Magazines and Apple’s Privacy Policy

Apple updated their Privacy Policy yesterday, it is a big revision. So important that Tim Cook posted a clear summary of their position, which anybody in the digital magazine or digital publishing business needs to digest and understand.

A few years ago, users of Internet services began to realize that when an online service is free, you’re not the customer. You’re the product. But at Apple, we believe a great customer experience shouldn’t come at the expense of your privacy.

Our business model is very straightforward: We sell great products. We don’t build a profile based on your email content or web browsing habits to sell to advertisers. We don’t “monetize” the information you store on your iPhone or in iCloud. And we don’t read your email or your messages to get information to market to you. Our software and services are designed to make our devices better. Plain and simple. A Message from Tim Cook….

These two paragraphs look like a pretty clear dig at companies such as Google and Facebook which harvest enormous amounts of personal data that they then ‘monetize’ primarily through advertising. Apple is setting a clear direction here in defending the user’s data and not abusing the customer’s trust. The detailed policies are clearly expressed and reassuring. There is a good reason for Apple to tighten up and underline its ‘hands off’ approach to user’s data now a week after its announcements on ApplePay, HealthKit and the very intimate new device, the most personal computer ever, the AppleWatch. So this is the big picture. Apple is driving some tent-poles in the ground, some standards for privacy and consumer control of personal data, that other companies will find tough to emulate.

But why should this matter to magazines and publishers generally? The reason is simply that Apple is projecting a standard for what should remain private when we read. When we read stuff on the Google and Amazon platforms, the extent and the pattern of our reading is completely known to Google and Amazon. Google and Amazon tie this data into our profile on their services. So this information is used to configure the rest of their interaction with us. As Alexandra Alter puts it “Your ebook is reading you”. No one knows quite how much use Amazon and Google make of this information that they gather on reading patterns, but Apple is firmly saying that this is information that belongs to the customer, and that Apple will not collect and monetize this data and it will not build an elaborate profile of our activity with their devices (“we don’t read your email or your messages to get information to market to you”). Even more important the rules which govern Apple’s app platforms will only permit developers to collect this data, if the fact of collection is clearly sign-posted and under the control of the end users.

Android is looking more and more like an advertising platform. Amazon’s fork of Android is becoming indistinguishable from a digital shopping platform. Apple is securing to itself, the moral high ground but also the commercial high ground, since iOS looks like the digital device platform which allows consumers to do pretty much anything without surrendering too much data and too much privacy to services that may not work in the long-term interests of consumers.

There is still going to be be room for clever and responsive advertising on the iOS platform, but it will need to stick by the rules. This will pose a dilemma for app builders. Do they optimise their functionality and their usage for the iOS platform, or do they blend in the tricksier and sometimes creepily intrusive interactions which will be fine on Android but forbidden in iOS? My guess is that the most reputable and the most prestigious publications will concentrate even more on the ‘upmarket’ iOS platform. Certainly subscription-oriented publications will give greater weight to the privacy and contentment of their subscribers, and this will re-inforce Apple’s position as the premium platform for many apps. Magazine and newspaper apps included, because the content of these apps and our pattern of reading, is so informative, and potentially so invasive of our island of privacy.



Minding our ABC

“The Audit Bureau of Circulations (UK) or ABC was founded in 1931….. to provide an independent verification of circulation/data figures to facilitate the buying and selling of advertising space within UK national newspapers.” (Wikipedia).

The ABC expanded rapidly to add magazines to its audits and for 70+ years served the publishers and advertisers who supported it with a steady and generally reliable service. Since the emergence of the web and digital publishing it seems to have lost its focus and its confident direction.

One unavoidable difficulty. The ABC figures are most trusted and most reliable when it comes to print circulation: ie subscriptions and newsstand sales. But this is now where the industry faces a big problem. For newspapers and magazines print circulations are (mostly) steadily falling and seem destined to drift on down. So the ABC figures which appear every 6 months are an unwelcome douse of gloomy news every 6 months when they appear, as the Guardian publishes another note on the falling sales of magazines (4.4% fall over 6 months), and the Press Gazette summarises the equally gloomy newspaper figures.

So how can the ABC avoid becoming an unwelcome spectre, like Banquo’s ghost, at the ritual gnashing of teeth as print circulations fall? Will publishers continue to pay for a service which is reliably and honestly charting the decline from the glorious heights of the early 1990s? There are signs that some of the weaker publishers are pulling out and no longer paying their audit fees.

The obvious solution is that the Bureau now needs to audit the success that publishers are claiming with their digital ventures (and there are success stories). The ABC is making efforts to do this (and at Exact Editions we support their efforts) however there are at least two problems with such a strategy. First, publishers are experimenting in all kinds of different directions: with paywalls, with apps, with direct sale digital subscriptions, with pure web services, with sponsorship and advertorial etc… There is no simple metric to measure what publishers are trying, and to some extent succeeding in doing. And if there are clear metrics, they are owned and developed primarily by the digital juggernauts (Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter etc). The ABC clearly cannot compete with the specialist services that are measuring the digital world at large. Flurry or App Annie do what they do much better than a publisher-specific bureau could manage.

But there is even so a role that ABC, or an organisation of that kind, could usefully serve. No one is effectively measuring paywalls, membership, subscriptions, pay per view, and digital purchases across the board. What needs to be measured here is revenue. Cash generated from the market. If the ABC were to decide that it could help publishers by auditing and measuring their success in raising revenue from content sold/licensed to individuals and institutions across the board, it would deliver an analytical and a statistical service that would be very useful to the industry as a whole. It would also be charting the evolution of a success story, not the spiralling decline of a paper-based medium.

Logging in ByPlace and the Scottish Referendum

Some Scottish University have logged in for ByPlace access to Prospect and the New Statesman for the period of the Scottish Independence referendum. Good news for the Student Unions of Aberdeen, Stirling, Napier and Dundee in Fresher’s week as new students arrive many of them with the right to vote in the referendum in 3 weeks.

Here is a picture of the access zone now available at Strathclyde:



So what is the user experience for a Strathclyde student (or anyone else near the Student Uni offices) who wants to get access to either or both magazines.

  • First you have to be in the zone with an iOS device
  • Then you pick up the app for Prospect ByPlace or the New Statesman ByPlace from iTunes
  • Open the app and scroll through it.
  • When you come to a page where the content is blocked — press the button which gives you free access to content by location
  • When the iPhone asks you to confirm that you will let the app know where you are. It will politely ask you for confirmation
  • You are away. You have free access as long as you are in the zone



Scottish Referendum ByPlace

Exact Editions ByPlace technology makes it possible to use and read magazine apps for free in specific locations.

This technology is getting an exciting and innovative use for the next four weeks as we lead up to the Scottish Independence Referendum. Two magazines using the Exact Editions app platform: Prospect and the New Statesman are projecting their apps for free at locations (bars, hotels, clubs, libraries etc) in Scotland. The Act of Union came into effect 214 year ago and up to 214 free locations will be created for these magazines in the course of the referendum campaign. There is no charge to the location and no charge to the user. Free means free.

If you run or patronise a club or hotel or a popular meeting place where the Scottish Referendum will be discussed and should be discussed and studied with the benefit of these leading titles, you may propose the venue for inclusion at this page on the Exact Editions web site:

Loretto School, Musselburgh, is the first location in Scotland to have free access through this promotion.



If you pass by Loretto School or attend a function there in the next few weeks, you will be able to get free access to these magazines and get the latest from their correspondents, columnists and editors on the crucial decision that Scotland will now take. Download the iOS app from iTunes for the New Statesman  and/or Prospect. Open the app within 200m of the school and indicate that you wish to have access to free content by location. You will then have complete free access to the content. If you are using WiFi you will even be able to sync an issue and walk away with the latest issue on your device. As more locations sign up we will be broadcasting the news on the Exact Editions twitter feed. Stay tuned.

Disruptive Innovation in the Magazine Industry

Clayton Christenson’s theory of disruptive innovation has had enormous influence on management thinking and investor’s approach to information technology.

The basic idea is explained at his web site.

As companies tend to innovate faster than their customers’ needs evolve, most organizations eventually end up producing products or services that are actually too sophisticated, too expensive, and too complicated for many customers in their market.

Companies pursue these “sustaining innovations” at the higher tiers of their markets because this is what has historically helped them succeed: by charging the highest prices to their most demanding and sophisticated customers at the top of the market, companies will achieve the greatest profitability.

However, by doing so, companies unwittingly open the door to “disruptive innovations” at the bottom of the market.

- See more at:

The magazine industry has been a textbook case of this disruptive innovation in the way that the established industry leaders have reacted to the opportunity presented by mobile devices and tablet technology. Both the magazine companies (Hearst, Time Warner, Condé Nast and the major publishers) and their suppliers — Adobe in particular, have seen the task of producing tablet-ready digital magazines as a challenge to produce more complicated solutions, magazines that need to be read up-and-down, left-and-right, with pages that slide or fail to adjust to landscape, and with columns that do, and sometimes do not move, with the layout. Readers have been presented with extraordinarily complicated, and extraordinarily dissimilar solutions. It is not yet generally agreed in the industry that these complex, innovative solutions do not work. It is not yet being shouted from the roof-tops, but it is no longer controversial to recognise that what users want from their digital magazines is much closer to the model of the page-based, fixed layout, consistent design, package of the print look-alike, than to the futuristic propositions that were being canvassed two or three years ago.

So where is the low-end disruption coming from? So far, the competition appears to have been coming from the incumbents themselves. The magazine publishers have been watching the sales figures and have generally decided that the page-based solution, is cheaper to produce, at least as popular with the audience and has a much higher return on investment, so the publishers are ‘disrupting’ their own earlier efforts to over-engineer the digital magazine. But Clayton Christensen’s theory tells us that these ‘low-end disruptions’ really are disruptive and they are by no means as simple as they appear to be at first glance. When Ford and GM dismissed the Toyota and its inroads with compact models, they were underestimating the way in which carefully engineered, reliable cars were changing their market. They were failing to see how hard it is to produce a really efficient and beautiful smaller car.

Something similar is happening with the page-based model for digital magazines. Producing digital magazines that can be easily and straightforwardly enjoyed through the web, and on Android and iOS devices is not a trivial matter. Furthermore the digital magazine has to do more than the print magazine. It should be searchable, it should be linkable and Tweet-able, it should work on a small format device and on a large desktop. It should be pick-upable and put-downable. It should remember where you were and be syncable if you need to dive into a tunnel. It should be obvious and it should be easy. Getting all this right is not trivial, and getting it all right creates some disruptive potential.