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July 25 2011

13:17

Kobo, txtr, Bluefire and The Google Books app vanished from iTunes

The Digital Reader :: Nate Hoffelder cross-checked a tweet from Andrew Rhomberg who mentioned that the Google Books app is no longer available through iTunes. Nate: "Curiously enough, the app running on my iPad still works. I fired it up and I can still read all the ebooks including the couple I bought. The app still has the link to the Google eBookstore website, too, which is probably why Apple pulled it." - Yes?

Andrew Rhomberg's tweet:

Google-books-iOS-png
Andrew Rhomberg: "Apple seems to be serious about it's new app payment policy: Kobo, txtr, Bluefire etc removed stores from app, Google Books app gone;"

Continue to read Nate Hoffelder, www.the-digital-reader.com

July 17 2011

17:48

App developers withdraw from U.S. as patent fears reach ‘tipping point’

paidContent :: App developers are withdrawing their products for sale from the US versions of Apple’s App Store and Google’s Android Market for fear of being sued by companies which own software patents - just as a Mumbai-based company has made a wide-ranging claim against Microsoft, Apple, Google, Yahoo and a number of other companies over Twitter-style feeds, for which it claims it has applied for a patent.

Continue to read paidcontent.org

July 11 2011

08:53

ePresse France: why build a digital newsstand with Apple's rollout to come before year-end?

Monday Note :: Six months of hard work for a very a three persons operation: a CTO, a marketing person, and a manager, and still a long way to go. ePresse brought up eight titles: five dailies (Le Figaro, Le Parisien and its national edition, Libération, the sports daily l’Equipe and the business paper Les Echos), and three newsweeklies (L’Express, Le Point, Le Nouvel Observateur). This is only the rocket’s first stage: an iPad/iPhone app allowing per-copy purchases within the App Store; more to come this Fall.

YouTube: ePresse.fr - how it works, how it looks like:

But why build a digital newsstand? After all, there is no shortage of places for buying online editions: Zinio, deployed globally; Relay.com and LeKiosque.fr in France. And, of course, Apple, which will roll-out its own Newsstand before year-end.

Continue to read Frédéric Filloux, ww.mondaynote.com

July 05 2011

10:19

Google+ for iPhone and iPad iOS awaiting Apple app store approval

mashable :: Google+ is already available on Android and on the mobile web, but the search giant’s social network will soon make its debut on iPhone and iPad. As Google technician Erica Joy revealed on Google+, “the Google+ iPhone app has been submitted to the App Store (no not today, sometime prior to today) and is awaiting approval.

Continue to read Ben Parr, mashable.com

May 28 2011

20:58

Apple’s App Store: more than 500,000 apps, Android marketplace only 294,000

CultofMac :: Apple’s iTunes can boast a half-million apps. That figure likely will get an official stamp of approval when CEO Steve Jobs speaks June 9 before developers at the annual WWDC in San Francisco. The figure, apparently passed earlier Tuesday morning, places the Cupertino, Calif. company well ahead of its rival Google, which can claim 294,000 Android Marketplace apps for the open-source mobile operating system.

148apps has published further interesting data (latest update 2011-05-23): The application approval process has an average delay of 7.30 days (worst case: maximum delay 46 days). Apple receives 523 non-games applications per day. The count for total apps seen in US app stores alone: 499,170.

Continue to read Ed Sutherland, www.cultofmac.com

App store metrics by 148apps.biz/app-store-metrics

May 26 2011

05:38

Web apps: Aside - will publishers choose the open web over Apple's iTunes store?

Poynter :: A pair of Berlin-based designers has released a prototype of what they call the world’s first HTML5 magazine for tablets. The project, called Aside Magazine, a web app, is an impressive demonstration of the design, interactivity and app-like experience that can be created using new advances in the language that powers the Web: HTML. These advances of HTML5 are important for news publishers seeking independence and a universal development strategy. Publishers now can avoid to develop different apps for iOS, Android, Windows or RIM.

[Nico Engelhardt, Aside:] Don’t get us wrong, we love the App Store. But in our world, magazines are press content, not softwarel. And we don’t want a big company to decide whether our content is allowed to be published or not.

Continue to read Jeff Sonderman, www.poynter.org

Visit the site Aside Magazine, www.asidemag.com

February 18 2011

15:00

This Week in Review: Paying up with Apple and Google, Twitter and activism, free labor for HuffPo

Every Friday, Mark Coddington sums up the week’s top stories about the future of news.

Apple lays down its terms: Publishers have been quite anxiously awaiting word from Apple about the particulars of its subscription plan for mobile devices, including the iPad; they got it this week, but it wasn’t what a lot of them were hoping for. The New York Times summarized publishers’ initial reaction with a few of the basic details — Apple gets a 30-percent cut, owns subscriber data (whether to send data to publishers is up to the subscriber), and publishers’ options for subscription services outside Apple are limited.

The Lab’s Josh Benton aptly laid out some of the primary implications for news organizations: Apple is setting itself up as toll-taker on the new news highway and putting a heavy incentive on converting print readers to tablet readers, but not putting restrictions on browser access within its devices. Media analyst Ken Doctor offered two astute takes on what Apple’s proposal will entail; we’ll call them glass-half-full and glass-half-empty.

Most of the reaction to Apple’s deal, however, was overwhelmingly negative. Media consultant Alan Mutter pointed out a couple of gotchas for publishers; Dan Gillmor called Apple’s policy stunningly arrogant, and the publishers that sign up for it “insane, or desperate”; ITworld’s Ryan Faas accused it of “gouging content producers”; Gizmodo’s Matt Buchanan dubbed it “evil”; developer Ryan Carson urged users to fight Apple’s  ”extortion”; and the Wall Street Journal raised possible antitrust issues.

The beef that most of these critics have with Apple is not so much the 30-percent cut (though that’s part of it) as it is Apple’s restrictions on publishers’ alternative subscription methods. Apple is requiring that publishers that want to have a non-App Store subscription method can’t charge less than their Apple-sanctioned route, and can’t show app users how to access it, either. This means that, as Buchanan states, “Effectively, all easy roads to getting content on the iPad now run through Apple.” (Plus, as TechCrunch’s Erick Schonfeld noted, those terms could easily become even worse once Apple has publishers and readers hooked.)

Of course, the system looks a bit different from the consumer’s perspective — it may be the most user-friendly subscription system ever, argued MG Siegler of TechCrunch. (Publishers, of course, disagreed about that.) As GigaOm’s Mathew Ingram pointed out, this may come down to how much publishers think it’s worth to have Apple handle their mobile sales for them.

We got some mixed early signs about how publishers might answer that question. PaidContent reported on publishers who felt Apple’s terms could have been much worse, and Poynter’s Damon Kiesow talked to publishers who plan to offer multiple options. Popular Science became the first magazine to jump on board and Wired is following suit ASAP, but Time Inc. pre-emptively struck deals with Apple’s competitors, and another publishers’ group threatened to take its business elsewhere.

One Pass to rule them all?: As if to underscore that point, Google announced its own One Pass digital paid-content system the next day. Unlike Apple, Google will keep about 10 percent of publishers’ revenue and allow publishers to own their subscribers’ data, according to Advertising Age. Much of the commentary about Google’s plan positioned it in opposition to Apple’s proposal: The Wall Street Journal described it as a fired salvo at Apple; search guru John Battelle summed it up as “Hey Apple, we’ve got a better way;” Alan Mutter detailed the ways Google’s plan “trumps” Apple’s; and others from The Next Web, mocoNews, and Fast Company compared the two proposals.

But several others — particularly the Lab’s Josh Benton and Poynter’s Rick Edmonds — explained that while it might seem natural to compare Google’s system to Apple’s given the timing of their announcements, Google One Pass is focused far more on web access than app access, making the paid-content company Journalism Online a more direct competitor than Apple. Journalism Online’s Gordon Crovitz made the case to paidContent for his company over Google, highlighting its flexibility, and paidContent also noted that newspaper chain MediaGeneral is trying out both systems at different papers.

A couple of other notes on Google’s plan: TechCrunch’s MG Siegler argued that Google’s agreement to allow publishers ownership of subscribers’ data is at least as big of a deal to publishers as the revenue split, and GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram ripped One Pass, saying that as long as its clients’ content is on the open web without the exceptional user experience of the best apps, it’s just “a warmed-over content paywall.”

Parsing out the “social media and revolutions” debate: Despite having been declared “over” early this week by The Daily’s editor-in-chief, the protests in Egypt continued to dominate conversation, including in future-of-news circles. Via The New York Times, we got a glimpse into how Egyptian officials were able to shut down their country’s Internet and how Facebook is wrestling with its role in the protests. NPR’s Andy Carvin continued to earn plaudits (from The New York Times and PR exec Katie Delahaye), and the Lab’s Megan Garber looked at the way Carvin spontaneously launched a personalized Twitter pledge drive.

But the bulk of the discussion revolved around the same discussion that’s been on slow burn for the past few weeks: What role does social media play in social activism? Washington grad student Deen Freelon has once again produced a fantastic synopsis of what we know and what we have yet to learn in this arena, so consider this a supplement to his post.

The parade of articles arguing that Twitter doesn’t cause revolutions continued at a steady pace this week, prompting NYU j-prof Jay Rosen to profile the Twitter-debunking article as a genre, concluding that the argument  — along with the glib social media triumphalism it’s refuting — is a cheap detour around thoughtfully considering the complex issues involved in social change. Several others built on Rosen’s point: Aaron Bady delved deeper into the social media-debunking article’s function; CUNY j-profs Jeff Jarvis and C.W. Anderson focused on protecting those technological tools and opined on the difference between academic and popular discourse on cause-and-effect, respectively.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t substantive things to say about social media’s role in recent protests, of course. POLIS’ Charlie Beckett noted that newly adopted technologies (such as mobile phones) have helped create a more “networkable” power structure in the Middle East, and NDN’s Sam duPont looked at social media’s role as an organizing tool, news source, and public sphere in Egypt.

To pay or not to pay: With a few exceptions (Frederic Filloux’s short, fierce takedown of The Huffington Post as a “digital sand castle” is well worth a read), the second week of commentary on AOL’s purchase of The Huffington Post centered on the question of whether HuffPo’s thousands of unpaid contributors should start getting paychecks for their work.

At The New York Times’ FiveThirtyEight blog, Nate Silver attempted to calculate the worth of a typical HuffPo post, concluding that they follow a classic power law relationship and that most of them aren’t worth much. The New York Observer’s Ben Popper said Silver is undervaluing HuffPo’s contributors, and Gannett’s Ryan Sholin made the point that having those posts within a single platform is worth more than the posts themselves.

Most of the grist for this week’s conversation, though, came from Silver’s Times colleague, David Carr, who used HuffPo as an entree into some observations about creating online content for others for free through platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Quora. Paul Gillin of Newspaper Death Watch built on Carr and Silver’s analyses to make the case that in the face of devalued online content, demand for higher-quality material might bring us out of the basement of online pay.

Several others countered Carr with similar points: Web thinker Stowe Boyd, British j-prof Paul Bradshaw and HuffPo’s own Nico Pitney said that HuffPo bloggers have eminently legitimate non-monetary reasons for writing there; GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram pointed out that The Times’ op-ed system isn’t much different from HuffPo’s; and Jeff Jarvis said news folks should be thinking more about value than content.

Reading roundup: Some interesting bits and pieces to round out the week:

— Google unveiled the latest tool in its effort to fight content farms this week — an extension to its browser, Chrome, that allows users to block any site they choose from Google search results. TechCrunch called it “crowdsourcing” Google’s content farm detection, and Gizmodo said that it allows for the arresting possibility of “an Internet that never disagrees with you.”

— A few miscellaneous items regarding The Daily: Slate’s chairman, Jacob Weisberg, ripped it (“It’s just a bad version of a newspaper in electronic form with a very condescending view of the audience”); Scott Rosenberg wondered what’ll happen to its archives; and the publication updated its glitch-ridden app.

— A couple of great data journalism resources: Poynter’s Steve Myers broke down the difficulties in integrating data journalism into the newsroom, and ProPublica’s Dan Nguyen wrote a wonderful post encouraging journalists to get started with data analysis.

— The second blogging Carnival of Journalism, focusing on increasing the number of news sources within communities, began going up over the past day or so, so keep an eye out for those posts. I’ll have a roundup here next week.

— If you want a 30,000-foot summary of what’s happening on the leading edge of news right now, you really can’t do much better than Josh Benton’s speech to the Canadian Journalism Foundation posted here at the Lab. It’s a fantastic primer, no matter how initiated you already are.

February 15 2011

16:00

What Apple’s new subscription policy means for news: new rules, new incentives, new complaints

Apple has announced its long-awaited subscription policy for newspapers, magazines, and other outlets who want to sell content for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. The high points:

— Publishers who sell subscriptions to content on Apple devices must make that subscription available for purchase within their apps — a path that promises easy, one-click purchases for users but that also gives Apple a 30 percent cut of the payment.

— Publishers can still sell access to subscriptions outside the app — say, by taking a credit-card payment on their website. But the cost can be no lower than the price offered inside the app, and publishers are responsible for setting up their own authentication system for those subscribers.

— Customer data for in-app subscribers will remain with Apple, generally speaking, but customers will have the option to send their name, email address, and zip code to publishers. (Opt-in, not opt-out.) If handed over, that data will be governed by the publisher’s privacy policy, not Apple’s.

At first glance, this is exactly what a lot of publishers were fearing: Apple setting itself up as a toll-taker on news orgs’ road to a new business model. (Excuse the metaphor.) For publishers who had been counting on a new rush of tablet revenue to support a lagging print model, it’s disappointing to learn that, in exchange for the convenience of a “Buy” button in their iPad app, they’ll have to give up 30 percent of the revenue it generates. We’ll have to see how it plays out in the coming months, but first, here are four quick reactions to what the latest word from Cupertino means for news outlets.

Converting print-to-tablet rather than tablet-native

As Steve Jobs says in the press release: “Our philosophy is simple — when Apple brings a new subscriber to the app, Apple earns a 30 percent share; when the publisher brings an existing or new subscriber to the app, the publisher keeps 100 percent and Apple earns nothing.” (We could debate what “brings” means all day.)

That means news organizations will be incentivized to convert customers they already have relationships with — a.k.a. print subscribers — into tablet-only or tablet-also readers. If you’re a newspaper and you can convince your 20-year subscriber to pay a little extra for a tablet subscription, you get to keep that marginal revenue because you “brought” that subscriber to the app and processed her billing outside Apple’s systems.

In the long run, though, such a strategy could hurt newspapers who already have disproportionately older audiences. Converting 20-year subscribers to a new platform isn’t as valuable as converting non-readers into tablet readers. Part of the appeal of tablets and smartphones is that they promise to put newspapers in front of a younger audience that, frankly, hasn’t picked up a print paper in years, or ever. For those people — people who download an app, like what they see, and decide to subscribe — Apple will take its cut. It’s a perverse incentive for publishers.

The big question here is what this policy will mean for bundling. Lots of publishers are selling bundled packages — pay one price and get print, web, iPhone, iPad, and whatever-else access. Apple’s press release is unclear on how those would be handled. Lots of publishers get away with “charging” an extra penny for access to an e-edition no one uses. Will they be able to get away with bundling tablet access with print outside an app? Or will they have to funnel their print revenues through Apple too if they want to sell as a package? Giving up 30 percent of tablet revenue is one thing; giving up 30 percent of print subscription revenue is suicide.

A missed opportunity to create a new pricing tier

It’s been rumored that the next iPhone, due this summer, would include near field communications, or NFC, capability. That’s similar to the technology that lets you tap your credit card instead of swiping it at some stores, and it could, in effect, turn your Apple device into something like a credit/debit card that lets you pay for physical items in physical locations, not just a Mighty Eagle in Angry Birds.

If that’s in the iPhone’s future, it’s clear Apple would need to create a different pricing tier for buying via NFC. Taking a 30 percent cut isn’t tenable if you’re buying a laptop or a week’s worth of groceries. Store owners will need to be convinced to embrace NFC payments, and they’ll only do so if they can do so at a cost that’s competitive (for them) with credit and debit cards. So the assumption’s been that Apple would, in a few months, debut a separate tier of pricing for Apple’s share of those purchases.

And it makes sense that, as Apple’s universe grows, a one-size-fits-all pricing model isn’t going to work. What made (grudging) sense to iPhone developers three years ago isn’t going to make sense in every other market. Selling subscriptions to content — content generally produced at substantial cost in a non-digital context, in the case of most newspapers and magazines — would seem to be a logical place to offer a smaller cut in an attempt get as many news orgs headed to iPads as possible. But that’s not what Apple’s chosen.

An opening for competitors?

The iPad dominates the tablet market, and most of the new competitors announced in the past few months appear to be overpriced to compete with the first iPad, let alone the second one expected in a few weeks. (Not to mention that most of them haven’t even shipped yet.)

But the vast majority of the world still lacks a tablet, of course, and there’s still a lot of selling to be done. It will be interesting to see whether Apple’s competitors will see an opportunity to get news outlets — which still have major marketing power — to shift their favor in some other tablet’s direction. RIM and HP both have proprietary operating systems on their tablets that could offer better deals in stores; the Android world remains something of a free-for-all, with rival stores for apps and what seems to be a real difficulty getting anyone to pay for anything. But if a rival OS could pitch a great deal to news orgs, the field is still fresh enough that some of them might be willing to promote the hell out of it as their preferred tablet choice. For a market where Apple takes up a lot of the oxygen, that promise of a promotion platform could be appealing.

No mention of restrictions on browser access

One thing absent from today’s announcement: any requirement that a news org selling subscriptions to an iPad app disable or charge for access to its website on iPads. Our own Ken Doctor predicted that would be part of the new Apple model, intending to funnel all tablet users through the app rather than relying on a still-free alternative a few taps away in Safari.

I think not going there is smart — too many news organizations are still betting on a mixture of free and paid for their digital strategy to tie web and app access together so closely. If we lived in a world where everyone was committed to Times (UK)-style paywalls, it might make sense. But there’s still a lot of nuance to be figured out on where to charge and where to give away, and any rule from Apple governing such a big part of the mobile web would stifle the experimentation I hope we’re finally going to see in 2011.

Finally, that’s one other question left unanswered by Apple’s release: How much leeway will publishers have to balance free and paid within an app. Outside the news world, app developers have complained that Apple doesn’t allow free trials for apps — you can’t download an app, try it out for seven days, then decide whether or not to pay. Developers complain that makes it harder to sell expensive apps, which people will rightfully want to try out before spending $50.

How will that idea carry over to publishers? Will someone be able to download an app and get the first three issues of a magazine free before getting pitched on a subscription? Will someone trying a metered model, like The New York Times, be able to let someone read 10 articles a month before hitting the paywall? The in-app purchasing model Apple’s using for subscription would seem to allow some leeway, but we’ll have to see how it works in the real world.

February 10 2011

17:00

Jason E. Klein: Print newspapers have a place in a tablet-heavy future

Editor’s Note: In the increasingly competitive world of journalism, it’s easy to start declaring winners and losers. The reality will likely be somewhere in between; just as television didn’t kill radio, there’ll be room for lots of different kinds of news outlets in the Internet age.

So today, we’re going to feature two pieces by people whose medium of choice some have recently forecast to come up short: print newspapers (facing threats from tablets) and homegrown local news sites (facing threats from national networks).

Here, Jason E. Klein — president and CEO of the Newspaper National Network — argues that tablets aren’t going to sweep away the print newspaper business any time soon. NNN describes itself as the “primary nationwide sales and marketing network for newspapers, both print and digital” and counts nearly all American newspaper companies as shareholders.

In 1979, an English new wave band called The Buggles hit No. 1 on the singles chart in 16 different countries with its debut single “Video Killed the Radio Star.” Two years later, it was the first music video to be shown on the new network MTV just after midnight on August 1, 1981. After almost thirty years have passed, The Buggles are largely forgotten, and radio is still around.

The new rage is tablets, and many believe tablets mean the death of print, and especially newspapers. Not in 30 years, but very soon. Forrester CEO George Colony recently told a gathering of media leaders that tablets were “the nexus of media” and would overtake e-readers, and ultimately the web. Wow!

Even the most hard-core newspaper junkies envision a world when tablets replace print, but they see that world far off. Maybe thirty years or so, maybe a hundred, give or take. So George and the newspaper junkies see a similar fate — it’s just a question of timing. I’m not sure when George thinks the last tree will go down for newspaper pulp, but I’d guess that he thinks the tipping point is soon, in the next two to four years. Maybe he’ll read this and weigh in.

Let me define what I mean by tipping point. There are still almost 1,400 daily print U.S. newspapers. While circulation and revenue has contracted, very few print newspapers have gone out of business. Since 1980, the number of print newspapers has declined at a fairly steady rate of about one percent per year — far fewer than the number of magazines to fold over that time. At the moment, newspaper companies are coping with the changes to their business. To me, the tipping point is when print newspapers are shutting at a rapid clip and the number of papers drops by half from today. When will the tipping point be?

The most predictable underlying trend is generational. Print readers are dying off, and younger adults read print at half the rate of older adults. But people are living longer, and 60 is the new 50. If the aging of the population is the dominant driver of the demise of print, you can model the numbers to show that print will be around for 30 years, or 50, or more, and George will be wrong.

But print junkies are changing their habits, even if their anti-aging creams, whole grains, and yoga are halting the ageing process. If the tipping point is at hand, as George seems to believe, it will be driven by the conversion of print junkies to tablets and not by Gen Y.

Tablets — which right now really mean just the iPad — are a delightful way to read newspapers. Ask most anyone who is not a luddite, has an interest in current events, and is a regular iPad user and you’ll get the same response. I am in that camp; I even hugged my iPad last week, once. However, there are still many print junkies who see the advantages of print newspapers, and relish their time with newspapers spread out in front of them, a cup of coffee at their side, and a smile on their face. I am in that camp too. From a usage standpoint, each fills a need, and the formats each have reason to coexist. I am a happy camper in both worlds. Even in a pre-tablet world, paid print newspaper circulation is over 40 million at the same time as 100 million people can and do read the same newspaper content on the web — for free.

Keep in mind that the forecast for tablet penetration is explosive, even more so than expectations for MTV in 1981. Tablet prices will come down, and people will have tablets in different rooms, in different colors and flavors. Corning makes the glass for tablets (now that’s a business!) and recently forecast 180 million tablet sales by 2014. With all those tablets around, it’s reasonable to expect that millions of print junkies will hug their iPads and use their newspaper apps. This means opportunities for newspaper publishers for new advertising and subscription revenues. Unfortunately for publishers, newspaper content engines depend on the economics of print since digital dimes don’t replace print dollars.

Will the print junkies jump ship as tablets multiply like rabbits? Is it a foregone conclusion that the tipping point of 700 closed newspapers follows right after Corning sells 180 million sheets of glass?

I don’t think it has to be. Just as radio has found its niche, print has its place as well. As Clay Shirky notes in his recent book, citing research by Clay Christensen and Gerald Berstell, you need to ask: What job are customers hiring your product to do? Print fills a different need; the experience of handling and reading a print newspaper provides an intellectual and leisure experience that offers an alternative to the hours spent on digital devices. With its broadsheet format, print is an ideal vehicle for both scanning and in-depth reading, and reading a newspaper from front-to-back is a complete experience a tablet environment finds hard to duplicate. Our research with dual print/digital newspaper consumers also suggests that consumers still trust print more than digital. While the tablet has invaded print’s turf, it’s not filling all the needs that print does.

How newspapers are marketed will make an enormous difference. It will control (a) the rate at which print junkies adopt the tablet format of newspapers and (b) the rate print at which junkies abandon print. The net of those rates will determine if the tipping point is imminent or a generation away.

Newspaper publishers seem to be headed to a paid model for tablet newspapers. Publishers realize that if tablet newspapers are free, their adoption rate by print junkies is constrained only by tablet sales, which will go through the roof. If tablet newspapers are free, and print newspapers cost $30-40 per month and up, why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free? As the music industry learned, it’s very difficult to compete with free. Nonetheless, some publishers are planning for free tablet newspapers, banking that advertisers’ current infatuation with tablet ads — and premium pricing — continues, and hoping that the print junkies don’t notice.

Most newspaper marketers are sweating the details. To bundle or not to bundle? Pursue a clever mix of free and paid? Extract a premium price at first from early adopters, then lower — or price low at first to encourage adoption, then raise? Vary price by geography, or usage, or time of day, or news cycle? Some publishers favor a bundled pricing plan: one price for access across all formats. Apple is not making the choices any easier as it looks to embed the App Store in all transactions.

So will tablets kill the newspaper star? Tablets are clearly invading the world of newspaper print junkies with long term consequences. But from a consumer standpoint, print and tablet formats can coexist for as long as generational factors allow. Each fills a different set of needs. Print clearly has its core of enthusiasts. It’s up to the marketers — at newspaper publishing companies, and at Apple and other intermediaries — to find the right value equation for each format.

September 24 2010

14:00

This Week in Review: Apple’s subscription plan, the exodus from objectivity, and startup guides galore

[Every Friday, Mark Coddington sums up the week's top stories about the future of news and the debates that grew up around them. —Josh]

Is Apple giving publishers a raw deal?: The San Jose Mercury News’ report that Apple is moving toward a newspaper and magazine subscription plan via its App Store didn’t immediately generate much talk when it was published last week, but the story picked up quite a bit of steam this week. Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal both confirmed the story over the weekend, reporting that Apple may introduce the service early next year along with a new iPad. The service, they said, will be similar to Apple’s iBook store, and Bloomberg reported that it will be separate from the App Store.

Those reports were met with near-universal skepticism — not of their accuracy, but of Apple’s motivations and trustworthiness within such a venture. Former journalist Steve Yelvington sounded the alarm most clearly: “Journalists and publishers, Apple is not your friend.” It’s a corporation, Yelvington said, and like all corporations, it will do anything — including ripping you apart — to pursue its own self-interest.

Several other observers fleshed out some of the details of Yelvington’s concern: EMarketer’s Paul Verna compared the situation to Apple’s treatment of the music industry with iTunes, and GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram and TechCrunch’s MG Siegler wondered whether publishers would balk at giving up data about their subscribers to Apple or at Apple’s reported plans to take a 30% share of subscription revenue. Ingram predicted that publishers would play ball with Apple, but warned that they might wind up “sitting in a corner counting their digital pennies, while Apple builds the business that they should have built themselves.” Dovetailing with their worries was another story of Apple’s control over news content on its platform, as Network World reported that Apple was threatening to remove Newsday’s iPad app over a (quite innocuous) commercial by the newspaper that Apple allegedly found offensive.

Media analyst Ken Doctor broke down publishers’ potential reactions to Apple’s initiative, looking at the plan’s appeal to them (“It offers a do-over, the chance to redraw the pay/free lines of the open web”) and their possible responses (accept, negotiate with Apple, or look into “anti-competitive inquiries”). In a post at the Lab, Doctor also took a quick look at Apple’s potential subscription revenue through this arrangement, an amount he said could be “mind-bending.”

All Things Digital’s Peter Kafka noted one indicator that publishers are in serious need of a subscription service on the iPad, pointing out that Time Inc.’s Sports Illustrated can’t pay for the designers to make its iPad app viewable in two directions because, according to its digital head, it doesn’t have the money without an iPad subscription program. Gizmodo’s Matt Buchanan used the same situation to explain why iPad subscriptions would be so critical for publishers and readers.

A coup for journalism with a point of view: It hasn’t been unusual over the past year to read about big-name journalists jumping from legacy-media organizations to web-journalism outfits, but two of those moves this week seemed to mark a tipping point for a lot of the observers of the future-of-journalism world. Both were made by The Huffington Post, as it nabbed longtime Newsweek correspondent Howard Fineman and top New York Times business writer Peter Goodman.

The Wrap’s Dylan Stableford looked at what Fineman’s departure means for Newsweek (he’s one of at least 10 Newsweek editorial staffers to leave since the magazine’s sale was announced last month), but what got most people talking was Goodman’s explanation of why he was leaving: “It’s a chance to write with a point of view,” he said. “With the dysfunctional political system, old conventional notions of fairness make it hard to tell readers directly what’s going on. This is a chance for me to explore solutions in my economic reporting.”

That kind of reporting (as opposed to, as Goodman called it, “laundering my own views” by getting someone from a thinktank to express them in an article) is exactly what many new-media folks have been advocating, and hearing someone from The New York Times express it so clearly felt to them like a turning point. The tone of centrist detachment of mainstream journalism “has become a liability in keeping newsroom talent,” declared NYU professor Jay Rosen on Twitter. Others echoed that thought: Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan extolled the virtues of being “able to call bullshit bullshit,” and former Salon editor Scott Rosenberg said legacy news orgs like The Times need to find a way to allow its reporters more freedom to voice their perspective while maintaining their standards. Salon’s Dan Gillmor agreed with Rosenberg on the centrality of human voice within journalism and noted that this exodus to new media is also a sign of those sites’ financial strength.

Former McClatchy exec Howard Weaver countered that while transparency and clear voice is preferable to traditional “objectivity,” freeing traditional journalists isn’t as simple as just spilling their biases. Advocacy journalism is not just giving an opinion, he said, it’s a “disciplined, ethical posture that tries to build truth out of evidence, regardless of the outcome.”

Getting journalism startups off the ground: If you’re interested in the journalism startup scene — for-profit or nonprofit — you got a gold mine of observations and insights this week. Over at PBS’ Idea Lab, Brad Flora, founder of the Chicago blog network Windy Citizen, examined five mistakes that kill local news blogs. Here’s how he summed his advice up: “You are not starting a blog, you are launching a small business. You are no different from the guy opening a bar up the road. … You need to know something about blogging and social media, yes, but what you really need to bone up on is what it takes to run a small business.” The post has some fantastic comments, including a great set of advice from The Batavian’s Howard Owens. On his own blog, Owens also gave some pretty thorough tips on developing advertising revenue at a local news startup.

On the nonprofit side, the Knight Citizen News Network went even deeper into startup how-to, providing a comprehensive 12-step guide to launching a nonprofit news organization. It may be the single best resource on the web for the practical work of starting a nonprofit news site. Voice of San Diego is one of the most successful examples of those sites, and its CEO, Scott Lewis told the story of his organization and the flame-out of the for-profit San Diego News Network as an example of the importance of what he calls “revenue promiscuity.”

David Cohn, founder of another nonprofit news startup, Spot.Us, also looked at six new journalism startups, leading off with Kommons, a question-answering site built around Twitter and co-founded by NYU Local founder Cody Brown. Rachel Sklar of Mediaite gave it a glowing review, describing it as “a community that seeks smart, conversation-furthering answers prompted by smart, probing questions — publicly.” She also said it sneakily lures users into giving it free content, though Brown responded that anyone who’s ever asked you to interview has been trying to do the same thing — only without giving you any control over how your words get used. (Kommons isn’t being sneaky, he said. You know you’re not getting paid going in.)

Three more future-oriented j-school programs: After last week’s discussion about the role of journalism schools in innovation, news of new j-school projects continued to roll in this week. City University of New York announced it’s expanding its graduate course in entrepreneurial journalism into the United States’ first master’s degree in that area. New-media guru Jeff Jarvis, who will direct the program, wrote that he wants CUNY to lead a movement to combine journalism and entrepreneurship skills at schools across the country.

Two nationwide news organizations are also developing new programs in partnership with j-schools: Journalism.co.uk reported that CNN is working on a mentoring initiative with journalism students called iReport University and has signed up City University London, and AOL announced that its large-scale hyperlocal project, Patch, is teaming up with 13 U.S. j-schools for a program called PatchU that will give students college credit for working on a local Patch site under the supervision of a Patch editor. Of course, using college students is a nice way to get content for cheap, something Ken Doctor noted as he also wondered what the extent of Patch’s mentoring would be.

Reading roundup: As always, there’s plenty of good stuff to get to. Here’s a quick glance:

— Former Washington Post executive editor Len Downie gave a lecture in the U.K. Wednesday night that was, for the most part, a pretty standard rundown of what the U.S. journalism ecosystem looks like from a traditional-media perspective. What got the headlines, though, was Downie’s dismissal of online aggregators as “parasites living off journalism produced by others.” Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan gave it an eye-roll, and Terry Heaton pushed back at Downie, too. Earlier in the week, media analyst Frederic Filloux broke down the differences between the good guys and bad guys in online aggregation.

— The New York Times published an interesting story on the social news site Digg and its redesign to move some power out of the hands of its cadre of “power” users. The Next Web noted that Digg’s traffic has been dropping pretty significantly, and Drury University j-prof Jonathan Groves wondered whether Digg is still relevant.

— A couple of hyperlocal tidbits: A new Missouri j-school survey found that community news site users are more satisfied with those sites than their local mainstream media counterparts, and Poynter’s Rick Edmonds posited that speed is less important than news orgs might think with hyperlocal news.

— Finally, a couple of follow-ups to Dean Starkman’s critique of the journalism “hamster wheel” last week: Here at the Lab, Nikki Usher looked at five ways newsrooms can encourage creativity despite increasing demands, and in a very smart response to Starkman, Reuters’ Felix Salmon argued that one of the biggest keys to finding meaning in an information-saturated online journalism landscape is teaching journalists to do more critical reading and curating.

September 23 2010

15:00

The Newsonomics of Apple’s “digital circulation” share

[Each week, our friend Ken Doctor — author of Newsonomics and longtime watcher of the business side of digital news — writes about the economics of the news business for the Lab.]

So the newspaper business is now figuring out how to deal with a new middleman, Apple. The last decade has been about moaning and groaning about The Google, how it has become the mass medium, leaving newspapers in the niche, and how it has gotten the big share of digital ad revenue as an aggregator while news creators have gotten the short end of the hockey stick. The new decade looks like it’s bringing up a suite of similar questions, with Apple first in focus (and maybe Facebook coming next).

Just when newspaper companies thought they’d seen a big, new opportunity to establish strong new reader revenue lines on the tablet, their dreams have hit the pause button. Apple says it wants 30 percent of that emerging reader revenue — including ongoing digital subscription streams — telling publishers that they, like everyone else, have to go through the App Store to do the transaction, giving Apple its due cut. Publishers are now figuring outhow to respond, and as they do, let’s look, briefly, at four sets of numbers that tell us why this Apple/newspaper company tiff matters so much. Within those four sets, we can see the emerging newsonomics of tablet reader revenue.

  • Let’s start with a global number: $34 billion. That’s the amount of circulation revenue — almost all of it print-based — that newspaper companies around the world took in last year, according to research I do annually for Outsell. That number is about 34 percent of total newspaper company revenue, which came in at $99.8 billion. So if it is newspapers’ strategy to transition paying readers to digital devices, charging them along the way, some part of that $34 billion will move to tablets, ereaders, iPads, Streaks, and whatever the next generation of devices are called. If Apple snapped its fingers and transformed the print industry tomorrow, its 30-percent take would be $10.2 billion. That’s a fantastical number, of course: No fingers can be snapped, not all print readers will transition, pricing will change, and so on. But we can see globally how much money may be in play over time.
  • Let’s move to a real-life example, The Wall Street Journal’s $17.29 monthly iPad subscription rate. It’s reportedly sold well, though we don’t have good numbers on it. It’s the major standalone, separately priced news app, and that got it a lot of attention when it was announced. While we can debate the merits of standalone iPad pricing vs. bundling the price with print/web/smartphone access, the pricing itself is of interest. The Journal understands that some readers will abandon print for the iPad. When they do, the Journal doesn’t want to exchange print circulation dollars for iPad pennies. An annual iPad subscription costs $207.48. That compares to $249 for the print edition, although the Journal’s been doing a lot of heavy discounting of its flagship paper. The Journal’s iPad pricing, which itself can be discounted over time as print is, is intended to ease that circulation revenue transition. At $208 a year, Apple would presumably take $62. Overall, the Journal counts more than 2 million in circulation, with more than 400,000 of those online-only and Kindle subs. Pricing will change over time, but just take those 400,000. If they all wanted tablet access, that could amount to $24.8 million a year for Apple.
  • Let’s move on to the New York Times, the company that is going “paid” early next year, and has the best chance of any U.S. general (non-financial) newspaper to pull it off. For the first six months of the year, the Times itself (not the other newspapers the company owns) took in $346 million in circulation revenue. Currently, its web content is free. Let’s say that it prices in a similar fashion to the Journal, keeping about the same amount of revenue as it goes digital and that 10 percent of its sales are on an Apple tablet a couple of years from now. That would mean about $35 million in iPad circulation revenue for a half a year, or $70 million for a full year. Apple’s take of that: $21 million.
  • Finally, let’s look at Apple and the music industry. Today, Apple’s iTunes pulls in about 28 percent of all music sales in the U.S., or seven-tenths of the total 40 percent of U.S. music sales that are now digital. It took Apple seven years to get there, from a dead start. Of course, the music and news businesses are completely different, right? We can name the differences, but let’s concentrate on the main thing they have in common: Many consumers love digital delivery. So that migration — from analog medium (CD, newspaper) to a suitable, finally-it’s-arrived digital device (iPod, iPhone, tablet) — may be another guide that’s useful.

Those 40 percent (of total U.S. music sales) and 28 percent (Apple’s share of overall music sales) numbers are ones to note. If they held true for news reading, then by 2017, we can be assured of one thing: Apple’s share of news “circulation” revenue would be mind-bending.

September 10 2010

14:00

September 09 2010

15:45

What Apple’s new App Store rules mean for news orgs: Some new clarity, but still plenty of fuzziness

After loads of criticism for unexplained decisions, inscrutable rules, and what appeared to be a desire to protect the public’s morals and the feelings of the powerful, Apple has decided to finally state what the rules are for getting your app accepted into the App Store for iPhones, iPads, and iPod touches. (The change comes packaged with another shift of interest to many developers: allowing them to use non-Apple tools to code their applications.)

Developers have had many complaints about what had been a highly opaque process, but from the perspective of journalists, there were two complaints that trumped all. First, Apple seemed leery about criticism of public officials. As we reported, Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Mark Fiore had his iPhone app rejected because it made fun of public figures — a task in the first sentence of any editorial cartoonist’s job description. And second, Apple seemed eager to play morality police, rejecting apps from legitimate news outlets that dared to show a nipple or otherwise titillate beyond Apple’s boundaries.

Now, for the first time, we have actual language from Apple on what’s allowed and what’s not. Not always precise language, but language. On the first point of satire and criticism, here’s Apple’s rule:

Any app that is defamatory, offensive, mean-spirited, or likely to place the targeted individual or group in harms way will be rejected

Professional political satirists and humorists are exempt from the ban on offensive or mean-spirited commentary

As a practical matter, that exemption lets just about any news organization or working journalist off the hook on charges of being too satirical/cruel/malicious. As we’ve seen a number of editorial-cartoon apps get rejected then approved, I suspect this rule was already in place inside Apple.

But the future-of-journalism pundit inside me can’t help but get riled up whenever someone starts trying to separate political speakers into “professionals” and everyone else. Particularly since that first clause is so broadly defined. So a professional columnist or cartoonist can say nasty things about Obama, but Joe Citizen can’t? Defining who is a “professional” when it comes to opinion-sharing is sketchy enough, but when it includes political speech and the defining is being done by overworked employees of a technology company, it’s odious.

As for the second issue, “objectionable” content:

Apps that present excessively objectionable or crude content will be rejected

Clear, right? Actually, there’s some additional narrative language on the same subject:

We will reject Apps for any content or behavior that we believe is over the line. What line, you ask? Well, as a Supreme Court Justice once said, “I’ll know it when I see it”. And we think that you will also know it when you cross it.

Unsurprisingly, though, different people see different lines. And while mainstream news organizations in the United States are unlikely to be crossing whatever Apple’s line is (cue “This is a family newspaper!”), there are any number of legitimate online publications that could. So Potter Stewart’s quote ends up being another way to dodge specifics. And as with the satire question, the line gets drawn between the respectable pros and the rest in the rabble.

Finally, there’s one more element in the new guidelines that will be of interest to nonprofit news organizations. As our friend Jake Shapiro at PRX has written, Apple’s policy on seeking donations through iPhone apps leaves a lot to be desired from the nonprofit’s point of view — in part because the rules were never clear. Here’s what they are now:

Apps that include the ability to make donations to recognized charitable organizations must be free

The collection of donations must be done via a web site in Safari or an SMS

The first element could impact apps like This American Life’s, which costs $2.99 — although it has asked for donations via push notifications, which may not fall under “the ability to make donations.” But it’s the second line that’s the complaint for nonprofits. Rather than kick a potential donor into a web browser, they’d like to be able to accept a gift directly within the app, using Apple’s one-click payment system. That’s the way in-app purchases (like buying extra features in an app or levels in a game) happens. Apple’s new rules don’t change anything about that policy.

June 07 2010

19:26

Apple’s impact: What Steve Jobs’ WWDC announcements mean for the news industry’s mobile strategy

Apple CEO Steve Jobs just stepped off the stage in San Francisco at this year’s Worldwide Developer Conference. His announcements focused squarely on the new iPhone 4, about which you’ll find no shortage of information at Apple’s site and elsewhere online.

But what do Apple’s announcements mean for the news industry, which increasingly looks to mobile product — Apple’s in particular — as a new delivery mechanism and (fingers crossed) a revenue driver? Here are five takeaways from Jobs’ keynote that will have an impact on news organizations.

Apple’s spate of satire- and morals-related rejections of apps rejected from the App Store appear to be a pretty low priority for the company.

Apple’s come under a lot of criticism from developers for how it manages its App Store, the major platform for reaching iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad owners. An Apple rejection can mean the investment of building an app is rendered worthless, and it’s not always clear why, precisely, an app is being rejected.

Here’s what Jobs had to say about the App Store approval process, paraphrasing from gdgt’s liveblog of the event:

We get about 15k apps submitted every week. They come in up to 30 different languages. Guess what: 95% of the apps submitted are approved within 7 days. What about the 5% that aren’t? Why don’t we approve them? Let me give you the three top reasons.

The number one reason: it doesn’t function as advertised. It doesn’t do what the developer says it does, so we tell the developer to change the app or the description.

The second reason: the developer uses private APIs. … If we upgrade the OS and the app breaks, we won’t have a happy customer.

And the third most frequent reason: they crash. If you were in our shoes, you’d be rejecting apps for the exact same reasons.

I just wanted to give you the facts — sometimes when you read some of these articles, you may think other stuff is going on.

Maybe number four was “violates Apple’s sense of morality,” and number five was “makes fun of powerful people.” But we don’t know that, because Jobs didn’t mention either. News orgs are fine with the technical guidelines he outlined, but App Store rejections based on rude editorial cartoons or an artfully bare nipple are harder for them to take.

Apple still has not done the obvious: state clearly what is allowed and what is not in terms of morals and satire. Not doing so, of course, maximizes Apple’s power because it can decide on a case-by-case basis. But it also means that content producers can’t have any confidence in the system, and open platforms like Android will have increasing appeal.

Apple’s become a big player in the ebook space very quickly — and that’s a space news orgs want to be in.

In the two months since the iPad launched — and with it Apple’s new ebook platform, iBooks — Apple has taken over a remarkable 22 percent of the ebook market. (That’s based on data from five of the six major publishing companies; the sixth, Random House, isn’t on the iPad.)

In one sentence, Jobs revealed more hard data about ebook sales than Amazon has in 2.5 years of the Kindle. (I exaggerate, but only slightly. Amazon still hasn’t unveiled any hard numbers on Kindle device or ebook sales. Maybe this will prompt them.)

Those Apple ebook sales are based on the 2 million iPads sold, which are the only Apple devices that have iBooks. But iBooks is coming to the iPhone and iPod touch later this month — around the same time Jobs said the 100 millionth iPhone OS device will be sold. In other words, iBooks’ momentum is about to get punched up.

I continue to maintain that ebooks are a huge potential opportunity for news organizations. Ebooks favor timeliness and quick turnarounds in a way that traditional print books can’t, and the digital format means that expectations for length are tossed aside. There’s not much of a print business model for a 50-page printed prose book — but there absolutely can be one for a 50-page ebook. And people feel comfortable paying for ebooks, much more so than for anything labeled “news.” A growing ebooks market with dueling distribution systems (Amazon and Apple) fighting over content is a good thing for news organizations.

Better mobile screen quality could be a push away from print.

The new iPhone 4 features four times the pixels of its predecessor in the same space, which Jobs promises creates images and text far crisper than ever before. The images on display at the demo looked really impressive. And while the iPhone appears to be in the lead now, undoubtedly its competition will catch up soon enough.

Pro: A better screen means more people will find using mobile devices more pleasant. That could lead to more use of news orgs’ apps and websites on them.

Con: A better screen limits the salience of one of print’s best selling points: higher visual quality. Jobs said 300 dpi is the limit for what the human eye can typically detect. Past iPhones have been at 162 dpi. The new iPhone 4 is 326 dpi — a level Jobs says is indistinguishable from print. (“Text looks like you’ve seen it in a fine printed book, unlike you’ve ever seen in an electronic display,” Jobs said, paraphrasing.) We’ll see about that, but newspapers and magazines are still a lot more effective monetizing print publications than digital ones, so devaluing one of print’s best qualities probably won’t help.

The “mobile” part of mobile video will increasingly mean editing, not just shooting.

Jobs unveiled a version of iMovie for the iPhone; a version for the iPad can’t be too far off, even though the iPad (currently) lacks a camera. There have been editing apps for video on the iPhone and other platforms before, but iMovie looked both powerful and relatively simply. Reporters in the field getting iPhone video will find it easier than ever to do their own edit before shipping it back to headquarters. I wouldn’t want to be Flip right now; the reasons to have a Flip in addition to a smartphone seem fewer now.

Even before launching, iAd is proving to be a big gorilla in the mobile display advertising space.

I’ve written about iAd before. It’s Apple’s new immersive, interactive advertising platform being offered up to iPhone developers to put into their apps. Today Jobs showed off a sample iAd, and the crowd seemed to like it.

But the most stunning datapoint was Jobs’ claim that iAd would take in 48 percent of the U.S. mobile display advertising business in the second half of 2010. Remarkable if true, although it’s derived from some questionable math (dividing Apple’s hard-dollar sales numbers into a JP Morgan estimate from the start of the year — see page 46 of that document for the origin). And mobile display advertising is only a small slice of overall mobile advertising — in the same report, SMS advertising is a $3.2 billion business and mobile search advertising is another $321 million.

But in any event, it’s a sign that Apple is here as a big player in yet another market. For large news organizations that could afford to do their own mobile ad sales, Apple’s probably a competitor. For smaller ones that would have a tough time breaking into the mobile ad game, getting 60 percent of iAd revenues — the share Apple is promising — might not be such a bad deal.

June 02 2010

18:10

Steve Jobs: If your app does not fit, you must resubmit

Last night, Apple CEO Steve Jobs spoke at All Things Digital’s D8 conference, where among other topics he discussed the touchy matter of apps being rejected from the iTunes store for political content. Jobs essentially made the case for rejected developers to simply submit the same app again until it makes its way past Apple’s app evaluators.

The context is a story we reported in April on how an iPhone app created by Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Mark Fiore had been rejected by Apple the previous fall on the grounds that it “ridicules public officials.” Fiore had thrown up his arms and gone back to his cartooning, not bringing the issue back up until we asked him about it. The news spread like wildfire, and, within a week, Apple responded, inviting him to resubmit his app, unchanged, which was swiftly approved and made available in iTunes. Jobs himself called the original decision a “mistake” in an email to an Apple user.

Then last night Jobs insinuated that perhaps Fiore could have solved his own problem if he had just resubmitted his app, rather than doing nothing in the months between the rejection and winning a Pulitzer. Here’s a paraphrase of Jobs’ comments from All Things D’s liveblog (emphasis mine):

“We have a rule that says you can’t defame people,” says Jobs, noting that political cartoonists by virtue of their profession sometimes defame people. The cartoon app was rejected on those grounds, he adds. “Then we changed the rules…and in the meantime, the cartoonist won a Pulitzer….But he never resubmitted his app. And then someone asked him, ‘Hey why don’t you have an iPhone app?’ He says we rejected it and suddenly, it’s a story in the press…Bottom line is, yes, we sometimes make mistakes…but we correct them…We are doing the best we can, changing the rules when it makes sense.”

The problem here is that Apple sent Fiore an email outlining the rule and telling him to change his app if he wanted in. Here’s the relevant excerpt from the email (again, emphasis mine):

If you believe that you can make the necessary changes so that NewsToons does not violate the iPhone Developer Program License Agreement, we encourage you to do so and resubmit it for review.

Why would he think to disregard those instructions and just submit again? In the following months, Apple made no announcement about a change to the defamation rule; the rule, in fact, still exists today as Jobs mentioned. Less than two weeks ago, another political app was rejected under similar defamation grounds. If there was a change, it wasn’t communicated publicly and it is still being dealt with inconsistently. As Dan Gillmor has written repeatedly, Apple has hardly been a model of transparency on what makes it through the App Store process and what doesn’t, and as Apple platforms become an increasingly common vector for the distribution of news, it’s in everyone’s interest for that to change.

The message from Jobs here is that, yes, Apple makes mistakes — but if you want one fixed, don’t count on them to contact you or speak about it publicly. Just disregard that rejection email and just try again.

May 03 2010

15:10

Programming Language for Kids Banned from Apple App Store

The MIT News Office recently interviewed one of our colleagues at the MIT Center for Future Civic Media, Mitch Resnick.

Resnick is a long-time Media Lab professor best known for helping develop and deploy Scratch, a programming language for kids. But this month Apple rejected an app that would allow kids to view Scratch programs on iPhones and iPads.

Resnick is his ever-reasonable self in the interview, saying that Apple doesn't allow applications that interpret or execute code and thus the Scratch app in question (which was developed by a third party) violates that policy. But it's an indication of the challenges of working with products by companies like Apple, where one of the world's great programming languages can't run on one of the world's most popular platforms.

"As we see it," Resnick wrote on the Scratch blog, "there is nothing more important than empowering the next generation of kids to design, create, and express themselves with new media technologies."

Patricia Seybold at Customer Think described this issue as a case of "kids caught in the crossfire" in a battle between Apple and Adobe, which is responsible for Flash -- one of the options for Scratch -- and which Apple thus far refuses to allow on iPhones and iPads. It's a somewhat strange decision because, as Warren Buckleitner at the New York Times blog Gadgetwise points out, Apple allows Flash and other executable programs to run just fine on its other products.

The more likely reason for Apple's decision to ban the Scratch app, Buckleitner argued, is that it could allow an iPhone or iPad to download other digital content, such as music, directly from the source rather than through the iTunes Store.

In other words: "Sorry kids, could you be quiet? Adults are talking here."

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April 20 2010

19:01

Apple approves Pulitzer winner’s iPhone app; cartoonist now free to mock the powerful on cell phones

Big update on the Mark Fiore story: His editorial cartoon app, NewsToons, is finally available for sale in the iTunes App Store. The app — smartly marketed as “the app Steve Jobs was talking about!” — is available for download here, for 99 cents.

For those who missed our post Thursday, Fiore is this year’s Pulitzer Prize winner for editorial cartooning. But he couldn’t get his iPhone app past Apple’s app review process. In December, Apple rejected NewsToons because, as Apple put it, his satire “ridicules public figures,” a violation of the iPhone Developer Program License Agreement, which bars any apps whose content in “Apple’s reasonable judgement may be found objectionable, for example, materials that may be considered obscene, pornographic, or defamatory.”

After our story, Apple faced a wave of criticism from around the web, and the company invited Fiore to resubmit the app for approval on Friday. Apple CEO Steve Jobs called the initial rejection a “mistake,” but critics still worry about the editorial control Apple has over the content sold in the App Store, on iPhones, iPod touches, and iPads.

April 15 2010

11:00

Mark Fiore can win a Pulitzer Prize, but he can’t get his iPhone cartoon app past Apple’s satire police

This week cartoonist Mark Fiore made Internet and journalism history as the first online-only journalist to win a Pulitzer Prize. Fiore took home the editorial cartooning prize for animations he created for SFGate, the website for the San Francisco Chronicle.

I spoke with Fiore about his big win and plans for his business. Fiore is not on staff at the Chronicle, or anywhere else; since 1999, he’s run a syndication business, selling his Flash animations à la carte to TV, newspaper, and magazine websites for about $300 a piece. (The price varies by size of the outlet.) In a typical month, he might have about eight clients. Before 1999, he ran a similar syndication business for his print cartoons, using a lower-price-per-image, higher-volume model.

When I asked about the next phase of his business, curious if it will include a mobile element, Fiore said he’s definitely hopeful about mobile devices. “I think the iPads and anything iPod to iPhone — to maybe a product not made by Apple — will be good or could be good for distributing this kind of thing,” he said.

But there’s just one problem. In December, Apple rejected his iPhone app, NewsToons, because, as Apple put it, his satire “ridicules public figures,” a violation of the iPhone Developer Program License Agreement, which bars any apps whose content in “Apple’s reasonable judgement may be found objectionable, for example, materials that may be considered obscene, pornographic, or defamatory.”

Here’s the email Fiore received from Apple on December 21, 2009:

Dear Mr. Fiore,

Thank you for submitting NewsToons to the App Store. We’ve reviewed NewsToons and determined that we cannot post this version of your iPhone application to the App Store because it contains content that ridicules public figures and is in violation of Section 3.3.14 from the iPhone Developer Program License Agreement which states:

“Applications may be rejected if they contain content or materials of any kind (text, graphics, images, photographs, sounds, etc.) that in Apple’s reasonable judgement may be found objectionable, for example, materials that may be considered obscene, pornographic, or defamatory.” Examples of such content have been attached for your reference.

If you believe that you can make the necessary changes so that NewsToons does not violate the iPhone Developer Program License Agreement, we encourage you to do so and resubmit it for review.

Regards,

iPhone Developer Program

Apple attached screenshots of the offending material, including an image depicting the White House gate crashers interrupting an Obama speech. Two other grabs include images referencing torture, Balloon Boy, and various political issues.

Fiore isn’t the first editorial cartoonist to clash with Apple. Last year, an app called Bobble Rep app, which used political caricatures by Tom Richmond, was initially rejected by Apple. After an online uproar, a few days later Apple changed its position, allowing the app into the store. (Fiore’s rejection landed in his inbox just a month later.) Daryl Cagle, who runs a cartoon syndication site with 900 newspaper subscribers, had a similar battle with Apple last year, waiting around for months before eventually being allowed in. And while Apple eventually ruled in those cartoonists favor, the company went on an app-banning spree in February targeting apps with bikini-level sexual content. (Although a few established news brands like Sports Illustrated were allowed to remain.)

It’s also an example of the alarm bells some critics of the app store system were sounding in the lead-up to the release of the iPad. Brian Chen at Wired warned publishers to consider questions of independence, in light of a controversy over Apple’s vague policy on sexual content. And several German news orgs like Bild and Stern have already seen Apple get into the business of banning certain editorial content from the App Store.

Fiore has not resubmitted his app, saying he’d heard about the experiences of others cartoonists and wasn’t in a position to get into a fight with Apple. Still, he has a hunch Apple will eventually change its mind on him, as it has with other cartoon apps. “They seem so much more innovative and smarter than that,” he told me.

Apple did not respond to my request for comment on its satire policy, or Fiore’s case in particular.

January 13 2010

17:00
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