Is Apple's iPad saving something that no one wants saved -- newspapers and magazines?
I don't know if Steve Jobs and Apple set out to save the newspaper and magazine industries when they designed the iPad, which rolled out yesterday, but plenty of people in my industry think it could be our salvation.
The thinking goes like this: It's no fun to try to read newspaper and magazine stories on the little two-inch screens of mobile devices. The iPad's screen, which is just a little smaller than an 8.5-by-11-inch sheet of paper -- and not much thicker -- is about the size of a small magazine. The iPad's gee-whiz technology would let you digitally flip through pages of a magazine, say, and replicate the experience of reading the magazine. (And with the bonus of video and sound.) Sports Illustrated got itself so excited about this possibility, it created a video of a mock-up even before the iPad was rolled out.
But here's a question: Do people want to read newspapers and magazines in their physical form anymore? Have we gotten so used to getting our information online -- from Web site architecture that looks like what you're reading right now and mobile device architecture that looks like simple lists of headlines -- that we don't want to have to deal with the newspaper and magazine architecture anymore? More important, is that what today's children believe? Are we tired of having to recycle newspapers and watch unread magazines stack up on our coffee table?
It's true, I believe, that Web audiences and paper audiences are different and have different needs. The physical newspaper is all about serendipity -- you browse it, not knowing what you might come across. The Web is about finding information you want quickly.
I often put it this way: If I know what movie I want to see, I go right to the Web to get a theater and a showtime and to buy tickets. If I want to figure out what to do on Saturday, I'll pick up The Post's Weekend section to get ideas. As cool as the Web is, it's still not good for browsing.
Here are some facts: Average daily newspaper circulation in the United States has been steadily decreasing since its peak in 1987. Newspapers are shutting left and right; online ad revenue is still not high enough to help pay for a newsroom full of reporters and editors.
The magazine industry is suffering similarly. In 1994, 33 percent of adult Americans said they had read a magazine of some kind the day before the survey, according to the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. By 2008, that number had dropped to 23 percent. More than 500 magazines shuttered in 2008, as did plenty more in 2009. Ad revenue is dropping.
There are plenty of folks who will tell me that they still prefer the look, feel and even smell of physical newspapers and magazines. But I wonder if they are a dying breed.
Maybe it's telling that, when Jobs rolled out the iPad, the first image he showed on its screen was the New York Times. But not an image of its newspaper front page. Instead, the iPad showed the Times' Web home page.
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January 28, 2010; 4:32 PM ET
Categories: The Ticker | Tags: Apple, Steve Jobs, Washington Post, iPad
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