Showing posts with label Flipboard. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Flipboard. Show all posts

Monday, March 21, 2011

Apple's Magazine Newsstand

There are strongish rumours that Apple is preparing to launch a magazine-oriented, specialist Newsstand solution, similar to iBooks. The rumours gained some credibility when Mike McCue, Flipboard's founder, made the suggestion at SXSW in an interview with Kara Swisher. I havent seen the interview but the Guardian had a report:

I have no inside information but wouldn't be surprised if Apple did their own newstand similar to iBooks......
We are assured that McCue has no inside information, but McCue sits on the board of Twitter; Apple and Twitter are surely talking, Flipboard is highly regarded by Apple and there can be little doubt that an eBooks/iBooks style of magazine kiosk would be very advantageous for Flipboard and for Twitter. Indeed there might be strong synergy between a free and promotion-oriented Flipboard giving access to magazine subscriptions generated by {iMagazines, or iKiosk, or whatever Apple choose to call their mooted storefront}. So, maybe Mike McCue was flying a kite or tugging its string. It would be very helpful to Flipboard if there was a stronger and more reliable stream of 'ebook style' magazine issues channeled through iTunes, rather than the indigestible and quirky chunks of Adobe-Illustrator apps that seem to be favoured by the large consumer publishers. I don't think Apple is likely to be very happy with the Adobe-InDesigned efforts that we have seen so far.

Co-incidentally there was a slightly different rumour in Gadget Daily News, that Apple might be aiming to encourage a bit more standardisation and reliability in the digital magazine space by developing some magazine publishing templates. According to Gadget Daily News this will be 'implemented by the end of the year'. Maybe. Maybe not. I doubt that it would take Apple anything like so much time to develop such a tool if it decided to build it.

What are the key problems that Apple might wish to tackle to improve the position of digital magazines in iTunes? There are principally three issues that could be addressed:

  1. Distribution
  2. Presentation
  3. Production
Which if any of these problem areas is it likely that Apple may be planning to address? I think we can dismiss the distribution solution straight away. Apple believes that it has built a perfectly reliable and usable digital magazine distribution system already. The latest move to introduce a new system for in-app subscriptions to magazine content is all that is needed. Apple considers that with the iPad, the app store, the 200 million iTunes accounts, and the new subscription system, it has done enough for magazine publishers already on the distribution front. There is, admittedly, another perplexing digital distribution system to be solved (building digital magazines that can be distributed painlessly via iPhone, iPad, Android, WebOS, the web, etc, etc as many viable digital channels as possible), but Apple is not going to do anything about that.

The presentation problem is another matter. The variety, illogicality, diversity and plain bugginess of many magazine apps is rather shocking. So, it is quite possible that Apple is working on some standards or templates that may bring a bit of order to the chaos. Apple may produce some exemplar iTunes solutions which show how well digital magazines can work as iPad apps (cf the Garageband app that they produced for iPad 2). But I am not convinced that Apple's investment in digital magazines will go much further than that. It doesn't need to, because Apple has already built and 100% owns the best digital magazine platform, the iPad. Furthermore the rules of its distribution and e-commerce system require that digital magazines sold through its service pay a 30% commission to Apple, so there is really no need to invest heavily here. This has always been the strong point in the Apple position. It owns a platform that other parties wish to play on. There is a lot of innovation and experimentation going on in the digital magazine space on iOS devices and Apple benefits from this whatever the outcome.

It is when we get to the last problem area: production that the chances of Apple intervention are most unlikely. Consumer magazines are still produced in an immensely complicated, labour and design-intensive process, under considerable time pressure and with very diverse inputs and requirements. The workflow is still very much in thrall to a print output. Developing new databases for content management and high-design work-flow is not the kind of business that Apple wants to be in. The diversity and chaos of publication-oriented content management is even worse in the newspaper business, so we can conclude that it is most unlikely that Apple will build solutions that are intended for this kind of intricate deployment. Apple is not going to build a tool which takes high-design print-oriented inputs and explodes them into multimedia apps. Apple may have been willing to take a friendly look at the way that News International was building its bespoke-for-the-iPad Daily app. It is not probable that Apple's software engineers are going to spend time figuring out how the New York Times manages or streamlines its manifold production issues.

So Apple may show us how some magical magazine apps will work, but if they do, the chances are that the fireworks will be highly specific to the iPad. They may involve intimate and innovative use of the touch interface, the gyroscope and new sensors in the iPad 2, or 'social' effects through Twitter, Facebook or Facetime. If Apple is going to do something with magazines it could be highly innovative if they exploit the capabilities of the iPad 2. If they do that they may add another twist to the distribution dilemma facing magazine publishers: should digital magazines now be designed primarily or even exclusively for the iPad? Or should they also be designed for access and use through other devices and above all through the web? Apple has a huge lead in the tablet market-place and it will use that lead to develop the primacy and superiority of iTunes content. Raising the bar on the expectations and 'quality' to be found in iPad-specific magazines is one way of making the 'distribution dilemma' faced by the magazine publishers even more acute.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

InterDependent Content?

John Battelle has blogged a very intriguing essay on the distinction between the dependent and the independent web. Here he makes the distinction:

The Dependent Web is dominated by companies that deliver services, content and advertising based on who that service believes you to be: What you see on these sites "depends" on their proprietary model of your identity, including what you've done in the past, what you're doing right now, what "cohorts" you might fall into based on third- or first-party data and algorithms, and any number of other robust signals.

The Independent Web, for the most part, does not shift its content or services based on who you are. John Battelle: The Interdependent Web
Battelle goes on to point out:
Consider the sub-category of "content" on the web. It's a very large part of what makes the web, the web - millions of "content sites," ranging from the smallest blog to ESPN.com. Most of these sites don't change what they show us depending on who they think we are. John Battelle: The Interdependent Web
Perhaps a paradigmatic example of what Battelle is getting at here would be Wikipedia, which in spite of being a construct of millions of authorial and editorial acts is pretty much the same wherever or from wherever you are looking at it. But, hold on a moment, note that Wikipedia is changing all the time, and in ways that can be hard to predict (mostly it is getting better) and it is thus highly time-dependent. Independent of the 'self' perhaps? Certainly, Wikipedia aims at a crowd-sourced balance and neutrality. But note the variety of languages in which Wikipedia is now developed and edited. Nevertheless, Wikipedia is a standard bearer for web independence, rapidly changing, multilingual but determinate, and in a certain sense 'objective'. More and more our content services are becoming dependent services. They are not merely web sites. What you see and read depends on who you are and where you are, what you are doing; and you only read bits of what you are reading.

A very strong example of the way in which content services are becoming 'dependent' in John Battelle's sense is offered by the iPad app Flipboard. Flipboard is a pure content service but is totally 'dependent', the only element of 'editorial voice' that emerges concerns the degree to which Flipboard selects and promotes particular channels (eg this week Davos). Flipboard is not really a web service. It is an iPad app, plain and not so simple, but it aggregates a large number of web-based publications (usually via their RSS streams) and presents them to its subscribers with Facebook and Twitter resources inter-leaved in the content mix. What you see and read in Flipboard is very dependent on the choices you have made in the past, both in Flipboard and in your daily activity on Twitter and Facebook. The user is continually creating and assembling his/her own Flipboard anthology. A hallmark of dependence: no two Flipboard users will see the same content flow -- though for sure many components may be viewed in common. One of the key points about Flipboard is that it is at this point iPad-only. Flipboard is a hugely 'dependent' system, its shape is completely determined by its user's profile and activity and yet it is also completely dependent on web technologies and resources though not itself a web resource. There is no Flipboard web service, of course the company has a web site, of course Flipboard uses the web very intelligently. I can link you to stuff that I am seeing and reading on Flipboard, but Flipboard is not itself a source of content. I can't even 'Flip' you the page of Tweets that I am looking at right now.... (OK so here is a screen shot)



















Flipboard works, and in my view it works very well, because it builds on mechanisms which were well established well before the iPad arrived. Publications, especially magazines and newspapers have been struggling to adapt to the web by developing their own 'dependent' web services which complement their existing and hard to monetise independent web sites. RSS feeds were an obvious example of this urge to match the daily, weekly, periodical content to the circumstances of users. But blogs and comment functions are equally significant as mechanisms through which 'content' resources have been trying to match their publications to the various ways in which their audience can engage with a publication through the web. What Flipboard brilliantly shows us is that the magazine (or the newspaper) itself can be pulled through to the iPad environment and appreciated or enjoyed as a quasi-magazine on the iPad. The RSS feed hauls the pictures and comments and some of the layout through into the iPad app environment.

Whether Flipboard will itself become a commercially important channel for magazine publishers is another matter. But it certainly shows the industry that it is possible to deliver magazine content to the iPad environment in a form which is both attractive and enjoyable. For magazine publishers the real challenge is now to find out how to deliver the whole magazine in various forms and via a plethora of reading devices and reading environments to readers in a consistent and self-contained way. This is why the publication "as an app" has strong appeal for publishers and the existing audience. The big challenge for the publisher is to see if the magazine or newspaper app, whether on third generation iPad or a second generation Android tablet, can be a satisfactory way of presenting a full publication better than it could ever have been in print. So that in 2015 you know that what your sister is reading on the Samsung Squiggle, or the Amazon Kindle Mk5, is the same thing as the you are reading on the iPad iNfinite.... The challenge is to make publications as dependent as they can be on the whims, devices, preferences and circumstances of the reader but as independant and as reliably referenceable as web pages and print publications. InterDependence is the goal.