At the beginning of January, I wrote a hopeful post about the coming introduction of what we now know to be the Apple iPad.
On re-reading it, I’m glad to say I was appropriately not giddy. I simply said the new device, if it met expectations, could provide a strong enough platform that media would use it to begin their evolution toward a digital-only era, which is essentially inevitable. (Essentially, because I don’t believe print will go away completely. But it will become a niche solution with fewer players and more limited application).
As the print media watch their business model melt down, they desperately need something that allows them to translate their work into an electronic format. Computer screens and e-zine platforms don’t do it. Hand-held devices don’t do it.
Will the iPad? Maybe. The device looks pretty cool. Myself, I’d be excited to use what is essentially a magazine-sized iPod Touch as a reading device. It’s far more compelling to me than the limited e-book readers like the Kindle. (Some of my most gadget-oriented acquaintances are already dumping their book-reading devices – not in anticipation of the iPad, but because they don’t want to use them anymore.)
Most entertaining to me has been watching the different media report on the iPad’s big reveal. The print media have been agog and amazed. They have, if anything, let their financial needs show from under their skirts. The print media is so giddy about the device that it has probably overplayed its importance.
My favorite lead, from the L.A. Times referred to the iPad as “the most anticipated tablet since Moses’.”
But broadcast reports tell me those folks don’t get it. They are announcing the iPad as if it’s just another gadget. One local pretty face actually said, “I don’t understand what the fuss is about. It seems like as soon as you get one gadget they come out with another that you have to buy.”
Oh, she gets it all right. Just like the average Joe, who neither cares nor understands that an entire industry is pinning its hopes on this thing.
It gives me a bit of a chill, because I’d like to see some real innovation by magazine publishers and newspaper publishers to utilize the full capabilities of a tablet like the iPad. I’d like to see something that brings a traditional magazine to a new level that’s closer to Facebook than 60 Minutes. But most people will just look at the price tag and ask, “Do I really need this?”
Absent some really good media products, I’m not really sure what the iPad is best for; it’s a really expensive e-book reader and not a replacement for a laptop computer. It’s a new category altogether and it demands new content. Or it won’t sell.
So, you print media types, get to work – and fast. If you don’t, the iPad could be deemed a failure before you ever get your chance. (Not that I’m betting against Apple.)
Which raises another concern: If the iPad costs $600-$1,000, and monthly service costs another $30, how much is a subscription to Newsweek, People, Vanity Fair or Playboy going to cost?
Will people pay for a reader and monthly service knowing that what they’ve really done is spent all that money just to enable them to pay for more content? And what about all that other media we all buy: cable TV, smart phones, Netflix, Satellite radio…
How much media will people pay for.
Thinking about it, as curious as I am about the iPad, I’m about tapped out. Unless it can replace something else I’m already paying for, I can’t afford to lead the print-consuming audience to its new online Shangri-La.
For what it’s worth, here are some other takes on the iPad: