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,, 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/ 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?

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Free Magazine Apps: What do they Achieve? the web site for that great magazine Time has recently released a Free App for the iPhone, which you can obtain here. It is one of the best Free Magazine Apps that I have tried.

The App combines thumbnail images and content elegantly:

Cool that you can Tweet an article as well as email it:

I am highly impressed by the design and software intelligence that has gone into building this App. But one has to question the fundamental business strategy.

  • Why distribute an App for free which does nothing to help to sell subscriptions? Maybe I missed something, but I found no link or information on any part of the App about buying a Time magazine subscription, either in print or in digital format.
  • If you are going to distribute a free App which gives a thin/medium thick layer of content from each issue of the magazine you really must offer an iPhone App which gives a subscription to the whole magazine. This Athletics Weekly video shows how subscriptions to magazines can be sold through the App store.
  • My guess is that giving away 10/15% of the content of the magazine does not seriously undermine the value of the subscription in print form, but one has to question the advisability of giving away, via the App, content which is going to appear in next week's print issue (eg a news story from today about Afghanistan). What is this real time generosity telling Time's print subscribers, who are increasingly the life blood of the magazine?
  • What about the advertising? Perhaps the real point of this excellent App is to generate advertising revenues, and one notices that Siemens ads appear throughout the App and are credited on the web site with sponsoring the venture. We have no idea how much Siemans will have paid for this privileged position, and there is no way of telling whether this sponsorship is really additive, or coming at the expense of additional revenue to the existing web accounts. There is no way of telling, but the lack of visual punch in the in-App Siemens ads, and the fact that Apple release very minimal demographic data, tells me that the advertising prospects for Apps of this style cannot be great.
The bald truth is that magazines are repeating with their free magazine Apps, the mistake that they have been making with their web sites. In most cases the web strategy has come unstuck. And these Apps, which are essentially re-packaged RSS feeds from the web sites, are not going to help at all. Partly because of the demographic obscurity of the Apple customers.

It is not a good idea to give away content on the web or through the App if this is undermining the value of your core subscriber proposition. Advertising-funded web and App developments will only work for magazines that have tremendous reach, or a very high value audience. There are very few of them. It is becoming increasingly unlikely that any magazines fit that bill. Time should really be building its subscriber base with its App. Magazine publishers have gradually learned that a lot of their subscriptions do come through purchases made on the web. It is time that they drew the obvious conclusion that subscriptions to digital magazines will also be purchased through the web and through the iTunes App store. Exact Editions will be pleased to help Time to develop a branded App for Time magazine (not which will enable any iPhone/iTouch user to purchase a subscription to the entire and visually compelling magazine....