By Chris Velazco
Time for a thought experiment: Let’s say you’re in charge of one of the largest newspaper publishers in the country. Readership is down, cheap content is replacing real journalism, and the day-to-day news cycle you’re used to doesn’t exist anymore. What’s your next step? Expand your online presence? Fire your most expensive staff?
Well, if your name happens to be Eddy Hartenstein, then you’ve already made your decision. Hartenstein, the chief executive of Tribune Co., is also the company’s chief tablet proponent. His vision? A free (or close to it) tablet that gives tech-savvy readers instant access to their Tribune newspaper subscriptions.
If this idea sounds familiar, then you’re likely thinking about another beleaguered media company that had the same thought. The Philadelphia Media Network, which owns both of that city’s largest newspapers, announced a similar idea in which it would offer discounted tablets in exchange for one- or two-year subscriptions to the company’s news apps.
The big difference here is that instead of just subsidizing the cost of tablets, Tribune may be looking to create its own. It's reportedly been working with Samsung (SSNLF.PK) in order to create a tablet specific to Tribune, although in CNN’s report, neither party wished to comment. Sources say, however, that Tribune Co. is already due to miss its mid-August hardware testing deadline.
Both of these companies have reached the same conclusion, but I’m still not convinced that it’s a viable model going forward. Tribune in particular is taking a leap, considering its protracted bankruptcy woes. While I’d personally sign up for a tablet if they became available, it feels like the process of wrangling manufacturers and dealing with the logistics of tablet distribution may be too much for a company on shaky ground to undertake.