Netly: The Third Screen

Archive for the ‘mysterious apple things’ Category

Digitimes has a credible-looking report that the anxiously awaited iThing won’t be available until the second half of 2010. This is not good news and the otherwise dependable Apple-beat writer Dan Frommer, is mistaken when he writes:

The only people upset by a later launch now—if it’s really true—are gadget nerds and maybe a few executives in Cupertino.

I guess by “people” he’s referring to Wall Street. But I can guarantee you that the people who run the publishing industry collectively plotzed this morning when they contemplated how the rescue ship USS Apple could be delayed yet again. And they’re floating around in the frozen Atlantic, turning an aortic shade of blue…

I am a hyperbolic guy, not to mention a purple writer, but I think it’s conservative to say that in the miserable publishing business, there is no greater hope for salvation that the iThing. With visions of giant iPhones dancing in our heads, all of us are working on prototypes of magazines and newspapers that will work on 9.7-inch, multi-touch screens linked wirelessly to stores. (See, for instance, Peter Kafka’s report yesterday on Wired Magazine’s demo.) And, while there are at least a dozen manufacturers heatedly working on their own iterations, we all await the iThing because history has shown us that Steve Jobs leads the parade. Chaos will ensue, with many idiotic and competing platforms drawing precious resources from content makers who have to try just about everything until a frontrunner emerges.

The iThing will be the inflection point and the sooner it gets here, the better for publishers.

Of course, there was a rumor over the summer that Jobs was planning to unveil the iThing in January but not ship it until June. So maybe we’re still on track? In the meantime, anyone have a cig? It’s cold in here.

iphoneSmart move by Conde Nast today: The magazine publisher of Wired, Vogue, the New Yorker and others announced it would start porting over entire magazines—not vertical slices or website apps, like other publishers have done thus far—to the iPhone. First up is the men’s mag, GQ, which Conde says will be ready to go in December, for $2.99 an issue—$2 less than the newsstand price. Nat Ives has the scoop in Ad Age, and Peter Kafka has a good take at AllThingsD.

Conde is doing a number of things right here.

1. It called bullshit on the notion that appgazines should enjoy the same crap CPMs as websites. I’ve been saying this all along, because if you stop and think about it, you’ll see that these new products ought to represent the best of both the print and online worlds. If someone subscribes to a digital magazine, and reads it—and it’s delivered on a lovely color tablet—the full-page ads ought to generate the same CPM as print. Indeed, Conde figured out that these new mags should be even more valuable since these new ad formats will also provide engagement metrics (pageview/clickthru and so on) to the whole dilly. So Conde is valuing this media as print CPM PLS online CPM.
2. It’s creating its own platform for making digital magaziness. I’m assuming reusable templates for magazine pages and something that will help advertisers hack together their own ad pages. But who knows? The point is, if this works, they have a model in place that will, one assumes, scale and encompass all its titles, and advertisers.
3. It’s preparing for the new Apple Jesus Tablet. If you think this is just about the iPhone, you haven’t been paying attention. This is aimed at Whatever It Is that Apple is rumored to be announcing in Q1. That said, I am haunted by a conversation I had a few months ago with a very senior guy at Apple. “If I thought the iPhone was all you guys were coming out with in this space, I wouldn’t be so interested,” I said. Senior Guy replied: “Then you’d be making an enormous mistake.” I read this to mean, build for the iPhone and your product will be even better on whatever Apple comes out with next. Which is what Conde is doing.

I have a few questions, though. For starters, I can’t wait to see the product since I know that simply porting over, say, the PDFs of your pages ain’t going to cut it. Unless you’re able to perform some serious mojo—extracting the text and reflowing images and so on to make everything more readable on the tiny screen—PDFs don’t work. I’d also like to learn about how much extra production will go into each issue—Conde just fired a bunch of folks. How many will it need to hire back to retrofit GQ for the small screen?

Does this mean that Conde won’t be in the much-discussed, yet-to-be-seen magazine coalition that Time Inc. is said to be organizing? Not necessarily, I guess. There’s no reason why you can’t pursue both at the same time. And clearly, Apple taking 30 percent is so much better than the alternative: Roughly 50% of the cost of making a magazine is related to printing it and distributing it. So if you could immediately convert your rate base to Apple users, and let Apple handle the transaction, you’d be rolling in clover…

And finally, if my old pal Chris Anderson, editor of Wired is out there… I’d love to hear what you think about all this. I’m wondering if the fact that Wired isn’t the guinea pig an indication of where you stand on the question of separate digital magazines… I believe you’re an unreconstructed Googleite, after all, and may believe that the best iteration of Wired on a third-screen device is, open and browser based rather than delivered by subscription. Also Chris: Links or no links?

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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500x_apple-tablet-natgeoA lot of people have been emailing me to ask about the story on Gizmodo this morning, which I feel obliged to shoot down.

Gizmodo is my favorite gadget blog and its editor, Brian Lam, is one of the best reporter/editors in Techland. But in regards to his story today, according to my sources, his sources are flat-out wrong. Apple has not been meeting with publishers to prepare them for, well, whatever it is they’re doing next.

Have people at Apple been talking to people from the NY Times? I’d be surprised if they haven’t. They always talk. Apple has excellent relationships with plenty of big media companies. But I’m told Brian incorrectly characterized the conversations that the NYT and other unnamed media have had with Apple.

In fact, I think Apple has not yet discussed the much-rumored iTablet, or whatever it is, with anyone yet—at least, not in a way that would cause a media company to act. Hell, just yesterday, in what looks like the most credible unsourced (meaning no one is speaking on the record) story yet, iLounge said Jobs hadn’t even signed off on the next device.

Of course, if indeed Apple launches something in late January, I’d be just as shocked if it didn’t have some cool app on it from the NYT or other Big Media Co. But those preparations haven’t been discussed yet.

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