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Flipboard: a Great Way To Read News on the iPad

2 min read

Ever wonder why people make twitter lists?Is it to categorise the people they follow or to streamline the timeline?

Maybe those clever people who make twitter lists do so because they use apps like Flipboard?

Flipboard allows you to take twitter lists and read them like a magazine.

I was never one for waking up and reading with my breakfast - it just seemed too complicated, but with Flipboard I just open up the app and there's the days latest news.

flipboard-story

Not only does Flipboard display twitter lists, but you can sync with google reader allowing you to catch up with all your favourite RSS feeds, all while enjoying your cornflakes.

With the sharing of news articles on twitter on the rise, this app and others like it can really change how we consume news.

Users have since the dawn of RSS been able to consume many websites from within one application, but this has always been the domain of the geek and RSS has never gained mainstream traction. What makes Flipboard a useful app for me is the ability to read all my favourite sites from within an attractive UI.

Flipboard is available in Apple's App store for free.

iPad: Creator or Consumer of Content?

2 min read

Can the iPad be a consumer and a creator of content?

My iPad is not just a consumer of content it has proven time and time again to be a useful aid for creating content. For example I have installed some photo editing apps, some “office” apps and of course there is email! All of this has cost very little and has really added to the overall experience of the iPad.

If I’m honest, most of my time on the iPad is spent consuming information, either from websites, twitter or news apps and it is here that the device excels.

I have read lots of articles about how Apple’s revolutionary new tablet was going to change the publishing industry forever, but so far all I’ve seen are expensive blunders.

What can the media industry do to convince me to buy their app?

Guardian iPhone App offline options

I read The Guardian online and have purchased their iPhone app (which works on the iPad). They charge £3.99 for a 12 month subscription to their content and overall is a worthwhile purchase.  However, I still do most of my Guardian reading through RSS and their website. Why? It’s just a better experience. I will continue with the app though because it offers offline reading which is essential if you’re flying!

If I am going to buy your app, you need to offer me something that your website does not.
This is why most of the apps I have installed help me create things, whether it's a photo edit, a document or an audio recording.

As long as the iPad has an internet browser, its primary function for me will always be to consume content, but it is also really useful as a productivity tool.

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 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.


The newspaper is dead. Long live the newspaper.

4 min read

Being someone who has embraced digital content I fail to understand the love affair people have with paper.  I'm not just talking about news papers, I mean books, print outs anything that involves physical copy.  I just don't get it.  Take books for example, they're heavy, awkward to hold and are prone to damage.
Why put yourself through that experience?

Yesterday I did something I haven't done in a long time: I purchased The Sunday Times.  I don't normally read newspapers, especially Sunday papers which for some reason are huge unwieldy things.  None the less, of to the shop I trundled and struggled back with the times.  After some time sorting through the various sections, I actually started to read.  At this point I should state that I enjoy reading and have always been an avid reader, from fiction to non-fiction, to news and sport I read them all!

Which leads me on to the story which appeared in yesterdays Sunday Times: The plastic fantastic future of newspapers.  In his article, Alex Pell discusses the future of newspapers.
What intrigued me was not the e-reader or the new digital ink being discussed, but that publishers and presumably writers / journalists still do not understand digital content, the internet and where their future lies.

The article tells us how companies are competing with each other to develop a mobile newspaper of the future.  This will be kindle like, will always display the latest edition of your newspaper and will have a colour screen and great battery life.  BUT, it wont be available for a couple of years.  Let me ask you this, if you have a computer at work with access to the internet, if you a have a mobile phone with access to the internet, if you have a computer at home, then what need will you have for (what promises to be an expensive) device that will display your favourite newspaper?

Take the iphone, it is already the biggest ebook reader beating the kindle and Sony's ereader.  It is not hard to realise why, give consumers a decent screen, the ability to load their own content and a device that they will always have with them and you have a success story.

So what are publishers failing to understand?  Consumers will always demand "content" whether that be the latest news or the latest thriller from a leading novelist, but as can be seen, consumers continue to read the classics.  A quick trip over to Project Gutenberg proves this.  (What is Project Gutenberg?  An ebook site that allows users to download out of copyright books in a digital format.)
Therefore whether it be new content or existing content, consumers want it.  Surely this is a market that is just waiting to be exploited.  

Is there money to be made?  Yes is the simple answer.  Just as the music business has found out and now the movie business, consumers will purchase digital content.  The newspaper industry has for a long time failed to embrace the internet.  In the early days, their websites were not uptodate, with them preferring to maintain the newspaper position of breaking news.  Thankfully today, the internet is full of newspapers delivering their content online, but some sites require users to register, or do not provide rss feeds which make it unneccessarily difficult for users to get the content they demand.

What cannot be allowed to happen is a situation where a leading newspaper tries to get its audience to pay for online content.  That business model is dead.  There are plenty of reputable news sites that exist already that are free, therefore a digital newspaper will have to rely on advertising revenue.

The quicker publishers get their content digitised and availble to the consumer the faster they will cash in, whether it be in advertising revenue or by selling ebooks.  As more and more devices come to market that are "connected" the market for digital content will explode and therefore the future in publishing is in digital.

Time will tell which newspapers will successfully migrate their entire business onto the net, but failure to do so will ultimately ensure their demise.

the death of newspapers

3 min read

Michael Connelly has written an article detailing the publishing business' lack of respect for books. Well book reviews to be exact, but this highlights another failure in the newspaper business, that is their failure to embrace online content and to view digital media as a threat. Little odd they don't realise that the Internet can be their friend.
Publishing giants the world over are quaking due to falling paper sales and their failure to grasp the concept of doing business online. Their failure to monetise their online content early on matched with their failure to drive visitors to their sites has left them in unfamiliar territory.

There is a sense of impending doom within the industry. For every times or guardian newspaper website (both of which are excellent) there is a an independent or a newsletter site.

The bbc were quick to spot the potential of the web and backed by licence fee money they deliver what is probably the best media web site in the world. They are constantly at the fore with respect to news, sport and entertainment.
This I suppose is the problem faced by traditional print companies - how do they combat the rise of new media?

The internet is an easy way for new companies to get off the ground. It's relatively cheap, you can garner a global audience and your readers are always up to date with your latest content. This has enabled many new media companies to gain a foothold in this new market.
What traditional publishers failed to realise was that the internet would be easily accessible for most people whether at work, home or mobile. This means they have access to breaking news and all sorts of different content, a diversity that newspapers can't compete with.

All is not lost though. The newspaper industry forget that they have a loyal readership and can use their papers to promote their online business, something they are only just starting to realise. They need to go one step further and fully embrace online news and make it their priority.

Some publishers have seen the potential of ebooks and devices such as the kindle look set to see this trend continue, but newspaper don't need to be left out. Their content can be sent to mobile devices just as easily and many customers will identify those newspapers as being a legitimate source. This in itself gives them an advantage.

These traditional outlets for news have followed the same path that the music business followed, that is they have huffed and puffed, complained about digital content and in the end they have had to embrace it.

The question now is how far can the newspaper and publishing business embrace digital technology and finally move into the digital age?