Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Magazines as Apps

The Exact Edition app platform now features full sync-ing of a complete magazine issue. We explained this here.

Shall we summarize the key features of the Exact Editions magazine app platform in rough order of importance!

  1. The Complete Magazine. Each individual magazine app has access to the current issue and the available archive. The complete issue, all of it. Including advertisements. The most recent issue will sync to the reader's phone (iPod Touch) so enabling off-line reading and faster reading. What is more the individual issues and the archive are searchable when connected to the internet.
  2. Additional Interactivity. The magazines have significant additional interactivity on the iPhone platform, compared to their print ancestors. All weblinks, emails, and phone numbers should be clickable. The click to call phone numbers are especially useful for magazine readers, and they are a feature of enormous potential leverage for advertisers. To give one concrete example of this interactivity: this week's issue of the Spectator, as an App has 108 web links, 64 phone links, 52 page links, 27 email links, 21 postcode links, 4 isbn links.
  3. New Subscribers. The magazines can be sold through the App Store as single week subscriptions. And most importantly renewals can be sold through the Apple e-commerce system. iPhone and iPod Touch users can buy magazine issues and renew subscriptions in just the same way that they buy music. 7 day subscriptions to magazines, can be priced at the low end for paid Apps and are consumer-friendly. Publishers of music magazines should see the importance of this! Never mind music magazines; selling a 7 day sub is a great recruitment tool for any consumer oriented magazines!
  4. Revenues (maybe this should come first!), consumer magazines will sell large numbers of subscriptions through the iTunes App store. The outlay to get an app up and running is modest and the potential market is very large: 50 million users and growing fast. Specialist magazines with a strong identity and a user base should be looking to grow digital revenues now. This is a way of making next year's budget.
We can be sure that other digital magazine solutions for the iPhone will emerge. Some will be very good. We liked the GQ app that appeared from Conde Nast the other day, but it is not using the in-App purchasing system that Apple provide. It provides hot links to web pages but it does not offer automatic 'call off the page'. Texterity have done good work with digital magazines and they have been promising to deliver a branded App solution any day now for some months; and I am sure that it will be neat when it appears. But the Exact Editions App for Athletics Weekly appeared in August, so we think it outrageously misleading for Texterity to be claiming that with their not-yet-released-App they are the "only publishing provider that is producing native apps for publishers, rather than relying on web apps." Texterity should correct their website, and when they have done that and released their first branded App we will welcome them as the second, third or fourth provider delivering native apps of full magazines for the iPhone!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Synchronised Apps

Three of the Exact Editions magazine Apps have met with Apples approval and are in the iTunes store in version 2.0. Opera magazine, The Spectator and Athletics Weekly.

The big new thing with these Apps, version 2.0, is that they sync the latest issue of the magazine to your iPhone when you are in a WiFi zone. "Sync-ing" is the preferred term, but one can think of it as a matter of cache-ing or downloading the current issue. For reasons to do with licensing and presumably with Apple's deals with the carriers, content sync-ing is only possible via WiFi. For a reasonable sized issue (64 pp), in a good WiFi zone, the process of sync-ing may take 5/8 minutes. The issues are quite chunky files. The subscriber syncs the most recent issue of a magazine to the phone, and the new one automatically turfs last week's issue 'out of bed' when it climbs on board. Thus freeing up some precious space on the iPhone.

The principal advantages of the new system are (1) it is now easy to read the magazine when you are out of reach of the internet. So its ideal for commuters or travellers; (2) reading, browsing the current issue is quite a lot faster. And the slowness of the App to load up was the main complaint we heard from early users of the App. So these are two important enhancements.

A side-advantage of the new feature is that the one-week subs become an even better deal for the customer who is merely tasting the magazine. After the subscription week has passed, the user will be unable to search or sample the magazines archive or back issues. But she will have the last sync-ed issue on her iPhone, as a reminder of the purchase. This makes the 'sampling' aspect of the one week, trial subscription a much more potent tool for the publisher who wants to promote to mobile users.

We haven't yet submitted a version 2.0 for Exactly our generic App, but that is coming along nicely and should be in the Apple deliberative process shortly.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Burke's Peerage

We have opened a new on-line store for some of the major family history books published by Burke's Peerage and Gentry.

These are substantial books and some of them had to be processed from scans of the original typesetting. There are some wonderfully evocative titles: Burke’s Great War Peerage Noble British and Irish Families on the Eve of the First World War. Nearly 3,000 pages and the OCR has tackled type from the time of the Kaiser. These books have intriguingly recondite elements (two of my favourites: 'Foreign Titles Held by British Subjects', or 'Maids of Honour in Order of Precedence') and they are rich resources for genealogists.

Eight of the titles can be subscribed to as a package, Burke's Peerage Shelf, for the bargain fee of £80 per annum (otherwise they are £20 per annum each).

Institutional licenses are also offered, for individual titles and for the shelf.

A certain amount of searching is available to non-subscribers for free. Taking advantage of this, I note that 'Hodgkin' only appears in these books 25 times; this confirms my theory that the Hodgkins of history were peasants or 'trade' rather than 'gentry'. I am sure that we would figure more prominently if there were to be a Burke's Oxfordshire Peasantry.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Why the iPod Touch may be bigger than the iPhone

An interesting piece by Om Malik, All Hail the iPod Touch, draws attention to the latest Flurry report (Flurry have set up a large panel which tracks Apps usage across the most important mobile platforms -- watch out Nielsen). Their November study shows very strong growth in the iPod Touch segment:

The chart below shows Flurry user sessions tracked across iPhone, iPod Touch and Android for the last six months. Over this period of time, the iPod Touch has gained four points, despite its already large installed base. While iPhone continues to grow in user sessions, its share of sessions has dropped, while iPod Touch and Android have increased as a percentage.


Even more powerful for Apple are the consumption patterns Flurry is detecting among the iPod Touch demographic, demonstrating this segment's power as a word-of-mouth promotional army. Anecdotally, we know the "iPod Touch Generation" is made up of heavy MySpace, Facebook and SMS users, who voraciously share their lives with, and influence their ever-expanding social graph. Importantly, this also includes promoting products they like.... (Flurry, Smartphone Industry Pulse, November 2009)

Flurry also say "While it is clear that the iPhone has significant short-term revenue value for Apple, Flurry believes that the iPod Touch holds more long-term strategic value for Steve Jobs and team. As all industry eyes look to the iPhone, the iPod Touch is quietly building a loyal base among the next generation of iPhone users, positioning Apple to corner the smartphone market not only today, but also tomorrow." So the iPod Touch is on the Flurry view the absolutely key part of the Apple strategy. I certainly find their data on usage (and the disproportionate usage by the younger age-group) very arresting. If Flurry are right there are some decisive consequences:

  • Apple know, and has been finding out, month by month, just how important the iPod Touch is. Apple has all the data on usage. Their competitors are only beginning to wake up to the threat posed by the iPod.
  • Apple knows that iPod users also buy tunes and Apps. How many and how much $$
  • Most of Apple's competitors are focussing on the market for mobile phones (carriers, smartphone manufacturing, tariffs, and contracts). They are worrying about their installed base and their existing deals. Apple knows that the mobile space is really about mobile connectivity and the web, where phones are only a part of the terrain, and WiFi is growing like wildfire. Apple knows that its installed base is only coming into view....
  • Apple knows that it at some stage it will be able to push for ubiquity, with a device manufactured at a scale not seen before. China has largely ignored the iPhone, but it will not do so when Apple can sell a device for $49 which it can manufacture for $25/20/15.
  • Apple knows that when it achieves ubiquity the iTunes e-commerce ecosystem will generate the preponderance of Apple's revenues and profits.
  • Apple knows that the Tablet (if it comes) will not introduce a radical discontinuity with the software/media platform which has to be a universal offering. Apps and tunes will run the length and breadth of the Apple media continent.
  • We have seen speculation that the mooted Tablet is either an extension of the iPhone product line or a kink in the MacBook line-up. My hunch is that it will be a development of the iPod Touch concept. No phone contract. No Snow Leopard. But a very nice computer.
Apple's iPod Touch is their 'ace in the hole'.

Magazine Publishers are Getting Organized (Desperate)

This last week two separate (?) ventures were announced to help solve the problems of the magazine industry. First, a still nameless new company to build a kind of Hulu for magazines, the company is being 'organized' by Jeff Squires, a Time Inc, veteran and apparently has backing from Time, NewsCorp, Conde Nast, Meredith and maybe Hearst. The flurry of objectives and business models whirling around this venture are summarized by PaidContent.

This venture is about dual revenue streams and selling content from the start—add the sale of content from the magazines or newspapers their corresponding sites and content created for digital editions to ad revenue and expanding options for advertising. Executives from most, if not all, of these publishers at various times have stressed the need for agnostic solutions that can be used across devices, platforms. Given the fragmentation in the device market, the dominance by walled-garden players like Amazon and the split we’re heading toward in gray-scale and color e-readers, anything less and I’d suggest stopping this before any more money goes in. (Staci Kramer in Paid Content).
The second proposition designed to save the magazine industry is Skiff, a new venture which Hearst have been brewing for a couple of years. They have a nice diagram summarizing its business model and projected revenue streams:

These projects are gaining a hearing in the industry, because they appear to solve the problems of the industry at one bound. They have a deep appeal because they appear to offer a digital future in which the magazine industry continues to be supported by a rich advertising stream, whilst also capturing an audience to digital subscriptions. In effect this dream appeals to the ancien regime because "Everything changes and nothing changes." Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

The Skiff project is almost impossibly ambitious in simultaneously 'ingesting, optimizing, delivering and rendering a wide array of content' to Dedicated Readers, smartphones, tablets and PCs. This is a tall order.

One wishes that they had picked a somewhat less comprehensive target to begin with. How about: designing a platform whereby digital editions can be supplied at very low cost to all existing print subscribers? An industry wide initiative to do this, would do much to encourage a culture of digital magazine reading and digital subscriptions. But one fears that in trying to solve all the problems of the magazine industry (and the fall in advertising budgets is the most painful of these problems, and the one which the magazine industry is least able to tackle on its own), there is every chance that the enterprise will fail.

And the real problem with that, is that too many people in the magazine industry will think that the efforts of these 'Big Boys' (and they dont come bigger than Time, Hearst and Conde Nast) will save the industry. The truth is that these big 'experiments' are not going to provide a solution, that is much more likely to come from rapid innovation and experiment at the grass roots. Let a thousand flowers bloom! That way there is a better chance that solutions will be found. I have a nasty feeling that with these big propositions on the drawing board, (subject to many months of prototyping and focus-group reactions) Time Inc, Conde Nast and Hearst are going to be even slower to innovate through the publishing activity of the magazines themselves: their publishers, editors and their existing readers have to be in the picture and enjoying the digital proposition if it is to have any chance of success. Conde Nast's recent effort to launch an iPhone App for GQ is a much more promising approach, in that way they can get feedback and a chance to offer a second iteration of the iPhone App proposition within a month or two. Have the Skiff investors taken on board how quickly the App market will be evolving whilst they spend many months, testing, manufacturing and launching their new proprietary eReader?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Congleton Chronicle

Yesterday The Congleton Chronicle became the first local newspaper in the Exact Editions store. An annual subscription to the digital edition of this weekly paper is available for £25. There is a free trial issue available here.

The almost immediate launch of the newspaper in the Exact Editions platform was also a record. The publisher/owner of the Chronicle decided to do his digital edition yesterday and uploaded the necessary issues forthwith, discussed the deal, decided the price and the schedule, signed the contract (put it in the post -- we trust him), liaised with our team, who promptly processed the files at our end: by 4.00pm everything was shipshape. Files databased, blurb drafted and logo in situ. The net result was that the 'paper' was up and in the store less than 6 hours after the decision to proceed had been taken. One wishes that some of the big publishers we talk to could move at similar speed. They need to get moving.

The digital edition gives the Congleton Chronicle a number of things that much larger publications also need:

  • A digital edition which can be bought by any loyal subscriber. So no need to put a paywall around the web site, which will continue to carry fast moving stories. But there is a lot that is not freely available from the web site; if you want the full monty, then the Congleton loyalist will buy a digital sub
  • The digital edition is good for Congleton loyalists because it reaches them on the very morning that the paper is first published in Cheshire. And the statistics from the Chronicle's web site tells us that there are plenty of curious visitors in far off places who can now subscribe instantly without fuss, and with no more bother than a PayPal transaction.
  • The readers also have the benefit of all the advertisements that appear in the paper. The ads are there in full glory. With clickable telephone numbers, url's and email addresses. There are hundreds of such navigable and actionable links in each issue of the Chronicle. The ads in a local paper are among the most useful resources of the paper for readers. So leaving them out is a non-sense (the Exact Editions content management solution transforms local numbers into the international format, so the American reader with Skype or mobile phone, can call the estate agent with a click from the page).
  • The additional interactivity in the paper, in particular in the ads, is also excellent news for the advertisers. The ads will get additional and direct response from readers who click on links. The publisher will have the statistics to prove it.
  • The digital edition is completely accessible on the iPhone and from other mobile phones with standard, fully capable web browsers. There is no need for the Chronicle to invest in the considerable expense and overhead of producing and maintaining an alternative 'mobile' version of their content platform. All of the newspaper content is accessible week, by week from the digital edition, which can be easily read on iPhones and other mobile devices.
  • The Exact Editions platform also takes care of the support, distribution and e-commerce aspects of the digital edition and this is a proven and reliable system. So it really is possible for a publisher to be up and running with a digital solution a few days after the decision is taken (allow 5 working days, because the Chronicle may be exceptionally nimble).
The Congleton Chronicle's publisher also figured out a way in which he could recoup the really modest costs of this service from the get-go. Smart move.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Google Book Settlement -- ReDux

I go away for two days in the mountains and come back to find the Google Books Settlement II, a 173 page renegotiated version of the original deal (red-lined). Catch up with Grimmelmann.

I am not sure that I will read the new contract; getting through the first version was quite a strain! Here is one view of why it matters and why it doesnt.

The Google Book Settlement matters because something pretty much like what is envisaged in the Settlement is going to happen. And that is a good thing. Google has 10 million books scanned and databased in their servers. They are revved up and no doubt waiting to go. A large part of the most valuable human knowledge of the twentieth century will be accessible and will be being digitally read in American universities from some time in 2010 (that is a very good thing; a very bad thing is that they will NOT be available in the rest of the world, and the legal technicians have not much clue about how that broader accessibility can happen). Even if the judge were to reject the Settlement, even if the DOJ were to file and insist upon some swingeing limitations to the scope of the agreement, most books will be Googled from now on. 10 million books have already been databased in the way pioneered by the Google Books system, many of them at the express request of their publishers. Some aspects of the Google project have been very controversial, which is why we have a court case and why the legal hostilities may meander on for years yet. The outcome is predictably messy but the change has occurred.

The publishing paradigm has shifted and most books will now be accessible and searchable in various ways via Google (and perhaps, let us hope, via alternative search engines). Five years ago it was by no means obvious that all books would be digitised en masse, in their entirety (even many of the bindings), full text searchable, that they would be page-rendered, that they would be straightforwardly citeable in something like the ways print scholars have cited books for centuries (volume, chapter, page), that they would be readable in much the same way as ordinary web pages, that illustrations and indexes should be in place (though for many of the 20th Century books this will not be the case -- as a direct result of the Settlement orphan illustrations are more orphan than the texts). None of this was settled in 2004.

So there has been a revolutionary shift in the publishing paradigm. But now for the other shoe: I am not confident that the Google 'victory' in the case of the Settlement, will be seen that way in the future. Thomas Kuhn who coined the usage of 'paradigm shift' to explain the way in which with a scientific revolution a period of upheaval with its paradigm shift, then led to a period of 'normal science' when investigations proceeded under the shelter of the new paradigm. I am not sure that Google will now find itself in a period of normal science or calmer waters. Google has made a tremendous step forward, with its vision of the comprehensive digital database of published books, but the suspicion is growing that this is not a terminus. The Googled library/bookshop of all published literature is not a finished product and it is highly probable that it will fairly soon be overtaken by other models and by other paradigm shifting changes in the technology. I have the very strong intuition (it is merely that and I can not prove it) that digital books will soon be used in ways that surprise us greatly and have very little in common with the current operation of the Google Books service. We have barely started on the path of understanding how digital books can be used; and as an early entrant to the field, Google has every chance of finding itself out-innovated. Some Twitter-type of disruptive service will doubtless come along soon to show us how computation really should work with digital editions.

Google will surely be making the incumbent's mistake if they suppose that the Settlement really settles, solves or finalizes the direction that digital book technology should now take. To quote the Scottish sage "I hae me doots".

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Chasing the Format

The New York Times has been stealth developing a new format for its daily news. TechCrunch has a summary. The horizontal, grid-like layout is reminiscent of the Google Fast Flip, but I buy the suggestion in the TechCrunch comments that this format is being readied for the putative Apple iTablet computer, aka slate device.

That could well be; and it would make sense for Apple to launch the Tablet with something like the NYT as a core offering in its media-player. However, if the NYT is prepping a special format for the tablet, that is almost certainly a poor long-term move for the New York Times (not much different from its earlier play with Microsoft and the ill-fated Microsoft Reader). When the initial Apple enthusiasm is spent and the tablet has been ingested, the New York Times is left with another variant format to support; or as in the case of 'Microsoft Reader' Times readers, another batch of audience to disappoint. The Tablet needs to work with the New York Times as it is and the Times needs to work with every web capable device that there is. Every gadget capable of running a standard browser.

Newspaper publishers feel inexorably drawn towards customising their offering for each new ultra-fashionable device that comes along, and this is an issue at the core of their current dilemma (or their owners acutely sharpening current financial dilemma). The last time I counted: the Guardian (my favourite newspaper) was trying to optimize its content offering across half a dozen different platforms (from print to audio via web, mobile, video, RSS, PDF and blogosphere); and I am sure there are more coming. Even the web site is now being tweaked for optimum delivery in different web environments. There may soon be Apple iPhone, Kindle, Blackberry, Google Android, and Nokia-tweaked editions of different newspapers in web and digital formats (Pre anyone?) for all the different flavours of device out there. And if you think there will be only one dominant Android form factor you may have another think coming.

Newspaper publishers may think that the costs of these proliferating platforms are not falling to them (the adaptations are being paid for by technology partners, or by advertisers, or by new revenue streams from putative subscribers). Wrong. The cost is falling on the publisher who needs to maintain a very complex editorial and content management infrastructure and the cost is also falling on the brand which is inevitably being fragmented as the familiar format and style of the newspaper is poorly distributed and lost in these variant editions. Big damage to brand through content fragmentation and sub-optimal design. One of the principal advantages of a digital edition as the primary offering for a newspaper to its web subscribers is that it is offering the very same newspaper as to print buyers. That correspondence has to re-inforce the brand and develops a climate of continuity, predictability and reliability between print and web editions.

Why are newspaper publishers chasing these sub-optimal, format-based, solutions so frantically? I suggest that there are two reasons. The first is that the horizontal, hierarchical, RSS-friendly formats such as Google Fast Flip are well suited to the sequential, evolving, 24 hour real time operation of the news room. Better adapted than the page-based format of the traditional broadsheet or tabloid newspapers. My bet is that these horizontal formats, with the accent on left/right movement, will be adopted by news organisations that are not primarily newspapers (Fast Flip is working with article feeds from the BBC and Salon) and that a few newspapers will migrate in this direction.

But most newspapers really need to work with their historic format, a package in which news, editorial, features and photographs are integrated and distributed and which does not absolutely require paper since digital pages also work. Digital newspapers, when they have learnt the strength of the digital package that they can easily become, will adhere to their page-format style, their section-based daily organisation; the inescapable penalty of the daily edition cycle, which imposes deadlines and a rectangular organisation on the news, opinions, stories and illustrations that they contain. The new Apple Tablet/Slate will be good for this whether it is held in portrait or horizontal mode, and the New York Times will be making a mistake it it postrates itself in horizontal mode to make the most of the 11" aluminum casing of the early models.

Bring on the tablet which should be an ideal format for digital editions in all shapes and sizes. If it is any good (and it will be) it will be a wonderful showcase for the New York Times just as it is. Oh yes, for a certainty each edition will need to be 'carefully put to bed' as they used to say on Fleet Street. No more than that. Newspapers will thrive on the web when they know what it is to be a digital newspaper. Remarkably similar in many ways to a print newspaper, but better.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

On Reasons for not going Digital

We sometimes think that we have heard them all. The reasons for not having a digital edition of a magazine....

But we are still finding some surprising responses in the market. And I do not mean:

  • We will want to do a digital edition when we have sorted out our web site (I mean web sites are never, ever, in that sense 'sorted out').
  • We will want to look at this when our publisher is back from her maternity leave
  • .... when I have finished next year's budget (a budget which should really have a digital revenues component in it, but will not)
  • ........ in three months when our mobile strategy team has reported on our options (as though it were not relevant to the mobile strategy team to take a look at a digital platform that runs smoothly on mobile devices)
Those are some of the none too convincing explanations for inaction that one hears when talking to publishers. But there are some more powerful reasons that occur to our publishing partners. Sometimes my sales patter gets stopped in its tracks.
  • A few years ago, I was trying to persuade the gardening magazine Hortus that they should have a digital edition and that we could easily show them what it would be like if they supplied us with a PDF file. "A what file?" came the response, and it soon dawned on me that Hortus is one of the few magazines that is still entirely printed by hot metal and it would not be a trivially easy matter to spin out a PDF file from their production process. This is the only time that in talking to literally hundreds of magazine publishers that I have encountered a production system which completely eschews the digital. Mind you Hortus is a wonderful quarterly magazine even if somewhat exclusive and I STILL think that a digital edition of it would do rather well. In fact I would really die for an iPhone App for it, but that is another matter, and I am prepared to accept that Hortus does not need to be digital.
  • A couple of months ago, the publisher at another up-market, high-style, magazine which shall be nameless (but not for gardeners) told me that his magazine had such wonderful production values in print that they really did not want to tarnish the brand with a digital offering. I am not sure that he used the word 'sully', but he got pretty close. Like the Hortus guy, this chap had me non-plussed on the other end of the phone. Spluttering. How could one persuade him, if he was not willing to undertake a free trial, that this beautiful magazine would for absolutely sure look even more stunning in a digital format? For if you have looked at high-fashion and high-design magazines on really good monitors (even on humble MacBooks) it is hard to deny that they look even better digitally than in print. Added to which, to put the matter at its bluntest: frankly there is a market out there and if you do not sell subscriptions to the 20 year olds and 30 year olds who want to read everything on their laptop and their mobile phone, the market for such magazines will surely shrink.
  • I was also spluttering yesterday when the circulation director at one of our biggest magazine publishers told me that he would not want to, would not be allowed to sell digital subscriptions to the magazine through the iPhone App store, because such subscriptions would not count towards the ABC circulation and subscription measures which are the bedrock of the advertising business on which the magazines depend. Since I know that the American parents of this publisher are desperate to build up subscription revenues and since I know that the advertising revenues of almost all the magazines in this stable have been collapsing, I found this reasoning less than stellar. This was a conversation about selling subscriptions to the iTunes audience, not about giving away RSS-style App feeds to the magazine content (which in fact the American parent does do for some of these big name magazines).
Mind you, I expect he is right and the last time I looked ABC does not allow Apple certified distribution figures to count in any way towards advertising-related circulation bases. But that really shows us what terrible shape the advertising business is in, and how sublimely irrelevant the ABC methodologies (and the same for BPA statistics) are to the businesses that they purport to serve. I would not put special blame on ABC or BPA for this, but we should be chucking bricks at the movers and shakers in the advertising business. Google and soon Apple will be eating their lunch precisely because the mainstream advertising agencies and publisher networks have not seen how fabulous digital distribution can be for advertisers provided that the technology for measurement and for targeted distribution can be transformed with digital tools. ABC should be 'penalising' magazines for not having measurable digital offerings, not discounting those that do....

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Will the App Store make a Good Book Store?

There are a few reasons for thinking that the iPhone's App Store may become the next and best digital book store. These are a few of the reasons that occur to me:

  • iTunes is already the most important digital music store and the AppStore is inheriting a lot of the momentum and the kharma of the iTunes e-commerce system
  • the iPhone App Store is already a pretty good App Store and seems to be building Apple a possibly dominant position in the race for mobile Apps. Robert Scoble has some perceptive observations on this.
  • Apple is rumoured to be building and close to launching a tablet computer, which will share the iPhones touch interface and the e-commerce system that supports the iPhone and the iTouch. The possibly mythical Apple tablet was last seen bounding through the Australian outback looking for media content, but when when this wallabook/kangoozine finally lands it will be a gorgeous display for newspapers and books. So Apple in producing a tablet is trying to make their hardware the best for books (and newspapers, films and albums!).
  • Users like reading stuff off their iPhones and when there is a tablet the chances are that they will like that even more.
  • The Apple system despite its creaky approval process, and the very weird rules that Apple imposes on its developers, is in some respects (and surprisingly) more open than the Amazon or the Google systems. Amazon for its Kindle and Google (for Google Books, or Google Editions) require that the books they distribute or will sell reside on their servers and in their 'format'. Amazon and Google already know what digital books are. Apple is not so sure. The architectural potential with Apple is more open: any publisher or author or inventor can throw an App with some new software and display potential at the Apple system (paying their small fee) and see if it catches on (Vooks or Enhanced Editions can be experimented with in the Apple media space). Google Editions and Amazon's Kindle have no such open-ness, no inventor-driven potential, and the same goes for Sony and Barnes and Noble.
On the other hand, we can find some reasons for not too readily buying into the Apple-flavoured vision of the App Store as bookstore (or even Vookstore or Nookstore).
  • I think it was Tim O'Reilly who said that the book as App does not scale well. Which I took to mean that whilst we can envisage having one or two or several Books as Apps on our phone, it is not likely that we can manage libraries this way. That may be correct, but individuals, unlike institutions, merely accumulate libraries. We buy books one at a time and if we buy enough of them within our iPhone ways will be found for managing those collections. I have been impressed by the way in which Apps can be found within the App Store. Even though it seems to be lamentably lacking in shopper-oriented convenience and friendliness. Users have been finding and buying the Exact Editions Apps for the Spectator and Opera magazine, though there has been very little explicit advertising or promotion for them (yet). The offerings within the App store are being found. Traffic is being generated. With a bit of merchandising skill from Apple, it is conceivable that millions of individual book Apps could be found and purchased within the App store by the tens of millions of users who have iTunes accounts. Scaling may not be such a big problem.
  • Perhaps a more serious issue with the one book per App model for the Apple Bookstore is that books need to be open and to work with each other in ways which Apps do not. Apps are self-contained applications and do not provide much scope for interoperation and interaction in the ways that digital books really need to do. But is this merely a short-term problem? Apple are developing their mobile developer environment and interoperating Apps are bound to come.
The Appstore/Bookstore could work out rather well. Especially if Apple resists the temptation to over-control the environment. If Steve Jobs really is sitting on the final specification of the iTabloid as he scans the latest field reports from Wooloongabba, Woomera, Bullaroo, Geelong and Gulgong, my advice is that he should ditch the pink, opt for matt black, OK the slightly larger form factor, the bigger memory, better battery (please! a better battery) and sign off. It will not be in my Christmas stocking but I am ready to stand in line in January, or February, or whenever....

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Bookserver and the Right Architecture for Books

The pace of change in the books space is hotting up. Two weeks ago Amazon announced that its Kindle will be internationally available. Google last week at Frankfurt announced its Google Editions proposition (or perhaps we should say they re-announced it). In three weeks Google has an appointment with Judge Chin on November 9, to re-present its much discussed Google Books Search Settlement. Techcrunch had a piece on 24 Android phones (some of which are admittedly merely rumoured, but most of which will be touted for reading books). Yesterday Barnes and Noble presented their new Nook, eReader. And the day before yesterday the Internet Archive (with several collaborators) announced its BookServer project.

The BookServer proposition seems to be very much a work in progress. Thinking on the hoof and probably a fair bit of smoke and mirrors (see Peter Brantley's Web of Books presentation and Roy Tennant's blog) . But one aspect of it feels a great deal more right than the Google Books Search proposition in its various forms. The architecture is essentially and deliberately open and multipolar:

As the audience for digital books grows, we can evolve from an environment of single devices connected to single sources into a distributed system where readers can find books from sources across the Web to read on whatever device they have. Publishers are creating digital versions of their popular books, and the library community is creating digital archives of their printed collections. BookServer is an open system to find, buy, or borrow these books, just like we use an open system to find Web sites. (Internet Archive's BookServer page)
This is a good central position around which the Internet Archive can build its coalition. But it would seem that they may end up with some unlikely allies. They are following the path of, and working with, Lexcycle's Stanza (now Amazon owned) in their strategy of orchestrating, coalescing access to formatted ePUB files, and one wonders whether the BookServer backers will fill their obvious lack of full text search through an alliance with Microsoft's Bing. There are indeed some interesting challenges for Microsoft and Amazon as they contemplate whether to address Google's potentially massive lead in proprietary book aggregation by making a more Open alliance with the Internet Archive and other champions of free and open. If the Internet Archive can maintain its footing in a genuinely open and independent position (which includes encouraging Google to spider and search, as well as Bing), it has a good chance of establishing the crucial principles that it articulates. It has a good chance of being more open to innovation than Google.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Google is Going for It

It looks as though Google has decided that it is going to get the Google Books Settlement that it wants (and I suspect that a large part of the American public want it too). Google is just going to push it through as close as it can to the original proposition. There were, after all, two ways of interpreting the decisive and late intervention from the DoJ. According to Michael Cairns it gives a blueprint for how the original Settlement could be renegotiated to pass muster. According to Pamela Samuelson, Google Book Settlement 1.0 is History, it would be astonishing if the Settlement in its current form were to be approved: a new balance and a new settlement is needed which takes account of the deep issues identified in the DoJ brief.

Normally, I would back Professor Samuelson, one of America's most distinguished IT lawyers, against a self-confessed 'know-it-all' mere publishing consultant. But on this occasion I suspect that Cairns has called it right (he may know more about how publishers go about arm wrestling with regulators). The Settlement will be nudged to accommodate the 'objections' raised by the DoJ but it will be broadly as agreed. Here are three tell-tale signs:

  1. The timescale for resolution is short. The revised Settlement will be presented to the Judge in on November 9 and he has said that he wants matters to be concluded speedily (within a few months). So Google cannot be planning major changes. No extensive process of consultation and commentary is in view.
  2. There was the rather extraordinary New York Times opinion column, A Library to Last Forever, in which Sergey Brin explained the great advantages of the Googe Book Search project, exactly as though it were to be executed as envisaged in the Settlement. He breezily acknowledges that there have been concerns about 'competition' and 'copyright' but effectively dismisses these concerns as misunderstandings (I bet the DoJ lawyers were surprised to see their analysis so airily brushed aside).
  3. Google has this week announced its Google Editions project, which is intended to make its books database resource, title by title, available to all readers everywhere in every format of ebook reader. So Google at one step is embracing and enlisting all the ebook platforms which might otherwise be a form of competitive counterbalance to the Google Books Library. I wonder what the DoJ competition experts think of the decisive way in which Google has also pre-announced, long before it is operative, how the discount system is going to work between Google, the publishers and the various retailers envisaged as operating Google Editions? And with Google selling direct as well? And with Google running the search engine for all parties? Is there no potential for anti-trust concerns in all of this?
Google Editions has nothing directly to do with the Google Books Settlement. Google has taken off its left shoe and is banging the table: "Forget about orphan books, the books of rights owners are also on our servers with their full agreement and hey we are going to be selling them as well soon, moreover in distribution channels not mentioned at all in the Settlement. Wake up please!" Google could have announced the plan last year; or next year (it is in any case not going to be ready until the first half of next year); or the year after. Google Editions, so far, only appears to be a distribution channel for books sourced from publishers or books in the public domain. As such it is quite independent of the Settlement. Yep Google Editions is orthogonal from Google Editions. Nothing to do with that controversy. But one wonders why Google should announce it now, drawing attention to the fact that Google may, one way and another, become the primary source for books in all digital and electronic formats? Three weeks before they present the revised deal to the judge (presumably with comments from DoJ).

My guess is that Google is pretty confident that the DoJ really do not want to veto the deal (do you want to stop a deal that enables ten million titles to reach the 30 million Americans who are 'print-impaired'?). The judge probably will not want to veto the deal. Not when push comes to shove. So Google had better hang in for the deal to be the way it wants. After all, Google has digitised the 10 million titles. Google has, we presume, clear vision of the way this is going to work. When the deal is agreed, Google not the Federal Government has to deliver the service. Note who is doing the heavy lifting. Note who is paying the lawyers.

Google has a great database system (oxymoron alert), Google has the ability to deliver a fabulous service, Google has been at the forefront and it has sustained its initiative, and if turns out that it has a de facto, and to a degree, a de jure monopoly, once the dust settles that will be challenged. A monopoly of books will be defeated (ultimately by competition as much as by the courts). Google's confidence is justified and is the other face of its boldness in setting the whole scheme going, and if it misapplies its momentum (which it probably will), it will come unstuck.

There is plenty of scope for Google critics: Angela Merkel, Pamela Samuelson, Peter Brantley and Bob Darnton. And we need them. But Google is getting done something which will bear a lot of fruit. So this settlement is going to go through and stopping Google Books Search dead in its tracks is not going to happen. Sure it will be appealed..... all the way (paid for by those of Google's competitors that want to slow the juggernaut down). But more to the point the Google Books Search settlement is not the last innovative step in this march. Time to move forward. Time to compete with Google through innovation, not through writs.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Opera Magazine App now in iTunes App Store

Opera magazine now has its own branded App in iTunes.

The Opera iPhone Application offers access to the latest monthly issue as well as to an archive of back issues stretching back to August 2006. The week-long subscription costs £1.19, or $1.99, or €1.59. Renewing for a month costs £3.99, which compares to a news stand price of £4.99.

I am now hoping that the Opera App will now be reviewed 'operatically' if not 'ecstatically'

Exactly Reviewed Ecstatically?

AppShouter has one of those reviews that tells you the reviewer really enjoyed him/herself.

As a journalism major, I was thrilled, perhaps ecstatic is a better word, for how I felt when I came across this app. Exactly is literally like having a newsstand in the palm of your hand. It is amazing. I can’t put it down!

The interface is also easy to navigate as it looks a lot like the jukebox feature of iTunes. Stroke left or right to turn pages, double tap the screen to zoom…I could go on, but I am sure you get the picture. Exactly is easy! I’ll also say, that as a journalist, in an industry that is continually pooling resources and charging more and more for content, Exactly is definitely a friend to my pocketbook. I cannot thank it enough.

Thank you Yantezia P for having some fun with the Exactly App.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Healthy Media

Joe Wikert's Publishing 2020 blog is often thought-provoking, mostly about ebooks. He has been a great fan of the Kindle, but today he fires a salvo in the direction of the existing generation of ebook readers with the Kindle bang in the centre of target:

The problem with these devices is that they encourage quick print-to-e content conversion and nothing more. In fact, they even discourage some of the simplest ways of enhancing print-to-e conversions. Embedded links are a great example. If you're a Kindle owner how often do you click on those links? More specifically, how often do you groan as you click on those links, knowing that the browsing experience ahead is painful at best? The irony is that although the Kindle was the first to include wireless functionality, that feature is really only good for one thing: buying content from Amazon. Every other time I've used the "experimental" browser I've been disappointed. That's because, at its heart, the Kindle is a reader and it doesn't encourage any other use. How the Kindle Prevents eContent from Evolving
Well put. It is lame to have live links in a digital text if the system does not support good browsing. Part of the trouble with much of the current design and thought about ebooks, is that too often publishers and technologists assume that the only thing that matters with a book is the reading of it (perhaps abetted by the 'buying' of it). The Kindle has been designed and the Amazon digital e-commerce system has been built as though the only thing that really matters with books is the reading of them. One after the other. Books are much more multi-functional than the buying/reading/moving on, modulus would suggest. And digital books need to be more than digital representations of the printed object (though they need to be that at least).

Where does this take us? Arguably books, magazines and newspapers in their digital form need to be at least as good as print books. At least as useful as print books. But also much more open and much more inter-related. They need to be on the web and of the web, because that is where we increasingly do our reading. And we don't only read books and newspapers. Our digital reading experience is inevitably becoming more various, more public, more connected and more horizontal (embracing other media types as well as all forms of print media). Taking digital books as seriously as they need to be taken, is a matter of enabling them to be open to all forms of cognitive action (reading, referring, learning, analysing, interpreting, sharing, comparing, etc) but also making them inherently more open (to search, to citation, to annotation, to quotation...). My thoughts were brought in this direction by a fascinating blog by the Philosopher of Information Luciano Floridi. Floridi writes about the ways in which ICT (digital technologies) are revolutionising health care and medicine:
Behind the success of ICT-based medicine and well-being lie two phenomena and two trends.

The first phenomenon may be labelled “the transparent body”. By measuring, monitoring and managing our bodies ever more deeply, accurately and non-invasively, ICT have made us more easily explorable, have increased the scope of possible interactions from without and from within our bodies (e.g. nanotechnology), and made the boundaries between body and environment increasingly porous (e.g. fMRI). We were black boxes, we are quickly becoming white boxes through which anyone can see.

The second phenomenon is that of “the shared body”. “My” body can now be easily seen as a “type” of body, thus easing the shift from “my health conditions” to “health conditions I share with others”. And it is more and more natural to consider oneself not only the source of information (what I tell the doctor) or the owner of information about oneself (my Google health profile), but also a channel to transfer DNA information and corresponding biological features between past and future generations (see 23andme). Arsenic and e-Health
Books as bodies? Or bodies as books? The metaphor can work in both directions. As our books, newspapers and magazines become digital they should become transparent. Digital editions will be shared, even integrated in other contexts, and as publishers and editors we need to understand and extrapolate the way in which the information they contain can flourish in other information systems. This is not a matter of abandoning the old formats but of reinvigorating them in a new technology matrix in which they become more porous. A Kindle which traps books in its hermetically sealed account is missing the main chance. A Google Books which abandons all pictures and illustrations is stunting the digital possibilities of the books it fillets. And newspaper owners or author's agents who think that they can close those digital systems down are pointing us in the wrong direction.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Wherefore Art Thou Roneo-ed?

A friendly journalist referred the other day to one of the Exact Editions Apps as a 'photostat' of the magazine. One of my colleagues noted that this was a word she hadn't heard for 20 years, and my wife's cryptic observation was: "At least he didn't call it a roneo-ed version". I was wondering whether this comment was a curious compliment. Have you noticed the way in which 'vinyl' has become a term for musical quality and tonal fidelity? Perhaps the roneo-ed Digital Magazine is the acme of approval in an app, and the photostat is just a step on the way to wax cylinder bliss?

Perhaps. But I think not. Exact Editions is so named because we believe that digital editions of magazines (books, newspapers, bibles, periodicals, catalogues, compendia, scores, and print objects in general) should be faithful representations of the digitised pages. But of course a digital edition has to be much more than a simple reproduction. To see the result as a photostat or a mere copy is to miss more than half the point. Here is a non-exhaustive list of the other features one should expect in a digital edition:

  • Every page in the digital edition should be citeable (which means that any other web page, or web service can make a targeted reference within the publication to a specific page on which some relevant content resides).
  • Pages within a digital edition should have links out. Which is to say that a digital edition should be just as capable of being the source of a citation as the target for one.
  • Putting these two points together (citing, and being cited) in effect means that every page in a digital edition will be a web page, a part of the web. Far too many of the 'e-magazine' solutions that we see in the marketplace fail in this basic requirement. Many publishers have been using digital platforms which allow them to distribute blobs of content through the internet, but the publications are not proper web resources.
  • This fact about the pages or parts of digital editions being themselves a part of the web also has the consequence that a proper digital edition should be readable/usable by standard web browsers and it should be accessible to standard web operations (eg crawlers, counters, mashups and tweeters)
  • Every page in a digital edition with text on it should ideally be searchable by a search engine, by Google or Bing (should be capable of being searched by Google -- though a publisher may decide to withhold content from Google/Bing searching).
  • Every page in a digital edition should be searchable by the edition itself. That is a digital edition should have a mechanism whereby the search for a term can be restricted to the publication itself.
  • Digital editions should also have their own appropriate internal navigation (eg live links from Tables of Contents, Indexes of Advertisers).
  • Digital editions should offer their users and readers immediate links to relevant web resources (eg live links to web resources mentioned in the text).
There are other things one could add to this list, but it is long enough to make the point. Digital editions are much, much, more than roneo-ed editions. I am fairly sure that the early users of the Spectator App which was released just over a week ago, have not yet realised how much coiled web energy there is inside the App. There are, by my back of the envelope estimates, over 200 issues, well over 10,000 digital pages, over 5,000 live phone number links, perhaps 20,000 internal links within the magazine issues and well over 20,000 external links from the issues, all of this is accessible from the App. But the App is not really a product at all, it is a subscription service to a database which manages the magazine for its subscribers. Publishers are all now in the service industry, and digital editions are the service that they should be offering their readers.

Monday, September 28, 2009

A New Exactly and Free Branded Apps

Today Apple approved and released our first revision to Exactly. This is the free App that can be used to access any of the subscriber services provided by Exact Editions. Version 1.3 has some cool new features:

  1. Search is now supported. So a single issue, a title, or a collection of titles can be searched and the results displayed on the iPhone.
  2. Easier "settings" so that the user can select, from within the App, the account she may need to access.
  3. A contents page is always available on the Toolbar.
  4. Better performance on slower networks (but WiFi is still usually the best).
  5. Better UI eg in sliding between pages.
Oh yes, we can see more ways in which the App can be improved and there will be new releases in due course! But it is already finger lickin' neat and tasty. New versions are available in the standard way for Apps. There will be a flag on the App Store icon and users can effect an upgrade whenever sync-ing the phone to the iTunes account.

We will produce new releases quite regularly, but there is an Apple approval process at each stage: so allow for occasional pauses. We will also upgrade Branded Apps regularly, and new versions of the Athletics Weekly and the Spectator App will today/tomorrow be wending their way through the approval process. (Yes the Spectator App has only been in the App store for three days, but it did spend 9+ weeks in the approval process, so improvements have been racing ahead whilst the bureaucracy grinds).

Today was a busy day for the Exact Editions segment of the App store, because the INEE App has also been released. This is a free branded App for the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies, a global network of NGOs, UN agencies and other independent policy makers and practitioners who work to ensure all those affected by crisis have access to quality and safe education. They needed an App which would be available when there is minimal communications infrastructure and this also a way to boost the awareness of their standards and policy position. The INEE App is the first EE branded App to support search:

Free branded Apps are an important new capability for the Exact Editions platform, and the potential to offer interactive 'promotional' catalogues and resources for iPhone users will not be lost on direct marketeers. Calling from the page is a key asset in this regard.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Spectator as an iPhone App

The Spectator now has a branded App, http://bit.ly/iphonespectator, in the iTunes App Store. This App gives users access to the complete magazine on the iPhone. The App is launched at the highly competitive price of 99c (59p, or €0.79). This buys a 7 day subscription to the magazine, and provides access to over 200 back issues. When the sub expires the purchaser has the option to renew for 7 days, or 30 days.

Three features of the Exact Editions App platform should be drawn to the reviewer's attention:

  • The whole magazine can be viewed rapidly and attractively in PageFlow mode (this analogous to CoverFlow for a collection of CD covers on the iPhone/iPod Touch). PageFlow is a very easy way of browsing the magazine and gives the user a clear sense of 'where' in the publication she may be. Note, also, that this is the magazine exactly as it was printed.

  • Every phone number in the magazine is a live phone number, and when clicked (and confirmed) the number will be called. The App works just as well on the iPod Touch, but clearly this click-to-call function will not work on an iTouch! The magazine appears on the iPhone exactly as it was printed, but with crucial additional functionality through the live links. In addition to the phone numbers, page numbers are navigation links (within the text and from the Table of Contents). Email addresses, url's, and postcodes are also live links to other Apps on the iPhone (its browser and the Google maps App which are fired up as required).

  • Apple's App Store is a way of selling subscriptions to publications. Publishers of books, magazines, and newspapers can now offer their valuable content for subscription to iPhone/iPod Touch users. The iPhone is a compelling platform for mobile consumers, and for that reason it will become a fabulous platform for publishers. €€€ £££ $$$ !

The Spectator is not the first magazine to be sold on subscription through the iPhone platform. That record fell to Athletics Weekly but The Spectator has launched its subscription offer on the iPhone shortly after moving to a 'paid for' approach to its web distribution. Many other magazine and newspaper publishers are considering their options in this respect so the The Spectator's experience of moving to a 'charged' model will be studied with interest.

We have a slideshow at Flickr of images from the iPhone App. We also have a short YouTube video showcasing some of the interface in the platform.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What Should Google Do Next?

The DoJ, late on Friday, produced a brief ("A Statement of Interest of the United States") which stopped the Google Books Search Settlement in its tracks. Pam Samuelson thinks "This is the most significant development since the settlement itself was announced." (HuffPo). She also predicts "Now that the DOJ has weighed in so forcefully, however, it would be astonishing if Judge Chin approved the settlement in its current form."

I guess that Google, The Authors Guild and the APA take the same view because they have now asked the Judge to delay matters whilst they re-negotiate. The judge will surely agree to the delay, but the renegotiation is not going to be easy. The DoJ's brief can be read in two ways. Pam Samuelson reads it as pretty much a rejection. That is the way it struck me. But there are also elements of the rhetoric which suggest that the DoJ (speaking for "the United States") would like to see something positive emerge from the brouhaha. There are sentences like this "Because a properly structured settlement agreement in this case offers the potential for important societal benefits, the United States does not want the opportunity or momentum to be lost." (see Page 4) Michael Cairns has picked up on this at Personanondata, and he reckons that this is an invitation to the parties to join with the DoJ and amend the settlement forthwith "this agreement will be approved with many of the changes DoJ has specified" (Deal Done).

The trouble is that the three principal difficulties that the DoJ identifies are profound and go to the heart of the deal. Are the members of the class adequately identified and their interests adequately represented? Are there fundamental difficulties in relation to copyright which is at the core of the dispute? Is there a looming anti-trust problem? The DoJ has not prescribed a solution to any of these tricky issues and if it were to prescribe a solution it would set the bar very high. I dont think they will be in the smoke-filled room with the Google lawyers and the Authors' Guild hammering out royalty rates, distributor discounts, and pricing algorithms.

One doubts that the Google lawyers are looking forward to the next few months. Few months? This is beginning to look like an interminable process. How could it be terminated? Since we think that the DoJ is right to like features of the Settlement we wonder whether the Google lawyers can craft a simple and interim agreement which gives them and all parties something in the short-term, whilst the long term negotiations on the big Settlement proceed.

An intriguing possible interim solution would be one that separated the issue of search from the issue of full text distribution. A partial service which enabled full text indexing and snippet search results of the kind envisaged in the original Google Print project. Ideally, Google should propose that this corpus of material would also be open to any other search engine (ie Google does not leverage its first mover status -- though inevitably it still has that!). Such an Interim Settlement should permit anybody to deliver search services, up to and including limited display snippets over 'books' as defined in the draft Settlement.

This specific interim compromise may not fly, but one hopes that the parties can identify some provisional elements of the project which can soon see the light of day. Holding everything up whilst the legal complications ramify is an unattractive prospect.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Business Week's New Business Plan

Business Week has been on the block for months, and by reports it will soon be sold. At the start of the sale process, the story was that the magazine might be sold for $1. Now there seems to be enough interest that it may be sold for rather more than that, perhaps to Bloomberg. That would be an ideal outcome. Bloomberg have the capital and the network to restore Business Week to its rightful place as the most important general business magazine in the US market.

What are the essential planks of the new business plan that Bloomberg should enact?

  1. Advertising has been the bedrock of Business Week's revenues for decades. Until recently was a massive cash gusher; but it has fallen dramatically. In 2000 Business Week carried 6,000 ad pages (yes, that averages over 100pp a week). Last year fewer than 2,000 ad pages were filled and this year the total is heading towards 1,250 pages (source: 24/7WallSt.com). Since the page rates will inevitably have softened, it is likely that BW will in 2009 gather perhaps only 15/20% of the ad revenues that it clocked up in 2000. Do not neglect the print advertising, it is still far too important to the annual budget. But the business plan should not be predicated on rapid recovery in print advertising.
  2. Do not assume that the web site advertising will hold up either.
  3. Advertising is not the solution. A solid subscription base to the circulation has to be the bedrock of the new business plan. The easy part is to fix the print subscriptions and to do that by charging a realistic subscription rate that makes money for the magazine from marginal subscribers. Some print subscriptions are being sold at a 90% discount from the official rate. Such deep discounting undermines the list prices and there is no point in selling subscriptions at a loss when the advertising targets have been drastically reduced. Hold the print price and be prepared to increase the price....
  4. If increased value is being delivered to print subscribers be prepared to raise the price on the news stand and through subs. Quality in the editorial matter is fundamental. Improve the editorial product, so that the magazine again becomes a must read for its core audience. The circulation may be pruned by reducing give away subs, but it can be rebuilt from a firm content offering.
  5. Develop the digital subscription offering. This means delivering a digital edition service which is complementary to print subscribers (automatic benefit when they have communicated their email/user name), which provides comprehensive access to the excellent archive. Make it a genuine web subscription so that bookmarks work, so that special issues can be given away as samples via the BW web site, and so that the subscription works on all web-enabled devices (iPhones, TVs, Wii's etc).
  6. The print circulation base to BW is just under 1 million. Some of those marginal subscribers will be lost as prices are adjusted, but it is perfectly realistic for BW to aim for a digital subscription base much higher than that. BW as a digital offering could become the leading international business magazine for consumer-subscribers. But it will take time to build the digital subscription audience to 100,000 and then to 1,000,000.
  7. As well as offering complementary digital subscriptions to all print subscribers, offer digital only subs at a reasonable price (not too low, perhaps 50% of the real print sub price). This will mean that the digital sub is very good value for overseas subscribers. But that is an audience that BW already to some extent has, and needs to consolidate.
  8. Do not muddy the waters by 'throwing in BW' subscriptions as part of the Bloomberg subscription. Tempting though that option is, the aim has to be to develop BW as a distinct and valuable subscription offering in its own right.
  9. Consider carefully whether it really makes sense to offer BW via the Amazon Kindle, when Amazon is taking a 70% cut, and the Kindle edition is showing up without colour and full content.
  10. Consider carefully whether it would not be highly advisable to sell digital subscriptions via the iPhone App store. Having a Free App is an interesting starting point, not an end game.
  11. Fundamental rule. Believe in the value and quality of the magazine as a print product and as a digital service. The integrity and editorial substance of the magazine is its key asset and lies at the heart of its digital success.

Many of these recommendations amount to saying "Make Business Week more like The Economist". One can be sure that The Economist does feature in a competitive analysis of what has gone wrong with BW, but The Economist also has not yet figured out how to deliver a solid audience of digital subscribers. BW will have some advantages in getting this right first. This sale is a break with the past. So much has not been working out well for BW in its digital initiatives that it is time that some sacred cows were sacrificed and some simple steps taken. Building digital subscriptions is the obvious path that needs to be developed.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Google Fast Flip and the Future of Magazines/Newspapers

We took a pot-shot at Fast Flip the other day. There are a few more lessons to be drawn. The Search Engine Journal take particularly struck me. My issue was really with their headline: Google Labs Rolls Out Fast Flip, Google Book Preview for News
Whilst one can "kind of" see what SEJ are getting at: images of the publication; full page views; a linear arrangement for navigation (but note horizontal rather than the predominantly vertical scroll in Books Search); the same database squirrelling away in the background to serve pages, searches and deliver links. The overall feel is certainly more like Google Books than it is like Google News. But what had struck me when I first sampled it was the way in which Fast Flip as an interface differs from that supplied for the books collection. The intention is also very different. Fast Flip is really about skimming and Google Books is a proto-reading system. There really are some big differences between Fast Flip and the way Book Search works.

  1. Google Books Search does not present us with arrays of parallel book content, fast flipping between books, the emphasis in Books Search is to drill down into the book. In effect to read the book. If Google had launched Books Search with the manifesto: "In the age of the internet the atomic unit of consumption is the page and the Google library will allow you to fast flip between pages in different books using the relevance tags inserted by Google." there would have been uproar in the halls of learning.
  2. Some magazines are included in Book Search (though periodicals, including magazines) are excluded from the Settlement) and they are treated pretty much in the same way as books. But again with horizontal layout and thumbnails as an option (primarily, I guess, because of the prevalence of double page spreads). But these magazines are the print magazines not the web services.
  3. Google Books Search allows the user to preview the actual image of the book's page. But Fast Flip is entirely predicated on the fact that many newspapers have built websites which repurpose their issues to web pages. Google Books Search is deeply 'type-based'. Fast Flip is snapping images from web pages. Quite a different matter and much less predictable as web pages are often dynamic. In its approach to books Google presupposes that what matters is the actual printed text and its fixed pagination.
  4. Google in the light of their probable/maybe settlement of the Google Books Search cases will be committed to selling individual books. Selling them in large packages to libraries, but also selling them individually. But Fast Flip has been launched in a barrage of Google comment that presupposes (along with much conventional wisdom) that newspapers and magazines cannot be sold through subscriptions on the web. Or only in exceptional circumstances. But Google has a business plan in which millions/billions of licenses to individual titles within Google Book Search are going to be sold to individual consumers (and held within individual accounts until the expiry of copyright or account holder)? If so, digital magazines should also be saleable to subscribers. As we know, at Exact Editions, that they can be.
Google Books Search has plenty of problems (not all of them legal), but in its conception and its goals it is much, much better than Fast Flip. Newspapers and magazines would do much better to pay full attention to the way in which the Google Books Service is shaping up. Fast Flip is an experiment, a jeu, from Google Labs. Google Books is a mammoth, a juggernaut, a tsunami for publishers. Not only for book publishers. Magazines and newspapers need to figure out how they can make money selling digital editions of their publications which sit alongside that juggernaut and which are database driven web services providing paid for and (on many occasions) free access to the content which would otherwise have been printed. If digital books are to be sold online to libraries and individuals why should not newspapers and magazines be licensed to subscribers in very similar fashion?

Controlling Your Own Destiny

It continues to amaze me that magazines do not take care to preserve an effective archive of their published issues. Most of the smaller magazines have learned that it is handy and useful to retain an archive of their back issues in PDF form. PDFs are an important insurance policy, even if the publisher plans to deliver the archive in some other way.

The biggest magazine companies often find it surprisingly difficult to lay their hands on a solid collection of PDFs. Sometimes all that they have managed to archive is the vectorised form of the PDF (which means that all the text information in the file is lost). We were running a test for a big magazine and the publisher was appalled to be told that the repro house would charge them £5,000 pa for supplying a PDF of each issue. In these straightened times publishers dont like taking on any additional costs. And why should they? Since spinning a PDF out of the workflow is simply a matter of flipping a switch at the appropriate moment, this is simply outrageous profiteering from the repro house.

Magazine publishers are a special case in this negligence of their archives. Newspaper publishers and book publishers have learned through bitter experience that having a solid archive of PDFs of their publications is necessary. And it is easy to do. The repro houses are only trying it on. If a major magazine tells its repro house that it will lose the business unless the PDFs are supplied on demand, then the repro house will jump to flip the switch..... The cost to them is zero.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Fast Flip: How Google Reads Newspapers and Magazines

Google yesterday launched Fast Flip at Google Labs. From the announcement:

Fast Flip is a new reading experience that combines the best elements of print and online articles. Like a print magazine, Fast Flip lets you browse sequentially through bundles of recent news, headlines and popular topics, as well as feeds from individual top publishers. As the name suggests, flipping through content is very fast, so you can quickly look through a lot of pages until you find something interesting. See Googleblog.
This is a highly revealing way of characterising our on-line reading experience. It is as though Google thinks there are only two ways of reading. Search, of course. First, and foremost, search in which you know more or less what you want and use a search engine to find it. And then 'flipping through content very fast until you find something interesting.' Publishers and educators know that this is not the way that most serious and most recreational readers read. Although much reading is exploratory, the reputation of a title, an author or a publisher is and will remain important to readers of newspapers, magazines and books. Metadata matters. Titles, editions, dates, authors, correspondents, replies, corrections, editorials ....

Google makes this 'fast flipping' possible by hosting images from the newspaper and magazine web sites. Incidentally, they only use the newspaper websites. I did not see any pages which actually used the Print Image. They are building on the look and feel of the publishers web sites, not their magazines and newspapers as printed. The service is clearly aimed at attracting publishers through a revenue split, but the activity is hosted and managed by Google and one wonders whether the collateral advertising which appears in the margin of the page images can generate significant revenues. Paul Bradshaw thinks not:
Of course, by hosting screenshots Google are eating into one of the key metrics that publishers use to sell advertising: the time a user spends on your site. And given that many readers don’t read beyond the first few pars, there’s a good chance it will eat into the numbers clicking through to the actual page at all. So unless Google’s ad rates are significantly higher, what reason at all would a commercial publisher have to sign up to a scheme that devalues their own ad inventory in exchange for some pennies from Google? Blind panic in the midst of a crisis, that’s all. Google's Fast Flip -- A Cruel Joke on the News Industry
The commercial proposition is highly dubious. But Google is being completely sincere and genuine in offering its helping hand . Google is convinced that this Fast Flipping is the way that consumers want to read news on the internet.
"We have tried to build platforms and tools that build a healthy, rich eco-system online that is supportive of content. This is a new way of looking at content." Marissa Mayer quoted by BBC News.
Having seen the success of Google News, and keeping in mind the atomisation of music, and the considerable success of the iPod Shuffle, Google appears to consider that a rapid flipping (navigation) between atomised stories is the way to read news. The point has been clearly stated by their spokespersons.
...... the structure of the Web has caused the atomic unit of consumption for news to migrate from the full newspaper to the individual article. As with music and video, many people still consume physical newspapers in their original full-length format. But with online news, a reader is much more likely to arrive at a single article. While these individual articles could be accessed from a newspaper's homepage, readers often click directly to a particular article via a search engine or another Website.... Marissa Mayer Testimony to the US Senate on the Future of Journalism (PDF)

The Internet has changed the unit of consumption. The unit of consumption for news is now the article, not the newspaper. I still love reading the newspaper. But I use the Internet to look at a lot of news stories, too, and on the Internet there's a different way of consuming things. No one is saying that newspapers shouldn't make money...
William Patry, Google copyright expert, Interview with Publishers Weekly

Google News and Google Fast Flip embody the view that the context of publication in which a story is published is unimportant. News therefore works best on the web if it is atomised and decontextualised. Newspapers and magazines have to an extent prepared the ground for this. Their own web sites make it increasingly difficult to locate the story in the context in which it was published. Magazines are careless about the value to subscribers of the contents of their current and forthcoming issues. Newspapers and Magazines need to recover the confidence that reading the magazine or the newspaper is an experience that can be enjoyed on the web as much as it can be in print. The newspaper and the magazine as a digital experience have to offer sufficient value that a readers is prepared to become a subscriber to the magazine or newspaper. Subscription services -- especially of the digital edition and its archive will generate much more for most publishers, than a Fast Flip of streamed content which will catch a trickle of Ad-sense revenues. Of course, there are changes and more will be needed. Search within a publication is very important. Internal navigation is very important. The possibility of citation and book-marking is essential. External navigation is especially important when it is relevant to the reading experience. But, Fast Flipping? That may be about as much use as Shuffling the news.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Delayed Apps

Apple clearly hasn't yet figured out how to handle the Apps that its developers deliver. We have had one App in their 'approval process' for 8 weeks (tomorrow).

The App in question gives the user complete access to the current issue of the Spectator and a substantial archive. Apple are not willing to give us any information on when it will be approved for release (the messages they send are very polite, but automated and without real information). The App certainly works. I have been enjoying it myself and it was submitted at just about the same time as our App for Athletics Weekly which is functionally identical and has been merrily ringing up sales in the App Store for a month [App Store link]. Here is a screen shot of the Spectator App in action:

Why would Apple hang on to such an App for 8+ weeks? Why can they not give some helpful explanation for the delay? Is their software evaluation leading them to search through the five year archive in the account? Are they stuck with a protracted review because the Spectator has an occasional (and very good) wine column? The lack of explanation is puzzling and clearly self-defeating. When the App is made available in the App store, Apple will be capturing a substantial 'top-slice' of the revenue it generates. Until that moment arrives, the keen student of British politics will make do with a Spectator subscription from the Exact Editions magazine store, and can she supplement this with the Free App Exactly.

The most frustrating thing about this delay for us (which is also quite damaging for Apple if it is the experience of other developers) is that our generic App software is improving all the time and we have withheld offering a new version of the App platform to our users, for the moment. Clunky and protracted review processes seem so twentieth century, surely Apple want to encourage rapid development and innovation on their splendid and attractive platform?