Netly: The Third Screen

Archive for the ‘paid content’ Category

I was thrilled to see that the NYT has finally grown a pair, and is charging for two of its iPhone apps. And happily, for those of us rooting for the success of paid, online content, the two apps are tearing up the Top Paid charts at Apple’s app store.

Yep, that’s right: The New York Times Mobile Reader (“The power of the New York Times in your hands,” for 99 cents,) and The New York Times Mobile News Reader (“Get the most quality news and information with you on the go,” for 99 cents) are now in the top 20, ranked at number 14 and 17 respectively. At the same time, its free NYTimes app continues to dominate the Top Free news category.

That’s so great. Readers are willing to pay for quality content after all!

But hang on a second. Unfortunately, aside from “borrowing” the Gray Lady’s content and name, neither one of those apps has anything whatsoever to do with the NYT. Entrepreneurial third parties have built the apps, which appear to do little more than scrape the newspaper’s site and display the data in a hand-dandy downloadable app.

It almost goes without saying that plenty of enterprising dudes are doing the same thing to other branded sites, ranging from NBC TV to some Time Inc. mags, to Techmeme. And while I’m sure the smaller sites are happy for the referred pageviews, I’m just as sure that this is more evidence that big publishers can’t keep up with how rapidly the world is changing.

I suppose they could claim that the piracy is too small to bother with. But they’re mistaken, in my opinion. These unofficial apps dilute their brands. They also create confusion in users’ minds (“I paid the NYT 99 cents for this crummy app. Sheesh, you’d think the Times would do a more professional job…”)

I checked with someone at Apple who said the policy is to take down infringing apps when the authorized content creator complains. The reason they don’t bar this stuff from the get go is virtually all apps are made by third parties; how are they to know what’s authorized and what’s not?

Oh well. The good news is that it’s clear that given how popular the NYT’s unofficial paid apps are, that the Times will have no trouble charging for its upcoming, rumored Apple tablet edition. Of course, neither will anyone else making a NYT app.

345154331_0d79ac2c12Peter Kafka reported yesterday that an industry-wide coalition of publishers was getting closer to reality, with News Corp. rumored to be among those banding together…

Supposedly, one main reason the idea of a coalition is attractive to publishers is it gives them pricing power. “We don’t want Amazon dictating our prices!” “Don’t let Apple do to the publishing business what iTunes did to the music business!” Etc.

If indeed that’s the impetus, it strikes me as wrongheaded. Here’s why:

There will be ENORMOUS competition on the hardware side, which is driving OEMs into the arms of the publishers. Already today—even without the rumored, pending iThing—we’ve got the iPhone and the Kindle fighting each other for market share, as Sony, iRex, Plastic Logic/Que, HP, Dell, Microsoft(?), Google/Android, Cooler, and a dozen others that I can’t think of at the moment begin to flood the channel. Every one of these players is courting the publishers because content deals are key to the success of any piece of hardware whose fortunes are linked to selling information.

While content may not be king (yet), it sure as hell isn’t a schlub anymore either.

This idea must be dawning on the publishers, who suddenly find themselves having more than a little power at the negotiating table. So tell me again: why do they need to band together?

Peter Kafka had a good piece today, as did Nat Ives at Ad Age yesterday, on industry efforts to create an open consortium among magazine and other print publishers. The idea, according to Kafka and Ives, is to create a unified storefront for content, which would help publishers maintain control of their businesses as we enter the era of the third screen.

Kafka raised a number of questions, which I’d like to bloviate about, since they strike at the heart of the future of the magazine business.

# They’ll have to convince consumers that already have billing relationships with Amazon, Apple and other vendors to sign up with yet another service.

The tension here is on the device side. If the device is cool—as in iPhone cool—we know that people will be only too happy to augment the functionality of the device with great content. And they will pay for it. They’re paying for the new CNN app. They’re paying for the People Magazine Celebrity Tracker. They’re paying for the McSweeney’s app. They’re paying for books and comic books and all kinds of things.

Getting people to pay isn’t hard if the content is worth buying. Magazine companies already have billing relationships with their customers. It should be pretty easy to extend that to new devices. And it’s not as if consumers are reluctant to set up one-button authorization accounts these days.
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iPhone PSD

For months, I’ve been hearing about CNN’s pending iPhone app. In fact, I think it’s fair to say it’s the most talked-about, not-yet-launched app in the news business. Well, now everyone can get a look because it launches today.

The reason it’s getting so much buzz: It costs $1.99.

Wait, this is the general news business? I thought everything was supposed to be free. From the press release:

“The CNN App has what we think is one of the best user experiences around, and will quickly become an essential daily news source for many iPhone and iPod touch users,” said Louis Gump, vice president of CNN Mobile. “We tailored the best of CNN specifically for them, whether they check in from the beach, the airport or the ballpark.”

The app has pretty much what you’d expect—photos, cover-flow view, written reports and of course CNN’s video feeds, as well as a raft of user-defined alerts. I bet it does well. How long before a million people download it?

Godspeed, CNN.

Daemon, by Daniel Suarez, was initially self published

Daemon, by Daniel Suarez, was initially self published

Of all the old media businesses jeopardized by the Net, publishing has been hit hardest. And of all the publishing businesses—newspapers, magazines and book publishing among them—the one I’d least like to be running right now is anything having to do with books. After all, the first real business to be launched on the Internet was Amazon, which fired a harpoon into the side of that very business. And now, Amazon is trying to finish off the job with the Kindle, which is making it even more apparent that the days of the old-line publishing houses are numbered.

This shouldn’t be surprising: Over the years, publishing houses stopped doing their jobs—acquiring, editing, marketing and promoting books. One by one, each of these functions was scaled back, and even abandoned. Soon, we will be left with authors, on the one hand, and the sites that sell their stuff on the other. Big, old publishing houses will be completely disintermediated. Doubtless, some companies might also make a business out of acquiring, editing and even marketing—see Tina Brown’s plan here.

Amazon has a platform for self-published authors, but the problem is, it’s a closed platform; if you publish here it’s only available to Kindle owners. So Sony has stepped into the breech and announced today that today it’s opening up its eBook Store, which uses the open ePub standard. That standard, needless to say, runs on all of the Sony e-readers, as well as a variety of other book-reading devices.

Chris Smythe, who directs Sony’s eBook Store in Los Angeles, told me that the site would collaborate with SmashWords and Author Solutions, which currently offer thousands of self-published books. While the author gets to set the price, Sony and the platform vendors take a cut—I’m guessing here, based on what some folks have told me—on the order of 50%. It’s still far better than the deal most authors strike at conventionally publishing houses. Then again, they tend to pay advances, and and self publishing, so far at least, has been a sucker’s bet.

But the tide is definitely starting to turn. Recent history is littered with examples of people who are doing quite well at self publishing, and one of my favorite thrillers of the past year, Daemon, was initially self published.

Sony’s Smythe said that initially, the e-book store would be publishing only new authors. By the end of the year, however, Sony hopes to offer the full, back catalogs of SmashWords and Author Solutions available, too.

ttk-feature

(Warning: This post probably only of interest to guitar players)

I use my iPhone to tune my guitar. I’ve often wished I could get guitar tabs on my iPhone, too. Now I can.

Tab Toolkit, now available at the apps store, was developed by Agile Partners, the dudes behind the Guitar Toolkit app, the top-selling guitar app.

The app uses a variety of smart hacks to make it easy to download tabs to your phone. You can either go directly to any of the popular tab sites, and download within the app via your browser. Or you can use any computer on the same wireless network as your phone, and drag multiple files into the app that way. Very clever.

Best part is you can download Power Tab and Guitar Pro files (these are the so-called “rich-media formats” that have a variety of useful functions, such as showing you finger positions while scrolling and playing cheesy midi notes.) The app comes with a number of practice tabs, too, such as arpeggios and scales. All in all, seems worth $9.99 to me.

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iPhonePreview

McSweeney’s, the literary magazine, has just launched an app that takes us one step closer to where I think the iPhone (and whatever tablet succeeds it) is headed: Creative folks using third screens as an original platform.

We hereby announce the debut of the Small Chair, a weekly sampler from all branches of the McSweeney’s family. One week you might receive a story from the upcoming Quarterly, the next week an interview from the Believer, the next a short film from a future Wholphin. Occasionally, it might be a song, an art portfolio, who knows. Early contributors will include Spike Jonze, Wells Tower, Chris Ware, and Jonathan Ames. This material will not be available online and is pretty sure to be good stuff.

(My emphasis added)

Many, many years ago, back when you were kids, I had an idea that people would use the Web, which was then still a New Thing, for original content. I worked then, as now, at Time Inc., and we had a “portal” there called Pathfinder, which was a repository for all of our magazines. The mags were mostly screen-scraped affairs, and their contents were displayed as mostly text-based web pages. I talked Walter Isaacson, who was then Pathfinder’s boss, into letting me start a tiny, experimental website, built entirely around original content. The site would be a fresh piece of reporting a day; we would cover the nascent Internet, its technology and culture. We launched it and called it the Netly News. (Trivia: You can use those old URLs to get to ThirdScreen; just type netly.com or netlynews.com.)

Three of us started working on Netly, and were very proud of it, until, around launch time, a couple of web monkeys at Wired secretly launched Suck. It blew us out of the water before we could even launch, and in many ways was a forerunner to blogs. (You can read about our exploits here.) Suck was launched by Web natives, and we (or at least me) was just a tourist, it turned out…

In any event, I for one cannot wait for the Suck of iPhone apps to launch.

In the meantime, the McSweeney’s app gets us much closer and is pretty cool on its own terms, albeit expensive ($5.99). You get new weekly content delivered to your phone for six months. (It looks like the app alerts you when new content is ready for download.) The developers clearly took a less-is-more approach, which works in a Sucklike way. I wish the book reader they used, however, used taps rather than swipes to turn pages. Whatever. It’s an exciting start and I look forward to seeing how it evolves.


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