John Fahey on “the winning approach”

from National Geographic’s intranet:

Change, by John Fahey

Published: April 26, 2011

John Fahey

A short time ago, Conde Nast, the large New-York-based magazine company, announced with much fanfare its commitment to publish iPad editions of all of its titles. This week Conde Nast acknowledged that it was tapping the brakes on this effort. All the obvious reasons were mentioned, including the inability to generate enough scale, as of yet, to justify the investment.

I think there is something else at work as well. A magazine is packaged the way it is because it fits a particular business model well. When those attributes that work wonderfully for a print magazine are no longer critical, the entire formulation and presentation need to be reimagined.  An industry analyst, Robin Steinberg, observing Conde Nast’s recent move, states: “It’s not a one-size-fits-all model, it’s about delivering the right experience the consumer demands on these devices.”  She goes on to say: “Testing new approaches, experiences and opportunities as part of this evolution is exactly what they and others should be doing.”  In other words, the winning approach will not be simply taking what we’ve done so well in print and enhancing it for a digital platform.

I don’t believe there is a “first to market’ advantage for publishers in the digital realm.  It may sound trite, but it’s a “smart to market” approach that should be in place. To that point, I hope you’re able to join us for the May 5th “all hands” staff meeting.  We plan to present some ideas which should give you a good sense of the National Geographic of the future.

Change is unsettling on so many levels.  Despite this, I believe we are in an excellent position to embrace the new technologies and be one of the most vital and loved brands on a worldwide basis for many years to come.


NGM on iPad: “Bordering on obstinate….”?

Exhibit A: Thoughts about iPad magazines by Khoi Vinh, former Design Director for (via the Future Journalism Project):

Khoi Vinh

Khoi Vinh

“A lot of people who make, read and love magazines have called me a naysayer about this issue, but I say that if you really care about the value that magazines can bring to the world (and I admit, I’m skeptical about whether they really do offer much value anymore), then it would be wise to give up the ghost on this unrealistic notion that a fancy presentation layer and rudimentary DVD extras-style bells and whistles slapped on top of content that can already be read for free on the public Web will generate any significant revenue. It’s bordering on obstinate to think that something you care so much about can be salvaged by doing more or less the same thing that has failed magazines so consistently until now: continuing to ignore the fundamentals of digital user experience design and how they diverge from analog print design.”

Exhibit B: National Geographic‘s iPad app:

≡  photo of Khoi Vinh via his website, Subtraction

iPad magazines have already lost their luster?

“Digital sales dropped toward the end of 2010 for all the magazines that make those figures available to the Audit Bureau of Circulations,” says a recent report in Women’s Wear Daily. Among the titles losing their digital luster: Vanity Fair, Glamour, GQ, Men’s Health, and Wired.

Why the sudden drop in sales? PC Magazine says the main problem is the lack of a workable subscription model. MSNBC’s Technolog suggests that magazines need their own dedicated category in the App Store. And while we don’t know the sales figures for NGM’s iPad app, we have a hunch they’re nothing to brag about — especially if the following online review by “JimFeet” is a fair barometer of what most people are thinking:

via iTunes

After using the Wired magazine app I downloaded the Nat Geo apps with enthusiasm – waste of time. Both the Traveller and the Nat Geo mag apps are little more than online versions of the magazine – including splitting up photo spreads that span two or more pages into their equivalent multi-screens. This means that while you can view the entire image if you have the actual magazine open in front of you, you have to flip between screens in the app and try to visualize them assembled in your head.

AND, as for the claim of “interactive”, not so much. The only interactivity I found was a less than 1 minute video that can be played from the “cover” screen. Hardly interactive in my estimation.

Lastly, this app offers a VERY small sample of the magazine. You must register and subscribe to get the full edition. I have no problem subscribing but I couldn’t find any description of what it would cost without first registering.

Nat Geo would do well to subscribe to Wired. They might learn something.

Hey, David Griffin — any thoughts?

NGM’s iPad app is here

(Released: September 4, 2010)

What’s dragging down the overall rating to 2.5 out of 5? Customers on iTunes say:

Poor quality scans: … Hard to read. Zooming makes it worse. Waste of time….

Misleading: Don’t think you’re getting anything with this app. It just tries to reroute you to another app where you need to pay. There’s not even a small photo or article here and if there is, who knows where to find it.

TERRIBLE PHOTO RESOLUTION: My three year old’s little tykes camera gives more detailed photos. Not dissing the excellent NG photographers, but the app makers. Come on NG, you can do better than these clowns.

Junk: This is yet another in-app purchase marketing ploy. Total junk, pass this one by.

David Griffin, please call your office.

Wrong Guy for the Job?

Just how bad is Wired magazine’s new iPad app? Pretty awful according to one review at

… [M]y gut feeling is that there is a massive opportunity to reinvent the concept of a magazine – yet we end up with something akin to what the web was like in the mid to late 90’s.  This basically boils down to a print designer’s vision of what the web should be like – but in this case it’s a print magazine person’s vision of what an interactive magazine should be like.
Is This Really The Future Of Magazines, or Why Didn’t They Just Use HTML5?

David Griffin

Hold that critique in your mind — a print magazine person’s vision of what an interactive magazine should be like — and then remember our post from May 13, when National Geographic Editor in-Chief Chris Johns announced that his Director of Photography, David Griffin, was being promoted…

… to the  position of Executive Editor, Electronic Publishing. … In recent weeks it has become apparent that this effort is a full- time job, worthy of executive leadership. David’s grasp of technology and all the promise it offers, his love and passion for photography, his strong sense of design and graphics and his dedication to journalistic excellence make him the ideal person to fill this important position.

Set aside that the need for full-time “leadership” in “electronic publishing” is something that dawned on the Editor of National Geographic in “recent weeks.” Instead, keep in mind that David Griffin is a print guy, and has always been a print guy.

On LinkedIn and on National Geographic‘s site, David has the opportunity to define himself, but you won’t see him use the words interactive, computer, technology, interface, user experience — nothing to suggest he has a “grasp of technology,” or is the right guy to shepherd NGM into the world of “electronic publishing.”

Once again, from Is This Really The Future Of Magazines…:

“… I actually think it’s a huge step backwards and I think the wrong people are working on the problem – just like the wrong people were working on the web problem back in the day.   Sure, we corrected course and we’re seeing the web done correctly more and more these days – but can the magazine publishing industry afford to get this wrong for any amount of time? …”


The Halt, The Lame & The iPad

“Content publishers are like the halt and the lame who flock to Lourdes in search of a miraculous cure. The pilgrims’ desperate hope is that Steve Jobs will restore their businesses to health by blessing them with “apps”—a new way for them to charge readers for content and revive full-page advertisements in electronic form. Burn me for saying so, but they’re dreaming.”

— from “Apple’s Way: Why publishers should beware the App Store,” by Jacob Weisberg in Slate

David Griffin: Call your office.

≡  cartoon via Slate

Anti-Social Media

So said Jeff Jarvis earlier today on Twitter. Later on, in I’m Really Worried What Apple Is Trying To Do With The iPad, Jeff writes:

Jeff Jarvis

“… The iPad is retrograde. It tries to turn us back into an audience again. That is why media companies and advertisers are embracing it so fervently, because they think it returns us all to their good old days when we just consumed, we didn’t create, when they controlled our media experience and business models and we came to them. The most absurd, extreme illustration is Time Magazine’s app, which is essentially a PDF of the magazine (with the odd video snippet). It’s worse than the web: we can’t comment; we can’t remix; we can’t click out; we can’t link in, and they think this is worth $4.99 a week. But the pictures are pretty.” [emphasis added]

Compare Jeff’s analysis with these sentiments from Robert Michael Murray, National Geographic’s Vice President for Social Media:

To sum up: Jeff Jarvis says the iPad is retrograde and anti-social. Whereas our Society’s VP for Social Media, who nominally is in charge of making our Society’s media social, is “excited” at the “changes in [his] media consumption habits.”

I wonder what might explain this divergence of opinion?

Content is King? Sure Doesn’t Look That Way….

National Geographic on Steve Jobs' iPad during the tablet's January unveiling in San Francisco

If content is King,
then why isn’t
John Fahey up on stage?

≡  image from Getty Images via The Wall Street Journal

Shades of Things to Come

You might pay for the iPad,
but will you pay for an eNGM?

Note the icon on the iPad.

Something's brewing....

*     *     *

UPDATE 13 March 2010: Now it’s gone.


≡  images (minus the red arrow) via Apple


Apple will certainly have millions of folks lining up in March to buy its new iPad ($499 to $829), despite the fact it’s already getting hammered in reviews. And while it’s flattering that Steve Jobs featured the NGS website in today’s iPad unveiling (above), the big question for the Society is: Will millions — or even thousands — of people pay for cheetah pictures on this device?

Our prediction: No. But that’s because we think our Society’s problems are rooted less in the medium and more in the (wrong) message.

Meanwhile, The New York Times plans to give paywalls another shot, even though Dollars for Content still looks like a losing strategy. Case in point: Newsday recently spent $4 million to redesign and relaunch its website, which three months ago was placed behind a paywall. Today, Newsday has 35 paying online subscribers. That’s right: only 35. Something to ponder as you gaze at the screenshot, above.

We still believe the real value of National Geographic rests with its members, four million strong. Catalyze our crowd, and enable us to do together what we could never do alone — and there’s hope. Put another way: Make it social, and make it a Society again, and the particulars of the platform cease to matter. And while we’re encouraged that Robert Michael Murray, our Society’s VP for Social Media, recently told us that NG’s new Django-based web site “will add more social and community to the platform over the coming weeks/months,” we’re still waiting to hear the details.

We’re also starting to worry about what he means by “social”:

≡  iPad image via Endgadget

NO NEW POSTS will be published here after February 6, 2014. THIS IS WHY.