Friday, November 9, 2012

Retweet: Google, traffic, newspapers and The Atlantic

This week's edition of The Economist has a piece on the moves by some countries and newspaper organizations to try and get Google to pay for its linking and summarizing of their content. It is a good general piece meant to give The Economist's readers some background on the issue.

It should be noted that Piano Media, that Slovakian firm that is working with European newspaper publishers on their metered paywalls, got a mention – good for them.

I may be a former newspaper man, but I have little sympathy for the trade on this issue. Whether Google links to their sites is an issue that should have been resolved with Google was a start-up, not when Google's bank account now dwarfs that of major news organizations.

If newspapers think they can strong arm the search giant into paying, I think they are crazy (but we'll see). For me, though, the issue is all about playing by the rules of the game. What most newspapers fail to grasp is that on the day they launched their first website they were playing in a different game.

For reasons that continue to baffle me, most newspaper executives don't see their websites as separate products, they seem them simply as extensions of their print newspapers. If a newspaper were to launch a television station, they would immediately think of it as a separate entity. Look at how Gannett and Hearst view their broadcast properties – separate divisions, separate line items. Not so with the web, each web property is tied to its newspaper or broadcast channel.

The Atlantic's newly redesigned website*
New media companies, though don't look at it that way. Not only is the website considered a different product, but the product itself is freed from the constraints of the parent product.

This is the secret behind the success of The Atlantic's digital media success. The big change was that the magazine and the website no longer were the same thing, though they could maintain a relationship that benefited both. I don't know whether the two entities are broken out in their P&L in any meaningful way beyond breaking out revenue, but one can see that the changes initiated over the past months have led to positive results.

Is The Atlantic, or The New Republic, another venerable title heading in new directions under new ownership, leading the charge to make Google pay for linking to its content? No, because they see things differently.

So what happens if the newspaper insist on payment and Google pulls the plug permanently. My guess is that Google will maintain Google News as is knowing that readers will still turn to it. What will populate the search results, though, will simply be online news from The Huffington Post and other pure plays, plus those print websites that won't join in the protest.

Newspapers will once again have created an enormous opportunity for their digital competitors with nothing to show for their efforts. Worse, anyone writing for a print newspaper where a ban is in place will be forced to consider the merits of writing, not just behind a metered paywall, but behind a search engine blackout, as well.

* What do you think of The Atlantic's new website design? My opinion: now it looks like everyone else's - ugly on top, OK once the reader scrolls down. I'm not a fan of placing the Leaderboard under the flag, nor using carousels. Oh well, suum cuique pulchrum est.

Amazon launches wine store, shipping limited to 13 states

As long rumored, Amazon has launched a wine store. This is their second attempt at trying this category. The problem with the category, of course, is the crazy, insane, and corrupt laws the states maintain concerning wine. In red states that normally would not dream of interfering with commerce, state laws continue practices that have their origins in the days following Prohibition.

In many states, Illinois, for instance, the laws are a direct result of corrupt politicians attempting to curry favor with in-state liquor distributors. No out-of-state retailer, a recently law states, can ship directly into the state. How this is legal is beyond me, and any legislator that voted for this ought to spend a few months in the brig.
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As a result of our crazy politicians, the new Amazon wine store can only ship wine to 13 states (though Amazon is hoping to find ways to add more).

Each state in the new Amazon wine store has its own inventory, so a search for wines that can be shipped within California, for instance, reveals a far longer list than that which can be shipped to, say Wyoming.

"We’re excited to connect wineries to the millions of Amazon customers who enjoy the convenience of shopping online," said Peter Faricy, Vice President, Amazon Marketplace. "In working with wineries, we’ve learned the incredible passion they have for making great wines and look forward to helping them reach customers who previously would not have had access to their brands."

The wines, I have found, are not discounted – which, of course, is the reason most people shop on Amazon.com. The reason for this is that wineries have deals with their distributors and retailers and don't want to be seen to be undercutting them.

So the attraction of the new wine store is that one would be able to find wines not ordinarily seen at your local wine store. Also, the price to ship six bottles, the most one can buy at one time, is only $9.99.

"People love to explore wine, but it is rare to have detailed information and opinions located all in one place," said Tom Hedges of Hedges Family Estate, Red Mountain, Wash. "What Amazon has done with their new wine store is take the experience of hundreds of tasting rooms and put them online. We could not be more excited by the possibilities of growing our business and reaching new customers."

RetailMeNot Coupons issues major update to its iPhone app that integrates Passbook with location-based coupons

Old media companies like newspapers were given an unbelievable opportunity back in 2008 when Apple opened up the iPhone to third party apps. Suddenly a brand new medium, mobile, was available to them to try and reclaim categories where they had lost, or were losing business.

Geolocation. many believed was the key. Classified ads, coupons, other retail could not be localized and those building new apps could talk to their local clients about a new form of advertising.

Well, few have bothered to launch apps based on advertising rather than editorial content. As a result, an incredible opening has occurred and companies are taking advantage.

The online coupon space is pretty crowded with start-ups, so staying up-to-date is essential. Today RetailMeNot Coupons updated their iPhone app and added in some important new features.

Version 2.0 utilizes what Apple gives them: geolocation, push notifications, Passbook. Here is what the new version says it has to offer now:
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Location-based coupons
• When shopping at malls, get a list of relevant deals sent directly to your phone.

Passbook support
• You can now add RetailMeNot coupons to Passbook for even easier mobile redemption.

Coupon Expiration Alerts
• Get alerted when your saved coupons are about to expire.

Find Nearby Stores
• Find the stores that are closest to where you are.

Support for iPhone 5 and iOS 6
• Optimized for new screen size and iOS 6 features.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Groupon reports great revenue growth but now must deal with expectations and the revenge of analysts

Why companies want to go public is anybody's guess. OK, cashing out is one good reason. But when having to deal with analysts... well, it will give you ulcers.

Groupon, which had a chance to avoid all this by accepting an acquisition, is instead today dealing with the realities of being a public company – one this is generating gobs of money, but very little (or no) profit.

Today the daily deals company reported earnings for its second quarter and without considering expectations or outlook, the numbers look pretty good. Revenue grew 45 percent to $568.3 million (how many old media companies can claim that kind of growth), and the company turned a profit of $28.4 million versus a nasty loss of $107.4 million last year during the same quarter.

So, of course, the stock is currently down over 13 percent in after hours trading.

The reason, as you'd expect is that those numbers fell short of expectations. Groupon also said that next quarter should see the same kind of growth as this past one, but that wasn't good enough for investors.

The problem with Groupon remains the way it records its revenue and the very business model it is pursuing. Although the company today reportedly laid off up to 80 employees, it regularly is hiring due to the nature of its sales organization – a high pressure boiler room type of sales environment.

While there are those who continue to see Groupon as a high growth company, many others are pretty comfortable staying as far away from it as possible.

GradMags LLC, a digital publishing vendor specializing in academic publications, releases app for UCSF Magazine

I guess it would be a slight exaggeration to say that there are more digital publishing vendors out there than there are magazine companies. If I modified that to say that there are probably more digital publishing vendors out there than there are profitable magazine companies it would be closer to the truth, I suppose.

Each day I discover yet another company offering some sort of way for publishers to get their books onto the iPad or other tablets and smartphones. One I had not heard of is called GradMags, an Austin, Texas company that is selling into the college alumni and academic publishing sphere.

I suppose the reason I hadn't stumbled on them, despite the fact that they have 21 apps in the App Store, is that their apps do appear to support Newsstand (at least, none of their apps are in Newsstand at this time).

The latest app they have released is UCSF Mag – and the name implies, it is a product of the University of California, San Francisco.

Each vendor seems to come up with their own twist that makes their apps a bit different. In the case of GradMags I think it is the navigation along the bottom, at least of this new app for UCSF.

Along with the Library page and Downloads, one finds Make A Gift, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIN, Twitter and About – a nice collection of areas for possible content.
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As for the digital issues to be found inside, well, those end up being the usual replica editions. As these apps are universal, it is worse because what is unreadable on the iPad is ridiculously unreadable on the iPhone – at least with my eyes.

And like the apps looked at that use MagazineCloner, the apps do not support the iPhone 5's larger screen, so the digital magazines take up only a tiny portion of the iPhone's display.

All the apps produced by GradMags appear under the vendor's name rather than that of the publisher. Also, very little effort appears to have been made to make the app descriptions look presentable as many of the apps have only one generic screenshot included in the listing (though the app Kellogg Alum does have the standard three screenshots.)

It would be nice if there was as much effort that went into these digital platform's actual magazine conversions as there is to the shell that houses the issues. The real need of publishers is not how to get PDF versions of their magazines onto a tablet, but how to get a readable, well-designed digital magazine that contains their content onto a tablet or smartphone.

UK B2B publisher KHL Group launches series of tablet editions for their construction titles into Apple's Newsstand

If consumer magazine publishers are always on the look out for ways to get their titles onto tablets in a cost effective and efficient manner, the same goal for B2B publishers is complicated by the issue of qualified versus paid circulation, lower download and access numbers, and the simple issue that most B2B titles generate far less overall revenue than do consumer books.

The typical B2B publisher will produce multiple titles because only in a group publishing environment do the financial dynamics work in their favor.

KHL Group, a UK publisher of B2B titles tied to the construction industry, is a firm I'm fairly familiar with as I was a publisher of construction magazines with two B2B publishers including The McGraw-Hill Companies.
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Recently KHL Group began launching titles into Apple's Newsstand. Beginning last week Construction Europe, American Cranes and Transport, International Construction and International Cranes & Specialized Transport appeared in the Apple Newsstand.

Each of the apps was developed through MagazineCloner. Although MagazineCloner's website mentions custom iPad editions, the actual digital magazines found inside the App Store are inevitably replica editions.

These replicas are really no different than other replicas other than the fact that they are universal apps. In some ways, this is a ridiculous option as the iPhone versions do not accomodate the iPhone 5, but even if they did, they reduce the A4 print page to something so small that the idea that these could be read borders on the physically impossible.
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That aside, the apps present a mix of really good features with minor annoyances. For instance, the apps open with a sponsor page (see below middle). This is a great idea for B2B since these are replicas and there will be no other new advertising opportunities to be had. They also attempt to get the reader to create an account through the vendor. The idea is that the reader will want to be able to access the issues on their desktops as well – the product is called PocketMags, and this is why the app is universal, as well as offering the desktop reading option.

Assuming this information is then shared with the publisher, it is one way for publishers to try and qualify their new readership. The problem, though, is that it takes quite a number of taps to finally access the issues.

Like most B2B publishers of qualified circulation magazines, KHL Group is offering their app editions free of charge. This encourages downloads and access, but does little to add qualified circulation. The goal, of course, is to show their print advertisers that they are extending the reach of their ads by creating tablet and mobile editions.

I really wish that the ABM or publishers themselves would work with Apple to allow for registration prior to downloads. Apple objects because they do not want to share information about their customers. Fair enough, publishers don't want to share either. But a registration mechanism inside Newsstand editions makes sense because the customer has to opt in. If Apple won't do this then Google should allow it – this would encourage publishers to adopt Android as their preferred platform for tablet editions.

I'm not a fan of replicas, but understand that until there is a low cost digital publishing platform that will work for B2B publishers that this may be the way to go for B2B titles. But let's not fool ourselves into believing that reducing a print page 8.3 inches high for a smartphone with a display that is only 3.5 inches tall is a wise thing to do.
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Morning Brief: Time Inc. releases updates to 9 of its magazine apps; Greece approves new austerity bill as daily newspaper announces it will begin publishing again

This morning Time Inc. issue nine app updates in order to fix unspecified bugs in its tablet editions. Some users have been complaining recently that the apps would not open or load, and while the complaints were not universal, they seemed to be consistent across the entire line of tablet editions.

The app editions updated this morning are TIME Magazine, PEOPLE Magazine, PEOPLE EN ESPANOL, FORTUNE Magazine, Cooking Light Magazine, INSTYLE Magazine, ALL YOU Magazine, ESSENCE Magazine, and MONEY Magazine.

Time's other titles were last updated in early August, also for bug fixes. Looking at the most recent reviews of those apps, which include SUNSET Magazine, is that they, too, tend to crash and not load or open. My guess is that we can look for a second wave of updates for these tablet editions to appear soon.



Yesterday the Greek parliament approved new austerity measures demanded of the EU and IMF in order for €31.5bn in new funding to be released. The austerity package, a €13.5bn bill, passed with a slight majority of 153 votes in the 300 seat chamber, and not without a spirited debate.

Outside Greeks protested, sometimes violently, leading to the use of water cannons and tear gas by police. Several members of PASOK, the Greek socialist party that just a few years ago held power, resisted voting for the measure and were subsequently kicked out of the party, reducing PASOK's total number of MPs to only 27.

Despite the debate and the protests, the Euro partners behind the bailout funds are not set to release the money to Greece. “We're not there yet,” Germany's Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said according to ekathimerini.com.

Today ELSTAT, the Hellenic Statistical Authority, reported that unemployment in Greece in August hit 25.4 percent, with youth unemployment at 58 percent. Unemployment statistics are always released several months in arrears, so one can assume that the rate in November may be even higher.

The Euro debt crisis has had a major impact on the newspaper business in Greece, with the staff of the Athens News working the past three months without pay, and some wages cut. No print edition was published last Friday due to a work stoppage to protest the lack of pay.

In some good news, I suppose, Eleftherotypia, a liberal paper that was shut down last year, has announced that it will reopen.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Election coverage provides a clear victory for old media's new media efforts against the declining efforts of the cable news networks with their emphasis on punditry

Wrapping up my thoughts on the election that just took place and the media, I am struck by well some of the major newspaper brands performed this election cycle. For as much grief as we all give the print newspaper business, it has to be pointed out that the New York Times, Washington Post and other newspaper properties did an excellent job of being the go-to source for election results.

My conclusion has nothing to do with the quality of the journalism involved – that remains outside the area of concern of TNM. I am talking about the digital media efforts of the legacy press.

Both The New York Times and Washington Post released new election year mobile and tablet apps in order to organize their election coverage. In 2010, the NYT's older version of its election app proved very useful indeed.

But this year, on election night, I opened up the election apps exactly once. It was the newspaper websites that worked best for finding the most accurate and fastest election results. I sincerely hope the digital teams in the media gained some valuable lessons: each digital platform has its own merits. The mobile apps are great, when one is mobile. But when at home, the web remains the best source for news.
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The NYT's great graphics, in particular, need to be praised. The web team came up with a brilliant package. Though other papers such as The Guardian, Washington Post and others deserve praise, as well, the NYT's efforts truly were spectacular.

(I should add here that the NYT's main graphics and animated map were not that different from other sites, such as the Huffington Post. But it was the complete package that won me over. But other new media sites were also excellent and were far more useful than sitting in front of the TV hoping for information from the networks and cable news channels.)

For me personally, the web efforts of the major newspapers turned the tide, so to speak – no longer was cable news channels as useful as they have been in the past. I learned nothing last night from CNN or Fox News that I didn't already know through the NYT or other web sources. The emphasis on punditry actually prevented viewers from getting a good grasp on what was really happening.

One can laugh at Karl Rove's meltdown last night, but Wolf Blitzer's continuous calls were epic. As each state was called he would say that such and such a candidate "won all the electoral votes," as if he was not aware of how the election system works in the U.S. Yes, Wolf, when you win a state you get all the electoral votes (with only a couple of exceptions).

In contrast, the PBS coverage was far less ridiculous. But the election team appeared aged, tired, without much new to say – though I think politics editor Christina Bellantoni is a breath of fresh air who should be given more room.

Yesterday I ran out of time to point out another digital media effort, this one from The Guardian's U.S. Interactive Team. Yesterday, as voters went to the polls, the team released America: Elect! The action-packed journey to US election day in graphic novel form. The animation is still online for viewing and I would encourage you to see it on The Guardian's site for yourself.

But I have created a video in hopes the excellent work is not quickly forgotten:

There may be money to be made in being in opposition, but advertisers still care about demographics and reach; the new media take on the fate of the Murdoch press

As I mentioned in my first post-election story below, there is money to be made in being in the opposition - possibly more than being in power. The Nation revitalized its paid circulation thanks to the Bush administration, and Fox News has certainly thrived under an Obama administration. In a world of snake oil salesman, the seller may need the patient, but it really needs the disease. The product is irrelevant.

But sometimes the product is relevant. So now Fox News and the Murdoch press finds itself at an interesting moment in time.

It's audience matches that of the GOP, either because it is designed that way, or because no one outside of its demographics dare watch or read Murdoch's products for fear of seeing themselves maligned and marginalized.

But if political observers are right, and we have entered a time where the share of non-white, increasingly younger voters is increasing, then this will run counter to both the demographics reflected in the Murdoch properties, but also the target audience that is desired by advertisers. In other words, will it continue to be good business to be so narrowly focused.

Last night, for the first time, amendments in support of gay marriage won, or attempts to outlaw it lost, in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington. Wisconsin, a state at the center of the right's attempts to limit union power, last night not only gave its electoral votes to Obama, but also elected the Senate's first openly gay Senator, defeating a former governor. GOP pundits on television last night had to stretch awfully hard to justify why continuing with policy positions that are clearly on the wane would make good politics.

But for the media business, executives must do some soul searching about continuing to actively work to alienate ever growing portions of their readership and viewership. It isn't about being liberal or conservative, it is about actively maligning people of color, as Bill O'Reilly did last night, or as Mitt Romney did in a less obvious manner in his infamous 47% remark.

Fox News was not the only Murdoch property in denial. The WSJ this morning said that the Obama win was a result of the candidate targeting "single women, the young and culturally liberal, government and other unions workers, and especially minority voters," acting as if this somehow was a less than noble way to win an election. If ever there was a clearer example of feelings of white male entitlement I'd be hard pressed to find it.

There are good reasons why many young people, and many people of color, look to the new digital media platforms for their news content. They are being increasingly made to feel uncomfortable when picking up a newspaper or turning on cable news. (I should add, that cable outlets that go in the opposite direction, like MSNBC, are fairing no better either - showing that the issue really is about being too narrowly focused.)

It is not a coincidence that the new owners of the Chicago Sun-Times chose not to make an endorsement this year for President. In 2008, when the paper was identified as the liberal alternative to the Tribune, and was seen as a more Southside paper to the Tribune's Northern suburbs outlook, the paper endorsed Barack Obama. Today the paper is in the hands of a group of people more comfortable with Lake Forest than Bridgeport, but chose to forego an endorsement.

But neither paper is actively denigrating its audience, or should we say, its potential audience.

The same can not be said of the Murdoch press. Commentators regular criticize those who support the President as "takers". I haven't heard the word "shiftless" due to its racist connotations, but it's strongly implied. Americans who voted for Obama yesterday are "shallow" a Fox & Friends host said this morning.

In this piece I wrote at the end of last week, I said that publisher's need to realize who is buying ad space today and to create products that target those audiences – it was an argument in favor of launching new digital products for the new digital platforms. But the same argument can, I believe, be made in the area of demographic targeting.

Let me tell you about this little election we had yesterday; Nate Silver declared the winner in a landslide

I understand there was an election yesterday. There certainly seemed to be, which may explain why the folks over at Fox News were in full panic mode. Things didn't go quite the way they had wanted, or expected. But it will all turn out alright for Roger Ailes, Rupert Murdoch and crew – after all, there is more money to be made being in the opposition than being in power.

In the years prior to the election of Barack Obama, the circulation of The Nation, the oldest weekly magazine in the U.S., and the "flagship of the left" gained circulation thanks to George Bush being president. So, too, will Fox News thrive as the voice of the increasingly old, and most definitely white, portion of America that simply can't get their heads around the fact that the nation would reelect someone with the middle name of Hussein.

But while Fox News will soon be OK with the election results, Karl Rove, the GOP political consultant, may need some time to recover. As the networks began to call the race of the President, Fox News had to decide when to bow to the inevitable and call it themselves. When they did Rove lost it. He lost it big time. He lost it in so public a manner that it brought tears of joy to many a more liberal member of the human race.

Rove had good reason to be upset. No it wasn't that the numbers could change, anyone looking at where the outstanding votes would be coming from could see that there was little chance of Mitt Romney catching the President in Ohio.

No, the problem was the fact that now it would look like Nate Silver, the 538 blogger turned NYT analyst, would be proved right. In the past few days a huge out cry had occurred as Silver, using polling information, mathematically and logically laid out the likely scenarios: the odds were in favor of the President being reelected.
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Boy, did the right wing get upset about Mr. Silver. The National Review attacked Silver's methods, Fox News simply pointed to the NYT and cried bias.

There even arose a website called UnSkewedPolls.com that took the same polling numbers used by Silver and "rebalanced" them to achieve different results. Their final projections said Romney would get 275 electoral votes and become the next President of the United States.

James Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute wrote of his own predictions. Pethokoukis said Romney would net 301 electoral votes when the night was done.

Well, as it turns out, assuming the Florida results stand, the President will have beeb won reelection last night with 332 electoral college votes (the NYT currently shows the President with 303, you then add in the 29 from Florida to get to the final tally.

As you can see at top-left, Mr. Silver's final projections gave the President 303. Fire the guy, right?

I don't believe Silver gave a victory speech last night, he doesn't seem like that kind of guy. But he should have, it would have been inspirational. It would included words about just doing your job, sticking to your guns, letting the chips fall where they may. It would have been about facts versus feelings, about how dangerous it is when science is dismissed so easily. I would have like to heard that speech. Obama's will have to do, he did OK with his.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Fandango updates its iOS app to add in 'Mobile Ticket' to iPhone, iPod touch portion of app; Spotify and Facebook also issue updates, one good, one not so good

Fandango this afternoon issued an update to its iOS universal app to add in "Mobile Ticket" to the iPhone and iPod touch portion of the app, utilizing Apple's new Passbook feature.

Fandango had previously updated its app to add in Apple's Passbook app, but the new update refines this by adding in a small icon on the theaters that will accept Passbook for ticketing, as opposed to Fandango's own ticketing.
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Looking at the app search results in my own area, one is struck by how few theaters are ready to accept either ticketing approach – more seem ready to accept a Fandango ticket code than a Passbook code at this point, but we will see how this develops over the next few months.

The app update also fixes some bugs that have crept into the app, and now also allows movie goers with a reward cards from theaters to save their numbers through the Fandango app.

Spotify also updated its own universal iOS app. Spotify's update now makes the app ready to support the newest version of the iPhone (5) and the new iPod touch with their 4-inch displays.

Facebook updated its universal iOS app yesterday and the early word was that users should avoid this update. The late word is no different.

With almost 3,000 reviews now in on the app, over 1,800 are one-star due to changes introduced with the update.

Look for another update from Facebook very soon.

NowThis News launches its first iOS app; start-up somewhat resembles another video news app, Newsy

A new video news start-up from Huffington Post expats Ken Lerer and Eric Hippeau got its share of press yesterday with posts on many of the tech sites on the release of the site's first mobile and tablet app.

NowThis News is a universal iOS app that takes the video news content from the start-ups website and reformats it smartly for the iPhone or iPad (or iPod touch, let's not forget).

What I found interesting about most of the tech site posts, however, was the lack of reference to another news app that has been around for a while, Newsy.

Newsy is the product of the Media Convergence Group. It's model is the same as NowThis News in that it aggregates news video found online, creates a bit of their own and adds video hosts to the content. It is the way aggregation is done – which I've always thought was a way to justify taking other people's content. The idea is that the new video news site will be superior due to professional curation.

The problem with Newsy is two-fold: the content isn't always timely and that interesting, and the video hosting and production seems, well, a bit cheesy.

NowThis News takes cheesy to runs with it.

While the website for the start-up is a long collection of boxes containing the video content (and I mean long), the app is more manageable. I would have expected a Flipboard look, but I think they've done a bit better here. The downside is that while the website shows off its large amount of content, the app organizes it more.

Will the NowThis News app be a hit? It's beyond my ability to tell, it isn't really targeted to someone like me (older). I've never been a fan of Flipboard or other similar apps, but I understand their appeal and now they have been succeeded in attracting an audience.

I think there is definitely a need for a good video news aggregation web and app product. But at some point producers may rebel and begin to crack down on aggregation - if, that is, a product proves too successful at what it attempts to do.

The new app, by the way, is a free download with an Android app promised. NowThis News will obviously be looking to be supported by advertising to make a go of it to cover the costs of editing/producing 20+ videos each day for its website, and now its app.



The video walk-through below gives you a good idea of the app. The bit of audio/video break-up near the end really showed up on my iPad. Whether that was a streaming issue, or a sign of bad memory management, I do not know. Generally, though, videos streamed without hesitation and in good quality.

Realtor.com updates its universal iOS app as online classified firms solidify their hold on the new platforms

You can lead a newspaper publisher to water, but you can't make 'em drink – or at least that seems to be the lesson we've learned from the lack of new classified advertising apps being launched by newspaper properties.

Most newspapers sat around while the Internet ate up their classified sections. Then they partnered to create and support separate Internet properties like Cars.com and Careerbuilder – all the while watching as their classified sections shrank into nothingness.

(As I've argued in the past, this has nothing to do with the Internet as newspaper watched as stand-alone publications like the auto traders and local real estate tabloids sprang up. It is in the DNA of newspaper execs to watch as their business walks out the door.)

The growth of smartphones and tablets has presented the industry yet another chance to try and reclaim a category that once was the profit generator of most daily metro newspapers. But all we've seen is a few attempts at launching mobile apps for classified, such as the weak soup efforts of the NYT.

Meanwhile, Zillow and Realtor.com (Move, Inc.) have seen both the opportunity and the danger. Both entities have moved quickly to establish themselves on smartphones and tablets lest they blow all their hard work to grow their online properties.

Today the REALTOR.com® Real Estate Search apps has been updated to add support for Apple's retina display devices.

The app is attractive and simple to use – and users have given the mark consistently high marks. But today's update also includes changes most users will not see as it creates a new setup experience for real estate agents.
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While it kills me to see newspapers blow another opportunity I have to admit that it probably is too late anyways. CAMs (classified ad managers) are no longer the strongest managers on the team. As a former CAM myself I fondly remember being able to attend meetings where my department could report that it was driving the lion's share of the property's profits and revenue growth.

Further, it looks like all those good relations between the clients and the paper have grown cold. Introducing a new mobile real estate or auto product that takes advantage of geolocation services, combined with the editorial content of the paper, would be difficult if the reps no longer have the ear of the advertisers.

Morning Brief: Election Day in the U.S.; general strike, protests in Greece; industrial output slumps in the U.K.

Today is Election Day in the U.S., the day some people go out to exercise their right to vote, others don't bother, and others work really hard to make sure their fellow citizens are disenfranchised. What a country.

Twitter photo - Anthony Verias @VeriasA
In Greece, meanwhile, huge protests are expected as a 48-hour general strike has been called to protest new proposed austerity measures to be voted on by Parliament. It appears, however, that the demonstrations today will be small as strikers appear more interested in taking the day off than actually protesting.

The Guardian has a live blog running this morning (afternoon in Europe, of course), which is running under its "Eurozone crisis" title.

I suppose it shouldn't necessary to say this after all this time, but if you haven't been paying attention due to the U.S. election, the whole debate in Europe is over austerity in a recession – the idea that weakening economic conditions that nations in the Eurozone should tighten their belts in order to balance their books.

The results have been consistent: austerity is leading to a deepening recession. Today the Office for National Statistics in the U.K. said industrial output declined 1.7 percent in September.

"U.K. factory output barely rose in September and energy production slumped, adding to evidence that the country risks sliding back into another downturn after the temporary growth surge enjoyed in the summer," said Chris Williamson of Markit.

Nonetheless, proponents of austerity continue to move forward, as sure that they are right as they are of the coming apocalypse. It IS s religion, after all.

Did I mention that today was Election Day in the U.S.? Go vote, what are you doing here?

Monday, November 5, 2012

Southern California publisher launches seven new tablet editions through a mysterious new publishing vendor

There is a saying that probably applies to just about anything – sports, teaching, you name it – if it were really that easy, anybody would do it. Well, getting a media app into the Apple App Store is pretty damn easy, 'cause just about anybody does it. As a result, every day there are some apps launched that one wonders if they really should have been approved.

Today, for instance, a new company, Bluepaper LLC, launched seven new magazine apps into the Apple Newsstand for its publishing client Apartment News Publications, a regional publisher of commercial real estate magazines. This makes 11 apps released under the Bluepaper name.

Apparently it is far easier to launch an app than it is a website, because the Bluepaper website is "coming soon". (I also searched the web for the name of the vendor but other than their apps came up empty.)

Each of the apps released are replica editions, right on down to the alternating left-right page folios which remain. The print pages of Commercial Property Management Magazine, for instance, float a little bit on the iPad's display as the print page size quite fit the iPad's display exactly, though it's close.
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Of the other four apps released by this mysterious vendor, three are for publications of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons), and another is for the National Electrical Manufacturers Association.

None of the apps charge to download the content so the only making any money here is clearly the vendor. The need to get into the App Store certainly leads to some strange behavior on the part of publishers, as each of the apps appear under the vendor's name rather than the publisher's. I wonder what these publishers would think if their print editions appeared with the name of the printer at the top rather than their own?

The ABM reports that B2B ad pages cratered in July

July was apparently a horrible month for B2B publishers in the U.S. as The Association of Business Information & Media Companies (ABM) reported that ad pages fell 10.13 percent in July, and are now down 8.56 percent on the year. The far less reliable revenue numbers show a somewhat smaller decrease of 4.53 percent.

The hardest hit categories in July were health care, which saw ad pages fall 28.88 percent, and pharmaceuticals, a related category, down 24.26 percent. For the year, computing and health care are suffering the biggest declines, down 20.39 and 17.91 percent a piece. Agriculture was the only category measured that showed decent gains, up 5.88 percent for the year.

Reports like this, the Business Information Network (BIN) report), must be understand in context. It has been a terrible past few years for B2B publishers. While ad pages were essentially flat in 2011, that year ended a long streak of declines. In 2010 ad pages fell over 3 percent, while in 2009 they fell a whopping 28.56 percent according to the ABM's BIN reports. In 2008, the first year of the financial crisis, B2B ad pages fell over 9 percent.

Many B2B publishers, encouraged by last year's less than disastrous were hoping to see solid gains this year. The yea, though, has proven to be a disappointment.

Kobo updates its iOS and Android reading apps

Toronto-based Kobo Inc. today updated its apps for both Apple's iOS and Google's Android platforms.

The universal iOS app update includes support for the new iPhone 5 and iPod touch with its larger screen. There are also new reading menus on the iPhone app, as well.

For the most part, the app update improves loading times, bookmarks and general performance improvements, as well as fixes bugs.

The Kobo blog highlights the improvements to the Android app, as well: "Along with Fixed Layout ePub support, we’ve jammed in more amazing features to make the reading experience even better. Selecting text is a breeze and now you can highlight in four different colours for colour coded notes."

Kobo will be releasing a new 7-inch tablet later this month called the Kobo Arc. The tablet will sport a display with a 1280 x 800 HD resolution display at 215 ppi, a 720p front-facing camera for video calls, and a 1.5 GHz dual-core processor with 1 GB of RAM.

The tablet will run Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) and Kobo promises a software update to 4.1 (Jelly Bean) "within a few months time." The tablet will be priced at $299.99.

Kobo last month acquired the digital publishing platform Aquafadas, a French company. One way Kobo could encourage developers to think about their platform would be to offer the Aquafadas tools for free for apps to run on their tablets, but to date there has been no word of any move in this direction.

Publishers of TRVL develop their own digital publishing platform to control costs and improve their iPad magazine; PRSS soon to be offered free to other publishers

On Friday of last week Robert Andrews wrote a nice post for paidContent on TRVL, the digital travel magazine for the iPad, and the publisher's transition to its own platform, PRSS. My temptation, therefore, is to let it sit right there – TNM readers are quite capable of surfing over to the paidContent site to read the article, right?

But this is probably why I've never written extensively about TRVL. The app, formally called TRVL free Travel Magazine, has gotten great press and Apple has promoted the app both in iTunes and during its Worldwide Developer Conference.

The magazine deserves its accolades if only for its unique design and the way it publishes its issues. The app, which has no print equivalent, can re-imagine the magazine form and therefore is not bound by many of the conventions that shackle the efforts of print magazine titles that try and convert their print products to the tablet platform.
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But it is its uniqueness that also present issues for other publishers: there is no advertising (though they do have an ad director), the issues are, for the most part, free.

Founded by Michel Elings and Jochem Wijnands, the magazine has the financial freedom to continue that a print publications entering the new digital platform probably doesn't – the ability to publish without a profitable P&L.

As the paidContent piece points out, initially TRVL used Adobe InDesign and the Woodwing system to create its first digital magazines, not surprising since both the publishers and Woodwing are from the Netherlands. But that combination of tools is very expensive and out of the reach of many small to mid-sized publishers, let alone start-ups.

So TRVL's publishers created their own platform, called PRSS. PRSS promises to be free to access and use for other publishers. One can sign up at the new website to be informed when one can download (or access) the new platform. (I signed up on Friday, but have not heard back.)



An inexpensive, or even free, digital publishing solution for the iPad is the holy grail for many publishers. There are enough obstacles to the tablet platform already – Apple's 30 percent take, the lack of support from ad agencies, etc. – add to those the cost of digital publishing solutions and it seems as if everyone involved is more interested in making a quick buck than creating a new platform.

When looking at TRVL one immediately begins to formulate questions about whether PRSS can be a good solution. In TRVL, all the layouts are of a certain type that are repeated from issue to issue. Is there enough flexibility in the platform to create different looks, not only from issue to issue, but within an issue?

TRVL's look is very much like an iBook, especially one created with iBooks Author. In fact, TRVL uses the slogan "Photo book for the price of a coffee." This seems appropriate as one could call each "issue" a new photo travel book rather than a digital magazine.

Morning Brief: First impressions of the new iPad mini; Chicago Sun-Times updates iPad apps; photo quiz

The lines around Apple stores on launch day for the iPad mini were a bit of a disappointment, at least for tech websites that like to write about such things. But this weekend I was able to get my hands on a mini, and thanks to good crowds milling around the mini was able to hear first impressions of the device.

The first thing I think is important to point out is that there is an important difference between a 7-inch display, and a 7.9-inch display. For me, at least, it makes all the difference. Apple has preloaded Condé Nast's Vanity Fair into Newsstand so prospective buyers have something to look at when demoing the device. Assuming the reader has good eyesight, or good reading glasses, I think the iPad version "works".

But it is important to point out that a digital magazine, designed for the iPad, when displayed on a smaller display is no longer "native", even if the developer has to make no adjustments. The emulator used will surely be the larger screened device so the designer is hoping it all works.

Prospective buyers flocked around the mini at the retail store I visited but expressed serious concerns about price, the lack of a retina display, etc. My own impression is that the display is fine, and the fact that the resolution matches the older iPad and does not create a new screen resolution to deal with is a relief (from the perspective of a developer).

But a little personal market research does show that the mini will fit nicely into the line of tablets, with it appealing to many buyers, even if it is not a universal hit.



The Chicago Sun-Times writer Andy Ihnatko will soon be posted a full review of the mini this week and I am always interested in his reviews. In the meantime, his paper has just updated its tablet apps to tweak the interface and improve performance.

I don't know if the updates are related to iOS 6, but it seems to me that the latest version of Apple's mobile operating system is leading to a lot of developers having to update their apps – even Apple themselves. Now updates are a normal thing, especially when a new OS introduces new features. But that is not what is happening now as these updates are about bug fixes.

It just feels strange to me to see so many "bug fix" updates from apps that are not adding in new features.

In any case, looking at the Sun-Times apps, it is interesting to see the variety of apps the daily tabloid has. The paper was recently sold and so what is in the App Store is a cross between the company's new approach to apps and its old.

The old app apps reside outside the Apple Newsstand. Chicago Sun-Times is a universal app that was developed by Inergize Digital. It is one of those news apps that takes the RSS feeds and reformats them for the iPhone and iPad. A reader would find it useful on their smartphone, and of no interest on a tablet.
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Chicago Sun-Times E-paper for iPad is a legacy tablet edition developed by Tecnavia Press. The third party vendor has probably the best sales staff out there, or maybe the best sales pitch, because lots of newspapers have signed up with the company despite the buggy nature of the apps and the consistently low marks readers give the apps.

Then there are the newer apps including Chicago Sun-Times for iPad and Bears Extra by Chicago Sun-Times, both of which were updated this morning. Both apps reside in the Newsstand and are native in design – they are also receiving high marks from readers.

The update says it involves "User Interface and Performance Improvements".

On Friday the Sun-Times updated Splash by Chicago Sun-Times for the same reasons. One assumes the most recently released iPad app, Bulls Extra by Chicago Sun-Times, already incorporates the updates seen in the other Newsstand apps.



OK, quiz time.
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You goal is to identify the country where the picture at right was taken.

Here are your clues: the picture was taken in a country holding an election. In that country, one of the leading parties is attempting to make voting as difficult as possible, passing laws that restrict voting, putting obstacles into the way of those wishing to vote.

To make voting hard, elections are held on weekdays, often with too few polling places. Voters are harassed and often their votes are considered "provisional". Some early voting is allowed, but the number of polling locations are so few that voters must line up and wait for hours in order to exercise their right to vote.

Most people consider democracy dying in the country, and few believe that it can last much longer due to the enormous amount of influence corporations and individuals now enjoy.

You can right-click the photos to get the location of where the photo was taken.