Newspapers are not being eaten by iPads

by Carl Natale on November 18, 2010

James Murdoch, head of News Corp’s operations in Europe and Asia, created a lot of worrying last week by saying the iPad is cannabalizing print.

Bloggers and journalists ran with it and quoted him extensively. All in all, it’s much attribution about nothing.

In all the coverage and quoting, I didn’t see a single fact. There were no stats or metrics supporting the assertion. Not a single newspaper circulation manager stood up and said they received x amount of calls from iPad owners canceling subscriptions.

So I’m working on the assumption that the iPad daily diet does not contain any newspapers or magazines. Let me know if you have numbers that say otherwise.

This does bring up some important points:

The iPad is beautiful

I’ve only played with it in the Apple Store. But I’m on solid ground when I say it’s intuitive, elegant and fun. I don’t understand why you don’t want to publish on this platform. This is a very compelling platform for newspapers and magazines.

We’ve heard this before

I was saying it in 1995. Newspapers on the web were going to change journalism forever. They did but not quite as much as we hoped. Web versions of a lot of newspapers are pretty much like the print version. So why aren’t newspapers in a golden age of journalism?

Must design content for the medium

Again, the iPad is beautiful, intuitive, elegant and fun. But that doesn’t mean your content becomes beautiful, intuitive, elegant and fun by magic. You must design for that.

Now go back and re-read my last paragraph. If this is true, why doesn’t everyone create elegant versions of their product.

It’s expensive

Murdoch did say, “Computer graphics are supposed to be cheaper. Avatar was not cheap.” Just because it’s digital, it doesn’t mean it’s less expensive. Mostly, the cost is the time it takes to properly repurpose content.

Is there a business model?

That being said, and the relatively low revenue from ad revenue, is there a way to make money? I guess that’s why most of these periodical apps charge subscription rates. Maybe that’s the ticket. I can’t wait to see if it works.

This doesn’t mean free is dead

Don’t take this as an endorsement of newspapers charging for content. That isn’t what got them into trouble in the first place. But go ahead and try it anyway. I dare you.

Friction matters

This is a really interesting explanation from Murdoch about why they’re using a platform that takes a 30 percent cut of subscriptions:

“We go to the iTunes store because it’s frictionless. They charge a percentage but the guy on the newsstand and the newsagent charge a percentage, and they don’t even merchandise it properly.”

News Corp. is paying premium rates for iTunes to distribute its papers. And it’s worth it.

I hope newspapers remember this when they start charging for Web access. If you’re going to charge money, reduce the friction in the process. And make it a beautiful, intuitive, elegant and fun experience.

That’s all.

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