Friday, October 12, 2012

Some newspaper publishers are simply moving beyond the paid/free issue, why can't others?

Reading posts on some media sites is like endlessly watching those annoying Samsung commercials, especially the one where the loser in line to buy an iPhone says "ever have deja, deja, deja, deja vu?" (or something to that effect). They may have a point, but they are so obnoxious and condescending that the point is quickly lost. Yeah, we all get it, the news media should charge. Fine, but guess what? Your argument is so simple that it is meaningless. We've moved on and you are stuck with a one note symphony.

The fact is that not all news products can generate revenue online through paid subscriptions. The newspaper business model has to be more complex and more diversified than that. And some publishers are getting it.

In fact, here in Chicago, to my great surprise, I'm seeing good things. Companies like The Tribune Company and Wrapports, the owner of the Sun-Times, are doing some interesting things, whether oout of a spirit of innovation or out of desperation. Does it matter what their motivation is?

Weeks ago both newspapers launched digital-only magazines for their football coverage, for instance. A very small little step, but an interesting experiment. Why? Because publishers need to become serial launchers if they are to succeed in the digital media world. Forcing one legacy product down the throats of their customers is very cable TV-like, and how happy are cable TV customers?

The Tribune Company has also entered into a deal with Agate Digital to launch a line of eBooks – the first eBooks have now reached the various online bookstores. Again, a small but interesting move towards product diversification.

Newspapers can do more of this, but only if they are as committed to publishing as they are to newspapering.

The stubbornness of newspaper executives is what the outside world counts on:
"Don't migrate classifieds to online because we'll lose revenue."
"OK, we've lost revenue, so let's go ahead and invest in a 3rd party online classified company."
 Etc, etc.

Newspaper publishers want their products to live forever. Readers simply want the news. So as publishers and journalists continue to make the same tired arguments I think I am starting to feel better about things (or maybe its just Friday). Some publishers are starting to get it. It's good to see. As for those media websites and media critics that insist on covering the same ground over and over, well, let them. I gives them something to do.

New magazines from independent publishers begin to flood the Newsstand; title confusion occasionally ensues

It's taken a while, but two and a half years after the launch of the original iPad a flood of new digital magazines is starting to appear from independent publishers – citizen publishers, if you will.

The vast majority of the new tablet magazines are built using digital publishing platforms that usually are used for replica editions. The idea, of course, is to simplify the process – create a designed page, convert it to a PDF, and upload it to the third party vendor's servers. Easy.

The problem, though, is that the lack of a native solution makes these digital products look about as appealing as those do-it-yourself greeting cards

The other problem is often that citizen publishers are not very good at self-promotion. A new magazine that hit the Newsstand recently, Organic Life Magazine, features only a single screenshot in the app description, and that shot doesn't give the reader much of an idea of what they will find inside.

The app itself is not of any help, either. The app simply opens to the library and requires a $4.99 purchase to see anything of the magazine because it lacks a preview. (The publisher's website is not very helpful either.)

The name of the magazine, Organic Life, caught my attention because I once was the publisher of a natural food magazine (no reps, one editor, no art director – an amazing cluster fuck).

I wondered if this new tablet edition was for a title I was familiar with – it's not, its a new title. But a search online pulls up a lot of "organic life" websites, but luckily no other "Organic Life" magazines.
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The same is not true for Click Magazine. There are two magazines using that name, and ironically both launched inside Apple's Newsstand within 24 hours of each other.

One is formally titled Click Magazine for the Modern Photograp[her] and is a start-up that is using the MAZ Digital system which costs $299 per month to use and is one of the many, many (many) replica edition makers.

Also launching is Click Magazine for Kids from Cricket Magazine Group. Their app features a digital magazine with more interactivity.

Both magazines offer previews, of sorts, though the one using MAZ Digital only lets you see a few pages shrunk down to a few inches. Also, the app is sold under the MAZ Digial name rather than the publisher's, has the MAZ logo splashed all over it, and all the links go back to MAZ rather than to a direct contact with the publisher.

The new magazine, if you do some web searching, is actually a replica of a new print magazine that originates from clickinmoms.com – not a site I frequent, obviously.

It is possible that the new magazine does not run into trouble from the publisher of the magazine with the established name. Technically they are different, though I have known situations where big publishers sic the lawyers on the unsuspecting newbie publishers. (I have even been involved in a case where the big publisher was trying to intimidate us into surrendering our own name so they could use a variation of it themselves.)

In the very early days of Apple's App Store, Apple mistakenly let several apps through their system that stole the name and even the content of established publications. Eventually those apps were pulled out of the store, but a publisher – whether a new one or established one – should do a thorough search of the app stores before launch to make sure their brand is both protected and not in conflict with another publication.

Marco Arment updates 'The Magazine"; camera app developers quickly scramble to update and improve their apps in wake of iOS 6 launch

Responding to a subscription bug found in his first release, Marco Arment, the developer of Instapaper, has quickly issued an update to his new digital magazine app.

Arment's new digital magazine, The Magazine: For geeks like us., contained a bug that prevented readers from accessing their issue on one device after subscribing through another – the app is universal.

Arment also has answered a few questions about the new app on his blog site. For instance, Arment said that the design of the digital magazine was created in collaboration with Pacific Helm. The design of the digital magazine is, as I mentioned in my original post, fairly minimal – at least as far as magazine design page layouts are concerned. Most magazine art directors look at the printed page, or the tablet or smartphone display, as a palette – whereas most developers look at the issue of design from the perspective of ease of navigation and reading, and well as repeatability (automation, if you will).

Arment also answers a question I had but didn't mention in my post: why does links in the stories found inside 'The Magazine' link out to Chrome. He says his app was designed to do this if the user has Chrome installed. Arment does not, however, tell us why he wanted this feature.



Since the release of iOS 6 I have dumped quite a number of camera apps due to the improvements Apple made to its own solution. iOS 6, for instance, now contains a built in panorama feature that is very well designed for ease of use.

I'm sure Marco Arment understands the ramifications of Apple incorporating new features, as his own bookmarking program, Instapaper, has no doubt been impacted by Apple's moves in that direction.

This morning I see a number of camera app updates including one for 360 Panorama, on the pano programs I used to use prior to iOS 6.

The app description lists quite a number of interesting improvements that will be worth testing out.

Another camera app, 8mm Vintage Camera, which is more about fun than quality photography, has also updated its app to make it iOS 6 compliant and to support the new iPhone 5's larger display.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Chicago Tribune launches an eBook collection with partner Agate Digital with titles available across platforms

The Chicago Tribune launched an eBook series with Agate Publishing. The Chicago Tribune Ebook Collection features material from the Tribune's news and features stories and will be available through as Kindle editions through Amazon, for the NOOK through Barnes & Noble, through the Apple bookstore and as ePub from Agate Digital.

A check of the Apple bookstore shows that many of the titles have not yet gotten through Apple's system, but the titles are currently live inside Amazon's online store. The titles can be found as being authored by "Chicago Tribune staff."
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Titles include Capone: A Photographic Portrait of America's Most Notorious Gangster and Charlie Trotter: How One Superstar Chef and His Iconic Chicago Restaurant Helped Revolutionize American Cuisine.

"The Tribune’s vast archive of excellent reporting and photography are a perfect vehicle for experimenting with ebooks," said Doug Seibold, president of Agate, in the announcement for the series. "We’re able to publish ebooks at a very fast clip that are affordable and easily accessible to a wide range of readers, and we look forward to bringing out many more such books."

The base price for most of the ebooks is $4.99.

IAB reports Internet ad revenue grew 14% to $17 billion in first half of 2012, mobile ad revenue nearly doubles

The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) today reported that Internet advertising revenue had grown 17 percent in the first half of 2012, reaching a new high of $17 billion. Internet ad revenue was $8.7 billion in the second quarter.

The IAB report also showed a dramatic growth in mobile with ad revenue almost doubling to $1.2 billion in the first half of the year, up from $636 million in the first half of 2011.

"This report establishes that marketers increasingly embrace mobile and digital video, as well as the entire panoply of interactive platforms to reach consumers in innovative and creative ways," Randall Rothenberg, president and CEO of the IAB said. "These half-year figures come on the heels of a study from Harvard Business School researchers that points to the ad-supported internet ecosystem as a critical driver of the U.S. economy. Clearly, the digital marketing industry is on a positive trajectory that will propel the entire American business landscape forward."
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"Solid double-digit growth in a stagnating economy is a significant accomplishment,” said Sherrill Mane, Senior Vice President, Research, Analytics and Measurement, IAB. “There is evidence that CPMs are maintaining, and even increasing, further substantiating the vitality of the internet ad market."

If there is a downside to the report, it is that much of the growth in revenue is in search which is dominated by only a handful of players, while display and classified either grew modestly, or in the case of classifieds, actually shrank.

The IAB study is conducted by the New Media Group of PwC. The press release with stats can be found here. A word of caution is always required when one researches ad revenue. Unlike linage reports, revenue reports are often based not on actuals but on estimates based on published rates and reports from publishers.

Why corporate publishers need to pay attention to "The Magazine" and other citizen publishing efforts

If you read my previous post about the new digital magazine from Instapaper developer Marco Arment (below), you might have thought that I was dismissing the new publication because of its minimalist approach to digital publishing. No, I was merely giving Arment's new app the same walk-through that I would any other.

But the rise of digital publishing on mobile and tablets, like the web, has opened up publishing to those outside the traditional publishing industry, and corporate media professionals need to take note.

A great many publishing executives will no doubt see efforts like Arment's, or Australian Coran Woodmass's digital wine magazine, as either amateur efforts or as real threats to their businesses.
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This is the way most old media executives look at the world: is the "new" a threat or something to be ignored. Far too few look at the opportunities.

In some ways, I was surprised to see Arment launch a magazine under his own name. His "brand", if you will, is pretty large. Many people are familiar with his work and know his blog. If websites like The Next Web or Engadget have launched tablet-only magazines into the Apple Newsstand, you would think the logical next step would be to launch more. And why wouldn't someone like Arment approach one of these media properties with the idea of launching a magazine? The media property can offer editing, production and most importantly, ad sales.

The opportunity here is volume: the ability to launch lots of magazines and see what sticks. One of the weaknesses of the Nomad Editions model was that it limited the number of title launches, made too big a deal out of each one rather than attempting make it in volume.

In many ways, the tablet platform reminds me a bit of the music business of the sixties. Records labels were searching for the next big thing, but had no clue where to look. They missed The Beatles and didn't want to miss the next one. So a lot of interesting, and a lot of really bad music got released. I remain amazed that Soft Machine was signed to Columbia, the label of Johnny Mathis and Mitch Miller. But it was 1969, who knew if a pop band morphing into a jazz band might not be the next big thing – it wasn't, but five great LPs were released that are available still today.

What these citizen publishing efforts can show the attentive publisher is that not every new publication has to involve The Daily sized investments, expensive digital publishing platforms, or even additions to the payroll. I bet if Condé Nast or AOL had approached Arment with an equity deal he'd have jumped on it faster than you can delete an app.

We are still in an era of experimentation, it is why in his foreword Arment would only commit to publishing four issues - let's try it and see what happens.

Smart publishing companies should look at this approach and realize that the old model of magazine launches might not be appropriate in an age of smartphones and tablets.


Marco Arment, developer of Instapaper, launches a magazine of sorts into Apple's Newsstand

Sometimes a glance at what's new in Apple's Newsstand will lead to genuine surprise. This morning was one of those times when one sees something utterly unexpected.

Marco Arment, the developer of the Instapaper bookmarking program, and the lead developer behind the Tumblr blogging platform, has launched a digital magazine into Apple's Newsstand.

Called The Magazine: For geeks like us. – yep there is a period at the end – the digital magazine really isn't. A magazine, that is.
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Most magazine publishers would define a magazine as a collection of articles with illustrations, advertising and other elements. The Magazine is a collection of plainly designed articles with no interactivity, surprising from a technology blogger and developer.

But Marco Arment is very well known in the tech community and has been able to attract plenty of talent to write for his first issue. Jason Snell, the editorial director of Mac Publishing, is here, as is Alex Payne, former of Twitter and now CTO at Simple Finance Technology Corp. There are four articles in total, plus the forward written by Arment.

"I’m starting this with a staff of one. I can develop the app, procure and edit the articles, and write occasional articles myself," write Arment in his forward. "There’s no venture capital funding, no corporate backer, and very little starting capital. My biggest fixed cost is the up-front design and development of the app, and my biggest recurring cost is paying writers. If it doesn’t turn a profit within two months — just four issues — I’ll shut it down."

Arment mentions the because of the constraints mentioned above his approach to publishing a digital magazine will be minimal.

"You won’t see any infographics, slideshows, or interactive panoramas. These multimedia features can all be valuable, and they have their places in other publications, but not here," Arment writes.

The magazine app is free to download and is universal, though Arment has already found a bug that prevents readers from having their subscriptions – which will cost $1.99 per month – from working on multiple devices. He promises a quick update.

This is hardly the future of digital magazine publishing, but I'm sure many tech people will find the magazine of interest. Being universal, I would think the approach here works best on a smartphone. On a tablet it feels like one is reading a Kindle edition.

I think the motivation for Arment here, though, is the lure of revenue from the Newsstand. There is nothing here that wouldn't work just as well online – maybe even better. Marco's own blog gets plenty of traffic, but his blog is depend on a single ad coming in from The Deck, an ad network for creative professionals.

By the way, while the app is 'sold" under the name Marco Arment, clicking on his name won't pull up his other app. The magazine is under a new developer license with the name Full City LLC – though a search in the App Store of his name does pull up both this new app and Instapaper.

New readers get a 7 day free trial before their paid subscriptions kick in.

Kobo acquires French digital publishing platform Aquafadas

In an interesting move into the digital publishing production market, Kobo, the Toronto based eReader company, best known for its association with Borders, has acquired Aquafadas, a French digital publishing platform.

This is a very exciting day for both Kobo and Aquafadas,"said Kobo CEO Michael Serbinis, in the company's announcement. "Digital Reading is rapidly evolving now to new rich media categories. This transaction will strengthen both Kobo’s and Aquafadas position in our current markets and allow us to accelerate the growth of rich media with the Aquafadas Digital Publishing system."

The Aquafadas system is similar to Mag+ in that it involves an InDesign plug-in. But today's announcement put eBooks front and center.

Kobo is in a far weaker position than Apple, Google, Amazon or Barnes & Noble's NOOK platforms. But today's move has international implications, and serves to diversify the company. (Kobo also announced today that its self-publishing platform, Kobo Writing Life, will now be available in German, French, Italian, Portuguese and Dutch, in addition to English.)

Users of the Aquafadas system would naturally want to know if their platform will continue to be available.

"Thanks to this acquisition, publishers who use Aquafadas Publishing System will benefit from an easy, scalable, solution that will provide access to a new distribution channel in addition to other channels: Kobo’s platform and its 10 million registered users," said Aquafadas CEO Claudia Zimmer. "We will benefit significantly from this partnership and amp up development to deliver more innovative tools. By working together to further enhance the Kobo product line-up the creation of rich-media content, Kobo and Aquafadas will take digital reading to a new level."

(I found it interesting that Aquafadas did not send out a notice to its users this morning about this acquisition, though the company is featuring the news on its website.)

Media app updates: newly redesigned player for PBS for iPad gets thumbs up from users; OverDrive updates media console app; Mag+ Reviewer updated

You can bet that sometimes developers think that users inside the App Store are some of the most negative people in the world. It feels this way because of all the negative reviews that get thrown at some apps.

But sometimes I think users are incredibly generous, ignoring the minor flaws of some apps because overall the app begin offered is very good.

Take the newly updated app PBS for iPad. Last night the app was updated to improve the performance and design of the video player – and, obviously, for a television network, the video player is by far the most important element of the app.

The newly redesigned video player on the PBS app is better, and reviewers are giving the app five-star reviews this morning.
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But I immediately noticed something weird about the updated app. Something that I always ignored because maybe, just maybe, the fault lay with my iPad.

When I tapped on a television show and the video player came up, the player was upside down. A turn of the iPad and all was right. But at launch the damn thing was upside down. Was this just happening to me? No one was mentioning it in iTunes.

So I closed down the app, a hard close so that the next time the app would open at launch instead of where I left off.

Once again, when a program was initiated, the player opened upside down. Strange.

Yet all the reviews inside iTunes, with one exception from someone complaining about ads, were positive. You see, sometimes, users can be pretty generous.



OverDrive, a digital distributor of eBooks and audiobooks, has updated its iOS apps, called OverDrive Media Console.
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This is one of those apps that I kick myself for not checking our more often.

The app gives readers access to eBooks from public, school and college libraries. At launch it requires you to log in using an Adobe log-in, though you can cancel this out.

The app is really just a gateway as it takes one to the website of the library. so its usefulness can certainly be questioned. But thousands of users have found the app and generally have given it high marks.

Today's update adds support for the new iPhone 5 and iPod touch models, a swell as introduces a new audiobook player.

Most recent reviews have complained about the app's performance, so this new update may address some of their concerns.



Users of the Mag+ platform will want to update their Mag+ Reviewer app today. The newest update brings the app up to 4.0.2.

The update is to fix some bugs and to correct the layouts of older issues.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Category review: Catalogs and shopping

Many B2B are just getting going on launching mobile and tablet products – many have a long way to go. But one category that doesn't get a lot of attention is catalogs and shopping, a category that could come into play when publishers begin to think about how to port over their old print buyers' guides to the new digital platforms.

Unlike print magazine, where some might justify a replica solution, buyers' guides are converted into a replica would be an incredible missed opportunity.
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Apple recently added the Catalogs category to its App Store and to date there are well over 1,100 free catalogs now available for the iPad, over 1,000 for the iPhone. There are paid catalogs, as well, but as you'd expect, far fewer.

Neither Google Play nor Amazon have a category called Catalogs. Both use the "Shopping" category to house catalogs. Many of the apps found here that are not catalogs, like eBay's apps, can be found in Apple's App Store under "Lifestyle".

Publishers would be wise to download a few of these new digital products before proceeding. Mobile is an incredible opportunity for B2B. Features like maps, email, texting and phone calling are all obvious opportunities to improve on the old print model.

Advertising opportunities are also apparent. Video, slideshows and use of those communication features are all areas where up sales are possible.

More importantly, though, the buyers' guide is often the one chance reps have to sell some of their smaller clients, and to get a token ad from bigger clients than haven't add your title to their "A" schedule. A digital product, with new features, may the way to lure those customers back to your title, not to mention your other digital products.

Fathom Journal: New quarterly tablet magazine's simple approach keeps file sizes down, allows for two views

Quite a number of TNM readers are in search of a simple tablet magazine style that will allow for a good reading experience on the tablet, while limiting the need for a lot of flashy animation and other digital publishing gimmicks. Fathom Journal, a new quarterly magazine that has launched inside Apple's Newsstand may provide a good model.

Published by BICOM, the Britain Israel Communications & Research Centre, is design and built by Hype!design, a small graphic design studio from Sydney, Australia is designed by Hype!, a London design studio (see comment correcting attribution). How these two organizations hooked up would be interesting to find out.

The free digital magazine currently has only its inaugural issue to be found inside. Downloading the issue reveals that it is only 20 MB in size, which would lead one to believe the reader will be presented with a standard replica edition in portrait only.

But while the digital magazine is as simple as a replica, it was designed for the platform that the reader will use. By keeping it simple, by not including superfluous animation and other gimmicks, the digital magazine can be contained in such as small file, and still offer the reader native layouts in both portrait and landscape. There is even an embedded video player – though the reader will need an Internet connection to actually stream in the video itself.

BICOM is clearly an advocacy organization, so the editorial content will not appeal to all. But publishers would like to see a simple approach to native tablet magazine design should download Fathom Journal to check out its approach.
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Left: Landscape view; Right: the file size is very moderate despite two orientations and embedded video. Click to enlarge screenshots.

The WSJ launches an invitation-only ad exchange that allows real-time budding across web network

The Wall Street Journal Digital Network this morning announced that it would be launching a private ad exchange for its web properties. WSJ AUDEX will be an invitation-only exchange that will offer real-time bidding for its its sites WSJ.com, MarketWatch.com, Barrons.com and SmartMoney.com.

The WSJ is working with The Rubicon Project, as well as three buying platforms, Cadreon, Proclivity, and Vivaki's Audience on Demand.

"The Wall Street Journal Digital Network offers advertisers access to the highest quality audience online and across multiple emerging platforms, and WSJ AUDEX allows us provide further targeting of that audience based on our unique first-party data," said the chief revenue officer for The Wall Street Journal, Michael Rooney.

The Wichita Eagle gets its replica edition app launched; for many old media companies, investing in digital means sending money outside the company

It must be hell to be involved in digital media at The McClatchy Company. The company appears to committed to launching apps through third party vendors, while investing its money outside the company to new start-ups.

The result has been a series of new replica editions from Olive Software. The newest app released is Wichita Eagle E-Edition for iPad, the tenth iPad app to appear under the McClatchy name – others can be found under the name of the newspaper such as a similar app for The Miami Herald.
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The decision to go with Olive Software must have been a corporate one as all the papers seem to be heading down this road. When the decision is top down one must hope that the big cheese making the decision knows what they are doing. If so, one might get the opportunity to be involved in a new digital publishing platform. If not, then you are stuck with replica editions produced by a third party vendor.

McClatchy, like many of the big newspaper chains, appears far more interested in investing its money outside the company than in it. It recently joined other newspaper chains in investing in Wanderful Media, the company behind the Find n Save product, yet another new coupon and sales company.

$22 million has been invested in that new start-up. Now compare the strategy employed by newspaper companies with that being used by the major magazine companies. Most have are building their own digital production capabilities, and have invested in their own start-up (Next Issue).

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Not much to say about the new iPad edition from the Wichita Eagle
– if you've seen one McClatchy app you've seen them all.



The strategy being employed by many newspaper companies to developing digital products is pretty similar to the move to hot type and desktop publishing. Very little room from local experimentation is built into the system. Instead, a top down approach leads to solutions being implemented across the company.

The advantages of the approach, of course, is cost savings, and integration. The disadvantage is that the company does not become a center for innovation, something that is crucial in today's digital world. After an investment the publishing solution becomes entrenched.

Think about how fast things are evolving in digital platforms. Two years ago only a handful of newspaper apps had launched. One year later Apple launched its Newsstand.

Third party vendors generally invest in their app solutions then go out and sell them. Keeping up with technology is costly for them, so the emphasis is on sales.

For the digital publishing platforms, however, keeping up with changing operating systems is essential to success. Too often newspaper executives see both segments of the industry as the same – a vendor is a vendor. But one vendor works within your company to add skills and capabilities; the other takes the work off your hands, but also out of your control.

At Gannett website design is an exercise in reader torture

The morning following a big win for my team I, like many other fans, like to read the coverage in the local paper. But being a newsy, I also like to go onto the website of the opponent to read what the local press has to say about their team's effort. (If my team loses, of course, I just move on and don't like to read anything.)

One thing I am always aware of, however, is how owns the local newspaper in the town of my team's opponent. A 49er victory over the Cowboys, for instance, means lots of articles from the Dallas Morning News, a Belo newspaper. That paper's sports coverage has always been good, and their website is very adequate.
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But an opponent that is from a town served by Gannett, well, that's another story. While the sports coverage may vary from paper to paper, the website is usually a mess.

Yesterday, for instance, the Giants were able to beat the Reds – though how that happened is still a mystery. That means the paper in question is The Enquirer which owns the Cincinnati.com URL.

Reading the stories on this Gannett website is like navigating a maze. Pop ups and everywhere and the story itself weaves its way through the web page. I'd like to imagine what the editors would feel about their design if it appeared in print. Someone would lose their job in production if it looked like this. But for some reason, this kind of insanity is OK if it is the web.

(Then there is the constant reminder that their paywall is about to kick in. Don't worry guys, I won't be back.)

The problem for most newspapers is that they are slaves to their content management systems. It is why most papers have one story at the top of their home page followed by a string of one line headlines.

Take a look at the new design for USA Today. Many media observers have praised the look as particularly modern. Their definition of modern must be the RSS feed.
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There is no doubt, though, that the article layouts are a vast improvement. In fact, I should go further, they are fantastic. But there is still a bit of a problem: the actual user experience is not so good in the real world when your home page is taken over by an ad.

Go through the clicks yourself: you land on the home page and must immediately close an ad. OK, this isn't abnormal. Then click on a story, up appears the article in a nice new design. Close the story and return to the home page, up comes that damn ad. And on and on.

Worse, while the home page only has that one ad, sometimes the mechanism will take over the page but not load the actual ad.

But again, I think the problem I have with the new USA Today website is that string of headlines. In print, editors know that the headline is what draws the reader in. But in print, a headline is often accompanied by a subhead, an illustration, a pull quote – lots of things are available to the editor to attract the reader to the story.

This basic principal is lacking from far too many newspaper web properties and I think I know why this is.

Having been involved in numerous web site launches I know that their quickly comes a point in the early discussions when one points to another site and say "I really like that, can we do that?" That question is usually followed by a "no" and a vague explanation about why the CMS won't allow it.

What inevitably follows is compromise upon compromise. The end result looks like the RSS feed with new logos.

The new USA Today site certainly has some good elements to it, but I would love to hear how the editors really feel about the site. I bet the ultimate answer one would get would be something like "it was out of our hands."

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Sale of entertainment trade journal Variety completed as RBI continues exit from U.S. B2B market

This morning Reed Business Information announced it had completed the auction of the entertainment trade publication Variety. According to an L.A. Times report, the venerable B2B will be sold for the rather modest price of $25 million to Penske Media Corp., already the publisher of Hollywood Life, Movieline, BGR and Deadline.com.

Penske Media is being backed in the sale by private equity firm Third Point.

According to the LA Times, Variety's revenue is around $45 million, though its profit is at $6 million. That makes the deal a bad one for RBI when calculated by either revenue or EBITDA – though the downward trend of the business probably forced their hand.

"With RBI’s increasing focus on data services, and the sale of our other US print magazines, it makes sense for us to sell the business," said Mark Kelsey, CEO of Reed Business Information.

RBI made a major move to exit the U.S. B2B market at the end of 2009, selling off many of its titles, closing others. Many of the old B2B magazine titles were salvaged by their publishing teams.

Reed was, at one time, probably the most important B2B in the U.S. market. RBI was assembled off the portfolio built by Norm Cahners. Cahners Business Information was, for years, a Newton, Massachusetts based publisher of some 90 magazines. Reed purchased Cahners in 1977 and began building the B2B company through additional acquisitions including Chilton Business Group and individual properties such as Variety (in 1987).

Variety in 1929
Many see the demise of RBI in the States as beginning with the hiring of Marc Teren in 2000 and his purchase of eLogic for $79 million in the middle of the tech boom. (The company also picked up CMD that year, a construction information and regional construction magazine company for $300 million in 2000.)

The acquisitions continued for a while but were quickly followed by major divestitures including the Cahners Travel Group and a large portfolio of trade titles.

The art of hiring the best publishers and sales pros from their industries was lost as the company concentrated on consolidating positions and eliminating overhead. The result was both stagnation and the loss of contact with the industries they were serving. The final sales and closings of 2009-2010 were only the continuation of the process of downsizing the London and Netherlands company's U.S. holdings.

"We are enthusiastic that PMC will become the new steward of the great Variety franchise, which Reed Elsevier has built over the past 20 years, and the Silverman family for the 80 years before that,” Neil Stiles, president of Variety said in the sale announcement.

BAMM.tv gets a fun and creative new app thanks to the work of Joe Zeff Design and Garcia Media

A new app from the studios of Joe Zeff Design is always a cause for celebration. Today the designer of such wonderful apps as Above & Beyond: George Steinmetz and TIME's Beyond 9/11 issue has been involved in another new app release, this one for BAMM.tv.

BAMM.tv, if you are like me and a bit out of touch with things (looking at media apps all day will do that to you), is a newish website that focuses on emerging bands. It's slogan is "bringing power and profits back to artists." For my generation that would have meant Rock In Opposition (except for the "profits" part). Here, it means mainstream music but with the major labels tamed a bit.

"Independent music is no longer a niche," Chris Hansen, CEO and co-founder of BAMM.tv, is quoted as saying in the Joe Zeff Design announcement for the app. "We began the business because of our experiences as musicians who had to deal with an incredibly challenging environment in the music industry. We set out to prove that there’s a better way to do things, that there is a huge opportunity in creating straightforward and transparent agreements with independent artists that bypass the major label system."
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The app is the work not only of the folks at Joe Zeff Design but also Garcia Media, a company involved in publication design, as well as branding and corporate communications.

"Our iPad app is BAMM.tv’s introduction to music fans, as well as an expression of our fundamentally different approach to the business of music."

There is way, way too much here to try and describe the app. But the good news is that the app is free to download, and all one needs to enter is to log in using Facebook (though I must say I hate it when you are required to use Facebook to register in an app).

But to get a feel for the app, and the understand the navigation, the designers have created a nice introduction to the app that plays the first time one uses it.

I went ahead and deleted my own app and reinstalled it so I could show you the introduction and instructions in the video below:

451 Magpad: New French tablet-only magazine shows some the advantages of designing exclusively for tablets

Alright, has some gone and give a name to magazines designed specifically for the iPad? Magpad? OK, it's catchy, but I have my doubts about the name.

Moving on... late last week a new digital magazine was launched into the Apple Newsstand that goes a long way to showcasing the advantages of designing specifically for tablets.

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451 Magpad is a new French digital magazine that takes its name from the Fahrenheit 451, the 1953 Ray Bradbury novel – though it appears the publisher may have been more inspired by the François Truffaut film of that same book.

Launched into the Apple Newsstand by Chien sans tête Production (Headless dog), one can tell that the folks behind this new project are having fun.

The person behind this new tablet magazine is Fabien Rocha (with Fred Coiffe credited with graphics).

The new magazine is free to download and access, allowing designers and publishers to take a good look at the ideas being presented here. The fact that it is totally in French may even be an advantage to designers.

The first issue inside weighs in at just under 500 MB and is a very slow download. Once opened, the issue is to be read in portrait only and clearly is so large because of the animation inside, as well as a rather lengthy video.

Much of the animation is superfluous and seems to be there simply to be consistent. The rest is really very nice. The article layouts the increasingly standard pattern of scrolling within stories and swiping to reach the next. The first edition contains lots of links to information about authors and contributors the resides outside the app – but the multimedia is embedded.

The video walk-through below gives you a good idea of the app and is a bit longer than normal (3 minutes) because of the animation and video.
App description:
451 est un magpad curieux et
transmédias pour tablettes sensibles.
451 s'intéresse au monde qui passe
et aux temps qui changent.
451 aime les enquetes, les reportages, la photographie, l'illustration, les films et le son...

This certainly one of those magazine apps that I wish came with instant translation as the articles on the pharmaceutical industry, Libya and Afghanistan piqued my interest. I'm still stunned that the folks at Apple haven't gotten around to providing a built-in translation feature – it would only work, of course, where the app was rendering the text rather than those situations where the text embedded into an image file. (iBooks has a speech feature, but no translation.)



Here is the video walk-through. You'll note a dissolve where I skip a number of similarly designed articles:

Monday, October 8, 2012

Mag+ holds Chicago event hosted by Time Out Chicago

I was very lucky to have been working for the McGraw-Hill Companies in San Francisco during the Internet boom for the mid-to-late nineties. And while I hear that rooftop parties are still fairly frequent, I can attest to the fact that in the days of the Industry Standard they were the norm. Ah, the good old days, right?

Events are bit less frequent, but the digital publishing platform company Mag+ held an event in Chicago on Thursday of last week that brought together staffers from both some of the major media players in the city, including the Tribune Company and the Sun-Times.

Hosted by Time Out Chicago, the event was rather interesting in that here was a situation where the major publishing players in the area were using the same platform. Recently both newspapers had launched digital magazines for their coverage of the Bears (see TNM's post on the Trib's digital magazine Bear Download and the Sun-Times's Bears Extra).

The Tribune Company is also using Mag+ to build the daily digital edition of RedEye, RedEye for iPad.
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(Seen at left: Brandon Hillier, Mobile Sales & Marketing Manager, Annie Ryan, Manager, Business Development and Michael Cahan, Director, Mobile Sales & Strategy.)

The event was hosted by another media company using Mag+, Time Out Chicago, whose publisher, Randy Hano, just happens to be brother of the CEO of Mag+, Gregg Hano (no coincident, I'm sure).

Time Out Chicago gave a brief presentation of its own iPad edition which resides inside the Apple Newsstand. The digital edition for the Chicago publication is in stark contrast to the Time Out New York Magazine app which is also in the Newsstand – that app is a replica edition that uses YUDU.

Chicago was once home to some of the biggest publishers in the B2B area: Cahners (later RBI), Primedia, McGraw-Hill, and others all had a big presence in the Chicago area. I would think that several of these media firms would have embraced tablets had the platform developed during their heyday. It would be nice to see a similar event held a year from now with lots of B2B companies represented.

MPA releases new optimistic research on the growth of tablet mags, growth of brands using magazine platforms

The Association of Magazine Media (MPA) today is promoting new research on the growth of tablet magazines, as well as the growth in the number of brands using the magazine platforms for their advertising message. The MPA, in its announcement, is putting an emphasis on looking at magazines on all platforms.

"As the magazine industry transforms itself, looking at magazines through just one platform is misleading,” Mary Berner, the new president and CEO of the MPA, said.

"Assessing advertising performance, customer growth, and engagement in content by measuring print exclusively tells an incomplete story. Magazine media audiences are expanding, the number of marketers advertising in magazine media’s trusted and powerful brands is growing, and consumer engagement is deepening as audiences access magazine content across a multiple platforms. The numbers we’re providing today paint a more complete picture about magazine media. It’s time to change the conversation about magazines."

The MPA pointed to research from McPheters & Company i-Monitor which shows a steady increase in the number of magazine apps being released, as well as ad research by Kantar Media which shows a big increase in the number of brands using all magazine platforms (print, online and tablet).

According to the MPA, the research from Kantar Media found that 14,949 brands advertised on magazine platforms in the time looked at in 2012m, a 57 percent increase over the same time period in 2010.
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Chattanooga Times Free Press launches its first tablet edition with the help of NewspaperDirect

The Chattanooga Times Free Press, owned by Little Rock-based WEHCO Media, Inc., has launched a stand-along iPad edition late last week. The app is powered by NewspaperDirect.

Chattanooga Times Free Press iPad Edition is a free app also is also currently offering its content for free, as well. This seems like a rather crazy business strategy so one might expect that this will change in the future. There is currently a setting that allows print subscribers to log into their existing accounts, but since everything is free here there is little incentive to do so.

The app is being sold under the publisher's name, Chattanooga Publishing Company. An existing iPhone app can be found inside the App Store from freerange360. The same mobile app is also inside Google Play.

Like other NewspaperDirect apps, this one starts with a replica edition of the print paper. The default zoom is set so that the paper appears too big for the display, but can be read easier. The user can use both portrait and landscape to read the digital edition.

A tap of the headlines brings up a reformatted version of the print stories. A built-in speech feature can also be used to have the iPad read the content.

The app also incorporates a reformatted version of the paper's website so that up-to-date news can be accessed through the app, as well.

NewspaperDirect continually is improving its apps for newspaper customers. Although I don't like the concept of building tablet apps off of a replica of something built for another platform, the NewspaperDirect apps are stuffed with very useful features. An example of this: a reader can hold their finger to a headline to bring up a dialogue box that allows them to return to SmartFlow (the reformatted story format), to have the story read to them, to share the story through social media, to copy the story, or to print it.

The obvious next move – though it should have been instituted at launch – would be to charge for access to the digital editions, while keeping access to the reformatted website content free of charge.

(There are references to subscriptions inside the app, but nowhere does it actually ask or require you to subscribe. Additionally, there is nothing in the app description that mentions a paid subscription. If I were a reader of the print paper I would seriously consider dumping my subscription if the paper really intends to offer everything for free through the iPad app.)



Here is a short walk-through the new iPad edition from the Chattanooga Times Free Press:

Columbus Day: what's this all about again?

I think Columbus Day has to be one of the stranger holidays we (kind of) celebrate here in the States. Not all offices are closed, but retailers still have Columbus Day sales, though they hardly need an excuse for another sale, do they?

Columbus Day seems to be observed mostly on the East Coast, especially New York. But the first Columbus Day holiday was observed in Colorado in 1906 (if Wikipedia can be trusted).

Columbus
Having worked for East Coast companies like McGraw-Hill and Hearst, Columbus Day was always a day off. But since I was headquartered in California, the day off felt very much like playing hooky, except when one needed to go to the Post Office.

I suppose everyone is supposed to know why we have a holiday called Columbus Day, but as someone from the Bay Area I like to think it has something to do with the salami company of the same name. It would be very much like the Bay Area to have a holiday celebrating food. After all, doesn't every one take the day off for Zinfandel Day?
Not Columbus

I suppose every area of the country has a holiday that they celebrate that other parts do not. Here we have Casimir Pulaski Day. Casimir Pulaski Day is a little like the Passover Seder in that each time it is celebrated one must explain the meaning of the holiday. With Passover it is part of the tradition and ceremony, with Casimir Pulaski Day it is because one has genuinely forgotten again who the guy was and why there is a holiday named after him. (Wikipedia explains it, sort of.)

In any case, if you are in Europe and having difficulty reaching folks on the East Coast, now you know why. Next year you can prove your wisdom by sending your U.S. friends a salami as a Columbus Day gift.

Media General completes its exit from the newspaper business with the sale of The Tampa Tribune

Media General, which had previously sold all but one of its newspaper holdings to Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, had an agreement to dump its last property, The Tampa Tribune, to another private equity company, Revolution Capital Group. The sales price was a rock bottom $9.5 million.

Media General said that after adjustments, the net proceeds before expenses woiuld be approximately $2 million.

It had been speculated that Media General was hanging on to its Tampa newspaper to sell it to Halifax Media Group, which owns other Florida properties, but today's announcement of a sale a this pricing means that either a deal could not be worked out, or that Halifax was simply not interested in the property.

“It’s a bittersweet day for Media General to complete the sale of its last remaining newspaper group,” Marshall N. Morton, president and chief executive officer, said in the company's announcement. “The Tampa Tribune was our largest and second oldest newspaper. Many Tribune employees have decades of service. The Tribune staff has been extraordinarily dedicated to providing their readers with excellent journalism, creating value for their advertisers and supporting the local community."

"The prospects for future success are strong for The Tampa Tribune and its associated print and digital platforms. We will lead an orderly transition, focused on the needs of our customers, and we look forward to working with The Tribune management team to position the business for future growth," said Cyrus Nikou, founding partner of Revolution Capital Group.

The PE firm that now owns The Tampa Tribune has a pretty small portfolio of holdings. In addition to its new acquisition, the company also owns stakes in Lawrence Schiff Silk Mills, a manufacturer of bow ties, and Dove Professional Apparel, a manufacturer of medical apparel.

The new purchase at least guarantees the newsroom of new attire.