Do news publishers even need an iPad app?

June 14, 2010

There’s interesting critique of the current selection of news apps for the Apple iPad over at

Without naming publishers or apps by name, the tech blog argues that “most are disappointing” and that in many cases, simply browsing a publication’s Website using Safari on the iPad would suffice. That’s probably correct. After all, the main reason desktop Websites don’t work well on the iPhone and other smartphones is simply the size of the screen. By its very design, the iPad solves that initial problem. How good are news apps on the iPad?

That isn’t to say that publishers should sit back and do nothing with respect to making their content more accessible on Web-enabled tablets and e-readers. As devices like the iPad (and whatever Google and others have in the pipeline) become more common in the wild, anybody who publishes a Website is going to need to take those devices into account during their next redesign. To be sure, there are use cases and features beyond simple reading that would justify the expense of building an app, especially as publishers begin to monetize their content via apps, something that has been famously difficult to do via the Web.

While I share the concerns of Jeff Jarvis and others about the proprietary, “walled garden” nature of Apple’s app ecosystem, I do think there are legitimate reasons for building an app, as part of a multi-channel publishing strategy. It may not prove to be absolutely necessary for all, though.

For those who do go the app route, the aforementioned Monday Note post offers some sensible pointers as to how media apps could be done better: downloadable content (for offline use), more video, and more interactivity, among other things.

How about you: Have you used any news apps that blew the Web-based browsing experience out of the water?

The trouble with news content pay walls.

December 14, 2009

Undoubtedly the biggest and most heated debate among newspaper publishers, journalists and other media types in 2009 was the question of the pay wall: Since the recession has slowed online advertising growth, should we go back to charging readers for content?

Without rehashing the entire debate, everybody knows that one person who has advocated most enthusiastically for paid content is Rupert Murdoch, owner of the News Corporation.

While I tend to think that pay walls are probably suicidal for most newspapers, I do think that News Corp’s Wall Street Journal has a lot of high-quality content that people will (and do) pay for. For those following business and finance news especially, the WSJ is contains invaluable insight from some of the best journalists in the world.

However, I think the WSJ could be a bit smarter about its pay wall, and should consider keeping some of its content open. Here’s an example:

Wall Street Journal's pay wall

Here’s a story about Google’s new mobile handset, locked behind a “subscribers only” pay wall. To read it (and much more), I would have to subscribe to the Wall Street Journal Online for $103.48 per year.

Putting aside the well-known Google News pay wall backdoor, this speaks to a major conceptual flaw in the idea of charging for online news content: I do not need the Wall Street Journal to tell me about Google’s new mobile phone. Or anything about what Google announces. Or what Facebook does. Or frankly, virtually any tech-related news. This information is already being disseminated by hundreds of other outlets, some traditional, some new.

Now, don’t get me wrong; WSJ and their blog All Things Digital have some great, high-quality tech coverage. But so do those hundreds of other sites. If one site out of 400 is charging me to read an article on a particular topic, I’m probably not going to pay. The Wall Street Journal may continue to succeed, by virtue of being the Wall Street Journal, but for other news organizations, there’s just way too much competition for this kind of strategy to work.

This isn’t to say that some news and information publishers couldn’t come up with a way to produce and package really high-quality content that readers would consider worth paying for. But simply building a pay wall around text-based news on a Web site is probably not going to be a winning strategy for most.

3) Issuu: Make a Flash-based flip book from your publication

June 15, 2009
The dashboard

The dashboard


For print publications trying to adapt their content for digital audiences, the debate never ends: How best to optimize our content for Web users without bastardizing our core product (ie, the print edition)? It’s simple: Publish both online.

There are a number of tools out there to make interactive Flash/PDF books, but Issuu is the first hosted one I’ve seen that doesn’t cost anything (they do have a freemium model: Pay extra for a white-label version).

Issuu comes equipped with a customizable embed wizard (with even more customization possible through the developer API), allowing you to pick your color scheme, dimensions and configure a few other options.

In addition to publishing interactive flip-books and documents, Issuu also has a social side: the site is itself a social network, on which you can friend others, exchange comments and, along the way, find new and interesting publications.

Coolest features:

  • Ease-of-use: Upload your PDF. Copy and paste the embed code. Done.
  • Bonus: Attract new readers. By uploading your publication to Issuu (and hopefully adding some basic metadata when you do), you’re sprucing up your site *and* putting your content and brand in front of a growing user community outside your existing readership.

Limitations: The ability to embed hyperlinks into the document would be an added bonus for print advertisers (and, perhaps, provide an additional revenue stream for ailing newspapers and magazines). Nevermind! This is apparently possible.

To get started: Go to, sign up, and start uploading.

Example: Philadelphia Weekly

Facebook Connect: another distribution channel for newspapers?

December 6, 2008

It would appear so.

The Website of the San Francisco Chronicle, just began integrating Facebook’s new Facebook Connect service into its user comments and, presumably, other aspects of the site in the future.

Facebook Connect is a service that allows Website owners to integrate their site with Facebook in such a way that users can log-in using their Facebook account info and interact with their friends via third party sites. For example, a user logged into Site X using Facebook Connect can publish items or actions to their Facebook “News Feed” without having to navigate over to

Facebook Connect in action.

Facebook Connect in action.

The example provided by the Facebook Developers site is a live demo of a Web-based app for runners. Sign in to the Facebook Connect-enabled site, record your latest run (how many miles, where, etc.), and then automatically publish those details to Facebook.

This, like Google’s OpenSocial and similar initiatives, clearly lends itself to a more open Web in the future, and provides for the data portability that users desire. It’ll be interesting to see what other sites integrate with it, and how it all pans out.

In the meantime, Facebook Connect can be a tool for news organizations to use to help tear down those walls they built around their lovely gardens – aka content – during the first decade of the Web. If nothing else, it’s another distribution channel for content. is one of the first “traditional” news organizations to get involved, integrating Facebook Connect with their Website’s commenting system. Thus, when a user posts a comment on, they can choose to simultaneously publish it to their Facebook News Feed, thereby putting a link back to SFGate’s content in front of their entire Facebook network of friends, many of whom, naturally, share the same interests.

Seems like a smart move for newspapers who, considering current trends, need to figure out how to change their business models and content distribution strategies before it’s too late.

Right now: CSMonitor’s “Future of Journalism” forum

November 7, 2008

A week after the Christian Science Monitor announced that they’re killing their print edition and publishing online, the Christian Science Monitor is hosting a forum called “The Future of Journalism.”

You can still catch the tail end of the forum, streaming live right now on their site. I’ll update with a link to the archived videos when they’re available.