Update: My friend and colleague Shane Snow has a funny comic on this same topic.
Over the course of the last several weeks, I have seen several articles calling Apple’s Tablet the “savior” of print media and similar prophetic names. However, I am still somewhat skeptical that the Tablet will have a substantial difference in helping the print industry. I want to outline a few reasons why I think it could help, but also why I am quite skeptical.
Why I am hopeful
1. It will make mobile news consumption more user-friendly. Mobile news consumption has grown over the years, and will continue. However, the user experience is still somewhat clunky. The screens are small and most mobile news sites, aside from those with their own mobile apps) consist of very text-heavy scrollable displays. The Tablet has the potential to make the experience much more interactive and drive more time spent consuming news on website through a mobile device.
2. It will push publishers to innovate (I hope). Alice Rawsthorn in the International Herald Tribune points out that the Tablet could drive publishers to think creatively about the way they display content. “In theory, e-newspapers could combine the convenience of the printed product with the dynamism of their Web sites,” she wrote. I agree, but this is also a reason I am skeptical, which I will get to later.
3. It will display quality, media-rich content that users may pay for. The content, if done right, will be quality and unique from your typical mobile experience. I think of media-rich websites like FLYPmedia.com as having an advantage to displaying content that would be suitable for the Tablet. Something that gives readers’ control, bring in multimedia and a sleek design. The quality and the way the content is accessed have potential to produce revenue for publishers, but likely with Apple taking a slice of the pie.
Why I am skeptical
1. Publishers may be slow to adopt. I don’t have enough confidence in the print industry to actually integrate or develop content that is specifically tailored for the Tablet. They have been far too slow to adopt new technologies. Though some have definitely shown some initiative in preparing for the Tablet, most news publishers are strapped for resources to develop content designed to display uniquely to the Tablet.
2. Publishers are excited for the wrong reasons. A sentiment floating out there is that the Tablet “represents an opportunity to renew the romance between printed material and consumer,” as articulated by David Carr. I think that folks in the print industry continue to look at the former generation of newspaper readers, and so they constantly look for ways that the print product can be resurrected instead of looking for ways to engage the incoming generation of readers that are consuming news in a completely new way. The young generation of readers are used to consuming news on the Web and don’t necessarily have a sentiment toward feeling like they are holding a newspaper while reading news online. I am not speaking from my own sentiment toward this consumption, but a conventional wisdom that has developed in how young readers digest their news.
3. Revenue will not be substantial. The Tablet has potential to help the print industry, but I don’t think that it will meet the revenue needs they are looking for or expecting on generating from Tablet content. It’s just another piece to the revenue puzzle. If they charge for media-rich content displays, they would have to offer some real quality to get users to pay. Also, there are still too many questions that have yet to be answered in regards to monetization.
4. Free alternatives. We have to remember, although traditional news publishers will try to generate revenue from the Tablet, there will always be a new media news source offering a free alternative. It’s the Internet, after all.
Let’s not jump to conclusions. The Tablet will arrive sooner than later and news publishers should be prepared to take advantage of this tool. It also may take some time for a significant number of users to adopt the new Tablet as an alternative to their other mobile devices or e-readers. Though we as journalists are excited about its potential, the readers may not necessarily adopt it as quickly as we will.
What do you think? Will you adopt it as an alternative to your other mobile devices?