That iPad is one cool thing, eh?
No question, it will change how people watch videos, listen to music, type stuff, look at photos, play games, and read books, magazines, and newspapers.
What it won’t do is change the economics for newspapers.
Newspapers’ economic problem is this: their expense structure depends on advertising, and high advertising rates. Very little of their revenue comes from print subscriptions. So one would think that when a new delivery vehicle comes along, like the iPad, the question would be: how well does the ad model translate to this vehicle? Will advertisers pay a premium to appear alongside quality news content, as they do in print?
But no, the question is “Will the iPad enable newspapers to charge people to read news?”
I guess the answer is yes, they’ll be able to charge. But the real answer is that nobody will buy, and now we have some evidence of that reality.
According to The Observer, only 35 people have signed up for Newsday’s subscription model after 6 months and $4 million of site development. This isn’t a prediction or debate anymore, it’s reality.
Back to the iPad’s potential impact on newspaper advertising: from the photos and videos I’ve seen, the screen looks like it’s big enough to display ads and content simultaneously.
I expect the highest potential could be a magazine-style presentation: the tablet is held horizontally, with two facing pages. One page would be content, and the facing page would be a full-page ad. As the user flips pages, new ads appear.
Even so, that’s a big leap for newspapers to make in technology, layout, ad sales, ad production, etc. But at least it’s not as big a leap as expecting people to pay to read news.
I’ve set up another blog — SustainableNews.biz — to focus on the ecosystem of local news startups, and specifically on the solo journalist trying to get something off the ground.
Not much there yet, but stay tuned. Even better, if you come across anything along that topic, send it over.
Robert Niles hits a critical issue in local journalism with his post “Doing journalism in 2010 is an act of community organizing“.
An incredible number of newspaper jobs were eliminated in 2008-09 (40,000 in 2009, and 21,000 in 2008 according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics), and many of these journalists are taking a shot at running their own local news website. Writes Niles:
Many people who leave the paper for the blogosphere are running one-person shows. As such, they need to not forget about those other important roles within the newspaper business: editorial page advocacy, community leadership and, yes, ad sales. If you’re running a one-person shop, you can no more afford to abandon those roles as a newspaper could afford to dismiss everyone on its staff who fulfilled them.
Trouble is, the modern newspaper is filled with highly specialized positions. And worse, people are discouraged from performing another professional’s duties, such as a reporter taking photographs, or a copy editor writing editorials. That’s not a problem when staffs are big, but those specialists are ill equipped when they’re on their own.
Niles focuses on the community-building challenges of solo journalism, and I totally agree.
I believe the toughest line to cross will be economic. Solo journalists must learn how to run a business and ask for money. And that’s something they have been specifically trained to believe is antithetical to journalistic ethics.
Fact is, journalists in the 19th century managed to drag a press across the plains, set up shop, write news, sell ads and print the thing. Somehow journalism survived.
Today’s solo journalists can and will figure out how to do it again, but they’re up against some huge societal and cultural barriers, not to mention their own career experiences.
These newly solo journalists need to face those realities head-on, as they invent new ways to do local journalism — before their severance runs out.
Steve Outing’s “Stop the Presses” column has ended with the recent closing of Editor & Publisher magazine. In characteristic fashion, Steve uses his final column to muse about what might have been, if only the newspaper industry had behaved differently over the past 15 years, and to make a few predictions. It’s worth a read.
Not to get all eulogistic, but I have always considered Steve Outing responsible for a tremendous amount of early progress at “online newspapers” in the 1990s. Certainly his column held up the best examples of work in the field, but more importantly, starting in 1994, Steve hosted the first listservs for people working in online news.
In a business where everything was new and nothing was known for sure, we were able to share learnings and mistakes, get questions answered, and to start friendships that continue today. At the time, I remember feeling that what was happening on those lists was pretty special. These were all busy people, dealing with the stresses of a startup business, system crashes, internal politics, whatever. Yet they took the time to share what they were discovering, to respond to dumb questions, to ask their own questions.
I know running the list must have been a chore: those early email systems needed regular attention, and there were some interesting characters among our ranks. I’m guessing Steve got more grief than thanks for his efforts at the time.
So for the record: Thank you, Steve, for taking the initiative with that list, and sticking with it.
Steve mentions in his final column that he has a new project, the Digital Media Test Kitchen at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Sounds like a cool gig – a fresh chance to look at the media world from outside the newspaper lens. Keep an eye on this next phase of Steve’s career at SteveOuting.com