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And now, let’s try micropayments

Free, then paid-for, then free again, then partially paid, then free and now possibly micro-paid. That’s the New York Times pattern for its website since 1995. Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times, floated the idea in an email Q&A sessions with readers:

“The idea is that readers may not pay a subscription fee for a new Web site, but they might pay a few pennies every time they click on a page, if it was simple and frictionless. In the heyday of Napster and other steal-this-music Web sites, a lot of people believed that consumers would simply not pay money to download music. Enter Apple and iTunes”.

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eBooks and Smartphones

Update: see a presentation of the Kindle2 here.

Another look at an old, but not aging, topic: eBooks. There is visible agitation ahead of Amazon’s expected announcement, probably as you read this note Monday February 9th.  Jeff Bezos is set to announce a new version of the Kindle eBook reader, let’s call it Kindle 2.0. [Since I first drafted this column, bloggers obliged with more details.  February 9th announcement, ships Feb 24th, price $359 (?!).  See here]. By “coincidence”, Google announces a neat eBook reader Web application (as opposed to a native one, to code running on the device) for Android and iPhone.  See it here, it’s almost perfect on the iPhone, with an option to place a neat dedicated icon on the Home screen.  I write almost perfect because, unlike Google Reader, another Google Web app, the top of the book reading app screen seems to be fighting with the always present top of the iPhone screen. FINR (Fixed In Next Revision). More

Reading from a smartphone, the smart way

I’m quite fond of Bloomberg’s iPhone application. My insomnia companion is my iPod touch, used as an alarm clock, and as a convenient bedtime newsreader. And the Bloomberg app is my favorite: good navigation, a simple bottom toolbar (News, Markets, MyStocks, StockFinder). In the News section, stories are shown as they are published and each time I open a page a banner briefly pops-up inviting me to go (or not to go, which is good) to the advertiser’s site. Articles are excellent as always, stocks charts — although depressing for those who owns any — are great, with pinch-zoom when looked in landscape mode. For a demo, you can go to this video,  or, better, download the app for free on iTunes Appstore.
Fine, but the Bloomberg app is still version 1.0. More

What Would Google Do?

This is the title of a new book by Jeff Jarvis, (his blog here) one that triggered a really good (I’m not always in love with the magazine’s writings) Business Week story.  Focusing on Detroit, the book and the story propose a revolution in automotive design: openness.  Don’t design everything yourself, open your engineering processes, let customers and suppliers participate in the design effort.  Google is used as the example of open design.  Look at how they open themselves to user input by launching a product, say Gmail, as an open beta.  Three opens in one sentence…  As a result, Google benefits from early customer feedback and uses suggestions and bug reports to improve subsequent revisions. More

Media acquisition, the French way

Tons of cash for publishers, little in  return. That’s the Sarkozy prescription to “save” the press. For €600m ($767m) to be spent over three years, the French president is buying if not influence, the French media barons’ ear and goodwill. This is not a stimulus package. This is a band-aid to an ailing industry that has a shown a tremendous resistance to change, at every level.
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The tragic economics of ultra-small news sites

Two days before heading the Elysée gathering, I had a conversation with the founder of a tiny French news sites called Bakchich. info. The guy’s name is Nicolas Beau. He has a hell of a track record in investigative reporting. He spent quite a while at le Canard Enchained, a satirical newspaper-like weekly known for its ability to scoop. (Le “Canard” is the most read and most feared publication in the French politics.) Problem is you read it with a nose-clip: it is 80% fed by denunciations (pissed-off government officials, and journalists from traditional media who tip it, for a fee) and 20% classical investigative journalism. In my view, Nicolas Beau was doing most of the latter, applying the best methods of the trade, digging in and up stories, lifting the veil on many shenanigans. A year ago, he left the paper to start Bakchich.info, taking a large pay cut in the process. As we were discussing, he pulled a small index card: “Here is the latest salary chart of the company, he said with a thin smile. It supposed to address our critical situation…” Among the ten or so staffers, salaries range from €1200 to €2200 a month. And Bakchich.info was unable to issue paychecks for December. “I don’t know if you realize: I’m reducing salaries to people I was unable to pay last month. None of them blinked. They continue to work 12 hours a day”. He knows they can’t continue for much longer though. More

What to invest in now?

So, awright, we have a real new president. Some in the kommentariat found his Inaugural Address “average”.  Others, such as the NYT’s editors, gave it carefully weighted yet eloquent praise.  I enjoyed the sobriety, the quality of the language, not too everyday, not too clerical or esoteric.  Above all, I like the call to collective responsibility and Obama’s view we don’t need to choose between our security and our principles.  In other words, no torture.  The Statue of Liberty can uncover her eyes, wipe her tears of shame.  And maybe join the crowd and cry for joy a little.

Back to work.
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The alchemy of users stickiness

“You’ll see. Time spent on sites will settle the issue of audience measurement. That is where everyone will ultimately come to an agreement”. Thus spake the head of Mediametrie /NetRatings in France. Last week, we were having another passionate discussion about the way we measure websites audiences. My view: the always changing methodology, the discrepancies between site centric measurement (software at the server’s root that tracks clicks) and the user centric measure (a polling system such as Nielsen’s), all contribute to the confusion — and to the resulting deflation of advertising prices. His point: there is no perfect system, we’re in the throes of a continuing evolution, and we are working relentlessly to improve our measurement methods. Well. More

Seven statues for Steve Jobs

For this week’s Monday Note, the plans was to calmly traverse the field of investment opportunities as redefined, upended is a better word, or narrowed, by what is shaping up as depression.  I used to write recession or recession/depression but, now, even the Washington sages are now losing their calm.  Today, they’re conceding: the bailout plans aren’t working, the banking universe is stuck: the hundreds of billions aren’t rebooting the system, banks aren’t lending enough to businesses and individuals.  Next step: more taxpayer money into a government bank tasked with buying toxic assets.  Sigh… More

The Upcoming Catharsis of 2009

How about a contrarian view of 2009? After a while (say, five years) we might come to view this year as highly beneficial to the information industry. Why? Three reasons:
-    It will force news organizations to stop procrastinating and implement life-saving  decisions.
-    It will accelerate radical change.  What was supposed to take several years will happen in one.
-    For the surviving players, 2009 might yield a bigger piece of the pie.

This is all very speculative and, unfortunately, will entail casualties, drama, human misery and a dramatically thinner journalistic herd.

Let’s have a closer look. More