Friday, February 1, 2013

On the eve of Super Bowl XLVII, TNM's rambling reflections on newspapers, digital media & 49ers Insider

The last time the San Francisco 49ers were in the Super Bowl was January 29, 1995 and I was still a publisher with McGraw-Hill in The City, and loving it. The City, that is; McGraw-Hill not so much.

The NYC-based media and financial services giant had recently brought in a new president for the Construction Information Group and the ideology of the day was "reengineering" – basically a hollow philosophy based on the idea that all one needs to do to grow profits is layoff as many people as possible. It was, in other words, the "austerity" of its day. By the time 1995 was over the division was a shambles and soon much of the talent was to leave – then later that new president was gone, as well. As you can see, I see a bit of a pattern here: managers that have to promote some latest fade philosophy in order to appear up-to-date.

Today, it is "digital first": the philosophy that holds that to succeed one needs to layoff as many staffers as possible while outsourcing whatever minor digital efforts are initiated. I'm quite sure that the same people who promoted "reengineering" now love "digital first". It's all "austerity" to me. (Frankly, if they all moved to the UK and joined the Tories we'd all be better off.)

So what does any of this have to do with the Super Bowl? Well, a lot has happened in the newspaper and magazine world since 1995, hasn't it? In 1995 the San Francisco Chronicle was not owned by Hearst Newspapers, which still owned the smaller Examiner. AOL was what most people thought of when they thought of the Internet. The Baltimore Ravens did not exist as Art Modell still owned the Cleveland Browns. In 1995 the Baltimore Sun was still part of Times-Mirror, the company behind the Los Angeles Times. Oh, and newspaper profits were still soaring. (Also, McGraw-Hill still published Businessweek.)
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Today the Chronicle is in Hearst's hands, and while their main news website and apps are no great shakes, their tablet magazine for the 49ers is pretty sweet. Launched fortuitously last fall, 49ers Insider has appeared twice a week since the start of the season. Built with the Mag+ platform, the newspaper can today produce a digital Super Bowl preview issue without having to launch a new app – and I'm sure fans love it.

"This is the most beautiful magazine on newsstand," one reader writes of the digital magazine inside the App Store. "This is how all magazines should be designed, and at a dollar a year, what a steal. This is a 49er's fans bible!" Not bad for a user review, especially one not written by a relative of one of the editors.

The Baltimore Sun is now owned by the Tribune Company, following the sale of the media properties by Times-Mirror. The Sun's website is a touch better than the Chronicle's – certainly more recently redesigned – but its apps are typical of what many newspapers are producing: reformatted versions of the website.
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Tribune Interactive long ago released a mobile app for the Sun's coverage of the Baltimore Ravens. But Baltimore Football is pricey at $9.99, and hasn't been updated since June of 2011.

Tribune Interactive, which produces the apps for the company's newspaper properties, this fall also launched a digital magazine for a football team – in this case, BearDownload, for The Chicago Tribune's coverage of the Chicago Bears. But the Bears had a bad season, fired their coach, and now Tribune Interactive has pulled BearDownload – whether it will return in the fall is anyone's guess.

Magazine apps that received major updates... get updated again: The Kit gets an iPhone version, but will need another update; American Express Publishing issues new updates following last week's major app revisions

Yesterday, in TNM's look at the Newsstand inside the Canadian App Store, one of the new apps looked at was the impressive tablet edition for the magazine The Kit (link to TNM story) from the Toronto Star Newspapers. The new version of the digital magazine – the previous app was from Texterity – was natively designed and featured quite a bit of interactivity.

This morning The Kit (U.S. App Store link) received an update that now makes the app universal, introducing a new iPhone version of the magazine. Unlike the iPad version of the most recent issue, the iPhone version is trimmed back to only 36 MB in size, and while this is altogether appropriate for a mobile version of a magazine, the iPhone version is not built for the iPhone 5.
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If this update had been issued in September or October of last year one could understand why the app was not supporting the iPhone 5, but here we are on February 1st and most apps have long since been updated to add support for the iPhone 5. (I've had a new version of the TNM for iPhone app ready to launch since the fall, but have never released it precisely because of its lack of iPhone 5 support.)

Because the digital version of The Kit involves elongated pages that require scrolling, the lack of iPhone 5 support is very apparent. I assume we'll see yet another update to this app soon enough.

Just last week American Express Publishing issued major updates to its magazine apps inside the Apple Newsstand that transitioned the apps to a new file format. Today the apps were updated once again, and the app description repeats much of the same text seen in the previous update.

I suspect, however, that this update has something to do with what I saw in FOOD & WINE following the update last week:
I was a bit confused by the latest issue, however, as it has "Coming Soon" buttons all over the place. Was this a slip-up, or will the editors be updating this issue now that the app update is live? I guess we'll see in the days to come
Looking at the February issue this morning I see that all those "Coming Soon" areas are gone and the app edition now looks complete. Whether this was solved by the update today, or by earlier efforts I don't know, but the digital magazines look just fine today.

In addition to FOOD & WINE, Travel + Leisure was also updated today.
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There were other media app updates, most of which seem minor: Crain Communications has updated Business Insurance Tablet Edition to version 1.0.1 to fix minor bugs; Red Bull has updated The Red Bulletin US for the same reason, plus you will now find the new February issue inside, as well.

Two apps have been updated following Apple's release of iOS 6.1: KIDS DISCOVER, built by Joe Zeff Design, has a new update that lists iOS 6.1 as motivation for the update (see December's post on this app's release); and Fast Company Magazine has received an update, listing iOS 6.1 as the reason (this is one of the few apps I've seen that actually lists a phone number for app support inside its app description).

Finally, United Airlines Hemispheres Magazine has received an update. The app is seen under the name "Ink", and was not receiving good reviews inside the App Store.
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But today's update lists "updated interface" as the reason for the update – that usually means the library and store pages, rather than the digital magazine itself.

The app today has the February issue inside, which weighs in at 167.8 MB and is what I would describe as a hybrid edition – reproducing the ads as seen in print with at least some of the pages reformatted for the tablet. In this particular app, the editorial pages can be read in landscape while the reader is encouraged to turn the iPad to see the print ads in portrait (see above-right).

It's not a bad digital magazine, though the February issue did freeze on me a couple of times, forcing me to shut it down and reopen it.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Zinio updates its universal iOS app to add support for the iPhone 5 and iPad mini

This afternoon Apple released into the App Store the latest app update for Zinio. Zinio, of course, is the San Francisco-based digital newsstand company used by many major magazine publishers to distribute their digital magazines.
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The update to the Zinio universal iOS app brings iPhone 5 and iPad mini optimization, as well as stability and performance improvements, according to the app description. The update also brings in bookmarks for the iPhone app.

The update brings the app up to version 2.5.

looking through the most recent user reviews, it appears as though the update is well received, as is the app overall. Unfortunately, Santa did not bring me an iPad mini this year (to be honest, I forgot to write him about that gift) so I can not tell what exactly is meant by iPad mini optimization, though with other media apps it usually has referred to the way the store and libraries are designed, accounting for the smaller tablet screen than the standard iPad.

CES will seek new partner, dumping CNET, after controversial DISH Hopper incident

There will be repercussions for the CNET/CBS "Best of Show" controversy as the Consumer Electronics Association show announced it will be looking for a new partner to run its awards program.

The controversy started when CBS Corp. forced CNET to withdraw DISH TV’s Hopper for consideration for the "Best of CES" award. In fact, it was discovered shortly after the controversy began, DISH's Hopper was to be the winner. But CBS is in litigation with DISH and so CNET was forced to scramble and eventually named the Razer Edge gaming tablet as "Best of Show."

"We are shocked that the ‘Tiffany’ network which is known for its high journalistic standards would bar all its reporters from favorably describing classes of technology the network does not like,” said CEA President and CEO Gary Shapiro in its announcement today. "We believe that the DISH Hopper DVR is fully covered by the Supreme Court’s ruling in Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios Inc. The simple fact is making television easier to watch is not against the law. It is simply pro-innovation and pro-consumer."

And now the repercussions: International CES will now issue a new request for proposal seeking to find a new partner to run its Best of CES awards program – presumably CNET need not apply.

"CES has enjoyed a long and productive partnership with CNET and the Best of CES awards," Karen Chupka, senior vice president, events and conferences for CEA said. "However, we are concerned the new review policy will have a negative impact on our brand should we continue the awards relationship as currently constructed. We look forward to receiving new ideas to recognize the ‘best of the best’ products introduced at the International CES."

New digital art tablet magazine proves a buggy mess

The desire to get a personal magazine into Apple's Newsstand is so powerful that some people will allow their better judgement to be suspended for the opportunity to see their digital magazine in the App Store. The search for a good, low cost digital publishing remains elusive, which is why my advice remains the same: don't launch if you can not afford it, but if you can, don't go cheap. And remember, any new digital product is a reflection of the publisher's view of their title and its team.

Launched two days ago into the Newsstand was a promising independent magazine, SFCALR – which stands for Sci-Fi Concept Art. Ian Blaza is credited with being publisher, while James Whittington is credited as being the new digital magazine's editor.

The problem is seen right there in the App Store, though – Appeal Software, the maker of the app, is listed as the seller. That is always, always a bad sign – without exception. An Apple developer account is only $99 so there is no excuse for someone to let a company put their name in the App Store as seller. If they do, then that company should pay the publisher for the privilege, don't you think?

Upon opening the app one is confronted with the pretty damn splash page I've seen (see below). The fact that the app had to process its file, seemingly forever, was offset by the pretty splash page (at least somewhat). But then more troubles: the library page doesn't offer a subscription, which is odd for a digital magazine found inside the Newsstand. Also, the "Buy" button doesn't tell you what the price is for the one issue inside the app. It's only 99 cents (66p in he UK), so I ponied up in order to tell the story.
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Then the issue downloaded and – poof – crash city. So now I had to open up the app again and watch that pretty splash page some more. Then the issue inside turned out to be simple image pages with no interactivity to be found. That is OK, after all, there is nothing wrong with a well designed page, one designed specifically for the iPad. And it is clear that the folks behind the digital magazine have design skills.

But then the app started to perform some sort of acid inspired zone out. I was reminded of the scene in The Patriot – that ridiculous Mel Gibson vehicle which plays endless on weekends on cable TV - where the South Carolina woman watches the British ship explode and gleefully proclaims "Oh, fireworks, how lovely." Then – poof – the app crashed again.

I suppose it is good, in the end, that Appeal Software has their name on this app. If I were one of the two gents that did all the work to create this digital magazine and was stuck with these results with my name on the app I'd be embarrassed. Hopefully, this digital magazine app did not cost the publisher much, if any investment. Because, if so, then – poof – it is gone.
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* For the record, the iPad I use to test apps is not the very latest edition, it is a "new iPad", the 3rd generation. I would think that a tablet of this generation should handle any new app coming down the pipe – but it is possible that an app, designed and tested only on the latest technology might not perform as expected on an older model.



Twitter blows a gasket: goes offline

You'll only be able to read this post if you are subscribing to the RSS feed or visiting the website directly, but it appears that Twitter has blown a gasket. The social media website is having serious difficulty staying online with both its website and mobile app disabled.

We'll probably find out soon whether this is a server issue or a DOS attack. In any case, media outlets dependent on driving traffic through Twitter and probably have a fit right now.

This brings up the question: how does one know if Twitter is offline when no one can tweet about it?

Update: Over an hour later and Twitter is still in bad shape, though I was able to tweet myself that "Twitter is back" - wrong. But who will know, assuming I keep my mouth shut (oops).

For a B2B website like TNM, a Twitter outage is a minor annoyance. TNM does get a small amount of traffic through my Twitter account, but with so few followers (sob) it hardly makes a difference. But on days where my tweets are picked up by others and retweeted, or where a story is tweeted by an interested party, the traffic bump is noticeable.

But the tech sites are very much dependent on Twitter, as are major newspaper sites like the NYT, WSJ and Guardian, who have quite a roster of journalists very active on Twitter. On a day like today an outage has a real impact on a modern media company.

Further update: up again at Twitter. No explanation, but all seems OK again.

Inside the Canadian App Store: Newsstand apps from Rogers Publishing get marketing support from Apple; Toronto Star releases new digital edition for 'The Kit'

Canadian owners of iOS devices who peruse the iTunes App Store for more newspapers and magazines to download will find that, in addition to the ongoing Hearst Magazine promotion (Read Them Here First), now Rogers Publishing is getting promotional support from Apple.

The promotion is simple enough: a spot on the rotating carousel at the top of the Newsstand category that takes the customer to some of the Canadian publisher's available Newsstand apps. These include Maclean's, Today's Parent, Chatelaine Magazine, MoneySense and others.

The theme of the promotion is "Free Trials + 99¢ Issues" – something obviously offered by all the tablet editions listed in the promotion.

Missing from the promotion are the B2B magazines Canadian Grocer and Marketing Magazines (links to TNM's posts on the B2B apps).


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Toronto Star Newspapers Limited has released an iPad edition for The Kit, its fashion and beauty magazine. The new app for The Kit appears to be replacing a universal app from Texterity that was, no doubt, simply a replica edition.

The new app is definitely not a replica!

The free magazine is exclusively for the iPad and resides inside the Apple Newsstand. The first issue to be found inside the app weighs in at 418 MB, which probably signifies that it uses the Adobe DPS system.

The reason for the large file size of the issue becomes instantly apparent upon opening the issue. The cover does not feature an animation but the app instructions page instantly starts playing a video from editor-in-chief Christine Loureiro showing the basics of digital magazine navigation.

The first ad to be seen in the digital edition also features an instant play video, though subsequent ads seen in the issue are without interactivity. It appears that whatever ads that appeared in the print edition have been pulled, so I would not call this a hybrid edition.

The app is quite a tour-de-force, even containing a page with an Instagram feed (though this seems a bit gimmicky to me).

You can check out a small portion of the app in the walk-through video below:





An app like that new one for The Kit really stands out when you see a publisher taking the easy way out. Mariage Quebec is published by St. Joseph Media, though you wouldn't know this from the new Newsstand app just released. The new app found inside the Newsstand is instead credited to Magazinecloner.com US LLC and is, of course, a replica edition.

As I've said many times before, any publisher who is willing to see their work appear under the name of a vendor rather than their own company name should really consider selling their magazine.

Morning Brief: NYT runs long feature on alleged Chinese cyberattack; The Guardian's iPad app update now makes their tablet edition completely retina display compliant

It is not often that a newspaper will feature its own internal battles with hackers as their front page feature, but The New York Times did just that with a lengthy expose on their four month fight with Chinese hackers.

Appearing first last night, and then on its front page this morning, the four web-page long feature details its own war with hackers, which the paper feels, is the result of its own investigative report on Wen Jiabao, China’s prime minister. That report found that relatives of the prime minister had, through their business dealings, accumulated a large fortune, estimated to be in the billions.

The feature, written by Nicole Perlroth, told the tale of the NYT's tracking of the hackers, and their efforts to take advantage of the attack to build a more security system.
The hackers tried to cloak the source of the attacks on The Times by first penetrating computers at United States universities and routing the attacks through them, said computer security experts at Mandiant, the company hired by The Times. This matches the subterfuge used in many other attacks that Mandiant has tracked to China.

The attackers first installed malware — malicious software — that enabled them to gain entry to any computer on The Times’s network. The malware was identified by computer security experts as a specific strain associated with computer attacks originating in China. More evidence of the source, experts said, is that the attacks started from the same university computers used by the Chinese military to attack United States military contractors in the past.
Among the small group of media app updates today was an update to The Guardian and Observer iPad edition, the tablet edition for both The Guardian and the Sunday newspaper, The Observer.

Besides bug fixes, the update makes the app fully retina: "The Guardian and Observer iPad edition now fully supports retina screens: see our news, comment, sport, and stunning photography in beautiful high-resolution," reads the app description.

With the recent release of iOS 6.1, Apple has now issued an update to its Remote app. The update includes "improvements for search results, rating songs, sorting podcasts, and general stability," according to the app description, and early user reviews appear totally positive.

OS updates often bring out a rash of other updates, as well, so we'll keep our eyes open to see if the move to iOS 6.1 brings out any new bugs, or requires any further app updates.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Retweets: Apple's stock price, The Guardian's paywall (or the lack thereof), and advice for TNR's Chris Hughes

It has been an odd day, I must admit. One of those days where I just didn't feel up to the task. I apologize. That is why I wrote those three posts on evaluating B2B properties, I promised a reader I would do that, and with nothing else seemingly inspiring me I whipped those babies out in a hurry. It probably shows.

Frankly, there were much better things to read on the Internet than my musings. For instance...

  • There is the piece on the Sequoia Capital tumblr site on Apple and its stock price – Perspective on Apple amid the clamour – tries to bring a little sanity to the question of Apple. It's probably a waste of time, shorters will hide as haters and doubters, and real investors know better than to throw all their retirement savings into one stock. But it's a good piece, nonetheless.

  • Then there is the interview with The Guardian's CEO Andrew Miller to be found on the Nieman Journalism Lab site. Guardian CEO Andrew Miller on paywalls, mobile, and going global talks about, well, paywalls, mobile, and going global, silly.

  • Finally, Jack Shafer has some Unsolicited advice for New Republic owner Chris Hughes, which I am quite sure Mr. Hughes will not take. After all, the great thing about being the owner of a media property – any media property, even a blog – is not having to listen to outsiders tell you how to run your business.

3) Evaluating media properties: New Media pros look at legacy titles as starting points for new digital publications

The client list may seem the same as "the database" and it is, of course, related. But it is also different because the client list is a very small subset of the database of prospects.

I find that many publishers do a poor job of understanding what their own current list of advertisers says about their magazine and how the readers look at the title.

A New Media pro that can look at the current list of advertising clients and understand what is going on has a leg on if they end up acquiring the property or its assets. Let me explain:

Take two seemingly identical magazines, with seemingly identical readerships. In one magazine the ads are dominated by one kind of client, while the other has a completely set of advertisers. This happens more often than you might think and is generally caused by the way each publisher is looking at their markets. One might be positioned as a design book, while the other is a construction book – both are reaching the designers, but where one targets software and services, the other is targeting the products that the designer specs into their designs.

Looking a magazine (or website) and seeing a pattern can be helpful in evaluating the potential growth of a property once it becomes digital only. Sometimes a publishers concludes that their market is shrinking and getting out now is a good idea. THEY MAY BE RIGHT (which is something digital folk sometimes have a hard time accepting). But they may also be looking at the market wrong. Matching up that client with the advertising database may be helpful here.

There are many other area where a prospective buyers might want to evaluate a property, but the existing staff is surely an important one. Most shuttered properties have laid off their staffs or moved them to other properties. The availability of talent needs to be assessed and the publisher can always decide to start from scratch. But collective knowledge of a market is a fundamental principal of good B2B publishing.

Yet how many B2B titles, once shuttered, have fallen into the hands of new publishers who think they know their industries, but start their ventures with no one on staff who has either worked directly in the industry or on the trade magazine title in the past.

Before they exited the B2B market in the U.S., RBI uses to recruit editors with a standard recruitment ad. At no point in the ad did the copy mention the industry the B2B magazine was in, or whether experience in the industry they were going to cover mattered. Many B2B editors are moved from book to book, only learning anything about their industries when they attend trade shows. Is this the state of the property on the market? You need to know up front.

It won't surprise many to learn, though, that I care more about the condition of the ad staff. As I used to say, a lot, no problem can not be overcome with a new full page ad. More revenue has a healing effect. It is often the case that when a property is shuttered the editors are let go and the ad staff reassigned. But many times the rep is just as tied to their books as the editors. Even if an ad salesperson is repping multiple books, it is sometimes the case that the shuttered property represented the majority of their revenue. That person may be very open to joining your new digital venture.



Finally, as I told that reader who asked for my advise, I can not overestimate the importance of proper due diligence. The M&A industry depends on buyers doing bad due diligence – don't be a victim. After an initial agreement to buy a property or its assets, set aside enough time before the deal is closed to property evaluate the property further.

Of course, the best due diligence is that which takes place before the offer is extended. But if you don't allow yourself an escape if things are not as they first appeared, then you will be taken to the cleaners.

The best first step is to create a new P&L for your property. What are you really looking at in the next 12 months. The creation of this first P&L will force you to address new issues that may not have come up in the excitement of the purchasing process. I have been lucky enough to have been involved in a number of new acquisitions. But it was the acquisitions we didn't make that were always the best moves. Staring a new P&L for a property that will bleed red ink has prevented many a bad acquisition. Even if the New Media pro is only buying the reader list of a shuttered property, knowing what they really are getting might save them a lot of money, or drive down the ultimate sales price.

2) Evaluating media properties: New Media pros look at legacy titles as starting points for new digital publications

The list: Most B2B titles are qualified circulation magazines that mail their publications to a set list free each month. In the past, a publisher might start a new B2B magazine simply because they felt they had in their possession a good list of those in the industry – the rest, they felt was easy. Give a publisher a good list of readers and the rest of the job was simply hiring editors and sales people and start publishing.

Today, publishers often try and save their magazines by cutting circulation costs, starting with dropping their BPA audits and leading to ending their qualification process. Although there are costs to auditing a magazine, the real costs are in the qualification process. In the past, circulation managers depended on sending out mailings to readers to get them to fill out those "bingo" cards and mailing them back in. If the manager could get a good percentage to respond to that first mailing then they could limit their efforts from there – usually more mailings and faxing.

Today the cost is in telemarketing efforts. Killing the qualification process means thousands of dollars in savings, but it also means that the list – that is, the database of subscribers – is getting stale.

A magazine that has just recently dropped their BPA probably still has a good list. But anything over two years or so is stale.

But there is more to it that just the "freshness" of the list, there is also its quality. In the nineties, most B2B sales forces competed with each other not only over who reached the most qualified readers, but what readers were more qualified than others. A construction magazine might ask for information on the reader's job title in their company, but did they ask how big the company is, what their sales volume is, and what that reader was authorized to design, buy or specify? Some BPA audits were as big as their magazines (OK, I exaggerate a little), while others were four pages of very general data. The four page audit is the standard today, I'm afraid to report.

When TNM first started publishing, Reed Business Information was shuttering a series of magazines. Many of these titles couldn't find buyers before they were shuttered. But these titles still had good lists of readers and when buyers emerged to pick off the remnants those buyers generally found that their properties were in better shape than they could have otherwise expected.



The database: this is one area where I admit to having a bit of a fetish. For me, as a B2B publisher, I felt that one of the most important things I needed to have in my possession was as complete a database of advertising leads as possible.

Often I would come into a situation where next to nothing was in the possession of the publisher and would have to begin the process of building it myself, often by getting information from the sales reps. They hated that. Many ad reps felt that I wanted that database so I could make them expendable. Wrong. For me, the database was where our sales efforts began, and where my own efforts to help the staff started.

As time wore on, most publishers started to depend on the competitive analysis companies who counted ad pages and gave the publishers market share data. Then came the database solutions: ACT!, for instance; later Salesforce.com and others.

Most New Media pros looking at several properties will find the databases in the widest imaginable condition (? I'm not sure I said this well). A major publisher, say one of the top ten media companies, probably have moved their reps onto a system such as Salesforce.com. Getting access to that database is essential, of course, but could be complicated by the publishing group the property belonged to. That is, the publisher may consider this data proprietary because it also applies to other titles they own.

Asking for sample entries is always a good idea. Gaining the market share reports, in detail, is also a good idea. Being able to combine them yourself puts you way ahead.

But how good is this information? Ah, there's the rub. Often it is not so good. Horrible, in fact. Part of the problem is that a New Media may be looking at the market in a very different way than the previous publisher.

A good story to tell might be when I move to Chicago to take over a B2B property. That legacy title saw itself as competing against the big construction equipment magazines. I didn't see things this way. As someone who had experience with regional construction companies, I looked at things from the reader's perspective, not the big advertiser's perspective. I knew that contractors bought a wide range of products, of which construction equipment was just the most obvious.

So when I saw the database of advertising leads I quickly noticed that it really only reflected at best one quarter of the companies I felt we should approach. This new way of looking at the market gave our reps a tremendous advantage – yes, they had to make lots of cold calls, but every time we landed a new client in a new part of the industry we saw that we have a very large share of their budget. We continued to go after out small share of the equipment market, but over time equipment advertising became less important and as a result the magazine found itself on firmer footing that it had in the past.

In the new world of mobile and tablet publishing platforms, where some new ventures believe they can make a go of it on reader revenue, the database might not appear to be a big concern. But then again, if I were entering the market I'd want to go head to head with those folks.

Part three, will talk about the clients, and the staff.

Evaluating media properties: New Media pros look at legacy titles as starting points for new digital publications

A while back I promised a reader that I would post on the subject of evaluating media properties. This reader was considering buying a recently shuttered property but was at a loss as to what the expected price might be. How would I evaluate the property, I was asked. Well, here we go:



Why, if you are a potential digital publisher, would you invest in B2B?

The reason is simply because this is one area where the existing media companies are less advanced in digital publishing, the competition is weakened, and where the biggest opportunities exist for innovation (at least, that is the rationale I hear and would use myself).

Few B2Bs have made a good transition to the web; transitioning to mobile and tablets is even further behind. The best and most prosperous B2B media companies are now very diverse, often with profitable events, information and custom publishing divisions. The opening, therefore, is in digital media.



In the U.S. the B2B media industry has been incredibly effected by media bankers: private equity companies that invest in properties, and the companies that represent the buyers and sellers when it comes time to get out of those investments. Few media trade journals want to talk much about this because the industry is so dependent on PE and M&A firms.

Because of this, buying a B2B property is fraught with dangers. Purchasing a magazine title that is "on the market" means sifting through the "Black Book", that selling document that contains a description of the property and the financials. Most black books aren't worth the paper they are printed on.

The problem is that they are written to show that the property is a good investment (of course), but are written from the perspective of the owner or banker. Frankly, I could care less what their opinion is of the property, they are dumping it. So why are they written this way? Because many of the buyers are PE firms themselves who really know next to nothing about the markets they are buying into (sorry, but it's true).

New Media pros, looking to buy a property, only are interesting in the markets they want to launch into – at least that is my experience. If someone wants to launch a new B2B digital property they have the whole universe to choose from, launching into a market they care about, or where they see an opportunity only makes sense. Take Rafat Ali, the co-founder of paidContent. His new venture, Skift, is in the travel industry and his posts and tweets show that he is genuinely intrigued by his industry – in this regard he is more like the B2B publisher of old than with his current colleagues.

I once sat in on an investment meeting in NYC concerning a possible big money investment in B2B properties. The bankers were shocked to learn I cared more about what I wanted to buy than simply what was currently on the market. That firm passed on my proposal and instead invested in an old line business that soon went belly up, but not before they were able to sell it to another PE. The game of musical chairs was far more interesting to them than actually learning the publishing business. These firms are the owners of many of the B2B companies in existence today.

Bottom line: if possible, skip the black book and look at the old P&L statements. These will show you the real picture and are a good reflection of how the current owner actually sees the performance of the property.

Then there are four other elements to consider: 1) the list, 2) the database, 3) the clients and 4) the staff.

Next: The List and The Database

South Carolina public utility, Santee Cooper, launches a tablet edition for its quarterly magazine PowerSource

When it comes to print, many publishing companies long ago created vibrant, successful custom publishing divisions. In the area of digital, however, one continues to see publishers lagging. Part of the problem, of course, is the number of publishers that have chosen to outsource their own digital initiatives – whether they website development, or mobile and tablet applications, many media firms continue to see digital media as outside their area of expertise.

It doesn't take a genius to see how damaging this will be in the future as clients look to either new custom publishing firms to launch their first mobile or tablet editions, or else build their own capabilities in-house.

Some companies, of course, already have their own corporate communications divisions. These in-house corporate communications divisions are, like the mainstream media, beginning to launch their own first, sometimes tentative, digital publishing initiatives inside the Apple Newsstand and elsewhere.
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PowerSource is the quarterly magazine from Santee Cooper, the state of South Carolina's state-owned electric and water utility and the state's largest power producer. PowerSource, the app, is the digital edition for that magazine.

On the Santee Cooper website on can find the PDF version of the brand magazine and my expectation was that this new app, to be found inside the Newsstand, would simply be a replica edition based on that PDF. But to my surprise I found a natively designed app, mostly one that used the Adobe DPS platform.

The magazine has a small folio, we're not talking Vogue here, and it is quarterly, as I said. So the publisher could decide to provide readers with both portrait and landscape layouts and still keep the file size down to an easy download. But at just over 100 MB one immediately knows that this isn't a replica.

PowerSource's new digital edition puts many, many (too many) digital magazines to shame with its design and easy to read formatting for the iPad. Any consumer or trade publishing house with a custom publishing division would be wise to look at this free app and then assess their own digital publishing efforts. I wouldn't be startled to learn one day that platform owners, such as Mag+ or the soon to launch PRSS, see custom publishing as a good way to add a revenue source to efforts (hey, I'll run the division if they'd like!).



Here is a very brief walk-through the new app edition of PowerSource, seen in landscape:

Reports seem to show that Time's new CEO is proving to be a traditional publisher after all

Some media observers expressed concern over the hiring of Laura Lang, then the head of the ad agency Digitas, when she was named the CEO of Time Inc., the publishing company behind Time, Sports Illustrated and People. "Laura Lang has never written a magazine story or sold a magazine ad," the WSJ report began at the time.

With plenty of digital ad experience, though, some thought Lang would be just what the publisher needed, a fresh perspective on a tired industry.

But, if reports are true, Lang will have proved to be a very traditional publisher, after all. Of her first moves one was to bring in an outside consultant, one can't get more traditional than that. While some thought this a demonstration of her lack of publishing experience – after all, wasn't she hired to bring in solutions herself? – those in the media business could see the traditional role of consultants being employed: to act as an excuse for staff cutbacks.

Now AdWeek, the WSJ, and other media observers are speculating that "up to 700 of the publisher’s 8,000 employees may go in this round."

In the end, the problem remains ad pages... they keep falling. For traditional media executives, cuts to the payroll, including the ad staffs, generally follow revenue declines. (Actually hiring additional sales power and changing the sales and advertising strategy is usually left to others if a divestiture proves to be the next step.)

It is hard to blame a publisher for wanting to reduce costs in the face of revenue declines. But this is very much an industry that repeats itself, endlessly, with little variation. From media consultants who discourage digital innovation, often in the guise of being "digital first", to celebrity authorities who pen inane tone poems to print (no, print magazines are not like vinyl LPs, but what does that have to do with anything?), the magazine publishing industry is becoming terribly predictable – and it is killing it.

Look at the trade association events being organized by both the consumer and B2B associations: the same speakers, speaking on the same subjects, ignoring the real causes of the industry's declines. Will someone at least acknowledge the problems by inviting the ad agencies to these events? No, we get more of the same.

In today's world of magazine publishing the most important players reside not at the top of the major publishing houses but at Apple, Google and Amazon, not to mention Adobe, the ABC, and other firms that interact with publishers on a daily basis. Until representatives of these companies become the star attractions at industry events there really is no reason for any professional to attend one (though we all know that escaping the snow is the real reason companies continue to send attendees to these things).

We'll see if any real reorganization takes place if Time announces layoffs. In the meantime, it is more of the same: a dreary procession of bad news in an industry where the real exciting action is taking place in the Newsstand and online. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Harmon Kardon releases Play app, a companion app to its Go + Play Wireless products

I will admit that this post has pretty much nothing to do with media. But so what? A little entertainment tech news every now and then isn't a bad thing, is it?

When Apple finally let AirPlay loose on the world, opening up its use by third party apps, I assumed that we would get buried in new apps and products designed to take advantage of the streaming app. It's taken a while, but we are getting there.

The use of Bluetooth is also something that has caught on (though I find AirPlay more reliable). Harmon Kardon has moved into the space in a big way with a series of interesting entertainment products. One of those is the BTA 10, an AppleTV-like device meant for audio systems (too bad it doesn't do video also). It is available on a pre-order basis at this time.
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The company also has a portable audio system called Go + Play for the iPhone and iPod. I personally have a Bose speaker system for portable music playing during the summer months, but mine is an older model without Bluetooth or AirPlay. The current Harmon Kardon model is without these features, as well, but a new Wireless model has shown up on their website as "coming soon".

What has already arrived is the iPhone/iPad app to go with the new product. Harman Kardon Play is basically like a coverflow version of iTunes right now. But its real mission is to be a wireless controller for the Go + Play Wireless device once that is released.

With the play app you can AirPlay your music to an Apple TV or other device accepting AirPlay signals right now. But with the Go + Play you will be able to have synchronized volume control and remote power on/off capabilities. All we need now is that Wireless device!

Gruner + Jahr release tablet edition for GEO; built using the Woodwing tools to create a stand-alone iPad app

The German publisher Gruner + Jahr has released a new tablet edition for its title GEO, a German language magazine similar to National Geographic. GEO Magazin, officially sold under the rather long name of GEO Zeitschriftengruppe © Gruner+Jahr AG & Co KG, is a stand alone app and is offering the January issue free of charge to entice readers (the February issue is also inside the new app). The new app sits beside the English language edition found inside the App Store which is a universal app and a replica edition, as well as other foreign language editions.

This new app, though, is the one you want to download (assuming you read German, of course).
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The app was built using WoodWing's Digital Publishing Tools and version 8 of WoodWing´s multi-channel publishing system Enterprise. WoodWing is crediting GEO's editors Rainer Droste and John K├╝ckens, and the art director Uta Maxin for the development of the app.

The digital editions are designed to be read in landscape, so you obviously are not getting a replica here. The January issue which I downloaded (OK, I was too cheap to buy that February issue) is filled with audio files that I assume explain the magnificent photography to be found within (see video below).

The issued weighed in at 300 MB, larger than many other digital magazines, but as large as many of the early iPad editions that used the Adobe DPS.

Since the app is selling single issues and subscriptions, the decision to not use the Newsstand was an interesting one. By being a stand-alone app issues will have to be downloaded manually, though with an interactive magazine of this size that may be the way to go. A stand-alone app also has some marketing advantages as the app icon is sitting there by itself.



Here is a brief walk-through video of parts of the January issue. The volume is a bit high, so be forewarned:

The NYT launches incubator project timeSpace, targets early stage companies 'focused on the media space'

The New York Times is accepting applications from early stage companies "focused on the media space" to become part of its incubator program, timeSpace. The new initiative involves bringing in early stage companies into The New York Times headquarters to "refine and grow their businesses." The project lasts four months, and companies wishing to apply have until Tuesday, February 19th at 5pm to submit their application.

"You are an early stage company focused on the media space with a product launched," reads the timeSpace web page. "You are a small team based in New York or open to working from New York for the duration of the program. You have most likely raised at least seed stage funding. You may focus on mobile, social, video, advertising technology, analytics, e-commerce or… apply and tell us why spending four months here will be mutually beneficial."

During the program the company teams will work in the Times headquarters, meet the NYT staff and demo and work on their projects.

"We will review applications in the order in which they are submitted and contact a limited number of companies for interviews. Between three and five companies will ultimately be invited to participate. Our first batch of entrepreneurs will join us soon after, officially launching timeSpace at 620 8th Ave."

The NYT says they will not seek equity in the new companies involved in the program, though "we may become one of your customers during or after your time here. But this is not the purpose of timeSpace."

Apple announces new 128GB versions of the iPad, new models available February 5

I find the goings on at Apple very odd, and more than a bit disquieting. Apple announces a brand new iPad model, a 128 GB iPad priced at $799, and its own website is silent on the matter. Very odd.

"With more than 120 million iPads sold, it’s clear that customers around the world love their iPads, and everyday they are finding more great reasons to work, learn and play on their iPads rather than their old PCs,” said Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing, Philip Schiller, in the announcement. "With twice the storage capacity and an unparalleled selection of over 300,000 native iPad apps, enterprises, educators and artists have even more reasons to use iPad for all their business and personal needs."

The new iPad, which includes an LTE model priced at $929, will become available February 5.

January has been the traditional time when Apple would hold an iPad event. But Steve Jobs is gone, and apparently Apple has nothing really new to offer customers looking for a tablet. More storage is nice, but the new iPad adds to the line rather than bumps previous models. That means demand for the 128GB model will be minimal, and with new models, including the iPad mini, introduced last fall, it looks like Apple is really at a loss as to where to go with their tablets.

The announcement for the new model of the iPad talked mostly about business applications for the iPad which will demand more storage.

"Our AutoCAD WS app for iOS was designed to give customers seamless access to their designs anywhere, anytime," Amy Bunszel, vice president of AutoCAD products for Autodesk is quoted in the press release. "These files are often large and highly detailed so having the thin and light iPad with its Multitouch display, integrated camera and all-day battery life, is a real advantage for iPad users to view, edit and share their AutoCAD data."

Does this mean Apple will be on the new product sidelines until the fall, or at least until WWDC? Hard to say, but you can bet a lot of Apple shorters will see today's news as a sign of trouble ahead for Apple.

Morning Brief: All eyes on Egypt, again; WiFi on the tube

Thunderstorms and temperatures near 60 in the Chicago area in January. Something is just not right. Which is kind of what I was thinking about the situation over at The New York Times where last week the word was that if enough employees didn't come forward to accept voluntary separation packages there would be pretty massive layoffs. Last night we learned from NYT executive editor Jill Abramson that the paper would layoff "far fewer" people than anticipated. Fishy.

"I wanted to let you know quickly that we are through the process of offering voluntary buyouts and cutting staff," Abramson told staffers yesterday. "In the end, we had to layoff far fewer people than we anticipated, having achieved most of our savings through the voluntary process."

This is how the relationship between a newspaper and its staff turns sour.



One year ago yesterday the headline on 'Morning Brief' was "All eyes on Egypt". Things have not change much, have they?

Today Gen. Abdul-Fattah al-Sisi, head of the army in Egypt, said that the "continuation of the conflict between different political forces and their disagreement on running the affairs of the country may lead to the collapse of the state and threatens the future of the coming generations."

The latest crisis began when rioters were sentenced to death in Port Said, leading to protests, violence, and at least 45 more deaths. Those deaths have escalated the situation and now protests have reach Cairo as demonstrators have returned to Tahrir Square, the center of 2011 protests.



If you're on the London Underground you are probably aware that Virgin Media WiFi's free service has come to an end – or maybe not.

Virgin Media, Vodafone, EE, T-Mobile and Orange customers get continued served thanks to a wholesale agreement, others get continued free access to the WiFi portal which provides travel information, news and entertainment.

For full access for other travelers, the price is £2 per day, £5 per week, or £15 for a month of WiFi access. If you sign up for the monthly service during February Virgin Media will actually give you three months for the price of just one – not a bad deal.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Digital magazines: new iPad editions expand the reach of existing print magazines or create new marketing tools for brands, institutions (part two of two)

Four new digital magazines released into the Apple Newsstand today each try and accomplish similar goals of expanding the reach of the publishers by either creating a new digital magazine or else creating a new digital edition of an existing print magazine.

Whereas equipment maker Again Faster may have wanted to create a new magazine to promote its brand (see last post), the next two new digital magazines to be found inside the Apple Newsstand are looking to create digital editions of existing print publications, but to make sure they are native in design and navigation.

Bulletin: Christchurch Art Gallery's Magazine is pretty self-explanatory: it is the quarterly magazine of the New Zealand art gallery.

The first issue inside this new Newsstand app weighs in at 249.5 MB, double the size of the magazines seen in part one of this post, but still fairly modest for a digital magazine. The layouts are simple, but very attractive – I'd love to be able to compare the print product with this new digital edition.

The app and its content is free of charge.
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Estonian Film publishes only twice a year, but now the digital edition will allow the product to reach a much larger audience through the Newsstand.

The first issue found inside the app weighs in at 222 MB, again pretty modest, especially since there is a bit of video here (as you'd expect with a film magazine). Again, because the tablet edition was designed specifically for the iPad, the digital edition is easy to read, navigate and is an enjoyable reading experience. The designer has used a fair amount of native elements (text boxes, etc.) but has not gone crazy with digital magazine production tricks.

One thing that confused me, though, was the use of an icon that reads "Watch Trailers & Other Info" – it generally did not point to a trailer but simply to more information. In a film magazine the reader expects to see trailers but will be disappointed to only find a few here.

The take away from these four new digital editions is that more and more designers are seeing that producing a native designed digital edition is the way to go if you are going to grab the reader's attention inside the Newsstand. Three of the four new digital magazines here do a good job of giving the readers a nice digital magazine, and none went over the top with 500+ MB downloads.



Here is a brief walk-through of the first issue inside the Estonian Film for iPad app:

Digital magazines: new iPad editions expand the reach of existing print magazines or create new marketing tools for brands, institutions (part one of two)

Four new digital magazines released into the Apple Newsstand today each try and accomplish similar goals of expanding the reach of the publishers by either creating a new digital magazine or else creating a new digital edition of an existing print magazine.

The simplest of the four new launches comes from John Hopkins Digital. JHU Politik is a simple replica of an existing publication. Sihau Li is credited inside the app with being the developer.

The goal here is simply to expand the reach of the publication and the free app with its free content does that. But because it is a replica, the app must depend on pinch-to-zoom to make the text large enough for comfortable reading (though a retina display iPad helps a bit).

A completely different tactic is used by the fitness equipment maker Again Faster with their new app Evolve Magazine.

The app says that the cost to subscribe will be $14.99 per year, though the first issue inside the app is available for free.
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While JHU Politik was a tiny download due to the size of the issue (only 16 pages) and the fact that it was a replica, here the file size of the first issue is 109.1 MB – still not very large.

The first issue does some interesting things with audio files and also contains some video. But the use of landscape layouts are limited to the photo gallery and the video content, so the file size remains modest.

The goal of Evolve Magazine is the same as that of Red Bulletin, the digital magazine from Red Bull: promote the brand by providing interesting content in the way of a digital magazine for the iPad. Evolve Magazine is somewhat more of a modest effort compared to the digital magazine from the international beverage company, but it does the job of promoting the brand quite well.

Here is a brief walk-through the first issue found inside the new app Evolve Magazine:

Media app updates: Blue Note by Groovebug; Twitter's Vine app has 'em talking; the two Weather Channels apps; The Guardian for iPhone adds commenting

Quite a number of media app got updated this morning, though most updates were minor compared to the big relaunch of The New Republic for iPad.

For those who have been following the growth the Blue Note by Groovebug app, today's update is nice (see original post from October): today's update fixes an Airplay bug and adds song sharing recommendations to the app.

The folks behind this interesting app did not like my assessment that the app was "crippled" because the offerings were incomplete, often saying that the songs missing from Blue Note LPs were "coming soon". Well, its been five months and those missing songs are still "coming soon" – telling me, at least, that EMI is less than supportive of the idea behind the app (subscription based listening).

The app getting the most attention this morning remains Vine, the video sharing app from Twitter. Officially called Vine - Make a scene, the app is now on version 1.0.3 as the developer tries to work out bugs in the app.

But the tech websites are all a twitter over the fact that some users are apparently creating six second porn videos. Apparently AOL and other new media companies employ easily excitable boys to do their writing – they seem genuinely startled by the prospect of seeing mini porn classics appearing on their iPhones. Hey guys, get over it.
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Recently The Weather Channel issued a couple app updates to its iPad app – one to introduce a new look, another to fix the icon introduced in the first update (It contained the word "TEST" in it).

One thing I noticed in the app reviews, though, was complaints by users that they were seeing off forecasts inside their apps. On their iPhone app The Weather Channel would be saying the temperature was one thing and on their iPad app it said something else.

Sunday, here in Chicago, an ice storm was forecast (it turned out less brutal than predicted). So I began to frequently check both apps and found the same sort of issues: the iPad forecast was very much different than the iPhone app forecast. How is this happening? How can two different forecasts be made by the same outlet on two different apps?

It looks like it is time to dump these apps for something else.

NHL GameCenter was updated this morning, the most recent of several updates for the app since the hockey season has begun. The latest update finally brings iOS 6 compliance and iPhone 5 support to the app, something that should have occurred in the previous app updates (better late than never, I suppose).

The Guardian has just issued an update to its iPhone app. The Guardian for iPhone is free for U.S. readers and now allows commenting by mobile app users, as well as other comment related improvements, and the usual bug fixes.

The New Republic for iPad Version 2.0: 'Way to evolve'

Quite a number of media apps got major updates today, though most were trying to fix bugs. One app, the iPad edition of The New Republic, is labeled as Version 2.0 and is a major redesign of both the magazine and the app itself.
The New Republic’s beautiful, completely redesigned iPad app brings the magazine to life with its fun and modern design. Far beyond just a digital replica of the magazine, the app takes all of the issue’s rich content and combines it with a host of engaging features and additional content: interactive photo essays, intuitive navigation and sharing functionality, and exclusive audio and video.
The New Republic for iPad may look very much new to loyal readers, but for those who have been following the evolution of the tablet edition it will feel very familiar. The app edition is a hybrid in that print ads are as seen in print, though it is possible that some of these ads were swapped out for tablet version as some contain links, and all are very readable. The editorial pages are then reformatted for the tablet reading experience, though many of them look like they were ported over with only a minimal amount of changes.

Nonetheless, the result is a good digital magazine and as one reader says in commending the staff: "to echo others, way to evolve."
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The new app is offering the latest issue of the magazine free of charge: it weighs in at around 128 MB due to its portrait-only design and a minimum of multimedia content.

The magazine was purchased last year by Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes and the redesign of reinvigoration of the title is getting quite a bit of attention. The New York Times, as an example, is running a feature on the new owner and the magazine's changes today on the front of the B section this morning.

Here is a brief walk-through the free issue being offered inside the newly updated app (the next post will cover some of the other updates of media apps released this morning):