Category Archives: Magazines and Newspapers

iPad News Daily Called “The model for This Digital Age”

Josh Sternberg of digitday.com reminds us that NewsCorp’s news app, The Daily, celebrates its first birthday this week, and after one year it’s not just viable but a growing commercial success in an Internet environment hostile to the publication’s business model: subscription.  Yet it has a quarter of a million monthly readers and 100,000 paid subscribers.

Though (full disclosure) my son is a reporter for The Daily, my enthusiasm for the app is completely independent.  I just happen to think it’s terrific. But don’t take my word for it – it’s the iPad’s third most popular app.

Though The Daily started out as a dedicated iPad application, it is now accessible on Android, but the eye-popping graphics play best on the iPad’s big bright touchcreen. Some fairly heavy-hitting advertisers like Verizon, IBM and BMW display their wares there.

“I think it is the future of print,” digitday quotes a media executive, an odd description since there isn’t a single drop of printer’s ink associated with the publication.  But that’s just the point: it delivers all the news, culture and entertainment of a printed newspaper or magazine, but the videos, popups, callouts and other dazzling graphics are exactly what the iPad was created for. If you don’t have one, borrow it, download a two-week free subscription and see for yourself.

By the way, I have dubbed The Daily a “zapp” – drawn from “news app” the way “blog” is derived from “web log”. I believe this term may be original with me and if it achieves wide circulation and enters the English language (Oxford English Dictionary are you listening?) I hope Rupert Murdoch will reward me liberally, or at least recognize me with an asterisked footnote in one of his, um, papers.

The Daily After One Year: Some Lessons Learned

Richard Curtis

Share

You Can Be Replaced by a Computer. Hey Novelists, I’m Talking to YOU!

Steve Lohr of the New York Times reports a startup outfit in the field of Artificial Intelligence that “takes data, like that from sports statistics, company financial reports and housing starts and sales, and turns it into articles.” One computer scientist observed: “The quality of the narrative produced was quite good.” But an investor in Narrative Science, witnessing the software’s skills in reportage, was more fervent: “It’s as if a human wrote it.”

Going back to introduction of the linotype at the end of the 19th century and word processing in the 20th, automation in the technical production of newspapers, magazines and books has replaced whole work forces in journalism and publishing.  But, other than speculative science fiction, the notion of replacing authors themselves seemed too fanciful to take seriously.

Can’t happen here?  Not only can it, not only will it, but one of the company’s founders, Kris Hammond, predicts “In five years, a computer program will win a Pulitzer Prize — and I’ll be damned if it’s not our technology.”

If after reading In Case You Wondered, a Real Human Wrote This Column you still think it will never happen, drop us a comment. But please identify yourself as human. E-Reads management reserves the right to reject postings submitted by robots.

Richard Curtis

Share

Abandon All Hope, Ye Comic Book Artists

Dear Comic Book Artist:

I appreciate your asking my advice.  You won’t like what I have to say but I am going to tell it to you straight.

You are a brilliantly gifted draughtsman and the superhero you’ve created is absolutely unique.  You look like a very nice person and I don’t want to see your heart broken.  So, before you take the job with that comic book company I want to make it absolutely clear that if you accept it you will NEVER, EVER own the rights to your work.  Your employer will be free to create $100 million movies with ten sequels. Your precious creations will be works for hire and your only compensation will be the salary they pay you.

Consider that job a life sentence from which there is no appeal.  No appeal whatever. Have I made myself plain? Do you want to let that sink in before you accept their invitation to draw for them?

But don’t take my word for it. Read Michael Cieply’s New York Times article reporting on the ruling by a federal judge: Court Ruling Says Marvel Holds Rights, Not an Artist. If you feel my caveat was ambiguous, read the judge’s statement about the merits of the suit brought against Marvel: “In Thursday’s ruling, Judge McMahon provided a detailed review of the disputed Marvel works, and concluded that the Kirbys’ evidence did not make ‘so much as a dent’ in the assertion that Mr. Kirby had worked for hire, and thus did not own the copyrights.” Courts have taken similar positions in lawsuits concerning Superman and Stan Lee-created characters.

By the way, your brother, the author who’s just been hired by a book publisher to novelize a video game? The same rule applies. In the neighborhood I grew up in the rule was called “Tough Noogies.”

Richard Curtis

Share

ESPN’s Dirty Little Secrets Safe with Publisher Until Pub Date

Years ago the girlfriend of a married politician came to me with a proposal for a tell-all. Because of the explosive nature of the revelations the paranoid author insisted that editors read the material in their offices and hand it back to us when we left.

You would think that gazing at editors while they read would be as exciting as unraveling a knitted sweater. In fact it turned out to be a deeply enlightening experience. Some editors tossed each page carelessly on the floor after completing it; others shuffled each completed page to the rear of the stack and stopped to tamp it all neatly down. One scanned the proposal in a minute or two; another read it moving his lips.

Unfortunately, I had to be content with watching editors read, because the author chickened out and the book never got sold.

I was reminded of that caper when I read that Little, Brown, publisher of Those Guys Have All the Fun, a red-hot expose about hijinks at ESPN, had so tightly embargoed the content that the author all but manacled the manuscript to his wrist, writes Richard Sandomir of the New York Times. “I couldn’t get another one to give to my mother for Mother’s Day,” says author James Andrew Miller.

The publisher took similarly stringent measures in offering the book to magazine editors for possible serialization, compelling them to read it in Little, Brown’s offices after signing a confidentiality agreement. It seems to have worked, as not a word of it has leaked to anyone’s knowledge, perfectly preserving its blockbuster impact until release of the book on May 24th in the midst of Book Expo America.

When you realize before how many pairs of eyes a manuscript passes from the time it is delivered by the author to its first public airing, you will appreciate how fiendishly difficult it is to maintain a leakproof “embargo”, to use the publishing term.  The manuscript must be shared by the editor with a small army of potential spoilers: editorial colleagues and executives, attorneys, copyeditors, proofreaders, sales and publicity and marketing and promotional people, printers, magazine editors, and book reviewers.  Even if we did not live in a media-driven age where secrecy is harder to preserve than the bald eagle, the protection of a book’s naughty if not nasty secrets would be all but impossible.  So it is to Little, Brown’s credit that they somehow did it.

You can get a glimpse of the content in Secrecy Breeds Curiosity Over an ESPN Exposé, but to publishing professionals it isn’t half so interesting as how Little, Brown kept it so perfectly under wraps.

Richard Curtis

Share

Bloggers Beware: Angry Newspapers Are Out to get You

Like the spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down, we like to illustrate our postings with photos to liven up the blocks of text.  But there won’t be one accompanying today’s offering.  After reading Enforcing Copyrights Online, for a Profit by Dan Frosch in the New York Times, we’re too scared to.

Frosch reports that a company called Righthaven “finds newspaper material that has been republished on the Web — usually an article, excerpts or a photograph — and obtains the copyrights. Then, the company sues.”

Righthaven has filed several hundred lawsuits for work posted without authorization by newspapers in Colorado and Nevada, and the damages claimed are scary large: if willful infringement can be demonstrated, the award can be as much as $150,000.

Many of the cases, Frosch tells us, have been settled out of court for undisclosed sums. A couple that were publicly reported were settled for less than $5,000.”In two instances,” he writes, “judges have ruled against Righthaven in pretrial motions.”

We’ve come out pretty strongly against willful piracy. But when it comes to inadvertent misappropriation, when it is not certain for instance that a picture is in the public domain and when the user takes the picture down promptly when asked to do so, we think justice should be tempered with mercy.

On the other hand, Sara Glines, an executive for the outfit that owns The Denver Post, has a point when she reminds us that “We have invested heavily in creating quality content in our markets. To allow others who have not shared in that investment to reap the benefit ultimately hurts our ability to continue to fund that investment at the same level.”

If we can summon up our courage again, tomorrow’s blog will be accompanied by a photograph.

For a complete archive of articles about piracy on the E-Reads website, visit Pirate Central.

Richard Curtis

Every Blogger owes a debt of gratitude to newspapers and magazines. This posting relies on original research and reporting performed by The New York Times.

Share

Huffpo Sale Built on Bloggers’ Backs, Class Action Asserts

Jonathan Tasini has lent his name to another class action lawsuit, and if the last one is any guide, this one will be bitter and protracted and expensive. It may also be successful. New York Times Co. v. Tasini was waged on behalf of freelance authors and made its way up to the US Supreme Court where the authors’ rights were upheld.

This one is on behalf of bloggers, specifically those who posted on Huffington Post.

“HuffPo,” as it is nicknamed, is one of the most successful media sites of the last decade. Its value was concretely recognized when AOL acquired it recently for $315 million.  But the deal soon provoked criticism because the site’s success has been built on the sweat of unpaid bloggers.

Granted that when they originally wrote for HuffPo the bloggers seemed okay with trading a paycheck for a byline. But when they heard about all that money being shelled out for the value that they had added free of charge, they began to grumble.  Those grumbles are now embedded in the claim filed by Tasini representing more than 9,000 bloggers.  They feel that $105 million out of the AOL money – precisely one third of it – should go to them.

We had observed the same thing when we posted Hey, Anybody Can Sell a Company for $315 Mil if They Don’t Pay Their Help

Tasini, whose fearless crusading spirit hearkens back to the days of two-fisted labor organizers, minced no words on the website dedicated to the lawsuit, comparing Huffington to “every Robber Baron CEO” who thinks that “they and only they” should profit while “peons struggle to survive”

Richard Chirgwin, writing in The Register, says “The complaint claims that the HuffPo lured contributors with the promise of exposure, but unjustly gained from them by keeping the income accrued for itself. (This is, of course, an old trick in the publishing game: any hopeful journalist will have been, at some time or other, offered the chance to ‘get exposure’ if they would let publishers use their articles for free, usually on a ‘trial basis’. This means ‘as soon as you ask us to pay you, we’ll stop running your articles’.)” See Writers sue Huffington Post for back pay

Tasini knows all those tricks, having documented them in the celebrated lawsuit that  bears his name.  That suit was born in the dawn of the digital era when magazines and newspaper republished in various digital formats pieces that had appeared in print written by freelance writers. With the Supreme Court’s affirmation he won the case, reaping some $10 million for writers (and $4 million for lawyers!)

Richard Curtis

Share

Hey, Anybody Can Sell a Company for $315 Mil if They Don’t Pay Their Help

“We are being played for suckers to feed the beast,” says Anthony De Rosa, a product manager at Reuters. Who does he mean by “we”? He means you. You are the reason Facebook has been valued at $50 billion.  You are the reason Twitter is worth $10 billion.  You are the reason Huffington Post was sold to AOL for $315 million.  These titans were built on cheap or free labor – your labor, the labor of writers so eager for exposure that they will give their work away.

David Carr, writing in the New York Times, calls it “a Tom Sawyer moment.” You’ll recall that Sawyer seduced Huck Finn and other friends into whitewashing a fence by making them feel he was doing them a huge favor. “That’s a bit like how social networks get built.” says Carr.  If Sawyer were doing it today, he would say ‘You’re not just painting a fence. You’re building an audience around your personal brand’.  The technology of a lot of these sites is very seductive, and it lulls you into contributing.”

“We live in a world of Digital Feudalism,” says De Rosa. “The land many live on is owned by someone else, be it Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr, or some other service that offers up free land and the content provided by the renter of that land essentially becomes owned by the platform that owns the land.”

So, suckers, whose brand have you built?  Facebook‘s? Twitter‘s? Huffington‘s?  Maybe it’s time to start working on your own?

Carr’s At Media Companies, a Nation of Serfs will give you a lot to think about – and maybe to get mad about.

Richard Curtis

Share

Why You Call The Daily a “Newspaper” and Other Skeuomorphic Incongruities

The Daily, NewsCorp’s  tablet-dedicated news app, does not possess a single atom of organic matter. Yet we call it a newspaper. A news paper. Why?

Reporter Joshua Brustein explains that this is an example of a skeuomorph, a “superfluous reference to the past.”

He reminds us that we not only use skeuomorphs (“from the Greek words for tool and form”) every day but vitally depend on them to navigate our brave new digital world

Another example is the analog custom of designating consecutive page numbers in e-books when it is more appropriate, digitally speaking, to fix your position in the document with a percentage of your progress. “E-books, by definition, do not have pages,” writes Brustein. “Depending on which size font someone uses, she may have to advance the screen many times before ‘turning a page.’ Then there are the questions of how to approach books with many physical editions, or texts that exist only in digital space.”

Want more? Brustein cites artificial sounds as more important psychologically than practically. Digital cameras make a satisfying click that hearkens back to the sound of a mechanical camera but is completely artificial, especially in view of shutter-lag that produces an image several critical moments earlier than the soul-satisfying but otherwise useless sound of a shutter being activated.

Read about some other self-deceiving skeuomorphs in Why Innovation Doffs an Old Hat.

By the way, I have dubbed The Daily a “zapp” – drawn from “news app” the way “blog” is derived from “web log”.  I believe this term may be original with me and if it achieves wide circulation and enters the English language (Oxford English Dictionary are you listening?) I hope Rupert Murdoch will reward me liberally, or at least recognize me with an asterisked footnote in one of his, um, papers.

Richard Curtis

Every Blogger owes a debt of gratitude to newspapers and magazines. This posting relies on original research and reporting performed by the New York Times.

Share

iPad News Daily, Murdoch’s Bold Gamble, Launches Today

Trailing sparks of intense controversy since the day it was announced, The Daily goes live today. The Daily is the news app created exclusively for the iPad by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.

The only thing not in doubt is Murdoch’s determination to make the venture work: word on the street is that he’s invested $30 million in it. He told Fox Business that The Daily was his “No. 1 most exciting project.” James Murdoch, who does not always see eye to eye with his old man, described it as “our flagship project.”

In addition to breathtaking techno-innovation the money went into the best journalistic talent money can buy, like New Yorker music critic Sasha Frere-Jones, TV producer Steve Alperin, and Richard Johnson, Mister Page Six himself.

What has stirred so much debate? For one thing, restricting the news app to one dedicated device flies in the face of the shibboleth that information wants to be free.”News Corp.’s expectations for the The Daily seem pegged to the hope that convenience, novelty, and that old Apple chic will convince users to go against the now-established assumption that online news and feature content, which is so widely available for free, is not worth paying for,” comments Christopher Cocca in Huffington Post.

Cocca also cites another issue that seems counterintuitive: the publication’s subscription model and a Wall Street Journal-type pay wall. “Why part with a dollar a day for The Daily‘s curation of the news and other media that you and your friends on Facebook and Twitter are already curating for free? You already pay for your internet connection, your data plan, your cable. Will The Daily be such a useful digest of everything you’re interested in to be worth the extra 30 bucks a month?” A dollar a day? Murdoch has publicly stated it will be a dollar a week – $0.99 to be precise ($39.99 for a one-year subscription).

Interestingly, one aspect that is definitely not controversial will be the political slant: there isn’t going to be any.  Despite the rightist bias of Murdoch’s holdings like Fox News, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post,from all we can reckon he’s going to leave his heavy right fist off this operation.

The launch event was held in New York’s Guggenheim Museum attended by Eddy Cue, Apple’s vice president of Internet services. Originally it was to be held on the left coast with Steve Jobs presiding, but his health prohibited his attendance. Too bad; he might have answered a lot of questions and extinguish some of the fires of controversy that The Daily has kindled.

For information visit thedaily.com and check out the coolissimo video below.

Richard Curtis

 

Share

A Magazine Leaps Successfully into Cyberspace

Until recently, Guardian columnist John Naughton was so dedicated to his subscription to The Economist magazine that every weekend he made an “appointment” to immerse himself in his cherished publication.

But lately? “Every Friday, the postman delivers the print edition of The Economist. But the envelopes now sit unopened, gathering dust on the hall table.”

What happened?  The Apple iPad happened. The magazine’s management launched it as an app, accessible on a pay-wall basis for subscribers only. “It’s easier and more pleasant to read than its printed counterpart,” Naughton writes, “and much nicer than the Kindle edition of the magazine. The iPad has delivered a genuinely ‘immersive’ reading experience. In part, this is a reflection on the device’s screen technology and interface. But it’s mainly down to the quality of the app’s design.”

From a magazine it’s just a hop, skip and jump to books, says Norton. “The concept of a ‘book’,” he writes, “will change under the pressure of iPad-type devices, just as concepts of what constitutes a magazine or a newspaper are already changing. This doesn’t mean that paper publications will go away. But it does mean that print publishers who wish to thrive in the new environment will not just have to learn new tricks but will also have to tool up. In particular, they will have to add serious in-house technological competencies to their publishing skills.

“If they don’t do it, then someone else will. There will always be ‘books’. The question now is: will there always be publishers?”

The full story in Publishers take note: the iPad is altering the very concept of a ‘book’

Richard Curtis

Share