Getting old bites because you realize what you want isn’t really what you need.I have been reading all the headlines that suggest Apple’s new iPad might be the savior of print media.
And here is where my wants collide.
I want newspapers (in whatever form possible) to survive. True journalism is too important to society to fall victim to economic downturns. And yet, almost every week brings greater doubt that the course newspapers have charted through precarious financial straits will lead to anything other than more newsprint wreckage on the shoals of digital change. It feels like the next chapter for newspapers will be chapter 11.
And I want Apple’s new iPad (http://www.apple.com/). It’s an ultra-thin (less than half an inch thick) incredibly light (around 1.5 pounds) high resolution (9.7-inch LED backlit 1024x768) powerful (16 Gbytes of flash memory with a 1 GHz CPU) computer-esque device. With multi-touch, GPS, and an accelerometer it is a lot more like an iPhone than even the tablets we have seen in the past. Plus, it has a fairly reasonable entry price point of $499. So, heck yeah, I want it!
But are my wants compatible? Will the device I crave save the news source I desire? Unfortunately, I don’t think so. And the real problem is TMI.
My youngest son taught me that acronym when I tried to explain the birds and bees when he was eight years old. Moving beyond the ambiguous analogies of animals and insects to the more graphic components of reproduction (including a drawing that was marginally anatomically correct) sent him running from the room crying “TMI. TMI!” My oldest son (who had survived the “talk” a few years before) translated – Too Much Information.
In the case of the iPad, it is really TMFI – Too Much Free Information. The problem with newspapers today isn’t so much the medium we read it on, it is the economic expectations we have formed around each medium. Bottom line, we expect an online newspaper to be free. With precious few exceptions, all we need to receive gratis high quality information that is incredibly expensive to produce is a browser and a URL. We don’t need to pay at all. And it was telling that in his slick introduction of the device last week, Steve Jobs deliberately took us to the “New York Times” on his iPad – and he never entered his credit card info. The underlying message was “Buy the $499 device and get the news for free!”
So I want it, but the iPad really won’t save newspapers. It is just a new type of computer that we will use to navigate to free online newspapers. And that won’t help newspapers.
As much as I hate to admit it, the Kindle is what the newspaper industry needs. With limited technical capabilities, the Amazon Kindle isn’t nearly as sexy as the iPad. The Kindle doesn’t have color, video, or web browsing capability. I don’t want the Kindle as much as I want the iPad. But it has one feature the iPad lacks, a toll booth for news content. On my Kindle DX, there is only one way for me to see the “New York Times” -- I have to buy it. With the Kindle and all of the other e-readers, there is an understood expectation that to get content (whether books, magazines, or newspapers) you have to pay. Sure, Amazon takes a big cut of the $0.75 I fork over for my single edition, but at least some of the money is going back to the organization producing the news. Long term, that subscription revenue stream is essential to the long-term survival of newspapers. [Read item below for more info on e-reader research at Grady.]
So yes, I want my iPad – and I am going to get one. But my selfish behavior might come back to haunt me. Without big changes in how (or even whether) we pay for news, there will be less “good” news to read on the iPad.