Is iPad Really Digital Saviour of Newspapers? Don't Bet on It; MEDIA ANALYSIS

The Evening Standard (London, England), June 2, 2010 | Go to article overview

Is iPad Really Digital Saviour of Newspapers? Don't Bet on It; MEDIA ANALYSIS


Byline: Roy Greenslade

THOUSANDS of people lined up in London last week to acquire an iPad. As the Evening Standard reported, some 500 people even camped out overnight in Regent Street in order to enjoy the honour of paying [pounds sterling]429 for Apple's tablet computer.

Apple tends to create such devoted fans and I'm happy to declare that I share their enthusiasm, but only up to a point. I like to think I have a sense of proportion because I'm neither a geek nor do I believe that Steve Jobs, the company's hugely talented co-founder, walks on water.

That sense of proportion also means that I am totally unconvinced by media visionaries who seem to believe that Jobs will prove to be the saviour of the newspaper industry by bringing us the iPad.

There are five reasons for their belief. First, though people do appear to be reluctant to pay to obtain online news through straightforward subscriptions, the iPad -- being so much like a mobile phone -- will encourage people to stump up. Second, paying for applications (apps in the jargon) to download material is a more natural act than subscribing for access to a website on a desktop or laptop computer.

Third, the portability of the iPad makes reading text material much more like the newspaper experience. And fourth, the 9.7-inch screen is big enough to make it easy and pleasurable to consume lengthy amounts of text and, just as importantly, high quality advertising content.

Then there is a very different fifth reason for the fervour -- the iPad blessing administered by Rupert Murdoch.

He said in a speech a month or so ago: "It may well be the saving of the newspaper industry."

As we in the journalism business know well, when the chairman of News Corporation speaks, the media world not only listens, it treats every sentence with reverence. No Apple PR could have come close to securing the kind of positive press reaction that greeted Murdoch's statement.

Publishers and editors, stressed by years of declining newsprint sales and worried by the difficulty of creating a sustainable online business model, lined up to nod in agreement. At last, rescue was at hand. If Rupert says it will work, then it must.

At this point, it is as well to remind ourselves that Murdoch was not talking about newsprint being saved, but the newspaper business itself. The vision is of iPads -- or, in fairness, other e-readers from competitors -- becoming the reading, listening and seeing device of choice for the coming generation of adults.

That will lead to that moment when printing becomes uneconomic, terminating the need for presses, newsprint, ink and trucking. Content will become so much cheaper to distribute through e-readers. And, of course, it comes with all the benefits of online journalism, such as interactive journalistic participation.

It's fair to say that this vision existed long before the advent of the iPad because plenty of digital gurus argued years ago that computers were the future of news publishing. But Apple's new innovation has convinced Murdoch, and many other mainstream publishers, that they might have found a way to make commercial sense of the inevitable move from print to screen. …

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