2011: So You Want to Have Your Newspaper in the iPad?

2011: So You Want to Have Your Newspaper in the iPad?

Sample pages of HS iPad ed. in iTunes

(UPDATED; see end)

Ge’ez, that’s original. So does everybody — so join the line. That’s no news.

Wait! Take it again!

Did you say you want you newsPAPER into the iPad or you NEWSpaper?

Because: if you meant the latter, you might be into something.

It shouldn’t be about the device but about the infor­mation”, said Rob Curley (Washington Post) already several years ago.

It should be about the news in the newspaper, not the paper in the newspaper. But the sad truth: the majority of publishers still get it backwards.

I predicted in the beginning of 2010 that the year would be remem­bered as “the year of the tablet”. I do dare say now — a year later — that it was a pretty accurate prediction. IPad has had more influence than 95% of the people ever thought possible. And it will continue, no question. In my line of business (i.e. media, multi­media, photo­graphy) tablet computers are an essential part of the future. In a bit longer perspective, they might actually BE the future. Simple as that.

2011: The Tipping Point

Let me make a blunt statement about the coming year:

2011 will be remem­bered as the year when the daily printed media finally gave in”.

Gave in as: 1) they realized that they really have to take a fresh approach on this or 2) they succumbed to the inevi­table spiral slide to extinction.

I have always liked the principles of the chaos theory and thus the concept of tipping point comes to mind. Somebody else might choose to call it “the point of no return”.

I would love to see the first option come true, but I am dreading that option two will prove to be the one taken.The words of Vincent Laforet (in the Seattle workshop last spring) come to mind: “Unfor­tu­nately, the Print has a long history of NOT getting it right.…” I share his fear.

We have already seen some and in 2011 we will see a massive proli­fe­ration of daily print publica­tions seeking their form into the tablet. Washington Post, New York Times have led the way… others have followed. December 2010 Helsingin Sanomat, our biggest daily, published their long awaited app — coinciding with the release of the iPad in Finland.

Let me use HS as an example — to make my argument — but before I do, please mark my words: they publicly asked for feedback, so here we have it. This is feedback. I am not trying to rip down their well meant effort just for the sake of fun or ridicule. This is feedback — consider this my ten cents.

Back to the Stoneage — Back to the Web 1.0

HS application (available in the iTunes) is very smooth and very slick. It is a pleasure to read, it performs very nicely. It is classy, it is stylish. Not in my dreams I could code anything like that.

And yet, I constantly refer to it as “tyylik­käästi takaisin kivikauteen” (going back to the stoneage — with style). Why? Here are my (main) arguments:

  • It has a renewal cycle of 24 hours — like a legacy newspaper. But in terms of news — in 2011 — that is incre­dibly long time. Ridicu­lously long. It is literally telling yesterdays news.
  • It contains only a selection of the articles published in the print version. Makes me wonder why, as bits are definitely cheaper than paper. Lots of the stories which make up the printed version — which make up its reputation as an extensive coverage of our national daily news — do not make it to the iPad version.
  • It is not available in the net — it is available in a store called iTunes, owned by a company called Apple. Thus: no article can be referenced or forwarded or linked. This is huge, huge issue. People just don’t usually think about it and I will discuss this further below.
  • It has no social media integration: facebook, twitter.… due to the previous point I mentioned — i.e. it is not available in the web. No way sharing with your friends if you found something interesting or worth commenting.
  • It is very much based on text and one image per story approach. It does not support any multi­media nor video (at least I did not come across any). HS video in general is based on flash (as is the case with the majority of newspaper websites in this country) so even the videos on their website do not display on iDevices.
  • In order to view the images (or the image — as it typically is just one, two images) you need a constant online access — i.e. you can only use it in premises where you have internet access all the time, be it 3g/edge or WiFi. Yes, the text gets downloaded when you download the daily issue, but images are only accessed based on “show only when needed” — i.e. VOD-principle.
  • And so on and so on… but you get the drift?

To summarize: it is a stylish effort. Created by people who were brought up by text, who think that text is the king — text ‚not content. People who will take any measures to protect The Paper — and thus graciously version the highlights to this new toy called iPad for us geeks to enjoy. People who think that social media is for fun and play only and to whom multi­media is something which should be taken care of with antibiotics…

Does that sound like the media society we are living in right now? Is this 2011?

My stricktly personal opinion: it’s dead boring — DOA as they say in all the police series. It’s stylish and in many cases the journa­listic content is of the highest level in this country. But, bottomline: nobody really want so see this: a selection of The Paper packaged into an iPad app. Not in 2011.

So: I go back to Pulse, BBC, NYT which I have discussed earlier. There are choices around.

Availability in the Net

I said above that HS iPad edition is not available in the net. This is something people don’t usually think about so let me discuss it a bit, as it is of crucial impor­tance.

The power of the web is its connec­tivity.

That is the sole most important factor or property of the internet. Infor­mation can be linked and referenced — and it leads to new infor­mation, new connec­tions, connec­tions never thought existed before, etc. (this would take a full book to discuss further — if you bare in mind that my background is in neuroscience… ;-)).

When something is packaged as an APP and it is available in the iTunes, it means: it is basically viewable in that store. You have to buy access. For yourself only. You cannot reference it in any way and talk about it to your friends (in computer terms). The only way to reference it is to literally talk about it (ie. verbally, over in the phone or something) or copy-paste text or content in order to show it (in which case you might run into difficulties with copyright…)

A publication such as the one discussed (HS iPad ed.) harnessed into an app like this is based on top down principle. The authority telling “this is the way it is” and at the same time implying “we really do not give a shit about your opinion, because WE are the real keepers of the truth…”.

This is the selected few talking to the ignorant masses… the classic MASS MEDIA approach in full swing. Couple of decades ago this was the only option. Five years ago it was still going strong… Not in 2011.

Reality is elsewhere: Web 2.0 was been with us for several years now (if this is a totally new concept to you, you might want to read e.g. Clay Shirky’s Here comes Everybody). But even if you have not heard of web 2.0, you might have heard about things such as Twitter and the Facebook.… ;-)

Presently, we are actually already moving past to web 2.x or even 3.0 — but the fact remains that the HS app is back to the web 1.0 — and thus a huge leap backwards.

In case you are interested in this more in depth, let me recommend an article in the Scien­tific American some months back by Tim Berners-Lee called Long Live the WEB: A Call for Continued Open Standards and Neutrality.

In case his name does not ring a bell: he is actually the guy who 1990 came up with the idea of the World Wide Web and created it with his desktop computer in Switzerland. The father of internet, so to speak. In this article, he is expressing his deepest concerns about the present develop­ments and how it relates to openness. Absolutely worth reading.

Why Do We have to Publish as an App?

That is a very good question.Peer pressure, as everybody is doing it? Not unders­tanding that there are options? I honestly don’t know, as I am not in the publishing business.

And sure, there is the obvious answer: money, money, money… It’s a simple way trying to maximize the income from the consumer end. “You cannot share, copy it… It’s ours and so you will buy and buy it day in and day out…” At least this is the way logic goes.

But: I won’t buy. And very few people actually will, that is my prediction. Once the novelty factor wears out, this approach is dead on delivery. You won’t make money in this in the long run… the only one making profit is the supplier of the store, in this case Apple, as their margin compared to their overhead is huge (simply consi­dering the volume of these publica­tions).

And it is kind of sad… No, let me take that again: It is kind of sickening that the future of journalism — an essential part of any society to work in a more or less democ­ratic and civilized manner — is brushed away in a perverted effort to protect the printing industry and to maximize the profit.

The words of Jim Morrison come to my mind: “You know, I am going to get my kicks out of this before the whole shithouse goes up in flames…” Substitute kicks with money and there you have it. Maybe the present leaders of the legacy print spent too much time listening to The Doors way back when…

But, as I said, it is a good question — as there are options (and my guess is that these will increase exponen­tially very soon). And as I notice my word count is hitting 1500 words, let me just briefly show — or demo — you two approaches.

Take your iPad, open Safari and type in the address www.filmon.com (Note: do that with the iPad, not your computer). It takes you to a page where you can view CNN, Skynews, etc. for free. Bookmark that page to your homescreen… and then stop and think for a while: it looks like a native app, it behaves like a native app, it has a symbol like a native app… EXCEPT: you did not get it from the iTunes. It is not an app. It is available in the web.

Why hasn’t any (tradi­tional) print publication gone this same way?

Second example: why is it that it is only very, very few publishers who have just simply optimized their webpages so that they will display beauti­fully on the iPad — as e.g. www.zeit.de has done (I strongly recommend seeing the page with both a standard computer and with an iPad and comparing the experience).

Today, in the face of these endless possi­bi­lities of creating unforeseen content — content worth paying for — why does The Print not concentrate on the future of journalism instead of business models with minimal overhead and maximal (very) short term profits?

Beats me.

But then again hey, what do I know, I just take pictures, right? ;-)

(UPDATED 11.1.11)

One always runs out of space. Too long, too many words. So you cut it short. I had dozens of references to back my argument up… but I hardly used any. So let me rewind just a bit.

As I said, what do I know… but Andrew Walkingshaws blog entry 29th Dec. is a gem — and should be shared and read by everybody working in this field. I highly recommend reading it.

It got republished in paidContent.org and that’s where I saw it about a week ago. I hope he does not mind me quoting him to this length, but his last three paragraphs just nail the present situation so accurately and they are a clear message to the legacy daily print publishers:

Put another way, tablets are always-on, tactile, completely recon­fi­gu­rable, great-looking, perma­nently jacked into the Internet plumbing, and you’re using them to make skeumorphic newspaper clones? When there are thousands of new, more direct, more usable, more valuable experiences you could build using the same technical and journa­listic skills, and when you’ve already established I wasn’t willing to pay for your paper in the first place?

Seriously: what the hell are you thinking?

If I care enough about your content, you can give it to me on stone tablets in cuneiform and I’ll find a way to use it. If I care a bit, I’ll go where it’s the right combi­nation of easy, affor­dable and reliable. (But: if you want me to pay, I’d better be making money or having fun somehow.) If I don’t care at all, there is nothing you can do, not even really nice swipe effects, which will make me care. Come back when you’ve fixed the content. Come back when you can show me a new perspective. Come back when you make me faster or smarter. Come back with funda­mental, not cosmetic, innovation. We’ll talk then.”

What Comes After Newspapers: Forget Form, It’s About Content by Andrew Walkingshaw (as published in paidContent.org, dec. 30 2010)

I could not agree more — and man, I wish I could write with that fluency…

9 Replies to “2011: So You Want to Have Your Newspaper in the iPad?”

  1. This is somehow what I’m telling to everyone wanting me to listen moan about this issue. Sure iPad is cool and all, but with current state of mind, things won’t work like this. This APP thing is totally off for everyone, except for Apple of course. And I have feeling, that exactly this will kill it on the end.
    On the other side, I agree tablets are future, but I doubt in such package (software wise) as they are today. This app thing is cool to control your market, but at least for news, it’s not really good thing. iPad is pretty expensive toy, so after a while, I’m pretty sure biggest share of market will have someone else then Apple. In worse case, this might mean newspaper (if we can still call it this way, since maybe news outlet might be better name for this nowadays) will need to maintain several totally different “editions”, and that might be problem, especially if your device of choice might not be under supported versions.
    Perso­nally I don’t have problems with “closed market” as of “I need to pay to view it”. Afterall, I’m already paying for paper version too, so why not to pay for digital version. But real problem with this is compa­ti­bility between platforms. And most of papers who are putting now iPad/Android releases don’t get it yet. It might be fancy to put out iPad version, but you are limiting yourself to very very small market.
    To be honest, I don’t have neither iPad neither its Android copy, so I don’t know how good or bad they support current web standards. But (at least for Android) I would say they should be able to support that. And with this support, I don’t see reason, why not to go away from APP approach. I mean you can still charge people for content, but you get a whole lot wider market, which is not tied to one single app store.

    1. @Primoz, I’m inclined to agree about the app strategy being a limitation. It’s an unnecessary barrier between the user and the content that is being held up while the publishers try to figure out how to keep up with the new digital and online formats and not canni­balise their business (as in not making enough money with the new thing while having sales drop in the old one too) in the attempt.

      Maybe this is not a 100% accurate analogy, but any big newspapers are printed on Finnish paper. Do NY Times readers care if the paper the words and images they see are printed on is Finnish or from somewhere else? They do not. Stuff prints on any other paper just the same, there may be diffe­rences in quality and properties but it can be and is done. Novelties are fun, and surely many people will want to buy and iPad or whate­verPad because it’s a cool gadget. But content consumers will want to, well, consume content. What they don’t want is to have to worry about the platform and less than unavoi­dable limita­tions on their reading/wieving habits.

      1. Thanks guys for reading and for good commentary -
        Sami, I gotta tell you you really summa­rized it nicely in the end: “Content consumers want to, well, consume content…”. And name one -just one — legacy paper in Finland who is even trying to produce content that could be classified as “rich content”… even remotely resemble rich content…?
        Yes, cool gadgets are nice… but the wow-factor wears out real soon nowadays.

        Andrew Walkingshaw (above) put his message to the legacy media this way: “Seriously, what the hell are you thinking?”

        Let me put it a bit more PC:

        Content is the King” has been said over and over again. HOW HARD CAN IT REALLY BE TO UNDERSTAND THAT?

      2. Ok maybe I wrote it the way it looks different, but in reality we totally agree :) It is about content not the way how is presented or better to say delivered to user.

        With moving other way then app way, you eliminate locking your users to only one specific platform. Going some iStore/Android store independent way, you double your user market instantly (with users of opposite tablet), and what is most important, you make your users stop worrying if their favorite newspaper supports iPad or it supports just Android (or vice versa).

        So I guess on the end we all agree with this :) Just that obviously I had some problems expressing that in first post. Sorry my English is not best from time to time :)

  2. The HS model certainly sounds lame. One thing I don’t get though is why do products and services (eg Flash) that existed before iPad have to adapt to it, rather than it to them? It’s just one hardware product after all. Yesterday I had a meeting at the European hq of a multi­na­tional technology company. They have lots of multi­media, videos etc for their training and sales activities. Flash is a common feature. They are building a tablet product to include all their multi­media stuff. It’s not likely to be iPad, but a less expensive compe­titor running Windows 7. The demo version looked awesome. Not that this has to do with the future of the media, but I’m just wondering about the iPad hegemony.

    1. Sami -

      simply techi­nically — and I am sad to say this: Steve Jobs has a point. I hate it, but he does have a point.

      Flash DOES stand behind the majority of computer crashes. It’s an extra layer in programming and puts a strain on memory and processing -and thus often crashes the computer.

      Videos as such are no problem; the worst case scenario is a matter of simple decoding — or actually recoding. IDevices have built-in video capabi­lities, where as using FLV-format you do all the necessary decoding in the software, thus putting an unneccessary strain on the memory and perfor­mance of these devices. And that is stupid. So I am actually with mr. Jobs on this one.

      Trouble is multi­media and animation. Javascript, HTML5 and CSS3 can only take you so far at the moment. Yes, I can present slideshows, panoramas etc. using them on iDevices (I will show you a real cool way of imple­menting this in my next post, btw — and I mean REAL cool.…), but they — at least presently — are a mere shadow of the capabi­lites of what flash can do.

      I mean, don’t get me wrong: perso­nally, I hate flash. I wish there were an alter­native (like the EDGE, see one of my previous posts on this…); but presently there isn’t.

      If you look at the work I have done with panoramic images (eg. the Keimola example http://www.docimages.fi/demos/keimola/ — which I am still very proud of… or the Mikko Hirvonen’s Race Car example http://www.mtv3.fi/ralli/nesteoilralli.shtml?panoraama I did for MTV3) — neither one of these could be done presently without Flash — and thus, neither one is viewable with an iPad.

      HTML5 and CSS3 make a lot of sense.… but we do need something a bit more flexible and dedicated to build really interesting rich content.

      So flash is not the option — if for nothing else, then due to mr. Jobs… so we need and alter­native. And I have to add: the fact that Mac is so relative trouble free — and has always been as compared to windows — is largely based on this — that there is only one company making them and thus they can put heavy restric­tions as to what is in and what is out in their products. Thus: while I am enjoying the trouble free ease of use of my Macs/iDevices…the price I pay is that my (mac/apple based) touch devices can not present rich content as they should.

      As for Android and all the others.… The fact remains that iPad has over 95% of the market presently and a huge ecosystem already in place in terms of the Apps available. Android and al. will have tough time trying to reach their compe­titor… But, then again: look what happened to Nokia… ;-)? From number one in the world to the most hated list — in a relatively short time.

      1. I don’t like Flash either, but fact is, that nowadays flash is standard. Of course not real one, but it’s still at least standard in brackets. And in my opinion, you can’t tell users your fancy device doesn’t support it, since you are too cheap to pay/agree to/with competing company, even though I doubt Adobe is on final run even competing company for Apple. Err… sorry I didn’t mean to write that. I meant, that you don’t support Flash, because it’s commercial product, not standard, and noone cares about flash anyway, or what exactly was his wording for this.
        If we like it or not, flash is here, and a whole lot of things are running ONLY in flash. With not supporting it, you cut your users out of whole lot of material. As Sami said, it’s not just Youtube and stuff, but whole lot of pure business material. And even though it might work for Apple to get over this just with wow factor for now, I doubt it will go for much longer. Because their attitude toward their clients is getting pretty strange for me.

  3. Ran out of “reply” options in the chain… Yes, I think we actually all agree on this. We’d love to have flash — yes, flash sucks as a program — but it’s the best we have at the moment. We’d need that — or something better and more versatile; more open and with a modern GUI still (I still dream Adobe puts their EDGE into production one of these days…).

    Because we all would love to shoot pictures, make great imagery, concentrate on content… and not worry about “does this show on this and this device…” I mean, Jesus: we are three photo­graphers, right? Not bloody techno geeks, right? ;-)

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