OPINION

iPad’s Not Soft Enough to Cushion Journalism’s Hard Landing

The more I see devices like the new Apple iPad, the more I come to appreciate Steven Spielberg’s 2002 sci-fi spectacular “Minority Report.” It was the first thing I thought of when I saw video of the company’s newest “magical” creation and executives demonstrating its New York Times app.

The app seamlessly integrated video content with the usual Grey Lady font and text. With a finger-tap on multi-touch screen, video boxes pop up to enhance what you’re reading on the iPad, and all done within the stylistic confines we’ve come to know and appreciate with the Times. Immediately I flashed back to the scene in “Minority Report” where Tom Cruise — by now a fugitive from the law he recently served — is sitting on a near-future subway car, and a passenger across the aisle is reading a paper-based USA Today. But on that front page was moving video of Cruise beneath a headline warning that he was on the loose. Then the headline changes to show the other top stories of the moment, circa mid-21st century.

We’re probably not that far from the day when integrated circuits, wireless connectivity and malleable screens can combine to project images on a paper-based product. The NY Times demonstration Wednesday at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco came the closest yet to delivering on that promise. It was classy, elegant and useful.

Sorry to say, but none of that means that Apple’s tablet will help lead journalism out of its current economic wilderness.

Bucks for Box Scores?

Many others, including yours truly, had written prior to the iPad’s launch about whether or not the device would help convince skeptical consumers to pay for news content delivered by A-list journalism brands. I still believe journalism’s problems are deeper than anything that can be fixed with a gadget or cool software.

People are already used to getting their news for free, and they’ll find a way to keep feeding that habit even if the iPad and paywalls both become the standards for consuming and funding Web-based news content. Never mind whether Apple’s iTunes store can expand to include newspapers, magazines and books; most people don’t have the same kind of emotional connection with last night’s box scores as they do with a Beethoven symphony or a Beatles ballad. They certainly won’t pay a monthly subscription for that content. They might consider a micropayment plan, since it’s the same a la carte business model that’s made iTunes the top music seller in the world.

However, that doesn’t mean I want the newspaper or magazine industries to stop working with platforms like the iPad. The newspaper and magazine industries need to keep meshing text, video, photos and user interactivity for the device. Technology gives the iPad the ability to turn into landscape mode, and who knows; maybe more journalism jobs lay in that landscape as well.

New Storytelling Modes, New Business Models

The Sports Illustrated tablet demo is another example of a media company putting the right people to work on development kits and coming up with a fun way to check out scores and highlights. Connectivity provides links to other sports Web features, and a virtual keyboard gives users the chance to kick in some feedback about favorite teams. The app actually is a concept piece that was shown to various media outlets in December, so it’s not built specifically for the iPad. However, it shows how some companies are relying on innovation to help their media content make the transition to mobile computing platforms.

Sports, business news and other specialized journalism segments may be able to pull off subscription-based business models for those platforms, but they still won’t replace traditional newsstand, home delivery and other 20th-century revenue streams. However, the new concepts in page design and video boxes/streams leave ample room for online advertising, even with the slump it’s seeing thanks to current economic woes. Online advertising will return, make no mistake.

I was surprised that I didn’t see more newspaper and magazine demos at Wednesday’s Apple event. I would have thought that Apple CEO Steve Jobs would want to play up all the different ways that the iPad could help users within a certain socio-economic demographic access new kinds of content. If you can afford the highest-priced iPad model at US$829, then maybe you have a desire to read a more media-rich Architectural Digest Web site, or can pay whatever a fashion magazine will charge for access to a Web site chock-full of real-time tweets from trunk shows, photo slideshow and video presentations from Milan, Paris or New York.

The e-books lined up on the virtual bookcase in Apple’s iBook Store during the iPad show-and-tell highlight a different set of issues for tablet-seeking consumers. It also underlines how some media companies still want to have things their way in a consumer-empowered world. If I’m going to pay more per book to use an iPad as an e-reader rather than Amazon’s Kindle, then I’m damn sure going to want to download that book on or near the same day that the hardcovers hit my neighborhood Barnes and Noble. The release windows for physical vs. e-books was highlighted by the recent release of Game Change, the latest headline-generated political tell-all. Many Amazon customers were giving it one-star reviews simply for the fact that publisher HarperCollins did not immediately make a Kindle version available. The publisher finally relented, but those wanting to read Game Change on their Kindles have to wait until mid-February before they can have that chance. I realize the revenue gap between hardcover books and e-books, but there has to be a way to provide the instant gratification that customers have come to expect in 2010.

New Journalism Jobs

In the meantime, someone has to shoot all that new video on newspaper and magazine Web sites and for their tablet apps. Someone with layout and page design experience has to work it all up into an eye-catching style. Somebody has to mix and mash-up traditional storytelling techniques with the new media.

Tablet computers like the iPad — or, for that matter, smartphones, netbooks or reader software — won’t convince people to start ponying up cash for their online news, but experimentation may result in employment for some out-of-work or up-and-coming media professionals.


TechNewsWorld columnist Renay San Miguel started his journalism career with his hometown newspaper in Texas in 1979. He moved to television in 1985, anchoring, producing and reporting in Austin, Dallas and San Francisco before joining CNBC as a technology correspondent from 1997 to 2000. Following a stint with CBS MarketWatch, which included filing tech stories for the CBS Early Show, San Miguel joined CNN Headline News in 2001 as an anchor/tech reporter. He also contributed digital content for CNN.com. After his 2007 departure from CNN, San Miguel founded Primo Media and now freelances in television/online reporting and media consultation.

2 Comments

  • I was extremely skeptical about the ‘iPad’ before seeing the introduction video and reading the technical specifications. In the space of an hour of so, I moved from skeptic to ‘ok, this could be a good thing’.

    After 24 hours, reading the reviews, verifying that it should give me access to Amazon, Barnes & Nobel and Google titles, and thinking through my likely use of the iPad, I have moved from ‘ok’ to ‘I want one!’.

    One of the biggest motivators was the NYT demo. My wife and I have been reading the Times on-line for several years now. It is a part of our everyday rituals. I haven’t been a paid subscriber in all that time.

    After seeing the NYT Reader demo, I AM ready to ante up the $175 per year for a paid subscription (after they answer a few questions to my satisfaction). Mostly, do they expect me to pay additional for access to articles older than 7 days.

    Given a similar UI, I would very likely switch my magazine subscriptions to on-line access (at the same rates I pay now).

    And I would likely add back in a couple I have dropped over the years.

    While many of these magazines are available on-line as websites, I find no compelling reason to read them on my desktop, laptop, netbook or smartphone.

    A full color e-reader with a great UI would change this (I have used the Kindle and tried the Nook…. no sale).

    Add in what seems to be a wealth of apps, iWork tools for $10 each, photo handling, wi-fi and 3G for $15/mo no contract, Brushes (to encourage my artist wife’s buy-in) all in a device I can comfortably hold and easily carry on trips and Wow! I AM ready to part with $800.

    So to sum it up, the device offers me a combination of functionality and pricing that I find compelling.

    e-books are another issue. Moving me away from the library and used bookstores will require a much better model of pricing, licensing, ability to share with friends and family, etc.

    I AM an avid reader who, when paperbacks were under $5, used to buy a minimum of 4-6 books a month. I have much larger than usual ‘library’ (1,500+ books even after donating over 1,000 to the local library).

    Since prices for even paperbacks have have climbed above $8, I have virtually stopped buying new books and haunt the library and used book stores instead.

    I also hate the new paperback format. The older format is so much more convenient to carry and read. And fit on my bookshelf.

    Bottom line, my wallet is out and I AM just waiting to confirm my impressions of the device and media to buy one.

    Well done Apple….

    Hope the print media recognizes the opportunity to recapture customers and recognizes how much more profitable selling a few million copies of electronic products at $1 is than selling a few hundred thousand at $10.

    The print folks can seize the opportunity and save the core of the business plus add incredible new opportunities (in copyright, out of print anyone?) or they can follow the RIAA’s model and continue on the path to obscurity.

  • You are so right in saying that the print media needs much more then a cool device to deliver its content. It needs a reason to convince consumers that their content is worth reading more then the free content provided to them already. Paying for something means getting something more then what is free. In this case that’s a huge task. I like print I worked through college in a new agency distributing Chicago’s finest newspapers. I spent many a hour reading them. Then the internet come on the scene in the form of AOL. That started a change for me and I know for many the internet is available to them and they pay for it anyway. So why buy news in print is what they ask? AOL was never able to reinvent itself as times changed. Will the print media be able too? Time will tell.

Leave a Comment

Please sign in to post or reply to a comment. New users create a free account.

E-Commerce Times Channels