NPR: Bitten By Apple?

June 9, 2010

NPR is a fascinating business. Yes, the word business is appropriate for a nonprofit like NPR. How can it bring in enough money to fund its radio shows and other activities?

This particular post was prompted by a remark about “Apple’s wrongheaded policy of prohibiting donations.” That’s from Jake Shapiro, CEO of PRX, writing at Ars Technica. One of the things that PRX does is develop apps for NPR shows such as This American Life (by the way, that last link currently goes, not to a home page, but to a donate page).

Apple’s app policies deny nonprofits access to 1-Click payments: “the most powerful direct-payment platform in the mobile marketplace.” Apple does provide a payment infrastructure, but takes a 30% for itself.

I don’t want to bash Apple. Well, I do, but there are other posts for that.

If there is bashing to be done, at least some of it should be directed at the people at NPR (and PRX?) who rushed headlong to kiss the iPad’s touchscreen: “we’ll be there for you Day 1 with a fully redesigned app and a Web site that’s optimized for the platform.” NPR made it a priority to expend money and other resources on iNPR.

I can see that the iPad audience is a desirable one. We might call them ABCs: affluent, brand-loyal, connected. This audience benefits from iNPR. I hope that NPR benefits as well, in terms of contributions from the ABCs.

But I suspect that most of the benefit goes to Apple. NPR has packaged its content for the iPad, thus improving the already-lauded tablet. Perhaps even more important, NPR’s eagerness to support the iPad, and to be seen to be doing so, is free publicity: something that Apple doesn’t lack, but can always use more of.

Here’s an app promo image. It’s linkjacked from NPR’s tablet page. But it links to NPR’s donate page. If you’ve used iNPR, and haven’t yet donated, please do so. No, I don’t want a cut of your donation.

I found Jake’s editorial via Beth Kanter. Her post has the title Apple or Android? Which One is More Nonprofit Friendly? I think that’s a great title, and a great topic to explore. I don’t think that the post really explores it, though, consisting as it does of little more than an approving pointer to Jake’s article.

The Lala shutdown is just a couple of weeks away. How you replace Lala depends on what you used it for. For me, MOG looks like the closest thing to a replacement: a previous post includes a comparison of MOG with some of its rivals.

That post drew a comment from Martin Rigby of Psonar, a music locker service. Lala does provide a locker, as well as samples and streams, and so Psonar is a Lala replacement for those who used it mainly as a locker. Martin is critical of the Lala shutdown.

Isn’t it incumbent on Apple, as Lala’s acquirer, to continue to offer the service as designed to the people who had signed up for that service?

At Psonar we offer our users and prospective users this pledge – we will never do anything that denies you perpetual access to your music other than due to events beyond our control. And, if we are forced to change or take down the service, we will do all we can to ensure users get adequate notice… and are given a means to transfer their music elsewhere.

Michael Robertson of MP3tunes offers a similar mix of criticism and comfort to Lala users (via RWW).

I feel bad for those who purchased Lala songs with expectations of permanency only to find out they lost their music. To help those jilted customers take back control of their music MP3tunes is offering a music locker for 10 cents – the cost of just one of those web songs.

The MP3tunes offer seems to be for a 50 GB locker for one year. I presume that subsequent years will cost the regular price (currently $40, although I’d expect the price and/or size of a Premium locker to change over time).

I’m not particularly surprised or outraged by the Lala shutdown. In particular, it doesn’t change my attitude toward Apple. I didn’t expect that the Lala service would be around forever, and factored that into the decision to spend a buck for multiple plays of an album I particularly like.

One of the last albums I added to my library was Gogol Bordello’s Trans-Continental Hustle. Had Lala stuck around long enough, my cost to listen to a track would have fallen below a cent. That won’t happen, but I think I’m getting value for my dollar.

I still have $3.38 in my Lala wallet. I decided to spend it, and an additional $1.61, on The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter. It’s as eclectic as Trans-Continental Hustle, it’s freak-folk from the 1960s. As Pitchfork’s Andrew Gaerig remarks, it’s the Incredible String Band’s best album and “A Very Cellular Song” is their best song: “a 13-minute tour de force” (as much a suite as a song, and yours for only 69c if you follow the above link to Amazon).

Which brings me to something that does annoy me about Lala. If you buy something for more than you have in your wallet, you are steered toward paying for the whole thing and leaving your wallet intact, rather than emptying your wallet and paying the difference.

That said, I will miss Lala, and not just for the streams I paid for that will dry up at the end of this month.

Lala May Shutdown

April 30, 2010

Lala May shutdown: as in Apple will shut Lala down on May 31. I saw the news twice this morning: once as an email from Lala, then in my feed as a post on TechCrunch (which quotes the email sent to Lala users).

When Apple acquired Lala, I described the news as rotten. I’m pleasantly surprised that it’s taken this long for the axe to fall.

At ReadWriteWeb, Frederic followed up the shutdown news with five alternatives to Lala. I don’t think that any of the five services gives me what I like from Lala: a very wide range of music; one complete listen for free; unlimited streams of an album for about a buck.

Back at TC, Robin injected a note of fannish optimism. “Does this mean we can start raising our hopes for iTunes in the cloud?” I share neither the fannishness nor the optimism.

That’s the message that Apple recently delivered to Adobe, and the message that Twitter might seem to be delivering to application developers.

Apple is the bigger firm, the bigger story, and is playing for bigger stakes. How big? I don’t think that Erik at TechCrunch exaggerated a couple of days ago when he put it like this.

I wonder whether he [Steve Jobs] is repeating the very same mistakes which relegated Macs to a niche market. Or did he learn from those mistakes so that Apple comes out on top this time?

Jobs is once again pitting Apple’s complete product design mastery against the rest of the industry, except this time he thinks he will prevail. Whether it is his repeated moves to keep Adobe’s Flash off the iPhone or his growing rift with Google over Android, Jobs is making the iPhone and iPad a relatively closed system that Apple can control.

While Apple is denying Adobe entry into iLand, Twitter is welcoming Tweetie into its fold. Twitter acquired Atebits, maker of iPhone Twitter client Tweetie. Matthew Ingram at GigaOm summed up and linked out well, indicating the range of opinion as to what the Twitter ecosystem will be in future.

I like many others, thought that something was up when I read Fred Wilson’s post about the Twitter platform’s inflection point.

Much of the early work on the Twitter Platform has been filling holes in the Twitter product… Mobile clients come to mind. Photo sharing services come to mind. URL shorteners come to mind. Search comes to mind. Twitter really should have had all of that when it launched or it should have built those services right into the Twitter experience.

But… What are the products and services that create something entirely new on top of Twitter?

I’m not sure I agree that Twitter should have had all of that when it launched. That would have held up the launch, and discouraged developers from filling the holes. Now there are some discouraged developers of Twitter iPhone clients who now have to compete with the official and free Twitter for iPhone. And there are others Twitter developers wondering if a similar fate will overtake them.

Although these two stories (Apple/Adobe, Twitter/Tweetie) are currently atop the Techmeme news site, the tension between firms that own platforms and firms that develop for those platforms is nothing new. Here’s a quote from Twitter founder Ev Williams, from a recent NY Times Bits piece, that could with just a word or two changed be about pretty much any platform.

There are tons of opportunities created by the Twitter platform, and things that people will probably be disappointed if they invest in… It’s a question of what should be left up to the ecosystem and what should be created on the platform.

So, if you invested in an iPhone app for the Twitter platform, would you be disappointed right now? Not if you were Loren of Atebits. While Twitter may have just dashed or dented the hopes of some developers, it has made one rather better off.

In some ways, that will encourage Twitter app development: will my app be the one acquired for that niche/hole in the product? That’s a different question from: will my app do reasonably well in an ecosystem with a large and diverse population of apps? But it’s still an interesting question. I’d say it’s a more interesting question than: what barriers and hoops will Apple put in my way next?

iPad Haikus

January 28, 2010

iPad video
makes me want a date with one
but not more than that

Mashable should give
the iPad to me
: that thing
costs too much to buy

What to blog about?
iPad? State of union?
No: Boston haggis.

Rotten? Apple Acquires Lala

December 4, 2009

Much of my listening to music, particularly new music, involves Lala these days. Paying a buck to stream an album an unlimited number of times is a good deal, particularly since I can sample (i.e. stream once) before paying anything.

So I was interested in the rumor that Lala would be acquired by Apple. Brad Stone of the NY Times reports that the rumor has come true.

One person with knowledge of the deal, but who was not authorized to discuss it, said that the negotiations originated when Lala executives concluded that their prospects for turning a profit in the short term were dim…

This person said Apple would primarily be buying Lala’s engineers, including its energetic co-founder Bill Nguyen, and their experience with cloud-based music services.

Lala’s engineers have built a service that music enthusiasts say is very easy to use. Lala scans the hard drives of its users and creates an online music library that matches the user’s collection, making it painless (and free) for people to get their music in the cloud.

The reason I regard the news as rotten is that “Lala’s licenses for streaming music with the major music labels are not transferable to any acquirer.” So the streaming rights for which I’ve paid may go away. That said, they’d also go away if Lala went under, and I considered the possibility of that happening when I decided to buy the streaming rights. Jason at TechCrunch hopes that such purchases will be grandfathered, but we’ll have to wait and see.

It may well be time to look at other streaming services…

Jobs’ Worth

December 18, 2008

How much is Steve Jobs worth to Apple? That’s the question addressed in an article by Jeff Segal (which I saw thanks to Om).

Jeff estimates the value of Apple’s businesses, subtracts the sum from Apple’s market cap, and attributes the difference to “the Jobs premium.” Now, any such calculation has to be based on some heroic assumptions. I want to quibble about one of them: the assumption that all the difference is due to Jobs.

What about other people, such as the designers? What about the Apple brand, which would still be strong even if Steve stepped down? I believe that there is some worth to those assets.

That’s not to deny that Steve Jobs adds value to Apple (even as he and Apple annoy me with their smugness). It’s to deny that he, or anyone, is alone worth anything like $20 billion to their firm.