Skip to main content

Will HTML5 web books change the way we view the web?

4 min read

HTML5 has been touted as changing the web for a while now, but will it change the way we read books?

20 Things I Learned about Browsers and the Web

Last year Google published the HTML5 web book "20 Things I Learned about Browsers and the Web" but I largely ignored it. Why would I want to read books in my browser? I read books on my phone and iPad, but even for me reading a novel through the browser might be a step too far.

However, as much of a digital convert as I am, I had not factored in just how quickly HTML5 adoption would take place in a year. Google is really pushing the adoption of HTML5 with it's Chrome desktop browser and beginning August 1st Google Apps will only support modern browsers. This means that if you're a Gmail user, you will have to be running either the current or prior major release of Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari or you will not be able to get the most out of gmail.

This summer will see offline working arrive for Google Apps through the Chrome browser. This is powered by HTML5. You seen HTML5 is more than just a web page. While HTML5 allows designers to create beautiful pages and layouts, they can also build in more functionality (to the website) without requiring the user to download or install any additional software. The user simply requires a 'modern' browser. If you are using the web browser 'Chrome' you will always have the latest version. This is because Google wants (and needs) its users to be running the latest browsers so its users will get the best experience. They therefore built Chrome to auto update itself. The other major browsers already support HTML5 and will continue to do so.

So how will HTML5 make me read a book on my computer?HTML5-web-book-screenshot

I don't think I could actually read a novel on my desktop computer and I don't think HTML5 will change that. However, the web is evolving fast and is in more and more devices now. HTML5 will drive adoption of web services on devices such as phones and tablets. You know, that smartphone that you download all those apps for might not need apps in a year. When the iPhone launched without an App Store, Steve Jobs stated that with the mobile version of Safari users didn't need apps, they could do everything through the browser. While that was true to an extent, we the user and developers weren't quite ready for that. However, users are becoming used to sophisticated websites and are used to the 'app' experience. It will be easy to transition users to the web full time in a few years. There are already a lot of apps that are really just a webpage. At the end of the day, do you as a user care what the technology that drives the app is? No. All you and I care about is the experience and HTML5 will make that experience sweet!

Take Kindle as an example. Here is an app that let's you read books on any device, on any platform - and they all sync and work together to get you the best experience. You can bet your last pound (£) that Amazon will be one of the first companies that adopt HTML5 web books, if for no other reason than it will reduce their development costs. Instead of developing for many platforms, they develop for the web and the user just points their browser to their Amazon account. Simple.

There are lots of content based sites (like this one) that will benefit from web books. I could see newspapers adopting web books on masse just so they can replicate the 'paper' version. TV companies can produce slick sites that recreate that 'living room tv' set up.

My mum doesn't need to know about HTML5, she just needs to know that her experience of using the web will get better if she uses a modern browser and the sites she visits build their site with HTML5 in mind. So, to answer my own question, HTML5 web books will definitely change the way we view the web.

Mobile apps will not save journalism

5 min read

Last week something happened to me. I felt so compelled by the content of an article on the Belfast Telegraph website that I registered so I could comment.

The articel in question is this one: "Can Mobile Apps Save Professional Journalism?"

The short article explains the 'appification' of the Internet and the effect it is having on media companies. Users can now download music, read books and make purchases all through apps and on mobile devices.

However, at no point does the author suggest how apps themselves are going to "Save Professional Journalism", which as you recall is the headline of the article.

Strange.

Except it is not.
You see, media companies are so busy saving their industry that they fail to see that the professions that make their businesses are as strong as ever.
Is the quality of music worse now than what it was 20 years ago?
What about the quality of fiction? I read more books now than I did as a child, because I use the kindle app. Technology has made this possible and in particular the Internet.

The investiagtive quality of journalism is not in question, nor is the ability of a journalist to report the facts. Quite simply, journalism does not need to be saved.
A quick search reveals that professional journalism (we are told) is at death's door, succombing to an unsustainable business model.
The internet opens many doors and the opportunities for a journalist to create and distribute content are almost endless. The trouble, of course, is how do they monetise this content.

Naturally publishers i.e. newspapers should change their business model and charge for access to their content. Except that is a massive risk and is surely doomed to failure.

We are a generation who consume masses of content with little regard to the content owner or the creative mind behind it. We are so disloyal that if we are offered a freebie, we grab it regardless of whether we need it or not. The chances we'll come back (to the product) are even lower.
The only way you can compete is to offer truely interesting content and a service that users can rely on.

Back to apps.
I do not see apps saving anything, certainly not 'news'. You see apps are little silos of data and when you are inside a silo you cannot see what's going on around you. This is a problem for an internet user.
I accept that apps are a major force at the moment and I would suggest (on my own usage) that most iPhone or Android owners have 50 apps on their phone.
I only use about 5-10 regularly.
For apps to save 'meda' the consumer needs to be using their app regularly. The guardian app I reviewed in a previous post is a good example. However, if I was asked to continue to pay a subscription I would have to consider the potential benefits and the competition. Indeed on my Android device I have full access to the Guardian website and no longer have a need for an app.

So I've paid for the app, but on a different device (with a better browser) I no longer require the app. Do you see the potential problem in this business model?

The BBC have been given the go ahead to release mobile apps, so what wont they offer (for free) that other paid models will? Again, how do you compete with free?

To jump back to the article, I was shocked by this statement: "Apps present a business model with much greater revenue potential than a website."

Really? How So? These questions are not answered.
I want to know what the author means by an app. Is it specifically iOS apps or mobile apps in general?
Is it also desktop applications or even web applications?
Why would a company move away from the web to make apps for so many different systems, when one website can serve them all?

If we accept that an app is different to a website (it's not, they're both content delivery systems) how can any business expect to make more money from their app than their website?
Presumably by errecting a pay wall or removing content.

You can place an ad in an app. Brilliant. You can sell more advertising space on a website than you can on an app.
There is nothing that you can do on an app that you cannot do better on a website.
Ah, but maybe I'm not getting the point. The author is suggesting that mobile use will become so widespread that overall usage of mobile browsing / apps will overtake desktop browsing. I agree, it most definitely will.
However, why do I need an app to view content? I can already view websites on my mobile browser.

Web apps can save the content business by making content available to the same user across multiple browsers and devices. This choice makes the service more compelling to the user (see the kindle app as an example) and ensures the content owner drives traffic to one single source.

This traffic should be enough to generate the revenue required to keep content owners happy. But if it's not, they can always erect the wall and go the way of the Times. It's not pretty.
Can there be anything worse for a journalist than not being read?

Journalism is free

3 min read

News International have embarked on an interesting project: From June they will charge users to access The Times and Sunday Times websites a small fee to view content.

"Readers will be offered a week’s subscription for £2, or a day’s access for £1, to two new sites, www.thetimes.co.uk and www.sundaytimes.co.uk.

Rupert Murdoch has been saying for a long time that quality news and journalism should not be given away free. He's right; journalist's deserve to be paid for their work. What he's wrong about is who should pay. Does he think that because people currently pay for newspapers that people should expect to pay for online news as well? It's chalk and cheese. Two completely different products with differing user experiences and demands. When I view a story online I demand pictures, audio and / or video. I'm not interested in just a text article. This has the potential to be the premium offering the industry needs, but instead the industry thinks it needs to cover everything (in less detail) and reduce the amount of resources used on investigative journalism. The end product is neither premium nor what the user demands.

News has been undervalued for a long time; from hourly news on the radio to several dedicated 24 hour news channels consumers can access a variety of news sources for free and at their convenience. How many copies of Metro (a free paper) are handed out each morning? How many free online news sites already exist?

Print cannot compete with that.  It's yesterday's news, but news papers can compete online.  Here it's a level playing field, except they have the advantage of old media behind them.  They have resources, they have experienced journalists, they have sources, they have followers and still they want to charge for access!  If I was in charge I would be supporting my news site through dedicated advertising (it can be done just look at internet TV).  I would look to consolidate the industry - how many digital editions of the same news do we really need? I'd ask these question:
What is it that my news paper offers that would get users to pay?
Why would I the pay to access old news online?

The question News International should be asking is how we can generate revenue from our existing users? What additional services can we provide that users will pay for?

This saga will continue to run and I'm sure News International will sacrifice some of it's best known titles as it hunts for the holy grail.

What do you think, will you pay to access The Times?

The Guardian News App

2 min read

The Guardian have recently released an iPhone App [iTunes Link] priced at £2.39 and for this small free they are promising to make news available to you on your iPhone for free.  What's more, the App offers off-line viewing, something that really is worth paying for.

So how does this compare to The Guardian's mobile site?
I have to admit that I was dubious about how good this App could be, given that the mobile site worked very well and The Guardian provide most (if not all) of their stories via RSS, therefore, do we need to spend £2.39.  The short answer is YES!
The UI is pretty and uncomplicated, the product does what it's supposed i.e. serve up news and with off-line reading I can load the paper before I board a flight and read on board.

Pictured below is the home screen which is customisable:

Guardian iPhone App

By scrolling to the bottom of the home screen users are presented with photo galleries and the option to read selected columnists:

The App also provides trends and offers a screen dedicated to the most viewed news stories on The Guardian:

One interesting aspect of the App is that it offers the user the opportunity to listen to the latest Guardian podcasts, right within the App:

Sometimes you might just want to browse more sections and you can do that very easily:

Granted there is nothing really new here, everything that is provided I could have read / listened elsewhere, but isn't that the point? With this App I get it all in one place and The Guardian have made a significant statement: users are prepared to pay to access news.  The challenge for the industry is to replicate this and whether charging for the App and offfering free content there after is sustainable.  At the time of writing The Guardian App was the highest grossing application in the iTunes Store which would suggest a sizeable proportion of iPhone / iPod Touch owners have purchased the App.

I would recommend this App to anyone.

Here is the official Guardian video to promote the App:

Downsizing newspapers

2 min read

The media industry seems to be in turmoil (like a lot of industries) due to its sheer size. Let's face it, the average newspaper is massive, in terms of staff, in terms of sections/categories and in terms of archive material. To save money and maximise revenue it would seem logical to me that any company would look at ways to cut costs.
How should newspapers do this? Should they reduce the amount of staff they employ?
Some would argue they already have, and to the detriment of quality journalism, but could the paper focus its energies on specialised content? Murdoch is quick to point to the success of the Wall Street Journal, is this the key? Charge for specialised content?
I'm not convinced, I believe that any paper whether in print or especially online should be getting enough eyeballs to generate advertising revenue.  If this revenue is not enough to cover costs and generate a profit then there is something wrong.  Who are your advertisers? How much are you charging? Is this representative of the coverage you offer your advertisers? Are you choosing advertisers that meet your user base?

So many questions but I feel those inside the media industry are simply not asking them and instead are pointing their fingers at rivals.

Is it greed? Could it be that the bottom line is corrupting their judgement and forcing media companies to pursue a holy grail which doesn't exist and by the time they realise this the industry will have consolidated? Meaning less media organisations and less titles.

Where is the innovation in the sector? Any innovation seems to be coming from new entrants i.e. sophisticated blogs and those who focus on niche markets, but the traditional media outlets seem stuck in their old ways.  Some regional papers do not even publish online or only offer a very basic service.

Where will the industry go, will it downsize and specialise or will it stagnate?

More News Madness

3 min read

Following up on my previous posts here and here, News Corp have inspired at least one other media group to erect a pay wall.

Johnston Press websites will either ask users to pay £5 for a three-month subscription to read the full articles, or direct them to buy the newspapers.

Johnston is the first regional publisher in the UK to trial asking readers to pay for its online news. Source: BBC 

I can accept that regional papers have a different business model to the dailies, but at the same time it occurs to me that regional's are probably more exposed to the Internet than their national counterparts.

Reading through a local paper you will not find 'breaking news' nor will you find 'exclusive' content, but instead you read stories that are valuable to a local community.

COMMUNITY.

You will be hearing a lot more about community and specifically 'Local' as search engine giants google and Bing pursue this market with more vigour in the coming months.
Ever wonder how yell.com is doing? When was the last time you picked up a copy of the yellow pages? Exactly, local business search has moved online and into search engines.

With local people using search engines to search for local products, where is the scope for local businesses to advertise in local papers? Advertisers have always gone where the market is.

How can charging for content save a regional paper?  I don't believe it can, if anything it will alienate your existing customer base and at some point a decision needs to be made on whether you are a web publisher or a print publisher - you can't be both!

Let's take a step back.  Do regional / local papers need to be online in the first place?  Maybe not, certainly if you are a weekly publication where is the value being online? At least as a print only publication you can be more exclusive and focus entirely on your core market, thus building a new generation of readers and maximising advertising returns.

So, what of Johnston Press? I wouldn't pay a fiver a month for local content, and I'm sure some if not all of their readers will feel the same.  By erecting a pay wall around local content all you are doing is driving your readers to visit your competitors, who will be smaller and more targeted and who may well offer a more informative local news and entertainment service.

Did I mention they were free to use?

Why would you stop Google indexing your news website?

3 min read

Rupert Murdoch is quoted on the BBC News site today stating that search engines that index "news" are essentially stealing the right to reproduce that content within their own search results.

"There's a doctrine called 'fair use', which we believe to be challenged in the courts and would bar it altogether,"

Is this someone who has fundamentally lost all grasp on reality? Has he, or none of his senior executives ever used the Internet?  I ask these flippant questions on the basis that the majority of Internet users use a search engine when looking for something, may that be clothes, electronics or news!  If News Corp go down the route of blocking search engines from accessing their site, that will mean less people read stories published on News Corp sites.  Less page views means less revenue, but Murdoch has a plan for that.

Murdoch's News Corp are already working on a model that will charge their users to access content within their websites by June 2010.  In fact, News Corp are working very hard:

"No. We are working very, very hard at this but I wouldn't promise that we're going to meet that date.

I understand that a business needs to generate revenue to survive, I really do, but I don't think News Corp (or Murdoch for that matter) understand that very few people will pay to access this type of content online.  The exact business model is unknown, but it has been suggested that there could be a tiered approach with premium content made available to those paying a higher monthly fee, while micro-payments could be applied to those looking to read a single story.

In the UK we have the BBC paid for by the licence fee i.e. it is essentially free to use.  The BBC News website already competes head to head with every news / media organisation out there, therefore if you introduce a subscription model who are your competitors and what will they charge?  As a user I already spend more time on the BBC News site than any other, introducing a pay wall only restricts my access to your site and it certainly does not encourage me to pay to read content that I can get elsewhere for free.

Quoted on Fox News, Murdoch goes on to say:

"There's not enough advertising in the world to make all the Websites profitable. We'd rather have fewer people coming to our Websites but paying.

This is fair enough, but if you compare it to other content industries like music and film how successful are they at this? In the UK I am not aware of any subscription model for watching films online, perhaps Love Film and iTunes can offer a similar service.  In the music business Spotify offers unlimited listening both at your desk and on your mobile for £9.99 per month with no contract.  This seems pretty good value as there are no adverts with this deal, but I wouldn't pay £9.99 per month to read news.
For News Corp to win over customers they will have to charge less than £1 a week and offer some really exclusive content and HD quality video streaming otherwise I fear their plan could backfire on them

Will you pay for content?

Why Newspapers have to adapt

2 min read

I have long been interested in the publishing industry and it is no surprise to me that media groups and distributors are falling into the same trap that the music and film business fell into some time ago, mainly their lack of business accumen and their inability to turn pageviews into revenue.

So what's the problem? Many newspaper websites already deliver more unique and niche content than their paper counterparts, so why aren't media groups turning a profit from their websites?

From asking friends and colleagues I get the impression that people are loyal to a particular paper - given the choice of which paper to buy, they regularly purchase the same title.
When asked what news they read online a slew of answers are returned.
What does this tell me? That online users are less loyal and more likely to visit a range of news sources, as well as their favoured paper.

Is there an opportunity here?

Perhaps you're news site is now going to get a broader range of readers and ultimately more page views. This then opens the door to a range of advertisers who will want to target readers based on your content.
This is actually a unique position for advertisers as they can get more accurate feedback compared to traditional media campaigns.

Newspapers should understand and accept that new technology is not the enemy but is rather the latest opportunity to grow their businesses.

How do they do this? By listening to their audience.

The editor might have ultimate control on content but it has always been the reader who has the most influence over a paper. For example, if that editor does not pander to the interests of their readship, sales of that paper would decline as no one would want to read content they're not interested in. The successful news sites are those that cater for all interests, but there is still room for niche sites.

I'll leave you with this thought:
Do you like the newspaper or do you like reading the paper? If your answer is the latter then online news is perfect for you.


nook what I can see!

2 min read

Barnes & Noble have unveiled their e-reader, "nook" which is a rival to Amazon's Kindle and Sony's Reader.

Nook enables the user to:

Download eBooks, magazines and newspapers in seconds flat
Enjoy eBooks on an incredibly readable E Ink® reading screen
Navigate your eBooks and other content on a color touchscreen
Sync your eBooks to your iPhone, iPod Touch, BlackBerry, Mac or PC
Share eBooks with friends using one of our eReader clients
Read any eBook for free in a Barnes & Noble store
Get special content and promotions in any Barnes & Noble store

The nook is feature rich, but it's the ability to digital lend between nook, iPhone, iPod touch, BlackBerry, PC, Mac which is sure to appeal to the broader market.

Another surprise is that nook is running on Android, which is another example of how flexible that operating system is becoming, and which could see nook being hacked by more sophisticated users to allow the device to morph into more of a multitasking device.

At launch, nook, will have 1.5 million books available, 500,000 of which will be free and B&N are promising that many best sellers and new releases will be priced at $9.99.

There is no word yet on when this will be available to international users and if their iPhone app is anything to go by, we may have some time to wait.

You can learn more about the nook on their website; read their blog or compare the nook to the Kindel 2.

Kindle on it’s way to the UK

2 min read

Amazon have unveiled the Kindle to the British public or should I say the "International Wireless" version is available to order from Amazon.com who will then ship it to the UK.

In the meantime:
"Your international shipment is subject to customs duties, import taxes and other fees levied by the destination country." Thus bumping the price up!

You would expect a device such as the Kindle to come with a local power adapter, but you'd be wrong:
the "Kindle ships with a U.S. power adapter and a micro-USB cable for charging your Kindle via a computer USB port."

However you can purchase in US $: "Kindle books, newspapers, and magazines are currently priced and sold in United States dollars" which makes the price of books volatile.

But all is not lost as ebooks such as "New York Times® Best Sellers and New Releases are $11.99 to $13.99 (prices include VAT), unless marked otherwise. You'll also find many books for less - over 70,000 titles are priced under $5.99" which isn't bad until you realise that other ebooks are similarly priced at other UK stores.

So why would you buy a Kindle at this stage?
The question on everyone's lips is how much of the UK ebook market will the Kindle acquire and how quickly?

I've been waiting for the iPhone App and at the time of writing there is still no word on when a UK version will be made available.

The Frankfurt Book Fair takes place later this week and more details about distribution rights will surely become known then, unless the industry is engulfed in the google books deal.