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In the run-up to the launch of the iPad, there was a lot of talk about the impact Apple's tablet computing device would have on traditional publishers. For some, including publishing execs, the iPad was seen as potential source of revitalization for newspapers and magazines.

While it remains to be seen whether or not the iPad will be as beneficial to traditional publishers as many hoped, it has become clear that finding success on the iPad isn't any easier than finding success in the broader market.

But despite all the evidence that the iPad isn't traditional publishing's savior, two media moguls, Rupert Murdoch and Richard Branson, are preparing to make big bets on the iPad.

According to reports, Murdoch is developing a tablet-only daily called, unremarkably, The Daily. Behind it: $30m and a staff of 100. Costing 99 cents a week, or $4.25 each month, Murdoch is said to believe that The Daily "will demonstrate that consumers are willing to pay for high- quality, original content online." Branson apparently shares that belief. He's set to unveil his own iPad newspaper next week. Unlike The Daily, which will focus on 'news', Branson's inewspaper is reportedly going to focus on "entertainment and cultural issues."

While there are a lot of reasons not to bet against the Rupert Murdoch and Richard Bransons of the world, it would seem that they're going to have their work cut out for them.

You can create a long list of possible problems for iPad or tablet-only publications, but the biggest, in my opinion, is fairly obvious: by focusing on creating publications solely for a particular type of device, Murdoch and Branson are ignoring the fact that we live in a multi-channel, multi-platform world. Consumers want to consume their content on the devices of their choice, something that Murdoch himself somewhat ironically observed not too long ago in a Wall Street Journal op-ed:

Today's news consumers do not want to be chained to a box in their homes or offices to get their favorite news and entertainment—and our plan includes the needs of the next wave of TV viewing by going mobile.

The same is true with newspapers. More and more, our readers are using different technologies to access our papers during different parts of the day. For example, they might read some of their Wall Street Journal on their BlackBerries while commuting into the office, read it on the computer when they arrive, and read it on a larger and clearer e-reader wherever they may be.

Building new publications that operate like dailies and magazines, with many of their hefty costs, but for a single platform or channel, runs counter to the above. If there's truly demand for a new daily publication with, for instance, "a tabloid sensibility with a broadsheet intelligence", why shouldn't it available on the web, in print, or via any other platform widely used by the target audience?

Even if the iPad turns out to be a game-changer for publishers, they'd probably do far better by creating compelling iPad experiences around content that is also packaged and distributed compellingly on other platforms. This is essentially what the Financial Times has done. And it makes sense; it's not as if the iPad will reach everyone, and consumers who enjoy perusing content on an iPad are precisely the type of consumers who are probably going to want to consume it on other devices as well.

Perhaps Murdoch and Branson plan to exploit the iPad before moving on to other platforms. In that case, their plans might make more sense. But it's hard not to wonder if the glare from their iPads has distracted them from the realities of the publishing business.

Photo credit: bm.iphone via Flickr.

Patricio Robles

Published 26 November, 2010 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2392 more posts from this author

Comments (1)

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Steve Davies

Very true Patricio.  There's a lot more competitive dynamics yet to play out in determining which platform offers the best financial prospects, in this case whether the iTunes app store offers a familiar buying model that offsets its downsides.

But the iPad is not the holy-grail in itself - it may become a 'metaphor' for a change in the way we view content (the interface and viewing experience), but the platform itself has too many downsides to make it a viable long-term revenue stream (without further evolution in its interoperability with the rest of the web).

There are several HTML5 alternatives currently entering Beta phases (offering a javascript enabled copy of the iPad functionality in a normal web environment), and both Murdoch and Branson would be wise to take a look at these before sinking any more investment into Steve Job's already deep pockets.

almost 6 years ago

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