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?

59 thoughts on “Why the Tablet won’t save the print industry”

  1. The idea of a tablet saving “print” journalism is very bizarre. I feel that giving readers another medium that is web-based and relies heavily on multimedia will essentially drive the last nail in print's coffin.
    I am hoping that news publications' move towards a tablet will look and act like Times Inc's demo of Sports Illustrated that was posted a few months ago. A news publication that has the flow of a print product, but all the extras of a website would be ideal.
    As for a business model, I am hoping publishers adopt the iTunes TV show pay system. Pay for a set amount of time (month, six months or a year) and then have the newest issue automatically download and load to the tablet.

  2. That's a good question, Vadim, and a lucid analysis.

    I'm not sure it's the right one.

    Apple's tablet – iSlate, iPad, or (a dark horse) iBook – might help the print industry. Apple's device may drive innovation, just as the iPhone did in 2007. I'd argue it's already done so. The Que, Skiff or emerging Linux tablets might too.

    Your concerns about the ability of newspapers and magazines to benefit are legitimate. Even though these are the publications whose hopes might ride the most on the success of such a device, it's unclear that they'll be able to invest in the necessary digital resources to effectively develop content. It's possible — and my bet is that Conde Nast will devote considerable effort there — but based upon the response of these organizations to the Internet in the past fifteen years, some skepticism is warranted.

    Simply porting issues into PDFs for viewing on readers may not be enough for consumers. People are now used to rich video, links, social streams and other features on the open Web. Business professionals may invest in devices that allow sharing, annotation and editing. And creatives, techies and other professionals no doubt will buy some iSlates. But consumers at large may not be willing to fork over $600-$1000 for a tablet when inexpensive netbooks and smartphones are available. I could be wrong.

    The question I've been wondering about is whether Apple's tablet might save the news. Accountability journalism has traditionally been supported by those print mastheads. You know as well as I do that Craiglist and other trends has disrupted those revenue streams. Another form of digital disruption hit the music industry a decade ago. It took iTunes to provide consumers – and record companies – with a means to legal distribute music for profit. Where the iSlate/iBook could be elevated over other devices is in replicating a similar ecosystem of publishers and readers. If that model was similarly extended to the iPhone, so that content could be consumed where ever a consumer wanted it, the Kindle/Amazon ecosystem will have some competition.

    The wild card, however, will be Google, Google Books and Android. The launch of the Nexus One is a precursor to an enterprise smartphone. Google's Android App Store is small when compared to iTunes; that ratio may change.

    In sum, I don't think any tablet will save the industry. A means for paid distribution coupled with intuitive, affordable hardware, however, might provide a means for investigative journalists and lean media organizations to operate.

  3. I think your analysis and thoughts here are spot-on, and I didn't even consider factoring in Google Books and Android, which I think could have some affect. With iTunes-type support it could provide some support, but I am still quite skeptical.

  4. I'm glad you wrote this, as I've been thinking these same things myself. All the predictions that the tablet will “save” print journalism – coming from journalists – reek of hope that if such a prophecy is made, it can become self-fulfilling. Realistically, the cost of consuming journalism on the tablet will be much higher than that of continuing to buy print editions, and, while convenient, it will hardly replace other means of digital consumption. I look forward to the tablet, because it sounds like it will be a cool gadget, but who are we kidding?

    Isn't it interesting that so many in the journalism biz are looking for someone or something else to “save” them? I admire entrepreneur-journos like David Cohn who are taking a proactive approach to the business of journalism.

  5. Thanks for your thoughts Edward. My skepticism for the iTunes TV show pay system comes from the fact that it attracts a very niche audience of users. I don't know what the numbers are, but I am guessing the audience isn't yet substantial. That doesn't mean it won't grow, however, which may be reason for news orgs to invest.

  6. What's missing, I think, from the idea that tablets will be a savior is how they change the fundamental economics of online advertising. If the tablets are entirely closed platforms, maybe there is room to charge premiums on the ads. But the only tablets likely to succeed are those with fully functional browsers and at least semi-open app stores — in which case, the supply of advertising space is still infinite, so CPMs will remain low.

  7. I think this is a good point. Some advertisers haven't been completely sold on mobile ads because they are so small and so they think they are ineffective. The Tablet display could change that.

  8. I agree with Edward. I think a tablet will push failing publications to fail faster. But at the same time, smart publications or new ones will take up the slack in an iTunes universe. I do think people will pay for rich media experiences like the ones demo'd by sports illustrated. And they will have to be niche. Only niche audiences care enough to pay. To me, that's the killer app. – finding an audience who actually cares about what you have to say.

  9. Based on their track record with music, it's hard to doubt that Apple's tablet could very well redefine how we consume certain types of media, but as news has become abundant and free, there is no reason to believe the same won't happen with content designed for an e-reader. Major publishers will create a snazzy version of popular magazine titles that costs a certain amount per issue, or through a subscription of some kind, but in the end, who's to say that a smaller outlet doesn't do the same thing, but offer he content for free and make money through some other method, such as integrated advertising, sponsored content, or something that we're not even thinking of. The whole notion that newspapers and magazines “let the genie out of the bottle” years ago when they had an opportunity to charge from the beginning is preposterous. In this age where we are all publishers, there will always be an alternative, and there will always people filtering and curating it. If it's content that resonates with people, it will have an audience. When there is no cost, there will always be abundance. There will always be a reason not to pay.

    Major publishers still operate with the mindset that despite the abundance of free content from blogs and other sources, they still carry an enormous amount of cache that excludes them from “everybody else.” While it's true that behemoths such as the New York Times are doing some truly innovative things with news, how has it helped their bottom line? How has it prevented me from getting the same news or similar analysis in countless other places. Tradition and prestige won't buy you a cup of coffee in the coming years. You have to forget everything you knew, tear down the foundation, and start over. This is why I feel that while NYT may crawl on its hands and news into the next 50 years in some form, the true center of journalism will be will be with the individual and not a a big media company. Heard of the five-tool baseball player? Get ready for the dawn of five-tool journalist.

    I think the New York Times and other big media organizations can reinvent themselves by providing educational services to journalists and other media professionals. Media professionals nowadays need to subscribe to the belief that they must be in a perpetual state of education, and there is a tremendous opportunity for existing media organizations to enter a new market (I read this week the NYT is ramping up online education). Media orgs also need to make journalism a public enterprise, similar to what Spot.us is doing on a very small scale. Going forward, the best way to getting people's money is by capturing their hearts and minds. The best example of a large media organization doing this the right way, right now, is NPR. They are the The Grey Lady of the new age.

    I realize I've digressed a bit. I'm excited for the tablet, but not as a silver bullet for saving something that something that's already dead, but as a natural evolution of how we consume content, free or otherwise.

  10. The tablet or slate can only save the print industry if the industry shuts down the presses.

    I imagine the day that I get a package at my front door. It contains a tablet with a note from the NY Times. “Thank you for your subscriptions to the Times. This is a gift from us. You will find it enabled with a NYTimes APP. You will be able to continue reading the Times but the experience will be even better. By the Way,
    we will discontinue delivering your print editon in six weeks.”

    In other words, publishers have to go cold turkey.

    Without a print edition available to advertisers, they will have to deal with a new cost structure. The NY Times is still worth a certain amount if you want to use it for advertising, regardless of the format.

    It is up to the publishers to enforce new pricing for their online additions, and at the same time, make the content more appealing to the new readers on tablets.
    They have plenty of room to do that, when you consider that 80% if their publication costs are entirely related to print production.

  11. Excellent analysis, Vadim, and all good points.

    Ultimately, I tend to agree with you — it's not a savior, nor should it be looked at as one — HOWEVER, it will change the game and certainly has the potential to be a major player in news consumption of the future. I don't know about you, but I can definitely picture a world in which people consume news via tablets, and if anyone can revolutionize and leave a serious mark on the tablet/eBook industry, it's Apple. As the technology improves and the cost of the product goes down, adoption rate should go up and all of a sudden it has an opportunity to be a major player.

    Ultimately, the downside of the product regarding print news comes down to two points, IMO, which you both stated. (1) News organizations will be slow to adopt to the technology and design for it. (2) The total revenue is likely to be relatively small.

    That second point is huge. Though the Tablet could be a big win for consumers, and I could see myself using it to read news, there's little chance for it to be THE product that saves print journalism. I'm not even sure such a product could be devised. Multiple revenue streams and solutions will be needed to pave the way toward economic sustainability in the future.

  12. I think that you're right. A point that Paul made in his audio response is that people will view the Tablet as a computer, not a mobile device and so why would they want to pay for news online now when they haven't using their computers. It's a simple and straight to the point question, but the device itself may not necessarily prove to generate much or any revenue at all. I hope that's not true, but I certainly think it's possible.

  13. Yep, totally agree with Paul. In the eyes of the consumer, it will be likened to the computer, and that is a big problem for news orgs. Then we go back to the age-old question, 'should consumers pay for news,' and we're back at square one.

  14. I couldn't agree with you guys more on the point on people not wanting to pay for news on a tablet when they can get it for free on another device, i.e. computer.

    I think folks who see the tablet as the savior of journalism think it's going to do what the iPod/iTunes did to the music industry (and to be fair, iPod/iTunes hasn't exactly saved the music industry anyway). The difference is that I'm willing to buy music on iTunes because it's somewhat of a pain in the butt, not to mention illegal, to find & download music using BitTorrent etc. But it's not illegal nor difficult to get all the news I want for free online. Ergo, why pay for it on a tablet? Like Craig's point below, it's back to square one with the question of whether consumers should pay for news or not.

  15. The tablet has potential for publishers who are willing to be innovative. Having worked for an extremely old-school newspaper, I know there will be organizations that just pop their content on the same way they would a print product. The tablet brings potential for those that are willing to embrace. News orgs that plan to continue with the status quo will continue to suffer revenue and subscription loss.

  16. Often we forget the little guy, the SMB, in our discussions of the comings and goings of the Internet marketing industry. Sure there are times like this when a report surfaces talking about their issues and concerns but, for the most part, we like to talk about big brands and how they do the Internet marketing thing well or not so well.


  17. There are a lot of great points here. The skepticism is dead-on. Let's look at how newspapers on Kindle are doing as an example, for starters? Have any newspapers gained the volume of subscribers to make it worthwhile at this point? Or is it more of strategy of reaching audience where they already are.

    The point about mobile here is key. If the news companies can do for tablets what they're currently doing on mobile, the potential and momentum for them to catch on is there. Plus, think about the potential of teaming these tablets up with other apps/services that make the user experience more relevant/immediate. Look at geolocation services like Foursquare and Canada's Metro with mobile. Lots of possibilities.

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  19. Anyone experience anything about the easy google profit kit? I discovered a lot of advertisements around it. I also found a site that is supposedly a review of the program, but the whole thing seems kind of sketchy to me. However, the cost is low so I’m going to go ahead and try it out, unless any of you have experience with this system first hand?


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