Apple shows how to undermine its ecosystem for content apps

Earlier I wrote about how I thought it was a mistake for News Corp to invest so lavishly in The Daily, the first-ever iPad-only newspaper.

This morning, as I listened to the streaming audio of Rupert Murdoch’s official unveiling of this publication, I saw a headline that made me think Murdoch — and any content publisher or retailer — should be especially wary about depending too heavily for revenue delivered via iPhone or iPad apps. It was: Apple blocks Sony e-book app. Is Kindle next?

In a nutshell, Apple recently rejected Sony’s new e-reader app from its app store because it jumped users out of the app and into the browser to buy new e-books. This strategy skirts Apple’s considerable 30% cut of all in-app purchases, and it’s how Amazon has handled e-book sales for its popular Kindle iPhone and iPad apps since the beginning.

I did some research this, and it looks like Apple is sending some potentially destructive messages to the iOS app ecosystem they’ve worked so hard to create. So I wrote about this today in my CNN Tech mobile blog…

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AP’s iPhone App: White Elephant

White Elephant: A possession entailing great expense out of proportion to its usefulness or value to the owner. (Random House Dictionary)

Today, AP debuted its AP Stylebook iPhone app.

According to the press release. “AP Stylebook fans have been asking for a mobile application so they can have style guidance wherever they go. Journalists never know when they will need to run out the door to chase a story, so as long as they have an iPhone in their pockets when they go, the Stylebook can go with them.”

…Which indicates the strategy here: The AP Stylebook iphone app is basically an app as e-book. Which almost explains its exhorbitant price: $28.99.

Yep, that’s right: $28.99 for an iPhone app. Seriously.

Beyond displaying the text of the AP Stylebook 2009, this app adds a little extra functionality: “The 2009 AP Stylebook app features searchable listings for the main, sports, business and punctuation sections, along with the ability to add custom entries and personalized notes on AP listings. Stylebook app users are able to mark any entry as a favorite for easy access.”

…In other words, similar with what you could do with this book on a Kindle. Only AP doesn’t offer a Kindle edition of the Stylebook.

AP does offer online Stylebook subscriptions: $25/year for an individual, with cheaper bulk pricing available for organizations. Which means that the iPhone app is more costly than an online subscription. So why wouldn’t iPhone users buy an online subscription instead and access it through the mobile Safari browser?

Here’s another thing baffles me: Why sell an app that’s basically a standalone e-book? Why not offer a free app with some free content/service that also can allow paying subscribers to log in from their phone and have a mobile-optimized experience? It seems to me that AP is reinventing the wheel with this app, missing obvious opportunities to grow its Stylebook market, and positioning this product poorly through ludicrous pricing.

It gets worse… but it could get better too…

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What’s Going on with WSJ Pricing?

“You know nothing of my work!”

(Read below for CJR tie-in.)

A month ago, as I wrote earlier, I was willing to pay $10/month to subscribe to the Wall St. Journal on my Kindle. I canceled that subscription last week, after the release of the WSJ iPhone application that provides free access to all WSJ content.

The iPhone app carries ads at the bottom of the screen, but I don’t mind. I also get audio and video content from WSJ through the app, too. Meanwhile, Subscribing to WSJ.com currently costs $89 per year. ($99 per year if you want the print edition, too.) And, as I noted earlier, WSJ’s own subscription page currently doesn’t even mention subscribing via Kindle.

Apparently WSJ plans to start charging for some of its iPhone app-delivered content at some point. Wired.com reports:

“There is free, and then there is free, apparently. A Dow Jones spokeswoman wrote to Wired.com Thursday to say that the company does intend to charge for some content consumed on smartphones ‘so we have a consistent experience across multiple platforms,’ though the company is ‘still exploring its options’ and isn’t saying when that might happen. They would offer ‘both free and subscription content, so the idea is to mirror the experience on the site,’ the spokeswoman said.”

“…Eight months after it released its Blackberry app Dow is still saying that ‘Full access to subscriber content (is free) for a limited time only.’ There is a free mobile site that has a large sampling of the Journal’s content. …We’ll see if the almost certain bad will of a giveth and taketh away revenue model is worth trying to put the content genie back in the bottle.”

WSJ.com founding editor and publisher Neil Budde (who just joined Daily Me) recently exploded some common myths about WSJ.com’s pricing model — a nuanced history that often gets oversimplified.

Still, I think Printcasting founder Dan Pacheco got it right last night on Twitter: “Content pricing must be consistent across platforms. And it shows how charging for print will get more awkward day by day.”


…After I originally published the above story in Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits yesterday, Ryan Chittum of Columbia Journalism Review took what I said as an excuse to rally for WSJ to “hold the line” on charging for its content.

I found this very amusing…

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Time’s “Mine” — Custom Magazine? Hardly

Yeah, I wasn't the only person who found Time's "Mine" magazine disappointing.

Yeah, I wasn't the only person who found Time's "Mine" magazine disappointing.

I really don’t like golf — at all. So I was surprised when, this weekend, my first issue of Mine (Time Inc.’s slick glossy foray into custom magazine publishing) included selected articles from Golf magazine.

Nearly a month ago I signed up on the Mine site to receive five issues of this custom biweekly magazine. I opted to include articles from these titles: Time, InStyle, RealSimple, Food & Wine, and Money. My issue of Mine arrived with only three out of five right — instead of Money and Food & Wine, it included stories from Golf and Travel & Leisure.

I found this amusing, because I remember thinking when I filled out the subscription form for Mine how little information about my lifestyle, interests, or preferences Time was asking for. I wondered how any publisher could deliver anything approaching a custom magazine based on my address, picking five out of eight general-interest magazines, and my answers to these four questions that are nebulous bordering on ridiculous:

  1. Which do you crave more: pizza or sushi?
  2. Do you like to sing in the car?
  3. Which would you like to learn: juggling or celebrity impersonation?
  4. Who would you like to have dinner with most: Leonardo da Vinci or Socrates?

According to the Associated Press, my experience wasn’t unique…

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Avoiding Online News Biz Pitfalls with Better Skills and Tools

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer recently went online-only.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer recently went online-only.

Recently in Online Journalism Review, Dave Chase (owner and publisher of Sun Valley Online) offered a considerable amount of specific advice on running the revenue (advertising) side of an online-only news operation — with an eye toward what might help the Seattle Post-Intelligencer succeed in this field.

Even if your feet are firmly planted on the editorial side of the traditional newsroom/advertising firewall, this is context that everyone in the news business should know. Updated journalistic skills and newsroom tools (especially your content management system) might better support online ad sales…

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News on the Kindle 2: Some Glitches, Lots of Potential

kindle at breakfast

News on a Kindle 2: Part of my balanced daily breakfast.

Last week my Kindle 2 e-reader from Amazon arrived. I swore to my brother a couple of years ago I’d never buy 1.0 of anything ever again — and I’m glad I waited. I played briefly with a friend’s first-edition Kindle last year and was intrigued. The new version has a better display, better form factor, and better usability.

This device is far from perfect, but it’s impressive. It’s pricey ($359) — but I still think even the most cash-strapped newsroom should acquire one and make it available so journalists, editors, designers, and news technologists can play with it. If you can’t or won’t buy one and you’re in the online news biz, go buy a Kindle 2 owner a beer and play with theirs for an hour or two at least.

Why? Because I seriously suspect devices like this could become game-changers for online and mobile news — perhaps surprisingly fast. That is, if online news operations start taking e-reader technology seriously and work with Amazon and other e-reader makers to improve e-reader news delivery. We still have a way to go, but I see significant’s potential.

Currently Kindle is mainly intended for reading books. But Amazon has always sold newspapers and magazines (one-offs and subscriptions) since it launched the Kindle Store. Yes, that’s right: sold. As in: revenue.

This week I bought a couple of issues of Technology Review, and I even subscribed to the San Francisco Chronicle. (Yep, subscribed. Paid for it. Me. $5.99 per month. Imagine that.) Generally, I like getting news via Kindle, but there are some glitches.

My observations so far… Continue reading