Flipboard acquires Zite from CNN as bigger players are moving into news aggregation

CNN Money

CNN has sold personalized news aggregator Zite to Flipboard for $60 million, CNN Money reports. Flipboard will also offer custom magazines for some CNN shows as part of the deal.

Zite — whose algorithm always manages to surface customized content that I don’t come across anywhere else — was previously acquired by CNN in 2011. In December, AllThingsD reported that a new round of funding valued Flipboard — with its 100 million active users — at $800 million.

The consolidation by two of the largest news readers comes as major players like Google, Facebook and Yahoo have moved to compete in the space. Read more

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Newspaper PDF replica service bets on future of print-style digital reading

In October 2012, just 23 percent of Americans told Pew they read even one newspaper the previous day. So who in the world could possibly want or need unlimited access to 2,500 of them?

Alex Gruntsev, EVP and chief innovation officer of PressReader, made a compelling case in a phone interview that his “Netflix-style” subscription service — $29.95 per month — fills a niche in online news publishing by presenting news in a form that many automated aggregators cannot.

PressReader, formerly NewspaperDirect, has long provided PDF replicas mainly as a specialty business, but now it’s focusing on a wider consumer audience. “For just your morning routine, to open a PC was difficult,” Gruntsev said. “But in 2010, with the first iPad, the experience of reading dramatically changed, and it became way more appealing to the average reader.”

Now, PressReader users online or on tablets don’t just get static images of newspaper pages; they can jump into individual stories by clicking headlines. That launches PressReader’s SmartFlow mode, which allows for a seamless stream of stories scrolling left to right.

Stories from the Seattle Times, shown in the SmartFlow view of PressReader’s iPad app.

That’s in contrast to the “flop” method of consuming news on the web, Gruntsev said, where readers must jump into a story and then jump back to a homepage or index page for another one. That back-and-forth method of navigation leads to readers only viewing an average of three to five stories per day. Newspapers, meanwhile, allow for more linear navigation, leading to 20 stories seen by the average reader, Gruntsev said.

(For research into newspapers’ ability to engage readers longer and more deeply, see this report by the Readership Institute at Northwestern University and this one [PDF] from the University of Oregon highlighted by Jack Shafer when he was at Slate.)

The New York Times’ web app, Today’s Paper, achieves something close to the story flow of PressReader, but every story in the Times app looks the same. There’s no variety in headline size or photo size, the other big advantage of PressReader, according to Gruntsev. The layout engine, which required three years of development, converts print pages into one long stream of stories that takes into account editorial judgments, the visual cues that signal to readers that certain stories are more important than others.

That variety in presentation style also is intended to keep readers engaged better than the “flip” method, employed by various newspaper apps aggregators like Flipboard, which allow readers to jump from story to story without a menu but, again, offer stories that all tend to look the same. That makes readers lose interest quickly, Gruntsev claims. And to an extent I’ve felt that Flipboard fatigue myself: At some point, it becomes difficult to decide what to read when, for instance, every story card in Zite looks exactly like the others.

PressReader’s SmartFlow may not be as beautiful as other apps are, but it aims to mimic the visual hierarchy carefully crafted by newspaper designers. Readers instantly get a good sense for what editors deemed important, and it’s easier to judge whether stories are worth reading by browsing through full stories in a flowing format than by picking from dozens of headlines.

Analytics-powered aggregation

PressReader’s also leveraging its PDF replica readership to create a new kind of smart aggregation. The service can track which stories — and even which quadrant of the print replica pages — readers are most drawn to. Then, it reassembles stories from different newspapers into one collection of the day’s top stories. This feature is only available online for now, but Gruntsev noted how the industry seems to be focusing on web apps and moving away from native apps.

Will this type of aggregation surface more engaging content than social media or other smart aggregators like Zite that are so good at taking into account individual preferences? On Sunday night it definitely didn’t, as top stories at PressReader.com included a recap from a day-old NFL playoff game and a preview of one that had ended a few hours before I visited the site. With only the morning’s newspaper content to draw from, PressReader — even with so many newspapers available — can only feel timely and relevant for so long.

PressReader offers unlimited access to a wide selection of popular newspapers from around the world for $29.95 per month. Individual issues are available via in-app purchases.

As a newspaper nerd, I get a kick out of being able to flip through so many newspapers from around the world. But for the average consumer, access to thousands of newspapers is different from access to thousands of movies. (Gruntsev points out that access to the average newspaper website’s paywall costs around $15 per month, so in theory PressReader makes sense for anyone interested in two or more newspapers per day. And some newspapers bundle access to PressReader issues with their digital subscriptions.)

Still, the interface isn’t visually compelling enough to make me a loyal reader, and the lack of timeliness will alienate readers actively involved in social media. But it’s gratifying to see a digital service apply lessons from a piece of technology that has served us so well.

Read more


How Flipboard just created 50 million magazine editors

Inside FlipboardAll Things D | Giga Om
If you wanted to draw up a plan for drastically remaking the landscape of mobile news discovery, it might look something like this: 1) Release a beautiful news aggregating app that attracts 50 million readers, then 2) Empower those readers as curators who can create thousands of hand-picked digital magazines.

Flipboard, one of the most popular news-reading mobile apps, has just done that. It is shifting its focus toward empowering users to create their own curated “magazines” for others to read.

“Now everyone can be a reader and an editor,” a company blog post says. Read more


Four things for journalists to consider as full New York Times content comes to Flipboard

As of Thursday, New York Times subscribers can access the news organization’s content from within Flipboard, the aggregated magazine app for iPads and smartphones.

That’s news — even if you don’t subscribe to the Times. Here’s why.

This is what New York Times content will look like in Flipboard.

It is the first time Flipboard has fully subsumed the content of any publisher, and it is “the first time that The Times has offered paid subscribers full access to its content off a Times platform.”

But it won’t be the last. The Times says this is only the first step in a new strategy called “NYT Everywhere,” which will put Times content on many third-party platforms.

There are at least four things journalists and publishers should be considering as this transition occurs.

1. 20 percent of New York Times readers use aggregation apps like Flipboard, website general manager Denise Warren told the Times’ own Bits blog. That’s in line with a recent industry-wide study that found 22 percent of digital-content subscribers preferred to access content through an all-in-one newsstand app.

That raises the question: If one in five people prefer Flipboard-style apps to news orgs’ own apps, does that mean this Flipboard integration could persuade some new people to pay for a Times subscription? That’s certainly the hope.

2. The importance of APIs. Simple RSS/XML feeds of content power most of Flipboard’s sections. But for a deeper integration like this one, it was important for the Times to offer a robust API that could serve content and authenticate subscriber accounts. Flipboard CEO Mike McCue told TechCrunch “we worked closely with The New York Times technical team to integrate their content APIs and authentication back-end so it’s very easy to log-in one time then browse all the content … This was a ground-up build and our first authentication integration.” (If I’ve lost you there, check out four reasons your news org should use APIs.)

3. Can smaller news orgs follow this path? The New York Times already has its own apps for iPad, iPhone and Android, even BlackBerry and Windows Phone. So Flipboard integration is just an added bonus for its tablet-toting subscribers. But smaller news media can’t afford so much custom app development, and now they may find a similar Flipboard partnership is a good way to make their content available to paying subscribers who want access on tablets.

4. Content vs. Customers. On the other hand, there is a potential risk to news organizations in the long-run with this general model.

If you believe the maxim that Content is King, then it makes sense for you to sell and license your content far-and-wide so long as you get paid for it. You fear no disruption from those who produce no content of their own.

It’s a different calculation, however, if you believe that Customers are King. In this model original content is just one method (along with conversation, curation and others) to build audience relationships. The relationships, however originated, hold the true value that can be monetized by other methods like advertising, sponsored content, discount deals, events and licensed user data.

If customers are more important than content, then there’s a real risk to a news publisher of becoming just one of many commoditized content creators while Flipboard and other middlemen control the customer relationship.

Citing such fears, Ad Age reports that Conde Nast magazines Wired and The New Yorker are pulling back their content from Flipboard.

“Our intention is to adapt our model to allow Flipboard users to know what content at Wired is out there. It will have a headline and a sentence leading to a URL. If digital consumers want to interact with Wired, they can do so at Wired.com and not through an intermediary,” Publisher Howard Mittman told Nat Ives.

Of course, the Times itself is not in any present danger. It has its own popular website and apps, and controls its own subscriber data and revenue. Flipboard integration is just a good experiment and a potential way to acquire new readers.

But it will be interesting to see where else this new NYT Everywhere strategy will carry Times content, and if it does someday change the very nature of what it means to “read The New York Times.”

Related: Wall Street Journal extends premium content to Pulse news app Read more


iTunes features best news apps of 2011

Even iTunes is doing a year-end list; its staff pick the best and top selling apps of 2011, including news apps. The New York Times made the list of top iPhone and iPad news apps. The Daily was one of the top Newsstand apps and also the third top-grossing app of the year. CNN’s app is in the top five free apps of the year, and its iPad app is also among iTunes’ top picks for news apps of the year (see images below). CNN’s Zite tops the list of news apps. And Instagram is the iPhone app of the year; the photo filtering and sharing service is a favorite of journalists.

The Newsstand, introduced in October, has driven up app download rates by as much as 85 percent in some cases, though few news organizations have migrated their apps to it. Read more


Four lessons from Flipboard’s reinvention for the iPhone

The most popular news aggregation app for the iPad launches a new iPhone version Wednesday. Flipboard’s redesign for the smaller screen offers lessons in how publishers should tailor apps for the different needs of tablet and smartphone owners.

The welcome screen of the new Flipboard for iPhone app.

If Flipboard for iPhone seems a long time coming, that’s because it is. Flipboard for iPad debuted more than 16 months ago, and the iPhone app had been expected sometime in September.

“It’s something that people have been asking for for a while, and we really wanted to get it right for the iPhone,” Flipboard co-founder Evan Doll told me. “It’s not just a matter of the smaller size, it’s the fact that the iPhone is used in an entirely different context from the iPad.”

How different? Smartphone users fire up their devices in many different places, throughout the day, for a few minutes at a time. Tablet users are using their devices at home, in the morning and evening, in fewer, longer sessions.

Any news app maker will face similar challenges in designing apps for these different devices. They can learn from some of these ideas that went into Flipboard for iPhone:

Commit to portrait orientation. Flipboard changed the signature page flipping interaction to a vertical gesture for the iPhone, instead of the horizontal, book-like page turning on the iPad. This makes a lot of sense when you consider that iPhone users commonly hold the device upright in one hand, unlike iPad users who usually use both hands and often hold the devices horizontally.

Flipboard for iPhone emphasizes images and text, while minimizing navigation and utility buttons.

Use intuitive or invisible navigation. The last thing you want to do on a small screen is waste space on a bunch of navigation buttons. Flipboard for iPhone fills the entire screen with the images and text the user wants to see. It often uses swipe gestures instead of buttons. The app has hints to show how it can be used; for instance, the bottom half of the welcome page flutters up a bit to show it can be flipped to enter.

This results in a markedly different experience than for most news apps, with their ever-present navigation bars and menus. Flipboard gets out of the way and lets you immerse yourself in content.

Eliminate scrolling. Flipboard opts to break up content into discrete pages that you flip through one at a time, rather than one long page to scroll through. Scrolling has a higher mental and physical burden, especially on a small screen — you have to note where you left off, push the page upward a little, check if you went too far, then relocate your place in the text. Flipping is easier — read the page, swipe, keep reading — no precision or memorization required.

Save users as much time as possible. On the iPhone, users probably don’t have 20 minutes to meander through their streams of content. They have five minutes in line, or between meetings. Enter, Flipboard for iPhone’s “cover stories.”

This new feature curates the few items from a user’s social networks and content feeds that she is most likely to enjoy. Cover stories are based on what content a user has read and shared over time, as well as what her friends have posted, liked or retweeted. This feature will eventually make it to the iPad app as well, Doll said, but time-starved iPhone users were the inspiration.

That ties in to another time-saving Flipboard feature, the “all timelines” view. For power users who connect multiple social networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Tumblr, this section merges everything into one stream. Again, this saves the mobile user time by not requiring them to open as many as eight different social apps to check these streams.

Overall Flipboard seems to have made smart decisions with this release, which should extend one of the signature iPad news apps to many millions more iPhone users. Other things to watch:

  • Publisher partnerships. This larger market reach is probably good for the Flipboard Pages program, in which dozens of major newspaper and magazine publishers are letting Flipboard embed their content and sharing revenue.
  • Rethinking smartphone ads. Just as the iPhone app itself was delayed to “get it right,” Doll said the company is waiting to perfect an innovative ad system. The iPad app helped popularize the full-screen interstitial ad, treating ads as ”beautiful” content instead of gaudy banners. Expect something similar for the iPhone app.
  • Other platforms. With iPad and iPhone checked off, the natural next step for Flipboard would be Android. “It definitely gets a lot easier now that we’ve solved some of these smaller-screen design problems,” Doll said. “It’s reasonable to expect that Android would be the next thing we’re looking at, but it’s not set in stone.”
  • The big picture. Other iPad apps like Zite, Pulse, Editions, Livestand and, any day now, Google’s Propeller app, will compete with Flipboard. And each of the aggregator apps poses some form of competition or collaboration for the news organizations creating original content. Watch this fast-growing field to see how each player balances efforts to create value for readers, give credit to publishers, and make money for itself.
Read more

What to watch for in Google’s Flipboard-style Propeller app for tablets

AllThingsD | Robert Scoble
Google is working on a news reading app for tablets that will compete with Flipboard, according to reports. This comes after Google tried unsuccessfully to acquire Flipboard last year.

Robert Scoble says his source has seen versions that are “mind-blowing good.” Kara Swisher reports that the Google project is called “Propeller,” though it’s not clear if that is a code name or will be the actual brand at launch.

Other than that, there are few details reported. Here are some important things to watch for: Read more


Today’s Timeline: News.me goes free

Nieman Journalism Lab
Megan Garber reports that News.me is going from a paid personalized iPad aggregation app to a free service, opting for “more scale than what a paid-content strategy could offer.”

“The app will still focus on creating a good reading experience; it will still focus on aggregating content from a wide variety of sources. And, speaking of, nothing’s really changing about News.me’s relationship with the publishers whose content it’s licensed.”

News.me’s relationship with publishers is what distinguished it, in large part, from similar services Trove, Ongo, Flipboard and Zite.

Here’s a brief timeline of News.me and the other big personalized aggregation news services: Read more


Flipboard partners with Condé Nast for its first paid advertising

Condé Nast is working with the popular iPad reader app Flipboard to sell advertisements that will appear within New Yorker magazine articles viewed in the app. This marks the first paid advertising in Flipboard, which has been running some free ads from select partners for months during its Flipboard Pages trial period. Publishers participating in Flipboard Pages allow their entire articles to be reformatted and displayed within the Flipboard app, with the goal of eventually selling full-screen ads between some of the pages. PaidContent reports that Condé Nast and Flipboard will share revenue from the ads, and that Wired, Bon Appétit and other magazines will get Flipboard advertising later this year. Read more


New version of Flipboard highlights newspaper, magazine feeds

Flipboard, the most popular iPad app for browsing multiple news sources, was updated Thursday with features that drive more attention to individual newspaper and magazine sections. First-time users now start with a content guide to well-known websites, rather than being asked to set up their own social networks and feeds first. The app has a search function to find new content sources and now integrates with LinkedIn for industry news. Perhaps most interesting, though, is what will come in the next version of the app. Flipboard CEO Mike McCue told ReadWriteWeb that the product will include personalization and recommendation tools, which will help it compete with iPad aggregators like Zite and News.me. || Related: Apps, websites personalize news delivery through social data. || Next: A Flipboard iPhone app is due this summer. Read more


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