The iPad is a source of hope for many traditional publishers. Which explains why publishing moguls like Rupert Murdoch are investing lots of time and money into the tablet device.
But not all iPad strategies are created equal, and one of Murdoch's newspapers, the New York Post, may have the dubious distinction of executing the dumbest iPad strategy yet.
That strategy: in an effort to get readers to pony up for the newspaper's $6.99/month app, block the Safari browser on the iPad from accessing content on the nypost.com website, content that's freely available via any other browser.
Technically, the block is a mess. As I write this, the block only applies to Safari on the iPad, not other iPad browsers. Obviously, this will probably be 'fixed' soon enough, but even so, the Post won't be able to prevent the most motivated readers from finding ways to circumvent the Post's padlock.
But if the block is a mess technically, it's a disaster strategically. Scripting News' Dave Winer goes so far as to say that "this is breaking the web." That may be a slight exaggeration, but at the very least, the New York Post is breaking its website in a fashion that other publishers would be ill-advised to copy.
The iPad is a computing device. Nothing more, nothing less. Singling users of it out and trying to force them to pay for an app makes little sense. Will the New York Post eventually eventually try to force a subscription on anyone using a Mac?
After all, I hear Mac owners tend to have higher-than-average incomes. And if a study came out showing that Google Chrome users are more likely to pay for content, would Murdoch put up a toll road for them too?
At the end of the day, the publishers who survive and thrive will be device agnostic, understanding that publishing in the 21st century is about providing great experiences across devices, not controlling when, where and how consumers can access content.
Ironically, Murdoch himself seems to know this. In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in late 2009, he wrote:
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.
Clearly, it's easy to talk the talk, but if the New York Post's foolish iPad strategy is any indication, some of the publishers who claim to be forward-thinking still have an awfully hard time walking the walk.
That's bad news for consumers, but it's even worse news for their publications.