I must admit, as a former digital newspaper executive, I was caught up in the frenzy and promise that forthcoming tablet devices, from Apple, HP, etc.. would help print publishers and other “old media” sorts get off life support and into the black. While this is a topic we will examine in greater detail in forthcoming reports, let me offer a few points to consider before jumping on the bandwagon.
- What works for The New York Times does not necessarily work for the vast majority of metro daily newspapers. The Times, along with the FT, USA Today and Wall Street Journal (maybe The Washington Post) has a national, and in some cases, an international readership. Even in slowdown mode, these newspapers have R&D staffs and have vendors waiting in line to assist their new media efforts. Adobe, for example, was instrumental in moving The Times from a Microsoft-based desktop news reader to an Air-based reader. Smaller newspapers do not have the resources to take on the development required to create “killer apps” for new devices. In addition, larger audience reach allows a national/international to approach a larger total market of device owners while a newspaper in Dallas can realistically only target tablet owners in its own market.
- People may not pay for newspaper apps. Looking at the top 10 paid apps on the iTunes store shows games and entertainment but nothing resembling content. That said, few if any newspapers charge for their Smartphone apps Even if developers devise compelling apps for newspapers on tablets, there is still no evidence consumers will pay. If the apps merely take what exists today for Smartphone (which is little more than mobile-screen versions of Web content), newspapers will fail to seize this opportunity
- Consumers will not pay for a device, apps and a data fee. The latest word points to Verizon partnering with Apple for its tablet and we’re likely to see other wireless carriers partner with other tablet manufacturers. Unlike books, which IMHO don’t require wireless access, newspapers require ongoing connectivity to refresh content. Given the fact that WiFi coverage is not persistent, 3G access is needed to fully enable newspaper experiences. With carrier subsidies, consumers will have to pay wireless data plans which, in some cases, may either duplicate service plans or add another provider to a consumer’s monthly mix. It’s also doubtful I can use my wireless 3G adapter with some of the proposed tablets, making the wireless scenarios not very consumer friendly.
The list goes on, but let’s wait until hype turns into reality to see whether the opportunity for newspapers is true riches or fool’s gold.
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