Talking New Media

Medium goes from publishing tool to content farm, publishers remain skeptical; Pre-iPhone event media app updates

Lots of media apps were updated this week, some in preparation for the release of iOS 11, others to continue the job of cleaning up the code — major updates for Kobo Books and Hearst’s Esquire magazine, Google updates its portfolio of iOS apps

There is a good interview with Medium’s founder Ev Williams on Nieman Lab (posted last week but I finally saw it today). The interview and article are by Laura Hazard Owen, who joined Nieman Lab in 2015 from Gigaom, where she worked for four years.

Medium, and previous publishing platforms that can be compared to it, have been favorites of many journalists. Yet, Medium has had to change its business model several times, and has yet to find success. Still, these platforms continue to draw a lot of attention and continue to be proving influential. WordPress, as an example, is expected to bring its Gutenberg Project to the platform, one that many people compare to Medium.

Hazard Owen comes close to getting at the problem with Medium when she writes

Many of the companies that left Medium didn’t want their business models to be driven by advertising; they just wanted to have ads as an option, and they weren’t close to being able to sustain a business on subscriber revenue, even if they’d do that in an ideal world. “We’d love to be able to do this all without ads, but there’s no money in that,” Film School Rejects’ Neil Miller wrote in May.

This is true, from a publisher’s perspective advertising continues to be part of the revenue model, even if it is not the largest and most important part of that model.

But I see Medium’s biggest problem being what many consider its biggest strength: design.

Williams was, along with Meg Hourihan, co-founder of Pyra Labs which created Blogger (sold to Google in 2003). Blogger is the platform many bloggers start out with… and most eventually leave. The reason is simply that it that, while easy to learn, it is hard to customize. It is precisely why so many Blogspot web either die to move to WordPress (you can still see TNM’s original Blogspot website here). A Blogspot website can do about 90 percent what a WordPress site can, but it is the 10 percent that it can’t do that makes all the difference.

Fans of Medium have plenty of great things to say about it, but the best comments I’ve heard that help explain why I think it will continue to struggle came from an art director I know. He surprised me by telling how much he liked Medium. I was shocked and said I thought of Medium as really anti-design. He said he didn’t think so, but said that in the end Medium was irrelevant to him because he can’t work with it to create what he wants, so while he loves reading content there, it will never influence his work, nor will be ever recommend publishers to work with the company.

Once again, here is Laura Hazard Owen’s interview with Ev Williams.

We are less than a week away from Apple’s iPhone event. For the past few years this has been such a big news story, and doubtless it will be one again next week. But, frankly, it is hard for me to really care about what the next iPhone models will bring.

First off, Apple keeps disappointing by stubbornly failing to address what its customers have demanded of it: better battery life and more storage. Instead, Apple believes this is all about design, so the rumored new iPhone 8 is said to feature a glass body and edge-to-edge OLED display. It will likely be gorgeous, and likely to be more expensive.

Meanwhile, this weekend Hurricane Irma will bear down on Florida, Spain is in a Constitutional crisis due to Catalonia’s parliament, the Russia investigation continues, and the president continues to let his cabinet members destroy the very departments they are in charge of running. So, you really care about a cell phone?

So, with less than a week until Apple’s iPhone event, and therefore the introduction of iOS 11, you would expect that there would be a number of media apps being updated in anticipation… and you’d be right. But there are two kinds of updates we’re seeing today: those that are trying to make major changes in anticipation of iOS 11, and those cleaning things up once and for all regarding the iOS 10 platform.

Here is a rundown of some of this week’s media app updates:


Kobo Books: Now known officially as Rakuten Kobo, this app has been updated to version 9.0, signifying a major update. The big change is that audiobooks and eBooks are accessible in the one app.

What’s New in Version 9.0
Here’s what’s new in our latest release:• Introducing Audiobooks – You can now access both audiobooks and eBooks in one app.
• You can now see your most recently added items directly from the Home screen.
• Add up to 5 collections to your Home screen by using our new Edit Home page. Just click that big Edit button at the bottom of the Home screen.
• See how many items are in your library at the top of each page.
• You can now see the progress of each of your downloads by the file size.
• We’ve resolved an issue where the bookmark is not always saved if at the start of a chapter.
• We’ve resolved an issue where the font type cannot be changed for certain books.
• Bug fixes and general improvements.

Moving Media AB: A minor bug fix update for Mag+ Designd Reviewer, the app used to preview new digital editions built using the Mag+ Designd platform.

Scribd: The Scribd — Reading Subscription app is on an every two weeks update cycle now, so unless something is mentioned in the app description one can guess that the more recent update is a minor bug fix update.

Google: Is, in my opinion, the best iOS app developer, which Apple should really be ashamed of. Their apps are updated regularly, and here is a rundown of some of the updates released this week:

Apple: Apple has one of its own updates, and it is tied to Google, in a way. Version 2.2.4 of iMovie improves compatibility when sharing content to YouTube.

Media Apps:

AccuWeather International: Version 10.6 of the AccuWeather app includes lots of new features including a redesigned home screen and Today widget, an index that shows Zika risk from mosquitos, as well as a number of other additions. That Zika index is a great idea, good job team.

Tribune Interactive: The tronc newspaper apps are still in the App Store under the Tribune Interactive developer account name, which I suppose is a good thing. The Chicago Tribune app received an update for bug fixes, as did the app for the LA Times — one assumes the other tronc newspaper apps will receive updates soon, as well.

The Economist: The Economist Espresso, the magazine’s morning news app, is added a night mode, and the ability to switch direction of currency conversions.

Hearst Communications: Esquire Magazine US is now up to version 6.0 and appears to be a major update.

What’s New in Version 6.0
Update today for these new features and improvements…

· We’ve made some sleek style & design updates to make the app look better than ever.
· Our new table of contents within each issue will make it easier than ever to get to the article you want.
· Take a peek at issues with our new timed preview feature before you buy it!
· Check out our new search feature, making headlines and body text searchable!
· Don’t miss our new and improved News section, where you can read real-time articles from

The Nation: The app is up to version 6.0, which one assume would mean it is a major update, but the app description only mentions minor bug fixes. I wonder if this one involves iOS 11 compatibility, but they are not really sure yet, so don’t want to jump the gun.

New York Media LLC: New York Magazine is up to version 1.5.5 and fixes Facebook sharing and reduces the app’s storage size.

Move Inc.: The app still appears under the Move Inc. developer account, but Move is owned by News Corp, so this really is a media app, whether some publishers realize it or not. Version 10.9 adds search for homes by school name or school district, and school search will show the school boundaries on the map for all nearby schools & school districts.

Times Newspapers Limited: The Times of London app for the US has been updated. This, of course, is another News Corp developer account. Version 5.3.2 is a bug fix update.

Postmedia Network: The app for The Vancouver Sun has been updated. Version 4.0.5 says it is “ALL NEW for iPhone and iPad – a faster and smoother reading experience for your news on the go.” I checked for other Postmedia newspaper app updated but only saw this one.

The Washington Post: The app simply called The Washington Post is actually the one the newspaper released first for the Amazon Fire tablet, then elsewhere. This update is interesting as it simplifies the subscription models. “New descriptions for our Basic and Premium tiers. Your subscription now includes access to The Washington Post Classic and The Washington Post Print Edition.” Also, the update now allows reader to turn off scrolling animations by going to the Menu, tapping the Gear icon, then turning on “Reduce Animation Effects”.