Thursday, January 20, 2011

The New Magazine Experience

When I read on Techmeme that AOL was launching a Flipboard killer called "Editions," I thought it was a joke. When I watched the video teaser featuring Tech Director Ethan Nagel singing his argument for his tag line for the product--"The app for when you crap"--everything made perfect sense. Unfortunately his spirited musical argument was not enough. The marketing department thought "The Magazine that Reads You" was a much better tagline. He got a proper dressing down from the various layers of management for his first-hand bathroom research,  The teaser ends with the scatalogical chorus, everyone in. One blog post reminded us that this marketing department probably came up with earlier tag lines, including "Music that Listens to You, and "Internet that Logs onto you."

OK, "Editions" has a homepage so it must be real. Hats off to AOL for the cheek and ability to poke fun at iitself. Now we'll keep an eye out for the app.

That said, it wasn't the scatology that interested me; it was the name of the project as well as the tag line. When I was at MPA we had many, lengthy discussions about using the word magazine in the association's title and more generally in descriptive statements about the industry in general that was becoming more media-centric. Please go to for background on the issue.

When the content consortium Next Issue Media was formed, some people asked why "Issue" was included in the title because that suggested the frequency of a print magazine. AOL's "Editions", that seems to be an app like Flipboard that figures out what you like and personalizes that content, suggests a magazine-like experience. The tag line--"The Magazine that Reads You"--is unmistakeable. If "Editions" delivers on its early promise, it will offer a timely, curated, personalized magazine that is targeted exactly to your dynamic interests and information needs.  And perhaps with a leaner social network. All this and mobility.

Magazines publishers are still experimenting with the iPad, looking for the right UI and business model. We might learn something from "Edtions." 


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Changing Content Consumption Patterns

I cut my teeth in print and during my career have worked on dozens of magazines in the U.S. and around the world. Whatever the competitive climate, all magazine publishers tend to agree that a reader engages with a printed magazine in a very special and measurable way. MPA, the consumer magazine association, with help from Northwestern University and various research firms, has put more teeth into the engagement arguments (I worked there until recently). Whatever is going on outside or in the noisy digital space, a magazine is my personal time out, a quiet, intimate, and even reflective moment.

I heard about some research at CES that indicates e-reader marketers are using very similar engagement language, suggesting that settling back with my Kindle or Sony Reader represents my personal time out. In fact, unlike with magazines, I don't want to be distracted with ads and rich media on my screen. I want my reading and consumption to be a one-dimensional, lean back, uninterrupted experience.

But what happens when reading goes mobile in the fullest sense of the word? The website Read It Later (RIL) provides some research that suggests our digestion of mobile content not only changes the place where we consume content but also the time we consume. RIL uses as its starting point the 100 million articles that its registered users have saved.

Please consult site for details on the various graphs charting user consumption behavior.  Simply put people tend to save and cache content during the day and read them later.  RIL notes that newspapers and magazines are portable and large enough to make reading enjoyable. The iPad offers similar advantages. It's too early to posit much about reading habits on the iPad but RIL data shows that iPad owners are no longer doing the majority of their reading on computers. "They are saving it for their personal prime time, when they can relax comfortably, iPad in hands and burn through the content they found during the day." Does this constitute a higher level of engagement because I have carefully chosen my content from multiple sources and have also decided the time of the consumption?

So what does this say about the reading of content online? According to RIL, when a reader is given a choice about how to consume their content, a major shift in behavior occurs. They no longer consume the majority of their content during the day on their computer. Instead they shift that content to prime time and onto a device better suited for consumption.

"Initially, it appears that the devices users prefer for reading are mobile devices, most notably the iPad. It's the iPad leading the jailbreak from consuming content in our desk chairs.

"As better mobile experiences become more accessible to more readers, this movement will continue to grow. Readers want to consume content in a comfortable place, on their own time and mobile devices are making it possible for readers to take control once more."

I'm not sure what this means for newspapers and magazines, but it will certainly mean that during my down-time between 6PM--9PM  I will have many more media choices.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Notes from CES

New Reality Show

Heard on the plane enroute from Las Vegas to New York:  a plan to create a reality show in and around a CES-type, Las Vegas-based tech show using as a model and metaphor the Eagle's famous Hotel California song. That's all I heard. I get it. After four days at the Show I could understand being prisoners of our own device--in this case mobile. For a while it did feel that I could check out but never leave. Stay tuned.

Publishers Abroad

I'm not going to mention any names but I was pleasantly surprised by the number of senior publishing executives who were at CES and actually visited booths and worked the floor. For a few years publishers have been talking about "content as differentiator" on devices. Seems like they are serious.

Garage Mechanics

Given all the HD, 3D, and 4G at CES, it is tempting to think these technologies attract the masses and drive the conversation on the show floor. I met a lot of garage tech guys who are eager to create the next big thing. One was a representative from an organization called Parks for America--I suggested something sexier.  The company offers a mobile network that provides free, informational apps for state parks nationwide that are essentially instant mobile solutions for park visitors. Revenue for this enterprise comes from sponsorship at the park, or on mobile devices or the various participating web sites. Apps are currently available through Apple and Android with RIM to follow.  It's still in the startup phase but looks promising.


Content wasn't on display, per se, at CES but there was tremerndous interest in content for screens of all sizes. That conversation continues. I was pleased to learn during the show that Hulu Plus will be available on 50 million devices from 10 manufacturers. Monthly subscriptions prices will be $7.99.

Motorola Droid Pro

An earlier post about the Pro, written as it was a Sunday afternoon love affair, didn't fully hold up under the intense lights and battery drain of CES that has too much of everything excepts outlets to recharge cameras,smartphones and computers. Don't get me started on WiFi access at CES or local hotels. With everyone looking for a deal or a connection, it was no wonder there was so much roaming for WiFi, sucking the energy out of the room. But I went dutifully to the Motorola booth and complained that CES was literally sucking my Pro battery dry. A booth technician took out the battery, breathed on it, made a few setting adjustments and sent me on my way. After that I never missed another meeting. 

And by the way an emerging product category very evident at CES were businesses focused on power and charging accessories, including companies such as Innex, a wireless induction charger capable of powering six devices at a time.

Your Brain on the Internet

I wish I had read "Is the Internet Changing the Way You Think" before I attended the show that changed the way I thought, slept, and ate.  In this book 150 writers, artists, scholars and the like addressed the preceding question. Playwright Richard Foreman wrote: "I can't help being reminded of the Greek philosopher who attributed his long life to avoiding dinner parties. If only I could avoid the equally distracting Internet, which, in its promise of connectiveness and expanded knowledge, is really a substitute social phenomenon."  Neuroscientist Brian Knutson suggests that the future might belong to the gifted humans who can stay focused while others  drown in a Web-based attentional vortex.

I listened to the Eagle's Hotel California at least a dozen times on my flight home. It worked.

Post-PC World

CES has long being a showcase for PCs but that world is definitely changing with the advent of the tablet computer and smartphones. We have already heard from Gartner that more people will access the web by smartphone than PC by 2013.  Even with all the deserved fuss about the tablets at CES, the smartphone
with its powerful processors, fast data transmission, high resolution displays, not to mention the 500,000 apps currently available took center stage. Mike Malone and Tom Hayes have a very interesting article in the WSJ about the growing power and influence of smartphones (January 7, 2011). As they note, consider where the action is; the experimentation; the community; the creatives. In their words "We want to be mobile, yet we still want to remain connected....  Nothing currently fulfills that psychic hunger better than a fully-loaded tablet or smartphone in your pocket."

You couldn't fail but notice the thousands of differentiated smartphones at CES pulling behind them a growing aftermarket for mobile products underscoring that this product is as much about lifestyle and psychology as about technology. 


Nick Wingfield in the WSJ wrote about an ongoing irony--and nuisance--at CES; the lack of bandwidth and outlets.  As Wingfield notes one reason for this is that tech geeks with our data-guzzling devices simply overtax the networks. This situation is made worse by the tendency of attendees to carry and use multiple-devices given lie to all the chatter about convergence. Some tech companies set up their own private networks for employees and the press. Like thousands of others I carried my PC for four days hoping for a hotspsot. Never again.

CNET to the Rescue

After days of sloshing around the show, making notes and taking names, I realized that I could do exactly what certain media organizations were doing. Dispense with all the leg work and relax in the CNET television lounge and devour all that great tech coverage.

What's good enough for old media is good enough for me.

Lady Gaga

And finally, Lady Gaga was at CES representing Polaroid that launched three Grey Label products: sunglasses with a built in digital-camera, a portable printer that can work with a smartphone to take instant pictures of friends at embarrassing moments, and an updated version of the instant camera which is both printer and digital camera.

Lady Gaga will likely get good use out of the smartphone/printer combination.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Close-up & Social at CES

I just returned from CES. The trip was inconsequential except for the 16 taxis, 12 buses, 4 planes, and at least 2 pairs of shoes. I figured I walked about 30 miles, shook at least 100 hands, and actually handled 47 of the 50 tablets that were supposed to be at the show. Or was that 70?

I loved every minute of CES but wondered why I bothered, especially after reading ReadWriteWeb (RWW) about who came out on top at the show, using social media statistics furnished by RowFeeder. This social monitoring service kept track of brands mentioned during the last few months and compared them with mentions on Facebook and Twitter during CES. And the winner is ...

Motorola, that increased its presence by 250%.  RWW suggests that the Motorola Zoom tablet, running on Android 3,0 (Honeycomb) is the primary reason for the ascension. The Zoom also won the Best of CES award, followed by the Blackberry Playbook and the Samsung Galaxy Tab.

This is hardly an exact science. In terms of Share of Voice Blackberry saw an slight uptick, followed by Android and Windows Phone. The iPhone (iOS) slipped slightly but of course Apple wasn't at the show, except in every other conversation. And a few days after the show the Verizon iPhone was front-and-center.

As RWW noted perhaps the most useful detail in this data is that the tablet category, unlike the announcements made about the e-reader category in 2010, is indeed a robust sector with a number of distinct offerings that might be able to compete with Apple. My unofficial Share of Crowd booth estimates support this view. Fueling this optimism was the fact that Android was everywhere, from top-line tablets to countless smartphones.

Tablets were the talk of the show but Android was the fuel.



Monday, January 3, 2011

Tailgating with Smartphones

I'm not much of a football fan, except when I'm on the treadmill or exercise bike. One tedium made more exciting by the other.  The games I watched yesterday were not memorable and quickly forgotten. But I was struck by the number and variety of tech ads showcased, a welcome contrast to the jingle-ridden car ads of the holiday season.  But the tech ads were a reminder that the smartphone category represents a large, growing and inevitable market. And one that is segmenting fast, fueled in part by the growing acceptance of the Android OS.

Samsung Galaxy ads was well-represented during the games, as was the Motorola Droid Pro in what sounded like a frontal atttack on Blackberry and it's hold on business consumers.  The Droid Pro is the smarphone that you can actually take home and use in your social life.

The reason that I paid attention to the Droid ads was that my family just purchased two Droids and were looking for comfirmation of our choice. I'm a long-time Blackberry user and a real fan. During the Beijing Olympics I posted from this device at least a dozen media-related articles at, where I worked until a few months ago. That's a love affair with the keyboard.  That the keyboard kept getting smaller was just another challenge to my big hands. The phone was perfectly acceptable and in eight years I remember only three dropped calls; in Beijing, Paris, and Mexico City. But the device was slow and the browser experience lousy. Lubricating the Blackberry "ball" with saliva just didn't seem high-tech enough.

By the time we got to the Verizon Wireless store,  a 10-course lunch of YouTube videos about the Droid under our belts, we were ready to participate in the Android sing-along.  The shelves were full of Android-devices. The Pro is very fast and the browser experience seamless. Perhaps Motorola has found the perfect balance of keyboard and touch functions for the Blackberry user who has decided to get a life.  In other words I am a perfect test case.

I don't think anyone buys technology based on strategic decisions, unless they can expense it. That said, from the perspective of competition, the more Android devices the better. The more Android platforms the better. The WSJ reports this morning that Google is looking seriously at a Digital Newsstand. We don't know whether this effort will be another Google Wave, but I hope not. Next Issue Media, the content industry consortium, is said to focus its early effort on Android. 

During the Jets game the advertisement asked me to use Bing as a verb, as in "Bing it".

That might take a little more time.