Friday, May 11, 2012

The Apple TV rumors are hard to kill off

Now that the new iPad has been out for a few months (it's just launching this weekend in a number of other countries including Brazil) the rumor mill is hard at work as tech sites try to come up with something that will drive traffic. The usual suspects are the newest version of the iPhone, a smaller tablet and the Apple TV, or more precisely, the new Apple HDTV, to keep it separate from the existing Apple TV product.

The small tablet rumor won't die if only because too many people are invested in it, having predicted it for a couple of years now. Apple may well launch one this year if only because they can do so fairly easily.

iPhone rumors, on the other hand, are more rare. I think the reason for this is that many, including myself, are having a hard time thinking where the form can go from here. The idea of a larger display is silly, though that won't stop the rumors. As always, the excitement of any new iPhone is less about hardware than about software: make the damn thing do something new... like solve the European debt crisis.
So that leaves us with the long rumored Apple HDTV product. I have been skeptical about the prospects that Apple would launch an actual television set, the industry is mature and prices and margins are falling. Panasonic said today, for example, that the company will miss its earnings forecast and that television sales are down.

“TV and semiconductor businesses were substantially unprofitable offsetting all profit from other profitable business,” Panasonic said in their earnings statement. So tell me why Apple would want to enter this market?

But the whole television industry is at the beginnings of a revolution that will leave the platform looking very different than it has for half a century. One could go into all the details of this, but an innocent conversation with my youngest daughter told me all I needed to know. Yesterday, while discussing our Comcast cable programming my daughter said she really didn't care what we did with cable TV, she just wanted to make sure we kept our Apple TV. The ability to watch Netflix content, or content through iTunes, was far more important to her than anything Comcast had to offer, especially since Comcast's own on-demand feature rarely worked properly (constant error messages).

Most television observers, though, see Apple as being in a bind. While no one doubts that Apple could produce a damn fine television, with innovative controls and features, content is still tied to the networks and studios. As good as Netflix is, its streaming content cupboard is still fairly bare. And who wants to have to pay for every television show if one is forced to use iTunes for content? I dumped my MLB.TV subscription because it didn't work for me (the service gave me error messages and the Philippines based support people were more eager to cancel my service than help me).

I don't know about your household, but mine does not need another television set. My Panasonic and Sony sets, ironically, are just fine – two 42-inch plasmas seem more than enough for any household other than Mark Elliot Zuckerberg's.

But the rumors of Apple's supposedly imminent TV speak of the new television being able to make calls, play games, etc. But I reflect back on the launch of the iPhone when Steve Jobs claimed that Apple's device and iOS was years ahead of the competition – he was probably right. Would throwing in a camera and adding more features prove impossible for other companies to copy? (Many are doing it now.)

Maybe, and maybe not. I'm torn. Apple's genius lies in creating platforms that are easy to use and work out of the box. My eldest daughter, who used an Android phone for a year, tells me that her hand-me-down iPhone upgraded her life immeasurably. It works, which is more than she could say for her brand new Android phone.

I am personally not looking forward to spending a thousand dollars or more on a new television, and in this economy few others are either. A new Apple HDTV could prove to be Tim Cook's undoing... or it could be his legacy. I've learned to not underestimate the teams at Apple, but their work is cut out for them should they decide to enter the television set market.

Morning Brief: JPMorgan trading losses drive bank stocks down; Greece's day of decision as political parties haggle; Rebekah Brooks in the dock at Leveson inquiry

Another bank trading debacle has the markets on edge and many calling once again for greater regulation on the banking community – though no one seriously thinks either party will act.

JP Morgan Chase & Co's CEO Jamie Dimon yesterday admitted that the bank lost $2 billion in trading losses due to a "a hedging strategy that backfired," as the NYT's DealBook put it last night.

The $2 billion loss came from a complicated trading strategy that involved derivatives, financial instruments that derive their value from the prices of securities and other assets. JPMorgan said the derivatives trades were part of a hedge, meaning they were set up to offset potential losses on the bank’s large holdings of bonds and loans. But, in the sort of nightmare situation that bankers dread, the ostensible hedge backfired, producing losses of its own.
European markets are down today, though blaming this on the JPMorgan misstep would be go a bit too far as there is plenty of other news today that could accomplish the same thing. For instance, the Spanish government, led by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, has bailout the country's fourth-largest bank, Bankia. That bank is the largest holder of Spanish real estate paper, and was put at risk when the real estate bubble burst.

Update: The Athens Stock Exchange General Index is down hard today - 3.92 percent. It is now down 54 percent in one year.

Leaders of New Democracy and Pasok,
Greece's two major parties that have seen
their support crumble. Photo: Athens News

Today is probably the day we'll learn whether Greece will have a new coalition government, or whether the country will be heading back to the polls. Yesterday it appeared as if there were moves to form a government that would include New Democracy, Pasok and the Democratic Left. This coalition would, in theory, be pro-Euro, but would want to renegotiate the "memorandum," the bailout package.

But the Democratic Left wants Syriza to be part of the deal. The reason for this may simply be politics: any coalition government would allow those outside of it to claim protection from any bad developments upcoming. Syriza has most likely seen the latest polls that show that in any second election it could come out on top. The Democratic Left, for its part, would probably not like to be seen as tied to New Democracy and Pasok, which saw its support crumble in the last election.

Rebekah Brooks, former News International chief executive, is testifying before the Leveson inquiry today. Brooks is at the center of the phone hacking scandal that centers on the actions of a private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, who hacked the voicemail of Milly Dowler. The 13-year old girl who was later found out to be murdered, had her voicemail accessed, and messages deleted, giving her family the false hope that she might still be alive.

The Guardian is running a live blog of the proceedings, which are in recess as I write this, but will resume at 2 pm GMT (9 am EDT).

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Apple promotes the digital books inside iTunes built using its own eBooks authoring tool, iBooks Author

For quite a while now Apple has been promoting enhanced eBooks inside the Books category of iTunes. The idea was to let readers know of the books that would offer more than simply text reformatted for the iPad or iPhone (or iPod touch, let's not forget about that).

The problem with the "enhanced" category was that one still didn't really know what was meant by this. Some books designated "enhanced" simply had an introductory video, or some additional photographs. Most importantly, "enhanced" does not necessarily mean that the eBook was created using iBooks Author, Apple's own digital software tool launched at the Apple educational event in January of this year.
But now Apple has decided to do a little promotion of the eBooks built using its digital publishing software. Inside iTunes, in Books, Apple has now created a section just for eBook build with iBooks Author.

Some of the books inside are George Harrison: Living In the Material World, a book Apple has been promoting heavily since is appearance inside iTunes.

Forty eBooks in total are being featured and not all the books have a price tag on them. Street Photography and Edwin the Super Duper Otter are just a couple of the books that are available for free.

The "Made with iBooks Author" category had the look of something that might be temporary but is not a bad idea to give readers some guidance as they may expect (though readers can download samples of any eBook inside iTunes).

Live blogging spreads at major news sites; does the future of the form lead, inevitably, to streaming to television?

I hate headlines that end in a question mark, but sometimes it is appropriate when one is trying to express an idea rather than make a claim. In this case, I see the growth of live blogging, and wonder if the future of this artform might be to extend it beyond the web page.
This morning (U.S. time) two live blogs are being watched on my multiple displays: The Guardian's live blog of the Leveson inquiry which today features the testimony of Andy Coulseon, the former editor of the News of the World and the former communications director for the Tories, and the live blog being authored by Damian Mac Con Uladh for The Athens News, which is chronicling the efforts of the political parties to form a government and avoid a second round of elections.

The Guardian's live blog features a video stream which one could easily see being stream to a television. The video player is Flash, which means it won't work on an iPad or iPhone, but if rumors are true that the next version of the Mac OS will allow for AirPlay streaming, one could see someone wanting to mirror their display to a larger display such as a HDTV.

As opposed to The Athens News live blog, which features very nice photographs but no streaming video, one can see how the live blog could serve as a kind of alternative cable news network. CNN, through its apps, allows for alternative streams, which in its own way, is a way to create new channels. Newspapers and other media entities, however, might be wise to consider that live stream video content will, in the future, become an important part of their portfolio, something that could be used either frequently or sporadically. At the very least, exploratory discussions should certainly be considered that involve content partners, as well as monetization strategies.

iStockphoto offers new plugin for Adobe Creative Suite 6 for in-program search and download of stock images

The Calgary, Alberta company iStockphoto announced a new plug-in solution that will work for the new Adobe Creative Suite 6. The plug-in allows for the searching and downloading of images from within the programs.
The one-click solution allows designers to replace comp images with purchased images resized and positioned within the working page.

"At iStock, we're always looking for ways to help keep customers stay engaged in their creative process," said Michael Cook, VP of product for iStockphoto, in the company's announcement. "Providing speedy access to our collection and easy manipulation of images directly within the tools they use every day is a key way to ease their workflow and provide a smoother overall experience."

The plug-in is free of charge to download (available here) and requires that the user have CS 5 or higher. While an iStock account is not necessary to install the plug-in, the user will, of course, need to establish an account in order to download images.

WordPress takes down the website of Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn; violation of service claimed

The website of the extreme right political party Golden Dawn is offline this morning (afternoon Athens time), having been taken down by WordPress. The party, often referred to as being neo-Nazi, had won nearly 7 percent of the vote in the Greek election on Sunday, and because of its achievement, is set to enter parliament for the first time ever.

According to the page uploaded to replace the Golden Dawn website, WordPress is claiming a violation of service. But the party was able to quickly launch a brand new website, also using WordPress, but at a new URL (

Golden Dawn was widely criticized for requiring journalists to stand as their party entered the room for a press conference following the election. Anyone not standing for the politician was forced to leave. The Athens News also is mentioning that Golden Dawn had threatened a journalist, telling her (in German, no less) 'Kommt Zeit, kommt Rat, kommt Attentat!' ('Cometh the hour, cometh the man, will attack!').

Whether WordPress is responding to a petition started by the organization is unknown, though, Golden Dawn on its new website refers to "the international factors" behind the "attack" on the party.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Fox Nation has its opinion, as you might guess

I really wondered if this was worth a post. Many Twitter users were both amused and appalled by the sceenshot you see below-right, I haven't seen it posted on too many websites so here it is for posterity's sake.
What you see is a screenshot from the Fox News website page for Fox Nation. If you click the photo you'll see a larger version with the Fox Nation logo on it.

It was, of course, beyond the pale. But, I suppose, it was to be expected – a precursor to what we can expect from Murdoch's news network for the next six months.

The headline appeared immediately after the President said in an ABC News interview with Robin Roberts that he supports gay marriage, though he still believes it is an issue to be left up to the states. North Carolina yesterday became the 30th state to add a discrimination clause into its state constitution outlawing gay marriage.

Afternoon news break: North Carolina, Greece, and more

It's the afternoon and there seems to be far more going on in the world of political news than there is media news. Why fight it, here is a round-up of some items of interest:

North Carolina:

Yesterday North Carolina became the 30th state to pass some sort of constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage. The amendment passed easily, getting over 60 percent of the vote. Once again Americans went after the rights of other Americans.

North Carolina passes Amendment 1 banning same-sex unions – The Guardian

President Obama, who has been silent on the issue other than when he has been negative, is now expected to speak out on the issue (word has already leaked that he has finally come out in support of gay marriage in an interview with ABC News). His timing is not a coincidence. The President knows that now that the amendment has passed, the issue is essentially dead to the voters. But Obama's supporters, who overwhelmingly support gay marriage, will not be pleased if the President goes into the fall election on the other side of the issue.

Will Mitt Romney, on the other hand, want to make an issue of gay marriage and risk alienating independent voters who will be inundated with campaign ads portraying Romney as too radically right-wing based on his GOP primary speeches? I guess the answer is "yes".

Obama expected to address North Carolina gay marriage ban vote – Associated Press

Romney affirms opposition to same-sex marriage – CBS News


So who exactly is the guy who has taken a coalition of leftist parties from nowhere to second in voting? Alexis Tsipras, the leader of SYRIZA has three days to form a government, and though the odds are overwhelmingly against his chances of forming one, he appears to be using his three days to, as they say in the U.S., act presidential.

Alexis Tsipras: the confident and combative Leftist leader calling the shots in Greece – The Telegraph

Yannis Palaiologos, a journalist based on Athens takes a look at the parties on the extreme edges of the Greek political spectrum and asks the obvious (and appropriat) question:

What Do Greeks Really Want? Meet the Voters of the Country’s Extremist Parties – The New Republic


If I needed any proof that I am a novice at Greek politics this is it: the BBC is reporting that Tsipras would use his three days to capitalize on his position as the guy who is in a position to form a government. But the head of SYRIZA has, according to the Beeb, already given up – 24 hours in the spotlight was enough, I guess. Now if falls on the head of PASOK to try and form a government – he has three days, but based on what we've seen so far, we should hear that he has failed by the end of the day tomorrow.

Greece's Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras ends coalition bid – BBC

Later Update: This might explain why Tsipras is willing to admit defeat some soon. It's in Greek so I'll tell you: it says SYRIZA is now polling at 25 percent. If that is true, and if they could garner that much of the vote, they could come out on top and get the 50 seat bonus. If that is the case they could then form a government. As a coalition, SYRIZA might not be eligible for the bonus in a 2nd round, but I'm not sure about this.

Vibe Magazine launches its first tablet edition into the Apple Newsstand using a hybrid design approach

Vibe Magazine, the music magazine originally founded by musician/producer Quincy Jones with Time Warner, now has a bright new tablet edition inside the Apple Newsstand. The app presents a hybrid replica-native tablet edition which serves to reduce the file size while allowing all the print advertisers to appear inside the iPad editions.

The approach taken by Vibe is one that is appearing to be increasingly popular: the advertising is presented pretty much unchanged from the print edition, while the editorial team creates new native layouts specifically for the tablet editions.

New iPad hi-res image here.
The approach works fine, though the advertising suffers a bit – two-page spreads, for instance, make little sense on a tablet unless they are interactive. But by going in this direction, the publisher will be encouraging ad agencies to provide new copy for the tablet editions, while allowing the ad team to sell the combined reach. Also, if desired, the ad could eventually sell special ads for the tablet edition some time in the future.

The hybrid approach to creating a tablet edition requires that the app work in portrait only, of course, to accomodate the print ads. But the production team has done a great job here making sure all the ads fit perfectly – some sort of cropping or adjustments generally need to be made to make the ads look perfectly appropriate for a tablet, unless one is lucky enough to have print specs that perfectly downside to the iPad (something many publishers are looking at).

By creating hybrid issues – part replica, part native – one can limit the file size somewhat of the issues, and still use 'retina' resolution graphics. The April/May issues currently available through the app weighs in at 241.4 MB – a very moderate size, though the download was pretty slow this morning.
The splash page.
Vibe Magazine, the app, is offering single copy issues at $2.99, with a monthly subscription available for $1.99, and an annual at $9.99 (six issues).

The app description says a preview issue is available for free, though I could not find any such free issue inside the app.

Vibe has quite a history. Founded in 1992, the magazine was bought by the private equity firm The Wicks Group in 2006. Wicks shut down the book quickly thereafter, in 2009. Then the title was picked up by Uptown from the debt holder, CapitalSource. Uptown was backed in its acquisition by InterMedia Partners. Then in January of 2011 the property was merged with the BlackBook Media business and The Access Network Company.
Left: The Table of Contents with its native tablet page design; Middle and Right: the two-page spread ad for Grey Goose looks great on the new iPad, but doesn't make much sense when split in two.

While Technology Review's publisher may claim that 'publishers don't like apps', others beg to differ; the U.S. Director at Mag+, Mike Haney, gives us his own opinion

On Monday of this week Jason Pontin, publisher of Technology Review, posted an article on the magazine's website titled Why Publishers Don't Like Apps in which he detailed his own publication's experience with selling subscriptions through their app. The post was picked up or referred to several times and the post itself garnered quite a number of comments – far more than a B2B media website would have gotten. My own response appeared that day here at TNM.

I invited several firms to respond to the post, but as it turns out Mike Haney, US Director at Mag+, had already written his own response to Pontin's post. Haney's response appeared yesterday on the company's blog and the company has given TNM permission to reproduce it here.

A post from Jason Pontin, editor in chief of Technology Review, about his magazine’s frustrating experience in and subsequent abandonment of the app world is making the rounds today. I don’t know Jason, but as a former editor at Popular Science, I know his book well and really admire it.
Having worked in this ecosystem since before the iPad launch, and speaking with dozens of publishers before and after they move into this space, I don’t doubt Jason’s experience, and I feel his pain. Although we have some clients, like PopSci, which has made more than $1 million NET revenue (after design costs, licensing of our platform and Apple’s cut) on its iPad edition, or Popular Photography, which has moved more than 10 percent of its 350,000 rate base to iPad, saving tons of money on paper, postage and distribution—others are still struggling to make a profitable business from their tablet edition, and it has not had nearly the quick impact industry-wide that many anticipated (hoped) in early 2010. Meanwhile print continues to struggle.

But I would also say there are variables here that should be considered before one completely dismisses the idea of content companies—especially ones with content as great as Technology Review—succeeding in the app space. First, Jason cites $125,000 in tech development costs—at that price, I understand how near-term ROI was difficult to achieve. However, there are solutions out there like ours (and others) that have done the tech development for you and offer much lower-cost paths to this space. Our apps aren’t custom, but they’re as powerful as anything on the market and they’re cheap. Tech Review would pay us no more than $6,000 a year, plus $.17/gigabyte downloaded IF it had us host issues (it could also host issues itself).

Second, just like the print business, success in the app space is rarely automatic—it requires ambitious promotion, especially in a market as dense as iTunes. Jason mentions having little success pushing digital subscription sales on his own site—I believe that, but that’s a marketing challenge, right? Publishers have mastered the art of selling the print product—direct mail, blow-in cards, multiple circ channels, newsstand placement, etc—because they’ve been doing it for 100+ years. The challenge here is that it’s a completely different ecosystem you’re selling in, but it’s not impossible—it just requires a different set of skills and tools. No one had really monetized the Web three years in either—it takes time for these systems and practices to develop.
Third, apps and Web sites (or Web apps), which Jason says TR is moving to, are not the same thing—both have a place, but people do use tablets offline, and do have high expectations for the experience an app gives them, whether it’s a game, a tool or a content experience like a book or magazine. For a daily newspaper like FT, I can see the argument for pure Web. For a magazine—whose strengths are design, packaging, visuals—apps are often a better way to deliver an experience more in line with what people expect from your brand. Not to mention how much easier it is to monetize in the app world than the web world (I’m not saying it’s impossible to monetize Web content, just trickier, at least on the consumer revenue side).

I would argue that many existing print publications will not find a way to make a profitable business by delivering the exact same package of content they do in print—however enhanced or redesigned—and certainly not until there’s a real advertising ecosystem in place. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t opportunity in the app space for businesses—like magazines—that are experts at delivering curated content to audiences that want it. That may mean a different package of content than the print pub, but there are 60 million tablet owners and they do want content—text, images, movies, audio—on their iPads. They don’t care whether it comes from a “magazine” but they’re going to find it somewhere. I’d hate to see folks like TR, who know how to create such amazing, engaging material, abandon that audience forever.

The point I take from Jason’s experience, and others like it, is that publishing companies really need to think critically about their opportunity in this space and do it in a way that gets beyond existing products (the print mag, the .com) and business models. And they need to have the tools (and the will) to be able to experiement cheaply and learn. I rarely tell a potential client our system will make them rich in this space; instead I tell them it’s a inexpensive and pretty simple tool for them to figure out how to get rich in this space (eventually).

Print alone is going to be an increasingly tough way to make enough money to support the kind of ambitious editorial work magazines like TR do and that audiences of that brand expect. And very few magazines have figured out how to get a real revenue contribution from their site (though the online success of brands like The Atlantic and New York magazine suggest there’s a lot of room for growth there too). The bottom line is that all content producers (magazines, TV shows, bands) are operating in a multi-channel world now and their revenue is going to increasingly come in smaller pieces from more sources. The sooner they start learning what that mix could be, the better. That will be a tough transition, but it’s absolutely one worth engaging in, for both the business and the consumer.

Mike Haney is the U.S. Director of Mag+, the digital publishing platform that was developed and later spun out of Bonnier Corporation. TNM featured a two-part interview with Haney last year, part one of which can be found here.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Retweet: News aggregation service, Ongo, backed by the NYT, Washington Post and Gannett, shuts down

The Nieman Journalism Lab is reporting this afternoon that Ongo has shut down. Never heard of it? Well, that tells you all you need to know, I suppose.

TNM touted the start up when it made its initial announcement back in October of 2010. The new venture from former Skype and e-Bay executive Alex Kazim had said it had raised big bucks from "old media giants the New York Times Company, the Washington Post and Gannett," I wrote at the time. Each company was to be represented on the board of the new company.

A couple of months later Business Insider asked if Ongo was the craziest start-up idea ever?
"Ongo is going to aggregate the content from a number of newspapers, strip out the ads, improve the interface and charge a monthly fee. Yes, Ongo is going to CHARGE for news that's generally free on the web. Crazy, right? We think so, but Ongo CEO Alex Kazim doesn't seem rattled," Jay Yarow wrote.

My response was that the company's founder, Kazim, was either great at making presentations to investors, or else "he knows an easy mark when he sees one," referring to the newspaper companies.

The Nieman Journalism Lab interviewed the company's CEO Dan Haarmann who expressed several reasons for the company's failure, including the one mentioned above in the BI post. Haarman also talked about the Apple App Store and its tablet platform.

“You have to be on a tablet platform to have success,” Haarman told Adrienne LaFrance. “That’s where people are most willing to spend money, so for a paid product, you’re going to have to focus on the mobile side. Apple’s take, from a billing perspective, made it very difficult to succeed in a paid-product space from what we think the pricing should be.”

That is an interesting take, and probably an accurate one. But it is in sharp contrast to that of Technology Review's publisher Jason Pontin, who also had difficulties succeeding with their tablet app, but concluded that the future isn't working with Apple and other digital platforms, but following the Financial Times's example of HTML5 publishing outside of the "walled garden". I strongly disagreed with what Pontin believed were the lessons to be learned. But when you combine Ongo's experience with TechReview's you could certain say that it is always wise for publishers to not only go where the readers are, but where the buyers are.

The ad driven app: Condé Nast Digital's Dash Recipes

Released at the end of last week, Dash Recipes is a free tablet edition from the editors of Parade, and sold under the Condé Nast Digital name.

The app is free, as is the content. Readers can subscribe at no charge so that new issues of Dash will be delivered automatically.
In essence, this is a special section app, if you will. Delivered free and paid for by the advertising found inside the issues.

That first issue is a summer grilling guide. There is a built-in cover to the issue with a short embedded animation. Then one proceeds to the TOC where one can take a short cut to the recipe sections, or alternatively, one can simply swipe to the next page.

Some of the advertising is fully integrated into the app edition such as the beef ad. Others, like the Ore-Ida ad more closely resemble a print magazine ad. Like a lot of special sections it is sometimes hard to be exactly sure what is in the edition based on editorial considerations, and what is there because of an advertising tie. But readers are not asked to pay for the issues, and the app is very well done. (I should add that the content is to be read in portrait orientation only.)

With the launch of Dash Recipes the editors and sales teams have a library app where they can now launch new editions without having to launch a brand new app. They have created new real estate and a new revenue channel, now all they have to do is capitalize (though that may prove to be the hard part).


World markets react as possibility of Greek exit from Euro increases; a second round of Greek polling expected

Acting as if they are surprised by developments, though surely they can't be, investors are punishing stocks worldwide as fears grow that anti-austerity politicians could lead Greece out of the Eurozone.

The Athens Stock Exchange, which suffered horrible losses on Monday, continue its fall, closing down 3.62 percent on the day.

Things aren't much better on other stock exchanges, either. The Dow is falling over one precent this afternoon, as is the NASDAQ. In Europe, the German DAX closed down 1.9 percent, or over 124 points. The British FTSE fell over 100 points, or 1.78 percent. The French CAC40, which responded moderately to the election of its first socialist president in two decades, was hit hard today, losing 2.78 percent on the day.

Markets are said to be reacting to the words of Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the SYRIZA leftist coalition, who is now trying to form a government following the failure of New Democracy to succeed at the task. SYRIZA has three days to try and assemble a working majority in the Greek parliament. If they fail the task will be handed off to PASOK, the socialist party that saw the biggest drop off in support. If they fail then new elections will be called, most likely for June 17.

Few believe any government can currently be formed. As a result, Tsipras's pledge that the Greece bailout terms were "null and void" can be seen more as pre-election posturing than the words of a politician that can actually effect policy.

Atlantic Media gets set to launch its online business brand, Quartz; good news, they're hiring

Journalists are a competitive bunch. They get a bit snarky when they hear that a new publication or website is launching, often looking for something negative to say. (I guess they are a lot like me when I am talking about all those new replica editions, no?)

But often lost in all the snark is the fact that sometimes, sometimes, the new launch means new hiring. So here I am to stand on my chair and applaud the hiring going on now over at Atlantic Media for their new business website Quartz.

Quartz might be a really bad name for a business magazine (sounds more fashion to me), but it at least is a new brand. And while some commentators may doubt the need for a new business title, reading reports of the elections in Greece and France yesterday in Forbes, The Economist and the Financial Times I can tell you that a new prospective is sorely needed.

Anyway, back to those jobs: according to the Quartz website, the new digital brand is in need of journalists, developers, designers and ad salespeople, though the jobs currently being listed are for Lead News Editor, Commentary Editor, Reporter, Senior Developer, Web Designer and Project Manager. Go for it.

Quartz is being led by former WSJ Online managing editor Kevin Delaney.

“This is a great moment to create a new digital service for a global readership and provide readers with news and real insights at the pace of the Web,” Delaney said in January when the new site was announced. “Given its online and journalistic accomplishments, Atlantic Media is an excellent home for such an effort, and I’m proud to join.”

Atlantic Media is calling Quartz a "digital first" brand, which is not the proper terminology – they need to get up to speed with the lingo. These digital only brands are called pure plays, which is different than a digital first publishing effort. In a pure play, the media company launches a new site and hires staff; in digital first, the publisher says they are emphasizing aggregating content more and layoffs off print staff.

More replica editions enter the Apple Newsstand, even as some publishers complain about performance

Few new interesting tablet editions are being released into the Apple Newsstand these days, as more and more publishers are convinced to release replica editions of their print magazines.
This morning replicas appeared for Marketing & Technology Group's Plate Magazine, a publication which in the past has garnered attention for its design, Key Communications's USGlass Metal & Glazing magazine and DWM Magazine, and Dadant & Sons's American Bee Journal.

Each of these new apps offers readers a digital replica editions, sometimes free of charge, sometimes requiring a paid subscription. All four appear to have been developed using BlueToad's system, though they may have been sold to their publishers via their printer, RR Donnelley.

Other replicas appeared in the Newsstand this week, as well, as Tri Active Media launched a series of magazine apps for such titles as Boxing News, Canadian Cowboy Country and Global Aviation. Here the strategy sometimes changes. These replicas are universal apps that will also work on an iPhone. Sometimes the app is free, and sometimes the app is paid which allows the reader one issue download before they are required to subscribe.

Readers don't much enjoy these replicas, if their reviews are to be believed. Most complain of hard to read fonts or low resolution photography. Sadly, because many publishers who are using native design tools to create their own tablet editions are requiring their print subscribers to pay again for digital access, these readers are complaining, as well.

But reader feedback is losing out as publishers continue to release these tablet apps – yet publishers themselves are complaining. Go figure.

Update: Paul Krugman has a blog post today where he observes that some of the players in the European austerity game are "doubling down" on their positions, even in the face of Sunday's election results. He concludes, in a sad tone, with "All in all, nothing learned, and no willingness to reconsider."

The same could be said of digital publishing right now.

Monday, May 7, 2012

What to move to Seattle? Amazon recruiting for a 'Head of Kindle Publishing Platform'

A quick trip through MediaBistro revealed that Amazon is looking to bring on a Head of Kindle Publisher Platform and Tools. The position, it appears, is totally geared towards books, which is too bad since it is the way newspapers and magazines are appearing on the Kindle that is in the most need of an upgrade.

The position is mostly technical, of course, but there is some talk in the job description of vision:

As a technical leader, you are a pragmatic visionary that can translate business needs into workable technology solutions that scale both technically and operationally. You will be responsible for developing software applications and services in a fast-paced, start up-like environment.

I think I get an email from a recruiter at least once or twice a day simply because somewhere inside my resume I have listed that TNM has an iPhone app in the App Store. (No, recruiters, I'm not interested in developing apps. But if you've got something involving digital media at a newspaper or magazine company, let me know. Nothing, huh? That's what I thought.)

Technology Review's publisher claims publishers don't like apps after magazine fails to draw paid subscribers

Technology Review's publisher Jason Pontin today penned a web post with the provocative title Why Publishers Don't Like Apps which says that the future of media on mobile devices is not apps but the web.

The post details Pontin's disappointing experience with the Technology Review app, which the publisher said only sold 353 subscriptions and cost the magazine $124,000 in outsourced software development.
First, a few things about the Technology Review app: the app resides outside the Apple Newsstand, the app Apple created specifically to help publishers sell subscriptions; the app was, but is no longer, a hybrid app designed to give readers access to the website content while also offering readers a chance to download replica versions of the magazine.

Pontin describes the difficulties his staff had in adapting their print magazine to tablets:

It wasn't simple, it turned out, to adapt print publications to apps. A large part of the problem was the ratio of the tablets: they possessed both a "portrait" (vertical) and "landscape" (horizontal) view, depending on how the user held the device. Then, too, the screens of smart phones were much smaller than those of tablets. Absurdly, many publishers ended up producing six different versions of their editorial product: a print publication, a conventional digital replica for Web browsers and proprietary software, a digital replica for landscape viewing on tablets, something that was not quite a digital replica for portrait viewing on tablets, a kind of hack for smart phones, and ordinary HTML pages for their websites.
In Pontin's post the publisher uses the word "replica" 15 times. Technology Review, it turns out, could not sell its "replica" editions of the magazine inside an app that did not reside inside the Newsstand, and in an app that offered free web content.

For Pontin, the future is HTML5 and going the way of the Financial Times. But what Pontin doesn't mention in his post is that the main reason the FT pulled their app efforts was information sharing, not selling subscriptions. In fact, the FT was doing fine with selling digital through the iPad, but they saw value in the customer information that could be had through selling subscriptions directly. Apple didn't allow that so the FT pulled out.

“(Giving away) thirty percent of subscription revenue isn’t something we celebrate," Financial Times chief executive John Ridding told paidContent, "but that was secondary actually – we already pay other distributors and agents; newsagents take a cut. Central to our whole strategy and all our aspirations is to have that direct relationship with the reader.”

As I've written several times in the past, financial newspaper and magazines have a huge advantage selling digital because their readers see the subscription as an investment – business information is valuable and the cost to subscribe is a tax deduction (at least in the U.S.) for many readers. Because of that, many financial news products are doing fine, both inside the App Store, and outside of it.

Technology Review has dumped their replica edition, and that is probably good. But Pontin's post seems to be that of a publisher who tried to play the app game his way and when it didn't work out is claiming that the whole game is rigged. He may speak for a lot of publishers who are struggling with mobile and tablets, but his claim to speak for publishers, in general, seems like going way, way too far.

Late morning update: Greek markets close down 6.67%; bailout advocates dig in while Greece searches for a gov't

Update: The highest vote getting party, New Democracy, was given three days to form a new Greek government. But the BBC is reporting that after less than one day they are reporting that no one will work with them and therefore can not form a government. It will now fall on SYRIZA, the second highest vote getter, to try and form a government.

There is a bank holiday in the U.K. today, but the rest of Europe is still trying to make sense of events yesterday following elections in Greece and France (as well as local elections in Schleswig-Holstein) that saw austerity advocates go down to defeat.

The Athens Stock Exchange General Index closed today down 6.67 percent, actually up from the open. Uncertainty is the word in Greece today as New Democracy, which saw its support collapse, is still in the position of trying to form a government. It has three days to do so or else the task will fall to SYRIZA, the leftist coalition of parties to do so – its prospects of accomplishing this task even smaller than New Democracy's.

Here is an excellent analysis from Nick Malkoutzis on the English website for Kathimerini:

How could voters accept New Democracy’s claim of displaying responsibility when it spent the last six months trying to dodge any responsibility that came with being part of the coalition government it formed with PASOK and the Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS)? How could it convincingly claim that it had the country’s interests at heart when its leader Antonis Samaras stubbornly insisted he would only accept an election result that would give his party a clear majority? How could Greeks believe in a party that based many of its election pledges on policies that had already been agreed with the troika and included in the new bailout program, such as unifying property taxes and privatizing ports and marinas? In the final days of the campaign, Samaras was flanked by former Prime Minister and party leader Costas Karamanlis, who led a government that failed to deliver on its promises of fighting corruption and reforming the public sector, and who in his last year in office saw Greece borrow double what it had budgeted for and the country’s deficit spiral out of control. Not once during the campaign did New Democracy show any compunction for its role in the crisis that has led to millions of Greeks being sorely tested. Instead, it seemed to celebrate its failure.
The whole column is worth a read, but as someone who reads every day I was taken back a bit by commentary. The news organization is closely tied to New Democracy and it seemed, leading up to the election, desperate to back the established party. Now comes the criticism, too late, and a bit shrill – but accurate, it seems to me, in the end.

The EU and Germany appear in denial. Today both said that Greece must live up to the terms of the negotiated bailout – as if yesterday never happened.
BBC: Speaking to reporters on Monday, German government spokesman Steffen Seibert spelt out Berlin's position that "the agreed programmes must be adhered to". He added that Germany would support Athens in returning to competitiveness and financial stability, "whatever its government is".
Yes, we will work with any elected government, as long as that government does as they are told. That will work.

There appears to be many in denial this afternoon, and the Germans are not alone in their state. Many Greek/English commentators are also expressing dismay and outright denial of the election results (I'll spare them direct links.) The reason, though, may be higher personal.

Greece on the Euro means mobility to many Greek professionals. Journalists, bankers and other professionals see the Euro as a sign that they are part of larger Europe, free to be both Greek and something else. The satirical photo at right (which is thinking of the situation in France) probably reflects the thinking of both sides in the election: for populists, it is a reflection of the wealthy who live where they do only until a better financial situation is found; for others, they see the other side as being anti-business, anti-wealth, anti-entrepreneurial. Both sides are speaking past each other.

And this is where I am concerned: if the advocates of the Euro and austerity are not willing to compromise the electorate will be forced to support politicians with more radical agendas. The same is clearly true for the other side, as well.

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde has just issued a statement that is interesting in that it calls for countries to maintain policies in the face of recession, but not targets. In essence, it calls for fiscal restraint, but not dogmatic sticking to budget goals.
“Countries need to keep a steady hand on the wheel. This means that if growth is worse than expected, they should stick to announced fiscal measures, rather than announced fiscal targets. In other words, they should not fight any fall in tax revenues or rise in spending that comes about solely because the economy weakens.” Ms. Lagarde stated. “So again, there’s no avoiding this brake of fiscal adjustment. But if calibrated correctly, we can make sure it doesn’t do too much harm to growth”.
This could be interpreted many ways but I would argue that it is a call not to take radical austerity measures over and above those already planned just because a countries budget may be in short fall due to an economic slowdown. Lagarde seems to want to stir a middle course between austerity and growth. I wouldn't be surprised if the new French president François Hollande sees this as just fine. While he has been a vocal critic of austerity, and an advocate of pro-growth policies, he is also not seen as much of a radical (though he seems to be scaring the bejesus out of the folks at the FT.)

Capgemini Consulting uses the Apple Newsstand for a distribution channel for its digital information publications

The consulting firm Capgemini UK PLC this weekend launched a new app into the Apple Newsstand as a way of distributing its journals.
The new app, Digital Transformation by Capgemini Consulting, is free, and downloaders can gain access to the publications found inside at no cost.

In essence, the consulting firm is using the Newsstand simply as another way to distributing its publications for promotional purposes. Because they are not acting as a commercial publisher, there is no pay or advertising model, and hence no reason to go out of their way to create a native tablet editions – a replica here will do.

But there are some things Capgemini can do here that would improve their tablet publishing efforts. First, the person in charge needs to fix their app icon. The one currently in the store is low resolution and the wrong size. This is easy to fix.
Second, the app team might want to work with the production folks building the print journal. As a replica, the iPad edition simply is an exact copy of the printed version (I assume). But the pages feature a lot of white space, and a font that shows up rather lightly on the tablet display.

An easy adjustment would simply to build the print pages in such a way that the resulting PDF (or other graphic file) can be cropped to, say, 80 percent. This would increase the font size relative to the tablet display, and assist in reading.

Replica editions have their place, and this is certainly one of those times. But simple adjustments can make those replicas more easily read and more effective for the client.

Austerity gets a giant thumbs down in European elections Sunday; U.S. cable news networks leave the news business; streaming offers better alternative to networks

While American television pretty much enjoyed a Sunday as usual, Europe was rocked by elections that could change the face and balance of power. In France, Nickolas Sarkozy became the first French president to not win a second term since Valéry Giscard d'Estaing lost his bid to Socialist François Mitterrand in 1981. In Greece, voters rejected the two largest parties for minor ones, including SYRIZA, a coalition of leftist parties.

In Greece, markets opened down sharply as election results introduced new uncertainty, eventually crashing 8 percent. But the German DAX is down only slightly, and the French CAC 40 is actually trading higher slightly. On the British FTSE 100 is down sharply, possibly reflecting the fear that yesterday's vote was equally a condemnation of the financial community represented by The City. (Today's a bank holiday in the UK, those numbers I was looking at were from Friday.)

Greece went to polls in what was essentially a referendum on the bailout package and the forced austerity negotiated by the two major political parties, New Democracy and the Socialist party PASOK. In the end, both parties saw their support plummet.

New Democracy, the center-right party came out on top, but with less than 19 percent of the vote, under performing polls conducted prior to the election. PASOK, which had won in 2009 with nearly 44 percent of the vote, saw its support crash to just over 13 percent. This allowed SYRIZA, known as the Coalition of the Radical Left, to finish in second place, with 16.78 percent of the vote. (SYRIZA symbol seen above right.)

In such as chaotic environment, it is probably unsurprising that the Fascist party Golden Dawn was able to capitalize, entering Parliament for the first when it netted just under 7 percent of the vote.

Nick Malkoutzis, InsideGreece:
ND and PASOK had been in gradual decline since 2000 but the economic crisis sent them tumbling over the edge of the cliff. Their worst combined showing in a general election since 1981 was in 2009, before the crisis struck, when they gained 79 percent of the vote. Today, they hold only about 40 percent of that. In 2009, New Democracy had its worst-ever election performance, drawing just 33 percent. Today, it can’t even muster that together with PASOK. Rarely in European politics has such a dramatic collapse been seen in such a short period of time.
Tristan Cooper, Fidelity Worldwide Investment, via The Guardian:
The irresistible force of German austerity has clashed with the immovable object of Greek popular resistance. It is difficult to see how this paradox can be resolved without a significant watering down of the Troika program and de facto fiscal transfers. The scale of cuts demanded by the Troika are clearly unacceptable to a broad swathe of Greek voters.
Paul Krugman, the NYT's economics columnist, quickly assessed events in Europe this morning, opening his Monday column with "The French are revolting. The Greeks, too. And it’s about time."

Krugman had, as I had, noticed the increasing hysterical tone being taken by much of the European financial press prior to the French election Sunday. The Financial Times and The Economist, in particular, were increasingly irrational in their fear mongering about the likely election of the Socialist Party leader François Hollande. Needless to say, Krugman, a vocal critic of austerity in the midst of recession, was delighted:

Paul Krugman, New York Times:
What is true is that Mr. Hollande’s victory means the end of “Merkozy,” the Franco-German axis that has enforced the austerity regime of the past two years. This would be a “dangerous” development if that strategy were working, or even had a reasonable chance of working. But it isn’t and doesn’t; it’s time to move on. Europe’s voters, it turns out, are wiser than the Continent’s best and brightest.
If you were, like me, closely following the two elections yesterday, and were in the U.S., the cable news networks proved to be useless. CNN, in particular, was abominable.

The future of television news in the U.S. it appears is not television at all – that is, not traditional television news from the broadcast networks or cable networks. The future to television news is streaming or smart TVs. This is a huge opening for well financed news organizations. A web-based news outlet that can stream video news is a far better solution than CNN or Fox News.

It has always been debatable whether the major cable "news" networks truly were providing news. Fox, for instance, regularly defends is hosts by claiming that they aren't really news programs at all. CNN, when led by a news veteran like Tom Johnson, once could be seen as a news network, but no more.