Monday, January 29, 2007

Where is in this magazine?

The heading is barely grammatical, but it is prompted by a fascinating mashup of Google Book Search and Google Maps. See here for details:

I should warn you that some of the links in the Booksearch blog do not always work as required (ie there is no book-specific map), probably for arcane copyright-related reasons. But there are good maps of the places mentioned in War and Peace and Around the World in Eighty Days. At least I was able to get to these with a UK registered IP. No such luck with the 9/11 Commission report or "A Problem from Hell": America and the age of genocide . I leave you to find the Marco Polo trail for yourself. I always thought he made a more northerly route to China than is suggested by this Google mashup. Perhaps that is the way he came back, and he only knew where he was going on the return journey?

So can we look forward to a time when we will be able to see a map of all the places mentioned in a particular issue of a magazine? I have no doubt that it will come to pass. It will also probably be feasible through the web to find out which magazine issues mention a specific place and that too could be quite useful. Give it five years. The web is weaving an extraordinarily rich and suggestive gossamer around all information objects.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Google Books and Libraries

Google is doing something very interesting with books (see Google Book Search), and it is likely that they are going to spring some surprises on us this year. The Guardian's Vic Keegan had an insightful piece on this at the weekend. Keegan is the kind of journalist who gets behind the press releases (see his account of how to get your book self-published with Lulu). He gets his finger on the pulse.

But about one thing Vic Keegan is off-beam. He says:

Books are different from videos, emails and photographs, because for current
titles it is necessary to do deals with a comparatively small number of big
publishers rather than millions of individual users.
Which is sort of true. But it certainly does not follow, as he implies, that it will be easier for Google to negotiate with a few commercial publishers, than it would be to harness the energy of millions of web users. Most of the big publishers hate what Google is doing. Jonathan Rée, has written a thoughtful piece on the Google Book project in the current issue of Prospect, we also have a trial issue here. It is an excellent article and a brilliant magazine. I recommend a subscription.

Rée makes clear that the key advantage of the Google project is that it will allow the instantaneous searching of whole libraries of information. It is a curious fact that the Google project is really a Library project, so it is really misnamed as Google Book Search. Searching books is pretty straightforward. Searching all of the published literature is the Google goal - terabytes of information: the Library of Congress, The British Library and more. I am not sure whether the publishers who are worrried by this would be more worried, or pacified if Google were more explicit about the hugely ambitious goal. Oddly enough, its for the very reason that this hugely ambitious goal is so valuable and enlightening that for this very reason the wishes of millions of web users, who sense that searching complete libraries is completely feasible, may begin to count and Google will in the end be able to persuade the handful of mega-publishers that it is a good idea.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Acceptable Magazines

We have not yet been asked to sell subscriptions to any 'top shelf' magazines. Our current thinking is that were we to be asked we would politely decline. Decisions of this kind are hard to justify and its very hard to demarcate any borderline of taste. There does not seem to us to be any sensible way of offering a 'topshelf' in a virtual magazine store, but perhaps we have not thought through the issues. The physical topshelf is handy because a 12 year old probably can not reach it and anything at that level is relatively unobtrusive to the majority of the population.....

We really do not know what the right policy would be. There are enough magazines that want to get onto the web as Exact Editions that we probably do not need to resolve the problem for a while, but if you have any views, please post a comment. It now occurs to me that we should probably follow 'best practice' among those film download sites that handle Adult Material.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Reading a magazine on your PDA

I dont recommend it, but I am very impressed that people will try it out. Here was some interesting feedback from Philip:

Just subscribed to the Baptist Times Exact Edition. It looks good and works well on my PC, but there is one drawback. If I save the .pdf pages to view on my Palm PDA they are much too small to read. I suspect it may be because the pdf file is based on an image rather than on the text.
Philip is exactly right about the last point. Also the Baptist Times is one of the largest formats we work with, so its bound to be harder to squeeze a usable PDF onto the PDA. But of course we were taken with the idea, and a good half hour was spent in the office checking out how easily we could save PDF images of the magazine onto our mobiles and then navigate the pages. We reckon that the Nokia N70 is a better bet than the assembled Blackberries, but it may be that we havent yet spent enough time on tweaking the Blackberry.

There is a brand new spiffy Blackberry out today so we will have a shoot out with the Apple iPhone later in the year. Meanwhile I would say this is only to be attempted by the most committed digital enthusiast. It is not the easiest way to read a magazine.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Contemporary Magazine

Bernard Frize.

Grid-defined paintings.

Peter Zimmermann.

We now have some very strong magazines in the fields of design and visual arts.

Advertising and Metrics

This week's Media Guardian had a very informative article on the changing ways of measuring the effectiveness of web advertising. The article is by Jeff Jarvis and its also available from his blog.

Its a very helpful summary of where the industry is at. Namely, in a bit of quandary when it comes to providing good metrics for advertisers. Jarvis doesnt explicitly draw this conclusion, but it follows from his analysis, that the responsibility for providing trustworthy data and ROI information to publishers is increasingly likely to fall to the publishers directly. In the traditional print world the publisher could rely on the information provided by the Audit Bureau (ABC or BPA etc). The publisher might limit himself to emailing the advertiser a copy of the ABC certificate as a PDF file and to making darned sure that the records kept on the distribution side meet the audit requirements of the Audit Bureau. But in a world of effective web sites and digital editions the advertisers will increasingly look to the publisher to have a system from which the success and the audience of each advertisement can be measured. This will mean providing vastly more data to the advertisers if they want it. It will mean having systems which allow for this data to be easily/automtically polled by the advertiser.

We are now providing such a comprehensive service for our publishers. The publisher of the Ecologist can now find out exactly how many times this page has been looked at, month by month, and exactly how many people have clicked through from the link to Riverford Organics. We do not have permission to tell you what those numbers are, but it is fair to say that a live link buried in straight prose, such as in that context on our system, has a click through rate of roughly 4% (4 click throughs for every 100 page views). A prominent url in a display ad will do better. Those click-throughs are gold dust, and a decent stats service should tell the publisher and the advertiser where the gold dust is.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Feedback is good even when you it leaves you puzzled

We had a very busy weekend. On Friday we launched Le Monde Diplomatique (LMD) through the Exact Editions service. LMD did all the right things: they emailed a list of supporters, they had an advertisement on the home page of their English edition (they have many language and regional editions -- 57!). Its the same old lesson: if you do the right thing with the web, the right things happen. We had a flood of subscriptions, lots of trial usage, plenty of feedback and some of it was telling us how great the digital edition is. EG:

Just a couple of months ago, I have renewed my subscription for the print edition of Monde Diplo for another 2 years. I like the new digital edition for several reasons (search function, environment (saves paper), looks, easy access). I would like to exchange my print edition for the digital edition starting with the next issue.

This sounds like the kind of reader for whom a digital subscription is exactly right. If you value searching, you are concerned about environmental impacts and you are keen to access your subscription from anywhere, the Exact Editions works very, very well. Or...
I love this service. Thank you.

But I'd like a few more preference options, for instance how many issues I'd like to view per page on the home page. It needs more functionality.

But still, brilliant, keep up the good work!
Useful feedback and I am sure it will be logged on our list of possible improvements. Rich is right that we could do more to offer user-preferences. And then there is the reaction that you don't quite get:
As much as I like to read your Newspaper, I am not in a position to adjust it into a proper reading mode. Some better method must be found.
That is a little disappointing, but one wonders what Werner is getting at when he says that the he is unable to 'adjust it into a proper reading mode'. If he is thinking of reading the magazine/newspaper on his lap or adjusting the angle of vision in the way that might for a tabloid print publication -- well of course he is right. The monitor or laptop screen through which digital magazines are currently read is not something most of us currently feel completely comfortable with. When the iPhone arrives we will be reading digital magazines in the bed (even in the shower?) but till that time comes, we are stuck with our existing methods, and reading a digital magazine means sitting oneself in front of a typical monitor or laptop. Adjusting the person or the posture rather than adjusting the position or aspect of the magazine itself. And there will always be a better method; Werner is right a better method will be found. Keep on telling us what it should be.

Estimates and Guesstimates in the Guardian New Media Blog

Daryl Rayner, our MD, is quoted as guessing that we will have 150 titles in the Exact Editions shop by the end of 2007.

Our MD is usually right (we need to be careful what we say), but, if she meant exactly 150, the chances are she is wrong about this one. Anybody got a better guess? Please log it as a comment if you think you discern the course of events in the months remaining to 2007.

While we are at it, I would like someone to tell me which will be our 100th title. Last night someone suggested this list of desirable additions: 'Rolling Stone, Fast Company, Travel, GQ, Vogue, Esquire, ID etc' and then came back and added Esquire and Maxim. Phew, that will keep us busy, but it doesnt get us to 100.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

New Humanist


Laurie Taylor -- who must be one of our funniest writers.

Laurie again, interviewing John Mortimer -- the funniest playwright.

Le Monde Diplomatique

This monthly magazine has a circulation of 1,500,000 copies in 26 languages and 67 editions. As yet only the English English language edition is available through Exact Editions.

(later) Need to change the sample links. The trial issue was switched just after we launched. Here are some new links.

The idiocy of 9/11 conspiracists.

Ikea -- some of its secrets

Wars and witch-hunts.

But you should really subscribe as the John Berger article on Passolini, now behind the subscription wall, is compelling.

FAQ #3

The FAQ is now up. We think it will answer most of the most frequently asked questions. If not, it will get longer.

I like the boldness of our claim that we support any current browser which supports images. Could be that will become a hostage to fortune -- Oh well we have said it now!

(Any current browser) of course includes, Safari -- the default browser on the Mac. Whoah! that means I should be able to read magazines on my iPhone -- which is the sensation du jour.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Plastic Magazines

A company called Plastic Logic with a clever technology from the University of Cambridge has raised $100 Million in Venture Capital funding to build a factory for plastic semi-conductor subtrates. See the FT report.

$100 Million is a lot of money for a manufacturing plant and the technology sounds brilliant. It will also, apparently, work very well with another clever new-materials technology, E.Ink, (If you havent heard of E.Ink, you may know about the Sony Reader -- think miniature golf balls arranged in a matrix, each ball with a black face and a white face, in this matrix the faces flip black/white in a pixelated array). E.Ink has so far been stuck with rigid semiconductor backing. Stuck with it and stuck on it. Inklike microballs in a matrix and plastic substrate, when you fuse these two inventions you have a foldable, re-usable, high-resolution, glare resisting, print-carrying, cheap surface. All the complaints about not being able to take an e-magazine into the bath go down the plug-hole. These inventions are definitely bringing nearer the moment of the wearable magazine or the T-shirt-as-newspaper. Consider a T-shirt newspaper which is always displaying the latest issue of Metro (or The Guardian). Can you imagine what a tube journey is going to be like when half the occupants are wearing today's newspaper and the other half is trying to peer at the relevant column? (Before she gets off at the next station).

This is a great future, and I expect that conventional print replacement (and conventional t-shirt replacement) will be one of the areas in which Plastic Logic is deployed. But the big challenge for magazines and newspapers is not to do with improved and cheaper media for display. These media are coming and will surely be there and improving at the rate of Moore's Law. The challenge is to figure out how magazines and newspapers will be accessed, organised and used through the web. There is not a lot of point having a magazine on your restaurant napkin, if you cannot search it, refer to it by a link, and/or even subscribe to it.

This is fun but before we get too excited about the plastic New Yorker, note that colour will not be available in the first generation of the Plastic Logic substrates.....He does not say how long the first generation is, but I would guess this means three or four years with only black and white.
Our reservation about the Sony Reader applies.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Magazine City

This blog has Google text ads running in the margin. I find it educational to keep a weather eye on what appears there. An advertiser that recently caught my attention was Magazine City, a fairly standard re-seller of magazine print subscriptions through a web interface. The web site looks efficient and they cover many hundreds of US magazines. It is always interesting to see from such sites how really substantial savings are available on US magazine subs. But the item that really caught my attention was a reasonably prominent link to Ordering magazines for inmates.

Is that really a market worth catering for with a link near the top of the interface for an e-commerce site? It must be so, which is a sorry corollary of the number of prisoners in US correctional facilities. Clicking on the link brought up this message:

Often, a magazine subscription is the best gift money can buy for a loved one who's incarcerated at a correctional facility. We've processed thousands of orders for inmates in jails and penitentiaries across the country, so we've developed a level of expertise concerning inmate subscriptions.

I have no idea how penitentiaries handle web access, but the idea of private subscription to a digital magazine through the web is going to be a No-No for some time to come. Pornography on the web is too big and too obvious a its going to be some years before we need to develop a level of expertise in handling inmate subscriptions.

Shopping for magazines

Today (at 2.00 am UK time) we made an important change to the Exact Editions shop.

Subscribers no longer have to wait for an email to give them login details. They set up their account and choose a password before paying, so as soon as they have confirmed their purchase, their new sub is ready and waiting and they already know how to log in. It's a small change on the surface but a lot smoother.

The new foundations will make it possible for us to do ('real soon now') some things we have wanted to do for a while. Such as: (a) gift subscriptions (b) 30-day trial subs (c) provide more support for the purchase than comes with the standard Paypal interface.

This is the new page.

Its early days, but the new shopping system appears to be working smoothly. The second customer to use it bought 3 subscriptions. A good augury, but we still await our first 6-subscriptions-at-once magazine purchaser. That should happen this year.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Magazine Making News

The Scientific American has a coup with its article by Bill Gates on A Robot in Every Home.

I like this sentence which comes near his conclusion:

In fact, as mobile peripheral devices become more and more common, it may be increasingly difficult to say exactly what a robot is. Because the new machines will be so specialized and ubiquitous--and look so little like the two-legged automatons of science fiction--we probably will not even call them robots.

That may be a truer summary of the situation than the title of his article, but the right headline for the right person can still make the news. Check it out.

New Consumer

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall being funny about oranges. Serious too.

Ethical baby shoes.

The greenest way to subscribe to this magazine?

Friday, January 05, 2007

Art Monthly

Marcel Duchamp still has the power to shock

Henry Lydiate has been contributing to this magazine for 30 years. Not bad?

Unusually, except for its covers, this magazine stays with black & white as a matter of design principle. It seems to work very well as a digital offering without colour. What do you think? Here are one, two and three effective examples.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Predictions for 2007

Wired's Wild predictions are funny and interesting. But this is one that I really do NOT buy:

Print to Web
A major newspaper gives up printing on paper to publish exclusively online.

No major newspaper is going to do that, certainly not this year. But there is a great deal of gloom in the newsprint world, and to a degree it is creeping over to magazines. Today's Financial Times has an insightful analysis of the situation -- especially with respect to advertising. These figures from Bain & Co are arresting:
An analysis by Bain & Company, a consultancy, illustrates the problem. For an average US newspaper, a subscriber generates about $1,000 a year from advertising. For those newspapers that base their internet strategy around being a content destination, each viewer generates an average of $5.50 of advertising revenue.

That tells you why NO newspaper will jump from print to web-only: $5.50 per subscriber/regular reader is not enough. Our prediction for 2007 is that this is the year in which print publishers WILL start to figure out how web-based advertising can work for them.