Globe and Mail faces court battle with app developer

A Toronto-based mobile app developer says it will make a claim in court against The Globe and Mail after the national newspaper cut business ties and pulled its content.

Spreed Inc. and the Globe have gone their separate ways after the news organization launched its new lineup of mobile apps for iOS, Android and BlackBerry platforms. Spreed has maintained the same app “shell” that the Globe’s content used to inhabit, replacing it with content delivered by the Winnipeg Free Press under a “Free Press News” brand name.

Readers of the Globe’s old mobile app were greeted on Thursday with only one top story – a letter from Spreed CEO Anthony Novac. The letter describes an “unfortunate” ending of the partnership after achieving better-than-expected success and revenue from the mobile app. The Globe made decisions that “severely harmed the relationship between the two companies,” Novac wrote.

Now those differences will likely be settled in court, he tells ITBusiness.ca.

“I’m going to make a claim against the Globe and Mail,” he says. “We were surprised by the speed of the Globe pulling their content… we have a very clear agreement.”

Spreed owns the app, which it created in August 2009 to deliver content to iOS, BlackBerry and Palm Pre’s webOS platforms. It made the Globe Canada’s first newspaper presence on the App Store and has gone on to be downloaded about 700,000 times.

“I suspect it was equal to, if not the most successful app in the country financially,” Novac says.

The newspaper first warned Spreed it was looking to go in a different direction back in December, says Angus Frame, vice president of digital media at the Globe and Mail. It wanted to emphasize its editorial decision-making, and Spreed’s platform wasn’t tailored for that.

“It’s an age old story,” he says. “Globe and Spreed were not exactly moving in the same direction.”

Still, Frame strikes a conciliatory note when describing the relationship with the developer. “Spreed was a good company to work with, they are a good and fast solution for publishers that are looking for that,” he says.

Metro, another Spreed partner, says it chose the developer because it offered multiple platforms and was able to launch to market quickly.

“We chose to work with Spreed because they were able to get us up and running quickly, and they offer development across multiple platforms including iOS, BlackBerry and Android,” says Chris Tindal, interactive content manager at Metro Canada. “We’re launching our Android app with Spreed this month, and we’re proud that it’ll be one of the first Canadian news apps in the Android Market.”

The Globe has a new arrangement with another undisclosed Toronto-base developer for the creation of its new mobile app. The difference this time is, the newspaper owns the app code as well as the content, Frame says. Globe News, released earlier this week, features a live Twitter feed, allows users to customize the home page and save favourite articles, and more easily share articles on social networks. The new app is integrated with the Globe’s content management system.

“Journalistic decision making is what separates us from the news aggregators in the space,” Frame says. “It’s a much more sophisticated approach to news delivery than just a primitive RSS reader.”

The Globe doesn’t dispute that Spreed owns the old app, he adds. There’s also no confusion over the Globe owning its content featured in that app.

The app was free for download and generated revenue based on advertising. Novac won’t elaborate on what the Globe did that he felt harmed their business partnership, because of the matter possibly going to court.

“The information will become public in due course in the courts, I’m just going to leave it there,” he says.

Spreed has other content partners including the commuter daily newspaper Metro, owned by Torstar Corp. The developer isn’t having any problems with its other partners, Novac says.

Metro is looking forward to being Spreed’s “flagship Canadian partner,” Tindal says.

Brian Jackson is Associate Editor at ITBusiness.ca. Follow him on Twitter, read his blog, and check out the IT Business Facebook Page.

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