This week we unveil a completely new publishing project, the Take Control series of electronic books, written by some of the leading Macintosh authors. We also look in depth at Apple’s music-related announcements, including iTunes for Windows, marketing deals with AOL and Pepsi, and iPod improvements and gadgets. Also, DealBITS returns with a Business Card Composer deal! In the news, Apple reports a $44 million Q4 profit and DragThing 5.0 arrives.
Apple Posts $44 Million Fourth Quarter Profit — Apple Computer reported a $44 million profit on $1.715 billion in revenue for its fourth fiscal quarter of 2003. Gross margins for the quarter were at 26.6 percent, and international customers accounted for only 38 percent of the revenue. Although approximately $15 million of the quarter’s revenues were due to one-time events like stock repurchases and investment gains, Apple shipped 787,000 Macs during the quarter (only part of which included sales of Apple’s new 15-inch PowerBooks and Power Mac G5 systems) as well as 336,000 iPods. Company representatives estimate revenues for the next quarter – which includes the much-anticipated holiday buying season – will increase to approximately $1.9 billion. [GD]
DragThing 5.0 Does Its Thing, Again — TLA Systems has released version 5.0 of the launcher utility DragThing, adding Panther support (while keeping it compatible with Jaguar). There are also many interface improvements, carried out in programmer James Thomson’s usual style: thorough, careful, clean, and user-configurable to the nth degree. A new Window dock lists application windows, making DragThing an even better Dock replacement than before. Contextual menus are much more powerful; particularly noteworthy is that documents dropped onto an application’s icon in a DragThing dock are remembered in, and can be opened later from, that application’s contextual menu. Drag Thing 5 is a $12 upgrade for existing users, and $30 otherwise. A free 2.8 MB download provides two weeks of trial time before disabling some features. [MAN]
When I think about creating business cards, two problems come to mind. Most annoying is the waste of hundreds of unused cards every time I change my phone number or address, all thanks to large minimum orders from most printing houses. Also perturbing is the effort of creating a decent-looking business card using traditional graphics software – I can do it, but it’s more work than should be necessary. A solution to both of these problems comes from BeLight Software’s Business Card Composer, an elegant Mac OS X program that helps you design attractive business cards and print them on standard business card stock in consumer inkjet printers.
We’ll announce the winner in next week’s issue of TidBITS, and we’ll also individually notify everyone who enters.
Last week, Apple launched what the company calls the "second generation" of the iTunes Music Store with a slew of related announcements, including iTunes for Windows, a new version of iTunes for the Mac, several new marketing alliances for the iTunes Music Store, and a useful update to the iPod.
iTunes for Windows — Most important of the announcements is undoubtedly the release of iTunes for Windows, which opens up the iTunes Music Store to oodles of Windows users and takes over as the primary interface to PC-connected iPods. Without a close examination (installing and testing PC software isn’t high on our list of priorities in busy weeks), it sounds as though iTunes for Windows is extremely similar to iTunes for the Mac. iTunes 4.1 for Windows requires Windows 2000 or XP running on a PC with at least a 500 MHz Pentium-class processor and 128 MB of RAM. It also needs QuickTime 6.4, which is included in the iTunes for Windows download, accounting for part of its 19.1 MB.
When we covered the announcement of iTunes for Windows last week, we said, "Look for perky press releases from Apple in the coming weeks that gloat about the number of downloads from Windows users." We called it – Apple today announced that more than one million copies of iTunes for Windows were downloaded in the first three and a half days after it was released. Also in that time, iTunes users purchased more than one million songs. There’s some pent up demand on the part of Windows users – when Apple first released the iTunes Music Store, it took a full seven days to reach the one million song mark.
iTunes for the Mac — Also released simultaneously last week via Software Update were QuickTime 6.4 and iTunes 4.1 for Mac OS X. iTunes 4.1 enables you to synchronize On-The-Go playlists or voice notes that you create on your iPod with iTunes, can burn large playlists to multiple CDs or DVDs if necessary, lets you drag links from iTunes to Web browsers or email programs (you can also Control-click links and choose Copy iTunes Music Store URL), and lets you buy Audible spoken word content from the iTunes Music Store. iTunes 4.1 is a 6.2 MB download and QuickTime 6.4 is a 19.8 download.
iTunes Music Store Changes — The new link copying capabilities of iTunes reveal some interesting implications of the iTunes Music Store. First off, every song in the iTunes Music Store now has a unique identifier, much like an ISBN number for books. We’re guessing it’s an ISRC (International Standard Recording Code) code, which are specific to individual recordings (even of the same song). ISRC codes are free, although they aren’t necessarily trivial to acquire. In the U.S., they’re available via the RIAA (yes, that RIAA, the Recording Industry Association of America, bringers of litigation against twelve year-olds). Internationally, the a good place to start is the IFPI (International Federation of the Phonographic Industry).
Second, Apple has created a Web-based tool for searching Apple’s music offerings, and which generates HTML that you can use to link directly to any song in the iTunes Music Store. Unfortunately, Apple has said the financial margins are too thin for the company to offer any sort of an affiliate program, which would be an ideal use for this type of linking; but people will still no doubt be interested in adding song and album lists to their Web pages or weblogs that go directly to the iTunes Music Store.
Along with these changes to support deep linking, notice that the iTunes Music Store now supports gift certificates and monthly allowances for song purchases, and that iTunes displays album notes, sometimes including reviews, for many albums. We echoed the comments of many iTunes Music Store users with respect to all three issues back when the iTunes Music Store first launched, so it’s nice to see these changes.
Apple is now claiming that by the end of October, the iTunes Music Store will have 400,000 songs provided by the five major labels and more than 200 independent music labels. That’s twice as many songs as were available initially in the iTunes Music Store. It’s also the first public word from Apple about offering music from independent labels, though it has been known that Apple has been working with independent labels for several months. We’re a bit surprised that Apple isn’t saying more about the addition of the independents, unless Apple is either planning another announcement soon or downplaying the addition to avoid harming the relationship with the major labels.
Audible — Apple also announced the addition to the iTunes Music Store of more than 5,000 titles of Audible’s spoken word content: audio books, radio shows, audio editions of magazines, speeches, lectures, and more. Audio books seem to be either the same price or $1 cheaper than the same titles on Audible’s Web site (for non-subscribers of Audible’s $15 and $20 monthly plans, which are likely still a better deal for those who listen to two or more audio books each month).
The ease of use of the iTunes Music Store may significantly increase the attraction of Audible’s spoken word content. It’s easy to see, for instance, quickly purchasing an audio book to play in your iPod on a long car trip – just the effort of doing that through Audible’s generic Web interface before might have been a significant barrier.
AOL, Sugared Water to Promote iTMS — On the marketing side of the equation, Apple announced two substantial initiatives designed to keep the iTunes Music Store leading the pack of legal online music distribution services. Apple’s agreement with AOL will give an estimated 25 million AOL users in the United States single-click registration to the iTunes Music Store by integrating the entire iTunes catalog into AOL’s existing music site, AOL Music. Under the agreement, by the end of 2003 AOL users will be able to preview and purchase music from the iTunes Music Store just as any other registered iTunes user. Apple wins by radically expanding the potential customer base for the iTunes Music Store, and AOL wins by hitching its online music offerings to the most successful commercial digital music distribution system around, rather than having to compete against it.
In addition, Apple is teaming with Pepsi – once famously characterized by Steve Jobs (when trying to convince John Sculley to become Apple’s CEO) as a provider of "sugared water" – to give away up to 100 million songs via the iTunes Music Store. Beginning 01-Feb-04 with a Super Bowl advertisement, winning codes will be randomly seeded in the bottle caps of 100 million one-liter and twenty-ounce bottles of the company’s Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, and Sierra Mist soft drinks. Consumers will be able to enter a winning code into the iTunes Music Store and choose any 99 cent song from the iTunes Music Store catalog. (Complete details aren’t available yet, but don’t be surprised if this promotion is limited to U.S. residents.)
Of course, to redeem a winning bottle cap, the consumer must have appropriate iTunes and QuickTime software installed on a Mac or Windows system, thus putting the iTunes software in front of millions of sugar-crazed eyeballs which might never have considered iTunes otherwise. Although it may seem odd to give away as many as 100 million songs when to date the iTunes Music store has sold only 14 million tracks, you can bet Apple and Pepsi realize not all 100 million codes will be successfully redeemed, and that Apple will only have to pay distributors and music publishers for successfully redeemed codes. There’s no limit on the number of codes someone can redeem, so we’ll probably see a market springing up to find and redeem caps that would otherwise have gone unused.
In all, the initiative could be a tremendous boost for the iTunes service, and Apple CEO Steve Jobs is correct when he states, "Pepsi has marketed their products through music for generations, and this is going to be another one that is remembered for decades" – we just hope it isn’t remembered the same way we remember Michael Jackson’s hair catching on fire.
iPod 2.1 Update and Belkin Accessories — Alongside these iTunes and iTunes Music Store announcements, Apple has updated the software for recent iPods (those equipped with a dock connector). iPod Software 2.1, available from Software Update, now transfers the On-The-Go playlist to iTunes, no longer turns the backlight off after a few seconds while you’re using the iPod’s controls, changes the battery meter to a solid bar from a set of five indicator levels, and improves scrolling through large playlists. For Windows users, the update enables playback of AAC-encoded music files, such as those purchased from the iTunes Music Store. The update also adds a Music Quiz game: the iPod plays a selection of music from your library, and you need to choose the correct song from a list of five titles.
More interestingly, the iPod Software 2.1 also supports two new Belkin accessories, also announced last week. The $50 Belkin iPod Voice Recorder plugs into the top of the iPod and enables you to record hours of voice memos, interviews, and lectures using an omnidirectional microphone. The device includes a 16 mm speaker for playback, requires no extra software, and synchronizes voice notes to iTunes when the iPod is connected to a Mac or Windows computer.
Of more utility to travelers is the $100 Belkin Media Reader for iPod, a device that plugs into the iPod’s dock connector port and accepts a variety of storage cards used in digital cameras: Compact Flash (Type 1 and 2), Smart Media, Secure Digital (SD), Sony Memory Stick, and MultiMedia Card (MMC). You can use the Belkin Media Reader to store digital photos on the iPod for later transfer to a computer. iPhoto recognizes the iPod as a photo storage device and can import the pictures into your photo library. With the Belkin Media Reader for iPod, you’ll be able to take just your digital camera and iPod on vacation, without having to worry about lugging your laptop along just to download photos. Of course, you can’t view the photos on the iPod itself; perhaps a future iPod with a color screen will make that possible.
The New Standard — With these changes, Apple has cemented the position of the iTunes Music Store as the leading online music service. It’s cross-platform, simple to use, doesn’t rely on egregious copy protection, and has Apple’s marketing muscle behind it. If any serious competition is going to appear, it will have to kick in soon.
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It’s been a long time since I’ve been this excited. This week we’re unveiling a completely new publishing project called Take Control, which is a series of electronic books written by leading Macintosh authors. With Take Control, we’re creating a new publishing model for the 21st century that integrates the best practices of online, magazine, and book publishing to bring you the timeliest, most focused, most cost-effective, and highest quality technical documentation possible.
To make Take Control possible, we combined my years of publishing experience and numerous contacts, Tonya’s editing and project management skills, and the expert knowledge and writing abilities of some of the best authors in the Macintosh world. Our initial group of authors includes such familiar names as Jeff Carlson, Glenn Fleishman, Dan Frakes, Joe Kissell, Kirk McElhearn, Matt Neuburg, and Todd Stauffer, along with Tonya and myself.
Let me explain what the Take Control series will do for you.
Why Take Control? At some point or another, we’ve all felt as though we’ve lost control of our computers, as though we’re at sea in a rough and increasingly complex world. Perhaps the fault lies with a poorly designed interface, bad documentation, a bug in a program, or even low-level disk corruption. But for most of us, identifying the source of the problem isn’t nearly as important as getting our work done.
That’s where the Take Control ebooks come in. We want to help you regain control in the fastest, most cost-effective way possible. We’ll be publishing practical Take Control ebooks on specific topics, starting with Mac OS X 10.3 Panther (if that’s not a topic people will want to take control of, I don’t know what is!) and expanding our coverage from there.
Our first title will be the essential "Take Control of Upgrading to Panther," written by Joe Kissell to help you start off on the right foot with Mac OS X 10.3. Should you rely on the standard upgrade, or does Archive and Install make more sense for you? What if you’re upgrading from Mac OS 9? What if you want to revert back to Jaguar? Joe answers all these questions and many more, providing the kind of expert advice you need before you slide the Panther CDs into your Mac. Next up will be "Take Control of Customizing Panther," written by TidBITS Contributing Editor Matt Neuburg. Matt picks up where Joe leaves off, showing you a selection of the best ways you can customize the Panther experience so your Mac looks and works the way you want, so you’re in control of the Mac, rather than the other way around.
We plan to release these titles shortly after Panther’s launch on 24-Oct-03; send email to <[email protected]> to sign up for a low-volume announcement mailing list that will alert you to new titles (confirmation is required to keep spam and worms from subscribing). You can also visit the in-progress Take Control Web page to learn more about individual titles.
Size, Cost, and Focus — Take Control ebooks occupy the sweet spot between magazine articles and books. Magazine articles are generally quite short, starting at about 500 words for reviews and 1,500 words for features. Magazines aren’t necessarily cheap, ranging from about $3 per issue for a year’s subscription up to $8 for a newsstand copy, and you can never assume that any given issue will contain the information you need. On the other end of the spectrum, you’ll seldom find a book under 100 pages due to binding, handling, and perceived value issues. Even the smallest computer books cost $13 to $15. Most books are well over 100 pages, with some tomes pushing 1,000 pages. Many people find such books too long and full of information they don’t need, and they dislike paying for, storing, and later disposing of the entire thing just for a few choice bits.
We’re aiming right between magazine articles and books. Take Control ebooks will start at about 5,000 words (the size of an average TidBITS issue) and increase in length as necessary to cover the topic at hand. But each Take Control title will focus tightly on a single topic, so you can be sure it contains just what you need to know, written and edited by experts. As I’ve been saying to authors, a Take Control ebook should tell you something you don’t know and can’t figure out with a three-word search in Google. As far as cost goes, our introductory pricing is simple and affordable: $5 per ebook. We’re confident that every Take Control ebook will provide far more than $5 of value.
We’re publishing in PDF format because it currently offers the best features for ebooks. It’s easy to read a Take Control ebook on screen, because we’ve carefully designed the layout to be highly legible, and we’ve employed all the PDF niceties such as bookmarks, internal links, and live links to Web sites. Also, our PDFs are completely searchable. For those who prefer to read on paper, our design prints well on both inkjet and laser printers. With Adobe Reader for Palm OS software, you can even read a Take Control PDF on a Palm OS handheld. If you have a low opinion of PDF, we encourage you to refine that to having a low opinion of the lousy PDF files that most people generate. And with Panther’s new version of Preview, reading PDF files on the Mac should get even better.
We won’t be applying any copy prevention technologies to Take Control ebooks. Aside from the fact that we’re philosophically opposed to such measures, we strongly believe that if you treat your customers like decent, honest people, they’ll reward that trust in kind.
The other advantage of an electronic format is that it will be easy to update an ebook to address minor program updates, newly discovered information, or small mistakes. Small updates will be free to those who purchased the initial version of a Take Control title; you’ll just have to download a new copy. Here’s how the Take Control model ends up benefiting readers:
- Timely information from top authors
- Just what you need to know, nothing more
- Instant gratification from buying online
- Less expensive than books or newsstand magazines
- Unprotected PDF files are compatible with many platforms
- Looks good on screen and when printed
- Free updates for minor changes
Authors Take Control — We like to pull back the covers on our projects so you know what’s going on behind the scenes. So, here’s how the Take Control series works for authors.
Our ideas for the Take Control series stem in large part from years of experience writing for book and magazine publishers. Since the best books and articles I’ve written have been for publishers with whom I had good working relationships, we designed the Take Control project around authors from the beginning, and our initial group of authors have helped greatly in refining the details.
The main attraction for authors is that Take Control ebooks have an excellent risk/reward ratio. The risk is entirely bundled up in the amount of work necessary to write the ebook, but for a professional author who is expert in a field, a Take Control ebook shouldn’t take more than a couple of weeks from start to finish. On the reward side of the equation, we split the profits equally with authors; it’s a straight 50:50 split after transaction fees, which we’re minimizing with a new back-end approach made possible by our friends at Kagi. So, the advantages for authors work out to:
- Excellent risk/reward ratio
- Quick turnaround time
- No earning limits for a popular title
- Easy updates to modify details
- Fast, collaborative publishing process
- Strong author community
The upshot is that we believe we’ll be able to convince even more top authors to write Take Control ebooks, and that will result in even more Take Control goodness for readers. (Interested in writing for the Take Control series? If you have writing experience and are an expert in your field, drop me a note.)
A Few Days of Patience — We wanted to announce Take Control before Panther shipped so you’d know about Joe’s "Take Control of Upgrading to Panther" ebook before next week’s issue of TidBITS (which arrives after Panther ships on 24-Oct-03). But that does mean waiting for a few days, so in the meantime, please sign up for the Take Control Announcements list by sending email to <[email protected]> and feel free to ask questions on TidBITS Talk. Now if only we had a few more hours in the days between now and October 24th…
Sender pays solution to spam –Would a system that charges spammers per message be effective in reducing the amount of unsolicited commercial email we receive? And what effect would it have on legitimate mailings, such as free weekly electronic newsletters? (3 messages)
CA spam law article errata — Brady Johnson, who wrote last week’s article on California’s anti-spam laws, makes a correction and explores a few issues raised by readers. (1 message)
If the CA law won’t help — More discussion of anti-spam measures, including ways of shifting the economic burden of spam, and discerning which messages in fact qualify as spam. (5 messages)