Tuesday Newsday: Data News Sites

Data journalism, news apps, open government data. In this age of Anonymous, Wikileaks, and proactive sources publishing freely available data, it is becoming critical that we have journalists and developers working together to make sense of it all and understand how it affects us.

Today there are a growing number of news outlets doing a fantastic job of both publishing data and creating interactions and visualizations to make sense of it. I wanted to showcase a handful of those sites so that people can understand why this type of journalism is important and how it works. And maybe even how to get involved if it’s of interest to you.

 

DATA SET PROVIDERS:

There is no shortage of people providing data sets today, the only thing to learn is how to narrow it down to the most useful one for you.

Fingal Open Data is doing a nice job in Ireland encouraging councils to open up their data. Their site http://data.fingal.ie/ provides data in CSV, XML and KML formats, and they’re currently running a competition for people to build useful apps given the available data.

Additionally in Ireland, sites like Gavin Sheridan’s The Story and John Handelaar’s Kildare Street are excellent resources for presenting data but also learning more about the types of data available in Ireland

I mentioned The Guardian’s Data Blog in a recent post about news developer blogs as a great example of community building. But clearly it is also one of the best sources in the UK for a wide range of freely available data sets. For each set of data they post, they offer a download of the data and recommend that if you do anything with it, you post it to their Flickr group. They often have additional visualizations and comparisons as well.

Example of data provided by The Guardian Data Blog

 

There are loads of additional resources for finding data, the trick is knowing how to search for the information you need. Sites like ScraperWiki (https://scraperwiki.com/), DataSift (http://datasift.com/), The World Bank (http://data.worldbank.org/),   BuzzData (http://buzzdata.com/) and more sites are growing and becoming available to the public for research and data mining.

 

NEWS APP EXAMPLES:

It’s no coincidence that a lot of my news app examples have shown up in prior blog posts – there are some organizations who are very seriously ahead of the pack in terms of understanding how news and technology work together. On one hand I am delighted to have bright minds like these folks paving the way! On the other hand, it makes me a little depressed when I realize that Ireland is nowhere near this level of thinking.

NPR’s StateImpact (http://stateimpact.npr.org/) is a collaboration among NPR and local public radio stations in eight pilot states to examine public policy issues in depth. They provide explanatory, data-driven stories focused on how people’s lives are affected by government decisions.

NPR's StateImpact

The New York Times definitely has a well-respected team of interactive news developers and infographic designers. However it’s not always very easy to find them on their site. The Multimedia page is the best resource I’ve found for taking a look at cool interactive apps and images they create, but Small labs Inc has also put together a nice collection here: http://www.smallmeans.com/new-york-times-infographics/

NY Times Multimedia / Photos page

The Chicago Tribune has some of the busiest & best news app builders in the United States today and they are constantly kicking out new, interesting information in nice visual formats. Check out their site which has apps in many areas including community, schools, business, politics and more.

Chicago Tribune Maps & Apps

ProPublica creates not only fantastic interactive news applications like Dollars for Docs (which I referenced in my Quantified Self talk on skin problems), they also create excellent reusable tools like DocDiver that allow readers to work with the ProPublica reporters.

ProPublica Tools & Data

 

DATA JOURNALISM RESOURCES:

To learn more about data journalism, here are a few useful sites to check out and blogs to follow:

The Data Journalism Handbook: a work-in-progress coordinated by the European Journalism Centre & the Open Knowledge Foundation launched at the Mozilla Festival in London on November 5th 2011.

Data Journalism Blog: http://www.datajournalismblog.com/

Hacks/Hackers: http://hackshackers.com A grassroots journalism organization on a mission to create a network of journalists and technologists who rethink the future of news and information.

ProPublica’s Dan Nguyen’s Scraping for Journalism: A Guide for Collecting Data http://www.propublica.org/nerds/item/doc-dollars-guides-collecting-the-data – a great introduction to how to grab data that is in maybe less-than-optimal formats.

Also from Dan Nguyen, The Bastards Book of Ruby http://ruby.bastardsbook.com/ – an introduction to programming and its practical uses for journalists, researchers, scientists, analysts and anyone else who needs to make sense of data.

At the Society of News Design conference earlier this year, I went to some excellent talks by newsroom app developers who recommended that if you are thinking of going into this area, you need to know either Ruby on Rails or Django/Python, as those seem to be the dominant requested skills for news apps. I also liked this article recently on Poynter about using Backbone to create data news apps: http://www.poynter.org/how-tos/digital-strategies/147605/how-journalists-can-use-backbone-to-create-data-driven-projects/. You don’t need to know everything, just pick one and start creating projects.

 

And lastly, from the perfect timing department, here’s Matt Stiles, who is a data journalist from NPR, talking very recently about best practices in building news apps:

Data Best Practices from StateImpact on Vimeo.

Tuesday Newsday: Audio News Apps

When talking about digital news apps, we often don’t think outside the walls of written content. However radio and audio applications also deliver news, stories and entertainment to large audiences. There are excellent podcasts in almost every category and their popularity is growing constantly.Audio News Apps

Why would someone choose to listen to audio news instead of reading the same thing, especially when you can probably read faster than most speakers can deliver the same amount of information? Audio news apps are convenient, especially for the increasing number of long-haul commuters. Audio apps let you multi-task (which is arguably a good thing). Listening to a discussion on a topic may be more insightful than an article with one person’s point of view. Maybe our eyes get tired of looking at screens all day. And sometimes it’s nice to listen to well-spoken people with pleasant voices.

I fell in love with Audible a couple of years ago. They have a great selection of books and reasonably priced membership. But two things really sold me: 1) the convenience of being able to drop them onto my mp3 player and listen during commutes and travel and 2) the wonderful readers.  Reading a David Sedaris book is always entertaining. Listening to David Sedaris read you his book, while doing impressions of his sisters and his father, is like stand-up comedy. Malcolm Gladwell’s books become somehow more insightful when read by his calm and thoughtful voice.

So I have a thing for voices. Anyway, back to the apps and their popularity. Today we’ll be covering iPad audio news apps Stitcher, NPR, and RTÉ Radio News.

 

STITCHERStitcher Radio

I learned about Stitcher a while back when I first found the TechCrunch Headlines podcast (which Stitcher produces).  Stitcher is an app for streaming podcasts, radio and news to mobile devices including iPhone, Android, iPad, BlackBerry and Palm. The app has a catalogue of various podcasts and channels both on demand and live which users can subscribe to for free.

Opening Stitcher shows a nice, simple layout with some of the top news stories, popular channels and new additions on the right and basic navigation on the left.  Clicking into a podcast or channel starts it playing immediately.  Stitcher Front Page

For navigation, the user can choose between OnDemand or Live Stations. Once the user has found a podcast he likes, he can click the star icon to add it to the list of Favorites. Favorites stitches together playlists so users can simply click on Favorites and hear a stream of interesting content.Stitcher Favorites View

Individual episodes can also be bookmarked, to save or listen later. The Favorites list refreshes the podcasts every so often to make sure the episodes are the most recent ones.Stitcher Favorites View

Stitcher has done three things very, very well. First of all, they have tons of content. By region, by interest, by source, they have created a very good directory of much of the top audio content available. Next they created native apps for multiple platforms. So you can listen on many devices and get the same great experience. Lastly they have kept the interface very clean and simple. There aren’t any instruction pages here, no one needs them. The audio controls are always at the top, the navigation always on the left, and the playlist or podcast detail always on the right. Very easy-to-use.

 

NPRNPR iPad App

NPR, or National Public Radio, is a familiar enough name to most radio fans. They have built a large audience for their popular shows like Radiolab, All Things Considered, Planet Money, On The Media and many more. NPR’s programming reaches a weekly audience of 26+ million listeners, so they’re clearly creating desirable and interesting content.NPR Front Page

NPR has done a fantastic thing by creating their COPE (Create Once, Publish Everywhere) system which allows other people to build on top of them and access their content. This means that there are many different people and organizations pushing NPR’s content out for them, spreading the audio and podcasts to various devices and platforms.  They’re a very creative organization when it comes to their technology, and their iPad app, which was recently updated for iOS 5, is no exception.NPR Article View

When you launch the NPR iPad app, you have a lovely, easy-to-use interface showing you a selection of recordings and news with a radio player/navigation control section at the bottom. To move between the different channels, there is a sort-of Flud-like, horizontal scroll with thumbnails and short descriptions. For each item, you can choose to listen now or add it to your playlist.

If there are particular programs you regularly enjoy from NPR, you can find them by clicking on the “Programs” button at the bottom and search by title or topic. Clicking the heart icon adds it to your favorites on the left-hand column.NPR Catalogue

Clicking on an individual podcast starts it playing in the radio player at the bottom of the app. You can alternately add it to your playlist & queue up several podcasts. Some of the news stories have written content you can read and share, some only audio and no metadata. But the navigation controls are relatively easy to use to find the programs you want and listen live or on-demand.NPR Audio Ad

NPR has an interesting advertising model as well – they intersperse occasional audio ads in between programs or before certain programs.NPR No Geolocation

The only thing that doesn’t work outside the US is the station finder. As it uses zip code look up, it can’t find anything near you if you’re outside of the US. I’ve seen this as a problem in many US-centric apps; for a long time trying to use geolocation on The Daily would simply crash the app.

 

RTÉ RADIO PLAYERRTE Radio Player

It is difficult to find a general “audio news” app that isn’t either full of content specific to the producer (like NPR) or more of an aggregator (like Stitcher). The RTÉ Radio Player is an example of a “local news channel” app. Wherever you live, it’s possible that a local media outlet is doing something similar and providing streaming, podcast feeds or an app for you to listen live or catch up on local news.RTE Front Page

Upon opening the RTÉ Radio Player (which is landscape view only), the live radio begins playing immediately. It starts in RTÉ Radio 1 streaming the live radio station.  Underneath a small summary of the current playing program is a tabbed interface where users can select the schedule, website or podcasts. There’s currently an ad to the left which, if you click it, takes you to Safari and then immediately the App Store to download the same application again for some reason.  But maybe it’s a rotating ad and I just caught it on a bug.RTE Schedule Listing

The schedule link is a bit off-putting as it appears as though you could click on one of the programs and start listening to it, but it’s just a static listing of the programs for that channel. Clicking back from the current day takes you to next week’s programs, so there’s no way to look at the schedule from the previous day.  RTE Website View

The website tab simply embeds the RTE website into a small view. You can increase the area by clicking the up arrow icon on the right and navigate around the website, but as it’s full-sized and contains flash ads, it’s a little bit shoe-horned in. It would be much more useful if it were streamlined content or maybe a mobile device-friendly version of the site.RTE Podcast Listing

On the podcasts tab, you can select from things like most popular, most recent or recommended and you can also search. While you’re presented with only the last day or two worth of podcasts, you can search and find much older recordings if you’re looking for a specific broadcast. I did find it strange that while the podcasts on most popular and most recent seemed to play correctly, clicking on recommended podcasts didn’t always play the podcast I clicked on. I am wondering if it has to do with them being listed but not yet uploaded for that day maybe?RTE Channel Selection

To get back to live radio you can click the “Back to Live Radio” button in the top right, which turns into a “Change Station” option when you’re listening to the live radio channel. So you can select that and switch from RTÉ Radio 1 to RTÉ 2fm, RTE Choice, etc. When you change channels, the schedule and website tabs will update but the Podcasts always contain a variety from RTÉ Radio 1, RTÉ 2fm & RTÉ Raidió Na Gaeltachta.

 

SUMMARY

If you travel a lot or spend a lot of time already in front of bright screens, audio news may be a great option for you. Alternately it’s an excellent source of entertainment and education. Whether you decide to go with an aggregator or a local news outlet application depends a lot on the type of content you prefer to hear. Think about your preferences and give one of the audio news apps a shot.

 

PODCAST RECOMMENDATIONS

As a podcast enthusiast, I listen to quite a few different podcasts (mostly technology). These days I primarily use Stitcher on my iPad, but I also use Zune software (yes, still) to sync my mp3 player and listen on my desktop computer. Anything to keep me away from trying to use iTunes for podcasts, which I think is a miserable piece of software.

The 5by5 Podcast network has a few different shows I listen to regularly including:

and several others I listen to occasionally such as:

Other podcasts I like are:

And of course I have to mention Tech Radio, where I occasionally join Dusty Rhodes and Niall Kitson to talk about everything tech-related in Ireland: http://techcentral.ie/pod_casts.aspx

image.png

Tuesday Newsday: Facebook News Apps

Facebook News AppsIn the last month we’ve had some news sources trying an unconventional method of reaching new audiences: Facebook. “Go where your readers live” is the message of news applications within Facebook, and there is certainly no shortage of people who spend a significant amount of time checking in on Facebook throughout the day, whether it is to update their own account or to see what’s going on with their friends and other businesses/events they follow.  Today we’re looking at a few of these Facebook-integrated news apps, including WSJ Social by the Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post Social Reader, and The Guardian on Facebook.

 

WHY INSIDE OF FACEBOOK?

For companies who need advertising revenue and care deeply about page impressions, length-of-time-on-site and other metrics to share with their advertisers, going to an external site and creating a [free] presence there seems like an odd strategy. But there are a few things Facebook offers companies who want to build a reader on top of their platform. First of all, regarding ad revenue, all is not lost. Facebook can sell ad positions around the app just like any of their other content or pages. However any ads appearing inside the app itself are revenue for the app creators. Secondly, the sharing and social nature of Facebook allows extra, free publicity. Readers can easily share and recommend articles to their friends who may not be regular readers of the publication and may take an interest, check out the article, subscribe, etc. Basically Facebook provides a large population of actively sharing, potential readers.

And news sites need to care about where their readers are. Nielsen published a report in September showing where Americans spend their time online. While social network sites like Facebook checked in at 22.5%, reading current events and global news was a paltry 2.6% of overall Internet time.

Subscription costs and pay walls are still important revenue concepts for news sites. While all of the apps discussed below are free, it remains to be seen if they all stay that way. The WSJ Social indicates on their site that content is currently free for an undisclosed limited time, courtesy of their launch sponsor (Dell).  As all three apps have links on each article to view it on the original site, I’m not sure what happens if you do that and run into a pay wall.

 

WSJ Social on Facebook

WSJ SOCIAL

WSJ Social launched about a month ago, right before Facebook’s developer conference F8. Unlike other Facebook news apps like The Washington Post Social Reader, The WSJ Social was a Wall Street Journal-only project, not initiated or otherwise influenced by Facebook itself. The Wall Street Journal have made all content from wsj.com available on WSJ Social, which is surprising to some, considering their pay wall and subscription charges.

Clicking on the WSJ Social app takes you to a Flipboard-style grid layout of articles, showing titles, images, icons of friends who may have read the article, and comment / like counts. On the left you have a column of your “Top Editors.” Clicking on the Help & Information Center tells you that in WSJ Social, you and your friends are editors, and your top editors can be anyone you have chosen to add to your editor list, whether or not they are your Facebook friends. Clicking the plus and minus buttons adds and removes editors, respectively.

WSJ Social : Article View

The article view is quite similar to the regular web view, albeit a little less cluttered. It’s a cleaner feel, and a distinct lack of “What’s popular today” and “Most discussed articles” type of content blocks. You’ll see comments left by other Facebook users, and have the opportunity to post comments to both the article and your own Facebook feed.

 

 

 

Washington Post Social Reader on Facebook

THE WASHINGTON POST SOCIAL READER

The Washington Post Social Reader pulls its stories both from its  http://www.washingtonpost.com front page as well as its content partners including The Associated Press, Reuters, Mashable, GlobalPost, etc. Every person will see something different on the front page of the app, as the stories shown reflect a user’s profile and likes as well as stories read and liked by friends.

The top of the app is comfortable to read, showing a headline story and two other top stories. What follows are two columns of article headlines, images and short descriptions, along with the article source and timestamp. They show a small box on the right of trending stories, and on the left they show a column featuring what friends are reading or have read. This column, powered by Trove, feels redundant, because at the same time you have Facebook’s column on the far right telling you what your friends are doing with apps right at this moment.

Washington Post Social Reader : Article View

Viewing articles is a similar experience to reading articles with the WSJ Social. The article is generally a cleaner version of the one on their site and has less distractions, advertisements and unrelated content boxes. You can leave comments on the article and your own Facebook wall.

 

The Guardian on Facebook

THE GUARDIAN ON FACEBOOK

The Guardian is no stranger to new and interesting approaches to sharing their content. Their app, which has the most users of the three, is a very different style and looks more like it is actually part of Facebook, possibly due to the colours and fonts used.

The Guardian on Facebook features an activity stream like the Washington Post Social Reader, showing what your friends have read recently. It has a 3-column box showing popular content right now, and a grid below of larger images showing articles people are commenting on most recently. Underneath that is an additional grid of latest features and links to other Guardian Facebook pages.

The Guardian on Facebook : Article View

Article views are again cleaner. They show links to other stories in the same category, followed by options to comment, recommend or alternately post your comment on The Guardian’s external site.

 

SIMILAR TO MOBILE FIRST APPROACH

All three of these sites were able to reduce the amount of content shown to improve the usability of their Facebook app. Which leads me to believe they did some examining of what people are actually clicking and reading and what people value on the external sites. This is the same thing that Luke W talks about in his excellent “Mobile First” talk, this idea that if we take out all of these things that aren’t the priority and are left with something great, doesn’t that tell us something? Constraints force people to prioritize, and prioritizing your users means making a smaller set of more popular features better to use.

If you haven’t seen Luke’s presentation, you should both buy his book which just came out and take a look at his Mobile First presentation slides, specifically the section about “Constraints = Focus.”

Interestingly enough, I was able to view the apps fine from the browser on my iPad (not iPhone or Windows Phone 7  though), but none of them show up in the “Apps” view on the Facebook mobile apps for iPhone or iPad.

 

ARE PEOPLE USING THEM?

WSJ Social Users

Washington Post Social Users

The Guardian on Facebook Users

The Guardian reported their millionth Facebook app sign up over the last week and seems to be growing steadily. The Washington Post Social Reader and the WSJ Social, on the other hand, have a bit of a ways to go.

Michael Donohoe :: WP Social

Not every Facebook user is happy with the idea of sharing every article he or she reads, nor do friends necessarily want to see your detailing each story read. Privacy and tedium are both concerns here. Michael Donohoe has a great post here about what happens when your friends notice you are reading certain things.

Facebook App SettingsAs with many Facebook-related things, there are privacy controls so that users can block their friends seeing certain activities or stop an app from posting to their timeline, but they may not be incredibly obvious or easy to locate/use. It might be hours after your profile has shown that you’ve read a controversial article that you realize it was there, as it’s not always obvious what gets posted to your profile and what doesn’t. By that time, conservative colleagues will have already seen it. It depends how careful you are about locking down your Facebook profile and whether you care about others knowing what you’re reading.

 

SUMMARY

Facebook’s huge push at F8 of both their Social Graph and news apps using Facebook mean we will see more and more of these types of apps, especially from media and news companies looking for new audiences. It will be interesting to see statistics on whether the “likes” and application users convert into subscriptions and/or traffic for the sites themselves. In the meantime I’d like to ask the news sites to consider that if the apps are in fact working well, maybe it’s worth taking some of the minimized design from the apps back to their own sites to see if it makes a difference.

Newsstand on an iPad

Tuesday Newsday: The iOS5 Newsstand

Apple NewsstandWhen iOS5 features were shown earlier this year at Apple’s WWDC, Newsstand was one of the most interesting and talked about ideas. Now that iOS5 is live, it’s time to give it a test drive and see if it meets publishers’ expectations.

Apple describes Newsstand as “A custom newsstand for all your subscriptions.” Newsstand is more of a wood panel folder than an app on your device. Opening Newsstand on your device will reveal any magazine or newspaper apps you have downloaded. Alerts should tell you when new issues arrive, and a blue banner should go across issues you haven’t yet read. New covers should automatically update in the background. This hasn’t been the case for me, however, my covers only seem to update when I launch the title, prompting a new download and a cover update.Newsstand on iPad

 

UPDATED COVERS

As I mention above, my covers aren’t updating in the background by themselves (maybe it’s a first-gen iPad thing?). But there is something very nice about giving publishers the freedom to not be restricted to a square icon for their cover. Magazines and newspapers each have a very different feel for their cover pages, so I love how, for example, Once Magazine’s cover shows up in landscape mode, The New York Times looks like a NYT cover, and National Geographic has its own familiar branding.Newsstand on iPad

It feels a little weird that tapping that cover, for many magazines (not for news apps like The Daily and The New York Times), takes you not directly into the issue you just clicked, but rather into the magazine’s app where you can purchase or download more titles. I ran into a lot of crashing bugs as I was reviewing and problems where every time I opened the app I had to re-download the current issue. I’m hoping these will get sorted out soon.Inside a magazine's app

 

HOW DO I ADD NEW MAGAZINES OR NEWSPAPERS?

Newsstand in the App StoreDon’t yet have anything in your newsstand? You can get new magazines and newspapers by clicking the small “Store” button when you open the Newsstand folder, or you can visit the App Store. You can click on Categories->Newsstand or click the giant Newsstand banner on the front page to see all of your choices.  Selection isn’t amazing just yet, but it’s new so I imagine a lot of publishers are still finalizing and testing their apps. You can get the bigger, hyped apps like The Daily, The New York Times, The Guardian, Reader’s Digest and other titles. More will trickle in every week.Newsstand in the App Store

 

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

Newsstand strikes me as an odd name for this. Newsstands in airports and train stations are always bad news for my wallet. I constantly find new titles, spot an eye-catching headline and buy magazines I haven’t heard of. My iPad Newsstand, however, is a small collection of stuff I already have spent money on. There isn’t any serendipitous finding of exciting new authors or insights. It’s subtle, but this is more like my bedside table or magazine rack in my office. A newsstand, to me, is an exciting place with opportunities for discovery (and, as I mentioned, dropping lots of cash).Genius for Newsstand? Why Not?

What would be more interesting for me (and cause me to spend more money) would be if there were an element of “You liked reading The New York Times recently, why not try The Guardian for iPad?”, ala Amazon recommendations. Maybe each time I open up the Newsstand there are suggestions or notices about new titles or new issues. Right now it’s cumbersome and when I do make the effort, there just really isn’t that much I want to read.  So perhaps as new titles are added to the collection it will improve. I will wait and see. I do think they’re missing a trick by making it a good five or six clicks to find something new to buy, though.

 

SHOW ME THE NUMBERS

It’s barely a week old, so it seems a bit early to expect that Newsstand presence would make a dent in anyone’s numbers. At the same time, I mentioned there aren’t many folks there so early adopters always have an advantage of more eyeballs sooner.

Strangely enough, I notice I see barely anything in the Newsstand Store on my iPad and iPhone, maybe 20 titles max. But if I look at Newsstand on iTunes on my desktop, it lists many more titles. Perhaps there’s some admin work happening to make more things visible in the device stores soon.

Future Publishing seems to be happy with the numbers so far anyway. They launched more than 50 titles last week and have seen more than two million downloads in the four days they’ve been live.

There are plenty of app store analytics services you can use to track opens, downloads, subscriptions. I don’t know if any of these have been enhanced (or shut down) with the launch of Newsstand, so I will take a look and find out. A huge downside to publishers using the App Store is the lack of information about subscribers and customers. If Apple doesn’t assist with this problem, there will likely be more publishers going the way of the Financial Times and building web apps to maintain better relationships with their audience.

 

HOW TO GET MORE READERS

One of the toughest things for consumers reading magazines on an iPad is knowing whether they’re actually going to enjoy reading it or whether they’ll look at it once, find it awkward or unusable, and never open it again. A great editorial team also requires a great tech team to make it work. An excellent idea which many successful titles do is a free sample download so you can understand their app and content. Wired does, National Geographic does, Project does, and hopefully most news and magazine apps will move in this direction soon.Once Magazine Sample Issue

Another thing to consider is offering less choices. In a project I worked on recently, we had a lot of discussions about price points. We ended up with two options, a monthly and an annual subscription. A surprisingly high number of people opted immediately for the cheaper-in-the-long-run annual subscription. The more choices you offer the more you will confuse your customer, so pick one or two good value options and stick with them.

 

SUMMARY

The best thing about Newsstand for publishers is that it puts a reminder on the screen of every iOS device to read, subscribe, check out news and magazines. There are a lot more optimizations Apple can and should make to help publishers sell more subscriptions such as recommendations and a “genius” type of search tool in the Newsstand section of the App Store. With numbers like Future has reported, good things are in store for publishers using Newsstand.

Photo-11-10-2011-15-58-26.png

Tuesday Newsday: Digital-only News

We’ve looked at a lot of digital versions of their newspaper counterparts. Today instead we’re looking at news sources providing their content only online and not through any print formats.  I’m examining digital-only news sources The Daily, Newsy and New360.

 

The Daily Splash ScreenTHE DAILY

I was very excited for The Daily when it was announced. The first iPad-only news source, backed by Rupert Murdoch, the first Apple-endorsed app to use the new App Store subscription model – it seemed like this was going to change the way that people viewed digital news and open the door for paid subscriptions to news and magazine apps which at the time were struggling to find consumers willing to purchase digital subscriptions. And they needed paying subscribers (500,000 to be more precise): they have a large team and their own reporters/journalists so the content is original.

The Daily: Welcome Back ScreenBut the app was very heavy. The early versions crashed frequently and took a long time to download each day’s edition. There were bugs. It was slow. It crashed when it tried to detect my location (since I am outside the US). Every few days, the app would forget that I had a paid subscription & require me to sign up again, causing me to fear I was being charged multiple times. Eventually that annoyance and the focus on US news (there is still very little world news coverage except for very big stories) caused me to cancel my subscription.

The Daily: Front PageAt SND last week, I learned that The Daily has a team of 50 designers to help lay out each day’s issue by hand, 100 pages in total. And then they do it again in landscape mode. They have no automatic templates. They use Adobe tools the whole way through up until they need to put it into the CMS and then rebuild it there. To me, this whole process sounds like a nightmare. An unsustainable one at that.

The Daily: Interactive PageBut the pro of this painful process is that The Daily has absolute freedom to design however they want, something most publishers can’t do from either a financial or labour perspective. They can use things like Jamie Beck’s cinemagraphs. They can hand-code HTML5 animations and transitions when they run into CMS limitations. They have freedom to design and customize everything each day. That’s pretty amazing, and something I think a lot of publishers would appreciate, especially given that at every event I’ve been to this year, CMSs have been cited as painful and limiting software.

The Daily: Carousel View

With their creativity and design freedom, The Daily designers have experimented with many interesting ideas. They have a carousel of image pages to use for navigation, or you can use the navigation links at the bottom. They now do a brief video report for each edition describing the day’s stories. They have cool interactive features in certain articles allowing the user to play or respond to a survey or guess trivia. There’s a scroll bar at the top to move quickly around the issue and see thumbnails of stories.

The Daily Page Navigation ViewThe Daily reported last week that they have 80,000 paying subscribers. Although it’s not even 20% of what they will need to eventually break even, it’s still an impressive number, especially given that they launched only back in February. Perhaps they will streamline design to save money or perhaps the increase in iPad sales will spur further growth for them. For me, it’s an impressive design but not content I’m interested in. Plus it still crashes a lot for me.

The Daily: Article View

Someone at SND (I think Josh Clark?) that there could be room for a model where people select and pay for the news they want. If this were the case, I might opt to pay for the arts, tech and news sections. At least let me save the room on my iPad memory? After all, why force users to wait for the celebrity gossip section and sports section to download when they never intend to read those? It could be an interesting model to consider.

 

Newsy Splash ScreenNEWSY

The novel idea about Newsy is that it is video-only news. I couldn’t verify with certainty that it is the first video-only news site or app, but it’s the first one I have heard about. Newsy is multi-source and multi-platform, and it claims it is the only video news service that allows users to compare bias by highlighting nuances in reporting.

Newsy app versionsNewsy currently works on iPhone, iPad, Android, and Blackberry. Plus their website has all of their content as well.

Newsy Website Front Page

How does Newsy work? Newsy takes various reports on the same subject, from sources like MSNBC, ABC, The Huffington Post, The Daily Beast, etc., and produces short, professional video clips highlighting common and disparate views from the various channels. They provide additional context and conveniently merged video clips. Sources for each story are noted at the top of each video page.

Newsy Video ReportStories featured on Newsy come from their rotating editorial team, who research blogs, news sites, magazines, television and many other sources. They have their own technology which can record as they do their research to help them put together the whole story when they feel they have a comprehensive, bias-free view.  Viewers are invited to comment on stories and contribute as well.

Newsy iPad App Main PageNewsy is a refreshing look at world, US, political, business, tech, entertainment, science and sports news without a bias or an agenda. There are ads on their apps and website, but other than that I’m not sure what their revenue model is. They have been winning awards and getting great reviews, so I’m sure we’ll continue to see them do interesting things.

 

news360 Splash ScreenNEWS360

If The Daily is the first iPad-only news and Newsy is the first video-only news, News360 has to be the first semantic analysis news. While it sounds similar, it is actually quite different to something like Zite or News.me. It’s hard to explain without using it. news360 Account Creation

News360 takes information from your social profiles, generates what it thinks are your interests (although you have a lot of granular control over this & can edit it further), and then provides you with a giant feed of stories it thinks are interesting for you. The difference between this and something like Zite is that it collects various sources for the same story and lets you read the version you want (or all of them).

news360 Article View   news360 Original Article View

For example, if I am reading about Steve Yegge’s Google+ post, I get options to read the version from the International Business Times, The Register, Forbes.com, Wired News and 38 additional sources for this story. Whew! Also interesting is that I get the abbreviated text in a nice, easy-to-read format, but I can see the original as well by pulling up the source page below. I also get buttons for sharing the article on any of seven social networks as well as highlighting the common text for this article.

news360 Sharing OptionsThere’s some weirdness in News360. Why do I need a URL to access my stories? Why does it need permission to post to my Twitter feed? Does it actually get value from analysing my Evernote account? Does this process really “save hours of my life?”

news360 Account Options    news360 Personalize Options

But despite the long set-up time and confusing options, New360 provides a lot of news sources and a lot of articles relevant to a user’s interests. If you’re a news nut and find yourself visiting lots of sites over the course of a day and re-reading the same articles, this app may help you focus on the unique stories and then read the version that suits you (or all of them, if you need more info), ignoring a lot of duplication.

 

SUMMARY

The doom and gloom we keep hearing from the print media industry is definitely depressing. I recently went to see Page One: Inside the New York Times and found the idea that people might stop paying for investigative journalism very scary. At the same time it is wonderful to see creative minds building apps like these to try to find new models of generating revenue for news and information.  I also love that there is a focus on getting the story from several angles so as to remove bias and get the most correct version. I realize this cannot happen without either exclusive contracts or lack of pay wall, however, so that is a challenge. It will definitely be interesting to see these apps continue to grow.

StoryfulFrontPage.png

Tuesday Newsday: More Irish News Online

Last week’s look at Irish Newspaper websites and applications was a bit depressing.  So this week, I’m looking at some of the newer and more tech-friendly alternatives: TheJournal.ie and Storyful.  Neither of these news sources have alternative print formats, they are both digital-only.

 

TheJournalLogoTHEJOURNAL.IE

TheJournal.ie is an Irish news website which invites users to “shape the news agenda.”  Produced and owned by Distilled Media, TheJournal.ie has partner sites for business, sports and entertainment news as well (all linked in the top navigation bar).  While it’s been around since early 2010, TheJournal.ie is currently in public beta. This means the site is visible to the general public, although it may continue to test and trial new features so there may be glitches or new bits and pieces from time to time.

TheJournal.ie Front Page

TheJournal.ie’s front page is a modern and less formal site powered by WordPress. It is attractive and easy to navigate.  The tagged thumbnails and summaries are great and make it easy to browse headlines and stories. My only complaint is that some of the animated advertisements on the front page, like the Fine Gael one above are quite jittery and take away from the ability to pay attention to the headlines & summaries. Other advertisements I’ve seen on the site are much nicer, notably the ones produced by other Distilled Media sites like boards.ie.

Tagged Articles

The “Trending tags” link at the top of the front page (and also waaaayyyy at the bottom) shows off TheJournal.ie’s ability to do something most other Irish newspaper sites can’t/don’t: tagging articles.* Clicking one of the trending tags shows a list of articles relevant to that tag, when the article was posted, how many views & comments it has had, a brief summary and quick links to share via Facebook and Twitter.

 

Link to Mobile Site

TheJournal.ie has a mobile version of their website which can be accessed at http://m.thejournal.ie or by clicking the link at the bottom of the main page as shown above.

TheJournal.ie iPhone app main page     TheJournal.ie iPhone app article view

The mobile website is excellent and streamlined, focusing on the top main story and the most recent stories with a small downward arrow icon to allow the user to switch to one of the different online properties. As the list of articles is long, it can take a bit of scrolling to get to things like trending tags or most commented articles.  The articles themselves are fantastic, very easy to read with nice typography and images.  I tried the mobile site on both an iPhone and a Windows Phone 7 and both looked great.

    TheJournal.ie iPad app splash screen    TheJournal.ie iPad app in the App Store

As far as apps go, TheJournal hardly needs any because the mobile site works so well. However the iOS apps add a nice navigation bar at the bottom for Latest, Most Popular, Opinion, More and timely events like the Rugby World Cup.  But the best part about the iOS app, which they should definitely advertise more loudly, is the offline capability. The app allows a user to download between 30-120 articles and their images so that you can read while offline.  I tried this while in airplane mode on my flight today and it was great, the only things inaccessible are of course online videos.

TheJournal iPhone Offline Options      Reading TheJournal.ie offline

Navigation in the iOS app takes a little bit of getting used to, you can scroll through the articles and swipe or tap the sides to move to the previous or next article. The Search function is hidden in the “More” section. It might be more useful on the main navigation or if the tags are sufficient for most users, it could probably be removed.

Navigation of TheJournal.ie iPad app      Swiping between TheJournal.ie iPad app articles

 

Although TheJournal.ie is still relatively new, it boasts over 800,000 monthly visitors, 60,000 readers on the Android & iOS apps, and an additional 80,000 Facebook & 20,000 Twitter followers.  Very impressive stats for a group that has to compete with more established and familiar Irish news sources. I am confident that TheJournal.ie will continue to grow and increase its presence and influence in the Irish news space. I would definitely not be surprised if this was a model they could abstract out and license to other areas similar to Ireland where the main news sites are more old school and less adaptive.

 

Storyful LogoSTORYFUL.COM

Storyful, now a little over one year old, uses a different approach to TheJournal.ie and most other news websites by taking the perspective that there is always someone closer to the story.  Sources might be local news professionals or amateurs, but they’re often simply regular people who are in the right place at the right time.

Storyful website

Storyful has a “storybuilding tool” on their site which allows users to publish directly to the website.  Users can post to community pages and share stories with friends on Facebook and Twitter to reach an audience all around the world.  It’s a unique model which allows Storyful to share the stories it collects with news sources and major global news organizations all over the world.  Storyful Storybuilding tool

Navigating Storyful’s website is not incredibly obvious if you’re looking for a more standard style of news website. Storyful’s front page presents a few thumbnails of what’s happening now along with things like Around the World in 18 Tweets and real-time Twitter updates.  Towards the bottom it has regular spots like Curator’s Choice and Community Stories which highlight specifically chosen stories.  However if you’re looking for a story that happened yesterday or some general news headlines for European financial stories, it’s not really built for that style of navigation. You can use the search bar to search by topic, but Storyful is not “the daily newspaper.”  Storyful is latest news, worldwide news, told by courageous people affected by the story.  If you want great storytelling and fascinating insights and the most up-to-date developments, this is the place. If you want stock closing prices and the sports scores from yesterday, you’re probably better off on a more traditional news website.

Storyful main page     Storyful Article View

Storyful has a vibrant community of contributors, and their contributions are in various languages, accompanied with photos, videos, tweets and comments, often from people at the scene of unfolding breaking news.  There is no other way to feel closer to a brand new story than by watching these posts get put together and reading what develops.  I know the feeling of continually refreshing Twitter searches for breaking news like the Arab Spring events and London Riots because no news site is going to have the latest turn of events, and feeling thrown into the moment while reading quotes from people who are witnessing it happen. Reading a great Storyful item is a bit like that, but much better organized and with supporting media.

Storyful "Around the World in 18 Tweets"    Storyful Article Contributions

There is no http://m.storyful.com, and unfortunately it doesn’t adapt much for smaller screen sizes, so if you are using it on a phone you will have to do some panning and zooming.  However it looks decent on an iPad, better in landscape mode than in portrait mode, which leaves a lot of unused whitespace at the bottom.  There are definitely some optimizations Storyful could do for mobile devices and smaller screens, a responsive layout being one.  Another thing that might be useful is be a “snap-and-upload” instant story creation tool.  With Storyful’s audience being worldwide, they’ve done the right thing by avoiding mobile apps and just focusing on the website to reach the most people. Many poorer and rural areas use very barebones phones but can still access the web with them; allowing these would-be reporters to maintain access to the story building tool is key. It would also be interesting to see geolocation functionality here, something like a “Breaking news near me” type of option.

Storyful Blog

Something Storyful got right that no one else has yet in Ireland is the personal, behind-the-scenes connection from their blog at http://blog.storyful.com/. This is a great way to show upcoming developments, share what’s new and how it works if relevant, showcase insights gained from analytics and user feedback and just generally let users understand the folks behind the creation of the site a little better.  Storyful’s blog has bits and pieces about recent stories they’ve posted, but it also has some very insightful posts on how and why it works the way it does.  I look forward to seeing more Irish news sites follow their lead and be more transparent about their inner workings.

 

SUMMARY

This area is so fascinating to watch because without the baggage of an existing brand, new news sources can do some very interesting things.  Things like Facebook and Twitter integration are not mere add-ons for these sites, they’re integral to how the sites work.  Embracing new ways of communicating and sharing helps these sites to grow their audience, and in a time where ad spend is vital to survival, audience statistics will go a long way to building and keeping advertiser revenue.

Looking at Google Trends is one way to see general traffic over time, and you can see below that for 2011, traffic is decreasing slightly to bigger sites while jumping around but still slowly increasing over time for TheJournal.ie (Storyful stats were unavailable so they’re not on the chart). These are very forward-thinking organizations and I applaud their hard work and determination to break the status quo.

Google Trends screenshot for 2011

 

*Unless you’re talking about The Independent’s random highlighting of words inside articles, which is very bizarre and certainly not helpful. I was reading a food article recently which had two hyperlinks in it: path and tricky. Clicking either word took you to a page where any other articles containing the word path or tricky were listed. Why would that ever be useful? The Independent needs to lose that automatic linking, whatever it is.

Tuesday Newsday: The Irish Newspaper Edition

A few weeks ago, I did an analysis of some worldwide news source apps and websites, one of which was The Irish Times. Apparently many people had not seen The Irish Times’ iOS app and I received a lot of feedback from people on the blog, on Twitter and in person expressing disappointment and, in one instance, embarrassment, in local newspapers’ lack of tech savvy and design.

I wanted to know if The Irish Times were unique in their approach and who in the Irish newspaper scene was creating the most cutting-edge and user-friendly experiences. Today I’m looking at the other two big, daily Irish broadsheet newspapers, The Irish Independent and The Irish Examiner, and next time I’ll cover some of the newer, digital-only initiatives.

 

Irish Independent front page

THE IRISH INDEPENDENT

The Irish Independent was formed in 1905 as the direct successor to the Daily Irish Independent.  Today it is published daily by Independent News and Media (INM), an international newspaper and communications group.  Independent Digital is the digital consumer division of INM and operates websites such as Independent.ie, and Herald.ie, with Independent.ie being the flagship brand.

Looking at The Irish Independent’s website, my first thought was, “Thank goodness they have an iPad app”(this turned out not to be as big of a relief, but more on that later). There is just so much content and so many ways to read it, and the site does not adjust well for an iPad-sized device.  Trying to navigate to http://m.independent.ie gives you the following error.

Navigating to m.independent.ie

On the bottom of the front page of the main site (and you do have to scroll for a while, there is a lot of content there!) you’ll see this:

imagewhich shows you that you do have some options to view using mobile devices.  The RSS page has links to feeds for basically every category such as Personal Finance, Horse Racing, European News, etc. The Mobile page lists their various custom apps, including iPhone, Nokia, Samsung Wave (!) and iPad versions.  I looked on the Windows Phone Marketplace as well but didn’t see any official or unofficial Independent apps (WP7 developers, take note!).

Irish Independent iPad App     Irish Independent iPad App

Unfortunately, the Irish Independent is using the same software The Irish Times are using for their iPad app. I really hope this isn’t setting the precedent for Irish news experiences, that would be so sad. The silver lining is that since both of these apps use external payment systems, it’s just a matter of time before they’re kicked out of the App Store for violating Apple terms and conditions.  Whether they’ll adapt the software they use to work with Apple’s in-app subscription purchases or abandon it and try something else remains to be seen.  I do hope that the numbers tell the right story for both newspapers and they try a different, more appropriate approach for the iPad rather than deciding that “people aren’t spending money on news apps”, as that is definitely not the case.

Irish Independent iPhone Article View     Irish Independent iPhone Article View

The sad thing about the iPad app is that the iPhone app is so much better. Containing the most popular sections of The Irish Independent’s website, the iPhone app has access to breaking news, business, sport, entertainment, travel, health and others. Users can customize the menu bar with their favourite sections, and the app can be synched so that the user can read offline later.

Sign up for for Independent.ie e-mail newsletters

If you don’t have a compatible mobile device and you’re not an RSS user, The Irish Independent also offer e-mail updates and Facebook integration.  The newsletter process is maybe a bit long with four separate screens, but the e-mails are nicely formatted and contain a large amount of news content from various categories.

 

Irish Independent Digital Edition subscription page

There is such a wide variety of approaches by The Irish Independent that I have a lot of hope they’ll be the first ones in Ireland to get it right.  While the varied attempts show potentially changing priorities or investments, there is certainly no doubt that they are very willing to try anything and everything.  The picture above and below are examples of something you can find on the Independent’s website, something called the “Digital Edition.”  It’s very much like the ePaper approach, where you have the full scan of the page and you have to zoom, pinch and pan around to read any stories.  Definitely an odd take, but one way it might be useful would be if you could download it. As I have a long flight back to the US tomorrow, if I didn’t have an iPad, I might consider zipping up a paper in this format and saving it to my desktop to read the next day. 

Irish Independent Digital Edition zoomed in

I mentioned above that for me, the real value here is not downloading a zip file of large image scans of news, but in seeing the work that The Irish Independent are investing in to finding the best strategy and executing it. I have high hopes for their future digital attempts and will keep a close eye on them.

 

 

Irish Examiner front page

THE IRISH EXAMINER

The Irish Examiner is a publication of Thomas Crosbie Holdings Limited. It was formerly The Cork Examiner and then The Examiner, and it has been around since 1841 when it was founded by John Francis Maguire. I couldn’t find any information on when they started their digital presence unfortunately, the Wikipedia entry is a bit thin.

At first glance, the front page of http://irishexaminer.com looks cleaner and less cluttered than other Irish news websites.  There is a lot of white space and less “cramming” than many other front pages.  The number of advertisements at the top of the page, though, is a bit distracting.  Looking at the above image, the myhome advertisement on the right is outside of the width of the rest of the content, which makes it feel odd or misplaced, and the top NIB banner ad also feels like it’s in a frame outside of the page. The Office365 ad appears slightly more normal inside the page with the rest of the content.

Irish Examiner Navigation Menu with Digital Edition link

The Irish Examiner does not have an iPhone or iPad app, but they do use the same “Digital Edition” system that The Irish Independent are using.  Lets agree that we don’t need to cover that anymore.

Irish Examiner Digital Edition

Visiting http://m.irishexaminer.com results in a server not found error, however on their Mobile link, they mention http://m.examiner.ie which resolves to a very bare but usable page with an Irish Examiner logo at the top, three top news story links and some additional links to Breaking News, Ireland, World, Sport, etc.  Not the most beautiful page but it is easier to use than trying to look at http://www.irishexaminer.com on your phone.

Irish Examiner Mobile site article view

Irish Examiner Mobile site main page

 

I see a little in The Irish Examiner that I do in The Irish Independent: an intent to build something useful, the acceptance that news is moving online and that they need to do something about it.  But I also see some confusion, some budget constraints and some trepidation in investing too much time and money in an unsure area.

 

WHO ELSE?

Am I missing someone who is doing something really fantastic with digital news in Ireland? There are a lot of regional newspapers, so I’m going through them all, but if you have seen something great that you enjoy using or hope other news sources adopt, please leave a comment or let me know.

Tuesday Newsday: Pay walls, Freemium, Business Class – What Works?

There’s backlash against pay walls, dropping ad rates, and a serious amount of competition for viewer eyeballs.  How should online publishers navigate the world of pay walls and premium content, whether we’re talking about tablet publications or web publications? Will people pay for content? Especially given that there is so much available for free?

To investigate the different business models, today I’m looking at a few sites and apps: the Boston Globe premium site, The New York Times’ new paywall, and the blended model of The Atlantic.

 

BUSINESS CLASS NEWS: THE BOSTON GLOBE

The Boston Globe

The Boston Globe made headlines last week with their beautiful new premium news site, http://www.bostonglobe.com.  The site is free until the end of September so that people can try it out for a few weeks and enjoy the new design and features.  Their previous site, http://www.boston.com, shown below, remains in place and is free.

 

Current version of www.boston.com

What’s so exciting about the new site?  The new site appears to have been a complete overhaul, starting from scratch with no legacy.  It’s automatically customized for any device, uses a responsive design, and looks great everywhere. The design is clean and fresh and easy to use. There is no need to pinch or zoom no matter how you’re viewing it.

BostonGlobe.com on iPad   BostonGlobe.com on iPad

Additional nice touches include the ability to save stories for offline reading, additional video and photography, access to archives and back issues and a loyalty program for subscribers to get access to special events.

As a bonus, since the new Boston Globe site is in HTML5 and works in Mobile Safari, they can presumably ignore the App Store if they want and hang on to their subscriber information as well as the 30% apple cut.

  BostonGlobe.com on iPhone  BostonGlobe.com on iPhone  BostonGlobe.com on iPhone

Will this model work?  The Boston Globe already had over 6 million uniques each month on its previous site.  This is a very new site so we will have to wait and see what the numbers look like after the pay wall goes up in October.  I notice a lot of people online claiming they would be happy to pay small subscriptions for better content, fewer ads, access anywhere and other perks, so hopefully this works out and makes the extra effort of running two distinct sites worth it.

 

FREQUENT USER PAYWALL: THE NEW YORK TIMES

NYTimes.com Front Page

In March of this year, the New York Times site http://nytimes.com launched a new pay wall with a structure designed to draw a line between casual readers and avid readers of The New York Times.  Casual readers, those reading less than 20 articles per month, have free access to the articles.  Once a reader has crossed the threshold of 20 articles, he or she is asked to pay between $15 & $35 per month depending on the access requested (browser only, iPad app, etc.) as shown in the table below.

Digital Subscription Pricing for nytimes.com

Large business papers like The Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal have been charging for their content for a while now, but The New York Times has been offering free content, with occasional experiments in access restriction like requiring users to log in.  In January of this year, http://www.nytimes.com reported over 48 million unique visitors.  Once the pay wall went up in March, visits to http://www.nytimes.com were said to have dropped as much as 15 per cent almost immediately.

              NY Times on iPad

Many print+online newspapers are getting to the point where they realize they need to do something to monetize their online presence, especially given that print subscriptions are dropping.  But people get scared when they hear about reader drop-off from pay walls. 

“Oh no!” they shriek. “If everyone leaves, our advertisers will see the numbers and leave or demand lower ad rates!”

It seems like a big problem.

The New York Times thought about this a lot. They give all print subscribers free all access subscriptions.  Here are people who already like your content; if they’re not already reading it online why not let them for free, as it may add more regular website visitors.  For new digital subscribers, they have three different plans to suit various use cases, with a very heavily discounted starting rate of 99 cents.

NY Times in Mobile Safari on iPhone    NY Times in iPhone App

Right, right, back to the reader drop off.  If you were never making any money from any visitors (only advertisers), certainly any subscriber paying you should increase your revenue, provided the numbers don’t drop so severely that you lose all the advertisers.  This is why the casual free access is critical, it keeps the visitor number relatively high.  There’s a balance to how much drop-off the site can sustain while gaining revenues from paying customers.  In May, a Citi analyst predicted that if the NY Times lost 20% of its visitors, it would need around 107k subscribers to break even.

107k subscribers is definitely a large number.  But is it unreasonable? In April they reported over 100,000 new digital subscribers and by August over 400,000.  Without exact visitor and advertiser revenue numbers it’s hard to say whether that equals success or not, but it sounds promising. 

It reminds me a lot of a blog post Marco Arment wrote earlier this year (and also discussed on his excellent podcast with Dan Benjamin, Build and Analyze) where he discussed the economics of removing the free version of Instapaper.  He mentions bad conversion rates, low demand, undesirable customers, and other pieces that contribute to why free apps might not make sense, both economically and psychologically in terms of dealing with people who take free things for granted.

NY Times in Mobile Safari on iPad

Will this model work?  The New York Times has done its homework in designing and implementing this pay wall.  It’s not overly restrictive, yet it’s already working in growing subscriptions.  Perhaps this model works best here as The New York Times already had a huge audience, but smaller, local US newspapers like The Augusta Chronicle are also trying this out.  A report from the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri revealed earlier this summer that 46% of newspapers with circulation of under 25,000 said they are already charging for at least some online content.  Of the newspapers that currently don’t charge, only 15% said they have no plans for a pay model.  Get ready.

 

BLENDING FREE AND PAID: THE ATLANTIC

                    The Atlantic app on iPad

I have blogged previously about the nice job The Atlantic did with their combination free-and-paid content app. Their free, universal iOS app includes their great website content from both http://theatlantic.com and http://www.theatlanticwire.com. But it also includes a magazine section which allows print magazine subscribers to access the same content for free and non-print subscribers to either purchase a digital subscription or buy individual issues via in-app purchase.

This is a nice blend as it allows the casual reader of The Atlantic to purchase occasional issues, such as the annual Fiction issue, while also giving free access to existing readers.  The annual digital subscription is slightly discounted at $21.99 (print subscriptions cost $24.95 or more for outside the US) and looking at their page in the App Store shows that the annual subscription is their top-selling in-app purchase, which is a good sign that people are paying for it.

Atlantic Magazine article on iPad    Atlantic web article in iPad app

Will this model work?  I mentioned in my previous blog post that while I think their magazine reading experience is decent, I think they may suffer a bit from people reluctant to spend money just to try out the magazine.  Offering one free magazine download to app users might increase the number of people willing to purchase occasional issues or full subscriptions.  While The Atlantic already has a large subscriber base, this model would also work for publications with smaller audiences who need to build their subscribers.  It works because it allows easy access to content in a well-designed manner, and then also has something to offer the individual who is enjoying the content & still wants more.

 

WHAT SHOULD I DO?

Perhaps one of the above models will work for your publication. Perhaps not. If you’re scared of reader dropout with a pay wall, remember that even high traffic sites like http://theonion.com are conscious of this and testing it out as an experiment.  Now is the time for trying disruptive and experimental models because no one has found the one right way to ensure publishers make their content available in the best manner for their audience.  Not everyone can fund their site based on advertising alone, so it’s time to be creative.

Here are some other random ideas:
– What about not charging your top influentials? People that share X articles per month get free access.  Or people who comment on >X articles per month get free access.
– Instead of charging for “subscriptions”, charge a “membership fee” like some top reporting sites do.
– Give away whatever the current content (this week’s paper, this month’s magazine) is but charge for access to archives.
– Give away content for free on the site but charge for the convenience of the mobile app.
Coupon codes: Let your contributors give away coupon codes to their family and friends for free access forever or for a limited time.  Do the same with influential users so they can share more easily.
Give away summary content for free on Facebook & Google Plus (what will happen with the new Wall Street Journal idea?), charge for it on your site
– Give away content for free for a limited time to show off new design or features, ala Boston Globe’s relaunch: “Free for September, after that we lock it down.”
– Give away every new feature for free for a limited time, then put it into the members-only access pile.
– Team up with partner sites and non-competitors to offer access to several sites together, or offer discounts on partner products/sites like the Slovakian newspapers.
– Take an exclusive advertiser to sponsor the development of a new mobile app.
– Offer free trials during partner/media events. You’re the media partner for the food festival? All attendees get a free month of access.

There are loads of other ideas that no one else has come up with yet. Lots of publishers are starting to build their own, creative labs like the NY Times’ Beta620 project, the Globe Lab responsible for BostonGlobe.com, and The Guardian’s Open Platform and Data Store projects.  These range from well-funded projects to crowd-sourced experiments, but they’re all coming up with new ideas that are creating conversation.

beta620 from the New York Times    GlobeLab on Twitter

 

READ MORE: 

The following articles are also good sources of inspiration for new models and thinking differently about this space:
What newsrooms can learn from tech start-ups
Innovation in turbulent times
NYT Labs: Can a newspaper think like a start-up?

Tuesday Newsday: Two Approaches to Magazine Apps

Today I’m looking at two literary institutions and how they approached their app versions: The New Yorker and McSweeney’s.  I call both of them institutions because, while I know the New Yorker has been around far, far longer, both have grown from publishing regular collections of excellent writing to well-known publishing houses with large, fervent fan bases.

McSweeney's Website

I fell in love with McSweeney’s around ten years ago after a friend pointed me to Timothy McSweeney’s Internet Tendency collection of Lists.  From there I grew to being a regular reader of the hilarious writing which was less in-your-face-hilarious like The Onion (unless you are one of those people who shows up regularly on Literally Unbelievable) but somehow more rewardingly funny.  As if one might get points for liking it because not everyone gets it.  McSweeney’s actually started in 1998 as a journal to publish only works rejected by other magazines, but they quickly abandoned that rule and became a very attractive literary publication to write for.  They publish the print journal quarterly along with a quarterly DVD magazine called Wholphin, a monthly magazine called The Believer, and their regularly updated Internet content too.

The New Yorker website

The New Yorker has always been sort of a guilty pleasure for me.  The writing and journalism is so good that I can’t stand buying a copy without reading the whole thing, but it takes me forever.  So I only buy it when I have several long flights coming up.  The New Yorker, in stark contrast to McSweeney’s, has been around since 1925 (it became part of Condé Nast in 1999), and its timeless covers, cartoons and illustrations are classic.  The New Yorker continues to publish its weekly print collection of well-researched journalism and essays as well as newsletters, cartoon collections and podcasts.  Their content is made available for iPhone/iPad, Kindle and Nook as well as an audio-only version via Audible.com.  The New Yorker artwork and covers are sold as popular wall art, diaries, and various other gift and desk items.

So both of these publishers do a lot more than just publish their excellent writing.  Both also have created dedicated, specific iPad apps for their content, so let’s take a look at them.

Both apps require you to pay in some way for their content.   With McSweeney’s, you pay $5.99 for the app and get six months of exclusive content.  With the New Yorker, the app is free but you pay for either a monthly or annual subscription ($5.99/$59.99 respectively), or link your existing print subscription, or purchase individual magazines for $4.99.

 

The New Yorker App Splash Page

THE NEW YORKER

There’s really nothing to do or browse with the New Yorker app unless you buy an issue or subscribe.  Once you subscribe or purchase, you get a pop-up asking you to fill in an e-mail address & password for additional bonus content.  This is a clever move as one of the most lamented aspects of the App Store by publishers (and in fact, the reason The Financial Times claims is why they ended up creating their HTML5 app) is that they lose a lot of their personal connection and demographic information of their subscribers. 

New Yorker in App Store   New Yorker Create Account

A subscription for a month and one individual issue are only a single dollar difference, so I subscribed for a month, but I know I’m going to spend this month guilt-ridden that I haven’t gotten through all the great content yet.  Issues are heavy at over 100 MB each and take a bit of time to download.  Mine paused for a while, and I thought it might be due to space, so I cleared out some room. But it never finished downloading the issue, even after cancelling & restarting the download. I’ll try it again next week.

Luckily you can start reading partially downloaded issues.  Once you jump into the issue it looks just like the physical magazine, including a slide-out panel for the typical print cover overlay.

New Yorker Cover View   New Yorker Issue View

I’m torn on the “How To” pages in apps.  Part of me thinks you just shouldn’t have to explain it (i.e., if you need a page to explain how it works, yer doin’ it wrong), but part of me knows that a lot of these gestures just aren’t second nature or intuitive to everyone yet.  For this one you may dock or award points for their odd and occasionally funny instructions video featuring Jason Schwartzman.  The rest of the app is more or less what you would expect from Conde Nast. 

New Yorker How-To Page   New Yorker Table of Contents View

Articles scroll top-to-bottom, and a left-right swipe navigates to the next page.  There’s a zoom out button in the top right corner to navigate more quickly through the app, and a slider at the bottom of each page to move you forwards or backwards fast.  You can get a pop-out table of contents box also to jump around.

New Yorker Article View   New Yorker Zoomed Out Navigation

If you’re a frequent reader of The New Yorker, you might find this app to be an handy way to take your content with you.  It’s a nicer app than many other popular iPad magazine apps, and it’s doing the best out of all the Condé Nast iPad publications with a reported 20,000 subscribers.  Not anywhere close to their one million print subscribers (Condé Nast reported in August that their digital sales were around 1.3% of their total circulation), but still a definite lead.  There are definitely some optimizations they could do for the iPad format to make it more responsive and an overall better fit.  For example, it’s often not clear what is clickable and what isn’t (images, ads, etc.). But if you’re looking just for an easy way to get to the great content The New Yorker publishes, you’ll be very happy with this app.

 

McSweeney's Splash Page

MCSWEENEY’S

The first thing you have to do with the McSweeney’s app is create an account specifically for using their iOS applications.  Minor annoyance, but it’s a one-time thing.  The app’s $5.99 price tag includes six months of access to Small Chair content, which is a weekly selection from all things McSweeney’s.  It might include something from the Quarterly or the Believer, or a film from Wholphin, but whatever it is, it isn’t available online.

McSweeney's Create An Account   McSweeney's Main Page

The two items of importance on the main menu are “Internet Tendency” where you can read latest short articles from their site (including my beloved Lists) and “Small Chair” which is a collection of stories, interviews and short videos.

McSweeney's Internet Tendency List   McSweeney's Internet Tendency Article

The main difference between Internet Tendency and Small Chair content  (besides the fact that one is free online and the other is accessible only from the app) is the formatting.  The Internet Tendency articles are shareable (which makes sense since they’re already online), have variable font size, and scroll top to bottom.  The Small Chair articles are paginated, not shareable (which also makes sense since they’re custom content for the app), allow the reader to set bookmarks and do not have alterable font sizes.  Internet Tendency articles online rarely have images, so they don’t in the app either, but the Small Chair articles often have a full page image or two to start the story, similar to the opening pages in The Atavist stories.

McSweeney's Small Chair Article   McSweeney's Small Chair Article Landscape

Having both scrolling and paginated styles is interesting because the two reading styles are hotly contested.  It’s a bit of a religious war, and there is very little actual proof that one is better than the other.  I talked about this in my Content Strategy Forum workshop last week, and I’ll do a blog post on it later.  I wanted to mention it simply because I haven’t seen many apps that do both; generally a designer feels strongly about one over the other and that’s the style used.

McSweeney's Weekly Update

The main menu contains a link to a store where you can purchase additional reading material specially formatted for your device, extend your subscription (your purchase of the app includes a six-month subscription to weekly Small Chair content), or view content you’ve downloaded. There is also a small News section at the bottom to tell you what’s included in the latest content.

McSweeney's Store   McSweeney's Purchase Article

The McSweeney’s app is utterly charming.  It’s well-designed and has several animations and transitions that will make you smile as you use it.  $5.99 might sound pricey for an app which contains a lot of content that is free on their website, but the additional surprise writing and videos are excellent and it’s definitely worth trying out.  McSweeney’s is the type of company who will try anything and see what sticks, so I’m sure they’ll have more interesting, useful and of course funny updates later as well.

 

ONE LAST THING

Seth Godin wrote a short, interesting piece a couple of weeks ago called “Should the New Yorker change?”  In it, he says that for the first time, the editors at The New Yorker know which articles are being read and who is reading them.  I noticed that in the McSweeney’s app, they also take a lot of feedback from reader activity.  The question is, should this dictate what the publishers create and produce?

It’s one thing when the app is curating content it serves you from many different sources like Zite does.  But letting the reader activity and behaviour change what gets written or investigated seems like one step too far somehow.  It makes me think of Eli Pariser’s TED talk about filter bubbles, and how so many articles I’ve loved in The New Yorker were interesting to me because I knew nothing about them.  If my current knowledgebase and interests dictate what I read and learn about in the future, I suspect I would slowly grow bored of reading. Unthinkable! Reader feedback is great for UI, UX, design, but I rely a lot on great editors, journalists and authors to find unique and interesting stories to tell.

Free eBooks, Audiobooks and More, Courtesy of Your Local Library

I’ve explained how to do this to so many people that I thought it was worth writing a blog post about it. For several months, I’ve been enjoying downloading free audio and eBooks from the Dun Laoghaire library website.  A friend of mine told me about this in the US earlier this year, and I was incredibly jealous.  I was delighted to come back to Dublin and find that my local library has this capability also.

 

HOW DOES IT WORK?

On the Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council library page, you can see links to a few different services: Clipper DL, which are audiobooks, and Overdrive, which are audiobooks as well as eBooks.  Without a membership, you can still browse a bit to see what the selection looks like.

DLR Library Website

For Clipper DL, you’ll need to log in to the library site with your library card number & PIN first, then get redirected to the Clipper DL site where you’ll need to create a one-time user ID & password.  To download content, you’ll have to download their Download Manager, which works on both Mac and PC.  As you’re installing that, you can decide if you are going to listen to the books via Windows Media (if you’re on a PC) or use iTunes to put it on an iPod or other Apple device.  It might sound painful but the whole process for your first download will take less than three minutes to install & set up, and after that it will be much quicker.

Clipper DL Download Manager on PC

Each audiobook you download you can keep for 21 days after which the DRM expires it and you have to renew if you’re not finished listening to it.  Clipper DL has a catalogue of around 600 titles, and each month they add five new ones, so the selection is a bit small.  It’s definitely better for fiction than non-fiction titles.

 

Overdrive has a bit better selection (though neither one is Amazon, so you usually won’t get cutting-edge, brand new or niche topic books).  You can browse through audiobooks, eBooks, and even music and video.  The audiobooks have samples, which is great as the reader’s voice matters a great deal in audiobooks.  Most audiobooks can be downloaded to Mac, PC, burned to a CD, or downloaded as WMA or MP3 for various portable audio devices.

Overdrive Download Options

Similarly to Clipper DL, Overdrive gives you a checkout of 21 days for most downloads, with the exception of music and video which are 14 days maximum.  One of the things I love about Overdrive, though, is that there’s a native iPad app which lets you download, view and listen to eBooks and audiobooks you’ve checked out.  The process is a little clunky but it works and it’s nice to be able to access your checked out books anywhere.

OverDrive App Splash Screen    OverDrive App Contents

With both of these services, there are limited digital copies at a time due to licensing restrictions, so you can request books that are checked out.  You’ll get an e-mail notification when the book is returned or has expired and then it’s held for you for three days to go to the site & check it out.

 

AVAILABILITY

I don’t know if every library in Ireland has this capability or if Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown is the only one, but for the amount of free content, it’s worth investigating your local library to see if they offer access to this or similar content.  It’s such an amazing resource.  I’m embarrassed to say I was a little shocked at how forward-thinking this library system is to offer these services but also things like language lessons, the Dictionary of Irish Biography, and many other interesting and useful resources.  So if you are spending a lot of money on eBooks or audiobooks, it’s definitely worth your time to go find your local library’s website and take a look.