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May 15 2013

12:20

The newsonomics of where NewsRight went wrong

newsright-wide

Quietly, very quietly, NewsRight — once touted as the American newspaper industry’s bid to protect its content and make more money from it — has closed its doors.

Yesterday, it conducted a concluding board meeting, aimed at tying up loose ends. That meeting follows the issuing of a put-your-best-face-on-it press release two weeks ago. Though the news has been out there, hardly a whimper was heard.

Why?

Chalk it up, first, to how few people are really still covering the $38.6 billion U.S. newspaper industry. Then add in the fact that the world is changing rapidly. Piracy protection has declined as a top publisher concern. Google’s snippetization of the news universe is bothersome, but less of a central issue. The declining relative value of the desktop web — where NewsRight was primarily aimed — in the mobile age played a part. Non-industry-owned players like NewsCred (“The newsonomics of recycling journalism”) have been born, offering publishers revenue streams similar to those that NewsRight itself was intended to create.

Further, new ways to value news content — through all-access subscriptions and app-based delivery, content marketing, marketing services, innovative niching and more — have all emerged in the last couple of years.

Put a positive spin on it, and the U.S. newspaper industry is looking forward, rather than backward, as it seeks to find new ways to grow reader and ad revenues.

That’s all true. But it’s also instructive to consider the failure of NewsRight.

It’s easy to deride it as NewsWrong. It’s one of those enterprises that may just have been born under a bad sign. Instead of the stars converging, they collided.

NewsRight emerged as an Associated Press incubator project. If you recall the old AP News Registry and its “beacon,” NewsRight became its next iteration. It was intended to track news content as it traversed the web, detecting piracy along the way (“Remember the beacon”). It was an ambitious databasing project, at its peak taking in feeds from more than 900 news sites. The idea: create the largest database of current news content in the country, both categorized by topic and increasingly trackable as it was used (or misused) on the web.

AP initially incentivized member newspapers to contribute to the News Registry by discounting some of their annual fees. Then a bigger initiative emerged, first called the News Licensing Group (NLG). The strategy: harness the power of the growing registry to better monetize newspaper content through smart licensing.

NLG grew into a separate company, with AP contributing the registry’s intellectual property and becoming one of 29 partners. The other 28: U.S. daily newspaper companies and the leading European newspaper and magazine publisher Axel Springer. Those partners collectively committed more than $20 million — though they ended up spending only something more than half of that before locking up the premises.

Renamed NewsRight, it was an industry consortium, and here a truism applies: It’s tougher for a consortium — as much aimed at defense than offense — to innovate and adjust quickly. Or, to put it in vaudevillian terms: Dying is easy — making decisions among 29 newspaper companies can be torture.

It formally launched just more than a year ago, in January 2012 (“NewsRight’s potential: New content packages, niche audiences, and revenue”), and the issues surfaced immediately. Let’s count the top three:

  • Its strategy was muddled. Was it primarily a content-protection play, bent on challenging piracy and misuse? Or was it a way to license one of the largest collections of categorized news content? Which way did it want to go? Instead of deciding between the two, it straddled both.
  • In May 2011, seven months before the launch, the board had picked TV veteran David Westin as its first CEO. Formerly head of ABC News, he seemed an odd fit from the beginning. A TV guy in a text world. An analog guy in a digital world. Then friction between Westin and those who had hired him — including then-AP CEO Tom Curley — only complicated the strategic indecision. Westin was let go in July, which I noted then, was the beginning of the end.
  • Publishers’ own interests were too tough to balance with the common good. Though both The New York Times Company and AP were owners, it was problematic to include feeds of the Times and AP in the main NewsRight “catalog.” The partners tried to find prices suitable for the high-value national content (including the Times and AP) and the somewhat lesser-valued regional content, but that exercise proved difficult, the difficulty of execution exacerbated by anti-trust laws. Potential customers, of course, wanted the Times and AP as part of any deal, so dealmaking was hampered.

Further, all publishers take in steady revenue streams — collectively in the tens of millions — from enterprise licensors, like LexisNexis, Factiva, and Thomson Reuters, as well as education and copyright markets. NewsRight’s owners (the newspaper companies) didn’t want NewsRight to get in the way of those revenue streams — and those were the only licensing streams that had proven lucrative over time.

Long story short, NewsRight was hobbled from the beginning, and in its brief life, was able to announce only two significant customer, Moreover and Cision, and several smaller ones.

How could it have been so difficult?

It’s understandable on one level. Publishers have seethed with rage as they’ve seen their substantial investment in newsrooms harvested — for nothing — by many aggregators from Google to the tens of thousands of websites that actually steal full-text content. Those sites all monetize the content with advertising, and, save a few licensing agreements (notably with AP itself), they share little in the way of ad revenue.

But rage — whether seething or public — isn’t a business model.

Anti-piracy, itself, has also proven not to be much of a business model. Witness the tribulations of Attributor, an AP-invested-in content-tracking service that used some pretty good technology to track pirated content. It couldn’t get the big ad providers to act on piracy, though. Last year, after pointing its business in the direction of book industry digital rights management, it was sold for a meager $5.6 million to Digimarc.

So if anti-piracy couldn’t wasn’t much of a business model, then the question turned to who would pay to license NewsRight’s feed of all that content, or subsets of it?

Given that owner-publishers wanted to protect their existing licensing streams, NewsRight turned its sights to an area that had not well-monetized: media monitoring.

Media monitoring is a storied field. When I did content syndication for Knight Ridder at the turn of the century, I was lucky enough to visit Burrelles (now BurrellesLuce) in Livingston, New Jersey. In addition to a great auto tour of Tony Soprano country, I got to visit the company in the midst of transition.

In one office, older men with actual green eyeshades meticulously clipped periodicals (with scissors), monitoring company mentions in the press. The company then took the clips and mailed them. That’s a business that sustained many a press agent for many a decade: “Look, see the press we got ya!”

In Burrelles’ back rooms, the new digital monitoring of press mention was beginning to take form. Today, media monitoring is a good, if mature, industry segment, dominated by companies like Cision, BurrellesLuce, and Vocus, as social media monitoring and sentiment analysis both widen and complicate the field. Figure there are more than a hundred media monitoring companies of note.

Yet even within the relatively slim segment of the media monitoring space, NewsRight couldn’t get enough traction fast enough. Its ability to grow revenues there — and then to pivot into newer areas like mobile aggregation and content marketing — ran into the frustrations of the owner-newspapers. So they pulled the plug, spending less than they had actually committed. They decided to cut their losses, and move on.

Moving on meant making NewsRight’s last deal. The company — which has let go its fewer than 10 employees — announced that it had “joined forces” with BurrellesLuce and Moreover. It’s a face-saver — and maybe more.

Those two companies will try to extend media monitoring contracts for newspaper companies. BurrellesLuce (handling licensing and aggregation) and Moreover (handling billing and tracking) will make content available under the NewsRight name. The partnership’s new CAP (Compliant Article Program) seeks to further contracting for digital media monitoring rights, a murky legal area. If CAP works, publishers, Moreover, and BurrellesLuce will share in the new revenue.

What about NewsRight’s anti-piracy mandate? That advocacy position transitions over to the Newspaper Association of America.

NAA is itself in the process of being restyled into a new industry hub (with its merger and more) under new CEO Caroline Little. “As both guardian and evangelist for the newspaper industry, the NAA feels a tremendous responsibility to protect original content generated by its members,” noted Little in the NewsRight release.

What about the 1,000-title content database, the former AP registry that had formed the nucleus of NewsRight? It’s in limbo, and isn’t part of the BurrellesLuce/Moreover turnover. Its categorization technology has had stumbles and overall the system needs an upgrade.

There’s a big irony here.

In 2013, we’re seeing more innovative use of news content than we have in a long time. From NewsCred’s innovative aggregation model to Flipboard’s DIY news magazines, from new content marketing initiatives at The New York Times, Washington Post, Buzzfeed, and Forbes to regional agency businesses like The Dallas Morning News’ Speakeasy, there are many new ways news content is being monetized.

We’re really in the midst of a new content re-evaluation. No one makes the mistake this time around of calling news content king, but its value is being reproven amid these fledgling strategies.

Maybe the advent of a NewsCred — which plainly better understood and better built technology to value a new kind of content aggregation — makes NewsRight redundant. That’s in a sense what the partners decided: let the staffs of BurrellesLuce and Moreover and smarts of the NewsCreds make sense of whatever newer licensing markets are out there. Let them give the would-be buyers what they want: a licensing process to be as simple as it can be. One-stop, one-click, or as close as you can manage to that. While the disbanding of NewsRight seems to take the news industry in the opposite, more atomized, direction, in one way, it may be the third-party players who succeed here.

So is it that NewsRight is ending with a whimper, or maybe a sigh of relief? Both, plainly. It’s telling that no one at NewsRight was either willing or able to talk about the shutdown.

Thumbs down to content consortia. Thumbs up to letting the freer market of entrepreneurs make sense of the content landscape, with publishers getting paid something for what the companies still know how to do: produce highly valued content.

April 08 2013

11:46

March 29 2013

13:30

September 05 2012

15:48

April 30 2012

15:51

April 28 2012

15:05

Flipboard is ‘head-on competitor’ on Economist’s road to all-digital

paidContent :: The Economist’s CEO thinks news publishing will go all-digital at some point in the near- to mid-term. “Print circulation is at record highs,Andrew Rashbass told the Paley Center’s international council in Madrid on Thursday.

[Andrew Rashbass:] We’re holding on to it as long as possible – but my view of what’s possible is more pessimistic than a lot of other people’s …

The Economist trying to find a viable model - Continue to read Robert Andrews, paidcontent.org

March 30 2012

08:50

On building Flipboard for iPhone and finding edges for our digital narratives

Craigmod :: We had been on a long journey but I couldn’t see it anywhere. There's a stage in a product cycle where you know it’s going to ship. Where you can see the end. It's right there, sitting at the corner of Emerson St. and University Ave. Or maybe sipping coffee at Fraiche. Oh, hello, it waves — there. In front of you. The End. (Or, An End.) And seeing this puts you in a special space that when you think about it — think about all the work that it took the team to get there, to bring that end so close — you are overwhelmed with a flood of emotions.

Clipped from: craigmod.com (share this clip)

It was November 2011 when we arrived at that point.

Continue to read Craig Mod, craigmod.com

March 18 2012

17:01

Flipboard gets Retina-ready, but will users spend more time in-app?

Flipboard is not my favorite magazine. The question is interesting.

TechCrunch :: Good news, new iPad users: everyone’s favorite iPad news magazine Flipboard is now Retina-ready. I know, we all thought the enhanced app would be approved by tonight, but, as it turns out, the update was shipped a bit earlier. Consider this your PSA. However, in the brief note Flipboard sent me about the update, something struck me as interesting: company co-founder Evan Doll casually speculated that the Retina Display would lead to longer Flipboard reading sessions. Will that actually be true, though, in the long-term?

Continue to read Sarah Perez, techcrunch.com

Tags: Flipboard iPad

January 05 2012

15:15

The newsonomics of the News Dial-o-Matic

It’s an emerging issue of our time and place. They know too much about us, and we know too little about what they know. We do know that what they know about us is increasingly determining what they choose to give us to read. We wonder: What are we missing? And just who is making those decisions?

Today, in 2012, those questions are more pressing in our age of news deluge. We’re confronted at every turn, at every finger gesture, with more to read or view or listen to. It’s not just the web: It’s also the smartphone and especially the tablet, birthing new aggregator products — Google Currents and Yahoo Livestand have joined Flipboard, Pulse, Zite, and AOL Editions — every month. Compare for a moment the “top stories” you get on each side-by-side, and you’ll be amazed. How did they get there? Why are they so different?

Was it some checkbox I checked (or didn’t?!) at sign-in? Using Facebook to sign in seemed so easy, but how is that affecting what I get? Are all those Twitterees I followed determining my story selection? (Or maybe that’s why I’m getting so many Chinese and German stories?) Did I tell the Times to give the sports section such low priority? The questions are endless, a ball of twine we’ve spun in declaring some preferences in our profiles over the years, wound ever wider by the intended or (or un-) social curation of Facebook and Twitter, and mutliplied by the unseen but all-knowing algorithms that think they know what we really want to read, more than we do. (What if they are right? Hold that thought.)

The “theys” here aren’t just the digital behemoths. Everyone in the media business — think Netflix and The New York Times as much as Pandora and People — wants to do this simple thing better: serve their customers more of what they are likely to consume so that they’ll consume more — perhaps buying digital subscriptions, services, or goods and providing very targetable eyes for advertisers. It’s not a bad goal in and of itself, but sometimes it feels like it is being done to us, rather than for us.

Our concern, and even paranoia, is growing. Take Eli Pariser’s well-viewed (500,000 times, just on YouTube) May 2011 TED presentation on “filter bubbles,” which preceded his June-published book of the same name. In the talk, Pariser talks about the fickle faces of Facebook and Google, making “invisible algorithmic editing of the web” an issue. He tells the story of how a good progressive like himself, a founder of MoveOn.org, likes to keep in touch with conservative voices and included a number in his early Facebook pages.

He then describes how Facebook, as it watched his actual reading patterns — he tended to read his progressive friends more than his conservative ones — began surfacing the conservative posts less and less over time, leaving his main choices (others, of course, are buried deeper down in his datastream, but not easily surfaced on that all-important first screen of his consciousness) those of like-minded people. Over time, he lost the diversity he’d sought.

Citing the 57 unseen filters Google uses to personalize its results for us, Pariser notes that it’s a personalization that doesn’t even seem personalized, or easily comparable: “You can’t see how different your search results are than your friends…We’re seeing a passing of the torch from human gatekeepers to algorithmic ones.”

Pariser’s worries have been echoed by a motley crew we can call algorithmic and social skeptics. Slowly, Fear of Facebook has joined vague grumbles about Google and ruminations about Amazon’s all-knowing recommendations. Ping, we’ve got a new digital problem on our bands. Big Data — now well-advertised in every airport and every business magazine as the new business problem of the digital age to pay someone to solve — has gotten very personal. We are more than the sum of our data, we shout. And why does everyone else know more more about me that I do?

The That’s My Datamine Era has arrived.

So we see Personal.com, a capitalist solution to the uber-capitalist usage of our data. I’ve been waiting for a Personal.com (and the similar Singly.com) to come along. What’s more American than having the marketplace harness the havoc that the marketplace hath wrought? So Personal comes along with the bold-but-simple notion that we should individually decide who should see our own data, own preferences, and our own clickstreams — and be paid for the privilege of granting access (with Personal taking 10 percent of whatever bounty we take in from licensing our stuff).

It’s a big, and sensible, idea in and of itself. Skeptics believe the horse has left the barn, saying that so much data about us is already freely available out there to ad marketers as to make such personal databanks obsolete before they are born. They may be forgetting the power of politics. While the FCC, FTC, and others have flailed at the supposed excesses of digital behemoths, they’ve never figured out how to rein in those excesses. Granting consumers some rights over their own data — a Consumer Data Bill of Rights — would be a populist political issue, for either Republicans or Democrats or both. But, I digress.

I think there’s a way for us to reclaim our reading choices, and I’ll call it the News Dial-o-Matic, achievable with today’s technology.

While Personal.com gives us 121 “gem” lockers — from “Address” to “Women’s Shoes”, with data lockers for golf scores, beer lists, books, house sitters, and lock combinations along the way, we want to focus on news. News, after all, is the currency of democracy. What we read, what she reads, what they read, what I read all matter. We know we have more choice than any generation in history. In this age of plenty, how do we harness it for our own good?

Let’s make it easy, and let’s use technology to solve the problem technology has created. Let’s think of three simple news reading controls that could right the balance of choice, the social whirl and technology. We can even imagine them as three dials, nicely circular ones, that we can adjust with a flick of the finger or of the mouse, changing them at our whim, or time of day.

The three dials control the three converging factors that we’d like to to determine our news diet.

Dial #1: My Sources

This is the traditional title-by-title source list, deciding which titles from global news media to local blogs I want in my news flow.

Dial #2: My Networks

Social curation is one of the coolest ideas to come along. Why should I have to rely only on myself to find what I like (within or in addition to My Sources) when lots of people like me are seeking similar content? My Facebook friends, though, will give me a very different take than those I follow on Twitter. My Gmail contact list would provide another view entirely. In fact, as Google Circles has philosophized, “You share different things with different people. But sharing the right stuff with the right people shouldn’t be a hassle.” The My Networks dial lets me tune my reading of different topics by different social groups. In addition, today’s announced NewsRight — the AP News Registry spin-off intended to market actionable intelligence about news reading in the U.S. — could even play a role here.

Dial #3: The Borg

The all-knowing, ever-smarter algorithm isn’t going away — and we don’t want it to. We just want to control it — dial it down sometimes. I like thinking of it in sci-fi terms, and The Borg from “Star Trek” well illustrates its potential maniacal drive. (I love the Wikipedia Borg definition: “The Borg manifest as cybernetically-enhanced humanoid drones of multiple species, organized as an interconnected collective, the decisions of which are made by a hive mind, linked by subspace radio frequencies. The Borg inhabit a vast region of space in the Delta Quadrant of the galaxy, possessing millions of vessels and having conquered thousands of systems. They operate solely toward the fulfilling of one purpose: to “add the biological and technological distinctiveness of other species to [their] own” in pursuit of their view of perfection“.) The Borg knows more about our habits than we’d like and we can use it well, but let’s have us be the ones doing the dialing up and down.

Three simple round dials. They could harness the power of our minds, our relationships, and our technologies. They could utilize the smarts of human gatekeepers and of algorithmic ones. And they would return power to where it belongs, to us.

Where are the dials? Who powers them? Facebook, the new home page of our time, would love to, but so would Google, Amazon, and Apple, among a legion of others. Personal.com would love to be that center, as it would any major news site (The New York Times, Zite-powered CNN, Yahoo News). We’ll leave that question to the marketplace.

Lastly, what are the newsonomics of the News Dial-o-Matic? As we perfect what we want to read, the data capturing it becomes even more valuable to anyone wanting to sell us stuff. Whether that gets monetized by us directly (through the emerging Personals of the world), or a mix of publishers, aggregators, or ad networks would be a next battleground. And then: What about the fourth wheel, as we dial up and down what we’re in the marketplace to buy right now? Wouldn’t that be worth a tidy sum?

January 04 2012

15:20

2012: Why the Web Is Not Dead and Other Flashpoints

First the easy predictions for the new year: In 2012 we'll see a rise of politics in the digisphere, along with reporting as if the phenomenon is a surprise; more strum over the Murdochs' drum; and a snazzy new iPad 3.

But, there are bigger rumblings afoot in the year ahead, too. Here's my second annual round of predictions for the digital world.

The Return of the Web

Far from the web being dead, we're going to see more and more media organizations figure out how to use it well.

Publishers have started to realize that putting their stock in proprietary apps for Apple devices reaches only a subset of the potential universe, making it hard to "monetize" the investment, not to mention support an entire operation.

Costly to develop, the apps also give Apple more control of customers and their data than the publishers like. To make it worse, attempts to make money through Apple's iAds have been lackluster.

Publishers have started to understand, too, that the latest web applications can, via a browser, handle a lot of the latest whiz-bang interactivity and nifty tools. HTML5, the latest web coding language, can help take advantage of tablet and browser functions such as location, swiping, screen size, portrait and landscape orientation, shaking, tilting and more.

The newer web applications are getting better at integrating with payment systems, preventing unauthorized copying, controlling font size, typeface and other aspects that preserve the look and feel of "the brand."

By using the web, publishers can more easily create something that works across screens, offers similar functionality to a native app built specially for Apple or Android, and gives them access to data and control of revenue.

It also means a lot of the same stuff that hooks into a plain old website (POW?) -- web analytics, certain types of javascript and more -- can be used without having to do a lot of difficult recoding and workarounds.

Look, for example, at the Google Chrome web store (you may need the Chrome browser) to see just a few web-based apps, including NPR's for news and Sports Illustrated's for photos -- some of which require a fee.

Filipe Fortes

The Kindle Cloud Reader, the Financial Times and WalMart's Vudu all went the web route, eschewing native iPad/Phone/Pod apps in favor of the browser to get consumers to buy and consume books, news and video, respectively.

The experience on a computer, tablet or phone can be quite similar to the one on a native app. App companies, too, are gearing up for more web-based functionality.

Flipboard, the iPad app Steve Jobs called a favorite, hired HTML5 expert Filipe Fortes away from Treesaver (a former client of my company). Apple, too, has been listing multiple jobs for those skilled in HTML5.

I'm not saying that native apps will go away -- just that we'll see more development of snazzy new media via the web, which itself is entering a more structured, app-like phase. (See last year's predictions for a discussion of Open vs. Closed philosophies.)

A Year of Legal Wrangling, Wheeling and Dealing

Last year brought a wave of patent acquisitions, including Google's $12.5 billion purchase of Motorola.

This year, we'll see deals done and court cases launched in which holders of various patents, especially in mobile, either sue each other or reach agreement to allow cross-usage. Apple will continue to pursue Google via phone makers over Android.

We'll see legislative and regulatory pushes on privacy and piracy, egged on by powerful lobbyists. (See Mark Glaser's previous piece for a rundown.)

I don't believe that any law will keep people from getting the media they want, though. People will find a way around it, without paying if need be.

Big Four Coop-etition

Just because others have predicted the clash of Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple doesn't mean it's not worth mention here, too. But, it also doesn't mean it's absolute: They often help each other, as well.

In my media management class, we recently drew a representation of Amazon as a multi-faceted behemoth, and it dawned on me how formidable the company is as a media distributor.

Not only has Amazon created a proprietary portable platform in the Kindle Fire, but Amazon Prime now includes music, video and borrowed e-books, along with free shipping, all for the same $79 yearly fee.

Amazon is also a content producer through its IMDb movie and TV site and its new book publishing imprint. In the past, it has produced at least one movie and a show hosted by Bill Maher.

Its financial position makes it stronger than many others. For Amazon, advertising is supplementary revenue, unlike for most media companies, like Google or Facebook. It makes its real money through e-commerce, web hosting and as a Content Distribution Network (CDN) that even competitors such as Netflix use.

Is there any company with big ambitions that Google doesn't compete with in some way? From Google Offers in coupons, to Places in location, to Google+, to its suite of document and email products, Google Reader, iGoogle, Google Voice, Analytics and on and on, the company is spread through nearly every digital media and interactive sphere.

Like many a media company, Google makes most of its money from ads, on search and through YouTube. Google's share dwarfs all others in digital, and will continue to generate serious cash flow in 2012.

Meanwhile, it's chipping away at Apple's perceived dominance in smartphones with its Android operating system, which is on more smartphones than any other. Its mobile ad company, AdMob, is getting accolades and market share.

Android's feature set challenges Apple's iOS (see legal wrangling, above) and its newer versions seamlessly hook into Google applications like Places, Picasa photos, Maps, Books, Music, Gmail, Docs and more.

The Kindle Fire, based on a "branched" version of Android, is the first tablet to come close to denting the iPad's market share.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg says everything -- search, media, commerce -- is better when your friends help you find, evaluate and understand it.

He and COO Sheryl Sandberg told broadcast journalist Charlie Rose in November that Facebook cooperates rather than competes with the rest of the digital universe.

That is, unless you notice that the social network competes head-on with Google for ad dollars in targeted cost-per-click advertising.

Facebook has also beefed up search, is gathering tons of data via the "like" and Facebook Connect APIs, and is grabbing some of the best Silicon Valley talent that used to work at Google, including Sandberg. It has incorporated some of Google+'s favorite features.

You could build the case for cooperation by noting that Facebook now works well on Android and iOS apps. Amazon includes Facebook's "like" button on its pages, and allows sending of gift cards through Facebook Connect.

Mainly, though, Facebook competes for attention, often called the currency of the digital age. Every hour someone spends socially networking or consuming media through its pages is time they don't spend on YouTube, Amazon, Kindle or iTunes.

Apple is, well, Apple -- one of the great brands of all time. Though we'll see a little bit of concern over Jobs' absence -- maybe a little stumble or two -- the company should continue to rack up oohs, ahhs, and sales as it turns out new devices.

Even if its focus slips a tad, the company can use its billions of dollars of cash to try just about anything, and even fail a few times.

No one tops Apple's ability to charge for digital content via iTunes and Apps, and content distributors will have to play along even as they beef up their web app offerings.

If the rumored Apple television comes to pass, we'll see more frisson in the media sphere, and more pull from Apple against Amazon's efforts to wrest away sales of music and video -- a battle that's continued for years.

Relative to the big four, traditional media companies are playing on the weaker side of an uneven field. They are masters of content production, but that content is expensive and doesn't scale and acquire new customers as cheaply as an engineer's algorithm can.

Honorable Mentions

A few other trends merit some mention. There will be continued froth among ad networks and exchanges, and those buying and selling data around them, with consolidation and some shakeouts.

I see a continued push and pull among human- vs. machine-driven solutions. As Facebook tweaks its Edge Rank algorithm, companies like Demand Media will try to regain ground in search results and companies like Trada will introduce humans to the ad-optimization equation. (I hope to write more about this human-vs.-machine issue at a later date.)

At least one of the big six book publishers may have to fold or merge at some point, though that may not happen just yet. It's a truism that in the digital age, middlemen with decreased marketing, distribution and production muscle get squeezed. Amazon, Google Books and iBooks are helping apply the pincers.

There's likely to be activity in the hyperlocal space. Local news services such as Patch and many more localized efforts such as New York's DNAInfo will need to show investors they're gaining ground.

Location-based services like Foursquare, Gowalla (now owned by Facebook), and Google Places will increasingly hook into and compete with the hyperlocals. "Location-based marketing" is already a buzz word.

Where Does This Leave You?

Like last year, I'll say this to media operators: Don't bet on just one horse. Pay attention to who has access to and shares the data you help generate. Offer your media on as many popular platforms as is feasible, and make some level of it easy to share.

Make sure your business model accounts for sharing of your content, including sharing you may not appreciate. No regulation will protect your content completely.

If you're a consumer, don't expect Apple or Android to do everything you need or want, but you may want to weave your media tech life around one or the other for simplicity's sake. Do expect to be delighted and infuriated as you upgrade your computer only to discover some of your favorite old stuff doesn't work as well. (And by old, I mean from like two years ago.)

Me, I'll play with my new Android phone, my new MacBook Pro, consider the new iPad and any new Kindle, keep hacking my Windows computers, getting media any way I can (I still use a VCR sometimes!), and learning with great enjoyment.

Happy New Year!

An award-winning former managing editor at ABCNews.com and an MBA (with honors), Dorian Benkoil handles marketing and sales strategies for MediaShift, and is the business columnist for the site. He is SVP at Teeming Media, a strategic media consultancy focused on attracting, engaging, and activating communities through digital media. He tweets at @dbenk and you can Circle him on Google+.

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December 28 2011

15:20

Top 10 Media Stories of 2011: Arab Spring; R.I.P. Steve Jobs; Phone Hacking

Yes, 2011 was another year of massive change in the American media landscape, with newspapers struggling, radio and TV trying to sharpen digital strategies, and magazines prettying themselves for tablets. But more often than expected, we turned our eyes overseas, to the role of social media in organizing protests and revolutions in the Arab world. To the spread of Facebook and freer speech in places like Egypt and Libya. And to the shocking phone-hacking scandal that brought the News Corp. empire to its knees, shuttering its most popular tabloid, the News of the World (published since 1843).

2011 year small.jpg

As smartphones and tablets proliferated, the reality of mobile news (and advertising) finally came into focus after years of failed promises. News orgs big and small tried to cash in on mobile editions, with mixed success. While Apple and its dominant iPad platform demanded a 30% cut of digital subscriptions -- and the customer data -- publishers fought back with "web apps" that went around the App Store and its restrictions. As more Android tablets, including the popular Kindle Fire, got into the hands of consumers, the chance that more people would ditch print editions for digital grew.

So here's our annual list of the Top 10 media stories that mattered most in 2011, and some predictions of where those stories are headed in 2012.

Top 10 Media Stories of 2011

1. The Arab Spring and the "Facebook revolutions."

What started as protests in December 2010 in Tunisia, after a college graduate set himself on fire, turned into a Middle East-wide revolution of people rising up against totalitarian regimes. In Tunisia and Egypt, the ruling governments fell, and in Libya a long civil war led to a rebel victory (aided by NATO). What many of these revolutions had in common was organizing done with social networks, especially Facebook, and news spreading virally over Twitter and YouTube. And that formula was repeated in protest movements outside of the Middle East, including in the Occupy Wall Street protests here in the U.S.

While social media played a crucial role in organizing protests and spreading the word to people in the outside world, the revolutions were not dependent upon them. When the Egyptian authorities shut down Internet access, that didn't stop people from human networking and organizing person-to-person to keep protests alive. As Miller-McCune's Philip Howard wrote:

Overemphasizing the role of information technology diminishes the personal risks that individual protesters took in heading out onto the streets to face tear gas and rubber bullets. While it is true that the dynamics of collective action are different in a digital world, we need to move beyond punditry about digital media, simple claims that technology is good or bad for democracy, and a few favored examples of how this can be so.

Prediction: Social media will continue to be vital cogs in any protest movement around the world, even as the targets of those protests learn to become more savvy in using social media in response to them. The days of closing off society to the outside world are numbered as more people use online platforms to communicate with the rest of the world.

jobs day of dead.jpg

2. Steve Jobs dies, and the tech world mourns.

Love him or hate him, Apple co-founder and visionary Steve Jobs did make a dent in the universe. He was there at the birth of so many innovations, from the personal computer, desktop publishing, the iPod, iPhone and iPad (the holy trinity of gadgets). But one thing he couldn't conquer was cancer, and he finally succumbed and died in October at the age of 56. Not long after that, an in-depth biography of Jobs was published, written by Walter Isaacson, detailing his many triumphs as well as his hard-driving, caustic personality.

While Jobs made a huge contribution to helping salvage the music business with iTunes (while taking his cut), he has had mixed success in helping the news business with mobile subscriptions. And his take on revolutionizing the TV business had yet to be realized at his death. One quote that stands out from Jobs is this one from his Stanford commencement address in 2005:

"Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."

Prediction: The legend of Steve Jobs and what he accomplished will only grow bigger over the coming years, as his legacy as a media visionary is cemented and the rougher parts of his personality are downplayed.

3. The phone-hacking scandal shutters the News of the World.

Tabloid journalists have always gone to great lengths to get scoops, but nothing compares to the breathtaking deceit at the U.K.'s News of the World, which hacked into the voice-mail messages of celebrities, politicians and even a murdered schoolgirl, Milly Dowler. What was originally deemed to be a few bad apples turned out to be widespread misdeeds that led to numerous arrests, resignations and firings at News International, the parent company of the tabloid. Even more surprising was the decision by News Corp. honcho Rupert Murdoch to close down the News of the World after 168 years of publication.

The "hackgate" scandal has led to resignations in the British government, at Scotland Yard and at various News Corp. publications (including Dow Jones publisher Les Hinton). Here's how MediaShift correspondent Tristan Stewart-Robertson summed it up:

Ultimately, we have a clash of what my retired philosophy professor father refers to as the "social duty to provide as much information as possible," and the duty of "non-injury to others." So which trumps which? ... The conflicting appetites for information and privacy are not going anywhere anytime soon.

Prediction: The scandal will continue to unearth more villains as government inquiries and lawsuits continue into the new year. More people will use stronger passwords for their voice-mail, and tabloid journalists will need to ratchet back their "black ops" to get scoops.

4. Bubbly IPOs return for a few startups.

groupon-ceo.jpg

No one would mistake 2011 for 1999, the last year of the dot-com bubble, when IPOs were popping like champagne corks. The initial public offering was the most conspicuous way that investors and startup employees with stock options could cash in on their around-the-clock hard work. But still, some echoes of the late '90s seeped in this year, with successful IPOs for startups such as LinkedIn, Groupon and Zynga. In May, LinkedIn was priced at $45 per share, and jumped 109% to close at $94.25. As a Reuters story explained, the IPO was "evoking memories of the investor love affair with Internet stocks during the dot-com boom of the late 1990s."

The hottest startups of 2011 fell into the SoLoMo category: social, local and mobile. And Groupon was right at the sweet spot of SoLoMo, as the biggest player in the hot "daily deals" market. Despite the fact that Groupon was not profitable and its growth was slowing down, the company's IPO raised $700 million, the biggest public offering since Google. While social gaming startup Zynga raised even more money, $1 billion, its IPO actually ended its first day of trading below its initial price of $10 per share. While a few Internet companies did well going public, most are still waiting in the wings. As USA Today put it, overall IPOs have had a dismal 2011.

Prediction: With so much stock market instability, it will be tough for many companies to go public in the coming months. More likely, the exit for startups will be to get acquired, except for the big fish like Facebook and Twitter, which could have huge IPOs next year.

5. New York Times finds success with metered pay wall; others try their luck.

Why won't people pay a fair price for news content online? So many news orgs simply put up their content for free online that this is what most people expect to pay: nothing. But some exceptions like WSJ.com (leaky wall) and FT.com (metered wall) found success with a mix of free and paid content. Then came the biggest experiment of them all, the metered pay wall at NYTimes.com, where you get 20 free articles per month (or via Google search or social media) and then you have to pay anywhere from $15 per month to $35 per month for full access on the web and with mobile apps. The price seemed steep and the Times was targeting the people who use its content the most. And yet there were exceptions: Car maker Lincoln subsidized free access for many users, and a recent "special offer" gave full digital access for just 99 cents for 8 weeks.

The metered wall has been a smashing success so far for NYTimes.com, garnering 324,000 paying subscribers by the end of the third quarter, just six months after the start of the wall. Plus, the Times has 1.2 million users with full digital access. (Many have print subscriptions that give them digital access.) But where does that leave the other, smaller papers that are trying out pay walls? Gannett newspapers, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Boston Globe all have begun testing pay strategies and it's unclear if they will be as successful as the Times. But as PaidContent's Staci Kramer wrote in a year-end review, "2011 is the hands-down winner when it comes to people paying for digital content. The numbers aren't all in yet and some of it will be hard to quantify given the lack of complete transparency but it's clear that more people are willing to pay for digital access to music, news, movies, TV, games, books and magazines."

Prediction: More online newspapers will try to charge for their content with mixed success. Not everyone has the strong brand (and followers) of the New York Times, and many folks are happy to try out other free sites for news if they are forced to pay too much.

6. The battle over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in Congress.

No one likes piracy, but the two bills in Congress to fight online piracy, SOPA and PIPA, are seen as flawed and overreaching by various tech companies and online pundits. The two bills are supported by most big media companies, music publishers and Hollywood, and are opposed by big tech and online companies and organizations.

While Congress expected to pass some version of these two bills into law with little friction, online organizers have wreaked havoc with political protests that haven't been seen at this depth before. Tumblr created a slick "Call Congress" tool that popped up on its home page, and 6,000 websites participated in an online protest against what they considered to be possible censorship under the new law, with 1 million emails sent to members of Congress. As Congress adjourns for its holiday recess, the fight continues, with so many people pulling their domains from Go Daddy (a supporter of SOPA), that the domain company changed course and withdrew support for the bill.

Prediction: The bills will still likely make it through Congress in some form, but if the online protests continue apace, there might well be amendments to make the bills less overreaching when it comes to piracy enforcement.

7. Kindle Fire tablet is an affordable alternative to iPad.

Here come the low-cost Android tablets. While Apple has done such a good job with its iPad tablet in dominating the market, there was still an opening for a lower-cost, smaller tablet to steal away market share. And this Christmas season, Amazon's Kindle Fire tablet ($199) and to a lesser extent the Nook Tablet ($250) have stolen Apple's thunder with cheaper alternatives. Some leaked data to Cult of Android showed that the Fire was racking up 50,000 pre-orders per day, which could mean 2.5 million sales before it even went on sale Nov. 15!

Those are impressive numbers for Amazon, which has created quite the backlash for its bullying in the book industry, becoming a book publisher on its own and sending people as spies into bookstores to compare prices. And yet, Apple will still continue to dominate tablet sales this holiday season, according to researchers at IDC, with the Kindle and Nook tablet sales coming at the expense of higher-priced Android tablets. "I fully expect Apple to have its best-ever quarter in 4Q11," IDC's Tom Mainelli told the Washington Post, "and in 2012 I think we'll see Apple's product begin to gain more traction outside of the consumer market, specifically with enterprise and education markets."

Prediction: Apple will have to work harder at keeping its dominant lead in tablets, and will need to consider selling a cheaper, smaller tablet to compete on the low end. While the Kindle Fire will be popular as a cheap alternative, it will need to offer more than a closed Amazon environment to satisfy gadget geeks.

8. Netflix stumbles with huge price hike, poor Qwikster idea.

2011 was another strong year for people cutting the cord to cable and satellite TV. The cable industry finally acknowledged there was a slight drop-off in subscriptions, and for the first time U.S. households with TV sets declined. But one reason people were willing to cut the cord was the proliferation of "over the top" streaming TV services such as Netflix and Hulu. But after years of growth and profits, Netflix stumbled badly in 2011. The company announced it was unbundling its DVD-by-mail service and charging higher rates for DVDs and for streaming, with a spin-off company for DVDs called Qwikster.

Those moves were largely panned by pundits, and Netflix started bleeding customers, with 800,000 of them leaving the service by the end of the third quarter. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings had to apologize to customers in a blog post and in a video address:

Prediction: Netflix will need a two-pronged strategy to gain back customers: aggressive pricing and promotions; better selection of streaming content. It might be tough to pull it off, but without doing anything, Netflix will find a very difficult road ahead.

9. Publishers rebel against Apple with HTML5 web apps.

Apple could only push publishers so far. While the tech giant came hat in hand to media companies promising to prop up the news business with digital subscriptions for the iPad, its terms were onerous: a 30% cut of all revenues; Apple keeps the data on customers; no links to subscriptions outside of Apple's App Store from within apps. Some publishers decided that enough was enough, and created "web apps" that worked on the iPad without going through Apple and its App Store. The most prominent web app came from FT.com, which decided to create its own HTML5 app to go around Apple's control.

When I spoke to FT.com's managing director, Rob Grimshaw, he shared these figures about their success:

> 20% of all page views for FT.com come from mobile devices
> 30% of all page views seen by paid subscribers to FT.com are on mobile devices

> More than 1 million downloads for the FT apps for iPhone and iPad

> More than 500,000 visits to the web app over the past 3 months

> 15% to 20% of new paid subscribers come from mobile devices

Apple eventually blinked and set better terms for publishers, allowing them to sell subscriptions at discounted prices. However, Apple still gets a huge 30% cut and keeps the customer data.

Prediction: More publishers will watch FT.com and others' web apps very closely, and will consider ways to get around Apple's walled garden.

10. Rise of Google+ as an alternative to Facebook, Twitter.

After several false starts (including Google Buzz, Orkut, Wave), Google finally got social networking right with its Google+ network launch in 2011. While the service quickly brought on millions of new users and was integrated tightly into Google search results and Gmail, some folks were unimpressed and felt like it was a ghost town because their friends remained entrenched on Facebook.

So what was the big deal with Google+? The service let people set up "Circles" so that status updates could be sent to discrete groups, and the "Hangouts" let you do group video chat like never before. One enterprising TV station in Columbia, Mo., even started putting Google+ Hangouts on the air. My experience was typical for the more plugged-in tech media crowd: Within a couple months on Google+, I had more people following me there than on Twitter, where I'd been active since 2008.

Prediction: Google+ will continue to be an attractive option for interactivity and higher level conversations among the more tech-insider crowd, but most people will continue their presence on Twitter and Facebook.

Honorable Mentions

Here are some other stories that didn't quite make the cut but are worth mentioning:

> Digital First takes over newspapers at the Journal Register Co. and Media News, and launches an investment company for digital news innovation.

> AOL buys Huffington Post and TechCrunch, and TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington is eventually pushed out after trying to run both TechCrunch and a new VC fund.

> #OccupyWallStreet organizes hundreds of protests around the U.S. and world to demand that money is removed from politics.

> News aggregators proliferate, with the rise of Flipboard, Zite (bought by CNN), Trove, Livestand, News.me and many more.

What do you think? What media stories were the biggest ones this year? Did we miss any key ones? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit. and Circle him on Google+

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December 08 2011

21:25

Google's News Reader "Currents" finally coming

Let's see how Google tries to compete against Yahoo's Livestand and Flipboard.

AllThingsD :: Google’s entrant into the news reader space is finally set to launch as soon as tomorrow. Sources said the product, which was codenamed Propeller and will compete with a spate of competitors such as Flipboard and Yahoo’s Livestand, is now called Currents. As in current events.

Kara Swisher: Get it?

Continue to read Kara Swisher, allthingsd.com

December 07 2011

21:40

Flipboard launches iPhone app for a new use case: news faster and multiple times every day

Venture Beat :: Popular iPad news reading application Flipboard has made the move to the iPhone and while it retains its smart and simple design, it also has added a new Cover Stories section to boot.

[Mike McCue, CEO of Flipboard:] With the iPhone we redesigned Flipboard for a new use case, where people want to find the things they care about even faster and multiple times every day.

Sean Ludwig: "Cover Stories to be first place you open to discover content being shared by your friends on social networks like Twitter and Facebook. The company describes it as a 'section that learns from a reader’s interaction with the content, created for when people want to quickly check for interesting news or updates.'"

Continue to read Sean Ludwig, venturebeat.com

October 06 2011

16:00

The Newsonomics of f8

Editor’s Note: Each week, Ken Doctor — author of Newsonomics and longtime watcher of the business side of digital news — writes about the economics of news for the Lab.

Is it declaration of war, or of peace, or is Mark Zuckerberg saying he just really Likes us all very, very much?

“No activity is too big or too small to share,” the 27-year-old proclaimed at the recent f8 announcement. “All your stories, all your life…. This is going to make it easy to share orders of magnitude more things than before.” (f8 sounds, oddly, like FATE, but I think my paranoia is kicking in.)

“Excuse me, have we met?” is one response.

Another response to Facebook’s Ticket, Timeline, and News Feed initiatives is to go dating. Some quite influential publishers are road-testing the new features, while others ponder a light commitment.

In 2011, U.S. dailies’ digital ad take will be about $3 billion and Facebook’s $2 billion.

They should be aware that Facebook is bent on world domination — having targeted businesses now run by Amazon, Apple, Google, LinkedIn, Wikipedia, Flipboard, Pulse, Pandora, Last.fm, and Flickr, as well as legacy news and information providers — in the latest move. (Forget debating Google’s “do no evil” mantra; Google’s sin may have been that it thought too small.) That’s audience, though not business, domination, as Facebook’s EMEA platform partnerships director, Christian Hernandez, told PaidContent. “[f8] is not a commercial decision.” Got it. And Google just wants to help us better organize our info.

Facebook’s f8 signals a next round of digital disruption. Remember Microsoft’s decade-old bid to become the hub of our entertainment lives, as evidenced by its futuristic Consumer Electronics Show displays? Facebook has taken that metaphor — and updated and socialized it.

This unabashed push to remake the digital world in its own image would seem like laughable megalomania coming from many other sources in the world. But it’s not megalomania if others act like you’re not crazy. In fact, our story takes strange turns as this megalomania, so far, seems quite magnanimous to publishers, as Facebook looks to some like the best available date, compared to the other ascendant audience resellers (Apple, Amazon, and Google).

As leading-edge publishers move away from destination-only strategies, they seek to colonize other habitable web environments; Facebook now looks like the friendliest clime, allowing publishers to keep all the revenue from ads they are selling within their Facebook apps. In addition, Facebook is providing aggregated data on user engagement — active users, likes, comments, post views, and post feedback.

Buy-in from such brands as the Washington Post, The Economist, the Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, and Yahoo helps to place Facebook’s push into the “normal” scale of corporate behavior.

Why are news players playing along? What do they think is in it for them?

Let’s look at the newsonomics of f8 and of the new social whirl.

“Rather than incorporate Facebook features into our site, we’ve looked at incorporating our content into Facebook.”

Let’s start with the stark, Willie Sutton reason: you work with Facebook because that’s where the audience is. In the U.S., Facebook claims more as much as seven hours of average monthly usage; globally, that number is four hours plus. It’s where would-be readers hang out.

Worldwide, it claims an audience of 800 million.

If Facebook is the hang-out mall, newspaper and magazine sites are grocery stores. People go there when they need something — to find out what’s new — and then leave. The comparative average monthly usage of news sites runs five to 20 minutes per month.

So exposure to audience is the no-brainer, here. The question is: to what end?

Step back from the flurry of news company announcements, or from the behind-the-scenes 2012 strategies-in-the-making, and publishers cite three top goals:

  • Lower-cost development of audience, especially audience that may become core customers.
  • Digital advertising revenue growth.
  • Establishing a robust, growing stream of digital reader revenue.

So how might f8 innovations help those?

Let’s start with brand awareness. It’s a digital din out there, a survival-of-the-feistiest time. Consumers will come to rely on a handful or two of news brands, goes the theory. So best to be high in their consciousness, and Facebook omnipresence in people’s lives offers that possibility.

Adam Freeman, executive director of Commercial for Guardian News and Media, explains Guardian’s digital-first strategy here this way:

Our digital audience has grown to a phenomenal 50m+, but, with the best will in the world, chances are we are never going to outpace and outstrip Facebook’s audience size. So we see an opportunity in that — rather than incorporate Facebook features into our site, we’ve looked at incorporating our content into Facebook. There is an untapped audience within Facebook who may not be regularly encountering Guardian and Observer content, and we think our app increases the the visibility of our content in that space.

Of course that brand consciousness needs to be acted on, which leads us to…

Lower-cost traffic acquisition. Online, publishers have invested in search engine optimization and search engine marketing. SEO makes them more findable in organic search; SEM pays for high-level brand placement. In addition, they’ve done deals with portals over the years; the current Yahoo deals of swapping news stories for links is a major one for many.

Against, though, Facebook is simply social media optimization (“The newsonomics of social media optimization”).

It’s another route to pouring newer customers into the top end of news publishers’ audience funnel, hoping a few tumble out the bottom as paying, regular readers. And any readers can be monetized with advertising.

SMO’s relative economics are better than SEO or SEM. Not only is SMO cheaper than SEM, some publishers say it “performs” better. That performance is best measured by conversions (registrations, more pages read, digital sub buying), while for others the jury is still out. And, at best, audience development multiplies off these new relationships.

“These new Facebook users aren’t necessarily finding the brand in traditional ways, nor do they necessarily hold longstanding brand affinity,” says Jed Williams, analyst at BIA/Kelsey.

Their social graphs, curators/editors, recommendations, etc. are doing the pointing for them. So they do arrive at the very top of the proverbial funnel. And, as they interact with the publisher, with them in turn comes their social network. Potentially, the exponential network effects take off, and new audience continues to breed even more new audience. Original audience targets emerge, and the funnel continually expands. At least in the best case scenario, it does.

Sale of paid products: If you are now selling digital subscriptions, you’re doubly interested in customer acquisition. Now publishers can discover the percentage of new audience they can convert to paying customers, though that’s not an easy proposition to figure out. That percentage will be tiny, but it may be meaningful.

Out of the chute, digital circulation efforts have focused strongly on longstanding customers. Publishers have wanted to keep their print customers paying. They want to reduce print churn by taking away customers’ ability to get the news they get in the paper for free online. They want to change the psychology of long-term readers, giving them a new understanding: You pay for news, in print or digitally.

Facebook looks like it may become a top media-selling marketplace, along with Amazon and Apple.

That’s round one, 2011-2012, of the digital circulation wars. Round two necessitates bringing in new customers, especially younger ones who don’t have print habits and may not have much news brand loyalty.

That’s a key place Facebook fits in. It’s a potential hothouse of new, younger customers.

“It isn’t obvious that we can be successful with premium content on social,” notes Alisa Bowen, general manager of WSJ Digital Network. The Journal, while not participating in the f8 launch, already has a significant trial in place. The same holds true of the spate of other recent WSJ innovations, like WSJ Live and its iPad apps. “WSJ Everywhere,” Bowen says, “tests what we’re doing for people who never come to the website.”

As publishers create more one-off tablet and smartphone products (“The newsonomics of Kindle Singles”), Facebook looks like it may become a top media-selling marketplace, along with Amazon and Apple.

Advertising revenue: Facebook is still so bent on building audience that it is providing publishers their best ad deals. Publishers can sell ads for display within their Facebook apps — and keep all the revenue. No revenue share, thank you. (At least for now.)

Data: “In addition to serving adverts from our own partners in the app, we have highly detailed but anonymized data from Facebook covering demographics and usage,” says Freeman. “We also have our own analytics embedded in the pages on the app, which will help us understand how our content is used and shared within the Facebook Open Graph.”

Learning about social curation. Social filtering will be a standard feature of all news (unless we opt out) by 2015. It’s not hard to see why. It’s old village world-of-mouth, jet-propelled by technology. How social curation will work is a huge question; how can it best co-exist with editorial curation, for instance? That kind of learning is one other benefit f8 partners tell me they hope to gain.

The Facebook dance is a cautious one. News publishers’ experiences with web wunderkinds have not, in general, been great ones. Witness the ongoing battles over revenue share percentages, customer relationships, and customer data access that have characterized the soap-opera-like Apple/publisher public spats. Amazon’s new Kindle tablet re-lights the question of publisher/Amazon rev share and data sharing.

September 16 2011

19:00

Empathetic vs. personalized, a News.me vs Flipboard comparison

ReadWriteWeb :: Although News.me and Flipboard are similar products, their approaches are fundamentally different. News.me is a curated reading experience, whereas with Flipboard you select your reading material directly. It's ultimately a matter of personal preference which approach you prefer. But this is going to be a key point in whether News.me can gain momentum in this crowded market.

Continue to read Richard MacManus, www.readwriteweb.com

18:57

Google's social push - Kara Swisher: "It's called Propeller"

AllThingsD :: According to numerous sources close to the situation, Google is indeed working on rolling out a new product, which is currently called Propeller. Sources said Propeller is apparently one of a number of new socially focused announcements Google is prepping, including new apps. Propeller is a souped-up version of similar reader apps such as Flipboard, AOL's Editions, Yahoo's Livestand, and Pulse.
Facebook is also making social versions of publications available within its site.

Continue to read Kara Swisher, allthingsd.com

18:36

Rumors - Robert Scoble: Google works on a Flipboard competitor

Not the best news for Flipboard.

Robert Scoble | Google+ :: Robert Scoble writes that he heard from someone working with Google that Google is working on a Flipboard competitor for both Android and iPad. His source says that the versions he's seen so far are mind-blowing good.

Continue to read Robert Scoble, plus.google.com

August 03 2011

16:32

How AOL’s Editions iPad app aims to be anything to anyone

Poynter :: AOL unveiled a centerpiece of its mobile content strategy this week — a new iPad app called Editions that blends some of the most-successful features of other popular news-browsing apps with its own new ideas. Editions is another attempt at a mass-market iPad news app, like Flipboard, Pulse or Zite, that bring you news not just from one source or niche, but from the entire Web. They aim to be anything to anyone.

Review - continue to read Jeff Sondnerman, www.poynter.org

July 28 2011

21:36

Win-win? Why The Atlantic agreed to partner with Pulse. A story for data-hungry publishers

Niemalab :: Let’s face some facts: Media companies aren’t entirely sure what to do with the new crop of news reading apps that are springing up at the moment. Technology like Flipboard, Zite, or Pulse could either be a thief, a new revenue stream, or an inexpensive test bed for finding new ways to get your content in front of people.

Why should media companies partner with startups like Pulse?

One reason ...

[M. Scott Havens:] Since we don’t spend money on advertising and let the editorial be our branding arm, we’d like to get out to these applications where other readers are, who aren’t familiar with our brand.

A closer look - continue to read Justin Ellis, www.niemanlab.org

16:30

Why The Atlantic joined up with Pulse — and what the app’s usage stats can tell data-hungry publishers

Let’s face some facts: Media companies aren’t entirely sure what to do with the new crop of news reading apps that are springing up at the moment. Technology like Flipboard, Zite, or Pulse could either be a thief, a new revenue stream, or an inexpensive test bed for finding new ways to get your content in front of people. For the moment, these deals, if they are drawn up between a publisher and an app maker, typically get thrown into the category of “partnerships,” like the kind of reading app Pulse has been brokering with media companies like CNN, the Wall Street Journal, Vanity Fair, Time, and MSNBC.

Just last week Pulse struck a new partnership agreement, adding The Atlantic, The Atlantic Wire, and The National Journal to its list of featured content providers. So far, the deals between Pulse and news organizations haven’t been monetary; if anything, they’re more exploratory in nature, determining whether a third party can deliver substantial traffic to news sites (and eyes to their ads). But it can also be instructive on how audiences’ appetites for reading has changed, and give us an idea why places like The Atlantic want in with Pulse.

M. Scott Havens, vice president of digital strategy and operations for The Atlantic, told me the new wave of display apps are offering experiments in how the reading experience has changed, which is of no small interest to publishers. “Hopefully people will find us, discover us on Pulse, and might actually become a subscriber to our brands,” Havens said. The Atlantic can reach new audiences while also studying how users read, Havens said.

Essentially it’s a win-win for the moment: “Since we don’t spend money on advertising and let the editorial be our branding arm, we’d like to get out to these applications where other readers are, who aren’t familiar with our brand,” he said.

This all works perfectly for Pulse, says Akshay Kothari, the company’s CEO, because their broad goal at the moment is gathering more content to spotlight within the app and developing fruitful relationships with publishers. One of the critical bits of information Pulse holds is data on usage patterns for readers within the app, both on the iPad and iPhone.

Though Kothari would not offer up specific data, he told me one clear trend is the difference in the reading patterns on the iPhone vs. the iPad. On any given week, Pulse users on smartphones open the app twice as often as people on the tablet version. But all told, tablet users spend more time on Pulse, and their sessions are twice as long as those of iPhone users. What’s also interesting is that in some cases one platform feeds into another: “If you look at usage patterns, [users] will come in small bursts to look at news, and if they like it — long-form articles or something from The Economist — they’ll save them and read them on other devices,” he said.

So in a typical day a Pulse reader may drop in more than 3 times to check the news, but only spend 5-10 minutes scanning, Kothari said. From what they’re seeing, a good chunk of Pulse’s audience falls somewhere into this category of heavy-ish users who subscribe to multiple sources, as opposed to those who scan stories and headlines on Pulse with less frequency.

It probably shouldn’t be a surprise that Pulse tracks with patterns we’ve been seeing emerge in the ways people read on new devices. In terms of the iPad, Pulse seems to mirror similar evidence we’ve seen suggesting that people look for a comfy spot to do serious reading on their tablets. “The consumption pattern on the tablet is slightly different, spending longer time,” Kothari said. “The use-case is kind of like sitting in home, maybe lounging with the iPad and consuming lots of time and news stories.”

Another trend they saw was an increase in delayed reading. Not long after launching, it became clear readers were using Pulse to dip into and out of the day’s news and emailing stories to themselves. “We realized that a good majority of people want something to save (stories) and go back to it later, simple functionality to save from Pulse and synch with other devices,” he said. (They’ve since added Instapaper and Read It Later buttons.)

Pulse uses all this information in refining its product, adding features when necessary and responding to feedback from users. But it’s clear that this is also intel that could be of interest to news organizations trying to reconcile their digital media plans with those of third-party app companies. As part of the partnership, news organizations will get their hands on data from Pulse on how many users subscribe to their content, as well as social sharing stats and click-through rates, Kothari said.

Pulse can be an app for news discovery as much as presentation, meaning it can be a gateway for introducing people to news sources they would otherwise not know. Which is one of the reasons they’re eager to buddy-up with media companies like The Atlantic, Kothari said. One of the things they learned early was that there’s no predicting what readers will find interesting. Of all the pre-loaded news sources they had at launch, which included RSS feeds from mainstream organizations, one that was apparently most interesting to readers was from Cool Hunting, the design and culture blog. One of Pulse’s goals going forward, Kothari said, is to create an opportunity for a “Cool Hunting moment” for more publishers.

“We’re very, very excited to work on this,” he said. “The team assembled are all great developers and designers, but also people who want to see great journalism survive.”

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