Friday, June 1, 2012

Lowe's uses a replica edition maker to create its tablet edition with less than impressive results

I certainly hope this isn't the last post of the week, as it would be a drag to end the week on such a down note. Let's hope something positive pops up to write about before the day ends!

The home and garden retailer Lowe's has launched a tablet edition of one of its branded magazines usually available only at store locations. The concept of using Apple's Newsstand as a way to expand the reach of these custom publishing projects is a great marketing concept – even if the end result seen here is probably a bad idea.
Lowe's Creative Ideas Magazine is a free app that will grant Lowe's retail customers gain free access to the issues inside. So far, so good.

But rather than building a native application that would allow for shoppers to gain more information on the products and services seen inside, Lowe's has taken the unfortunate route of working through a replica maker, in this case PixelMags, to create a somewhat enhanced digital version of the print edition. It doesn't work well.

For one thing, PixelMags makes bad apps. Sorry, they just do. This digital edition offers stuttering navigation, slow downloads and bugs.

But the real problem here is that the solution is just plain wrong. Every time the retailer wants to link to more product information one is taken outside the app to the website. The mechanism is not too awful in that one can easily close the window, but since the website was not designed for the iPad it simply is mixing two mediums – print and web – that were not designed for the tablet.

Replica makers are working very hard to hide the fact that their digital publishing solution is based on print. Digital editions can include hot links, embedded video and animation, and the like. But the foundation is print. The fact that some publishers still don't get the absurdity of the solution is only a reminder that so few print publisher get digital.

If the replica solution were moved to television imagine what would be on your screen: tiny text displayed on your flatscreen with the occasional audio or video. It would be seen as crazy. But for some reason, this is an acceptable solution for the tablet.

Left: the library pages where readers can download their issues for free; Middle: a page that appears to have an embedded video – I could not at first get it to work, but eventually it took me to YouTube; Right: a replica print page with links that take you out of the app to the Lowe's website.

Two new developments in digital advertising could have a huge impact on the state of the industry : Google and Local Retail, Microsoft's IE 10 and Do Not Track

I've had two conversations with advertising professionals today that were a combination of fear and anger. One involved a local media pro who couldn't understand why Google could move into local digital advertising, but his own media property couldn't. The other was with a digital advertising exec who wanted to cut the heads off the Microsoft management team, for reasons that will become apparent later in this post.

If you've read this post on The Guardian's site you have an idea what is going on at Google. The post by Amanda Holpuch outlines the search giant's plans for integrating its Zagat acquisition into Google+ Local.

The purchase of Zagat essentially gave Google local content, which the company hopes to eventually exploit through local advertising. The secret, I believe, to the formula, is to do it in a social way, exploiting the input for local customers so that an audience can be built and local businesses might be drawn in.

Here is Google's own video on Google+ Local:

The Guardian sees the new feature as a threat to "online review organizations", but I'm not so sure about that. There are plenty of other review sites that piece things together in a different manner that probably wouldn't be adversely effected – I'm thinking of TripAdvisor, for instance.

My local media contact, though, was none too happy with Google. For him, someone who is trying desperately to motivate his newspaper company to take mobile seriously, he sees the move as yet another threat. It isn't so much that Google will steal audience and advertisers from his company's efforts, its that Google is trying and his company, he believes, isn't.

"I try and talk to the management about geotargeted local advertising and all I get is blank stares back. Hell, my boss still has a bloody flip phone." (Actually, I don't think he used those exact words, but you get the idea.)

But if the newspaper ad guy was frustrated, the digital ad pro I talked to this morning was furious. She had just learned that Microsoft had announced that its next version of Internet Explorer, IE 10, would be released with the "Do Not Track" (DNT) feature turned on by default.

This ad pro sells digital advertising to brands to want their ads targeted. DNT poses a very real threat.

The DNT feature does not turn off cookies, though. But there is an effort to get websites to acknowledge the DNT command.

I have my doubts that sites will voluntarily become essentially blind. But if Microsoft's browser continues to see its market share tumble it may not be an important development in any case. One can not imagine Google as joining Microsoft in moving towards DNT as a default setting.

But ad folk are suddenly wide awake to the threat.

The Washington Post updates its free iPad news app, some users report crashing issues, though no such problems experienced at TNM

The Washington Post updated its free news app for the iPad last night, though some users are complaining that the update has added more bugs than it has fixed.
The Washington Post for iPad continues to be a free tablet app that is built off the newspaper's website and employs a web business model – free access and no paywall.

The latest update says that it adds a crash monitor and that it has fixed a data storage issue. But the early reviews seen inside the App Store complain about crashes since the update.

I updated my own copy of the app and can not verify any of these problems. The app performed fine after the update.

User complaints, such as seen here, are sometimes caused because an iPad is desperately in need of rebooting (many users fail to realize that their iPad needs this occasionally, just like their PC). Sometimes deleting the old app before updating can help, as well.

My biggest problem with the WaPo tablet app is that I don't like the business model being employed. In essence, the WaPo for iPad app is simply a reformatted website, and while I admit that I'm not a big fan of the website design either, it is not that much different here on the iPad so why bother? If the paper were especially good at selling digital advertising I suppose the strategy would have merit, but for the most part, the banner ad along the bottom of this app remains simply a black bar - devoid of a paid ad. (The only way I could get the app to bring in a new ad was to shut down the app and relaunch it. To me, this is a bigger bug than any crash complaints.)

To be fair, the app does say that the free access will be available for a limited time – though that limited time continues on and on.


Morning Brief: Stock markets slump in Europe; Bloomberg chronicles the continuing mortgage fraud at Citigroup and one whistleblower's story

European stock markets are ending the week down sharply, with most major indices down at least a percent.

The German Dax is getting hit hard this afternoon with the index down at 8am EDT over 2.6 percent to 6069.29. While the index is down over 125 percent from a year ago, the DAX is still not at a 52 week low. The French CAC 40 is also down sharply, down 1.87 percent today and closer to its 52-week low.

In Greece, things continue to slide, with the Athens Stock Exchange down 3.79 percent to 505.52, down more than 60 percent from a year ago, and down over 25 percent year-to-date.

U.S. stock futures point to a lower opening today, with Reuters citing a drop in the Eurozone Manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index and further signs that the Chinese economy is weakening as contributing to investor concerns. The May employment report is also due to be released at 8:30 am this morning.

Update: the employment report has been released and it is ugly - only 69,000 new jobs were added in the month of May, with previous months revised down. The official unemployment rate, which says almost nothing, is now at 8.2 percent, rising slightly.

Yesterday Bloomberg ran a fascinating report on the settlement between the U.S. Justice Department and Citigroup over mortgage fraud. Citigroup agreed to pay a $158.3 million fine in February after it was discovered that the company had been systematically violating U.S. mortgage regulations by buying mortgages through outside lenders that used "outside lenders with doctored tax forms, phony appraisals and missing signatures," according to the Bloomberg report authored by Bob Ivry.

The story chronicles the efforts of Sherry Hunt who discovered the fraud and reported it to her superiors at Citigroup. That led to Hunt being threatened by her boss. Hunt struck back by taking Citigroup to court and was joined in her effort by the U.S. Justice Department. After the settlement, Hunt received $31 million out of the settlement.

The story reviews Hunts story and the situation at Citigroup. Sadly, the headline concentrates on the money Hunt received at the whistleblower, though the real story is the criminal activity that occurred at Citigroup right into 2012.

Here is the video from Bloomberg that accompanies the story, which is very much worth reading in full:

Thursday, May 31, 2012

For many B2B media companies, digital development is now out of their own hands

If GIE Media's new consumer digital edition is one possible vision of the future direction of the industry, the alternative vision can be seen in this new app for the Questex Media Group title Luxury Travel Advisor.
Luxury Travel Advisor Mag HD is an app costing $3.99 that then gives readers access to the unaudited title (Questex dropped BPA in 2009 to go with VAC, though I only saw publisher's statements on the magazine's website).

The app not only requires a payment, rare in magazine apps, but it also does not appear under the Questex name. Instead it is appearing under the name of their production vendor, Superior Media Solutions. SMS is a Libertyville, IL based company, formed by in 2007 with ties to the CEO of Questex. Questex outsourced the digital pre-press and production of its 31 publications and
directories in 2010.

As for the app, it appears to be outsourced, as well. This can be seen in the last line of the app description – patent-pending Media Deck™ technology – which is usually found on the app from BlueToad or RRD.

Outsourcing is used, of course, to cut costs (so is dropping BPA audits). But good outsourcing usually brings other benefits, capabilities the company doing the outsourcing usually doesn't have internally.

Here we have a new digital app that merely is a hard to read replica edition of the Flash flipbook, which itself can be seen on the magazine's website under the Nxtbook Media, yet another vendor.

All this outsourcing is making me dizzy.

B2B media company GIE Media launches a digital-only magazine into the consumer space, A Garden Life

The B2B media industry continues to live in the Dark Ages. Torn apart by the PE firms that moved in to make a killing in the late nineties, the industry has not recovered from the destruction of many of the industry's leading firms.

As a result, the industry has not been in a position to evolve into the new digital platforms as media executives concentration instead on ways to maximize profits and eventually sell out.
Every once in a while, such as with the release of the Macfadden app for Pizza Today, one can sense a glimmer of recognition on the part of B2B publishers, and one hears of a willingness to experiment and prepare for a digital future they know will arrive some day.

One B2B media firm I have personally competed with in the past is GIE Media. The Cleveland, Ohio-based B2B is a leader in several industry segments including landscape, where it publishes the 70K circulation title Lawn & Landscape. (I was once group publisher of a collection of magazines inside the green industry that have now, I'm sad to say, been decimated by the magazine company's ownership.)

Over two years ago, one of the points I tried to make here at TNM was that mobile and tablets present an incredible opportunity for B2B publishers to experiment inside the consumer space. B2Bs, after all, sell to companies that often also target the consumer market. A company that sells to a landscape contractor or architect will also sell to consumers, right? So why not create digital-only products that reach the consumer – but limit the distribution to digital-only to control cost and gather audience.

Well, GIE Media has started to experiment in this area with the launch of A Garden Life, a digital-only magazine aimed at consumers. A Garden Life is a modest effort, but a good one. The title can be found inside Apple's Newsstand, as well as inside Google Play (the old Android Market), and the articles found on the title's website.

The new app is free to download, and like many B2B titles, also offers its issues for free, as well. I would have liked to see GIE Media experiment with a paid model by pricing issues low, such as at $0.99 an issue, but maybe the goal here is simply to build downloads, or to give added exposure to their advertiser, Suntory Collection.

In any case, here is a short look at the new app from GIE Media. Let's hope we start seeing other B2B wake-up to the possibilities, otherwise the industry will need to see the rise of another VerticalNet to push them forward – just as it happened in the nineties with the web.

New media updates: Netflix, MLB update their apps to fix bugs and change the user interface

Acouple of the most popular universal new media apps were updated today: Netflix and At Bat – both app seek to bring in new features, while fixing bugs frequently mentioned by uses.

The Netflix universal app fixes some bugs, but also now adds in the ability for users to select an audio language, when that feature is available on a particular movie or TV show.

The reaction from users is decidedly mixed as some users have found that the app now does not allow them to log in.

MLB Advanced Media has also updated its iOS app, At Bat. The universal app brings in a new design for several areas of the app including the team schedules. The app also changes the interface a bit by introducing scoreboard swiping. But the real update is the fix to the live audio error messaging.

My own personal experience with the app has been that the app works fine, but that MLB support is awful. The entity managing the service has outsourced support to overseas and have apparently instructed their support staff to simply cancel accounts and offer refunds rather than attempt any sort of actual customer support. With another industry, such as telecommunications, this wouldn't be a problem, a customer could simply choose to work with another company. But baseball retains a monopoly on its product so the consumer either has to deal with MLB or do without.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Czech coffee café chain, Costa Coffee, has its branded magazine launched into the Apple Newsstand

I used to work for the Contra Costa Times, back in the day, and when my eye caught this new tablet edition inside the App Store I was excited for a split second that the poor, mismanaged MediaNews Group newspaper might have actually launched a decent tablet edition (it hasn't).

No, this new digital publication is from the Czech Republic, not Northern California. Costa Coffee Times - Pohodové noviny pro každého is the name for the new iPad edition of the corporate magazine of a Czech coffee house chain, which I assume offers better tasting coffee than your loca Starbucks (or, at least, I'd like to think so.
Costa Coffee Times is published for the company by Corporate Publishing, a Czech custom publisher. The digital edition of the magazine, created for the company's website, is pretty much the same as you'll see inside the new iPad edition. The current issue is only 30MB and features no multimedia other than some simple animation.

The app, on the other hand, comes from Quest Group from Düsseldorf, which has made a bit of a mess of the actual app information inside the Apple App Store. The company has misspelled the name of the magazine ("Costa Cofee Times") and has messed up the company links, as well (the link for Costa Coffee goes to Quest, while the link for Quest goes to Costa Coffee). The app description also says that the app is in English. The app also appears under the Quest Group name rather than the company's name, as well.

But I can think of a couple good reasons for TNM to check out the app. For one thing, I think this is the first app from the Czech Republic seen here. For another, as the former publisher of a coffee magazine, the topic continues to interest me. None of the U.S.-based coffee trade magazines can be found inside the App Store, and I think it will be a long time before one appears.

Left: the library page where one downloads issues; Middle: an article with the navigation exposed; Right: the tablet edition ends with a list of café locations.

Post holiday weekend, media app updates begin getting released: Mac|Life and The Guardian Eyewitness get 'retina' support iPad app updates

Several well regarded media apps have been updated this morning that bring 'retina' display support to the apps.

The Guardian Eyewitness, the photojournalism app that was launched around the time of the original iPad's first launch, has been updated this morning to fix some minor bugs and to add in high resolution images for users who own a new iPad. The Guardian remains slow to launch mobile and tablet apps – an approach I believe is wrong as this site is a huge advocate for "serial launching" – but their apps are all well regarded and certainly thought out.
Another media app updated today is the universal app from Mac|Life. Mac Life Magazine is not to be confused with the original app released for this title. That app, Mac|Life Tablet Edition is no longer available in the App Store. Designed and developed in partnership with Balthaser Studios, a pioneer in Flash web design, the original app was a native designed stand alone application (it was released before the introduction of the Newsstand) that I described in 2010 as "a killer tablet edition."

While the current app has now added retina support, it is basically a replica edition and is quite a disappointment.

The problem, I suppose, is that one can go ahead and pay a fortune to create a native application using an outside firm, but it is hard to justify continuing this approach. So now, rather than continuing to be a leader in the tablet platform, the magazine has gone in the other direction.

Mac Life continues to be aggressively priced, but users continue to give the app edition poor marks for slow page rendering and the lack of retina support – at least one of these items has been corrected with the update.

Also of note: the myKiosk for iOS app support app from Aquafadas, the French digital publishing platform company, has also been updated today. The update fixes some bugs involving stability and rotation in the PDF reader. It also introduces a new info view on the main page.

The app is the viewer app for content created in the AVE format using the plug-in for either InDesign or QuarkXPress.

Mitt Romney secures enough delegates to lock up nominations, launches iPhone app that gathers giggles

Who doesn't want a better "Amercia"? (wherever that is). Certainly the Mitt Romney campaign, which yesterday celebrated the knowledge that the Republican nomination was secured, wants a better "Amercia".
The Romney for President campaign yesterday launched a new iPhone app, With Mitt, that lets users take pictures, then share those pictures with their friends along with a campaign message. Those messages include I'm WITH MITT, We're WITH MITT, the AMERICA WE LOVE, and, of course, A BETTER AMERCIA.

That typo was spotted by the folks at Mashable last night when the app was released, no doubt tipped off by the barrage of tweets about the app.

While the app will give some people a good reason to laugh at the Romney campaign, the typo does point out one of the dangers of developing apps – the lag time between complete, launch and, now, updating. Getting an app through the Apple app review team can take a while, many developers have found, and that app team is not going to proofread your app, right? While most media apps can correct errors through simply changing the copy within the news feeds, other apps might have to be updated. That update then has to go through Apple's system once again.

But this typo is easily corrected. The real problem with the new iPhone app is that the slogans are not that creative. Where, for instance, are the truly inspirational messages. You know, like "I like being able to fire people" or "Could someone check on Seasmus?"

Update: the Romney campaign has just issued an update for the app, saying it contains "bug fixes" – yeah, right.

Journalists at Fairfax Media (Australia) vote to go on a snap 36-hour strike over outsourcing production positions

Journalists have called a snap 36-hour strike at the Fairfax Media properties in Australia after the company announced that it would be eliminating 66 positions at a group of its newspapers. Those editorial production jobs would, according to the Farifax Media plan, be outsourced to its regional newspapers in New Zealand.

The journalists who work at the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, the Financial Review, The Illawarra Mercury and the Newcastle Herald voted to take the labor action after a vote this afternoon Australia time.

"We want them to know that outsourcing journalists does not allow us to provide the dynamic journalism that the digital future requires," Marcus Strom, of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance Fairfax Sydney House Committee, said in a report from ABC News (Australia).

Like the Advance and Postmedia newspaper chains in North America, there has also been speculation that the Fairfax Media chain would cut some weekday editions.

The Australian media company has a long history, dating back to the purchase of the Sydney Morning Herald in 1841 by John Fairfax. Recently, however, the family had lost control of the media group, and now mining billionaire Gina Reinhart is the largest shareholder, owning a 13-14 percent stake in the company. Just yesterday Reinhart called on the company to make major changes.

"The articulation of the strategy to revive the ailing Fairfax resides with the board and management of Fairfax and the chairman needs to urgently address this in the interests of all shareholders, rather than merely hoping for improvements in circulation, revenue and share price or perhaps trying to blame... industry conditions," Reinhart is quoted as telling the board.

Like other media companies, Fairfax Media has blamed the layoffs on a move from print to digital. "Fairfax Media is on a journey from a predominantly print business to a predominantly digital business," Fairfax CEO Greg Hywood said earlier this year. While Farifax has seen its profits tumble, it still reported a first-half profit of $96.7 million (AUS) earlier this year.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Reuters reports that BlackBerry maker Research In Motion has hired bankers

Oh, Oh. RIM has hired bankers from JP Morgan and Royal Bank of Canada, according to a report from Reuters. In the meantime, RIM issued a warning about its quarterly earnings, saying that for the second quarter in a row it would have a loss.

As for those bankers, well, the company said that the move was made after it announced its earnings at the end of March.

"These advisors have been tasked to help us with the strategic review we referenced on our year-end financial results conference call and to evaluate the relative merits and feasibility of various financial strategies," Thorsten Heins, RIM's CEO, said in a statement.

Any guess that the review will recommend a sale?

The news has done little to halt the slide of the company's shares, which closed up a tick to $11.23 a share, but is tanking in after hours trading – down below the $10 mark.

United Airlines updates its mobile app, though customer resentment from carrier's on-time performance, merger, can not be cured through an app

Even a hard core advocate for mobile and tablet media has to admit that no app can save a company intent on destroying itself. Today's update of its mobile app by United Airlines looks to fix some issues with the previous release, and add in some features, but UA's brand will take a long time to recover.
United Airlines, the only app currently in the App Store under the new United Continental Holdings, Inc. name, is for the iPhone only, leaving travelers to use the regular website on their iPads (it appears to work just fine). United's in-flight magazine, Hemispheres, appears in the Newsstand under the name of their custom publishing partner, Ink.

The Chicago-based airline recently merged with Continental, which then forced its existing, long-time customers to get new customer numbers. But the airlines actual performance is what has rankled flyers.

This weekend the Chicago Tribune profiled the problems for flyers in their lengthy story for the Sunday paper: Merger pains for United Airlines leave passengers hurting.

On March 3 United switched to a computer system called Shares. In a rip-off-the bandage approach, United on the same day also merged websites and frequent-flier programs. The airline experienced technology glitches and rampant inefficiencies throughout the system. The results were widespread flight delays for several days and customer inconveniences, such as long phone hold times, for weeks afterward. Frequent fliers howled about problems with their rewards accounts and confirming their proper seat upgrades.
But the real kicker is that this system, which United chose to move it, involves knowing strings of commands, rather than simple point and click. No wonder then that the company wants to roll out an even newer system by the end of the year.

Right now United on-time performance trails its rivals, badly. At O'Hare, its hub, United flights depart on time only 71 percent of the time, arrive on-time only 73 percent of the time. American Airlines, by comparison, sees its departure leave on time 85 percent of the time.

As for United's mobile app, the most recent user comments have been mostly negative due to parts of the app not working. Maybe this update will be an improvement, no doubt United customers could use a bit of good news.

Newspaper publishing executive react to worsening P&Ls by cutting back print schedules; Canada's Postmedia announces an end to Sunday editions at several papers

The Globe and Mail today reported that a Canadian newspaper publisher, Postmedia Network, will be eliminating the Sunday editions of the Ottawa Citizen, Calgary Herald and Edmonton Journal. The chain will also stop printing the Monday edition of the National Post, the Canadian national newspaper.

“Well, we’re really not making any money at all in those markets, so we’ve decided to keep everything online there and do away with print copies to reduce legacy costs,” Paul Godfrey, CEO, told The Globe and Mail's media reporter Steve Ladurantaye.
Last week word came down that Advance would be limiting the print schedule for the New Orleans Times-Picayune and its Alabama newspapers to just Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Most U.S. newspapers see their Sunday editions as their most profitable.)

Many media observers have immediately jumped on these announcements as proof that newspapers were moving towards digital; in fact, there is little evidence that these papers are making digital moves at all. Rather, they are simply reacting to deteriorating P&L statements by slashing costs. In neither the Postmedia nor Advance announcements were there any references to new digital initiatives. Instead, newspaper publishers are falling back on the web as a way of explaining to readers that they will not be losing content.

Godfrey did, at least, make a passing reference to the company's tablet apps and mobile optimized websites, describing them as "gaining traction". The term makes sense in that it reminds one of the image of a car stuck in the snow.

The loss of certain days of the print product is usually chalked up to the lack advertising to be found in these editions. I suppose many of these critics have never worked at a newspaper as the lack of advertising in certain issues is nothing new. Newspaper Monday editions, for instance, have almost always been thin in advertising. What changed over the years is the cost structures involved in distributing those issues. The use of independent carriers versus the neighborhood paperboy helped changed the cost dynamics, while only marginally improving performance. Other distribution costs have risen, as well.

What isn't being addressed in these moves is the fall in advertising. As the Globe and Mail piece immediately points out, Postmedia is only generating one dollar of revenue for every seven dollars of print revenue.

This situation is no doubt similar at Advance. Because of this, one might expect absolutely devastating layoffs at Advance – and explains why the company has established new entities to run these papers. One might say that everyone will be laid off, and a few rehired.

Morning Brief: UN says most of the 108 killed in Houla massacre were executed;

The human rights office of the U.N. this morning said that most of the 108 killed in the massacre that took place in Houla, Syria were executed.

What is very clear is this was an absolutely abominable event that took place in Houla, and at least a substantial part of it was summary executions of civilians, women and children," Rupert Colville of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said in Geneva, according to the AP. "At this point, it looks like entire families were shot in their houses."

Houla mass grave. Photo: Reuters

The massacre has led the UK, France and Germany to expel the the ambassadors of Syria in protest, with other nations expected to follow suit.

Meanwhile, The New York Times chose this morning to profile President Obama's role in the so-called war on terror. The article, which is currently leading the paper's website – and no doubt will be for most of the day – seeks to reveal the President's day-to-day involvement in decisions concerned life and death:
Mr. Obama has placed himself at the helm of a top secret “nominations” process to designate terrorists for kill or capture, of which the capture part has become largely theoretical. He had vowed to align the fight against Al Qaeda with American values; the chart, introducing people whose deaths he might soon be asked to order, underscored just what a moral and legal conundrum this could be.
The article, co-authored by Jo Becker and Scott Shane, has only generated a couple dozen comments this morning, but this may be due more to the NYT's moderation of the comments section.

My iTunes shows zero app updates this morning. Zip, nadda, zilch. I assume this is due to Memorial Day holiday, and the fact that Apple team is located in California.
Sportsister's new universal
app from Tri Active Media.
A couple new apps were launched, however, probably the result of scheduling. One of those seen for the first time this morning is Sportsister Magazine.

"Sportsister is the UK’s leading women’s sports magazine. Presenting sport in a female friendly format, it is stylish and appealing yet provides solid well-informed editorial and advice." – from the app description.

Sadly, the app merely presents readers with a replica edition, released under the digital publishing vendor's name - in this case, Tri Active Media. That particular vendor currently has 437 universal apps inside the App Store as of today.