Friday, March 30, 2007

Web Sites and/or Digital Editions?

Yesterday a publisher asked me why a user would prefer a digital edition to a comprehensive web site which reproduces all the magazine's contents? It is a good question. There are at least three reasons why a publisher who cares about his subscribers and has a comprehensive web service will also want to offer access to a digital edition:

  1. A digital edition just is the magazine on the web. It has all the design qualities and stylistic strengths of the finished article. The magazine nearly always looks better than a web site and a digital magazine will have those same design values. A comprehensive but 'repurposed' website is really another thing. Another edition of the magazine with reduced style and impact.
  2. Comprehensive web sites are not (ever?) strictly comprehensive. They do not include the advertisements. There is a kind of 'editorial' bias that says that the ads do not really count as part of the magazine and that a web service will do well enough if it reproduces all the editorial in the magazine. But of course the ads do count (they really, really count for the advertisers) and funnily enough they also matter to the readers. That is why advertisements in magazines work. So a publisher needs to think about the digital edition as a way of adding value to and through the ads in their magazine.
  3. This is an ALSO question. The digital edition should not be seen as choice a which excludes the 'comprehensive web version'. Some readers will prefer the HTML version of the magazine, especially if it has been running for a while. But some readers will certainly prefer the digital edition. The digital audience is likely to grow (see what has happened with Scientific Periodicals). It may be an interim measure, but cater for both parties.
One thing is certain: no publisher should think of the digital edition as replacing the magazine's web site. There are plenty of services (blogs, podcasts, user forums to name but three) which need to happen on the web site and NOT in the digital edition. Putting out a digital edition is just a part of the comprehensive range of services which a magazine publisher will use in developing the magazine's brand on the web.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Are newspapers catching a new wind?

The British Press Awards 2007 took place on Monday night. The UK Press Gazette which organises and sponsors the event has a full double page spread with portraits of the delighted winners.

This is a new free trial issue of the UK Press Gazette (sporting our new largest format page size). You can probably tell that the earlier free issue's largest format is a bit smaller than this new one, perhaps too small for comfort.

The article which most sparked my interest was the report on the Newsroom Barometer - a Reuters-co-sponsored study on the future of the newspaper industry. Surprisingly optimistic, is the general tenor of the industry. Don't you like the comments of Monique Villa, of Reuters? She says 'If you think that News International spent in the last three years $1 Billion on their printing presses, it completely blows away the argument that print will die in five years.' She is spot on.

But the editor of Press Gazette is also quite right to put an information box in the article which notes the massive move of advertising money to the web. Newspapers are certainly not going to die, but they also need to find out how to carve out their advertising revenues on the web. Apparently the UK is the country with the highest proportion of the advertising budget that is allocated to online advertising (11% or £2 Billion in 2006).

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Death of LIFE

Did the caps give it away?

Time Inc. have announced that LIFE will cease. This news came to me via an interesting new blog Why is Paris Match still roaring away when Picture Post and LIFE -- arguably similar publications for the UK and the US markets -- have bitten the dust (its the third time of dying for LIFE)?

Another new (for me) blog, takes me to Magazine Death Pool a register for last issues. The editor of this narco-blog has an exuberantly dyspeptic view of where we are:

Although many are still in denial, the golden age of magazines is over. Advertising is being sucked like a vacuum cleaner to the Internet and television. Newsstand sales are in freefall and there's no sign of stopping. Junior would rather IM and download music than read a magazine or a newspaper. Time inc. is laying off and taking buyouts.

There are some magazines which simply have no excuse for existing anymore. Even if the world of publishing was as peachy as a Good Housekeeping cover, they just do not have a reason to live.
These new blogs (and this roving around the magazine graveyard) come via wanderings from Andrew Losowsky's blog. We mentioned his new book yesterday. These magazine bloggers clearly have a keen interest in the design qualities of magazines and I suspect their interest in magazine graveyards is probably diagnostic, if not medical. Do magazines die primarily because their information-design, their visual-design and/or their usability-design is no longer suited to their markets? After all it was TV, not the internet or the web, that did for Picture Post and LIFE (at least the first time around). Magazines with strong design (visual/information/usability) will thrive with the web. One of my colleagues suggests that we offer to curate any major magazine that is bowing out of this world...... If it is a major magazine with an archive of PDFs we will do it for free (or rather for our share of the Google text ads).

Monday, March 26, 2007

An intellectual and thoughtful reader

Has just subscribed to 6 magazines. It seems probable, by his choice of magazines, that he (for it is a 'he') is a distinguished intellectual. Anyone who reads all these magazines regularly is going to be very well informed; the choice, in the order in which they were selected:

London Review of Books
Prospect Magazine
Rare Book Review
The Spectator
Le Monde Diplomatique
Literary Review

We said that we would mention in the blog when we first sold a 'six pack'. Our next target is to have a subscriber who takes 12 titles all at once. I was confident that we would do a six-pack in 2007, but am not so sure that we will do dozen-at-a-time anytime soon; but we will try to note such an omniverous choice in the blog, whenever it occurs .

As we add more titles, the advantages of having several subscriptions in the same account becomes more compelling, so we should be finding a lot more triplets and quads in the months to come.

Magazines have a time and a season

Magazines are born and magazines die. That is part of a healthy market. Andrew Losowsky has a nostalgia piece in today's Independent about his ten favourite magazines that have died in the last 50 years. Its a good list. I remember reading or looking at most of them, but not Sniffin' Glue (which unsurprisingly had a short life -- 1976-77) and two of them, Lilliput and Picture Post had died before I got interested in magazines. We can think of good one's that he has missed. What happened to the wonderful Illustrated London News? Wikipedia suggests that it is still published bi-annually, but its a long time since I have seen a copy. I also (occasionally -- and I am not yearning and pining for them) regret the absence of The Listener (d 1991) and New Society (merged with New Statesman in 1988).

From John Battelle's Search Blog I caught the news that Infoworld is ceasing print publication. In the 1990's Infoworld, with its tabloid format, colour throughout, multi-column newsprint, and entertaining columnists Metcalfe and Cringely, was my weekly bible on software development and happenings in the PC market ... but that was before the web and when a personal sub airmailed from the US cost over $200+. Magazines, especially B2B periodicals, need to work with the web and exploit it or they will be rolled over.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Copyrights and layers of creativity

John Naughton wrote one of the best introductions to the internet, a kind of hymn to the web: A Brief History of the Future. He blogs regularly, and elegantly, and is also a sage columnist for The Observer (which hides out on the Guardian Unlimited service, since the Guardian does not publish on Sunday). His piece today is excellent. Sir Arthur Sullivan, Tom Lehrer and now a new work by Mike Stanfill. The chances are that you have heard the Lehrer Elements song, it ends

These are the only ones of which news has come to Harvard,
And there may be many others but they have not been discovard.

But you will get a new take on the song from Mike Stanfill's Flash implementation which is a great commentary upon, and new kind of performance of the recording. I can not believe that the Lehrer estate is going to sue Mike Stanfill, as one very much hopes that the Sullivan estate did not try to extract royalties from Tom Lehrer; but such marvellous examples of layered copyrightable, creativity, need to be encouraged not prevented by the regulatory framework. Did any lawyer think to question the cubists for using labels of wine and absinthe bottles in their collages (not only copyright but trade-mark protected)?

Digital technologies facilitate collages, parodies, commentaries, mash-ups and emulations that are not simple knock-offs. Media convergence creates the new possibility of copyright convergence. So copyright should be loose enough to accommodate invention. It will have to be. Another Lehrer song reinforces the point: genius may be close to plagiarism.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Google Book Search is a boon for scholars of the 19th Century

Tim O'Reilly has an interesting post on the way that Google Book Search is transforming scholarship.

Google will have to settle its fights with copyright holders. But no one should doubt that the way it is building a global electronic library system can lead to extraordinary richness and access to wisdom. The Google Book Search system will get better -- inexorably and rapidly as more content is added and as the functionality of the software improves. Publishers and librarians will have to match and complement the depth of the vision or they will be left behind.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Broadsheets and Renewals

Overnight there was a stealthy upgrade to the Exact Editions service. Ideally nobody should notice but we can talk about some of the silent enhancements here.

Gutenberg was not thinking about the web when he invented the printing press. Life would be a lot simpler now if he had made a press which could only print on one size and format of paper. We could then optimize everything for a single reading frame. But alas, with the Exact Editions system, we have to cater for 100's and potentially 1,000's of different page sizes with some more or less regular image sizes (no more than 11 at present). We reserve the largest 'page' sizes for the magazines that really need them, because offering a larger image puts more burden on the not-to-be-overworked scroll-bar. Our largest JPEG just got a bit larger, 1,700 pixels across. But it will be a few weeks before we show the broadsheet that will take advantage of this.

Of more immediate interest, we can now renew our subscribers automatically. 'Renewals' are available from the user's 'Preferences' link on your account page. They of course work fairly, in the sense that the renewal starts from the date from which the current subscription expires. This has the incidental advantage that a user can now subscribe for 2, 3 or more years by simply renewing the subscription as many times as needed.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Newspapers and Magazines -- what to do about the web?

PaidContent has a report on a gloomy review of the newspaper and magazine industry's reaction to the web. There is also a link to the International Herald Tribune's report on the Magazine 2.0 Conference -- a satelite event to CEBIT.

It is quite extraordinary that some publishers are developing a digital strategy just because they feel the need to respond to advertiser's expectations.

"We are making a lot of sales online, but over all we are still making a loss," said Andreas Wiele, the president of [Axel Springer Verlag]'s magazines and international businesses, which are based in Berlin. "But we basically had no choice. Our advertisers are demanding an Internet strategy and we have to have one."
The prior question has to be: Can the publishers develop digital editions which serve their readers in a convincing fashion online? If the readers will not read the publication online the advertisers will properly have no interest in advertising in an online magazine or newspaper.

Hachette has been running digital trials in France which it will expand to the UK. Hachette has put 200 magazines into the trial and has had uptake from 20,000 consumers (the trial has been running since August).
Hachette sells access to digital facsimiles of four magazines for just €9.90, or about $13, a month. Consumers download the magazines, which are enhanced with embedded audio and video, and read them off line. They can switch the four titles each month and there is no yearly commitment.
I wonder whether it is really attractive to tell subscribers that there is 'no yearly commitment' and they may switch their choice each month? Interesting also, that they should have chosen 'four' as the proper number for a multi-title offer. However, at least Hachette is trying. Quite a few publishers appear to have given up. PaidContent concludes: 'the industry will wait for the electronics industry to save it by developing a hand-held newspaper and magazine reader.' PaidContent is not counting on this to happen in the medium term. Tough times ahead? Or it could be time to try a digital edition which is a simple web application?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Digital Editions and Greedy Networks

Digital editions avoid most of the wasteful practices which bedivil the print magazine industry (paper not needed at all, physical distribution costs gone, wrappers and collateral offers virtual or abolished, landfill for used magazines spared, no returns from sale-or-return etc.). But there is a worry that the environmental savings will be wiped out by the unsustainable and resource-greedy growth of the internet. Steve commented on this yesterday and he cited a fascinating discussion of the issues -- concentrating on Second Life.

Larry and Sergey, the idealistic Google founders, are anxious about the growth in power consumption for their data centres and users' network devices. When one starts to worry about the ecological impact of digital publishing, power ends up being the only real concern. On all other concerns the business is much, much cleaner than print publishing. If Larry and Sergey think that there is a problem with excessive power consumption, I am not going to contradict them, but it is notable that the profile of the problem has changed. What matters now is not, how much power and paper publishers use and waste. The key question now is what resources will users expend and will their pattern of digital consumption be very greedy? With traditional print publishing the resource use and the ecological impact stems from the printing process. There is a shadow, a trail, of ecological impact from the printing plant outwards. The only way users add to this ecological impact is by switching on the lights so that they can read the magazine that has been so laboriously shipped to them. But with a digital information system, the ecological impact and the power consumption is much more a matter of how and how much the system is used and what devices are operating at the periphery. The publishing function uses relatively trivial power and cash resources. In the next generation, the consumers, and their network devices, not the printing plants and paper factories are where the ecological impact is to be located. Brewster Kahle gave a fascinating lecture at Rice University two weeks ago, in which he pointed out that the Library of Congress, all 20 million volumes of it, could be stored in a tower memory box no larger than the podium from which he spoke. A large memory disk system of that capacity can be had for $60,000 (as he noted that is the cost of a garage or a good party in Silicon Valley) and the power used in running that box for a year is comparable to the central heating costs of a large house. Having and powering a very large digital library is cheap and getting cheaper. All the magazines and newspapers ever published could easily be accommodated in such a box. But it is the way consumers use digital resources that will have the environmental impact. If consumers care about ecological impacts then ecologically efficient systems will be built and used.

I find this an oddly hopeful thought: however the ecological challenge of global warming is to be met, it is only by a broad shift in consumer behaviour and expectations that we will see any effective action. Governments and business groups are getting concerned about climate change and ecological issues; but we can be sceptical of all treaties, targets and policies unless and until they have widespread popular support. Consumer behaviour is the key. Which will be my contribution to today's conference Green and Lean: how will publishing survive?.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Support and Customer Feedback

Is mostly great -- but its a matter of degree. If one gets too much feedback or call for customer support something is clearly wrong, (eg First Direct's problems this last week in changing procedures so that, among other disruptions, Safari, the default Mac browser, is no longer supported). Occasionally feedback is simply positive and gratifying to hear. Blush, blush, this came in through the feedback box last night:

Super media format
I really enjoyed buzzing around the magazine
like a wasp looking for sticky jam
ZZZZZZZZZ and have a look again ZZZZZZ
Kevin's message is great, but I have a small, ever so tiny, issue with it -- an abhorrence of wasps. Could someone else please send us some feedback saying they are a butterfly seeking nectar, a bear with a honey pot, or even a bee with a jam jar? Wasps and smeared jam just gives me the heebie jeebies. Especially the ZZZZZZ..... This is a trial issue to Kevin's magazine.

A small change to our service this week - which hardly anybody noticed (zero feedback so far). The largest size for our large format magazines, just got a little bit larger. The change is not retrospective but will apply to new issues coming through, so you will need to subscribe to one of the relevant titles or wait for a new trial issue. Take my word for it they are bigger. Here is a page in the older small size from the Press Gazette, and another from the LRB. New pages: area roughly 40% bigger than a week ago, more virtual paper but no environmental impact.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Project Red Stripe

The Economist is outsourcing and collaborating with its audience in an effort to reinvent itself. Project Red Stripe is a small group of employees charged with coming up with some revolutionary ideas and implementing them in a 6 month time-table, the mission:

We're a small team set up by The Economist Group, the parent company of the eponymous newspaper. Our mission is to develop truly innovative services online. We already have some ideas, of course. But as champions of free markets, we abhor the concept of a closed system. This is why we would like you to submit your idea (or ideas). Just think big - and we'll do the rest.
They are about half way through their timetable, check up on their progress here (webcam).

The Economist
has been getting steadily bigger and better for the last generation. It is a tough proposition to maintain that kind of track-record. We subscribe and read it regularly but it is much better in print than on the web.... So Red Stripe has to succeed! Few magazines (those who work for it, call the publication a 'newspaper' but I persist in thinking of it as a magazines) would have the chutzpah to do this in public (but it is comparable to The Guardian's blogmosis). Surely it is a noble goal and good luck to the team. It could be time to suggest that there was a proper digital edition of the magazine, umm I mean newspaper.... Here is their suggestions box.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Are publishers taking environmental problems seriously?

This is one of the questions we have been invited to address on a panel discussion at the Innovation in Publishing conference at the London College of Communication on Thursday 15th March.

Are we yet taking it seriously? Is the question that I will address in the 3-5 minutes allotted to each panelist. But since there is a lot to say and a picture is worth a thousand words, perhaps the thing to do will be to link to this site, with its 180+ pictures of waste from the London free sheets war.

The short answer to the question is that publishers are not yet taking these issues seriously, but readers and consumers are. The magazine industry and print publishers as a whole need to get their skates on.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Google vs Microsoft II

There have been many informative follow-ups to the Rubin speech mentioned here 2 days ago. Surely the most insightful analysis comes from Danny Sullivan. If one follows some of the links in his posting one can see how amazingly thorough Danny is. The bravest posting was mildly critical of Microsoft from the Microsoft-employed blogger Don Dodge. Tim O'Reilly speaks eloquently in Google's defence. He usually does on Book Search. So does Lawrence Lessig. Andrew Grabois's follow-through in the O'Reilly posting, comments on the spuriously inflated percentage of orphan copyrights, seems to reduce the force of O'Reilly and Lessig's argument. The Grabois points took me over to the PersonaNonData blog, for Michael Cairns's own comments. The pnd blog also alerted me to the mournful post from Peter Brantley. That is the contribution that would most worry me if I were the Google Book Search product manager (eek!). But today's PaidContent note on Google's Chinese library efforts leads one to the conclusion that Google is now so far in, it just has to get it right.

Google surely needs to settle with the publishers, listen to its friendly critics in the library community and work with other players in the digital book space. That is the only way to get it right and the only way to

organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful
Whenever Google plans a new information service, someone in the Googleplex should intone 100 times that it is the world's information, not Google's. Google is great and it needs to stay that way.

Management by Blogmosis

Blogmosis denotes the tendency for business and management decisions to be implemented, presented and conducted in semi-public. BuzzMachine has a great example of blogmosis this morning. When Alan Rusbridger OK'ed Jeff Jarvis blogging this company-wide, strategic, pep-talk, did he realise that so much of what he was saying would ricochet around the blogosphere and presumably echo in all competing boardrooms? Probably not, but it really does not matter. Indeed, widespread interest may help in the process of change.

I was fascinated by the tidbit that the Guardian already appears in 10 different 'platforms'. The print edition, the digital edition, Guardian Unlimited, the short PDF version G24, Guardian Weekly, Guardian Monthly.... makes 6. But where are the other 4 on Rusbridger's PowerPoint? Stumped. Which only goes to show that from the management standpoint, one of the advantages of blogmosis is that it doesn't give everything away.

PPA course on Digital Magazines

The PPA (Periodical Publishers Association) provides a fabulous amount of information about and for the magazine industry through its publications, web sites and member services. It also provides training courses for the industry. So it is good to see that it is now running a one day workshop on digital magazines. It is being run by John Weir who has a blog Digital Magazines which we find a useful source of news on developments. I have no idea beyond the course description what the day will cover, but John Weir has asked us some pertinent questions about how the Exact Editions system works and what we offer publishers. So he has definitely been doing his homework, and where else is a magazine publisher going to find out what there is to know about digital magazines? I think the PPA will get a full course.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Google vs Microsoft

Microsoft has usually beaten its chosen opponents. Google does not look like such a straightforward proposition. In this case most of my sympathies would lie with the upstart, however Microsoft has chosen its ground carefully. Microsoft will have plenty of allies in questioning Google's attitude towards copyrights. Google has fights here with the Association of American Publishers, with a group of Belgian newspaper publishers, with many TV companies over YouTube, etc. Too many fights.

So Tom Rubin, Microsoft's Associate General Counsel for Copyright has chosen a good moment to publish an opinion piece in the Financial Times, just as he appears at the AAP annual conference.

Google will not want to be seen as the enemy of all copyright holders. So it is lucky for them that Springer have just announced that all of its 29,000 titles are available for searching through Google Book Search. Google needs to start making peace with the publishers and put through a few more deals like the Springer coup. Putting 29,000 books online is a tall order. Note that the announcement says that they are all up, not that they are all going to be there one day. Well done Springer and Google. I dont know why GBS thinks it has 46,000.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Reading Devices and the Limits of Access

Mathewingram's blog notes that HarperCollins and Random House have popped up with widgets on their home pages which allow one to browse and search quite a few of their in-print titles. If you want you can take the widget off and plant it in you own web page or blog. This is an interesting experiment and may help to sell a few more books, but it does not seem like an adequate response to the Google Book Search project. Do we need transplantable widgets that search individual titles? Blogger doesnt like the Random House widget or I would have given you one here. The Random House title that I tested, Alex Espinoza's novel Still Water Saints, worked; the widget found me 64 occurrences of the word 'night', but the flash environment loaded slowly, and seemed to create a rather cramped and inelegant reading environment. Most of the book was 'off limits', but it was reassuring that at least the search worked across the whole title. Could this kind of widget-based reader grow up sufficiently that it becomes a solid reading environment? Maybe. The jury is out on that one.

From the other end of the spectrum. Boingboing carries a piece about a new memory-stick device that contains the whole back run of the New Yorker. That has to be one of the most valuable and entertaining magazine archives in the cosmos. What would James Thurber have made of it? I think he might have written a piece about forgetting where the memory stick was that had all his cartoons on it. The moral of the fable being that those who forget their memory sticks will have to rely on their powers of recollection for the enjoyment of their cartoons.

It is strange indeed the way book publishers and magazine publishers in New York are moving in different directions. The book publishers are making fragments of their work available through a software reading device which permits any web browser anywhere on the world wide web (that is 'any browser capable of handling Flash') read snippets of their books, whilst a magazine publisher from the same city is making the whole of his archive available through a highly specific hardware device which is limited to a single publication. You can have some of he stuff everywhere, or all of the stuff in one unique place. Having everything, everywhere is still a way off.

Publishers do not think first and foremost about scaleability, which is why Google will probably win this race.