Will Apple’s new iPad help the news industry?
Sure. Any new device that encourages people to read and watch more information will help publishers. With a larger screen than Apple’s iPod Touch and iPhone, and far better display than we’ve seen from the Kindle or other e-book readers to date, people moving to the iPad from those devices should be expected to increase their “screen time,” since they’ll be using a more aesthetically pleasing device.
But can the iPad save the newspaper industry? What features in the new device might help financially struggling newsrooms encourage more people to pay for news delivered online?
Slow down, folks. First, if you haven’t watch this years-old clip from Fox’s old Mad TV sketch comedy show, please do now. It’s best not to place any industry’s hopes for survival upon a device whose name elicited so much ridicule from one half the population that Twitter users immediately moved “iTampon” to the top of the Trending Topics list in response.
I know that many news managers desperately want some technological innovation to come along that will turn back time and make people fall in love with printed content again. But paid circulation and readership were falling at most U.S. newspapers long before the World Wide Web made it easier for people dissatisfied with their local newspapers to find many more alternatives. The problem isn’t the Web – it’s that people have been rejecting and, in increasing numbers, continue to reject paying for the content offered by newspapers’ newsrooms, in any medium.
The only ways that a new publishing platform will increase revenue for a publisher are:
– If the platform replaces a previous platform, allowing the publisher to reduce access to its content, and thus, increase price;
– If the platform expands availability of its content, allowing entry into a new customer market;
– If the platform provides a more suitable medium for its content, increasing its desirability, and thus public demand.
The iPad, and eReaders in general, don’t replace any other publisher platforms; they merely provide an additional option. Nor do these readers significantly expand the availability of content beyond that already established by the Internet and smart phones.
Someone will devise content that’s perfect for the iPad. It will likely take advantage of the device’s larger screen and portability and involve individual customization. (It’ll likely do much more, too.)
But after a decade and a half of online production, most newsrooms haven’t substantially changed their print-focused production process. It’s hard for me to imagine that the iPad coming along will now force that change, when Web browsers and smart phones didn’t in the past.
No, newsrooms that are suffering in the market need to quit looking for new revenue models and quit longing for new delivery platforms. Instead, they should focus on one thing…
If you aren’t connecting with an audience and customers, you need to improve your content so that you do.
When PhDs can write engaging blogs on the topics of their expertise, reaching an affluent worldwide audience, can you really afford to continue employing a general assignment reporter, who has no advanced degree or relevant industry experience, and may have finished somewhere in the middle half of his or her high-school graduating class, to cover the same stories?
Can you afford to continue clinging to the myth that print narrative “writing ability” is somehow more important than research analysis skills, professional knowledge and a long memory for reporting in a complex, technological age? (Are you still using clips to make hiring decisions?)
Can you afford to keep taking a hands-off, “impartial” approach to reporting on problems that affect the survival of the community you cover, thus enraging readers looking to you to stand up to the liars, crooks and charlatans in the community?
Neither iPads, nor paywalls, nor government subsidies will long save a publication that too few care to read. Is your news business in trouble? Quit longing for saviors, and start producing better content.