Posted by: cgratton | January 31, 2010

The iPad Attempts to Save the Day

Apple seems to truly be taking over the world.  Their products have seem to have struck a chord with…well, with every single person on the planet.  But more than that, they seem to be quietly – with a smile and a clever, catchy ad campaign – ticking away media after media off a master checklist, swallowing one industry after another in the friendliest monopoly ever witnessed.

And I’m not even an Apple critic.  I have an iPod, I am typing on a newly purchased Macbook while listening to my iTunes; I think their commercials are witty, their ideas innovative, and their clean, simplistic approach to streamlining technology refreshing in a tech world where buttons and downloads and upgrades and modems confuse, frustrate and scare me.

But there are critics, namely the industries that Apple has so kindly taken over, shouldering the burden of developing new, innovative business models that work – and thrive – in a rapidly changing, tech-driven landscape.

The music industry has blamed Apple for completely demolishing the hope of ever selling “a record” to the public again.  But on the flip side, iTunes has filtered money back into the music industry, which was getting beaten to a pulp by free downloading programs and illegal music sharing.

The cell phone industry was forever changed after the release of the iPhone, a smartphone watershed moment when computers and telephones made the most natural, holiest of unions possible and put all the other phones on the market to shame, and which simultaneously birthed the billion-dollar-plus App Business (they’re not lying when they say “There’s an App for That”).

And now it seems Apple is making room to take another dying industry under its wing – print media.

Savior or Satan?

With the debut of the iPad this week, Apple’s new 1.5-pound e-reader, Apple has capitalized on the Kindle craze.  Yet, as Apple CEO Stephen Jobs said in the unveiling press conference on Wednesday to The New York Times, he credits Amazon with pioneering the product, but Apple is “going to stand on their shoulders and go a little bit farther.”

From the reports so far, that little bit farther means going beyond getting the rights to 19th-century British classics and diving right into the goods, snatching up the crippled news industry and “benevolently” giving it a chance to survive.  The iPad has created a light at the end of the tunnel for the drowning news media by solving their hair-pulling dilemma of how to actually make money on their once profitable product – information.

People who have seen the iPad say that Apple will not only market it as a way to read the news of the day, books, magazines and other materials, but also sell it to the media as a way for them to sell content.  It’s a nonthreatening yet glaringly obvious bait to dangle in front of a hungry and desperate print media’s face.  “Hey look at our shiny new toy that all of America and the world is going to gobble up!  And hey, you can be a part of it too, undo all your mistakes and start a new, profitable wave of media distribution!”

And oh have they taken that bait.  As reported by The New York Times earlier this week, The New York Times Company, Condé Nast, Hearst and Time, four of the largest and most influential publishers, are developing or have already created mock-ups of a version of their publication for the iPad.  And when Jobs announced the iBook application, five of the largest book publishers – Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins Publishers, Macmillan, Penguin and Simon & Schuster – signed on to provide e-book content for the new tablet.  And others are without a doubt going to follow.

So could this be the news media’s silver lining?  Is this their ticket to financial success in the Internet Age – an iTunes-esque payment system to sell their product?  It seems to be a logical answer, but in their deals with Apple is the news industry really just signing a deal with the devil?  Will the newspaper – just like “the album” become obsolete?  Is this the price we will have to pay to keep the news industry alive?

It may be a hard pill to swallow for media bigwigs – investing their livelihood, honor and hope for a future in a high-tech company like Apple – but they haven’t exactly been able to figure out a better answer on their own.  So confused are they that major publishers like Time, Condé Nast, Meredith, the News Corporation and Hearst have announced that they have formed a consortium, called Next Issue Media, that plans to run its own online store selling digital issues of their publications while collecting consumer information.  A last chance to preserve their own independently run business model and maintain a direct line with customers, the consortium is a glaring example that some publishers won’t go down without a fight.  Like a scene out of Rocky, will the more agile Apple take down an old champ like the print news industry?  Time will only tell, but one thing is certain – it’s sure gonna be an interesting match.

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