Friday, April 19, 2013

Association launches simple, effective native tablet edition for its magazine 'Communication World'

Right now the world's attention is glue to events in Watertown as police try to track down the last of two suspects involved in the Boston Marathon bombing. There is no reason to fight it, news hounds will not be very interested in talking about media tablet editions, but for those hardcore media pros here is a final post for this week on this new B2B media app.

The International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) has released a nice, simple native tablet edition for its magazine Communication World this week. This is the type of tablet edition I'd like to see more often: native, yet simple, designed for the iPad or other large tablet, yet not so different from print that the art director has to reinvent the wheel.

Not every publisher is in a position to create an entirely new tablet magazine from scratch. But at the same time, making sure their readers can actually read their publication on a mobile device or tablet is still important. I think Natasha Nicholson, executive editor of Communication World, and her team has struck a good compromise with this new app.

"Welcome to the IABC's digital CW magazine!" writes Nicholson in the editor's column. "Well, it's actually a prototype of the new digital magazine, composed of selections from the November-December 2012 print issue."

Nicholson goes on to say that the first all-digital issue will appear in May.

CW looks to be using Mag+ . (Update: I was able to confirm that the team is using Mag+ for the tablet edition. Also: the print magazine was shuttered following the January issue. The magazine was bimonthly, now the team will be producing a monthly digital edition.)

But the choice here when designing the tablet edition were not to blow away anyone with digital technology but to simply present the magazine well in digital form. There are a few scrolling graphics, articles the are multiple single pages where the reader scrolls within the story, then swipes to go to the next, and there is some embedded video that take you out of the app.

This minimalist approach keeps the file size down to a modest 50 MB, but allows the tablet edition to be read in both portrait and landscape.

As an association for business communications professionals, one would think that reaching readers clearly and effectively would be the primary goal. The publishing team of Communication World, which works with Grayton Integrated Publishing on the magazine, has accomplished that goal, now they can further explore the tablet publishing platform in their subsequent issues.

Advocate Discovery launches stand-alone content aggregation app powered by Trapit; aggregation publishing solutions usually fall short of hyperbolic claims

The publisher of such titles as The Advocate, Out magazine and Gay.Net, Here Media, has released a new stand-alone news app called Advocate Discovery.

The new app is powered by Trapit, a Flipboard-like aggregation platform that allows Here Media to bring into the app the content from its portfolio of properties. Comparing Trapit to Flipboard is a little unfair – and I'm sure Trapit would agree – because the app does much more than simply display the content brought in from RSS feeds into a standard layout, then display the stories in an unchanging text with graphic layout. Content aggregation apps such as Flipboard and Zite, along with publishing solutions like OnSwipe and Pressly remain platforms with no barrier to entry – each needs to keep adding features to justify their use, and each appear stuck in the boxy design and RSS feed dependent mode.

Advocate Discovery is really about bringing in the various media properties into one app, and as such is not really a new digital publication as much as a new content aggregation portal. The user chooses their topics, their media properties, then uses the app much like Flipboard, Zite of OnSwipe. The layout retains that boring box look.

But tapping the stories takes one to the media properties website, rather than a re-laid out native tablet page. As a result, one might call this a website aggregation tool, rather than a way to create a native tablet publication.

According to a story on Digital Trends, the cost to the publisher to use the Trapit platform is $1,000 a month – this will no doubt limit its use to those media companies trying to find a way to consolidate related media website under one umbrella.

Having demoed publishing platforms such as OnSwipe and Pressly, I find three basic problems with these solutions.

First, content is driven into set layouts that are designed once and are not often appropriate for the actual material to be displayed. While some find the boxy look of these apps attractive, others find them boring (I'm in the "boring" camp). But the real problem is that they are set in stone, with spots for photos that may not be appropriate for the actual graphics. Some squeeze and expand the photos to fit, contorting the faces of the subjects, others leave them alone but still produce odd effects. And because they are driven by RSS feeds, they usually do not allow for an editor to prioritize the articles in the app. Like a blog, like TNM, the latest post goes in the first spot, period.

Second, rarely do these platforms handle secondary RSS feeds in an appropriate manner. I worked for hours trying to figure a way to make OnSwipe work for TNM but ultimately gave up. The problem was that while it could display the main RSS feed in a somewhat acceptable manner, bringing in additional content only messed things up. For instance, bringing in the TNM YouTube channel feed meant that it would be mixed into the main page, often leading to duplicate content. The home page for OnSwipe is always a collection of all the feeds the publisher brings, there is no way to limit it to just one channel. In short, without lots of customization options the results will be unacceptable.

Third, follow-up and service. The problem I have with so many digital publishing vendors remains their lack of service (along with their hyperbolic claims). No publisher should ever work with an vendor providing them with less than world-class service. At the very least I would think that a publisher would want the same level of service they believe they provide their own clients. That will lead to a nice match of companies - the sharks with the sharks, and the publishing pros with the publishing pros.

Morning Brief: La Presse+ garners very positive reviews from readers inside the App Store; Microsoft confirms future launch of smaller Surface tablets

One can measure the news cycle simply by glancing at the traffic reports here at TNM. On normal days with the usual flow of news traffic is consistent and, thank goodness, continues to grow (thank you). But on weeks like this one, with major stories popping up continuously traffic slips back as many publishings pros, who are likely to be news junkies like me, stay away from industry sites to concentrate on the news.

And what a week it's been: the Boston Marathon bombing, the media frenzy that followed, CNN and the NY Post disgrace themselves, today's news that one of the suspects is dead... Oh, there was that explosion in Texas, a news story that would have normally led the news for a few days, but can't even be found right now on the NYT's home page.

So I was curious how much press the launch of the new tablet app for the Québnec daily La Presse would receive. As I wrote yesterday, "if I worked at La Presse I'd be very proud of the paper this morning, and more than a little encouraged that the paper was on the right track." That's about as much praise as I could ever offer.

But La Presse is, obviously, a French language newspaper, it's Canadian, and it's, well, a newspaper. Did anyone notice that such an important new news app was released?

To be honest, I sacrificed my website traffic by keeping my own post on La Presse+ for much of the day – again, a sign that I considered that post very important.

Not surprisingly, there are no reviews of the app in the U.S. App Store. I would think that any Québécois living in the U.S. would probably maintain a Canadian App Store account, meaning they would not be allowed to review an app inside the U.S. App Store.

So what do Canadian's think? Well, they are responding in large numbers I am happy to report and the reviews, all in French, are almost entirely raves. As is the case where I see almost all five-star reviews I end up curious what the one-star reviewers might be complaining about.

One dissatisfied reviewer was not happy about the lack of an International news section, while another complained that developers ignore owners of first generation iPad devices – inferring, not actually saying that the app may be perform as well on an older iPad. Another complained that there was no iPhone version.

To me, each of these were "it's great, but..." reviews. The kind of complaints that say you're on the right track.

The coverage of the app release by the media, though, was disappointing. The Globe and Mail ran a piece that obviously was written before the actual app release, as was The Canadian Press story. The WSJ ran the La Presse press release.

None of the reports actually showed screenshots of the app.

If La Presse+ turns out to be a success, it will most likely remain under the radar of most of the newspaper and trade press for awhile.

Apple is giving the new La Presse+ app some love inside the App Store as it is being prominently featured in the News category as well as in the Newsstand category of the App Store.

Microsoft has confirmed that they will be releasing a smaller version of their Surface tablet. The news came as the giant software company reported pretty decent earnings, with earnings up 18.5 percent. But factoring in the release of a new version of Windows, the earnings report many analysts were said the report was disappointing.

It is difficult for me to judge the level of success of Windows 8. Microsoft has been a marketing juggernaut in the past, but its efforts for Windows 8, and the Surface in particular, have been bizarre. Apparently the Surface is the tablet for people who dance on tables, other than that I have no idea why one would buy one. It's time for a change in agencies and in the marketing department.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Skateboarder Magazine swaps out PixelMag replica editions for a brand new interactive magazine, but slow download speeds for larger issues brings a world of hurt

The publisher of Skateboader Magazine is clearly enthusiastic about their moves in digital media, at least if the title's press release is any indication. The pioneering skateboarding magazine launched a new interactive digital magazine, replacing the replica editions produced by PixelMags.

But for readers the first impression will be a world of hurt experienced when trying to download their first issue.

The file size of 455.6 MB signifies that an interactive magazine is on the way. But when it will ever stop downloading is the big question. The server speed is so slow that it reminds me of the early days of music downloads when a 3MB song took 15 to 20 minutes. One didn't know any better so we lived with it. But readers are not going to be happy having to wait 20 minutes of more for the arrival of their digital magazine. (It took over half an hour to complete the download of Issue 1.)

"This audience lives online, so it was necessary for us to create content platforms that meet their needs and bring them the unique editorial voice of Skateboarder in an expanded digital format," said GrindMedia Senior Vice President Norb Garrett.

"By making the digital issue free and accessible to all skateboarders worldwide through our website and digital newsstands, we are expanding our content reach with the goal of engaging a greater skate audience. Over the past year, our website traffic has grown 180 percent due to our investment in proprietary video platforms and expanded editorial, reinforcing our view that this audience demands more of a digital focus."

The new digital magazine is designed to be read in landscape. This not allows the publisher to take advantage of the iPad's display dimensions, but also allows for the magazine to be read online in the same design.

“Whether it be our website, iPad/iPhone apps or print, Skateboarder will be everywhere skateboarders live," said Skateboarder publisher Jamey Stone.

The magazine won't abandon print completely, plans are to produce a limited-edition collectible magazine six times per year available exclusively at skateboard retail shops. These print magazines will, in effect, be replica editions of the digital magazine – something I believe we'll see more of in the future.

Skateboarder is published by Source Interlink Media’s GrindMedia.

Québec’s daily newspaper La Presse releases brilliant new digital edition for the iPad, La Presse+

The French language newspaper La Presse today has released a new digital edition today for the iPad, La Presse+. The new tablet edition is being offered on a free subscription basis, with readers able to access their daily edition through the Apple Newsstand app each day by 5:30 a.m., seven days a week (the paper dropped its Sunday print edition in 2009).

“After three years of research and development, we are proud to offer users an innovative digital edition that will redefine the way they get their information, while maintaining La Presse’s DNA in terms of content quality. La Presse+ is an exceptional tool that enriches and expands upon the quality and depth of the news experience,” said Guy Crevier, President and Publisher, La Presse in the company's launch announcement.

"We chose the iPad for its outstanding content-presentation abilities and its potential as an advertising vehicle. The iPad is also the most widely used tablet device among our subscribers, and the most popular in Québec. La Presse+ is being offered on a free-subscription basis, because we believe in the irreversible phenomenon of the availability of information free of charge on digital platforms. This launch is a significant milestone, and La Presse+ now becomes the flagship platform of our entire information ecosystem," said Crevier.

"We've made a bet on a new medium, a new way to tell stories," Pierre-Elliott Levasseur, executive vice-president, digital publishing at La Presse, said to The Canadian Press agency. "We've taken so much time over the last two and a half years to test so many dimensions of the storytelling...that it would be a surprise to us if this doesn't succeed."

The App

Most daily newspaper apps are either a replica of the print edition, or else a reformatted version of the paper's website like The New York Times iPad app. The Daily, on the other hand, used a digital magazine-like approach to create its daily tablet newspaper.

La Presse+ is possibly the first real successful attempt to reimagine the daily newspaper for tablets. The front page, like the print paper, is established every morning, but the model is native to the iPad. But further, the stories themselves are also native to the iPad – attractive, native, imaginative layouts that engage the reader – rather than mere text layouts (though those are available, as well, if the reader wants).

The tablet edition contains sections just as your daily newspaper would: news, opinion, entertainment, sports, business and style (Actualités, Débats, Arts, Sports, Affaires and Pause Beauté).

The app also has a button that takes allows the reader to access the latest news from the paper's website, as well. But the importance of this feature is that it is not a refresh of the font page, but simply a way to give the reader access to news that might be new to the website. No, this app is a new take on the tablet newspaper, not attempt to bring the website to tablet readers.

As for the editorial content, that, too, has been reimagined for the tablet edition. I hesitate to say "enhanced" because that would imply simply adding in video, audio and the like. No, this is more than that.

There is great work being done in digital media created for tablets, especially in the area of e-books and magazines. But I think this may be the very first app to be released by a newspaper company that makes on feel that we are turning a corner. Anyone in charge of digital strategy at their paper needs to see this app, and if a month from now they remain unfamiliar with it then one would have to question their commitment to their profession – that's how important I feel this app is.

While the two screenshots give you a taste of look and feel of this tablet edition, I think it is safe to say that viewing the video walk-through is vitally important. Because of this, the video is a bit longer than normal in order to show off at least some of what is in La Presse+. (The video will be at the end of this post, after the break.)

The Business Model

La Presse claims that the launch of La Presse+ represents "three years of research and development and a $40- million investment." That is a claim that I have to take with a grain of salt. The editor of the newspaper, Guy Crevier, came on board in 2001 and there has no doubt been much work done on the newspaper, its website, and its mobile apps. But...

Guy Crevier
That aside, the one thing about La Presse+ that publishers will debate is the issue of giving the app and its contents away free of charge. For younger readers, in particular, there is no question that the product of choice will be La Presse+, not only for its interactive news content, but for it being free.

"How many readers (of the print edition) will be left at the end of the year, the end of next year and in three years? It's the consumers who will decide," Crevier is quoted by The Canadian Press as saying about print versus digital. So the paper, which says spends $90 million a year on print production, is certainly betting that digital distribution will pay for itself.

But La Presse+ is a tablet newspaper worth paying for and other publishers – and circulation manager – would probably insist on attaching a price tag to the new tablet edition inside the Apple Newsstand.

Morning Brief: Pocket app update adds sharing features; Zinio issues app update to address back issues bug; Bloomberg for iPad gets font size adjustments

When asked which apps a new iPad or iPhone owner should download on the day they buy their device a few apps come to mind – Dropbox would be a good example. Pocket is another.

Pocket's actual app name inside the Apple App Store is actually Pocket (Formerly Read It Later) to remind people of the name change. The old name also better describes what the app is for: saving stories one finds online for later reading.

Timed to coincide with the one year anniversary of their name change, Pocket has issued a major app update that adds some important content sharing features. From the app description:
Send to Friend is a new, simple way to share content with the people who matter to you most. With just a couple of taps you can share content from Pocket with friends and family, along with a comment and a highlighted quote. They’ll receive an email with the link, and if they have Pocket, they’ll also be notified right inside the app.

Once a friend sends content to your Pocket with Send to Friend, it will appear in an inbox, where you can see their comments along with any highlighted quotes they chose to share with you.

Pocket’s redesigned Share Menu highlights your most recently used services, like Twitter, Facebook, Evernote or Buffer. And once you’ve shared to friends or family with Send to Friend, you’ll find shortcuts to share content with recent friends right from the Share Menu.

Turn on optional push notifications to know when a friend shares with you in Pocket. This update also includes a number of bug fixes and performance updates.
Zinio has issued a bug fix app update for its popular digital newsstand. The update is designed to fix some issues with free back issues and basic app and purchase reliability issues – bugs, in other words.

While the first new reader review says the app crashes for them I've not encountered any issues with the app.

Bloomberg has updated its main news iPad app today, Bloomberg for iPad. The update addresses some issues raised by users about readability.

"What was everyone thing when they re-designed this app on their 27 inch Dell?" read one recent review. "Font size is too small even when sizing up."

Today's app update addresses the font size issue by resizing both the fonts and the spacing. But the app is a rather odd one in that it looks like something that would feel OK for a trader that stares at a busy screen all day, but for the casual reader it seems busy.

I like the app, though, if only because it doesn't feel like simply an attempt to reformat an existing website for the iPad.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Marketing agency Prodigy releases new interactive tablet magazine for its client Swiss Chalet Fine Foods

The marketing communications agency Prodigy Professional Group has launched a new digital, interactive magazine for its client Swiss Chalet Fine Foods. Called The Chalet, the Newsstand app is a native tablet magazine which can be downloaded and accessed free of charge by consumers.

At first, the custom publishing project will fool you: it looks very much like a replica edition for the first few tablet pages. But since the debut issue weighs in at 489 MB one knows that can't be right – and sure enough a few pages in one starts to see the use of native tablet features such as pages that need to be scrolled, interactive features such as pop-up pages, links to product pages and more.

Digital magazines such as this one from Prodigy are usually the examples I give to publishers when asked for examples of the tablet publishing platform.

The reason is simple: with no print magazine to reproduce, the custom publisher can start with a blank slate. Sometimes, as in the case with The Chalet, the end product is very much influenced by print magazine design. In other cases, the publisher thinks of the platform in new, radical ways that ends up producing a very much new format for a digital magazine – many of the digital magazines produced for automotive brands fit into this category.

Prodigy has served their client very well with The Chalet, and the use of the Newsstand insures that there will be more editions to come, though because of the size of these issues readers will be hoping they don't come too often.

The new digital magazine The Chalet does contain a reminder of one of the issues of iPad publishing: font choices. Here we are not talking about font sizes, this digital-only magazine makes sure the fonts are sized properly, but font coloring.

This is an issue I've run across many times with digital-only magazines: fonts that are very light or lightly colored, that I'm sure look great on the designer's computer screen, but come off as a bit too light on the tablet. In one case, the digital magazine appeared almost invisible, so light was the font used.

On the other hand, some digital magazines created by new comers often make the mistake of bolding their text fonts so that the resulting publication is ridiculously heavy. One solution is to use standard publishing fonts. One mistake new art directors make when fresh out of school is to fall in love with custom fonts – they soon learn that this is a big mistake over time.

Why few in the media business feel sad at the loss of their trade associations or their trade industry publications

There was once time when the B2B media industry was all about serving readers and selling advertisers. It was a simple game: give away the magazine to industry pros and sell those that want to profit from reaching those in it. I know, I was in that industry for almost two decades (and I consider TNM strictly B2B).

Today, it is not only the B2B industry, but the media part of it in particular, that now has it backwards. Selling ads to vendors is taking a back seat to selling the readers themselves – events, seminars, webinars, almost anything to take that last dime out of the pockets of media pros. It is as if these publishers and associations see the clock ticking and know their hour is approaching, so better to profit now while it is still possible.

I feel angry and quite defensive about our publishing industry. It has served me well for three decades in total, and I don't want to see it disappear. I only wish others felt the same way.

Not a day goes by when I fail to receive a solicitation to attend another function. Occasionally they are free, sponsored by vendors who are simply there to sell you their wares; other times they are outrageously priced events where one gets to hear speakers, mostly vendors selling their wares, but occasionally someone telling you about their own businesses. In the old days I'd simply call that person up and talk to them, apparently now there is a need for a price of admission. (Funny, I call media executives every day and have never been charged for the privilege.)

Last week we heard that the ABM, the trade association that is supposed to represent B2B publishers, would be absorbed by the SIIA. Few seemed very upset by the move. My own theory is that most B2B publishers don't like to pay those annual fees and see this as a good excuse to bail.

But I have a word of warning to those PE-owned B2B media companies who only see the end of their trade association as a way to cut a few more dollars from the budget: believe it or not, you're going to miss the ABM.

Again, I know through prior experience with this. Before being recruited to join the McGraw-Hill Companies as a publisher of a B2B newspaper, and later launching a magazine, I used to be in the newspaper business. For quite a while I was very successful classified advertising manager, back when such a thing was possible.

From the age of 22, fresh out of J-school, I quickly worked my way up to CAM at a daily newspaper – and have to say that we blew out our numbers on a consistent basis. That made it fun to attend those association events, especially the ones where the president of the association would call for a show of hands of those CAMs that had made their annual budget. Times were good and a majority of managers could raise their hands. Then the association head would ask how many beat their budgets by more than 5 percent, 10 percent, etc. Usually only a couple hands were left up – always one of those was the CAM at the San Jose Mercury News, as they were the leaders in the field year in and year out.

But there is no classified advertising managers association on a national level today and its loss is truly felt by every CAM left in the industry. I can not tell you how many good ideas I got from those industry events, and how many silly ideas – like Babies of the Year – ended up being enthusiastically embraced by my staff when I returned from the event. (That silly idea, where readers submitted pictures of their kids, then received a T-Shirt reading "Times Baby of the Year", resulted in the community awash in "Times Baby of the Year" T-Shirts, to the utter dismay of our competitor.)

But the reason few will miss their association, or the now thin-as-can-be trade magazines, is that it is hard to see how they actually support their industry. The latest issue of one trade magazine seemed to only contain guest posts by those seeking new clients.

Everyone, it appears, wants to sell us today. But who represents us?

Some photography magazine publishers eagerly take advantage of the tablet publishing platform, though others continue to take a conservative approach to their apps

Some categories of magazines were made for tablets – or, at least, that is the way I think. When I see a new food magazine hitting the Apple Newsstand I wonder if, finally, this publisher has seen the potential of the tablet platform and created an intelligent mix of cooking videos with editorial content. I can name some decent food magazine tablet editions, but the one's you'd expect to be great are usually a major disappointment.

The photography category is another interesting one as there is a wide range of approaches to tablet editions seen here. Focus Publishing, for example, which I've written about several times, has enthusiastically embraced native tablet publishing and now is launching ancillary products – individual digital magazines for fine art photographers and galleries.

There are several reasons why the tablet platform would be attractive for the photography category. One obvious one is that the retina display of the iPad (or other tablets, to be fair) is able to display photographs at 2048 x 1536 resolution at 264 pixels per inch. Print magazine publishers require their photographs to be submitted at 300 or 266 ppi for final printing using line screens of 150 or 133. We don't need to get into all the technicalities here, this isn't a photography website. But the bottom line is that, in theory, a tablet magazine has the potential to display photographs in a better way than print (and that is not even considering print variation caused by the printer, paper, etc.).

But thinking about reproduction quality really misses more important points.

David Spivak, the president and publisher of Focus Publishing, wrote in a recent tablet edition why he launched a native tablet edition for his magazine: "The reason for this was that in digital format, we could allow our reading audience to enjoy a full perspective of a photographer's work without the print costs and page count being a factor. In other words, Prior to Issue #19, the most number of pages a photographer was ever allowed in our Focus Gallery section, was eight."

So rather than picking only a couple of photographs by an artist, the publisher/editor now can create a gallery of photographs that more accurately reflect the artist's work. Adding another photograph to a tablet edition may add a few MB to the file size, but it adds no costs to the end product even if the folio goes up by a few pages.

I think about all those arguments I used to have at one B2B publishing company about book sizes and ad-to-edit ratios. The company executives were so wacko that the last budget I submitted contained an ad-to-edit ratio of close to 80 percent advertising just to get them off my back (even though that would have violated post office rules).

With a tablet edition, adding extra pages may upset the balance of ad-to-edit, but who cares? Readers certainly won't complain about receiving more content.

The potential of the tablet platform hasn't prevented some magazine publishers from simply taking the easy way out and launching a replica edition. Today, for instance, sees the debut of Outdoor Photography Magazine Canada a replica edition of the magazine – and one that is charging $0.99 for the app (though the reader does get one issue free inside).

It's a pretty mindless replica, one that still contains the bar code on the cover. I can never understand why a publisher would submit their magazines completely unaltered via PDF for these tablet editions. It would take two seconds for the art director to take that bar code off the cover file and create a new PDF for appropriate for the tablet edition – but publishers rarely do this, opting for ease of conversion over reader considerations.

Focus Publishing is not the only magazine company enthusiastically creating new apps. The best example probably remains National Geographic Society. Their main tablet edition is usually found at or near the top of any of the international app charts.

But in addition to the two Newsstand apps (the other being National Geographic Traveler Magazine) the publisher has been busy launching other, stand-alone apps, as well.

One app, which recently received an update that added retina display support, is the $4.99 app 50 Greatest Photographs of National Geographic. It's the kind of publication publishers would have produced as a single issue book for distribution for newsstands. I think book sellers and distributors liked these because the cover prices were usually higher and they could remain on the shelves until sold out. But with the demise of many newsstand, including Borders (I just don't think there is any way to over state how devastating the demise will be for print publishers), many publishers are searching for alternatives.

The National Geographic app, originally launched in early 2011, has been receiving mixed reader reviews because of the intrusive advertising included in the paid app, but has proved popular, nonetheless.

Morning Brief: Roku, Apply TV and 3rd party apps; News Corp. finds a new-old name for its entertainment division; staff from Runner's World and Running Times find themselves switching gears at the Boston Marathon

For the past few years the big question I have asked myself, and have posed here at TNM, is when will Apple open up its Apple TV to third party apps? Opening up the family television to the same sort of market explosion that occurred in 2008 with the iPhone, and again in 2010 with the iPad would bring the media revolution to the television. I was sure that last year would have been the year – after all, Apple seems to be on this two year cycle, right?

But this review from Wired of the new Roku 3 has me thinking: has Apple missed the boat? Have they actually chosen to leave the family room to others? It seems unfathomable to me that Apple has chosen to go nowhere with the Apple TV, a device that, for me and my family, makes staying within the iPhone ecosystem an imperative.

If, with iOS 7, Apple does not include opening up the Apple TV I think analysts will have to abandon their constant predictions about a new Apple TV product. The key, which Apple knows very well, is the developer community. Without them they are completely dependent on the networks and studios.

One giant mistake I believe Apple has made has been to take some of its products off their refresh cycles. Last fall;s release of a fourth generation iPad was a complete yawn, and the absence of a new iPad this spring means that suddenly Apple is missing in action. Slowly, but steadily, expectations of what Apple will release are decreasing. I know few people who today feel the same way about new Apple releases the way they did just two years ago. This fall, or late summer, a new iPhone will arrive and right now the lack of interesting rumors about new features and capabilities is the only real "news".

Why is this important to publishers? Because, up to now, the most important rule for launching tablet editions (and less so mobile apps) has been Apple first, then Android, Amazon, Windows... How long will this stay true? My guess is that unless this fall sees Apple doing something interesting with the platform – like opening up the Apple TV – this year could be the last year that rule remains.

News Corp. will complete its split into two companies in July and the entertainment division has decided on a name: 21st Century Fox, a play on the old studio name. The new name “draws upon the creative heritage of 20th Century Fox, while also speaking to the innovation and dynamism that must define each of our businesses through the 21st century,” Rupert Murdoch is quoted as saying in a staff memo by the NYT.

The publishing arm, which includes The Wall Street Journal, The New York Post and HarperCollins, will remain News Corporation.

Many years ago my brother-in-law, who was the editor of a union newspaper in Detroit, was in Washington DC, attending a meeting of AFL-CIO representatives at the Washington Hilton Hotel. The newly elected President, Ronald Reagan, was scheduled to speak. After the event, you may recall, John Hinckley, Jr. attempted to assassinate the President, only wounding him instead.

Suddenly my brother-in-law was in a position to return to his roots as a cub reporter at the Detroit Free Press, writing a long report on the shooting for his construction trades newspaper.

Today in The Morning Call is a report on the staffers of Rodale's Runner's World and Running Times who were naturally in Boston to report on the marathon. Spencer Soper of The Morning Call followed up with what happened after the bombings:
"Being journalists, we knew the story wasn't the race anymore," said (Erin) Strout, an editor with Running Times who was live-blogging marathon results when the blast occurred. "We figured, let's find out what we can on the Internet because nobody can get out."
This kind of story is what we used to see in industry trade publications such as Editor & Publisher, it was good to see the local paper picking up the story.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Joe Zeff Design sets its sights on its own renovated building in its newest app 'The People in the Steeple'

This is the third post about new e-books apps written in the past 48 hours. The last post was a preview of The Afronauts, a stand-alone e-book app from Ubicuo Studio and author Cristina De Middel.

Writing about a new app from Joe Zeff Design is both a pleasure and a bit of a waste of time. After all, if you are a reader of TNM you know all about JZD: they do damn good work, and are without any doubt one of the leaders in the digital media space. Every new app from the studio is another example of the state-of-the-art at the time of the app's release.

The two most recent apps mentioned here have been A History of Ireland in 100 Objects (TNM post here) and KIDS DISCOVER (TNM post here) – each was rightfully promoted by Apple as excellent example of book apps. (You can read an interview of Joe Zeff conducted by Pedro Monteiro that appeared on TNM in 2011 here.)

But most apps that are designed by JZD don't appear under their name in the App Store, but are instead to be found under the name of their clients (another thing I like about the studio). The Ireland app, for instance, appears under the name Royal Irish Academy.

But this isn't a hard and set rule: for instance Above & Beyond: George Steinmetz appears under JZD's developer account. There is also the app simply called Joe Zeff Design, which the app description brags was created in under one day using the Adobe DPS, the company's main digital publishing tool.

Late last week JZD released a new app that looks like it was created just for the joy of creating it, and possibly also as one of those things that will be used when trying to convince a client to use the studio's services – The People in the Steeple. The app is free of charge to download.

Joe Zeff Design makes its home inside a painstakingly renovated church in Montclair, New Jersey. What better place for a group of designers, illustrators and animators to find inspiration while creating award-winning apps for the iPad, iPhone and other devices? JZD invites you to step inside our studio to rummage through our stuff, track down our trade secrets, and see for yourself how we bring content to life on digital devices. It's the most fun you'll ever have in a church . . . in an iPad app . . . in Montclair, New Jersey . . . guaranteed!
I suppose one might not call this an e-book, it's to be found under the Entertainment category. But the whole e-book platform really is so diverse today that it is hard to know what to make of it. In the Apple App Store, in particular, one can find ePub and PDFs, native Xcode derived book apps, e-books that use other design software such as the Adobe DPS, and then there are those books that are using Apple's own iBooks Author. But then there are the Kindle, Nook and Kobo apps (as well as others).

JZD just calls The People in the Steeple an app, and leaves it at that. Maybe I wouldn't have included it in this series of e-book posts either had not other e-book apps appeared at the same time. But this ambiguity is partially the point that is to be made. The whole idea of what is a "book" is changing, expanding, and to me, becoming very exciting. And one of things that makes it exciting is that a good e-book doesn't have to have any text at all (see The Afronauts or The People in the Steeple) or it can be basically all text (like strategy+business collection).

If that doesn't get you excited for the future of digital publishing, well, my friend, you need a good drink.

Here is a very short walk-through video of the new JZD app. It was kept short in order to not spoil the fun of running through the app yourself, which is pretty much a virtual reality tour of their digs – or as JZD calls it, a pano-demonium. Other than the fact that I could use the clicks, there is probably no reason to view the video, just download and install the app yourself!

Global Golf Post launches a replica edition, not of a print magazine but of an online one, but issues are the same

It would be totally unfair to point at print publishers as the only media folk out there that have a difficult time adapting to some of the new digital platforms. In fact, my biggest arguments have often been not with print media executives that think launching tablet or mobile editions are a waste of their time, but with online publishers and their advocates who sometime act as if thinking about any digital platform other than the web is like cheating on their wives. 'Digital First,' after all, isn't really digital first, its web-only.

I guess brings us to this new tablet edition from online magazine Global Golf Post. The online publication is built around its online flipbook – a digital-only product made to replicate the look and feel of print, but with embedded multimedia.

The problem with flipbooks is that readers hate them, or at least that is what they tell researchers who study these things. Of all the platforms out there – print, online, tablets, eReaders, mobile – reading an online publication in flipbook format comes in last (and, yes, print is still the most preferred, though tablets and eReaders are catching up).

So why built a flipbook? Well, they don't cost a fortune, and every Tom, Dick and Harry is out there selling 'em. Global Golf Post's flipbook is probably a little better than some, at least on a big monitor, though I don't know how one would be able to read it. On the iPad it is pretty much the same: OK, but things are a bit small.

Now comes the iPad app, Global Golf Post, and it is exactly the same as the online flipbook, with nothing altered other than some of the navigation tools. In other words, the same small type is still small. Even the pages are not quite sized right, being just a tad too short.

How does this happen? Why would a supposedly digitally savvy company launch such a bad tablet edition? I think it is caused by the first question asked. If that question is "how do we get our publication onto the iPad?" the trouble will inevitably begin. If, instead, the question "what kind of publication do we launch for the iPad?" the answer inevitably is "one designed for the iPad."

There are more problems for this new tablet edition other than its design: on my "new iPad" the performance is horribly sticky. It is a good lesson to learn: keep those old iPads around the office and test your new apps on those before launching your app. There are now four generations of iPads, five if you count the mini, so you know not everyone is using the latest tablet.

Another issue is the app icon as seen in the Newsstand. Until an issue launches it looks funky. But the icon changes to the cover of the latest issue once that issue is downloaded. The cover is in landscape, something that doesn't look quite right for a magazine in the Newsstand, but is not atypical of landscape designed digital magazines.

The good news is that the app and its magazine inside are free of charge – so I wouldn't expect readers to express you many complaints.

Ubicuo Studio, publishing e-books as apps to take full advantage of the platform; 'The Afronauts' brings back into circ the surrealistic photobook of Cristina De Middel

Over the first three days of this week TNM will look at three new e-books recently published. The first post concerned the recently released strategy+business collection. Meanwhile, if you don't find this post and the next one more than a little fun you really need to see someone about it.

Just as many print magazine publishers see the new digital platform as merely a way to distribute their print product via a new distribution channel, many book publishers have been slow to see the tablet or mobile phone as anything other than just another channel, as well. Initially, Penguin Group's CEO seemed to believe that the way forward was through e-book apps, loaded with interactivity and new features, but the company has appeared hesitant to rise to the challenge of the new digital platforms.

That, of course, leads the field open to the pioneers, the more adventurous and imaginative publishers. One of those appears to be Ubicuo Studio.

Ubicuo Studio is the creation of Maria Cerezo and Emma Llensa, who were the founders of Atem Books in 2010, as well as the online art publication Carpaccio Magazine. Atem Books bills itself as a non-profit publisher - whether that is by choice, or simply the only way the team could sustain their publishing choices is an open question – certainly the publishing house is not interesting in publishing mass consumer titles.

The publishing team will officially launch a new e-book, The Afronauts, Cristina De Middel, tomorrow in Barcelona, though the app is currently inside the App App Store and the publisher has been kind enough to let me preview (more on the e-book in a second).

Cerezo and Llensa are publishing their digital books as apps, as opposed to either ePub or Kindle Editions, or using a platform such as iBooks Author and placing them in the iBookstore. As a result, the reading experience is only limited by the imagination of the author and the publishing team, and the ability of the publisher to code (this is where I fail).

Ubicuo Studio apps range from free, to low priced to $6.99 for the latest release. No doubt each project is handled in a meticulous manner to ensure the app functions seamlessly.

The Afronauts is the digital version, if that is the right term, of the print book published just last year, but which is already sold out. To understand the book probably the best description is what is listed on for the print edition:

Zambia 1964, the rather eccentric school teacher Edward Makuka Nkoloso single-handedly started a space program to put the first African on the moon, thereby joining the space race between the Sovjet Union and the United States. Due to a lack of funding, both by the Zambian Government and the United Nations, and because one of the astronauts, a teenage girl, became pregnant, the short-lived program came to an early end. It is a lesser known part of the African history which unfortunately mostly has been dominated by wars, violence and hunger. Half a century later Spanish photojournalist Christina de Middel used this story as the basis for her book Afronauts in which she rebuilds the story and adapts it to her personal imagery. De Middel shows us surreal pictures of a space program situated in Africa, containing elephants, colorful spacesuits and beautiful hairdresses. The result of this fictional documentation is funny, striking and even thought provoking. One might want to blame De Middel for mocking Nkoloso and ridiculing the idea of Africans on the moon. But according to De Middel: "The images are beautiful and the story is pleasant at a first level, but it is built on the fact that nobody believes that Africa will ever reach the moon. It hides a very subtle critique to our position towards the whole continent and our prejudices."
The app description goes on to give the reader a clue as to what to expect from The Afronauts: "As a photojournalist I have always been attracted by the excentric lines of story-telling avoiding the same old subjects told in the same old ways," presumably says Cristina De Middel.

"Afronauts is based on the documentation of an impossible dream that only lives in the pictures. I start from a real fact that took place 50 years ago and rebuild the documents adapting them to my personal imagery."

If only Luis Bunuel were alive to make The Afronauts into a film. The images and app are funny, surrealistic, thought-provoking.

In most cases TNM doesn't like to talk much about content, leaving that to other B2B journals, but it is impossible not to equate the content to the digital publishing choices made here.

Often I wonder what the publishers were thinking when they created their app descriptions. The choice of screenshots is using far different from what my own choices would have been. As I always produce screenshots I rarely use what the publisher decides to use – but not in this case. The two screenshots you see above are also included in the App Store, as well. The publisher also chose to include a couple other very important shots, as well – ones that the reader might not find on their own without a little guidance.

For some readers, especially unsuspecting and rather conservative ones, The Afronauts will prove a challenge. There are no instructions included, and navigation within the book is not possible – the reader must go from beginning to end. Once at the end, the only way back is to quit the app and start again.

"Ubicuo Studio has actively participated in the creation process of The Afronauts for iPad and iPhone. As digital publishers, we didn’t understand the digital version of The Afronauts as a digital conversion from printed format into a digital PDF," wrote the publishers on their website.

"We wanted to develop The Afronauts from scratch, that’s the reason that this book is not a PDF or EPUB3. Behind it there’s Objective C (iOS programming language). Our mission was to think the book again taking advantage of all the features iPads and iPhones give us. We don’t want to spoiler you, so we’ll wait a few weeks until we reveal all the App secrets. Stay tuned!"

The official launch for the new e-book will be held tomorrow evening at Meeatings23 in Barcelona. I wish I could be there!

(Update: you can find a landing page for the new e-book here. Also, if you download the app yourself and find yourself a bit lost, just try and find the group of stars move a bit, there is a link there that will get you into the e-book app.)

Below is the usual walk-through video of the new app. I've purposely edited out a lot since I didn't want to reveal too much about the book, though the unique opening appears (I hope they don't mind). There is a lot to discover in The Afronauts, and the process of discovery is part of the enjoyment of the book.

Morning Brief: Fortune editor gets to crow following NYT Pulitzer win; is digital magazine circulation growth soaring or still tiny? it depends where you look for the evidence

I see Philip Elmer-Dewitt is crowing this morning, maybe he should. Back in January the Fortune magazine editor said that the paper's motivation for its series of stories on Apple and labor conditions at its supply chain vendors in China were an attempt to win the journalism award rather than simply good journalism.

The original story – and the headline says it all, Apple in China: The New York Times goes for the Pulitzer – said that the NYT story is "the kind of reporting that wins the New York Times Pulitzers year after year. But one of the things the prize committee looks for in a series like this is evidence that it's had an impact. That something has really changed."

Elmer-Dewitt may have been a bit upset with the Apple story when it was published but his actual criticism of the story is pretty minor. For me the issue of the Pulitzers is how irrelevant they are to readers, how they ignore much of the work done online and in other digital platforms, and how winning them is as much a game as the Oscars. In fact, the Pulitzers are the Oscars for journalists but without a public that cares about them – and without the red carpet, much to the dismay of newspaper journalists.

Is digital circulation at consumer magazines still small, or a quickly growing percentage of overall circulation? Readers would be hard pressed to know based on the coverage of the trade press.

AdAge in February joked that digital circulation "soars... to 2.4% of Total" using Alliance for Audited Media (AAM) data.

Yesterday, the WSJ said that Adobe is claiming its customers are seeing real growth. "Our average publisher is seeing 85% growth in readership in the past six months," said Lynly Schambers-Lenox, marketing manager of Adobe's digital-publishing-suite of software. "We think the proliferation of devices is driving that increase."

Both stories can be true at the same time – and, obviously, both sources have their reasons to reporting the news the way the do. AdAge, and Crain Communications, in general, are hardly leaders in the digital space; and Adobe makes money selling the tools publishers need to make tablet editions.

But the truth of the matter is that much of what is going on in the magazine industry is completely invisible to our trade press. Industry journals, as I've written before, have been claiming a slow down in magazine launches at a time when launches are actually exploding via the Apple Newsstand. The bias against digital-only magazine launches is obvious.

What is happening in tablet publishing is what happened online: the traditional media world has been late to the game, and less than enthusiastic about having to make the investment. As a result, new players are emerging, and pure plays are at an advantage. The difference this time is that many of the big media companies are not completely missing from the new platform, and the absence of venture capital companies investing in pure plays is slowing the emergence of new digital-only publishing companies. Traditional media has caught a break, though I doubt they are aware of this.

The simple fact is that look at AAM data only gives you a peak into what is happening. The vast majority of digital magazines launched are having their circulation measured by Apple and the publisher's digital publishing vendor, not an audit bureau. That is not to say that the new digital-only magazines make up the majority of the new readership – no, I think the popular magazine brands still dominate, or at least are the titles with significant digital circulation.

But there are examples of digital-only publications with significant reach: TRVL is claiming one million app installs, which is an irrelevant number since it doesn't measure readership, but it still can claim a significant, if unaudited, subscriber base.

Then there is the ant hill that is the Apple Newsstand. Kick it open and a giant beast will not emerge, but millions of little ants do add up to something significant. Many of these new digital publications may only have 100 readers, but there are lots of them, and likely some of these new titles will survive and continue to grow – even if they continue to remain invisible to the media trade press and the trade associations and vendors that still see the world as it existed before 2010.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Booz & Company uses the various e-book formats to offer a collection of articles entitled 'Don't Blame Your Culture'

This is the first of three posts on new e-books to appear over the next three afternoons.

Probably no new digital publishing format is as guaranteed of success as e-book publishing. The reasons are many, but one main point to consider is that e-books come in all sorts of formats themselves: from simple ePub text oriented books, to elaborate e-book apps.

Both newspaper and magazine companies are discovering the advantages of launching new e-book imprints – and companies, too, are finding that presenting their information in e-book formats can be a wonderful marketing tool.

The global consulting firm Booz & Company has its own magazine inside the Apple Newsstand, strategy+business magazine, and recently it launched a stand-alone app called strategy+business collection in which to offer collections of articles for its customers and the public.

The latest of these collections is called "Don’t Blame Your Culture" – seven articles plus an introduction on corporate culture.

"Everyone knows that corporate culture matters," writes Art Kleiner, editor-in-chief of strategy+business in the introduction. "After the job title, duties, and salary, it's typically the thing that a job applicant cares about most: 'What's it like to work?'"

Left: Cover page of the Kindle Edition; Middle: the TOC from the iPad version; Right: the Kindle Edition article appearance.

Booz & Company has released this new e-book/app for the iPad, iPhone, Kindle and through Zinio. The platforms dictate what the reader sees: the Kindle Edition is fairly plain, with some pages more attractive than others, but with readability the main concern; the iPad app is more attractive, with a better tablet of contents, for instance.

No matter which platform the reader chooses, the price is $2.99.

Dutch horticultural B2B magazine launches first, introductory Newsstand edition; two new magazines appear inside the Newsstand through Texterity apps

The publisher of the English language version of the B2B horticultural magazine HortiBiz, TuinbouwCommunicatie, has launched a first app edition into the Apple Newsstand. The universal app from the Dutch publisher is not so much a digital magazine as a tablet app that supports the Newsstand function – an odd and unique app solution.

HortiBiz Magazine appears under the developer account name of Martin de Lang, who has two other apps available, both of which are really mobile news apps. This new app looks more like a Kindle Edition than a digital magazine, with simple layouts and adjustable fonts.

It is an odd choice for the publisher seeing that the B2B title already has a Flash flipbook available. Generally, those publishers who employ flipbooks tend to also employ replica editions, as well.

The free digital product is said to be "an introduction to HortiBiz iMagazine (sic), the digital version of HortiBiz Magazine." That there is the full app description which tells you that the developer and publisher are pretty new at this app development business.

One company that has been around longer and should have more experience at launching app is Texterity, the company bought out last year by Godengo.

Two new replica editions have been released today that use the digital publishing platform, Buffalo Spree Magazine, the city magazine, and Sound & Picture, an app that is appearing under the name Trew Audio Nashville (which may own the magazine, though the publication's website is no help in identifying the publisher).

Both apps offer readers replica editions. The big problem I have with these apps is the fact that the app libraries claim to offer previews of the issues inside, but rather than offering the reader a few pages of the actual digital editions, it offers only thumbnails that can not be accessed. The result is that the reader has no idea just how difficult it will be to read these PDF versions of the print magazine, and will be most likely very disappointed once they have paid for an issue or a subscription.

The app description for Buffalo Spree is somewhat acceptable in that one sees the store page, the article TOC and the thumbnail page. But the app description for Sound & Picture contains only one screenshot – you'd expect better work than this from your vendor.

A conversation with a magazine company's production head: the strong motivation to keep print alive

One of the benefits of having been in the publishing business so long is the ability to pick up the phone and call a friend to get their perspective. Late last week I talked to the head of production at one B2B magazine company to say hello and to get an idea of where they were heading.

I was surprised to hear how upbeat they were concerning the company's prospects to launch new digital products for mobile and tablets. "I think that by this time next year we should have all our titles inside the Apple App Store," the production manager told me. "I've been assigned the task of making this happen, and I don't see any reason it can't be done fairly quickly."

One of the questions I wanted to ask was whether the magazine art directors were playing around with digital publishing solutions – either through the Adobe DPS or another solution such as Mag+ or Aquafadas. "Not that I am aware of," the production manager told me, "that would be my job."

It was at that point that the bells started to ring in my head.

My own experience at magazine companies is that on any given week I would receive a solicitation from a vendor to sell me Flash flipbook or some other digital publishing product. Sometimes, if I had not heard of the company, I would invite them in to hear their spiel. The sales pitch always started with a demonstration of features, but always ended with the words "cheap and easy" – it was the closer, and I'm afraid it appears to be a sure fire winner with many publishers.

But sometimes I would receive the call and simply tell them to call the head of production – it was a quick way to get rid of the vendor, though I knew that wouldn't be the end of it.

In the world of print magazines, the production head is the interface between the magazine and the printer – they are often the person who gives the art director the issue layout, complete with ad placements, then takes the final InDesign or Quark files and passes them on to the printer's pre-press department. Then they shepherd the magazine through to final printing and distribution.

By handling digital magazine decisions, they can pretty much decide their own future: if the digital magazine is the product of the PDFs produced for print, they remain in the middle of things; but if a native digital publishing solution is used, they may find themselves suddenly out of the loop. After all, an art director that uses a plug-in solution can handle most of the work themselves, and can even be the interface with Apple or Google if they have access to the developer account.

I asked this production manager about the choices they were considering to get their titles into the Newsstand and, not surprisingly, all involved PDFs derived from the print product. "I really don't want to have to deal with InDesign files once the print magazine goes to bed," the manager said. "Once the print magazine is done, that's it, we're finished."

I suppose every publishing company is different in how they handle digital platforms. But who, exactly, is the person in charge of creating these new products may ultimately determine the solution used. For some titles, there are strong, internal advocates from keeping print alive, even in digital form. Even if, ultimately, the print product disappears, some have positioned themselves well to keep themselves intimately involved in the digital production process though the selection of the digital publishing solution.

Morning Brief: Google reaches deal with European regulators; Dish Network bids on Sprint Nextel; Greece reaches deal with European lenders, confirms job losses

The New York Times reported yesterday that Google had reached a deal with European regulators in which the search giant will have to "clarly label search results from it own properties. The changes will effect results for shopping and flights, where competitors claimed that Google's search results favored their own results to the detriment of competitors such as Yelp of TripAdvisor.

Dish Network has reportedly bid on Sprint Nextel. Dish is said to be offering a cash and stock deal worth $25.2 billion. The bid is an attempt to defeat Softbank's efforts to acquire the carrier.

"The DISH proposal clearly presents Sprint shareholders with a superior alternative to the pending SoftBank proposal," said Charlie Ergen, Chairman of DISH Network in a statement on the bid. "Sprint shareholders will benefit from a higher price with more cash while also creating the opportunity to participate more meaningfully in a combined DISH/Sprint with a significantly-enhanced strategic position and substantial synergies that are not attainable through the pending SoftBank proposal."

Greece, too, has reached a deal, but at tremendous cost. Today Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras said that a deal has been struck with the troika – the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund – which sets the requirements that must be met by the Greek government to continue to receive bailout funding.

"Fiscal performance is on track to meet the program targets, and the government is committed to fully implement all agreed fiscal measures for 2013-2014 that are not yet in place," the government said in a statement. Reaching the agreement means the release of €2.8 billion in funds, along with €7.2 billion for the recapitalization of Greek banks.

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras confirmed that by the end of next year 15,000 state positions will be eliminated, with 4,000 to go this year. Overall, one-fifth of all state employment will be eliminated by the agreement, some 150,000 jobs in total by 2015.