SI Swimsuit 2010 App Freemium Strategy Paying Off With 10 Percent Conversion

Si Swimsuit 2010 App

The Sports Illustrated (NYSE: TWX) swimsuit issue’s Midas touch continues: three weeks after launch, SI has delivered nearly 570,000 downloads of its ad-supported “freemium” Sports Illustrated Swimsuit 2010 app—and, according to Managing Editor Paul Fichtenbaum, converted roughly 10 percent to paid users at $1.99 a pop. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s about $113,430 in revenue for 57,000 upgrades. That compares with about 30,000 paid downloads for the premium-only Swimsuit 2009.

Ten percent is good but you’d almost think the number would be higher. For their $1.99 upgrade to Swimsuit 2010 Premium, users get nearly 50 additional videos, including some exclusive footage, and much more of the coverage from the magazine (the Olympians, etc.) Granted, it’s a much smaller format than the magazine; it’s also much more portable. Maybe if SI sold a Boss/Significant Other version that showed up as something else…


Andrew Sullivan on The Atlantic’s Redesign

Andrew Sullivan:

I understand that advertisers like “verticals” to pitch certain kinds of products, and are allegedly leery of individual bloggers with style. I also know in this media climate how vital advertising is, and how our survival online is critical to our endurance in print. I am not a businessman. And I deeply believe in the Atlantic, as readers well know. If this keeps us afloat, that sure is better than going under. If there is business genius here, congrats to all involved.

But treating blogs as a series of headlines, designed to maximize pageviews, is a deep misunderstanding of blogs, their reader communities and their integrity.  I hope they get restored to their previous coherence, and these amorphous “channels” gain some editorial identity. I hope writers like Fallows and Goldberg aren’t treated as random fodder — anchors! — for “channels”. I believe in the Atlantic as a place for writing. The redesign seems to me to ooze casual indifference to that and to the respect that individual writers deserve.

If you’re not a regular reader of The Atlantic’s online content (if you’re interested at all in politics and national affairs, I recommend it highly), prior to their new redesign, they hosted about half a dozen individual writers’ weblogs. They looked and felt like separate blogs under The Atlantic’s parent umbrella. The redesign throws all but Sullivan’s together into a hash.

Count me in with Sullivan that this is, from a reader’s perspective, a change much for the worse.

(Noteworthy: Sullivan states that his Daily Dish accounts for 55-60 percent of The Atlantic’s online traffic; hence the exception.)

Self-Publishing, Author Services Open Floodgates for Writers

In 2001, the Wild Writing Women, a San Francisco Bay Area travel writing group of which I was a member, decided to self-publish a book of stories. Why? Because none of us could find a traditional publisher for what we thought was our best writing.


We had skilled publishing professionals among us, so we never considered using a vanity press. Instead, each of the twelve of us tossed in $500 and formed a small business. One of us went to San Francisco City Hall to process our business name, Wild Writing Women Press. Another bought the ISBN and bar code; others hired a book designer, edited, proofread, created a website, and chose a printer. Promotion was easy because we had 12 professional adventure travel writers talking up the book in the course of marketing our other books and projects.

Wild Writing Women: Stories of World Travel was an instant hit. We sold all 1,000 copies in the first week of publication and made back more than double our investment. Eighteen traditional publishers were suddenly interested in purchasing the book. The group decided -- by a skinny 7 to 5 vote -- to sell it to Globe-Pequot. Self-publishing success? Well, it's 2010 and we've yet to see any royalties.

The Self-Publishing Boom

Mid-level authors already know that the era of large advances, generous royalties, book tours and media spots are over. They have to spend their own time and money to create a website and publicize their books. Publishers just don't have the resources to offer them full support. Why? The Internet, online bookstores, e-books, and an economy in decline are cited as some root causes of the steady slump in the traditional publishing industry. In 2005 sales were down by 9 percent (and have continued to fall). Yet in 2006 print-on-demand exploded.

The 2007 Bowker report quotes Kelly Gallagher, general manager of business intelligence for New Providence, N.J.-based Bowker, saying, "The most startling development last year is the reporting of 'On Demand' titles...which mostly consists of reprints of public domain titles and other short-run books."

These "other short run books" have not been sub-categorized, so it's difficult to pinpoint specific growth areas. Arguably, the largest portion is in books created with the help of corporate author services companies (that is, vanity or subsidy presses) like Lulu and iUniverse. But also on the rise are book packagers (who do everything, which may even include writing the book for you) and true self-publishing, which is the creation of a new indie press as a small business by the author or group of authors.

Bowker's statistics on U.S. book publishing for 2008 reported a decline of 3.2 percent in traditionally published books, while the number of print-on-demand (POD) books jumped to over 285,000, about 10,000 more books than were published by traditional publishing houses. That's a 132 percent increase in POD from 2007 and a second year of triple-digit growth. But the fact that large and mid-sized publishers are moving to POD instead of investing in offset print book inventory certainly must contribute to this statistical rise.

POD technology has been brought to the masses by author services companies like Lulu and CreateSpace, two popular services with no cost to entry. They, and others, depend on printing price markup and add-on services to make their profit, charging from hundreds of dollars to tens of thousands to "self-publish your book." They have refined their browser-based tools so that authors with no book design skills can upload text and point-and-click to create a book cover. Suddenly, authors who have spent years writing query letters and wooing agents are spending their time on the Internet playing with fonts and photos and hitting the BUY button to get copies of their book delivered to them.

Authors Who Never Expected to be Authors

Another market contributing to the big spike in POD is the population who never thought of authoring a book until the tools became so accessible. Family memoirs, for example. Cookbooks by church groups. Businesspeople who write books to enhance their career. Professors who author their own textbooks.


I met Christine Comaford at the San Francisco Writers Conference in 2005. The high-energy entrepreneur and CEO of Mighty Ventures decided that authorship would give her more credibility, and serve as an excellent marketing tool. Her resulting success story is a 2007 book titled Rules for Renegades, complete with a website offering free resources and high-priced DVDs.

Established writers have also turned to self-publishing. Paul Lima is a Toronto-based freelance writer and long-time journalist. In recent years, he helped grow his income by teaching seminars and selling self-published how-to books on business writing, among other topics.

"I'm not technical," he said, "and with Lulu all I have to do is upload a hi-res JPEG photo for the cover, and make a PDF from Word to upload as the interior."


He said that "Lulu's distribution seemed pricey and Amazon takes their cut, too," so Lima decided to look at another option -- a partnership with a "micropublisher" called Five Rivers in Ontario. Five Rivers created a book that adhered to Lightning Source's print specifications which, because it's owned by book-giant Ingram, easily distributes through bookstores, retail e-book distributors and Amazon in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. They also got distribution for him through the major Canadian retailer Indigo.

Lima earns a 10 percent royalty and he says that's okay with him. "It's a business arrangement -- they're my publisher-distributor-business partner," he said. "The results were phenomenal. We've sold 1,000 copies in less than a year of How to Write a Nonfiction Book in 60 Days. U.K. sales have also been impressive."

Blurring the Lines

The distinctions between traditional publishing, vanity press and self-publishing is becoming ever more blurred, and that's causing some anger and confusion. Publishers Weekly's Lynn Andriani caused a stir by admitting that the subsidy and vanity presses misuse the word "self-publishing," yet made no move to correct the error. And what would be the motivation, when the new expanded definition of self-publishing is experiencing triple-digit growth for the second year in a row while traditional publishers struggle to stay afloat?

Today's definition of self-publishing includes subsidy and vanity presses, print-on-demand companies, and book packagers, which many would like to clarify as being publishing or author services companies.

"Author Solutions' brands -- AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Trafford, Wordclay, and Xlibris -- have published more than 120,000 books by 85,000 authors," Andriani reported in the same article.

When I queried Jane Friedman, publisher and editorial director of Writer's Digest, about the term, she replied, "our definition of self-publishing includes all scenarios where an author pays for publication, whether that author pays an author service, a printer, an e-publisher -- anyone. For example, we have an annual competition called the Writer's Digest Self-Published Book Awards; we accept any entry where the author bears the cost of publication." (Writers Digest charges $125 to enter the contest.)

Traditional publishers are even creating self-publishing branches of their businesses. Author Solutions helped Harlequin create a self-publishing arm for romance writers called Dellarte Press. It charges $599 to $1,599 for author packages. (Harlequin's first name for their nascent business was Harlequin Horizons, but the industry shrieked.) Author Solutions also helped Christian book publisher Thomas Nelson with its West Bow services, which offers packages ranging from $999 to $19,999.

In contrast, Lima started his self-publishing career on his own and without purchasing a package from one of these new companies. For him, having a sense of control and ownership is what makes the process attractive.

"I really like the fact that I'm controlling the book publishing process and I think that POD has really changed the relationship between author and publisher," Lima said. "I write a book in 60 days, and 30 days later I have the final draft. With niche books like mine, you don't really need the publisher. You've got your website, blog, Twitter and Facebook, and if you write non-fiction you can sell through seminars and talks and articles you write for other people."

Would he go the same route again? Yes. And he has.

"Lulu is a great way to test your book," he said. "You don't need to fully commit. I like it because you can check it out in the minor leagues and then step up to the major leagues with Lightning Source."

Carla King is a publishing and social media strategist and co-author of the Self-Publishing Boot Camp Workbook, which grew out of experiences leading workshops for prospective self-publishers. She has self-published non-fiction travel and how-to books since 1994. Her series of dispatches from motorcycle misadventures around the world are available as print books, e-books and on her website.

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PS3 Movie Service Hit By Connection Failure

According to multiple reports, the Sony PlayStation Network has been down for some PlayStation 3 owners for at least 16 hours, making it impossible for them to access the video game and movie download service, or even to play some games while offline. The PlayStation Twitter account and PlayStation Blog both report the issue and say that Sony has narrowed down the issue and is working to resolve it.

The Sony PlayStation Network was launched in 2006 as a way for gamers to download new games or add-ons to their PS3, but recently the company has pushed it as a way for PS3 owners to watch movies and TV shows on their gaming consoles. Furthermore, Sony announced plans earlier this year to open up the PlayStation network to other products, such as Bravia TVs and Sony PCs.

Users that try to log in to the service see a blank screen and the message “Error 8001050F.” According to the NY Times Gadgetwise blog, the glitch seems to have occurred when the clock switched from Feb. 28 to March 1, and appears to have caused the date on some PS3 consoles to reset to Jan. 1, 2000. Sony reports that it believes the issue is related to some clock functionality built into the system, and says that it hopes to have service restored within the next 24 hours.

Not all PS3 consoles are affected by the glitch, according to the official PlayStation blog; it appears that recently sold “slim” PS3s (the 120/250 GB models) continue to connect to the service just fine. In a more recent update to the PlayStation blog, Sony advises users to not use their PS3s until the service has been restored, as they might lose some functionality or data.

Related GigaOM Pro Content: Xbox 360 Games on Demand Hobbled by Greed (subscription required)

Social Map Startup Platial To Close Down


Here’s the rare geography-based startup that apparently isn’t doing so well: Platial, which billed itself as the ‘people’s atlas’ and let people aggregate stories, reviews and multimedia on maps, which they could embed on their own sites, is closing down its service. The company had raised at least $2.4 million in funding from big nameinvestors including KeyNote Ventures, Kleiner Perkins, Ron Conway, and Omidyar Network.

Platial had also purchased social mapping Frappr in 2007, saying that together the two companies would account for 25 percent of the map widgets on the web. Unlikely that statistic still holds, considering the popularity of Google (NSDQ: GOOG) Maps’ My Maps, which was released in 2007 and lets users annotate maps and embed them.

In a post, headlined ‘Geographic Euthanasia,’ Platial says its service may go offline as soon as tomorrow. “We are painfully aware that this is an incredibly short amount of time to dump this on people,” the company says. “The only response is a sincere apology.” Platial says it will provide more information about what drove the decision later. (We’ve asked the company and will update if we hear back).

Oddly, the decision comes as investors have been rushing to put cash into location-based startups. To give just one specifically map-related example: CultureMap, which runs a local online magazine in Houston (and plans to launch others soon) has raised a “low seven figures” round for its site, which centers its news entries around maps.

Platial’s shut down was first reported by TechCrunch earlier today.


Michael Steele Doesn’t Want Dems To Hurt Their Electoral Chances By Passing Health Care Reform, Apparently

Paul Begala, riffing on Napoleon Bonaparte, once said, "Never interrupt your opponent when he's destroying himself." That makes sense to me! What makes precious little sense is for the many Republicans who do not want to enact health care reform to be framing their opposition in such a way that they come off concerned about the Democrats' electoral future.

Yet, here's Michael Steele -- who I believe is in charge of the Republican National Committee or something -- attempting to stop the Democrats from hurting their chances in November:

"If that wasn't enough, when you come out of this thing and you're looking at the reconciliation fight that may loom ahead of us, it certainly will have represented a death panel for the Democrats this fall," Steele said on CNN.

There's really no rich tradition of one political party stepping in to help its opponents succeed in elections. Of course, for all I know, Steele would very much like to preserve the GOP's all-powerful Senate superminority, which is ably explicating his party's policy agenda. If you missed my liveblog of the Sunday morning political chat-shows, I took a moment there to describe how there is no better job in politics right now than being in the minority in the Senate:

Here's the basic job description on Craigslist:

--show up sometimes for work
--get paid, like, crazy dollars
--also get your palms greased by every special interest in the game
--occasionally get fellated by lobbyists whist straddling pommel horses made of rich creamery butter
--do no work, ever.
--solve no problems
--contribute nothing to public life
--every once in a while, stand up for a day so that unemployment benefits don't get extended, to poor people
--did I mention how awesome your own benefits package is?
--do this everyday
--eventually die and become a mummy that craves the blood of small animals

That seems like an easy way to make a living, so it's possible that Steele wants to preserve this, for his colleagues.

That said, while I don't claim to dismiss the possibility that there will be political benefits and political costs to passing health care reform, I sure hope the Democrats aren't seriously heeding the advice of Michael Steele. I have this funny feeling that he may not be entirely sincere.

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