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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

iPad: Is It The Solution For The News Industry?

When I was a kid I remember my Dad sitting at the kitchen table on the weekends with the newspaper spread all around him.  Sporadically throughout his reading he would point to the article he was reading and yell, "Hey.  Listen to this."  Then he would tell us the jist of the story and chuckle or offer some opposing view.  We would just chuckle too (or agree) although us kids didn't really have any clue what he was talking about.  We were just kind of pleased to be included I guess.  It was Twitter in it's earliest form, and this has always been they way with news.  We read it.  We want to share it.  We want to offer our opinion and perspective on it.  Basically, we want to interact with it. 

Although newspapers and magazines were excellent delivery forms for news and stories over the years, they had barriers to the way we wanted the news and what we wanted to do with it.  Then came the internet.  Now we could get the news almost when it happened.  We could interact with it through links and commenting.  And we can share with the masses today through social networking services.  Newspapers and magazines that had once scoffed at the internet began realizing it's where they needed to be.  (Well, that and the fact that ad dollars were shifting from their print products to online. They didn't have much choice but to follow the money).  Not only did they begin putting their stories online, they began giving them away for free expecting ad dollars online to make up losses in lagging hard-copy sales.  And, thus, the downward spiral begun for many major print news companies.

But when all seemed dim . . . along comes the iPad.  This past week, my wife actually won an iPad in a drawing and it finally gave me an opportunity to sit down and really play around with it hands-on.  The phone call itself from her was pretty funny.  She calls me at work and says, "Guess what?!  I won an iPad!"  What else could I say, "Wow!  That's great!"  Her next remark will make tech-lovers such as myself almost want to cry.  She then said, "I'm just so excited I won, but I don't have any use for this thing.  You want it?"  Truth be told, I actually don't have much use for it either (full-time that is) and we offered it to my father-in-law who lives with us.  He was really excited and being the good son-in-law I am, I offered to sacrifice my time to do the set up for him.  By the way, 'set up' takes about 20 minutes with an iTunes account.  But to make sure everything worked just fine, I stretched it out to about 3 hours.

NY Times iPad App
Anyway, back to the connection with the iPad and the saving of the news industry.  Since my father-in-law and I both like reading the news, I went looking for the news and magazine apps like the ones I have on my iPod Touch.  Most were there, and they look great.  Finally, the New York Times looks like the New York Times again.  USA Today feels like I'm holding a newspaper again with those sections denoted by the colored square boxes.  But now it was even better because I could do all that other stuff with it like share stories on social networking services or email them to others.  Newspapers and news looking the way they should look with the functionality to do with it the things we want to do with the news.  It's a beautiful thing.  Click here to check out some of the news and magazine apps available for the iPad.

So you'd think that's where the story ends, right?  Actually no, because there is one more issue the news has faced . . . since they've been giving it away for free for the last few years, will people pay for it again?  I noticed something very interesting with the magazine and many major newspaper apps (except for the two mentioned above which are both free), you can get the app for free to view the content but then you pay for a subscription or pay for individual issues within the application.  One thing (and probably the only thing) I have to agree with Ruppert Murdoch is that good journalism doesn't come cheap, and there is only so much advertising that can go around the internet.  You can't just give everything away for free and expect to remain in business.  So it will be interesting to see what the response by consumers is to these new pay options are. 

As tablets and other mobile devices take hold it will be interesting to see how local news companies also leverage this new avenue. 

Local news is primarily delivered via websites and rely heavily on ad dollars to support them.  A mobile app model with subscription or pay-per-issue delivery might be an avenue for an additional revenue stream. 

The real question is whether these news sites will begin charging even for website access and if they do . . . will people pay those fees?  This model has been tried in the past and is beginning to come around again. 

So, what do you think?  Would you pay per-issue or subscription fees to get news from the source you want via an app or website?

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