Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Newspapers need to give out iPads, not newspapers, to survive

A CNN blog post today, picked up by Jim Romenesko’s blog at Poynter Online, talks about Sports Illustrated considering giving readers new iPads with their subscriptions.

The CNN writer pooh-poohs the economics of it all, but he’s wrong. Newspapers and magazines must regain control of the distribution of their product. Wishing the internet would just go away is not a successful business model.

What is a successful model is embracing technology and getting out in front of the technology curve and stop reacting to what other companies are doing.

I wrote the following column in July 2007 when the iPhone came out. You can change iPhone to iPad and it’s just as relevant, if not more so today.

I love being prescient (and no, the irony of the Citizen as a newspaper being dead and instead just an online blog site is not lost on me, I just choose to skip over that so I can crow about my column from two years ago).

To survive, print media must regain control of distribution channels

Published: 07.14.2007
Lost in the hype and hoopla over the iPhone the past two weeks was what the device means for newspapers.
The brilliant color screen displays full Web pages.
Underwhelmed? That’s an advance on the way Web content is displayed on competing phones such as BlackBerrys and Smartphones, with their squished text and long scrolls needed to read even the shortest stories.
Delivery of news to hand-held devices is the future for all content providers. BlackBerrys and the like were version 1.0, essentially computers built around a phone.
Apple built a phone around a Wi-Fi computer. Call it version 1.1.
With the iPhone’s vastly improved display, it’s now possible to read the Tucson Citizen’s Web site as we intended, full text, graphics, links and so forth.
In terms of readability, though, the iPhone and its 3.5-inch screen seems puny compared with the 22-by-12-inch full-color newspaper broadsheet. It’s a cool screen, but the type is still teeny-weeny and hard to read, especially for anyone born before The Beatles broke up.
But a newspaper doesn’t play video or animated graphics. It’s not connected to the Internet and doesn’t provide access to news from around the world. And it doesn’t make phone calls.
The screen may be small, but its reach is infinite. The iPhone is a great leap forward. Such devices will only get bigger, slimmer and better screens. And a bigger screen means more readable text.
Then news on paper is dead.
In Steven Spielberg’s “Minority Report,” a rogue cop gets on a commuter train to avoid capture. Sitting across from him is a man reading USA TODAY.
Suddenly, the newspaper’s headline is replaced by a bright red graphic with 5-inch type declaring “BREAKING NEWS.” The red graphic is replaced by a video of the wanted cop and a new headline about the manhunt.
These future newspapers – the film is set in 2054 – are large, slim slices of plastic. They look like good ol’ newspapers.
This future is not as far away as 2054. E Ink has developed a system for text presentation on thin sheets of plastic. A black and white version can roll up like a scroll. A color sheet half as big as a newspaper page can bend without distorting the text.
The company is working on displaying photos, getting the sheets to fold or roll up (presumably to fit into pockets) and wireless Internet connections.
The USA TODAY of “Minority Report” is perhaps only a decade or so away. Call it version 3.0 (or maybe 4.0).
Newspapers always have controlled distribution. If you wanted it, we printed it and gave it to you at your front door.
But newspaper companies are surrendering that control in the digital age. Now we’re at the mercy of technology companies such as Apple, Microsoft, and Dell.
A newspaper Web site is like printing one copy of the paper and then hoping intended readers find it or even have the technology needed to read it.
We must regain control of distribution to survive. Gannett, which owns the Citizen, shouldn’t just invest in E Ink (Gannett, McClatchy and Hearst news corporations are all minor investors in E Ink); we should buy it.
You want the Citizen? Buy a two-year airtime subscription, and we’ll give you the cool, portable, foldable, normally expensive big-screen device needed to read it for free.
Plus, you’ll get the wonderful World Wide Web and all that it beholds after you’ve read our paper or watched a couple of commercials. It’ll even make phone calls.
That’s a distribution model that makes sense. That’s what we’ve always done: Give people the news, not make them come find it.
The iPhone is the true beginning of readable, portable digital news. In 2054, I hope historians will look back and see the iPhone as the newspaper industry’s wakeup call and not just another nail in its coffin.
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