Why Evgeny Lebedev is wrong about the future of newspaper publishing

Concerning this Guardian interview with the Independent’s owner, Evgeny Lebedev, betting the farm on digital publishing, I’d like to say that I think he’s wrong about closing down print newspapers and going all digital.  There are still many, many, many, many stumbling blocks.

I present my case for keeping printed newspapers and magazines around for the foreseeable future…

How do I share my digital edition of X newspaper (presumably with paid subscription) with family and friends without giving them access to my tablet – a general purpose computing device?

When you have access to physical, printed newspaper or book, you can then pass them onto other members of the family, or friends after you’ve read it.  Try doing that with a tablet or computer which has personal information on it.  We’re only getting around to tablets where you can keep user accounts separate.  Even then, it’s a pain in the rear end to have to do this just to read the blasted newspaper!

Whenever I visit my parents, they always have the newspapers and associated magazines in the kitchen for anybody to read.  If they switched to tablets or read the newspapers via their computer – assuming they have a subscription (paywall) – this would be impossible.

Any newspaper that goes online as a website and offers free content in exchange for adverts can significantly slow down your computer/tablet

I’ve come across many publications and the websites for publications where they’ve put 90 billion adverts on their sites, including pop-ups, intrusive cover-ups, video trailers and all manner of crap which I can demonstrate slows down the reader’s computer or tablet UNLESS they use an advert blocker.

This significantly reduces the publisher’s revenue, of course.  But if they didn’t have to rely on potentially dodgy third party advertising schemes that make the reader’s experience an absolute misery (and some of which have demonstrated recently can be used to deliver malware), then they deserve to lose money.

Paywalls aren’t for sharing

I was paying over £17/month for a Times subscription, and the social media/sharing links were about as much use to my friends and family as a dead pigeon playing the accordion.  The articles were severely restricted – often many of them offered a paragraph, and that was it.

Then there is this method of granting access to content in exchange for a bit of interaction via an advert.  I have no time for such nonsense.

pcmag_advert_hell

The Guardian is slightly better in that some articles also appear on the website or the entirely free Guardian app.

The tablet edition of X, Y and Z are all terrible – with poorly thought out usability, or the text is only readable by ants.

My biggest bugbear with digital newspapers and magazines (aside from te sharing issue) is how they present their work on tablets.  For the vast majority of them, they have absolutely no clue as to how to produce a pleasing design that will take full advantage of the interactive tablet platform they’re supposed to work on.

Some publishers just resort to publishing what is essentially a glorified PDF of their magazine (or newspaper), or some bizarre mix of PDF and extracted text. Little to no effort has gone to provide an experience where the text is clear and readable and images fit around them with the ability to enlarge them if necessary.  With most publications it’s all pinch and zoom, pinch and zoom, pinch and ruddy zoom.

Urgh.

Empire Magazine takes the award for being the very best magazine to take full advantage of Apple’s iOS platform to bring a fully interactive version of the print magazine.  It’s incredibly readable,  the navigation is simple, you get animated pages, video content and everything that a fully interactive digital magazine should be.

Future Publishing’s Mac Format is also another good example.  Less interactive, but the layout means that everything is clear and legible across different size tablets and again, is easy to navigate.

In the newspaper market, The Times worked reasonably well as a digital newspaper.  But it had the most annoying “feature” in that if you were in the middle of reading one day’s edition, left the tablet overnight and had it set to retrieve the next edition automatically, you’d lose your place in the previous edition.  Otherwise, The Times wasn’t a bad digital newspaper – although it duplicated many articles within the newspaper to the extra digital supplements for some reason or another.

The Telegraph similarly was a good digital newspaper.  Until they hiked the paywall price up to stupid sums of money.  Clean layout and legible across all tablet sizes.  It was even neater than The Times.  But the price was what stopped me subscribing any further.

The Guardian has been the best subscription digital newspaper for me.  I could share articles that were public (not all items were shareable, but that’s fine – I understand why).  The text and images were always well laid out, legible, and it felt as if I were reading a newspaper.  It was also the cheapest – £11.99/month for Mon-Saturday edition, and for the Observer (Sunday).

I’ve never liked how The Metro, Evening Standard or Independent’s app designs.  They have never been as neatly laid out or “as newspapery” as the others I’ve mentioned.  But they, IIRC, do allow articles to be shared. It’s a step in the right direction, but we still need to get to the point where digital content approaches the same easy to share, easy to read as a printed newspaper or magazine.

Don’t get me started on Kindle books and Amazon and the lack of sharing..

To conclude..

Until I can persuade my parents (and others like them) to buy their own tablets to consume digital content – and I very much doubt I’ll be able to do so despite my going on about how wonderful they can be (given the right apps) – people are still going to want printed newspapers, magazines and books.

Until the publishing world figures out how to make digital content shareable without compromising profit; how to make digital content readable and easy to ready across all the different tablet and computer platforms; and not cost the consumer an arm and leg for doing so, then print will win every time.

Sky Trek: The Next Generation, with special guest star Q..

As my regular readers know, I am a streaming TV and movie junkie.  How far we have come from 3 channels to 4, then 20 years later, 300+.

Yes, I was there at the dawn of the fourth age of British television when Channel 4 came online.  As a little kid, (I’d have been 6 at the time) I would eagerly watch the test C4 transmissions until the channel launched good and proper.  And when I was a little baby, my parents took a photo of me with my face right up against the old 70’s CRT TV.

I have been, and always will be, a TV addict in some form or another.

So you can imagine my happiness when Sky launched their new service, ‘Sky Q’.  Memories of Spike Milligan playing this theme spring to mind:

But that aside, Sky Q is a new premium service that’s intended to allow multiple TVs and tablets to stream everything available from Sky (and let’s face it – Sky is pretty much EVERYTHING relating to TV these days), eventually give us 4K content (and let’s hope for no fee hike for it, otherwise untuned pianos will be aimed at Sky HQ), and provide for an overall better TV service than we have with the increasingly antiquated Sky+HD boxes.  The Sky Q Silver box can store up to 350 hours of HD TV and record FOUR channels at once (whilst watching a recording).

The other thing Sky has changed is that they will be lending you the equipment (rather than letting you flat out keep it).  Which will hopefully mean they’re replace or fix it should it fall over.

Oh, and it supports apps too.  So one hopes that you could have Netflix, Amazon Prime, MUBI, and other service providers on board for a truly centralised, no faffing around, streaming experience.  Unlikely given that we still don’t have an All 4 app for LG TVs or Apple’s tvOS.  Ditto for ITV. The streaming service industry is still too darn fragmented for my liking.

I’ll be able to hook Sky Q up my bedroom TV via the Sky Q mini box to the service at no additional cost, which is nice.  And the hardware is small and can be kept out the way.

Anyway, all this fun and laughter requires that I take out Sky Broadband.  But I have Virgin Media.  But I don’t have a landline.  And Sky Broadband is free for 12 months.  Which is when my Virgin Media contract runs out.  I’d consider going the whole hog and opt for Sky Broadband Fibre Pro Plus Distinction MegaSpeed (or whatever they’re calling their 76Mbs service these days) – but it’s not yet available in my area.  They have 12 months to get it in my area.

Not that I dislike Virgin’s broadband service.  It’s nippy (200Mbs download, 11Mbs upload).  The SuperHub AC router supplied works with Apple kit without crashing every 5 minutes like it used to (or with BT, every 2 minutes).  Super long lease times on the IPs (so if the broadband connection is every interrupted, I’m very likely to get the same IP – which is great if, like me, you have firewalls that don’t work with dynamic IP services).  I’ve not gone for a landline with Virgin Media is that the cheeky so-and-sos want 50 quid to activate the line.  Sky do not charge this.

So for a year, I’ll have landline and I’ll have broadband for the Q service.  It also essentially gives me a backup broadband connection if the Virgin Media connection goes down.   In a year’s time, I’ll evaluate what’s what and will either ditch Sky Broadband and stick with Virgin, or ditch Virgin and stick with Sky Broadband (hopefully upgrading to their superdupermegawotsit).

I intend to give Sky Q Silver the thrashing of its life over the next few months (once everything is installed – it does require an engineer visit) – and you can be sure that I’ll review as and when.

Pillock in a Reasonably Priced Car

The driving lessons continue.

This week I drove from Dunsfold Aerodrome to Guildford, and then through Guildford’s horrendous one-way system back to Dunsfold where I executed a reverse manoeuvre, albeit initially missing the reverse gear, and nearly ploughing into my employer’s security gates – but apart from that, it was nearly perfect!  Is there any more room for an eighth presenter of Top Gear?

My ability to regulate speed is much better this week, but I still need to work on keeping an eye on signs and road markings.  But I was much better than last week.  I more or less kept within the requisite speed limits this time!  But it still needs a bit more work.

But what I need to work most on most of all are roundabouts.  Roundabouts – the most horrible thing ever to happen to motoring.  I kept getting the lane change wrong, along with timing for changing lanes, plus dealing with the whole M-S-M, and speaking of signalling – it was all over the place with me either fiddling with signals (wrongly) during the manoeuvre or giving the wrong signal.

The worst part was joining the A281 in Guildford.   Three lanes.  I had to keep to the middle, but did I?  No, I did not – not without intervention from my instructor Paul, who has the patience of a Saint.  And I kept mucking it up on other roundabouts too.  Even when it was a small roundabout with one or two exits.

Oh, and I didn’t M-S-M properly when positioning to turn right in the middle of a busy road (which has space for that very purpose).  So I need to remember that.

One more thing: to get out of Parking mode on an automatic, one’s foot has to be pressing the brake pedal.

I’ll get the hang of this darn driving thing one day.  In the meantime, a sobering TV show that reinforces the need to watch out for hazards is ITV’s Car Crash Britain: Caught on Camera.  One could argue it’s exploitative, but I see it as an educational supplement as to what one could potentially face while driving.

A good reason never to use your broadband ISP’s email service..

Once upon a time, Google offered internet service providers a branded version of Gmail and associated Apps.  For a while, all was good. Then Google decided it no longer wanted to offer the service and gave the ISPs a deadline to get the hell out of town.

Unfortunately for some, this has proven to be a complete and total farce. Virgin Media (who happen to be my broadband provider of choice – no, seriously, and I’m currently happy with them) appear to have flummoxed their own email service after migrating away from Google.  One issue has been Virgin’s spam filters blocking legitimate mail.  Now an argument has broken out over spoofed emails.

(But don’t worry, Virgin Media, BSkyB also had problems moving away from Google – although they migrated to Yahoo!)

Let me tell you something.  Managing email is bloody hard work.  It has increasingly been made difficult over the past two decades with the increase in spam, phishing and malware.  And when you’re dealing with poorly designed/implemented email clients (Outlook stands out as being one such culprit despite having some fairly decent features) on top of that, you’re asking for trouble.

And this is why many broadband ISPs outsource their email service to third parties such as Yahoo!, Google, etc. because they know full well that it takes a lot of effort to manage and maintain many hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of email addresses.

I’ve been running mail servers for close to 20 years.  And I can tell you that, even managing small number of people/mailboxes, it can be mad.  Back at the Moving Picture Company – around 2002 – I migrated mail from an ancient 486 machine running an obsolete OS to a more modern and updated OS and upgraded Exim.  SpamAssassin was moved to its own server because the thing was a PITA when it came to using resources.  When you’re scanning lots and lots of incoming email, it pays to offload these resources to other machines.  Add Mailman to the mix to provide mailing lists for individual projects, and already you’re juggling a delicate service.  Things were made more complicated when Microsoft Exchange was brought in for business services.  It was expensive, required specialist knowledge, and a complete pig.  I proposed the much cheaper MDaemon (if you were going to run a Windows mail server, you might as well use something decent) which offered pretty much the same features at less cost and fewer resources.  But nope – MPC management thought Microsoft were wonderful and kissed their bottoms to kingdom come.

At Imagineer Systems, I faced the open source Zimba mail server.  It offered calendaring facilities and a reasonable web interface.  But boy, was it a resource pig.  It ran as a virtual server under Xen on a server based in the US and despite upping resources, it was still a pig even for a small company such as Imagineer.  So I persauded them to move over to Google Apps.

I’ve been a Google Apps for Work customer since around 2007 when it was first a limited feature beta.  I even spent a little while as a Top Contributor on the product forums helping out users of the free version.  But when Google started to add premium features for prices I’d couldn’t believe (seriously, it’s one of the lowest cost mail systems out there – plus you get collaborative word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, etc. included). I use a web browser to access my mail.  I read mail and compose mail from within my browser.  I’m practically online all the time, but there is the option to read mail offline if I wish.  I also have access to standard mail protocols such as IMAP and POP3.  I tend to use Gmail’s own iOS app on the iPhone.  For the iPad Pro, I use Apple’s own mail client because Google are extraordinarily slow at updating all their iOS apps to use the higher resolution of the iPad Pro.

But even before Google Apps I’ve had my own email address at this domain and have hosted all my own mail myself.  I’ve gone through so many ISPs over the years that it’s made it necessary to do so.  And this is the problem.  If you’re unhappy with your ISP and you want to move – you’ll lose access to your ISP mail.

One of the biggest problems with ISP email – as well as the ability to scale and keeping everything running smoothly – is that one can’t use additional security features such as two factor authentication.

Even if an ISP offers webmail, I’m pretty sure they won’t offer two-factor authentication when logging in.  Do ISPs offer brute force protection for their accounts?  Many people are likely to be using exceptionally poor passwords.  And even more likely won’t change them every few months.

So people need to look into:

  • Buying their own domain.  A domain doesn’t have cost more than £5 per year, and in some cases it can be cheaper or even free.
  • Finding an email hosting provider.  There are few hosting providers that specialise in just hosting email.  You’re more likely to find a web hosting company that can provide you with your own server (probably running the excellent cPanel/WHM control panel system) for which you can run your own web site and email addresses.  Some provide a simple web hosting service, but you’ll need to look around to find what you need.  People can struggle if they take out their own server.
  • Using a password manager.  Use different passwords for different services (the password manager should be able to generate secure passwords – you shouldn’t need to remember them all – just the master password for your password vault).  Change passwords regularly.  Use two-factor authentication wherever possible.
  • Use Google Apps for Work.  Doesn’t have to be used for work!  You could start off with just one account and add more with the flexible option.  Prices are around £4 per user per month.  Includes 24/7 support.  And no adverts unlike regular Gmail.  Offers two-factor authentication too.

Poop! Poop! Driving along, singing that song..

Yesterday I had my first driving lesson after a 20 year gap.

Starting off right by the Top Gear Test Track at Dunsfold Aerodrome, I was instructed to drive my way up to Shalford (just outside of Guildford) and take the back roads back to Dunsfold.  All this in an automatic Ford Focus.

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  It felt odd, but strangely natural. The pedals (just two of them) took a bit of getting used to what with my size 12 feet, but I’m sure I’ll be able to regulate acceleration and braking mix much better as the weeks go by (occasionally I did let the car drift by itself – automatics tend to do this thanks to their more complex transmission system).  It also felt very odd only having to use one foot (to avoid hitting the brake and gas pedals simulatenously) to do all the work.

I will say this: my decision to take lessons in an automatic was the right decision.  We had a bit of a discussion with the instructor (a former policeman) who told me that most new lorries (and other larger vehicles) are now fully automatics.  Not that I intend to apply for an HGV licence and buy a lorry or massive van anytime soon..

We took on roundabouts (usually taking the 2nd exit – I managed to screw up the first one, but only because I assumed the second exit was going back on ourselves – everything else was fine after that), junctions, narrow roads and narrow bridges.  Had a

I  had a little bit of trouble judging how close we were to a row of parked cars on a narrow lane, but nevertheless no one (or thing) was harmed as I pootled by. Otherwise I kept within the road markings.  And usually within the speed limit.  Usually.  A couple of times I went about 5-10mph above the speed limit (encountering one of those signs that tells you that you’re going too fast), but soon managed to get back within the limit quickly.

I do need to work on looking out for the speed limit signs – some of them are pretty small and out the way along the backroads of Surrey.  Similarly, I need to brush up my junction markings – since these can mean different things.

All in all, it was a great lesson!  I’ve got a great instructor in Paul, and he kept me talking all the while driving (but also ensuring that I was keeping my eyes on the road, speedometer and mirrors).

I even got to do a bit of reversing at the end of the lesson, in order to turn the car around in the company car park.  Not sure I can manage the full intricacies of parking properly at the moment, but I feel it shouldn’t be too difficult – and that was something I was worried about.  Hoping I might be ready for the test within 20-30 hours worth of lessons instead of the 40 I was planning.  I’ve already block booked 10 lessons, so it’s all go from now on..