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June 28 2013

14:00

ProPublica introduces a magazine to reach new readers on mobile

propublicamagProPublica wants to get in the magazine business.

The investigative news nonprofit is launching a monthly digital magazine for iOS devices that will collect the best of its reporting on current topics in the news. The first issue of ProPublica The Magazine, “In the Crosshairs,” is focused on war and gun violence, with stories on drone strikes and the Guatemalan civil war.

ProPublica The Magazine is free and will be delivered via Apple’s Newsstand. And that, more than developing a new line of revenue, is the point for ProPublica: finding a new avenue to reach readers. Specifically, as ProPublica president Dick Tofel told me, to get mobile readers.

“The real point is this puts us in the Newsstand, that pushes us to people, which we hope is a big plus,” he said.

As a news organization, ProPublica has always used partnerships with others to spread its work to new readers. But as the site has matured, staffers have invested more time in building their own audience. A big area of desired growth, Tofel told me, is in mobile, and on iOS devices in particular.

The way Tofel sees it, the magazine is like a monthly version of ProPublica’s work packaging stories for ebooks. But the magazine will allow ProPublica to be a little more timely, while also being thematic around issues that are important to readers. Or, Tofel puts it another way, “It’s a little like This American Life, where he does those multi-story episodes.”

ProPublica is not alone in wanting to develop a product that can repackage reporting and is a good fit for mobile devices. Earlier in June, The Atlantic introduced The Atlantic Weekly, which collects the work of The Atlantic, The Atlantic Wire, and The Atlantic Cities for $2.99 a month. ProPublica partnered with 29th Street Publishing to create the magazine. The company, which has also helped publishers like The Awl create magazines for iOS, uses a relatively lightweight CMS that makes it easy for publishers to transform existing stories into mobile-friendly reads.

Since ProPublica isn’t bringing on additional staff to produce the monthly magazine, they needed something easy to use, said Krista Kjellman Schmidt, ProPublica’s deputy news apps editor. Schmidt will be responsible for preparing the magazine each month, working with other editors to identify a theme and combing through ProPublica’s archive to select the best stories. Schmidt said she’s already at work on the second issue, which looks at race and housing in America. “These stories we’re trying to patch together in a new way so readers can see the long arc of an investigation,” she said.

Schmidt said the magazine is an experiment for ProPublica. While they have an iPhone app, many readers also prefer reading the site on a mobile browser. The magazine puts ProPublica into another venue on iOS devices in Newsstand, setting it up to be discovered by new readers. The richer magazine-like design encourages publishers to find new ways to curate stories and push users to read deeply, she said. Schmidt said they decided to deliver the magazine monthly to gauge reader interest and how the production process fits into their other routines. She said they’ll evaluate the project over the course of the next year.

June 20 2013

14:13

The New York Times adds a meter to mobile apps

Since 2011, the Times’ web paywall and app paywall have functioned differently. The website gave nonsubscribers a maximum number of articles per month; its apps set aside a subset of top stories that were free to all, but put everything else beyond reach.

The newspaper just announced it would be normalizing that divide, creating a meter for readers of the company’s mobile applications. Starting June 27, nonsubscribers will be able to read three articles per day through the app before being prompted to sign up for a subscription. After that, they’ll still get to browse headlines and article summaries. Videos will remain free inside the app, as Denise Warren, the Times executive vice president of the digital products and services group, previously told the Lab in April.

This spring, Times CEO Mark Thompson promised the company would be introducing a new suite of digital products to broaden its base of readers. But the Times’ mobile meter doesn’t come at a new price point. For an app-centric reader, the cheapest option for reading the Times starts at $15 every four weeks, which provides access to NYTimes.com and smartphone apps.

The timing may just be a coincidence, but the Times’ soon-to-be sold sibling, The Boston Globe, introduced a new mobile app subscription plan Wednesday which will cost readers $3.99 a month.

June 19 2013

23:48

Respond to this: The Boston Globe wants to offer iPhone users a native app and a cheap price

In the debate over native apps versus mobile websites, The Boston Globe is officially hedging its bets. And in the how-much-to-charge paywall debate, it’s going surprisingly low.

Today the newspaper is releasing a new native iPhone app as an extension of the subscription based BostonGlobe.com. Considering that the launch of the well-reviewed BostonGlobe.com two and a half years ago was considered a landmark in responsive design — meaning it reflowed readily from desktop to tablet to smartphone without the need for a native app — it’s an interesting move.

As is the price: A full subscription to the Boston Globe iPhone app will cost just $3.99 a month. That’s $47.88 a year. Compare that to the alternatives: At full freight, a seven-day print-plus-digital subscription runs $727 a year, while a digital-only subscription costs $207 a year. All for the same content.

“A year-and-a-half in, we’ve been able to grow the subscriber base with our own systems and relationship with the customer. But this gives us access to another group of people we think we haven’t been able to get as well,” said Jeff Moriarty, the Globe’s vice president of digital products and general manager of Boston.com.

That audience, Moriarty said, is smartphone users — in this case iOS users who enjoy reading in the app environment, like discovering material through Newsstand, and who take advantage of the simplicity of the app store’s one-click purchasing.

A supplement to responsive design, not a replacement

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The Globe is, like other smart news organizations, recognizing that mobile is the future of news consumption. But its big bet was on responsive design — in a sense, a bet on mobile news being consumed in the browser rather than in a dedicated app — even though there were plenty of discussions within the Globe at the time about the wisdom of having a separate iPhone app to supplement its new web strategy.

Moriarty said the core of the newspaper’s two-site strategy remains the same: Boston.com will be the destination for free news, entertainment, and information, while BostonGlobe.com will be the home to the Globe’s reporting. But the new app also acknowledges that there are some things responsive sites and mobile browsers can’t do. As HTML5 evolves, fewer and fewer of those things are about technological constraints. But apps do still have some advantages in discovery and attention — being there to be found in the App Store, having a default position on the user’s home screen, and in the case of Apple’s Newsstand, some advantages in terms of automated issue delivery. (Although some of those advantages are changing.)

But Moriarty said going native shouldn’t be interpreted as a step away from responsive design. Taking the app route opens up users to a familiar set of gestures for reading and navigating, enables push notifications, and allows for a higher degree of customization, Moriarty said, noting that he couldn’t think of anyone “who has been as aggressive with responsive web design as we have and come back to the app market to take advantage of that as a niche play.” And newspapers can use all the niches they can assemble these days.

The Globe app echoes the newspaper typography and general feel of BostonGlobe.com. It offers up all the main sections of the Globe, but also lets readers create a customizable feed of headlines or scan a selection of trending stories. Two additional features, weather and traffic, are likely to add some utility to the app for readers in the Boston metro area.

“We focused on making it feel very mobile-native as opposed to porting an existing presentation over,” said Michael Manning, the Globe’s director for emerging products.

The Globe built the app over several months in conjunction with digital design company Mobiquity. The overall goal, Manning told me, was to create a reading experience that puts efficiency and utility front and center. App users are able to browse sections at will, or just check in on their preferences and the latest trending stories, Manning said. “We picture it as allowing people to pull out sections of the paper,” he said.

It’s the first time the paper has experimented with offering readers a broader degree of control over what they want to read. Personalization is a way of providing additional value to mobile readers, particularly those who may only have a few minutes to read at any time, Manning said. Pulling in that data on readers can also be useful to the Globe. “For us it’s really about what are the right ways to nudge people towards customization and personalization without making it a core requirement to experience the app,” Manning said.

Aiming at price-sensitive readers

Maybe even more interesting is the pricing, which would seem to undercut the substantially higher rates the paper is charging elsewhere. For any digital subscriber who does all their BostonGlobe.com reading on an iPhone, it seems like a no-brainer to get the same product in a native wrapper for 75 percent off. The bet here is that the low pricing will attract more revenue from new iPhone-addicted subscribers than it will chase off from digital and print subscribers downgrading. (As of April 1, the Globe reported roughly 32,000 digital subscribers, which includes replica editions and e-reader subscribers.)

The app even offers something BostonGlobe.com doesn’t — zero advertising for paying customers. (Non-paying app users can read five chosen-by-the-Globe articles a day, with advertising.)

I asked Moriarty about that risk, and he said it was a possibility they’ve considered. He thinks more readers would be reluctant to give up the perks and mobility of the higher-priced bundles. In order for the Globe to succeed, it has to meet readers at different levels, whether it’s for free on Boston.com, within the Boston Globe app, or in print, Moriarty told me. The hope is that the app could be a doorway into a broader connection to the Globe, he said.

“We don’t anticipate a lot of switching there,” Moriarty said. “We hope it’s a place where people will step into the Globe products and appreciate it and want it in other places as well.”

The Globe’s move could be the first of a number of similar shifts to seek out new products at lower price points. The New York Times Co., the Globe’s parent company (for at least a little while longer), announced in April that it would debut new cheaper and more expensive digital products to complement its existing packages.

Those moves come amid some industry-wide concerns that digital paywalls may be proving more effective at keeping some traditional newspaper readers than in attracting younger ones, who might be priced out by higher rates. The Times Co.’s announcements were specifically put in the context of The New York Times itself, not the Globe, but it seems that similar ideas are at work just up I-95.

July 28 2011

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.”

January 20 2011

15:30

Boston Hack Day Challenge: An open door to Boston.com

Count The Boston Globe among the growing number of organizations that want hackers to come in from the cold. On the weekend of Feb. 25 they’re holding a three-day event called the “Boston Hack Day Challenge” where developers, designers, coders and anyone else inclined to make apps will gather to “create new online and mobile products that can make life better for Bostonians.”

We’ve got our share of tech heads around the area thanks to schools like MIT and Harvard, not to mention start-ups (perhaps you’ve heard of SCVNGR?), and the Globe is looking to capitalize on that to help promote their new digital test kitchen, Beta.Boston.com.

In the last few years a number of companies, in and outside of media, have dabbled in hackathons, sometimes to try and associate their name with innovation, other times to try and find the best new talent and products to cherrypick. The New York Times started the Times Open series a few years ago to get New York’s tech community tied into the newspaper and help nudge along the concept of the journo-programmer. We’ve also seen journalists, programmers and developers come together in crises like last year’s earthquakes in Haiti, to try and build tools to aid in communication and emergency response. (And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the work of Hacks/Hackers, which has held a number of developer events like Hacks/Hackers Unite.)

At the Boston Hack Day Challenge, teams will use the weekend to build a site or app dedicated to alleviating one problem or another in the Boston area. (One example would be something like the OpenMBTA app, which I can vouch for as making it easier to catch the bus or T.)

All of these fit quite nicely with Beta.Boston.com, where the Globe’s digital team has been quietly releasing online products, and highlighting apps and sites created by others, including Citizen’s Connect, an app to report issues to the mayor’s office. You’ll also find their early OpenBlock demo with news and data from Boston neighborhoods.

The team at the Globe says to keep an eye on the beta space as they roll out toys and features for BostonGlobe.com, the new subscriber site that will parallel Boston.com.

October 08 2010

16:00

Twitter data lets NPR glimpse a future of app-loving news junkies

Conventional wisdom tells us that if you hook up your website to Twitter and/or Facebook you should see some increase in online traffic.

But beyond more eyeballs and pageviews, what’s the value of all those followers and “likes” to a media organization? Particularly if you’re a giant like NPR?

In surveying their Twitter followers (and previously Facebook fans), NPR got more than just handy metrics to let them know they’ve got a good grasp on social media: They got a glimpse at their future, a population of news junkies who live in a world of apps that allow them to consume, share and interact with information.

“Gadgets and news consumption are a major part of Twitter in general, so it makes sense we’re a subset of those activities,” said Andy Carvin, NPR’s senior strategist for social media.

It also makes sense that NPR wants to monitor its emerging platforms as they try to transform into a digital media company. Facebook and Twitter combined now account for 7-8 percent of traffic to NPR.org, an amount that has doubled in the last year. The survey provides a measure of context to those traffic numbers. Carvin said Twitter links on average account for 500,000 pageviews per month, while Facebook averages closer to 3 million.

Here’s what we know from the numbers: People who follow NPR are bullish on social media (they follow more than one account connected to the company); they want live or breaking news delivered to them; they primarily get their news online. Anecdotally all of this may seem unsurprising — if you’re on Twitter there’s a strong likelihood you know your way around an iPhone and/or the Internet.

But the value here is that NPR now knows what its audience of the future looks like. While average public radio listeners are well into their 50s and tune in to NPR four hours a week, NPR’s typical Twitter and Facebook fans are in their 30s and listen on average two hours a day, Carvin said. “This gives us a great opportunity to reach out to audiences that are younger than our radio audience and hopefully retain them over the next several decades,” Carvin said.

By breaking down the data, they’ll be able to fine tune how they use Twitter and Facebook — from choosing which types of stories to post (breaking or topical news for Twitter vs. features and conversations starters on Facebook), to when to post content, to how much to encourage the staff to keep at it.

This all comes at a time when some say NPR is awakening the sleeping giant by becoming a cross-platform company that reaches from radio, to mobile devices and online media. In 2008 NPR received grant funding from the Knight Foundation for the specific purpose of bringing the staff up to speed on new media, including blogging, multimedia storytelling, and social networking. “Having data like this along with encouragement from peers who use social media will help us move forward and expand social media literacy in our reporting capacity,” he said.

Though NPR has been prolific in its creation of Twitter accounts and Facebook pages, Carvin said the reporters, producers and hosts behind the scenes need some confirmation that what they’re doing is paying off. “It certainly didn’t hurt that Scott Simon zoomed to have 1 million fans on Twitter,” he said.

And don’t expect the number crunching to stop here. Thanks to NPR’s Audience Insight and Research team, the company studies everything from the wants of mobile users to comparing hour-by-hour visitors to NPR.org and radio listeners. Though it may not be unusual for a media organization to do research on news coverage or design factors, fielding responses on how you and your audience use Twitter is fairly new.

“I feel that being open represents the mission and values of NPR,” Carvin said. “Literally, if you look at our mission statement, it says we exist to create a more informed public.”

October 04 2010

19:09

Narrative Magazine Takes the Literary World Digital

Poetry on your iPhone. Short stories on your Kindle. Or, if you're not yet into e-reading, how about a complete print-on-demand literary magazine? However you like your literature, Narrative Magazine has you covered.

Literary magazines aren't exactly known yet for their digital expertise. This genre of magazines has moved slowly into the online realm, mainly publishing limited web content. But Narrative Magazine, a non-profit, innovative publisher, has fearlessly experimented with just about every method of digitally distributing its high-quality content, which has included writers like Saul Bellow, Amy Tan, and Jane Smiley. The magazine's diverse array of creative approaches has established a variety of revenue sources and publicity strategies for the magazine and its writers.

Advocating for Literature in a Digital World

Narrative Magazine is a primarily online literary magazine founded in 2003 by Carol Edgarian and Tom Jenks, who are also its co-editors. At the time, Jenks said, there were few publishers providing high-quality literary work online.

"We had been concerned for some time that writers and good writing were going to be marginalized on the Internet," Jenks said. "We were attracted to the fact that the Internet was free and it was open. We wanted to perpetuate that sense with literary material."

The editors sent requests to six writers they knew, asking for material to use on the web. Within a week, they had six manuscripts in hand, and published the first issue of Narrative online. They emailed about 1,200 contacts about the new magazine. Soon, the magazine was up to three issues per year and, according to Jenks, it is now likely to reach a consistent audience of 100,000 readers by the end of 2010.

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Narrative is a non-profit and has received consistent support from a "fairly small group of dedicated donors," Jenks said. According to its 2008 IRS filing, the magazine received just over $410,000 in donations that year, a remarkable amount during difficult economic times. Jenks said there was even a slight increase in 2009. One challenge in finding new donors, though, has been in convincing individuals and grantors about the value of a digital literary magazine.

"When people think of funding the arts, they usually think locally," Jenks said. "As soon as you say it's a digital publication, people kind of say, 'Huh?' "

Narrative also received $10,000 in funding from the National Endowment for the Arts this year after "quite a few years of conversation with them," Jenks said. "They gradually came to see what we were doing. Two years ago, people had very little sense of what digital book publishing meant, and now everyone's scrambling ...You have to have a little faith and keep moving forward."

Strangely enough, designing a good website and having other digital features have at times worked against Narrative's fundraising. "A lot of people look at Narrative and they don't see it as the struggling non-profit that it is because it looks pretty slick online," Jenks said.

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Narrative also charges writers fees for submitting unsolicited manuscripts. Writers pay $20 for prose submissions and $15 for up to five poems, unless they submit during an annual free period held the first two weeks of April.

Though the practice is not uncommon, some writers feel that submission fees at literary magazines are unnecessary, and that these fees are a burden for new writers. According to Narrative, the fees help cover the administrative expenses related to handling submissions and also support the free digital distribution of the non-profit magazine, as well as fund the annual $5,000 Narrative Prize. All paid submissions are entered into the prize competition. Additionally, published authors are paid relatively well for their work, which is also somewhat unusual in the literary magazine world.

Incentives for Readers

Narrative has gone beyond standard social media to develop participatory opportunities for readers, one of which is tied to donations. The magazine's primary goal is to support literature and its digital format means the editors have great flexibility to publish both long and short works. However, they acknowledge that other kinds of content helps attract readers, so they also now include puzzles, audio/visual content, cartoons, and graphic stories in the magazine.

The Narrative site, apps, and email blasts offer easy access to all of the magazine's content. More participatory options are also in the works. "Before too long, you'll also see us do something else -- not social networking, but something to give our readers an opportunity to customize Narrative for themselves," Jenks said. "They can see things they most want to have immediate contact with, and connect with other people on the site."

Another strategy for increasing readers' involvement with the magazine is Narrative's Backstage section. Donations of $50 or more are rewarded with a "Backstage Pass," which allows these donors to view special content early, before it's made accessible to all readers. Jenks said this approach has been a "modest success."

"We wanted to create an encouragement for anyone who might want to give a small amount of money to have occasion to do that," he said.

Print-on-demand copies of the magazine are another revenue source, though smaller. Much of Narrative's content is downloadable as PDFs, and until recently, every issue could be ordered in a fully designed print format. The demand for the print-on-demand edition is diminishing, however, and so now just one issue a year will be available in this format, according to Jenks. The magazine has found new opportunities, though, through mobile apps.

Making Literature Mobile

Narrative currently offers free apps for the iPhone and iPad that offer access to most of the magazine's web content, and they might develop an Android app as well. The magazine was also one of the first literary publications available on the Amazon Kindle, currently selling at $3.49 an issue. Jenks said the apps bring in about 30 new readers per day, and though the Kindle audience is not as large and is not growing quickly, he says it is "meaningful to the writers to be there."

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Narrative's effort to keep up with changing technology is partly designed to help writers transition into the digital era.

"It will probably be a decade or so before there's a clearly recognized model for literary publishing the way there used to be. Conventional publishers in New York are just now catching on to things," Jenks said. "In the meantime, there's a whole lot of anxiety and despair, especially among writers."

For Narrative, another major reason for making its content digital and mobile is to attract new readers at a time when there seems to be diminishing interest in reading literature.

"We wanted to attract younger readers who might not otherwise be catching on to literary work," Jenks said. "We wanted to create something -- without diluting what we think of as quality -- that would have the potential to attract readers who might be interested if we could just get them to see it."

The magazine is also exploring possibilities for reaching out into schools to get students more involved with literature. When younger readers get excited about reading literature electronically, Narrative will be ready for them.

Susan Currie Sivek, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Mass Communication and Journalism Department at California State University, Fresno. Her research focuses on magazines and media communities. She also blogs at sivekmedia.com, and is the magazine correspondent for MediaShift.

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September 01 2010

12:44

Total Film launches iPhone app with social media and location-based services

Total Film magazine has launched an iPhone app today, providing users with new location based and social media sharing services.

The app, which costs £1.79, features latest news, reviews and trailers from the magazine’s website alongside content exclusive to the app such as location-based cinema listings, show times and directions. The app will also allow users to share content via email, Facebook and Twitter.

The app launch follows a complete redesign of the print magazine earlier this year.

Nial Ferguson, publishing director for Future’s Entertainment and Tech Lifestyle portfolios, said: “Having listened closely to our readers, we have developed the most complete app available to UK movie fans, as we ensure Total Film appeals to committed enthusiasts, across all brand platforms.”Similar Posts:



August 31 2010

14:00

Boston.com launches a real estate-focused iPhone app

Yesterday, Boston.com, the website of the Boston Globe, announced the launch of its real estate-focused iPhone app. The new (and free) tool, per its iTunes description page, will allow users to:

• Browse complete listings from across Massachusetts, all of New England and Florida, including photos and floor plans.
• Search for properties by city or town, or use the built-in GPS feature to find homes for sale, rentals, and open houses near you.
• View those listings on a map or in a list format. Save listings you like, and create email alerts for your favorite searches.
• Upload and store your own photos and notes about any property you visit.
• Refine listings by property type, square footage, price, newly listed and more.
• Browse listings from Boston and Cambridge neighborhoods.
• Email your favorite listings to a friend.
• Contact agents quickly and easily by email or phone.

The Globe’s move into mobile real estate facilitation is of a piece with newspaper apps that Gawker might call “servicey“: tools, like The New York Times’ “Learning English” app (or, indeed, like the Times’ own real estate app), that are less about content-providing and more about…helping.

“We felt this was an extension of the real estate vertical value proposition we have for both our audience and our advertisers,” says Robert Kempf, VP/Digital for the Globe and Boston.com. The app provides a service both to users engaged in the exciting-but-often-mystifying-and-therefore-stressful process of home-buying (think Zillow, the interactive real estate platform) and to those who merely wish they were engaged in it (think Zillow, the interactive real estate porn site). Kempf highlights four main functions of the app, all of them geared toward convenience and usability: browsing listings by neighborhood, browsing listings by geolocation (“what’s near me right now?”), browsing open houses, and using an interoperable interface with Boston.com.

That last one is significant — for both users and, of course, the advertisers who love them. At the moment, Kempf told me, the Globe has about 95 percent of the area market’s real estate listings (some of which are then up-sold as premium listings). With the app, “we’re simply extending all listings, whether paid or not, onto the mobile platform. So it’s additional value for anyone who’s got a property listed on Boston.com.”

And though the paper plans to solicit sponsors for the new application, it doesn’t have one yet. Which means: “At this point, it’s additional value for our real estate advertisers,” Kempf says. Moreover, “there’s no intention at this point to charge a premium to our real estate advertisers for inclusion on this product. That’s just part of the value proposition for them when they engage with Boston.com.”

The other part of that proposition? Eyeballs. “It’s a matter of, we deliver a digital audience,” Kempf says. “We try to be agnostic about whether we deliver that audience on the web or mobile. It’s an inclusive strategy for our advertisers.” And the audience delivered by people interested in real estate — aspirationally or, you know, actually — is, of course, a potentially lucrative one for those advertisers.

The new app also provides a relatively closed area in which the Globe can experiment with and learn about the mobile space. In general, Kempf points out, apps offer two core opportunities for news organizations: use-case-specific platforms and location-based services. In the case of a real estate app, he says, “you have a very specific use-case — real estate — and you have a great opportunity to offer location-based services.” So while “we know that adoption, generally, of location-based services has been relatively low so far,” Kempf notes (true story), “we believe that real estate is on the leading edge of that as a mass-reached utility.”

The goal? While it’s still early on — and “really early to tell what the rate of adoption is going to be here,” Kempf notes — “I would like to see us be a dominant, if not the dominant, local real estate application that’s being used in the Boston market.” The same kind of penetration that Boston.com’s real estate section has had, Kempf says, he’d like to see the new app have in the mobile space. “We think it’s a great place to start.”

August 30 2010

14:00

An iPhone app developer’s diary, and some thoughts on Android

The reaction to our new free iPhone app has been tremendously positive — if you’ve got an iPhone and haven’t downloaded it yet, I suggest you hop to. On my post announcing the app, there were a few comments I wanted to respond to. First, this one from Robin Sloan, who wants a little background on how the digital sausage got made:

I’d love to read a little mini “developer diary” about the behind-the-scenes process here — tools/frameworks you used, surprises along the way, etc. Bet it would be useful to a lot of folks working on iPhone apps at news organizations, too!

So, for those interested, here’s my tale of how the Lab iPhone app came into being — a tale I hope lots more news organizations can tell. Because if I can do it for a total cost of $624, there’s no reason more newspapers shouldn’t be on the platform.

Building with frameworks

I’m nerdier than your average journalist, and I’ve done some small, basic projects in Xcode — Apple’s development environment for Macs and iPhones/iPads — before. But there’s no way I could have built this app without the help of a framework. Frameworks are tools to abstract away layers of complication — they take a variety of common tasks and handle them for you, leaving you more time to deal with tasks specific to your app. (You may have heard of Django and Ruby on Rails, popular web frameworks for building web applications.)

The framework I used is TapLynx, which is aimed at building apps from one or more RSS feeds. It’s built by Brent Simmons, best known in the tech world as developer of the first great RSS reader for the Mac, NetNewsWire. Much of the guts of TapLynx uses the feed reading and parsing code from the iPhone version of NetNewsWire.

With RSS feeds as a base, the decisions around content are both more restricted and a little easier. We produce one major RSS feed — our posts. Another one comes from our Twitter feed. So those were obvious choices as the first two tabs. In TapLynx, creating tabs is largely a matter of editing a .plist file in Xcode with some simple customizations and editing an HTML template for the display of the individual story pages. If you don’t know any HTML or CSS, you’d find the latter a challenge, but the templating language is simple enough.

Beyond that, I knew I wanted to embed some of the best publicly available feeds related to journalism, so that the app could be a concentrated shot of news-about-news. And I also wanted it to be a tool that would also promote some of our friends here around Harvard. So I added a tab that would pull in some of those feeds called Friends of the Lab. That created some new challenges, since some of the feeds were malformed in a variety of ways. One didn’t present post dates correctly, so I ended up removing dates from the presentation of all feeds in the tab. (TapLynx, unfortunately, won’t let you customize presentation for different feeds in the same tab.) I also had to build in a few template-file CSS hacks for feeds that presented images incorrectly.

Shoehorning Hourly Press in

The most challenging tab (and the one that still needs some work) is the Hot Links tab. (The name is a slight nod to my Cajun heritage.) It uses Hourly Press, the great web service built by Steve Farrell and Lyn Headley, to pull in the most linked-to links in the future-of-news Twitterverse. For THP we define a set of “authorities” (see ours here) on Twitter; the people they follow end up having more weight in the system than people they don’t. Once an hour, everyone’s tweets are scanned for links, weighted according to how much authority the system gives them, and then output in a top-10 list. It’s perfect for those moments where you want a quick jolt of the biggest news of the moment, but curated within our particular field of interest.

Because TapLynx is optimized for RSS feeds, it’s a challenge to deal with HTML, which is THP’s output. I asked the THP guys to build an iPhone version of the rankings, formatted for the smaller screen and big fingers. But TapLynx works better with static HTML than with live web pages. So I ended up having to use a plugin called OOZWebView, built by Roberto Brega and expanded by Walter Tyree. It allows for some very basic web access in a tab. I even made a few changes to the code to allow user resizing of text in webpages — the only real Objective-C I wrote. It’s not perfect — refresh behavior is unreliable, particularly in iOS4 with state saving, and the UX looks as hacky as it is. But it was the best way available. (Any Objective-C coders want to help make it better? Lemme know.)

Lagniappe

Beyond that, the search tab just uses WordPress little-known search RSS feed to dive into our archives on command. There was a fair amount of Photoshop work to create transparent PNGs at precisely the right size (and again at twice that size, to look good on the better Retina Display of the iPhone 4). I built a few of the tab icons myself as greyscale PNGs with transparent alpha channels; others I took from the Glyphish collection of icons, including the Retina icons just released via Kickstarter. For the static About page and the Twitter template, I ended up using data URIs to embed our icon into the HTML itself — that prevented a weird resizing when the image was loaded after the rest of the page. And I, like many app developers, had to navigate the new waters of Twitter’s xAuth system (newly mandatory as of a few weeks ago) to allow tweeting from within the app.

All this is to say that the process was more complicated and self-directed than most people would be able to manage — but easy enough that any shop that has a Mac and a few nerds could pull it off. There’s nothing impossibly hard here. From my viewpoint, I don’t understand why more news organizations don’t use frameworks to build out apps quickly and easily. Even if the ad revenue from a mobile app isn’t astounding, it’s still better than nothing — and it’s a foot in the door for increasingly mobile news consumers.

The upfront costs of development were minimal. I paid $500 for a license to TapLynx (it currently goes for $599). It was $99 to get into Apple’s iPhone developer program and $25 for the Retina Glyphish icons. Total cost: $624. And a fair amount of my time, to be honest.

One constant throughout the process was that there were factors outside my control. Our app would have launched sooner if Apple hadn’t made the move to iOS 4, which necessitated waiting for a new TapLynx library to work with it. It would have launched sooner if the impending Twitter xAuth switchover hadn’t made me wait. It would have launched sooner if I wasn’t relying on the generous work of guys like Roberto and Walter to made one of my tabs function. And, frankly, it would have launched sooner if I wasn’t doing all this work on evenings and weekends around my other duties — or if I’d been happy with something closer to the TapLynx defaults in a number of cases.

Now comes the challenge of keeping the thing up-to-date and functional. They say a band has a lifetime to write its first album and six months to write its second; I feel the same thing is true for version 1.0 and version 1.01. I’ve already got a list of improvements and fixes ready to move on. I’d love to hear any suggestions on how to make it better.

On Android, BlackBerry, WebOS, Windows Phone, Symbian, et al.

Back to my original post. Another thread of comments — on the post and on Twitter — were from people upset there’s only an iPhone app. “Nothing for Android, huh?” one commenter wrote. “Seems shortsighted.” Others on Twitter called out for a BlackBerry app, or an iPad-specific app. (I didn’t see any calls for Windows Mobile/Phone, Symbian, or WebOS.) There are a few reasons why we’re just on the iPhone right now.

We’re tiny. The Nieman Journalism Lab is currently three people in a basement. (Two iPhones and one BlackBerry, if you’re counting.) Along with being director, I’m also house nerd. Our budget doesn’t allow for big investments in technology, which is why I ended up building the iPhone app as a personal side project. I’ve been a Mac guy since the early 1990s and an iPhone guy since 2007, so my own personal interests and knowledge base are going to play a role in what I develop in my spare time.

Our mobile audience is overwhelmingly on Apple devices. Here’s data from the past 30 days, as of August 24, 2010: 84 percent Apple (45 percent iPhone, 35 percent iPad, 4 percent iPod touch); 10 percent Android; 5 percent BlackBerry; 0.3 percent Symbian; 0.2 percent Windows Mobile.

(If you’re curious about the overall numbers for desktop and mobile combined, our readers are about 54 percent Windows, 34 percent Mac, 4 percent iPhone, 3 percent iPad, 3 percent Linux, 1 percent Android, 0.5 percent BlackBerry.)

If, as some predict, Android sweeps aside the iPhone and becomes the dominant platform on mobile, then maybe we’ll build one. But for now, we’re just putting our limited resources where we think they can have the most impact.

We need the tools. As I said above, if there wasn’t a framework like TapLynx to make the process easier, we wouldn’t even have an iPhone app. Google’s new App Inventor would seem to be a move in that direction, but the initial reviews I’ve read don’t make it seem particularly user-friendly. (And this TechCrunch piece indicates “there isn’t any RSS functionality baked in” App Inventor, which would limit its usefulness for our app.)

That said, I don’t pretend to be up to date on the latest state of Android development frameworks — or their equivalents on other platforms. If someone out there is interested in volunteering to help build an Android (or WebOS, or BlackBerry, or Windows Phone, or Symbian) version, I’d love to hear from you. We’ve got no animus against other platforms; we just don’t yet see an audience big enough to justify our scant resources.

August 24 2010

14:30

Download the new Nieman Journalism Lab iPhone app

Every day, there are 16 gazillion news articles about the future of journalism, 27.5 flabillion blog posts, and 294 quinzillion tweets. (These are all estimates.) There’s a lot of great stuff in there, but just keeping up to date — tracking it all — takes up way too much time for most people. Man can not live in TweetDeck alone! Tools for sifting through those mounds of information get better every day, but it’s easier than ever to fall behind.

In response, we’ve built the Nieman Journalism Lab iPhone app. We think it’s pretty great. It’s free, and it’s available now in the App Store, for iPhones and iPod touches. (It’ll also work on the iPad, although it’s not yet a native iPad app.)

You can use it as you like, of course, but the use case I’m imagining for it is when you’re standing in line at the grocery store, sitting on a train, or otherwise in a situation where you could squeeze in two minutes to catch up on what’s going on. There’s much more about the app here, but fundamentally, it offers a few different snapshots onto the future-of-news world:

— It features all our own stories, in full text and with videos that play on the Flash-less iPhone.

— It pulls in our very popular Twitter feed, where our staff hand-curates the best links about the future of journalism, every weekday.

— It uses the web app Hourly Press to analyze the most influential corners of the future-of-news Twitterverse to see what they’re talking about; once an hour, you get an updated list of the most buzzed-about links from some of Twitter’s most interesting people.

— It gives you searchable access to our entire archive of stories.

— It pulls in the most recent work from some of the best sources of journalism news on the web — from Romenesko to CJR to Mashable to paidContent to The New York Times. Not to mention our sister publications, Nieman Storyboard, Nieman Watchdog, and Nieman Reports.

All of that in a few taps. Let us know if you have any thoughts on how to make it better; we hope you download it, give it a try, and find it useful.

August 20 2010

09:36

paidContent: Hearst Magazines launches ‘App Lab’ in New York

Hearst Magazines is launching an “App Lab” at its New York offices, which, according to paidContent, will act as an an incubator space for the company’s marketers and ad agency workers before being opened up to customers to promote Hearst’s iPhone, iPad and tablet products.

The publisher offers 22 apps so far and has all of its magazines available as digital replicas through the e-edition service Zinio says the report.

Full post on paidContent.org at this link…Similar Posts:



August 13 2010

15:05

Business Insider: NY Times app platform for publishers could charge $50,000

According to Business Insider, the New York Times latest money-making venture Press Engine could be charging clients up to $50,000 for its services.

Press Engine was launched earlier this month and will charge a one-off licensing fee and monthly maintenance charge to clients, who will use the system to develop iPhone and iPad applications using technology and templates developed by the Times.

Full story on Business Insider at this link…Similar Posts:



August 05 2010

12:17

CNET now has its very own iPhone app

CNET says it’s taking a break from talking about other news organisaton iPhone apps for a moment -  to celebrate the launch of its own.

The site blogged about the new app following its launch on the App Store on Tuesday.

The app makes it easy to hop to different topics of interest, just like you’d get on the full-size version of CNET News. To do so, you can just swipe your finger across the top of the screen and select the category you like, be it Webware, Crave, Microsoft, or CNET’s Green Tech blog.

See the full post here…Similar Posts:



June 30 2010

08:56

weijiblog: What it takes to build a magazine iPhone app

Tom Hulme, a design director at IDEO who helped create and launch the CelebAround iPhone application, explains the process and planning that went into the app.

This is a great post, because it considers the process as a whole: from researching the app market to pricing models and Apple’s role in the proceedings.

I can’t help thinking that Apple will have to open up and that the store is going to be used more and more as free distribution.  In the future relatively few app’s will be paid for, and those that are will often use the emerging subscription model so that they can offer trials for free (lowering the barrier to adoption).  Media and gaming companies are already using apps as wrappers for their existing content and offering additional features – they will give away apps and then monetise the content subsequently.  Apps are likely to be portals in the future.

Full post on weijiblog at this link…Similar Posts:



June 14 2010

12:49

Regional news apps: what have you seen?

We’re a little late to this story about the Rotherham Advertiser’s new iPhone app for births, marriages and deaths, but thought it would be a good opportunity to call out for other examples of imaginative product development at regional level.

Online editors and journalists please share with us what you’ve got. How are you developing your mobile offering? Are the old sections and traditions translating well to mobile and online innovation? And regional site users, please tell us what you’ve seen. Or what ideas have you got for local publishers? Leave a comment below, or tweet @journalismnews.

The detail on the Advertiser’s app:

Get the latest Births, Marriages and Deaths from the Rotherham Advertiser direct from your iPhone! You can search all of the announcements from the last 2 months and keep them in your favourites. Once you’ve found someone you know you can leave a comment or upload photos straight from your phone camera. You can also share the announcement with your friends through e-mail, facebook and twitter.

Similar Posts:



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.

May 25 2010

19:30

Engaging with journos: At GigaOM, there’s an app for that

Have you ever tried to get in touch with an online journalist, only to wander her employer’s labyrinthine maze of non-linked bylines and PR department messages and institutional contact forms? Have you ever, desperate but not optimistic, actually written a message into one of those contact forms, only to have it languish, unanswered, in what you can only assume is the cyber-equivalent of the Lost island’s Orchid station? Have you ever found yourself thinking, “This is not how things should be done”?

If so, you will probably love GigaOM’s new iPhone app. The app — a free one — has the comprehensiveness of the most effective media apps: As GigaOm founder Om Malik put it in announcing its App Store availability, the platform features “a unified experience of all our various properties — from our blogs to our paid subscription service to our events to our real-time Twitter feed.” One key difference, though: The app also offers a direct communications channel to GigaOM’s writers. Swipe to the final screen of the app, and you’ll be greeted with a list of those writers; tap on a name, and you’ll be led to the author’s iPhone-abbreviated bio — complete with a photo and an “Ask the Author” button.

Tap the button, and you’ll be sent to an email interface pre-populated with the author’s (direct! non-institutionally-mediated! hallelujah!) email address.

The direct-communication-with-authors approach is standard at GigaOM: “There should be no friction when it comes to our readers getting in touch with us,” Malik told me. “That was the premise of starting my company, and that’s the premise I hold true today. We are who we are because of our readers, and they should have the ability to get in touch with us whenever they want.”

The new app facilitates that ability. The communications interface is built into the user experience even more explicitly and directly than it is on the website proper: swipe, click, email, done.

But, then: Don’t the writers get overwhelmed by messages? Well, “some days it gets to be too much,” Malik acknowledges. “But people understand that you won’t respond right away.” Besides: While, overall, “yes, it’s going to take time — and, yes, it takes you away from your writing or reporting or whatever you’re doing,” Malik says, “customer service is a part of any business. And journalism is no different.” Communicating with users, both in taking direct feedback and giving it back, “is just good business practice.”

While the direct-email approach isn’t immediately feasible for bigger outlets with broader editorial interests (imagine if the New York Times’s app offered a direct communications channel to Maureen Dowd!), the overall, connection-is-key attitude is ripe for emulation. As much as we love to talk about “engagement” and “connection” and all the rest, the talking-to-journalists aspect of our press’s new approach to its old public mandate hasn’t, for the most part, caught up with all the 2.0 rhetoric. Easy, direct communications with reporters suggests the engagement side of news’s new frontier. And while, sure, GigaOM isn’t the New York Times, in size or attitude or mission, its emphasis on connection suggests the way we’re all heading: Toward a more direct, and open, dialogue between journalists and the people they serve.

And that dialogue doesn’t just benefit readers; the value, as in any true conversation, goes both ways. “I have learned so much…by being able to communicate with people on a one-on-one basis,” Malik points out. “That, really, is what’s behind this whole thing.”

May 24 2010

14:00

Consumer Reports rolling out paid content mobile strategy, taps potential users to set prices

The journalism world is still grappling with to-charge-or-not-to-charge, but it’s clear charging has the momentum — particularly on mobile devices. The New York Times is moving ahead with its January paywall plans and has put only a limited selection of stories in its iPad app. The Wall Street Journal is hunkering down with its paid-content model. The Washington Post waded in a few months ago with a 99-cent iPhone app. But the decision to charge is really two decisions: whether to charge and, if so, how much to charge.

One longstanding news outlet — Consumer Reports — made the first decision long ago and, true to its roots, keeps doing tests on the second. It accepts no advertising and is funded almost entirely by the sales of its publications and donations. Those funds support a staff of more than 600 people and runs a compound with multiple labs testing everything from cereal to toilets, plus a separate track and offroad track where it tests cars and SUVs. “‘Free’ is something we don’t like to use around here very often,” Jerry Steinbrink, its vice president of publishing, told me. Readers have to cover the cost of producing the content, and no project can operate at a loss, he said.

Strategic pricing

The magazine is strategic about setting prices, often borrowing from its own editorial practices. In determining how to charge for its new mobile website, for example, it ran tests with potential users. The magazine is in the process of testing out pricing plans for its “next-generation” iPhone app, which is still in development. (Their current app provides only limited access to CR content.) One group of app testers will be asked how much they’d pay for the tool; another group will be asked to react to some suggested prices.

“Because we are Consumer Reports, we test everything,” Steinbrink told me. “We depend a lot on focus groups. We’re trying to determine, with user input, what an acceptable price point would be.” Steinbrink wasn’t prepared to give a likely figure for the Consumer Reports iPhone app, but considering its functionality — it allows you to take a picture of any barcode, which will pull up all data Consumer Reports has on the product — and CR’s business model, don’t expect it to be a run-of-the-mill 99-cent app. Steinbrink thinks it might require a subscription fee that is renewed a few times a year, perhaps putting it in the range of their website which costs $26 per year.

Mobile strategy

Their new mobile site, which works on any web-enabled mobile device, lets users look up product information and compare items. (The barcode feature will only be available in the app.) For now, that site costs 99 cents for a 24-hour pass, or $4.99 for a month. Subscribers to the Consumer Reports website ($26 per year) can access the mobile site for free, but magazine subscribers ($29 per year) still must pay for web access, just like non-subscribers. By mid-summer, Consumer Reports expects to eliminate the 99-cent option, and lower the monthly fee to $3.99. Subscriptions are a better model for Consumer Reports, Steinbrink said, because they offer the magazine a more predictable, consistent income.

The choice to build both a mobile site and an app was deliberate, Matthew Goldfeder, director of mobile products told me. “Mobile use is going up, and will only continue to go up,” he said, predicting that some of the “sexyness” of apps may wear off as mobile web browsing improves.

There’s also another strategy at play. Consumer Reports hopes the mobile site will get new users to subscribe to the full website, which has many more features and more information than the mobile version. Both Consumer Reports’ site and the magazine skew older; the typical site user is a white male in his early 50s. They’d like to get younger users — say, recent college graduates buying electronics — to identify with a brand they associate with their parents. When that recent grad eventually buys a first house, hopefully Consumer Reports will come to mind. The magazine wants to give users “the kind of content that goes with their life cycle,” Goldfeder told me.

From niche to news

Consumer Reports is more like some of the niche sites we’ve written about recently than a traditional American newspaper. Sites in the niches offer unique and valued information that a certain readership is willing to pay good money to read.

Duke economist Jay Hamilton divides information into four categories: producer information (info that lets you do your job better), consumer information (info that helps you make a better purchasing decision), entertainment information (fun), and civic information (info to make you a smarter voter and citizen). Hamilton says the first three categories have it relatively easy, but the fourth one will always have trouble charging. Just as The Wall Street Journal fits nicely into Category 1, Consumer Reports slides obviously into Category 2.

Still, Steinbrink said there are some lessons general news publishers could learn from Consumer Reports. Shrinking ad revenue “forces editors to look at their content and produce the kind of quality a user will actually pay for.” Just putting a paywall in front of content that used to be free might not be enough.

April 30 2010

14:30

This Week in Review: Gizmodo and the shield law, making sense of social data, and the WSJ’s local push

[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]

Apple and Gizmodo’s shield law test: The biggest tech story of the last couple of weeks has undoubtedly been the gadget blog Gizmodo’s photos of a prototype of Apple’s next iPhone that was allegedly left in a bar by an Apple employee. That story got a lot more interesting for journalism- and media-oriented folks this week, when we found out that police raided a Gizmodo blogger’s apartment based on a search warrant for theft.

What had been a leaked-gadget story turned into a case study on web journalism and the shield law. Mashable and Poynter did a fine job of laying out the facts of the case and the legal principles at stake: Was Gizmodo engaged in acts of journalism when it paid for the lost iPhone and published information about it? Social media consultant Simon Owens has a good roundup of opinions on the issue, including whether the situation would be different if Gizmodo hadn’t bought the iPhone.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group, came out most strongly against the raid, arguing to Wired and Laptop magazine and in its own post that California law is clear that the Gizmodo blogger was acting as a reporter. The Citizen Media Law Project’s Sam Bayard agreed, backing the point up with a bit more case history. Not everyone had Gizmodo’s back, though: In a piece written before the raid, media critic Jeff Bercovici of Daily Finance said that Gizmodo was guilty of straight-up theft, journalistic motives or no.

J-prof Jay Rosen added a helpful clarification to the “are bloggers journalists” debate (it’s actually about whether Gizmodo was engaged in an act of journalism, he says) and ex-Saloner Scott Rosenberg reached back to a piece he wrote five years ago to explain why that debate frustrates him so much. Meanwhile, the Columbia Journalism Review noted that the Gizmodo incident was just one in a long line of examples of Apple’s anti-press behavior.

Bridging the newsroom-academy gap: Texas j-prof Rosental Alves held his annual International Symposium on Online Journalism last weekend, and thanks to a lot of people’s work in documenting the conference, we have access to much of what was presented and discussed there. The conference site and Canadian professor Alfred Hermida devoted about 20 posts each to the event’s sessions and guests, so there’s loads of great stuff to peruse if you have time.

The conference included presentations on all kinds of stuff like Wikipedia, news site design, online comments, micropayments, and news innovation, but I want to highlight two sessions in particular. The first is the keynote by Demand Media’s Steven Kydd, who defended the company’s content and businessmodel from criticism that it’s a harmful “content farm.” Kydd described Demand Media as “service journalism,” providing content on subjects that people want to know about while giving freelancers another market. You can check summaries of his talk at the official site, Hermida’s blog, and in a live blog by Matt Thompson. The conference site also has video of the Q&A session and reflections on Kydd’s charisma and a disappointing audience reaction. The other session worth taking a closer look at was a panel on nonprofit journalism, which, judging from Hermida and the conference’s roundups, seemed especially rich with insight into particular organizations’ approaches.

The conference got Matt Thompson, a veteran of both the newsroom and the academy who’s currently working for NPR, thinking about what researchers can do to bring the two arenas closer together. “I saw a number of studies this weekend that working journalists would find fascinating and helpful,” he wrote. “Yet they’re not available in forms I’d feel comfortable sending around the newsroom.” He has some practical, doable tips that should be required reading for journalism researchers.

Making sense of social data: Most of the commentary on Facebook’s recent big announcements came out last week, but there’s still been plenty of good stuff since then. The tech blog ReadWriteWeb published the best explanation yet of what these moves mean, questioning whether publishers will be willing to give up ownership of their comments and ratings to Facebook. Writers at ReadWriteWeb and O’Reilly Radar also defended Facebook’s expansion against last week’s privacy concerns.

Three other folks did a little bit of thinking about the social effects of Facebook’s spread across the web: New media prof Jeff Jarvis said Facebook isn’t just identifying us throughout the web, it’s adding a valuable layer of data on places, things, ideas, everything. But, he cautions, that data isn’t worth much if it’s controlled by a company and the crowd isn’t able to create meaning out of it. Columbia grad student Vadim Lavrusik made the case for a “social nut graph” that gives context to this flood of data and allows people to do something more substantive than “like” things. PR blogger Paul Seaman wondered about how much people will trust Facebook with their data while knowing that they’re giving up some of their privacy rights for Facebook’s basic services. And social media researcher danah boyd had some insightful thoughts about the deeper issue of privacy in a world of “big data.”

The Wall Street Journal goes local: The Wall Street Journal made the big move in its war with The New York Times this week, launching its long-expected New York edition. The Times’ media columnist, David Carr, took a pretty thorough look at the first day’s offering and the fight in general, and Columbia j-prof Sree Sreenivasan liked what he saw from the Journal on day one.

Slate media critic Jack Shafer said the struggle between the Journal and the Times is a personal one for the Journal’s owner, Rupert Murdoch — he wants to own Manhattan, and he wants to see the Times go down in flames there. Meanwhile, Jeff Jarvis stifled a yawn, calling it “two dinosaurs fighting over a dodo bird.”

Along with its local edition, the Journal also announced a partnership with the geolocation site Foursquare that gives users news tips or factoids when they check in at certain places around New York — a bit more of a hard-news angle than Foursquare’s other news partnerships so far. Over at GigaOm, Mathew Ingram applauded the Journal’s innovation but questioned whether it would help the paper much.

Apple and app control: The fury over Pulitzer-winning cartoonist Mark Fiore’s proposed iPhone app has largely died down, but there were a few more app-censorship developments this week to note. MSNBC.com cartoonist Daryl Cagle pointed out that despite Apple’s letup in Fiore’s case, they’re not reconsidering their rejection of his “Tiger Woods cartoons” app. Political satirist Daniel Kurtzman had two of his apps rejected, too, and an app of Michael Wolff’s Newser column — which frequently mocks Apple’s Steve Jobs — was nixed as well. Asked about the iPad at the aforementioned International Symposium on Online Journalism, renowned web scholar Ethan Zuckerman said Apple’s control over apps makes him “very nervous.”

The New Yorker’s Ken Auletta also went deep into the iPad’s implications for publishers this week in a piece on the iPad, the Kindle and the book industry. You can hear him delve into those issues in interviews with Charlie Rose and Fresh Air’s Terry Gross.

Reading roundup: We had some great smaller conversations on a handful of news-related topics this week.

— Long-form journalism has been getting a lot of attention lately. Slate’s Jack Shafer wrote about longform.org, an effort to collect and link to the best narrative journalism on the web. Several journalistic heavyweights — Gay Talese, Buzz Bissinger, Bill Keller — sang the praises of narrative journalism during a Boston University conference on the subject.

Nieman Storyboard focused on Keller’s message, in which he expressed optimism that long-form journalism could thrive in the age of the web. Jason Fry agreed with Keller’s main thrust but took issue with the points he made to get there. Meanwhile, Jonathan Stray argued that “the web is more amenable to journalism of different levels of quality and completeness” and urges journalists not to cut on the web what they’re used to leaving out in print.

— FEED co-founder Steven Johnson gave a lecture at Columbia last week about the future of text, especially as it relates to tablets and e-readers. You can check it out here as an essay and here on video. Johnson criticizes the New York Times and Wall Street Journal for creating iPad apps that don’t let users manipulate text. The American Prospect’s Nancy Scola appreciates the argument, but says Johnson ignored the significant cultural impact of a closed app process.

— Two intriguing sets of ideas for news design online: Belgian designer Stijn Debrouwere has spent the last three weeks writing a thoughtful series of posts exploring a new set of principles for news design, and French media consultant Frederic Filloux argues that most news sites are an ineffective, restrictive funnel that cut users off from their most interesting content. Instead, he proposes a “serendipity test” for news sites.

— Finally, if you have 40 free minutes sometime, I highly recommend watching the Lab editor Joshua Benton’s recent lecture at Harvard’s Berkman Center on aggregation and journalism. Benton makes a compelling argument from history that all journalism is aggregation and says that if journalists don’t like the aggregation they’re seeing online, they need to do it better. It makes for a great introductory piece on journalism practices in transition on the web.

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