The iPad – it’s on the way.


The big question for newspapers is: How can we make it matter?


I reported in my blog of February 1 the arrival of the iPad. Now it’s only a few weeks until it hits the market.


What have newspapers been doing to prepare? It looks as though the New York Times is leading the pack and will most certainly have an offering when the new tablet becomes readily available.  But maybe their business strategy is less than finalized.


In a recent article, Divindra Hardawar speaks to how both turf wars and different viewpoints on pricing may be causing internal issues at the Times as they look to release this new content platform to the unsuspecting public. It is an interesting issue as the iPad really does play in both the digital and subscription space.


As for which area of the business should take control, it really will be about the overall outlook for the content play. The concern cited in Divindra’s posting regarding the worry over cannibalizing print is another age-old issue facing newspapers. We need to get past this. Specifically, the people running our circulation operations need to take a step back and think about the longer-term play.


Digital and print offerings will most certainly be around for some time. Ideally we should be looking for ways to use our content in the many different platforms. Let the readers and users decide how they would like to consume our content. The best outcome would be for many of them to choose multiple platforms as their schedule and preferences allow for it. Our job as media marketing professionals is to determine the best business applications for each of these platforms and how they can best work together.


The second issue Divindra’s article speaks to is pricing. It’s another issue that really needs to be looked at over the longer-term and not just as a comparison to how it may or may not relate to our printed edition. If a tablet version of the newspaper is going to be commercially viable longer-term it will need to be dramatically different than what newspapers have available today in either print or our current web versions. The experience will need to be wider, deeper, and more interactive. If we simply take our current web offering and make it “tablet”-friendly, it’s unlikely the industry will do much more than generate a relatively small amount of new traffic to its web site. Most likely it will just be the same audience simply using a different platform to access our content. It’s hard to believe that if the newspaper web site remains mostly free that users will pay for an iPad application that mirrors the web site experience. If on the other hand a completely new approach was offered, it’s possible readers/users may choose to pay for the content experience.


It will be important for newspapers to play in this “portable space” even if just for the learning. The audiences look to be centered on the free space, and this is unlikely to change anytime soon. Believing that consumers will pay outright for content seems highly unlikely, but there may be certain platforms or applications that just might open this door a crack. It will be the learnings from these early experiments that just might very well offer newspapers an opportunity to open and grow a new revenue stream. It won’t be the panacea for all of the industry's troubles, but it just might help stabilize the business model while a new one develops.


I predict most of the mainstream newspaper companies will have an iPad strategy and approach in the coming year. That’s the easy outlook. The bigger question is which of the multiplicity of strategies deployed will turn out to offer the best chance of success.


Watch out! It’s going to be a wild and interesting ride.