What the iPad Could Mean for the News Business

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 |  Includes: AAPL, CBS, DIS, NWS, NYT
by: Ken Doctor

I've well used the Moses metaphors; others prefer the Jesus Tablet. But the dramedy around The Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) Launch has been as much Mel Brooks as Biblical. It's just more interim technology, after all. In fact, it's become a tabula rasa for all our digital hopes and dreams, with the silliness merging with the real import. (And will we remember where we were when the announcement was made?)

That said, I'm enthusiastic about what tablets can do in the mid-term for news companies, old, new and those still being born.

It was nice visit to Mr. Jobs' Neighborhood; and see, finally, the iPad, a tablet device "thinner and lighter than an e-book." What's it mean for the news world? He highlighted the New York Times (NYSE:NYT) and Time Magazine, but we don't yet know the kind or extent of business relationships here. Off the Apple announcement, here are quick plusses and minuses for newsies:

PLUSSES

  • New marketing dollars, new marketing dollars, new marketing dollars. Yes, three plusses. I believe that the biggest impact of the tablet, in whatever six- to 11-inch forms stick, will be in being a magnet for marketing dollars. I'm not saying advertising dollars. We're seeing a huge shift in money -- $66 billion a year in the budgets companies are spending on their own marketing, according to an ongoing Outsell study. The number in 2006: $22 billion. Marketers are going direct to consumers, courtesy of multiplying Internet technology. One example: Honda's Power of Dreams. Marketers are looking at the tablet this way: It's part of the new "multi-touch" marketing landscape. Multi-touch, as in smartphone-plus, lets your fingers lead you in the emerging digital world. For marketing that means experiential marketing -- social sites, games and more. The news publishing connection: marketers want the right content to find customers, and news audiences are part of that mix. How, when, what and where: all to be figured out. Remember, no IAB standards for tablet advertising yet; this is a 2011 revenue source -- if all goes right.
  • The birth of long-form digital reading: The first-generation news web has been notoriously short-form, read a snippet and run. We don't like reading long stories on a work device, like a laptop or desktop -- both with legacy to-do burdens -- or really on the smartphones. We do like to nibble, a nibbling that's produced relatively little engagement with customers online, and too few ad dollars. On a cross-country flight last week, I looked over at my two seatmates, and both were absorbed in their Kindles. (Yes, I was reading a newspaper!) The hope here: the tablets will be a consumer device, not a work device, and that readers might enjoy reading news, as they have long done in print.
  • New revenue streams for content licensing: If Apple wants to end-around other established players -- like Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) in the cable world and the wireless giants, Verizon and ATT -- it might well pay publishers for some kinds of content. Already, it is offering to pay Disney (NYSE:DIS) and CBS (NYSE:CBS) for their content. Certainly, not commodity news content, but we can see advantages to Apple in lining up the New York Times, high-quality business content and more. Ultimately, the tablet can become a great local device: think local news and info + Yelp + Angies List + entertainment guides + real community social interaction and next-gen business directories. We're still far away from that product model, but someone -- why not a news company? -- will invent it.

MINUSES

  • Slow adoption. If the iPad 's initial price point is high -- though inevitable price drops will follow -- we could be waiting until 2012 to see meaningful adoption rates.
  • The familiar news bypass: You know what I mean. Tech product companies have long devalued news, considering it like air, something you get cheaply from somewhere, but not worth paying for, like video. News companies are not immediate players in the Apple launch, so we may be seeing history repeat itself.
  • It's a visual medium. That's why magazine publishers, through the Next Issue Media nascent consortium got out ahead of news publishers first on this. When we think tablet, think this new trifecta: Mobile, Video, Social. Those are the new connection points in our evolving digital lives, and news publishers are generally behind the curve in all of them.
  • Woeful technology integration: If news publishers want to offer across-the-board -- newsprint, desktop/laptop, smartphone, tablet -- access to their products at good price points, they need to recognize those customers across platforms. Some like the Wall Street Journal (NASDAQ:NWS) are ahead on this curve; others, like the New York Times, are behind -- which is one reason the Times won't go metered until 2011. You have to be ready for prime time to play in prime time.

Disclosure: none