How the iPad Can Save the News Industry

    by Dan Schultz
    February 9, 2010

    Do you remember the disappointing iPad media event of 2010? You know, the one where Apple announced their magical, revolutionary device that can’t run more than one application at the same time, won’t have built-in videoconferencing, doesn’t support Flash, and whose name sounds the same as the iPod’s when spoken in Boston.

    Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t crushed; I’ve never been an Apple fan-boy. My iPod Touch is gathering dust right now because I refused to cave into Apple’s $10 milk-the-early-adopter patches (yes, even the one that enabled Apps).

    Starting today, however, things will be different. I’m joining the Cult of Mac. I’m in the market for a Mini, and I’m going to buy an iPad. But there’s a catch. I’m not doing this as a consumer; I’m doing it as a developer. The iPad can save the news industry, and I want to help.


    The Simpler Days of Killer Apps

    It seems like only yesterday when you required the fabled “killer app” in order to unleash the full potential of a technology. At some point, Apple decided that instead of worrying about spending time making these things themselves, they would just launch an App Store and let everyone else do the work.

    Apple released the iPad without a killer app. This was a problem because we didn’t just expect one — we need one. We need this tablet to redefine the way people access media content in order to make newspapers and magazines viable in the digital age.

    It’s hard to believe Apple didn’t know about our needs, and yet we are sitting here without a media revolution…Or are we? Maybe they just assumed that people would recognize the inherent potential of a lightweight, attractive, networked platform that comes with a relatively inexpensive 10-inch touch screen and an automatic critical mass. When you think about it that way, the iPad might not be so horrible after all.


    The Potential of the iPad

    Before thinking about what a newspaper-saving application might look like, here are four reasons why the iPad should be exciting for the news and publishing industries:

    1. It is a giant iPod Touch: People say this like it’s a bad thing, but for anybody who likes iPhone/iPod Touch apps, consider that user interfaces for the iPad don’t have to fit on something the size of an index card. In the land of touch screens, extra space means more content, more features, and more potential.
    2. Touching is better than clicking: Tablets aren’t a new concept, but existing tablets tended to run awkward ports of mouse-based operating systems. Since Apple created the precedent for successful touch application platforms, I can only assume that this will be a ridiculously engaging way of consuming media.
    3. It will be quick: By porting the iPhone OS to the iPad, Apple ensured the iPad would have the screen real estate of a laptop without its lengthy boot time. This might not sound like much, but instant gratification means you will be far more likely to use it for short periods of time (just like you might with a smartphone). You will pick it up at the breakfast table while sipping on OJ, sneak in some time right before going to sleep, and use it for a few minutes while waiting for the train.
    4. There is an established distribution mechanism: Because the iPad uses the App Store, it will be easy to get our revolutionary applications out into the world.

    What Would a Killer App Look Like?

    Let’s pretend that the iPad (or a similar tablet) will catch on in the next year. How can the news industry take advantage of this as an opportunity to revitalize itself? What would the solution have to do?

    Below are a few things I want to see:

    • A singular distribution channel. I want an iTunes for print. It is far more powerful to have one full-featured application that can serve a thousand newspapers than it is to have a thousand simple applications that host individual newspapers.
    • Publications selling information again. No more of this “giving out your content for free” nonsense. Sell your daily paper through this platform for 10 cents an issue. This will be a viable business decision for two reasons: The convenience of the medium, and the insane richness of the consumer experience.
    • Far more than just text. What the New York Times showed off at the Apple media event was nice, but we need to go a few steps further. Details will have to wait for future posts, but I’m generally talking about tools for contextualization, crowd empowerment, rich media, and personalization.
    • Effective and powerful content creation tools. There will be two sides to this system: the consumer facing side, and the publication facing side. Publishers need to be able to create these dynamic digital documents quickly and easily.

    Even with just these four attributes one can start to see how this might help local news organizations. If done right, people would buy the newspaper again. They would add the iPad to their morning routine and flip through through the media-rich pages at their leisure.

    The reason this would happen is because this system will provide a more powerful experience than anything that exists today. The tablet interface will enable things that nobody would have dreamed of doing on a laptop or smart phone. The application would be accessible because of the consistent consumer experience that comes from a common platform (in the same way that people around the world read the newspaper in the same way 50 years ago).

    I wasn’t kidding about wanting to dream up, design, prototype, and launch something for the iPad that will save publications; but I can’t do that without getting some publications on board. If there are any organizations or individuals out there that are interested in seeking the Holy Grail, contact me (@slifty on Twitter).

    Tagged: app store apple ipad iphone ipod publishing

    14 responses to “How the iPad Can Save the News Industry”

    1. The main reason an iTunes for print would save the news industry is that it would be set up to keep all that annoying free content out. Nothing but good old-fashioned news media to be consumed by people, not written by them.

      Do you really want to do that to people? Rob them of their emerging voice, and put them back under the thumb of the corporate press? Is it worth destroying society to save the news industry?

    2. Falling with Style says:

      What you don’t want is a distribution channel that relies exclusively on the Internet. There is no reason why Wi-Fi can’t be used to deliver and even sell publications in the local environment. Like the newsstand or newsbox. Or do you expect to obsolete these ? …

    3. Dan Schultz says:

      Thanks for the comments folks! Let me try to respond:

      @Stephen Downes – This would rob nobody for two reasons: 1) It wouldn’t eliminate the existing channels (rather it would just create a new one that journalists could actually make a living from). 2) The crowd would absolutely have a voice with this. I hand waved, but if you look closely you will see that I used the phrase “crowd empowerment tools.” This means what it sounds like. Also it is worth mentioning that nobody said anything about who or what would be allowed to contribute content.

      @Falling with Style – I’m not entirely sure what you mean. Wi-Fi is simply wireless access to a network (usually this network ultimately leads to the Internet). When talking about digital mass media, the Internet will always be involved.

      That being said I agree with you entirely that this platform would/should/could never replace other forms of media. People need to be able to get information without a $500 price tag be it from a public computer, a newsstand/newsbox, or whatever your method of choice is. That doesn’t mean the $500 platform shouldn’t be fully utilized, however.

    4. Falling with Style says:

      Dan, I respectfully disagree. Although “usually” Wi-Fi leads to the Internet, there is no reason why the Internet must always be involved in getting media to my device.

      Why do I need to pay $14.95 to connect to the Internet in the airport when the airport newsdealer can deliver my Wall Street Journal/local newspaper/magazine directly to my iPad or netbook via Wi-Fi?

      I don’t subscribe to those periodicals. They don’t have me in a customer database. I am just buying a single digital download from the retailer’s local server.

      How does the newsbox get its newspapers in the morning? A delivery person brings them in a truck. A wireless newsbox will need a source of power, but it needs no connection to the Internet via hardwire or cellphone. The truck can drive by and zap files to it in an instant via short-range wireless.

      Without fully exploiting wireless local technology, publishers and customers will remain beholden to the wireless ISPs and cellular carriers who will take their expensive cut even when their role is physically unnecessary.

      A file download may not even be involved. I may be just checking, say, an event website via Wi-Fi in my conference hotel — a venue that does not offer reasonably priced wireless Internet service.

      Why should the event make attendees go to the Internet — holding their iPhones, for example, up to a window to use AT&T’s crummy data service — when the information can be broadcast directly to them by a Wi-Fi device, sans Internet, in the meeting room or on the exhibit floor?

      It is in just these forms of direct distribution that short-range wireless technologies excel.

    5. Geek says:

      An Apple tablet that might sell less than a million in 2010 (take that to the bank) the salvation of the media is grasping at straws.

      Today Apple commands less than 7% of the PC market and yes I know the I-Pad is not just a mobile computer device. It is just a oversized I-Pod Touch.

    6. Dan Schultz says:

      @Falling – Sorry for misunderstanding. I wouldn’t say I disagree with you – very interesting food for thought.

      @Geek – I believe I addressed the “giant iPod Touch” point explicitly… As for Apple – it doesn’t really matter it is the iPad or the youPad or the droidPad, the point of this post is the potential of the concept; Apple happens to be the first one to release this kind of device on a massive scale.

    7. I think the iPad offers a lot to news organizations, but in my opinion it has more to do with the iBooks store than the App store.

      Apple’s adoption of the open EPUB format for ebooks means even more publishers will make their content available in that format. EPUB is primarily used by book publishers right now, but I think newspapers and magazines will follow. Why? So they can make their content available in Apple’s iBooks store. If you think of what happened with the MP3 format once Apple adopted it, with the addition of DRM for commercial content, that’s what could happen with EPUB.

      We’re actively working on an EPUB export option in Printcasting, so stay tuned.

    8. robinson says:

      Really like your post– a good counter-point to much of the nay-saying that’s out there.

      I’m sure you’ve seen the SI and other mag tablet mock ups… they’re impressive and fulfill much of what you’re desiring.

      Now, I have to chide/tease you on one comment:

      “Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t crushed; I’ve never been an Apple fan-boy. My iPod Touch is gathering dust right now because I refused to cave into Apple’s $10 milk-the-early-adopter patches”

      LOL! I’m not sure that I believe you… anyone who would willingly toss away a $200-300 device because of $10 is being silly.

      If you want to unload it, just let me know and you can send it to me! :-) It will go well with my IPT 2G for which I gladly paid $10 for an upgrade (well I groused a bit!)

    9. @Dan: I think this is a great idea. I’ve been thinking about this with some colleagues out West. I know you were probably being a bit tongue-in-cheek with the title of the post, but I think it’s worth addressing anyway. I think when people examine new opportunities, they want to set the bar too high. I don’t think you’re doing this, but I think other folks might read the title are judging the thought in terms of whether a single device could “save” the journo biz.

      No single device will, nor will there be one biz model that sustains everything. Rather, we need to be experimenting with everything, and testing storytelling and revenue raising ideas everywhere. The iPad is an important, interesting piece of that, and so worth pursuing as a news platform.

      But if someone is judging what you do by whether it “saves” the news biz, they might not see the actual merits of what you accomplish.

    10. Dan Schultz says:

      Chris – Thanks for the comment and for putting that point/warning out there – you are completely right (and yeah, I was having fun being dramatic. Part of that was to combat the “meh” mentality that everyone has been giving the tablet since its announcement.)

      That being said, I may as well continue the conversation. The ultimate point of this post is that I think tablets could create a viable new way for newspapers and professional journalists to sell their content. Like you said, that doesn’t mean it “saves the news industry” (whatever that actually means), but at the same time, the hyperbole is grounded in something — I see this potential distribution channel as comparable to a method that, from what I understand, used to sustain papers: issue purchases and subscriptions. The reason this prospect is particularly exciting is that it would do so while also improving the consumer experience thanks to the new ways that information can be presented and interacted with on this platform.

      As you are saying, though, we’re never going back to a simple single-medium information biz and there is no silver bullet (if for no other reason than the fact that there is no single problem).

      It’s also worth making clear that on top of it all, this post just speculating on potential with an attempt to think through why that potential might exist. Ultimately I’d just like to see us seriously explore this with some enthusiasm just in case tablet distribution could amount to something significant.

    11. Dan Schultz says:

      @robinson – I’m glad someone else liked that one;) There is another major reason it was gathering dust — Apple refuses to support XP 64 for iTunes so I can’t sync the iPod with my PC anyway. This will end up solving itself when I get around to installing Windows 7.

      Also, not that you care, but now that I publicly aired my grievances on that I decided I was allowed to buy the upgrade. The syncing issue will solve itself when I get around to installing Windows 7 ;)

    12. Newspapers do not have a technology problem. They have a fundamental aversion to change and innovation. Until the news executives figure out that they need to start up skunk work operations and seed fund new ventures and invest in their existing workforce, all of the technology in the world will not help them.

      Also, iPhones and iPod Touches look cool. The iPad looks lame. Apple tried this with the Newton years ago to no avail. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newton_(platform)

      But I do agree with you that we should be trying anything and everything to create new media online – keep flinging the spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. Who knows maybe I’m wrong and maybe everyone will love the iPad (I hate the name) But as a Kindle owner & iPhone owner I know the device is just a means to an end. What I really want is compelling content.

    13. Paid content and services model is back. There are many sites including WSJ, NYTimes that are charging for their news and content. iPad will make this model work, now that you can read news anywhere and it is portable. I think it is a good thing.

    14. Paid content and services model is back. There are many sites including WSJ, NYTimes that are charging for their news and content. iPad will make this model work, now that you can read news anywhere and it is portable. I think it is a good thing.

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