The Future of Journalism? Keep Taking the Tablets.

The Daily on iPad

Coming Soon? The Daily on iPd

There are many rules in journalism, but one of the biggest is understandably simple:  Hit the deadline.

Anyone in newspapers, magazines, TV and radio understands this implicitly from the first day in the newsroom.  Even though online news is ‘instant’ (or as fast as an individual can type and hit the ‘upload’ button), providers still set digital deadlines.

All of which means the delayed launch The Daily presumably sets some  new order of magnitude in terms of missed deadlines.

The Daily is Rupert Murdoch’s biggest gamble yet in digital news:  a daily newspaper produced specifically for Apple’s iconic tablet device, the iPad. He’s invested a reported $30 million and amassed 100 staff to work on it.

The planet’s greatest ever media mogul was due to get on stage yesterday (Jan 19) to announce its launch. moreover, he was due to be joined on stage by Apple boss Steve Jobs, the genius behind the company’s astonishing performance.

For a month media watchers were licking their lips in anticipation. Then last week the launch was shelved. It was quietly explained away as a problem with the subscription software which Apple wants to sort out.

Subsequently Jobs, who has had long-term serious health problems, announced an open-ended leave of absence from the company. It would be easy to believe it was that which really caused launch of The Daily to be put on ice.

Frankly, I don’t buy either the official explanation (subscription software glitches) or the possible second influencing factor (Jobs’ withdrawal from business life for health reasons).

For Murdoch to have had to burst the January 19 deadline on his pet project, just how serious would problems have to be?  Humongous, would be my first thought.

Sure it would be icing on the cake for Steve Jobs to be on the stage with Murdoch on launch day. But vital? No.

The The Guardian reported Apple  is “making some major changes” to its subscription model to allow Daily readers to be billed weekly or monthly – avoiding hassles faced by iPad magazine subscribers, who go through a manual payment rigmarole for every edition. But couldn’t the subscription fixes be introduced as and when? Is it reason enough to delay such an anticipated launch?

Scratch a bit further, however, and possible, deeper rooted issues begin to emerge.

US news site, theinquirer.net mused: “It is strange that subscription problems have been named as the cause of the delay. We would have thought that was the easiest thing for both of them to do. After all Murdoch has some experience with paywalls and Jobs has approved shedloads of magazine subscriptions. Unless the problem is how much cash goes to Steve Jobs, in which case it could be a real problem.”

Could it be that cash – pure and simple – is behind this missed deadline?

Apple, if it sticks to its rigorous policy, will take 30% of every transaction.  That means for every 99 cents spent on a digital issue of The Daily, almost a third will be siphoned off by the Cupertino-based tech giant.  Imagine how much that must rankle with Murdoch?

Apple’s revenue-raising focus goes far beyond Murdoch’s iPad Daily.  In the past few days a series of European news papers have been warned by Apple that they cannot offer free iPad apps to readers, who subscribe to the newspaper content.

The reason is simple: if the app is free, then Apple’s 30% cut is a big slice of nothing.  It has told the European titles they will not be able to offer free iPad apps to subscribers after April 1.

Journalism’s problem is that consumers weaned on the internet believe news should be free. Are apps really likely to turn that around by insisting customers are asked to pay for news twice?

Many people hope tablet computers, such as the iPad will prove the salvation of traditional journalism.  For magazines, the expectations have been even higher.

The Results have been less inspiring, according to analysts like Silicon Valley’s leading media and tech expert, Tom Foremski.

I suspect tablets will be a major player in the future of news, just not on the terms Apple is currently trying to dictate.

For those of us in the media the most urgent deadline to be met is this: for Google, Microsoft, RIM and the other tech giants to deliver genuine alternative to the iPad.

Then, we may really find out if the cure to journalism’s ill-health will be a prescription of hi-tech tablets.

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4 thoughts on “The Future of Journalism? Keep Taking the Tablets.

  1. Great post Scott.

    I remember you, I and Scott discussed this topic on your @quietnewsday podcast last year. I do think that tablet computers will be the future of newspaper consumption (at least in the short to medium-time) but, like you, I don’t think it will happen on Apple’s restrictive and expensive terms.

    Judging by some of the new tablets coming out from the likes of Motorola, Toshiba and Lenovo, which I talked about on my Posterous site earlier this week (click here – http://bit.ly/fWfhCg), I think it won’t be long before Apple are forced to look again at their revenue model.

    @allanbarr

  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention The Future of Journalism? Keep Taking the Tablets. « Black and White and Read All Over -- Topsy.com

  3. Pingback: Is the iPad the future of the news business? Keep taking the tablets « MediaBriefing Experts' Blog

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