A personalised mobile newspaper for iPad users has been launched by a team of former Google and Bing engineers. Apollo News, the first product from Hawthorne Labs, aggregates content based on a user preferences algorithm, in a similar way to how Pandora recommends music for its users. The app was created by Evan Reas, Shubham Mittal and Prasanna Sankaranarayanan, who together have an employer history which includes Google, Microsoft and Bing. Reas told Journalism.co.uk that their idea came from their own frustrations with accessing interesting content online. The app costs users $4.99 for unlimited usage. The team now plans to make the app available on the iPhone as well as on the web itself, but says future developments will reach much further than the Apollo app. “Our hopes are more for the future of the company than just this one app,” Reas said. “We want to create a company with the main daily destinations (mobile and non-mobile) of news for consumers”.
Rupert Murdoch knows who’s winning the war between big media and the Internet. Unsurprisingly, it’s Rupert Murdoch. “Without content, the ever-larger and flatter screens, the tablets, the e-readers and the increasingly sophisticated mobile phones would be lifeless,” he proclaimed when News Corp. posted unexpectedly strong fiscal 2010 second-quarter earnings. “Devices and platforms are proliferating but this clever technology is merely an empty vessel without any great content.”
Murdoch danced a lively jig for investors as he bragged about his company’s ability to thrive in the media tumult caused by the Internet. I’m not buying it. News Corp. may be getting a big lift from “Avatar” right now, but like any big media company, it still has a lot of learning, experimenting and failure to do before it can really start to monetize the web. The arrival of the iPad and other tablet devices may, in time, make that easier. But first they will make it much harder by speeding up the process of adaptation.
The most difficult thing about the disruption facing the media industry hasn’t been the certain sense that business models are changing — it’s that nobody is sure how they’re changing. But one important idea is starting to become clear: Content isn’t a product anymore, it’s a service. Because for consumers, content is less and less a thing they buy and more a thing they experience.
The notion emerged a couple of years ago, with the likes of Kevin Kelly alleging that the Internet is essentially a copy machine and asking what can be sold that isn’t easily copied. Others took it even further, to the notion of content as a service.
Over at his O’Reilly blog, Andrew Savikas wrote:
Whether they realize it or not, media companies are in the service business, not the content business. Look at iTunes: if people paid for content, then it would follow that better content would cost more money. But every song costs the same. Why would people pay the same price for goods of (often vastly) different quality? Because they’re not paying for the goods they’re paying Apple for the service of providing a selection of convenient options easy to pay for and easy to download.
It’s no accident that Apple has been thriving in this chaos. And it’s no surprise that the iPad was designed to enhance the experience of web media in ways that are more immersive and intuitive than either laptops or smartphones. In fact, the iPad seems to be built on the blunt assertion that content is now something to be experienced rather than possessed. Selling content — whether it’s news, music, books or something else — as a product on a tablet is setting yourself up for disappointment.
This evolution in content is clearer in music, which was the first to feel significant disruption from the Internet. Twenty years ago, buying music meant purchasing a CD after you heard a song on commercial radio (or, for the adventurous, college radio) or read a review in a magazine. Today, music is becoming an experience that begins with discovery sites like Pandora or social network sites like Twitter and end up in a cloud-based service like Spotify or Grooveshark. Significantly, these companies are startups and not traditional media giants.
In short, the old media giants need to think like startups: That is, look at the iPad with the eyes of any other app developer and imagine what it can do that hasn’t been done before. How will a tablet change the experience of books, news, music, and so on? And why will we consumers be willing to pay for that new experience? These are the questions to start with, rather than asking how to shovel the same old content products onto devices that radically transform what content is.
Murdoch is right that those devices are lifeless without content, but he neglects to mention that it’s a symbiotic relationship. “Content is not just king, it is the emperor of all things electronic!” he crowed. Maybe, but this emperor is wearing the service uniform of a burger flipper. When do we get fries with that content?
Google has signed a deal with MySpace and online music player Lala to add music to its search results starting in the US today.
Music-related search results will present links to songs which when clicked will bring up pop-up players supplied by Google’s new partners. The MySpace pop-up player will have information on tour dates, links to videos and digital downloads, as well as a button for music and ticket sales.
Google said that the initiative was part of its aim to cut the “time to result” — which is how it terms the number of clicks and keyword adjustments a user makes before finding what they are looking for. It will also work if a user only knows a line or two of the lyrics of a song and wants to look it up. Music sites Pandora, imeem and Rhapsody will benefit from links to their sites based on suggestions of music a user might like based on their query.
Music will be streamed from independent record labels as well as the four majors: EMI, Sony BMG, Universal Music and Warner Music. The feature has been made possible following MySpace’s acquisition of iLike last month, in a deal reportedly worth $20m (£12.2m).
The deal comes as MySpace shifts its strategy away from competing with Facebook to focus on developing as a community for music and entertainment lovers. Courtney Holt, president of MySpace Music, said: “We believe the future of MySpace includes enabling the socialization of content not only on MySpace but also on other websites. Working with partners like Google is an important part of this strategy, and we have plenty of other opportunities ahead of us.”