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Can we be honest about user data?

You know, the publishing business might not be doing itself any favours with its fervent opposition to the Apple subscription terms. The more posts like this that appear, the more our reputation diminishes:

Put simply, publishers don’t want readers to opt in, because they know readers will prefer to opt out. Transparency is not a friend of publishers who for decades made a mint by selling out readers to advertisers and list brokers. Most readers may not be aware of this, but those who are don’t like it. Publishers know that and hate Apple for calling their bluff. If personal info harvesting isn’t essential for publishers’ business model and it is in the interest of readers, then why would they be against an instant referendum in the form of the opt in button?

User data is valuable, and will be part of the business model we build in the future. But we need to be significantly more transparent about what we collect, why we collect it – and what the benefit is to the user. Apple is, in effect, challenging us to persuade the user to click “yes”. Can you do so?

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Some Afternoon Coffee Links

A couple of interesting links, that make an excellent aperitif to my last post:

A Little Devil’s Advocacy on iPad Subs

The whole discussion about the charging structure for subscriptions that Apple announced earlier in the week has left me rather bamboozled. It feels like rather a lot of people have missed something rather important about this iPad thingamajig.

You see, there’s a super-secret way to get all your content onto an iPad without Apple charging you a dime for it. If you look really carefully at your iPad, in amongst all those clumsy, slow, print-replicating magazine apps you’ve downloaded is a blue-ish icon which looks a little like a compass:


Found it? Cool. Now click on it. Yes, it’s called the web. You can access the web on your iPad. Blimey! Who’d have thought it?

You could put your content up on something called a web site, for free, or with a paywall, and have your customers access it that way. On their iPads. And Apple doesn’t charge.


Sarcasm aside, I think the rather bizarre belief in some quarters that the iPad will magically recreate our content packages of old and restore the traditional business model of publishing (debunked here) is at the root of the outrage shown in some quarters over Apple’s charging structure. People have obsessed over apps to such a degree they’ve forgotten they’re just one route from your servers to a customer’s eyeballs.

Apple is offering a shopfront, a payment processor and (for the app itself) hosting facilities. For that, they’re charging you 30% (and then only for customers that come to you through Apple. For customers you acquire yourself? Still free.) As Shane Richmond has pointed out, that’s pretty damn close to what publishers pay newsagents. And there aren’t many publications which ONLY sell to newsagents. If you want on the iPad app system, those are the terms of business. And some publishers are doing so. If you’re not prepared to pay the cost of accessing the platform, then build a pretty damn compelling web offer instead.

If you don’t think you can do that, and you don’t think you can find a business model that accommodates Apple’s terms on payment and user data, well, you have worse problems than this 30% charge, frankly.

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Possibly more significant than The Daily

Photo Feb 03, 3 14 50 PM

Following on from yesterday’s launch of The Daily, iTunes has changed its terms and conditions. Above is a screenshot from my iPad, when I was asked to agree to the new Ts and Cs earlier today.

See the last line of the changes there?

…and that we may request permission to provide personal information to the Publisher for marketing purposes.

That means in-app iPad subscriptions are no longer a void of information. Apple no longer has to own the relationship with your subscribers…

About that iPad mag subscriptions panic

photo (1)I saw a lot of buzz overnight about Apple not allowing magazine subscriptions on the iPad, and OMG how is the iPad going to save us now? Steve, you have betrayed us!

Except, well, that’s simply not true. You can buy subscriptions to publications on the iPad – I have ones to The Times, The Spectator and a photography magazine. There are various routes for selling those subscriptions, and one that’s specifically disallowed. Here’s John Gruber to explain:

Here’s the difference, I think. With Amazon and the Wall Street Journal, users set up and create their accounts on the web, not within the iOS apps. The WSJ app requires a subscription that doesn’t go through iTunes, but you create, pay for, and manage that subscription on the web. Judging from Kafka’s description of the Sports Illustrated situation, it sounds like Time tried to add its own direct billing subscription system within the Sports Illustrated app itself.

Gruber makes the very valid point that all this OMG! PANIC! would go away if Apple would just clarify its rules, though…

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How I Use Feed Subscriptions: Part 1

So we'll gloss over that and move on to Dan's second question: How do I manage them?

...I used to go through the various topic-based folders one at a time, but recently I noticed some folders tended to get neglected badly.

... My single worst habit in my feed reading is spawning umpteen tabs with pages I want to comment on, post about or just peruse in more detail. So, to all the bloggers who have written fantastic posts that I've marked to deal with later - and then never come back to: sorry.

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