Friday, April 30, 2010

The Periodical Publishers Association Conference 2010

We were not able to go to this year's PPA Conference. We had better go next year. We have not gone in previous years, because it was two days and (to speak frankly) seemed to be over-full of over-complacent industry, grandees and non-experts. To judge by the tweets emerging from this year's shorter, one day conference, it was a more realistic and a more grounded get-together. I am also judging, perhaps unfairly from some short reports on the goings-on at Mediaweek. The reports suggest that timely and pressing issues were being addressed.

Here are some good signs: the industry grandees included Tim Brooks (Guardian ex-IPC), Stevie Spring (Future), and Evelyn Webster (IPC) and although these are all genuine magazine grandees, part of the good and the great of the sector, I would put them at the 'grounded' end of the 'waffle/'hands-on' spectrum. Their reported remarks show this: Stevie Spring "some things are much, much, much better done digitally than they are in print". Tim Brooks noted that the industry's ad share had slipped by17% since 2007. He predicts: "in future there will be fewer magazines" and the brands that survive will be multi-platform.

Three more good signs from the conference: (1) there was a good stream of active tweeting; (2) timely and important issues were being discussed in the technology streams, especially the iPad and User-Generated Content furthermore a senior Facebook executive had been invited to join a panel; (3) the overall tenor of the proceedings seems to have been that the industry knows that it faces plenty of challenges.

There was clearly some discussion of the iPad, but perhaps with insufficient enthusiasm. Juan Senor gave the opening introductory session on "Inspiration and Innovation", but the Mediaweek report makes him sound at best lukewarm:

He admitted the iPad was a "fascinating and revolutionary product" but warned the way it is approaching publishers in these embyronic days should sound alarm bells.

"Apple will keep pricing control and consumer data, which is the basis of marketing," he said.

He told publishers to negotiate strongly with Apple to make expanding onto the iPad platform viable. Mediaweek

Perhaps Mr Senor is being inaccurately reported by Mediaweek, but these do not seem to be particularly insightful comments (and the headline taken from his remarks is particularly inane 'Apple expect to make money off our backs' -- Apple's distribution arrangements are not unreasonable and of course Apple expects to make money from iTunes!). There is no doubt that Apple is doing a lot to maintain pricing control and to retain all consumer data, but keep it in mind that the Apple system allows publishers to distribute stuff for free to Apple customers, there is no charge for that. This is a service which costs Apple something. Also, remember that for all its 'control' Apple is not telling magazine publishers at what price they must sell their magazine apps (the app regime is less controlling than the music store in iTunes). The control extends to setting pricing levels and 'regions' in the global market. Not unreasonable matters for Apple to regulate. Furthermore publishers who care about getting customer data are much better advised to look for ways in which they can even so participate in the Apple eco-system to develop their own products and services than to spend time 'negotiating' with Apple to change course. Apple will change its course when publishers can demonstrate that there are better ways of serving the customers. Futhermore there is a lot that can be done with the Apple solutions which enables publishers to extend and develop their existing relationship with their customers and to retain and collect their own data. Publishers should not be encouraged to bleat but to experiment and offer solutions.

Another speaker (Gavin Dutch) is reported as being bearish on the prospects of publishers making significant revenues from paid for apps and in-app purchasing. To this I would respond, that very few (pitifully few) magazine publishers have yet developed or experimented with in-app purchasing. A few of the publishers who partner with Exact Editions have done so, and all the magazines that we have launched with in-app purchasing have had a promising start. Of course, the revenues collected in the first month or two are small, but they are highly encouraging. Users are trialling magazines with our freemium apps and a proportion are upgrading to the full subscription. Readers are finding the free apps. Consumers who have tried the samples provided are willing to purchase full magazine subscriptions with in-app purchasing. The system really works. It now needs to be grown with a lot more magazines. The iPad really is changing the digital landscape for magazine publishers and they need to get moving if they want to benefit from the shift in consumer attention.

There is a change afoot, the iPad and Facebook are at the cutting edge of the changes affecting the industry and it is very exciting.... Stevie Smith is quoted as noting: "all of the changes that are driven by technology are feeding back into changes in consumer behaviour at a speed that we've never seen before........The good news is that the next three years are going to be better than the last three."

Friday, April 23, 2010

New Models for Digital Advertising

In the last couple of weeks we have seen two new models for digital advertising proposed. First Steve Jobs announced iAds as part of the introduction for iPhone O/S 4.0. Second, Twitter announced their new concept of Promoted Tweets which have begun to be rolled out from major brands such as Starbucks, Red Bull and Virgin America. The Apple ads will be 'rich media' ads, using HTML5 (of course not Flash) but they will not be web-based, they will be app-based, and their announcement keyed in with the development that will allow apps to be nested within each other in the O/S 4.0. They also look as though they may be require quite complex and high-end design and animation skills. In his presentation Steve Jobs estimates that Apple could be generating 1 Billion iAd slots per day in six months time. That is a big opportunity.

What interests me about these new proposals for streams of digital advertising is that they promise to be quite distinct and different models for digital advertising. Sure they will be competing with Google in the advertising space but they will be competing by offering a completely different form of digital advertising. They are quintessentially forms of advertising which piggy-back on the environment of their hosts: Apple and Twitter. Apple have proposed an app-based form of advertising, and perhaps to no one's surprise Twitter have proposed a form of Tweet-based advertising. Whereas Google of course has its strongest suite in search-based advertising. Apple and Twitter are both, in their different ways, targeting the type of brand-based advertising which is where Google is least effective and dominant. They are targeting the big-budget, high impact advertising which has been the strong point of magazine and TV advertising for decades. Use of the Twitter and Apple eco-systems may be helpful to digital magazine publishers in the medium term. All publishers and advertisers will hope for more competition for Google in the distribution of digital ad-spending, but the print and TV publishers are losing control. There will be significant cuts for Apple and Twitter.

Notice also, that the Apple system is significantly less web-based than we have come to expect. The ads that are delivered are not web pages. Although the ads are built with HTML5 (big chuckle from the audience when Steve Jobs said that, sensing another jab at Flash) the advertisements are entirely based on inApp deployment. They are seen on the iPhone, the iPad etc within applications. Not on web pages. It would be no big deal to deliver these HTML5 also on the open web, but Apple have not yet said whether they will do that (nor have Apple said whether or not they will deliver iBooks on open web pages. My guess is that they will not). Apple is clearly building an Apple-only, Apple-closed system for advertising (see Frédéric Filoux and Peter Kafka). There is no point in blaming Apple for this closed approach. Google also is pretty closed when it comes to the workings of its advertising system. But the choice of 'digital advertising' as the topic headline for this blog is deliberate. Digital advertising systems are increasingly using the web and open web standards only to the extent that it really helps the technology platform to gain acceptance. We will see more proprietary advertising systems developed in the years to come (watch out for Facebook).

Could the same thing happen to books, magazines and newspapers that is now happening to advertising? Could we be moving towards a world in which there are multiple versions of mostly incompatible digital books, targeted or delivered at different types of digital distribution: ebooks for Kindle, Nook, Kobo and Sony, appbooks for Apple, slightly different Flash appbooks for Android, Google Books for Google Editions, Hulu-magazines for digital TV, Nintendo books and comics for game consols? Or will publishers, authors and readers be looking for a distribution model in which the same book, magazines and newspapers can be offered through all these platforms? Fragmentation and differentiation look to be the stronger tendency at the moment, but a move towards interoperability would be good. That should come if delivery via the web remains at the core of the service provided.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Magazine Apps on the iPad

Exact Editions had 11 iPad apps live when the launch arrived. There are some more titles working their way through the development and approval process. Our first office iPad arrived on Tuesday and it is an enthralling device. It has been passed around, much admired and caressed into action. Everyone who sees it, finds the speed and sharpness surprising and attractive. Here it is showcasing Athletics Weekly:

We have also been looking closely at other magazine apps. Brad Colbow produced an interesting overview of three of the front runners: Time, GQ and Popular Science.

iPad Magazine Art Direction from Brad Colbow on Vimeo.

Popular Science seems to have won most acclaim and is Brad's favourite. But we are struck by the way all three of the magazines in the Colbow selection use the convention of moving through the magazine horizontally and moving through the story (or the individual article) vertically. This meme, of the magazine issue as a matrix, has been kicking around for some months and I wonder why it has gained so much traction. I think the answer maybe concealed in the title to Colbow's video essay, too much input to these early apps has been coming from Art Directors. More should be coming from Circulation Directors.

Steve Smith at Mobile Insider makes the point succinctly:
The basic problem here is obvious. No one wants to learn a different interface with every magazine brand. As my stepfather said when he saw all of this, "I already know how to read a magazine. I just pick it up." I am not sure we want our periodicals to have to come with instructions.

Khoi Vinh, at Subtraction, makes a similar point in rather stronger fashion about the widely admired Popular Science app:
That repetitiveness does little to counter the general feeling of placelessness throughout the app; the navigation is well-meaning but fussy at best, but honestly much closer to incompetent. (As we get out of the gate with iPad publishing, can we just very quickly impose a moratorium on displaying instructions on how to use reading interfaces? If you need to explain it, we should all agree, then the design isn’t doing its job.) I got lost and frustrated repeatedly, and then I got bored.

Magazines need to remember (and the Circulation Director needs to remind the Art Director) that one of their great advantages in moving to a more exciting digital role is that everyone knows how to read a magazine. So anyone should immediately understand how to read a magazine app. That is the goal. Placelessness is a great term to describe the potential absence of direction that a user can experience on the iPad or the iPhone. Magazines can solve this problem by re-using and re-presenting their page based organisation which readers understand so well and so intuitively. We think our page flow element serves this prior understanding excellently on the iPad. The iPad is really fast so you can really skim through thumbnails at blinding speed, whilst still being anchored in the page that your reading has reached. Placelessness is defeated when can view the magazine in two distinct ways simultaneously. It really is better even than the iPhone: