Archive for the ‘The Written Word’ Category

A Polemic on Cheap and Free Content

July 12, 2010

If you find it distressing that those low-paying organizations like Demand Media that distribute written content for practically nothing, Ad Age points out that free content can pull in high paying advertisers just as well. It is interesting to note that the article uses as an example of the new form of writer, i.e., one who is willing to do it for nothing, a young man who started writing sports articles while he was waiting for his bar exam results, and is still doing it for nothing many hundreds of articles later.  This young man, meanwhile, having failed the bar 3 times, is being supported by his parents as he hones his craft. I wonder how long they are going to allow this practice to continue.  The article also points out that the Huffington Post is perhaps the mother lode of all free content.  It is, and most of the content in it which has any value at all is either written by one of the 53 editors that HuffPo pays, or taken from some other source that pays its writers, like the NY Times.  What this says about the future of journalism is more than distressing.  There is a place for journalism of the people, by the people and for the people, and it can even work in concert with the more elite kind. Yet, I find it hard to believe that there will not always be a need for writers who can actually write, for investigative journalism, and for content that is meaningful.

To make this point, perhaps, Nick Bilton’s Bits Blog notes that the content products for digital devices, like the iPad, are really being thought out, as publishers try to find a mix of content, design and community that make them stand out from their free web content.  Many of the magazine apps are rejecting the commentary and social aspect of their web counterparts.  On the Wired iPad app, for instance, readers cannot copy and paste links or text, comment or share on Twitter, or “like” an article on Facebook. Time Magazine’s app does not allow for sharing or linking. Another Condé Nast product, Gourmet (which shuttered its print version last fall), will be reborn in the fourth quarter as an app, which will have social aspects built into it.  This suggests, as some analysts have pointed out, that the lack of social connection on apps is because the mags haven’t quite figured out how to do it yet.  It really behooves publishers to make these apps as striking as possible, since they are behind a pay wall.  Time , meanwhile, is moving the current content of most of its magazines behind that app paywall. Their policy will be to “… use the web for breaking news and ‘commodity’ type of news; (news events of any type, stock prices, sports scores) and keep (most of) the features and longer analysis for the print publication and iPad versions.”

And speaking of magazines, you know those little subscription cards that fall out every time you open one up?  Turns out, they are, or soon will be, a complete waste, as Folio reports that 24 per cent of subscriptions that are sold by publishers come from the web.


Of E-Readers and What’s Up With Next Issue Media

June 25, 2010

Do you remember Next issue Media, the joint venture between several magazines that was supposed to revolutionize digital content and platforms for the magazine industry, and become the “Hulu of Magazines”?  John Squires, late of Time Magazine, was named the interim Managing Director while the board looked for a CEO.  Which they ultimately found in Morgan Guenther, who had been CEO of a wireless entertainment services company, AirPlay, and formerly with TiVo.  In the meantime though, points out PaidContent, lots of platforms have come upon the market, with no digital content from Next Issue.  So the magazines themselves have had to work out the logistics there.

Now, who needs a third-party company, and for what? Analytics, maybe, but that’s really where Apple and other platform/device companies are the gatekeepers. One of the stated goals of the company: develop a common digital storefront. Well, while that idea sounds grand, again, it isn’t their decision; in iPad’s case it is Apple’s decision to not let any third party sell content outside of their system, and unlikely that will change soon.

Oh, and by the way, PaidContent’s piece, which was written before the CEO decision was made,  has a fairly grueling tale of the interview process through which candidates for the position had to go.

And speaking of e-readers, you may recall that at the beginning of the year, Hearst showcased its own e-reader, the Skiff.  This was a large format e-reader meant for the digital perusal of periodicals, and was supposed to launch around now.  But it won’t.  Last week,  News Corp. said that it had purchased Skiff from Hearst–but only the publisher’s e-reader software platform. Hearst still owns the actual device, but Peter Kafka in MediaMemo reports that the company is looking to unload it.  News Corp and Hearst had been talking about a deal for some time, and the whole idea behind the Skiff was to create a digital platform for  the production, distribution and sale of periodicals on a variety of platforms.  Actually this was exactly what Next Issue Media was supposed to do, as well (Hearst is also a member of that joint venture).

Meanwhile, News Corp, says Kafka,

… now has several different ways to play digital media e-commerce: In addition to Skiff, it has a stake in whatever Next Issue Media builds, as well as the digital commerce platform that News Corp.’s Wall Street Journal has built (it’s possible these latter two will be combined).

And News Corp. has purchased yet another option, by buying a stake in Journalism Online, the Gordon Crovitz/Steve Brill online subscription platform.

That’s a whole lot of choices for a market that doesn’t really exist yet, and I assume those will consolidate over time. Keep watching…

And then there are the e-reader price wars.  Nook lowered its price to $199.  The next day Amazon lowered the price of the Kindle to $189. Dennis Kneale of CNBC suggests that Amazon abandon the price war altogether and just give the Kindle away for free with a book club subscription, “or  team up with print-media companies that would subsidize the cost of making Kindles and give ’em away free as the new distribution platform for their newspapers and magazines. Another ally: big brands that could hand out the Kindle as part of their customer service—banks, retailers, bookstore chains,   Wal-Mart”. As reasoning, he notes that amazon has sold 2.5 million Kindles in teh close to 3 years since its introduction.  The iPad, he says, has sold 2 million since April.  Actually Apple announced on Wednesday that it has so far sold 3 million iPads.  No wonder nobody wants to buy the Skiff.

Magazines Get A Second Life

May 7, 2010

There is a mood of upbeat optimism at magazines, now that they have entered their second life.  And we’re pretty sure that has happened, as the chief exec of Future Publishing, in the UK, said that digital publishing would ensure that paper mags will become “collectible artifacts rather than sources of valuable information… content that we want to own rather than connect with”.  Speaking before the PPA conference in London, Stevie Springs added that magazines would have to accept changes like enver before, and fast.  “Darwinism continues,” she said, “But it’s Darwinism on speed.   It’s survival of the fastest…we have to adapt and accept that some things are done much better in digital that in print.” She also feels that the next three years will be better than the last 3 have been, largely as the magazine figures out its new habitat. 

Folio mentions that digital vendors are at the moment either creating their own online marketplaces or creating “magazine branded storefronts and/or apps”. It makes sense for them to take themselves out of the picture in favor of the magazine brands, since that is where the public will be going. Most feel that tablets like the iPad are the basis for the second coming of the magazine business. Says the founder of Technologizer, “They already have well-established publisher relationships …, and far more people are going to want to read magazine-format publications on tablet-style devices than ever wanted to on PCs.”  Publishers are already creating apps for the iPad as well as downloadable content for the Kindle, the Nook, and mobile phones.

Condé Nast was a late web holdout, and the New Yorker has a brand spanking new web editor, who spoke with Sparksheet about the challenges for maintaining the execellence of that magazine’s editorial integrity.  Blake Eskin says that Condé stills maintains that the purpose of the web sites is to generate print subscriptions. While they have met the digital age with podcasts, author interviews (that are posted on Facebook) and blogs, they do not post the entire magazine online, but they do have some content that is web-only.  Eskin says, “…we keep an eye on what kinds of stories tend to do well…. We try to bring that sense of polished editing and excellence to things we can do simply but well.”

E-Readers Really Are Saving Magazines

April 26, 2010

Well, it won’t make magazine publishing extinct, that’s for sure, and it, as well as other e-readers, may actually end up being the saving grace that publishers hoped they would be.  A study by Mediamark Research showed that more e-reader owners read magazines either in print or online than their unconnected peers do – 91% vs 84%.  They also read more magazines. Whereas the general population reads 11 magazine issues per month, e-reader readers read 13 issues per month.  In addition,  e-reader owners value the magazines more than the average adult.

To bring that point home a bit, Zinio, which creates digital versions of magazines for publishers said that its Newsstand is the no. 1 free news app downloaded by iPad owners .  And it’s so far the fifth most downloaded free app, just behind Netflix, and just ahead of the weather channel. That was on then.  Today,  three weeks after the iPad’s launch, Zinio emerged as the number 1 free news app. This should bring joy to the hearts of magazine publishers everywhere.

The Periodic Table of Elements

April 9, 2010

We spoke last week about Theodore Grey’s e-book “The Periodic Table of Elements” which was made specifically for the iPad.  You can see the inestimable Mr. Grey, his Periodic Table table, and how he made his e-book on YouTube: 

A Really Old Text for Easter

April 2, 2010

Before we get to the torrent of news about the iPad, let us pause for a moment to consider the upcoming holiday.  The Internet Archive,  a nonprofit digital library which has been digitizing a wide range of texts and other content since 2005, this week passed its 2 millionth digitization.  That text, the Homilary on Gospels from Easter to the First Sunday in Advent is available free for Kindle, ePub, in .pdf,  or text, is 1000 years old, and has only been, until now, seen by a handful of people. “Handwritten in Latin by a number of scribes in a script inspired by the court of Charlemagne, this rare and beautiful treasure from the first millennium of Christianity, is one of the gems in the renowned collection of the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies”.

Presenting the iPad

April 2, 2010

The whole media world, it seems, was waiting for the iPad reviews to come out this week.  They were almost universally great. Walt Mossberg stopped just short of saying it was “magical and revolutionary” and even PC Magazine, that tecchie sceptic, had one review out of its several that was almost grudgingly positive. If you want to see a whole bunch of reviews side by side, here you go: Although many qualities have been attributed to the iPad, one to note is that it actually IS a laptop – it fits comfortably in your lap  and as Xeni Jardin from Boing Boing says, “It fits well in my lap for tweeting when eating during lunch break, and it’s easy to wipe off a stray mayo glop and get right back to updating the world on the details of my sandwich (using Twitterific for iPad, a free app which does what it promises on the tin).” Jardin also gives a description of the iPad version of the “Periodic Table of Elements”, which sounds, although you may not believe it, unbelievably cool.  Its creator, Theo Grey describes the experience thus: “The Elements on iPad is not a game, not an app, not a TV show. It’s a book. But it’s Harry Potter’s book. This is the version you check out from the Hogwarts library. Everything in it is alive in some way.”

It’s very early days in iPad development – so far most media sites are making themselves iPad ready by stripping out their Flash (which is not compatible). Different media will use it in different ways, and over time, you can envision the melding together of the different media in which a story can be told – book, movie, TV show —  and having them all in one package. Immediately, it will shine, compared to its greatest competition, as an e-book reader.  It’s in color for one thing, which means that the big problem with the Kindle as a text book reader has been eliminated.  And, as far as that competition is concerned, a study of anticipated purchase of e-book readers over the next 12 months showed that… well, here, see for yourself:

PriceGrabber E-reader survey

Of course one of the main reasons that the iPad will easily outpace the Kindle is that is more than just an e-book reader.  The PriceGrabber study also asked people what they would be using their real or imagined iPad for. Only 13% of 1,631 people interviewed said they would use it primarily as an e-reader. (more…)

Print Rushes to Create iPad Apps

March 26, 2010

Although most of them have not yet seen an actual real-life device,  print media are falling all over themselves rushing to get some sort of app ready for next week’s launch of the iPad.  A recent comScore poll of consumers found that among potential iPad owners, 37% of them plan to read books on it, 34% said that they would read newspapers and magazines, and guess what, they’re willing to pay for it all.  Those who already own some sort of “i” device are familiar enough with the iTunes model of purchasing digital content to be willing to use it to make purchases on the iPad,and 52%  are willing to shell out for content, as opposed to 22% of non-i consumers.   But whether you’re an “i” consumer or some other letter, you are going to paying up if you want to read stuff.  Pricings are starting to emerge, says PCWorld.  The Wall Street Journal, for instance, is going to be charging $17.99 a month for their app. (interestingly, the Journal charges $14.99 a month for a subscription on a Kindle, and $12.99 a month for a print and online subscription,  so obviously the newspaper is seeing this as a different kind of medium, with additional features.) WSJ discusses ad pricing on these new subscriptions, and for the time being anyway, advertisers are rushing to get spots on the apps. And back to comScore’s findings, I found it noteworthy that the unaided brand awareness of the iPad and the Kindle are identical, despite the fact that one has been around for a few years and the other one won’t be a reality until next Saturday.  The Apple hype machine works, it really does.

Beast Books Publishes the E-version First

March 19, 2010

Tina Brown spoke with GalleyCat about how the Daily Beast was entering into the world of publishing with Beast Books. This venture is going to be releasing ebook editions prior to having anything actually in print. It seems like a natural for the digital news site to be publishing digitally, and sure enough, when asked why she was going this route, Ms. Brown said, “We feel that that’s really what seeds the interest. What we feel strongly is that the digital is really the place that we are, but to have the paperback as well is a terrific way for the writer to fire on all cylinders. “ You can read the whole, fairly brief,  interview on Galley Cat’s page.

Bye-bye $9.99 e-books and Hello, Reality Romance

February 12, 2010

You may recall that last week, MacMillan fought Amazon, and MacMillan won, over the $9.99 pricing of their books on the Kindle.  Hachette and HarperCollins joined the fray.  The impetus for this was the launch of the iPad.  Steve Jobs suggested that publishers charge $12.99 to $14.99 for hardcovers or set their own price. Gizmodo posits that the other two major publishers, Penguin and Simon & Schuster, will go the same way, as the $9.99 price for books that was meant to create a big market for the Kindle. 

In other book news, it may seem counterintuitive, but HCI Books this week announced a new imprint, Vows, that links romance novels with reality.  So much for long-haired, bare chested hunks rising up out of the waves with a bosom heaving half clad damsel in his arms.  GalleyCat  reports that this new genre, RB (reality based) Romance will pair romance writers with actual couples.  It’s like turning the wedding column of your local newspaper into a steamy story.  So you can no longer look at your own life in comparison and think “That stuff never happens – really”, because yes it does – really.  And the writing style?  The first book is due out this year, a story of romance in New York, and here’s the description:

“New York lobbyist Michael Davoli feels like he’s been sucker punched when he meets Anne Miller at a concert … Michael falls hard … But while Mike effortlessly holds her with his gaze, he withholds the embrace she longs for … he finally confesses that he suffers from a neurological disorder that he’s learned to disguise from others but could keep him from ever holding her through the night–she makes a choice that changes the rest of her life. Anne isn’t about to let anything like Tourette’s Syndrome keep her from the man of her dreams … Hard to Hold is a modern day fairy tale that proves that the best things in life–and in romance–are real.”

Happy Valentine’s Day.