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The iPad edition and what comes after

I came across this fascinating ad for The Times iPad edition when I bought all the day's papers and brought them to the pub for dinner upon arriving London last week.

I'm intrigued by the very traditional print look of the ad, and how it describes the iPad edition as an electronic newspaper.


I remember back when I was at City University most newspapers labeled their news sites electronic newspapers, and I even did a stint of workexperience at one of them: what then went under the name "The Electronic Telegraph". This was 2001, and though I had a fantastic time at The Electronic Telegraph, the notion that news sites should be nothing more than an electronic version of the the print paper has been very detrimental to online journalism and online innovation. But be that as it may, this might be the perfect way to advertise the iPad edition to Times readers for all I know. More interestingly, let's take a look at the income potential and the future.

PaidContent reports that "The iPad edition sold 5,000 copies in its first three days, according to Rupert Murdoch, totalling £49,550. Had it sold at the same rate through the month, it would have clocked 50,000 downloads, or £499,500 (£349,650 after Apple’s commission)." But as the edition launched without any built-in way for readers to pay again for as second month, the newspaper is now offering an additional month for free to readers who download the new version with an in-app purchasing mechanism

The story illustrates the rush many newspapers are in to create and launch iPad editions, which brings me to this more sceptical comment by the ever brilliant a_spod left on my post about iPad's role in the media ecosystem (the link below takes you to a post by Daniel Lyons, well worth reading: thanks to a_spod for bringing it to my attention and providing an answer to my question about Apple retaining customer data):

"I keep meaning to post this, pre-iPhone4 link (Warning: I had to skip an ad first). It eloquently sums up my hesitation over the Apple and their iSpawn – well that and the way Apple are treating smaller developers (people have spent a lot of money developing an "app for that" only to have it rejected for unspecified reasons).

"So if tablet computers have really come of age, I'm not sure Appple will be the long-term winner; and I can see the mainstream media pouring a tonne of money into the iPad only to have a Chrome or even Windows usurp it... I haven't got as far as porting my app to the iSpawn. But my my understanding is Apple *do* hang onto customer details. However the restrictions can be sidestepped if you give the app away for free and then charge for the content – at least the WSJ and FT are able to do that."

(Media) History Repeating Itself

Content really is king, if not on the web then at least on the mobile web.

Yes, we talk a lot about the wonders of the mobile web these days, at least I've found myself writing quite a bit about it this spring, but that link will take you to an article from 2006 which was none too optimistic about all the hype surrounding the mobile web at the time.

Admittedly, smartphones such as the iPhone has radically changed the outlook for the mobile web, but this mobile revolution has been some time in the making. When I talked to VG Multimedia's CEO Jo Christian Oterhals for a magazine feature earlier this year, he told me he attended his first conference on the mobile internet as early as 1999.

This may be partly because, as John Naughton argued in his excellent piece "Everything you need to know about the internet" this weekend, the internet's full potential to transform our lives is still unknown - it's an evolution, not an overnight revolution.

But it's also partly because our industry is full of slogans and hype, some of which never become more than pretty slogans - and yet they're still reused at regular intervals. I stumbled across the OhMyNews article I link to in the intro when I googled this quote Kevin Anderson left in comment on my post on Lorites and Longtails for more context:

"For the Internet to thrive, content providers must be paid for their work. The long-term prospects are good, but I expect a lot of disappointment in the short-term as content companies struggle to make money through advertising or subscriptions. It isn't working yet, and it may not for some time....In the long run, advertising is promising."

That's Bill Gates, writing in 1996. Of course, now, as Paul Bradshaw brilliantly deconstructs, it's curation that is king. Adam Tinworth provides a top-notch analysis of this "silver bullet" mentality here, followed up by Kevin here.

I'm thinking perhaps there is a gap in the market here for a blog keeping track of all those tired slogans and debates that keeps popping up again and again when you least expect it.... In the meantime, here's Shirley Bassey and Propellerheads with "History Repeating": 

A haven for press freedom on Iceland?

It's great to learn that the Icelandic Modern Media Initiavtive has passed parliament, but I have my doubts that this actually will create a haven for freedom of speech and investigative reporting.

The reason? I've covered both libel tourism and Icelandic media closely for several years, and remain unconvinced that the new Icelandic legislation will remove the challenges in these two areas over night -  but, as I said the last time wrote about this, I'd love nothing better than to be proved wrong.

See also:

Update 20/6-10: see also my media column this week (in Norwegian)
Photo by me from my December 2008 reporting trip to Rekjavik, more on Flickr.

Social media start-ups as agents for social change

What are the best ways to use social media to change the world, and could there possibly be a business model in doing just that?

I recently had the pleasure of being in the jury when participants of the Swedish Institute’s Young Leaders Visitors Program (#YLVP 2010) presented projects aimed at meeting global challenges - such as cultural prejudices, censorship and lack of democracy - through social media solutions.

The projects ranged from creating a social media academy for activists, to using various social media platforms to find, collect and present artists from a specific region to counter cultural prejudices (the #YLPV participants came from Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia, West Bank-Gaza, Yemen and Sweden).

All the projects were presented with great zest and flair, and even thought most of them were perhaps a bit too ambitious, a bit too complicated – I think the beauty with social media, and what make these tools so effective, is the how they enable you to start small with a shoestring, or even non-existent budget – the event was a great reminder for me as well of how powerful an agent of change social media has the potential to be.

One of the other judges, Mikael Ahlström of Sprout Park, who describes himself as a serial entrepreneur in digital media, also told me he would consider investing in some of the projects presented – which I took to mean that he saw business potential there.

Another thing I was reminded of during the event was an interview I did with Fareena Alam in 2003 when she was editor of the now defunct Q magazine. She said part of the problem with the way media represents Muslims is how they’re always interviewed in connection with issues such as Islam, immigration or cultural integration and rarely presented as normal people with ”normal” problems such as housing or transportation.

I don’t have the interview before me now, so I don’t remember her exact words, but this, the way immigrants or ethnic groups are presented in mainstream media was also an issue which at least one project was aimed at improving. I think social media can be a great tool in this respect, as it’s a great arena for building an online identity on your own terms. There are of course lots of challenges as well: access to and knowledge of these tools are in no way universal, but through them more people than ever have access to the equivalent of their own printing presses, and it’s interesting to see how this e.g. can be put to use to improve democracy in various parts of the world.

But I must admit I’m not so sure this will be a mass endeavour. Even though I recently read that Facebook users outnumber newspaper readers in The Middle East and North Africa – perhaps not surprising when you consider all the restrictions on free press in the region – I think we’ll probably see the 90-9-1 law played out here as well.

Incidentally, I happened to spend my last school year before university attending an experimental college with "complete student democracy" (a coincidence, sort of). The college was started by students in 1967 and was, at least in theory, run by the members of the school: all students and teachers had one vote each.

A lot can be said, both good and bad, about that experience, but even in this sort of setting – at a school (in)famous for the democratic way it was organised – it was at best no more than 10 per cent who actively played a role in this "democracy" other than at times, and often reluctantly, turning up to vote.

That, of course, is not to say that the work of individuals or small groups of dedicated souls can not make a huge differences, quite the contrary, and social media can make, and in some areas is making, it easier to organise those scattered groups and indviduals and rally people behind a cause.

I also gave the keynote presentation at the event, and will return to that soon, but the day gave me so much to think about, also in terms of the shortcomings of, and possible fixes for, journalism, that, given a very busy schedule, it's taken me some time to start blogging about it all. 

On Lorites and Long Tails

Do you ever get the feeling that your caught up in a discussion you've been having too many times before?

That weird feeling when you find yourselves talking about (media) issues you thought were resolved many years back, or arguments you thought had been put to rest ages ago?

It's often an awkward position to be in when you feel you really should point out that we had this discussion in 2001, 2005, 2007 or ... (insert year) and arrived at those and those conclusions to the arguments someone is bringing forth now.

Sometimes of course, you're only to happy to steer the debate in a more interesting direction by doing so, though other times, when these issues are being discussed anew in full earnest and with much passion, it really does make you feel like a Lorite.

See, I just found a new term for this when I read Neil Stephenson's "Anathem" recently. It's a rather complex book - interesting, very Stephensonesque but not my favourite Stephenson book - which I reviewed briefly on Facebook, but I was taken by the role Lorites play:

Lorite: A member of an order founded by Saunt Lora, who believed that all ideas that the human mind was capable of coming up with had already come up with. Lorites are, therefore, historians of thought who assist other avout in their work by making them aware of others who have thought similar things in the past, and thereby preventing them from reeinventing the wheel.

That's a rather useful role to play, but, even though I've actually studied the history of ideas, I can't for the life of me remember which philosophical direction Lorites alludes to (though I did spot lots of Plato, Spinoza, Heidegger, Kant etc in the book). Come to think of it, it can often be very useful to keep in mind the history of science, of ideas, of printing etc when contemplating today's debates on media and technology - there are many universal, reocurring themes - but why I associated Lorites withe Long tails when I first started writing this post (probably a few months or so back) evades me right now...

iPhone key in #Flotilla hostage scoop

Or perhaps we should say iPhone aided old-fashioned journalistic shrewdness, research and determination?

Resume (in Swedish) carries the story of how Niklas Svensson landed the first interview with Swedish author Henning Mankell, an interview that was mentioned on international networks such as BBC and Al-Jazeera, after he was released from Israeli custody. Svensson, a reporter with Swedish tabloid Expressen, flew down to Tel Aviv to try to get on the same flight as Mankell out of Israel.

After several hours of legwork at the airport he was able to identify, and secure a seat on, the same flight as Mankell. The minute the famous author got on board, Svensson leaped up to him, obtained permission to snap a photo with his iPhone and immediately sent it to his news desk back home. Once the airplane was in the air, and the seatbelt sign was switched off, he went up to Mankell and did a video interview with him using his iPhone and a tape recorder.

He then got out his laptop, typed it all up, and emailed a print and web version of the interview when switching planes in Munich. Svensson talks of his incredible luck in being the only journalist on the flight, but he is commended in the comment section for delivering a kind of journalism, going out there to get the story come hell or high water, one commenter in particular says he thought had become extinct.

(I stumbled across a link to this story via a blog post on a Swedish iPhone blog, iPhone 24, which for some reason showed up in my permanent Icerocket search on Norwegian media group Schibsted).