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Will the Tablet Save Publishing? September 25, 2010

Posted by Peter Varhol in Publishing, Software platforms.

I’m no fan of tablet computing, for a variety of reasons.  However, I sat up and took notice at this article in the Wall Street Journal, which noted that Apple was making a push among publishers to sell subscriptions targeting the iPad.

Whether or not Apple is successful at getting publishers to sell newspaper and magazine subscriptions on the iPad, it raises an interesting question that is close to my heart – will the tablet (iPad or tablet computers in the generic sense) save publishing?

At least one publisher has bought into this approach.  Current Time magazine content is no longer available free on the website.  If you want to read current content, you either buy the print magazine, or you buy an iPad subscription (which cost more than the print magazine).  It’s a model that seems destined to fail, and badly.

Denying online readers content without a subscription isn’t going to work, whether it’s an iPad subscription or a Web subscription that lets you read from any browser.  The latter model has already failed, and I would argue that there’s little if any difference between the two.  Whether it is through an app or a browser doesn’t matter.  Granted, the app is likely to have a better user experience, but I’m pretty sure that hasn’t been the problem (anyone remember the Zinio reader?).

I don’t own a tablet or an e-reader.  I’ve given it some serious thought.  I almost always need a computer when I travel on business (when I travel on vacation, I have a basic netbook that lets me write a little, check e-mail, and download photos from my camera).  I always take at least one paperback with me, as well.  Much of my reading is done at the airport or on the plane, which seems to auger well for an e-reader.  But there is a period of time after boarding and below 10,000 feet where no electronic device can be used.

Um, no.

That won’t work for me.  The other problem that I have with e-books and e-readers is that I shell out anywhere between $139 (Kindle 3) and $700 (iPad with 3G) for the reader, and then still have to pay at least as much for the e-books as I do for paperbacks.  The layering of costs in my mind just adds insult to injury.  Yes, I’m conservative financially, but I’m not a skinflint, and I’m not poor.  There are some advantages with e-reading, but it doesn’t yet justify the expenditure on both an e-reader and e-books.  I’ll carry another pound or two.

I want to see publishing saved, and I applaud experimentation with new business models*.  I don’t see subscriptions on the tablet as any sort of savior, however.

* It’s telling that this particular business model has been developed and promoted not by the publishing industry, but by Apple.  I continue to see a distinct lack of imagination and desire to change among publishing companies.  I know you like your cash flow, but please, you’re killing yourselves.  Get radical; you might be surprised at the results.



1. immolator - September 26, 2010

Very true. One thing is technology – I’m waiting for e-paper I could roll. Another – how publishers understand (misunderstand?) the business.

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