The iPad will not save newspapers
Little has made me as pessimistic about the fate of the media as the strange bubble of anticipation surrounding Apple's iPad tablet device. The thinking was that the media's woes could be traced back to an original sin: offering free news online, which created a norm of free online news. The iPad would be an opportunity to rectify that: Everyone would buy them and newspapers would make people pay for the content from day one.
Of course, that just seemed like evidence that the iPad was doomed: If you could get newspapers for free on your laptop but not on your tablet, who would want a tablet? And now that the iPad has been unveiled and (a) doesn't look like a gamechanger and (b) will have internet access, that fantasy is probably over.
I remain one of the few who think that government subsidies of some sort will be required to sustain the media. And as a study out of the University of Southern California argues, it won't be the first time:
“We think it’s important for people to understand that the government has been involved from the beginning, and that the subsidies were much larger in the past,” said Geoffrey Cowan, dean emeritus of the university’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
He and his co-author, David Westphal, the school’s executive in residence, said that in today’s dollars, government support for newspapers and magazines had fallen to less than $2 billion from more than $4 billion in 1970.
The federal government has discounted postage rates for publications since 1792, but in the Past 40 years, the discount has fallen to less than $300 million from almost $2 billion, adjusted for inflation.
Local, state and federal governments regularly buy notices in newspapers, about things like public hearings, regulations and budgets, which Mr. Westphal said were probably worth more than $1 billion a year. ... State and federal laws also give an array of tax breaks to publications, which the authors said were worth at least $900 million a year.
The new book "The Death and Life of American Journalism" makes the same argument at greater length. The question is how to structure the subsidies such that they're sufficiently indirect. Subsidizing postage didn't feel like subsidizing reporting, somehow. Maybe newspapers will be like churches, and get special tax treatment?
Photo credit: Ryan Anson/Getty.
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