anywhere, you can't possibly have a better experience. That's what's going to capture people's imaginations when you walk in, when you have your smart phones or tablets, they will work the way they do at work and home. You're going to connect with the game in a way people were not able to connect ever before. Sustainable needs to be for practicable purposes, not for show purposes — the simplicity of the design and how it works together.
York's thinking is pretty interesting here, and sounds more than a bit like Steve Jobs.

Apple under Jobs talked about hardware specs but only in so far as a way of making software work. At the iPhone introduction in 2007 Jobs quoted Alan Kay as saying "People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware." That quote is still the key to the smartphone industry today and why so many tech sites still don't have a good understanding about the smartphone market.

So what York might really be saying here is that the new stadium will not built in such a fashion that it locks in technology, that it will be more open to the changes that are surely coming in time. Again, like that Jobs keynote where he points to the then current smartphone in the market and observed that they all came with keyboards, "fixed in plastic" he said, that could not adjust to changes desired by new programs – hence the multitouch display.

On the website of the new stadium there is a small section about technology. Here it is:
Through partnerships with local, national, and international technology providers, the stadium will be a showcase for innovation in Silicon Valley. Featuring stadium-wide WiFi capability, mobile connectivity, IPTV, and colossal HD video boards measuring over 13,000 square feet, no one will miss a minute of the action!
That sounds good, but it opens up many more possibilities if you let it.

For instance, giant TV screens is pretty last century, isn't it? I mean, having them around is nice, but I want to see the last play, why don't you stream it to me? Give me a close up of that catch, let me access it through the stadium's WiFi system. There are tremendous possibilities, aren't there?

Heck, I could really use a beer, have a couple waiting for me at the concessions stand after I've ordered them through my smartphone.

Blogsy updates its blogging-on-the-go app

I do a minimum of blogging-on-the-go. When I do, I often just head for a Starbucks and use my iPad's Safari browser to try and manage a new post or two. It is isn't perfect, and, in fact, can be quite a hassle. (My wireless keyboard helps greatly.)

But if I really need to maintain the site I use what a lot of other publishers have found to be invaluable: Blogsy from Fomola. The team at Blogsy is made up of Lance Barton, Seam Choe and Jusung Kye, and they have just updated their iPad app.

The app, Blogsy, costs $4.99 and works on a good number of platforms including Blogger, WordPress, Posterous, TypePad, MovableType, Drupal and Joomla. Now the team has added support for Tumblr and Vimeo.

In fact, the new update is packed with so many goodies it would take a long post to list them all. The big one, of course, is retina support for owners of the new iPad. But image, PDF and document support are included, and on and on.

If you are Blogsy user you will want to update the app (it appears a safe update, it has received all good marks since appearing in the App Store). If you need a blog editor for your mobile use, now might be a good time to make the leap and get the Blogsy app.

NBC will stream all Olympic events this summer; action follows news that the BBC will do the same

The vice president and general manager of NBC Sports Digital Media, Rick Cordella, told The New York Times that the network will stream all Olympic events this summer. “Whatever is on schedule that day, if cameras are on it, we’ll stream it,” Cordella told the Times.

But before one starts applauding NBC's commitment to digital streaming, one should at least acknowledge that it was the BBC which first announced that it would stream events. Their plan is to stream 24 channels of high definition (or standard) in addition to their regular broadcast channels. It is probably this action that makes NBC's streaming possible. (There is a centralized television command for television broadcasting so there aren't hundreds of TV cameras at every event, but it is up to the individual national broadcasters to determine which feeds to access.)

In order to deliver these streams, NBC will be launching dedicated mobile and tablet apps for the Olympics. Like the HBO app, a viewer would need to sign into the cable account to access the content. One would guess that Comcast will be one of the cable providers participating, now that they own NBC, that is.

The NYT article points out that only two years ago NBC was still trying to protect its prime time broadcast, only providing live streams of hockey and curling (curling!). The broadcaster was making the same mistake many publishers made by holding back content online under the crazy notion that they were protecting their print product. It is good to see that they are changing their policy in time for this summer's Olympics in London.

"We’re not scared of cannibalization,” Cordella told the Times. “Anytime you have a great event that happens before it shows on the air, it increases ratings and generates buzz.”

Perusing the French App Store to see what readers think about what they are being offered from publishers

Every time I write a piece that blasts some big publishing company for releasing unimaginative, and sometime downright cynical media apps – see below for example – there is a bit of a twinge that hits the back of my neck. It is that contrarian in me that asks "but what if readers like these things?" What if they use these digital magazines as finger exercise – you know, a doctor says that the best way to heal that sprained finger is to pinch-to-zoom five hours a day (after all, that is how long it would take to read some of these digital magazines).
The two best ways to check to see if you are not completely nuts is, of course, to listen to the customer. That is why all research being done on tablet and mobile editions is important to check out right now. Yes, you can have Steve Jobs's attitude about the customer not always knowing what they want, but I wouldn't go through life believing the customer is never right.

But reading reader reviews inside the App Store often will give you a false impression of the state of the medium. Many perfectly good tablet editions, for instance, get marked down by readers over issues of pricing. For instance, the Bonnier Technology Group apps are great, period. But if you are a print subscriber you certainly have a gripe about having to pay again for digital and might say so in a one-star review inside the App Store.

Perusing the French App Store I read a lot of reviews that were simply wrong or naive. Some readers complained that their app disappeared following an update - it had simply moved into the Newsstand (or Kiosque). Readers are not shy about giving a publisher a one-star review if the downloads prove to be slow, or a back issue suddenly disappears following an update. One has to be careful about what exactly readers are telling them in such a chaotic environment such as the App Store.

Early on in the life of tablet and mobile publishing there appeared to be a bit of difference between the tastes of European readers and those on this side of the Atlantic. Many replica editions were marked down as mere PDF versions of print magazines, while early reviews in French, Italian or Spanish stores seemed more open to the reading experience. I now think this was a phase caused by the lack of an alternative. Often a review was written as soon as a magazine title appeared, readers telling the publisher how happy they were to see the title available for their eReader. Digital publishers, though, would be foolish to dismiss reader criticism altogether, however.

A better measurement tool, though, may be the top charts, specifically the top grossing chart. A new app, no matter how good or bad, may be downloaded by a reader, especially if the app itself is free. Lots of downloads leads to appearing in the top ten. But if a reader choses to subscribe to the digital edition, or buys individual issues, that title will dominate the top grossing chart which measures revenue. (But be cautious about making too much of these charts, they measure in short increments and Apple's algorithm remains a bit of a mystery, so it is easy to break into the chart for a short time, then slip out.)

The top chart inside the French App Store for free Newsstand apps is a bit of a mixed bag – some native designed tablet editions, some replicas. Le Journal du Dimanche, from Lagardère Active Digital, released a couple of days ago, is a top ten free app as of this morning.

But looking at those titles that are actually getting people to pay, the French store seems to lean heavily towards those publications that put in the effort to design specifically for the tablet. Only one magazine was universal, the aforementioned Le Journal du Dimanche.

One needn't lecture me about the charts and how Apple's system for ranking apps remains vague and sometimes questionable. I understand that sometimes new apps, just launched, suddenly appear despite the fact that it seems doubtful that their numbers could be better than an app that has been in the App Store a longer period of time.

So one needs to be cautious when reading too much into either reviews or the charts. But there is a big difference between over weighting reader opinions and Apple's charts, and dismissing them altogether.

Lagardère Active Digital dumps 15 replica editions into the App Store; universal apps show distain for the platform

The French publishing giant Lagardère Group, or rather one of their publishing arms Lagardère Active, has launched 15 new magazine apps into the App Store and straight into the Newsstand.
Lagardère Group is the giant of French publishing, its foundation going back almost two centuries to the bookstore business bought by Louis Hachette. Lagardère Active is a huge player in magazine publishing, as well as radio and television broadcasting. All of the new apps appear under the Lagardère Active Digital name in the App Store.

One can see why these apps were dumped into the App Store all at the same time: each app is universal and represents an unimaginative take on tablet publishing – a true, this is coming from an old media company approach.

The fact that these apps are universal is the first sign that bad things are coming. Universal apps are great if you are Netflix or a broadcaster, but a magazine company that releases a universal app is basically saying they are killing two birds with one stone.

It is really hard to look at apps such as these and say much good about the future of the industry. Maybe because I found them after crawling out of bed this morning, but the sight of these made me want to crawl right back into the bed and cover my head with my pillow.

Although I would not encourage you to subscribe to these tablet or mobile editions, here are the titles: Le Journal de la Maison, France DIMANCHE Mag, Parents Mag, ICI PARIS Mag, Maison & Travaux Mag, Psychologies Mag, Campaigne Décoration Mag, Infobébés Mag, Première Mag, ELLE Décoration Mag, ELLE à table Mag, Mon Jardin Ma Maison Mag, Le Journal de Mickey Mag, Télé 7 Jours Mag and Art & Decoration. You have to be pretty impressed that I typed in all those titles and embedded the links, right?

Left: a typical problem faced by replicas, reading in landscape, with the two pages shrunk, spread across the display; Right: these apps may have just been released, by they don't appear to be taking into account the new iPad's higher resolution display (you'll need to click the photo to see what I mean).

In case you didn't notice, magazine apps like these really annoy me, especially when they come from a major publisher. The reason is simple: imagine that you were hiring for a magazine editor and you asked the question "do you like magazines?" and their answer was "no" – would you hire that person? Whoever approved these apps hates tablets, so what's the point?

Hey, old white guys (see the Lagardère corporate management team here), leave the mobile and tablet platforms to those who actually like this stuff, OK?

Interestingly, another app that has been in the App Store for a while was updated today. PARIS MATCH is a natively designed app that specifically was designed for the iPad alone for the French weekly of the same name. Today's update moves the magazine into Newsstand.

The app has gotten mixed reviews inside the US App Store for a lack of issues appearing (the app description mentions that the app is a "preview). Weeklies present publishers a problem if they have not staffed up to create the tablet editions. It is odd that Lagardère Active would have attempted a native designed tablet edition for a weekly but not for a monthly. But the feedback inside the French App Store should have given the publisher some encouragement. Although there are a lot of negative comments and ratings, they all concern the slow download times (they remain slow on the new apps, as well). But otherwise readers were very impressed.

Maybe there is a bright side here: Lagardère Active clearly needs a new digital team, maybe there will be a major hiring initiative. Care to move to Paris?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Late afternoon (west coast time) news briefs: Piano Media get funding to expand paywall services; Warren Buffett reveals prostate cancer; one man campaign for a little truth; who can you blame for complex taxes?

I'm done for the day – cooked, fried, burned out, whatever. But there were a number of items that caught my attention this afternoon while the Klipsch were belting out Sonny Stitt choruses:

I almost wrote about this Slovakian startup several times, Piano Media. The first time was when I heard that Slovakian media properties wanted to put their sites behind a unified paywall. At that time I wondered if such a thing would be considered legal in the U.S. Then I heard of Piano Media and they were working on the paywalls.

This afternoon Ars Technica and other sites have posts up about the company and money they've raised to spread out globally (tech sites love to talk about $$). Frankly I'm a little torn by the idea of them going global – after all, what government doesn't destroy (an open web) commerce might.

Piano Media Scales Up With €2 Million Series B Investment from 3TS Capital Partners

I'm sure you've heard by now that Warren Buffett has announced that he has Stage I prostate cancer. The prognosis is good, Buffett stating that "I’ve been told by my doctors that my condition is not remotely lifethreatening or even debilitating in any meaningful way."

To the Shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway

The Senate on Monday voted 51 to 45 to move the "Buffett rule" proposal forward for consideration. Of course, it is the Senate which means that one actually needs 60 votes to move legislation on. In the old days, when one party refused to allow consideration of a bill it was called a filibuster. But now few people want to use that word, especially the media. The Washington Post's own story does say the "F" word in its second paragraph, but basically most media newspapers get lazy and say the bill was defeated (even though a majority voted for it). One person is not happy with the media's practice of avoiding the term "filibuster.

Jonathan Bernstein, writing on The Plum Line blog, is a little peeved by it all:

"CNN’s web story was particularly awful, reporting simply that “the Democrats fell nine votes short.” There was no mention of a filibuster, or that the “nine votes short” added up a 51 vote majority — so no one reading the story could deduce that a majority of the Senate favored the policy."

Dear media: Tell readers the truth about GOP filibustering

Finally: Happy Tax Day! You realize your taxes are due today, right? (In the U.S. anyway.) Here is an article guaranteed to make you a little angry, especially if you are using software to complete those tax forms:

Corruption Is Why You Can’t Do Your Taxes in Five Minutes

Books about iBooks Author: free and paid eBooks show authors how to create their own enhanced digital books

On January 19 of this year Apple held a special publishing event in NYC. At that time the company launched a new book reading app, iBooks 2, that promised more interactive, enhanced eBooks. They also launched a free authoring tool to help authors and publishers create those enhanced eBooks.
At the time I called iBooks Author a potential game changer because here at last was a way to publish your own eBook that would be simple and inexpensive. Would this herald a whole new world of self-publishing?

It's been only three months since iBooks Author was launched, and it seems like much of the momentum has been lost. Further, the DOJ's lawsuit against Apple and a collection of major publishers threatens the very life of the iBookstore (though I still would bet against that result).

But some authors were quick to launch their own eBooks about iBooks Author itself. In fact, only two days after the launch of the software package the first book about that software appeared in Apple's iBookstore: Digital Publishing With iBooks Author by Takaki Odachi. The free book is written for a Japanese audience.

Several additional books appeared shortly thereafter including Publishing with iBooks Author by Nellie McKesson and Adam Witwer. This is a book I'd highly recommend for its simplicity and clear writing. The book is also free of charge. (It is easier and quicker to launch an eBook if it is free.)

Another free eBook, launched just two weeks after McKesson's book is from Charles Stack. That name might be familiar to many TNM readers as he was the founder of Stack sold that company to Barnes & Noble a while back and launched a new company Sideways. (I wrote a series of posts on the new company back in June of 2010.)

iBooks Author Guide #1 Overview is the first of what Stack promises will be an 11 part series of guides. This book contains embedded video and more graphics than other books – and while it may not be as clear and simple in its presentation, its use of all the bells and whistles illustrate the power of iBooks Author as an eBook creation tool.

In addition to the free eBooks, there are also several paid books available including iBooks Author by Andreas Kleinke & Anton Ochsenkühn, iBooks Author: The Definitive Guide published by Trailer Park Inc., iBooks Author: Publishing Your First Ebook by Maria Langer, and Meet iBooks Author published by Peachpit Press. These books are priced at $4.99 or $5.99.

And therein lies a bit of a problem for would-be publishers and authors. It is always difficult to compete with free so most readers will opt to download the free books and only if they prove unsatisfactory decided to pony up for a paid book. This pattern of free books versus paid happen all the time with older titles out of copyright, of course.

Here is a short video looking at several of the new eBooks about Apple's iBooks Author. Sorry, no snappy music, only a droning voiceover by yours truly. Enjoy:

Advertising remains the key to success on tablets: will publishers see tablet ads as part of an integrated digital package, or as valuable as their print counterparts?

There has, for many years, existed a dramatic disconnect between the demands of digital agencies and the magazine publishing game. In the print world, the target audience was the key – you want to reach young men then you advertised in [name your favorite lad magazine], if you want to reach working moms then you advertised in... you get the idea.

But since the beginning of the digital media era, reach has been paramount. Partially this is due to the fact that it was next to impossible, early on, to identify many properties that had much reach. In the mid-to-late nineties AOL represented one of the few properties that could offer over a million users. At the beginning of 2000, at the time of the merger with Time-Warner, total revenue at AOL was $4.8 billion. It was, to put it another way, the Google or Facebook of its time. (Last year AOL reported revenues of $2.2 billion.)
If you are too young to remember, you should be reminded that while AOL and Compuserve were giants of the nineties, they weren't exactly considered Internet companies they way we think of them today. Both companies created walled off communities that were reached via the web, but were originally bundled without web browsers. In 1998 AOL bought Netscape when it became clear that the future was the open web, not closed communities. It took a while for AOL users to migrate onto the web, but they did and from that point on the future of digital advertising has been dominated by different players – today that would be Google, Facebook, Yahoo, etc.

I spoke this morning to a digital advertising executive to discuss their perspective about digital ad buying is done, and the comparing that to the way a print buy would, or used to be, bought. At first that person completely denied that reach was important, saying that it was all about target audience and costs and total impressions. But in the end that person said, "well, it's all about reach."

Aveeno ad in the tablet edition of
Whole Living. iPad hi-res image here.
To compete against large digital properties for ad dollars, larger publishers have been preaching integrated sales for a while. Digital buys, such as website advertising, or other digital products, have been blended into proposals. If the publisher is large enough, and the client large enough, and the budget large enough, a major publisher can hope to grab a large chunk of change across a group of titles and across a range of products. Bingo, digital sales are up.

But at the core is the print brand. If Meredith (let's say) wants to sell Kraft Foods (let's say) the way the client gets in the door ends up being its print titles. Now I know many might deny this, saying that we have moved to the point were the integrated whole is what is important, but I don't think those people have ever cold called a customer.

So how is a "page" of digital advertising sold into a tablet edition in this scenario? Is it bundled in with the other digital properties, is it evaluated like other digital products, or like the print product? If it is simply looked at like other digital media the chances are that the ROI will be very low for the publisher.

This is at the heart of the MPA's proposed guidelines for evaluating advertising in tablets.

"We certainly did not want to go the way of the web, which is a very different experience, the click mentality, very low CPMs, that's not the way people are experiencing magazines," MPA's head, Nina Link, said told TNM earlier this month.

"On the other hand, it is not exactly the same experience as print. There are enhancements," Link said. "There is the ability to have sight, sound and motion. This platform has more similarities to print than not, but it has a lot of other wonderful things that have not been measured before. So we came at this saying OK, how do we feel about this? and what are some of the things we think would be a very good baseline."

But in the current environment, major publishers (generally) are probably see tablets as fitting into their integrated sales approach. The hope would be, that at some point, tablet circulation can either replace print circulation or be mashed together. In this way, the weight of the print title is not lost. But what if digital agencies simply see all these new digital subscribers as simply more digital eyes?

For smaller publishers, those that are used to having a rep go in and sell month to month, the solution might be to position all mobile and tablet products outside of digital. That is to say, reader engagement of the new platforms are such that they demand to be purchased the way a client previously bought print.

Ironically, larger publishers, those who have adopted integrated sales, may have a harder time presenting tablet advertising as a platform worthy of being evaluated differently than other digital products. B2B publishers, on the other hand, might want to avoid the whole integration question by simply bundling with print, as if this were not a digital product at all. Because so much of the business in B2B is still sold client-direct, or through agencies that specialize in B2B, these publishers may find they are in a stronger position to represent their tablet editions as true heirs to their print magazines. Sadly, B2B publishers, with a few exceptions have been slow to move to both mobile and tablet platforms.

Digital sports magazines from The Sporting News and Bonnier get updates

Several sports-themed magazines updated their digital editions this morning, though not all of the updates concerned making their apps 'retina display' compliant.
The Sporting News, which for a while tried to be called simply Sporting News, has updated its digital magazine found inside Newsstand.

The app, called Sporting News – yeah, I know, they meed to make up their minds – fixes a bug for the app's TV Tune-In section and My Teams section front. It does not add retina support, as one reviewer inside the App Store has already pointed out. But frankly, I think the app looks fine. I swiped through the pages trying to find examples of content that looked bad on the new iPad but really didn't find any. Maybe my eyes are still not able to focus this morning, but the app looked fine to me.

The app and the content remain free. Sporting News, or rather The Sporting News, previously had experimented with a paid model but has gone the free route with its digital magazine (the company seems to be concentrating much of its efforts on its AOL partnership).
Bonnier Corporation updated a series of its sports titles last night, as well. Skiing Mag, Yachting Mag, WaterSki Mag were all updated in order to make them 'retina' compliant.

Bonnier, which has quite a stable of titles in the App Store, had recently updated other titles just last week (as you can read about here).

The titles updated are employing a replica edition strategy, and all the Bonnier books appear to require all readers to pay for content access, even print subscribers.

Yesterday, Mag+ announced that Gregg Hano, the S.V.P. Corporate Sales and Technology Group at Bonnier, would be leaving the publisher to take over the CEO role at the digital publishing solutions company (see here). Hano and the team at the tech group were behind the first magazine apps launched into the App Store that used the Mag+ platform.

Former AOL and Google digital sales executive will now lead national sales at Clear Channel Media

In what must have been a great first month, Clear Channel Media and Entertainment has named Tim Castelli to the newly created position of President of National Sales, Marketing and Partnerships only six weeks after hiring Castelli to run digital sales.

The former regional veep of sales for AOL was hired as Executive Vice President of Digital Sales at the end of February. Prior to working at AOL, Castelli held several positions at Google including Technology Industry Director. Before that, in what must now seem like another life, Castelli was publisher of Rolling Stone.

Castelli has made the most of his move into digital. Castelli left Rolling Stone in the summer of 2007 after slightly more than one year on the job. He then made his way to Google before joining AOL. Prior to all that, Castelli spent 13 years at Ziff Davis Media where he eventually led the tech group with included PC Magazine.

If none of this desk jockeying seems to makes sense – that is, how does one go from a print-centric, almost anti-digital organization like Rolling Stone to digital sales spots at Google, AOL and now Clear Channel – well, chalk it up to the world of digital sales and solid connections. (See this news brief from one year ago announcing the new sales team at AOL/Huffington Post which mentions Castelli.)

Castelli, in his new role, will now be in charge of sales for Clear Channel Digital which includes its property iHeartRadio (which currently does not employ an advertising model), and will oversee the partnerships division, Strategic Partnerships and Clear Channel Connections. Castelli will also head Clear Channel Radio Sales and Premiere Networks Sales (I wonder what the radio vets think of that?).

Monday, April 16, 2012

The new gatekeepers of the media world have yet to be tested in a crisis in the West, how will they react?

Several articles appeared online today on the NYT website that seems to raise a red flag for me. Separately, they could be ignored or chalked up to "more of the same", but together they had me wondering about our new media gatekeepers – those new corporations that control many of our new digital media outlets. More on this after a taste of the articles:

Spain Bond Yields Rise Above 6% as Investor Fears Flare Anew: NYT

“It is looking more and more likely that Spain is going to have some form of a bailout,” Mr. Graham-Taylor said, adding that, absent an intervention from the E.C.B., “you would not see a cap on Spanish yields. they would just keep increasing.”
Europe’s Economic Suicide: Paul Krugman, NYT
Consider the state of affairs in Spain, which is now the epicenter of the crisis. Never mind talk of recession; Spain is in full-on depression, with the overall unemployment rate at 23.6 percent, comparable to America at the depths of the Great Depression, and the youth unemployment rate over 50 percent. This can’t go on — and the realization that it can’t go on is what is sending Spanish borrowing costs ever higher.
From the Birthplace of Big Brother: NYT Editorial
Britain’s government is preparing sweeping new legislation that would let the country’s domestic intelligence agencies monitor all private telephone, e-mail, text message, social network and Internet use in the country, bypassing requirements for judicial warrants.
As with all such legislation on both sides of the Atlantic, sponsors promote the bill as a necessary new tool to keep the public safer from would-be terrorists, child molesters and common criminals. We are not convinced.
Depressed economic times inevitably lead to political instability. So far only a few European governments have fallen – having been replaced with either the political opposition or technocrats installed by the bankers.

But in a week the French head to the polls and there is a good chance the government of President Nicolas Sarkozy could be replaced by the Socialists, led by François Hollande. Early in May, Greeks go to the polls and recent polling finds, well, a mess. In Spain, though, the conservative government recently came to power, so there is no electoral outlet on the near horizon, and so protests there take on a different sense of urgency.

In the past, the printed media simply took to the street to distribute their news and information – no other distribution outlets being available. Today, the web is the key to so many communication vehicles, whether that is news websites, social media, or digital media via app.
Just how open will Apple's Newsstand
remain in a political crisis?

My thought experiment involves the gatekeepers of our new media world: government, Apple, Google and others. How will these institutions and organizations react to unrest, radical media, etc.

We saw in several Middle Eastern/North African countries how the government reacted to the use of social media – several literally cut the cord that kept their countries connected to the rest of the wired world.

Twitter was blocked in Egypt for a time last year and responded on their company blog by saying that "Tweets Must Flow":

"Our goal is to instantly connect people everywhere to what is most meaningful to them. For this to happen, freedom of expression is essential. Some Tweets may facilitate positive change in a repressed country, some make us laugh, some make us think, some downright anger a vast majority of users. We don't always agree with the things people choose to tweet, but we keep the information flowing irrespective of any view we may have about the content."

But that was Egypt. How would Twitter, or the app reviewers at Apple or Google react if requested to "cut communications" by a European government?

The Washington Post issues update to its iPad edition that adds push notifications; Apple issues iBooks 2 update

I guess you could call this one of those "it's about damn time" updates. The Washington Post has issued an update to its The Washington Post for iPad that finally ads push notifications to the app.

The iPad news app remains outside the Newsstand, which is probably appropriate as the app continues to be less a tablet edition than a tablet version of the website. The app and its contents remains free of charge, though the app description continues to say this is for "a limited time."

Hi-res iPad image here.
Push notifications have been an important feature of news apps for quite some time – the NYT's apps being good examples. Some use these notifications wisely, others spam their readers with just about any headline.

Editors seem to be experimenting with the tool and sometimes they are used a bit unwisely (did I really need to get that notification about the Giants winning the Super Bowl an hour after the game?)

Notifications, though, feels under developed. While Apple improved the look and feel of notifications with an iOS update last year, and created the Notifications Center feature, it still needs improvements that could make the feature a real communications tool. For instance, I may want national and political news notifications from The Washington Post, but I could care less about the Redskins or Nationals. Can I customize the notifications themselves?

It is rather indicative of the place The Post is that notifications has finally come to its iPad app. I've always felt the company believed that it was on top of things digital, while really being way behind the curve. (Maybe I am still mad about them sending to Cahners Marc Teren.)

As for its iPad app, I think it would be a mistake to simply move the existing app into Newsstand and begin charging for the content. The plan may be to eventually launch a paywall for the website and then begin charging for access to the iPad edition, but a better move would be to create a new separate tablet edition and charge for that within Newsstand. That new product would mirror – somewhat - the print edition, with all its sections and supplements. Print subscribers could access that app for free, which forcing others to pay for the daily editions. It would also allow the paper to continue to publishing fully open on the web (if that is their goal).

We'll see what approach they take when this "limited time" finally is over.

Apple has issued a couple of updates to its own branded apps.

The iBooks 2 app has been updated and the app description mentions fixing a sing-in problem as well as "minor stability and performance improvements."

But Apple is a bit sly about its updates and they often occur just before a new feature is introduced. I'm not saying this update is anything other than a bug fix; but, still, I wouldn't be surprised if there is something else going on here.

I checked the Mac App Store to see if there was a new update to iBooks Author, but the latest update for that authoring tool was in March and it added 'retina' support for eBooks to be read on the new iPad. (I should add that the template program from Jumsoft, Book Pallet, was also updated last month adding ten new templates to iBooks Author.

Apple also updated its Cards program, but still has not made the app universal (despite the iPad having a camera). The update ads Mother's Day and Get Well cards (I saddened to report that I need both for my elder mother).

Bar Magazine launches a tablet edition inside Newsstand using the CoverPage digital publishing platform

The single most frequently asked question of me by readers, and by people on professional publishing boards, is what digital publishing solution do I recommend them using to create their tablet (or mobile) editions. Usually the person asks the question uses the words "inexpensive" and "easy" somewhere in their question. While I understand the need for cost control, the "easy" part often leads people to do dumb things – after all, this sort of insults the talents of the art directors who, if they could learn InDesign and Photoshop, shouldn't have much a problem with most of the new digital publishing solutions either.

One digital publishing solutions provider I was not familiar with, CoverPage by Monogram Interactive, out of Slovakia, has quite a number of magazine apps inside the App Store, and this morning a new one appeared inside Newsstand.

New iPad quality image here
While many of the apps are appearing under the vendor's name, others are now appearing under the name of the publisher such as this new app for Bar Magazine. Bar Magazine is published by HELLO Slovakia and the editor-in-chief is Lenka Jilekova, whose LinkedIn page makes you wonder if she is old enough to drink (ah, to be young again).

Robert Mindzak, CEO and founder of CoverPage, told me that "we urge our publishers to set up their own accounts" with Apple, hence this new app is appearing under the publisher's name rather than the vendor's.

The CoverPage system is somewhat similar to the Mag+ or Aquafadas system in that it involves a viewer app that can be downloaded for free from the App Store. Inside Coverpage Viewer you can see sample issues (see below, right). Bar Magazine uses the newer version 2.0 of CoverPage.
Initially Bar Magazine appeared inside Newsstand but without a completed issue – no doubt the publisher was waiting the for release into the App Store before uploading the issue (I tend to catch these apps a bit early, often before even the publisher is aware their app is live). But after an hour or so the issue was ready to download.

The issue available is just under 300 MB and is a slow download. But once downloaded you see that the issue was designed to be read in portrait, but can be read, as well, in landscape. I actually like this a lot and is an interesting compromise solution. One sees the full page in portrait, and the magazine is fairly easily read in this orientation, but turning the iPad enlarges the page making the fonts that much larger.

The edition available has some cute animations, and combined with the ability to read in landscape, is probably why it weighs in at so large a file.

The CoverPage website is not the most helpful in selling their publishing solution. Although the site has some nice videos, the website doesn't walk you through the process. So I contacted the company about their digital publishing solution and their CEO Mindzak promised to send along more information. In the meantime he was kind enough to call me and explain the process a bit.

"Our solution ... first you have a free plug-in for InDesign for CoverPage, but you can also use your PDF files that are uploaded to our server. The server will give you back the pages to your offering tool," Mindzak told me.

"But the third way you can just use your JPGs or PNGs like regular pages," hence how replicas are produced. Mindzak is finding that many publishers are taking the easy way out, though Bar Magazine is clearly going in the other direction.

Here is one of videos you will find both online at the CoverPage website as well as at their YouTube branded channel: