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?