Tag Archives: iPad

Reflecting on the latest circulation figures

In Japan, advertising accounts for just 35 percent of newspaper revenue. In Britain, it’s 50 percent. And in the United States, ads have traditionally amounted to a whopping 87 percent of newspaper income. That’s why it can truly be said that, in the U.S., newspapers have always given away the news, charging only for paper and delivery.

These days we pay for computers and broadband access while getting the news for free — same as it ever was. That is among the most important explanations for why news organizations are going to have a difficult time persuading more than a handful of readers to pay for online access. I wish them well. But the challenge is enormous.

One thing some readers will continue to pay for is the convenience of print. (Spare me your nostalgia for the romance of print. Print persists for one reason: it’s still more ergonomically friendly than any electronic version. Someday that will change.)

After yesterday’s newspaper circulation figures were released, showing a continued but slowing decline in print sales industry-wide, Boston Globe publisher Chris Mayer issued a memo — a copy of which was obtained by Media Nation — attributing the Globe’s continued slide to last year’s decision to raise the price to as much as the market would bear. (Here is the Boston Herald’s take.)

The idea is that there’s a sweet spot. Up to a point, you can raise prices and make more money, even if the total number of print readers declines. Somewhere, though, there’s a top to the curve, and the challenge is to find the top and not raise prices so much that revenues start to fall. The result, unfortunately, is that you end up with a niche product for an elite readership. But it’s either that or die.

And here’s a good piece of news. There’s also a sizable subset of readers who will pay for electronic editions like Times Reader and GlobeReader, which are cheaper than print but more convenient than newspaper websites that keep you chained to your desk. Given that iPad editions have barely kicked into gear, that’s a promising sign.

The full text of Mayer’s memo follows.

Dear Colleagues,

Earlier today the Audit Bureau of Circulations issued their Fas-Fax report for the six months ending September 30th. The Globe has shown year-over-year declines in line with our expectations, as a result of our circulation and pricing strategy instituted last summer.

The good news is the rate of circulation decline has slowed as we cycle through the impact of the price increases. One indicator is the comparison between September’s report and March’s report. Viewed this way, the declines are 2.8% for Sunday and 4.2% for daily. These are encouraging trends for our business and in line with others in our industry.

The past few months has also seen continued excellence in our reporting and positive contributions to the community. Our Spotlight Team investigation of patronage in the state’s probation department; our sensitive series of stories on bullying; the amazing coverage of the Amy Bishop case; coverage of the earthquake and aftermath in Haiti and its impact in Boston; and our current coverage of the political races are just a few examples of the important journalism we’re delivering.

The Globe’s circulation, now at 368,000 on Sunday and 223,000 daily, still makes us the largest newspaper in New England by a wide margin. The year-over-year decreases of about 15.7% on Sunday and 12.0% daily were expected and budgeted.  To offer some context, we raised prices last summer in most areas by 30% to 50% to grow circulation revenue and stabilize the business.

Of course, circulation numbers are not the end of the story. Print and online media work in concert with one another to build audience. It should be noted then that in terms of readership, during an average week, the Sunday Globe, the daily Globe and Boston.com together will reach 51% of all adults in the metro Boston area.  It will also be reported in Monday’s Fas-Fax that Boston.com’s local audience grew by 2.9 %.

The recently announced two-brand digital strategy is now officially under way and we are developing launch plans for our new subscription-based Web site BostonGlobe.com, and the next generation Boston.com. And, watch forperiodic launches of digital products in the upcoming months.

So, as we look ahead we will continue to execute on our strategy, building on the strong foundation of quality journalism, original content, broad audience reach, higher reader engagement, advertising effectiveness, and strong connection with the community that is reflected by, and results in, our more than 50% of the market.

We can all share a sense of optimism and purpose as we focus on our future success.

— Chris

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday tech talk from a non-techie

Welcome to the tech blog whose author almost knows what he’s talking about. I know just enough to be dangerous, folks. Here are three tidbits for your Tuesday morning.

1. Beyond Google Reader. Last week Laura McGann of the Nieman Media Lab was rhapsodizing to a group of us about the glories of NetNewsWire, an RSS aggregator that resides on your computer rather than in the cloud, as is the case with Google Reader.

I was not entirely unfamiliar with NetNewsWire. I’d played with it before, but preferred a competitor called NewsFire. Several years ago, though, I made the switch to Google Reader and hadn’t looked back.

But lately, like many people, I’d found myself looking at Google Reader less and following interesting links from Twitter more. In part it’s because I really like Twitter. In part, though, it was because Google Reader just wasn’t all that satisfying — it’s slower than using a good client-based news reader and shows you less content before you click.

So a few days ago I reinstalled NetNewsWire and found, to my delight, that it now syncs with Google Reader, which means you don’t really have to decide. It’s fast and free (if you don’t mind looking at advertising; I don’t). If you’ve been losing interest in Google Reader, give NetNewsWire a try.

2. From Chrome to Safari and back again. When Apple unveiled Safari 5 a few months ago, I made the switch from Google Chrome. Though not quite as fast as Chrome (I’ve seen test results that say otherwise, but that’s not my experience), Safari was aesthetically more pleasing. My favorite feature, Reader, isolates the text in a story or blog post and presents it in as a beautifully rendered, easy-to-read page. On a properly designed website, Reader will even find the jump and display that, too.

Then Xmarks went out of business. Xmarks is a browser extension that lets you sync your bookmarks in the cloud and use them across multiple computers. An e-mail from the company outlined the alternatives — free for Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome, but $99 for Safari via Apple’s MobileMe service.

As it turns out, there are at least two free extensions for Chrome — Readability Redux and iReader — that do what Safari’s Reader does, and are more customizable besides. So goodbye Safari.

3. The future of Reader. OK, different Reader — now I’m talking about Times Reader and GlobeReader, the paid electronic editions of the New York Times and the Boston Globe built on Adobe Air.

I’ve been a big fan of Reader since it was unveiled a couple of years ago, but I find that it hasn’t kept up. And with the development folks furiously working on iPad and mobile editions, it doesn’t seem likely that much brain power is going to be devoted to improving them, my wish list aside.

I recently asked Globe publisher Christopher Mayer how many subscribers GlobeReader had attracted. His answer: that’s proprietary. But, anecdotally, I’ve heard that neither Times Reader nor GlobeReader has attracted many paying customers.

Here’s what I like about Reader: it’s fast, it’s highly readable and you don’t need an Internet connection once that day’s edition has been downloaded. What I miss, though, is the richness of the Web — the slideshows, the videos, even the advertising. Lately, more often than not, I find myself using the “Today’s Paper” feature of NYTimes.com, supplemented with Chrome’s iReader extension. (I still tend to use GlobeReader because the “Today’s Globe” section of Boston.com can be so slow.)

Maybe the Reader editions have a future. But my suspicion is that they are just going to fade away for lack of interest.

How to make Reader editions better

No doubt the best coding brains at the New York Times Co. are focused on iPad development these days. But as a paid subscriber to the Reader editions of the New York Times and the Boston Globe, I have a few suggestions for how they could be better. I’d want to see these ideas incorporated into the iPad app as well, so please consider this a two-fer:

1. A front-page image of the print edition should be included, just as it is on the papers’ websites. We Reader readers, to coin a phrase, exist in a sort of electronic halfway house: we still read the paper as the paper, but we don’t mind giving up ink on dead trees. So we, of all customers, want to get a sense of what the front looks like.

2. The Reader organizational scheme should be as clear and easy-to-follow as the simple list format the papers use on their websites for that day’s edition (Globe here; Times here). Yes, I can skim through every Reader story very quickly, but sometimes I’d like to select a section front, then pick and choose.

3. Mega-dittoes for the Globe’s “g” section, which is just a mess in Reader. Way too many short items are just thrown up there. It needs a complete rethink.

4. Folks at the Globe need to take photos more seriously when putting together the Reader edition. There are too many instances of context-free pictures with no captions.

5. Reader editions should always link to multimedia extras such as videos. I know of a few occasions when I’ve found out hours after reading the paper that I missed on a terrific video.

My fear is that the Reader platform hasn’t attracted enough users to make further development worthwhile. I almost never see an ad other than a house ad, for instance. I still think it’s a promising idea, though, and perhaps development can take place in parallel with the iPad.

The resurrection will be (slightly) delayed

The idea that Apple’s iPad would save newspapers and magazines, always dubious, is so far not even getting a decent tryout. Evangelists for the iPad put forth a vision of users switching from free websites to paid apps.

Since a very good Web browser is built in to the iPad, it was never clear why any more than a handful would pay. And, so far, there are few apps. Among the better-known is the New York Times’ “Editor’s Choice,” a free, experimental app that doesn’t include the full content of the paper. (The Globe is reportedly working on an iPad app, but I have no details.)

PressReader offers some 1,500 papers around the world (neither the Times nor the Boston Globe is available, though the Boston Herald is). But it’s based on a PDF-like representation of the actual pages in the paper, which is no way to read online.

Meanwhile, because Apple has been slow in implementing subscriptions, we have absurdities like Time magazine’s paid app, which costs approximately 650 percent more than a print subscription.

If I had an iPad, here’s what I would want: a simple way to subscribe to the papers I read every day at a much-lower-than-print price. Since I wouldn’t pay $30 a month for an always-on 3G connection, I’d want to download the entire paper via WiFi, and then be able to read it whether I was in a hot spot or not.

It’s not as though what I’m looking for is particularly exotic. In fact, two very good alternatives already exist — yet neither one of them will work with the iPad.

First, the Times and the Globe are both available in low-cost “Reader” editions, built on top of the Adobe Air platform. The Reader, based on flipping pages, is seemingly made for the iPad. But because of Apple’s ongoing battle with Adobe, you can’t run Air on an iPad. (The forthcoming Google tablet, running Air, would be a great way to access Reader content.)

Second, many papers are available on the Amazon Kindle. But though Kindle software runs on a variety of devices, including the iPad, Amazon has restricted newspapers and magazines to its proprietary Kindle devices. If you’re running Kindle software on your laptop or smartphone, you can only use it to download and read books.

So far, it seems, the iPad has been very good for Apple, but not so good for newspaper and magazine publishers. That’s not surprising. What is surprising is that there are no good options even for people who are willing to pay.

Photo (cc) by Steve Garfield and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

The closing of the Internet*

Imagine you are trying to start a news site in your community. Your competitor, part of a national chain, offers instant-on, full-screen HD video and a host of other data-intensive features that load the moment you hit “click.” But though you have a broadband connection, even simple videos that you’ve posted load slowly and play in fits and starts.

So you call your Internet provider — most likely Verizon and Comcast — and ask what’s going on. A sales person explains to you that if you want your readers to enjoy the same rich multimedia content as you competitor, then all you have to do is pay another $1,000 a month.

You can’t. You struggle on. And, within six months, you shut down.

That is a likely scenario if we move away from net neutrality — a vitally important principle that all Internet traffic should be treated the same. The FCC has been trying to mandate net neutrality, only to be shot down in the federal courts. And today the New York Times reports that Google and Verizon have been involved in negotiations to come up with a multi-tiered Internet with different levels of service and different levels of pricing. [Update: Or perhaps not. See below.]

“It’s like the end of ‘Animal Farm’ where pigs and humans sit down at the dinner table,” tweeted new-media strategist Steve Yelvington. In fact, Google at one time had been a leader in pushing for net neturality.

Please understand what net neutrality is not. There is nothing wrong with charging consumers more for better Internet service. Broadband costs more than dial-up, and fast broadband costs more than slow broadband. That’s life.

Rather, this involves the other end of the pipe, to fees that content-providers would pay in order to receive preferential service. It would make it far more difficult for start-ups, low-budget projects and non-profits to compete with big media sites. You might say that’s the whole idea.

Net neutrality is the baseline requirement for diverse, independent media. Those of us who spent years railing against corporate media consolidation have been pleasantly surprised, as numerous little guys — including significant players at the international, national and local levels — have been able to make their voices heard.

Along with the advent of closed systems such as Apple’s iPad and iPhone, the demise of net neutrality could mark the beginning of the end of this media explosion, and a return to business as usual.

Josh Silver, president of the advocacy organization Free Press, calls the pending Google-Verizon deal “the end of the Internet as we know it.” Timothy Karr, campaign director of Free Press, offers some further thoughts.

For more information, including what you can do, check out Save the Internet.

*Update: Sharp-eyed reader Nick Mendez found a tweet from Google Public Policy claiming that the Times got the story wrong. According to @googlepubpolicy: “@NYTimes is wrong. We’ve not had any convos with VZN about paying for carriage of our traffic. We remain committed to an open internet.”

Wow. This bears watching. Will the Times retract the story?

Time enters the reality-distortion zone

Back in February, we paid $20 for an 18-month subscription to the print edition of Time magazine. All right, it was a “professional” rate, available to us because I’m a journalism professor. But no one pays the full $4.95-per-issue cover price. If you sign up for a subscription online, for instance, you’ll be charged just $19.95 for six months.

So count Time Warner executives among those who have been sucked into Steve Jobs’ famed “reality-distortion zone.” Because they are groping their way toward a paid-content strategy for Time that makes little or no sense. As explained by the Nieman Journalism Lab here and here, it includes these elements:

  • The magazine is now available as an iPad app costing a flat $4.99 per issue — no discounts, thank you very much. The same folks who understand fully that you won’t pay some $250 a year for the print edition think you’ll gladly fork over the money so that you’ll have something to read on your new toy.
  • The full content of the print edition has been pulled from Time.com, the magazine’s excellent website. There is still a lot of Web-only content available, much of it more, uh, timely and relevant than what appears in print. But when you try to access most articles from the print product, you get a summary and a plea to buy the magazine or the app.
  • The paid app is available only for the iPad, even though it would not be difficult to rewrite it for computers and other devices. (There is a Kindle app for Time that costs a far more reasonable $2.99 per month. Then again, what would Time be without great photography?)
  • The Web-only content is not included in the iPad app, which means that Time’s best customers will have to fire up Safari to see what they’re missing. And, of course, if there’s any Flash content on Time.com, they won’t be able to see it unless they switch to their computer. (There is some extra content included in the app.)

The folks at Time started with the right idea. Within the past year or so some pretty smart people have concluded that print and the Web should be used for different things, with the Web being used for breaking news, community and participation. Just as an experiment, it would be interesting to see whether Time could build a successful website without relying on content from the print edition.

But app fever is clouding Time’s judgment. The print edition arrives at Media Nation without fail every Saturday, and we didn’t even have to drop $500 on an iPad to get it. Slick as the app may be, it’s not as slick as glossy paper.

At the moment, Time is not offering a subscription to its app — it’s sold strictly on an issue-by-issue basis. When subscriptions do become available, Time ought to drop the price so that it’s the same as the print edition. Only then will we be able to see if there’s any demand.