Print media is dead, but lives on in tablets

Print media is dead, but lives on in tablets

Summary: The proverbial writing is on the wall for print media. There is new life waiting in digital formats--but can the publishers find a way to convince customers to buy them?


Recently my fellow ZDnet columnist James Kendrick wrote about two newspapers from Philadelpha that were introducing a new plan to sell newspaper subscriptions in digital format along with a discounted tablet to read them.

I will forego the inevitable Android versus iPad debate on this topic; both tablets are perfectly suited for reading newspaper and magazine media in a convenient, portable format. For that matter, The RIM Playbook and HP TouchPad are also well-suited for the task. The truth of the matter is that so far, newspaper subscriptions have had a small amount of success on the mobile platform, but not very noteworthy. Digital magazine subscriptions have not been successful due to price, size and poor implementation.

The only problem is that the success of tablets is still tiny compared to overall computer and smartophone ownership. Most people still see the tablet as a novelty. All of my friends and peers in the tech industry have and enjoy using their tablets; but we're early adopters. Apple has sold millions of iPad devices, but that's still only scratching the surface of what is possible.

The Philly newspapers may have latched onto a method that might succeed in putting tablets into the minds of consumers where they weren't before. Until now, e-book readers like the Amazon Kindle and the Barnes & Noble Nook sold newspaper and magazine subscriptions within their online bookstores. But they didn't really focus on that capability. Magazines that are sold for the tablet market haven't had much success.

Newspaper publisher News Corp introduced a digital-only newspaper for the iPad called The Daily with much fanfare, to mixed reviews and mediocre success.

Newspapers have had web-based versions of their print mediums available online for over a decade now. News has been available in digital format for handheld devices since they existed, but they've always been relegated to a niche market for tech heads. The media is there. The customers simply aren't. And I suspect that it really boils down to mindset more than anything else.

By selling deeply discounted tablets along with the digital subscriptions, the newspaper publishers tie together the medium with the device in the mind of the customer. I stopped counting how many people telling me that they didn't have any need or reason to buy a tablet. They claim to be perfectly happy with just their laptop and/or smartphone. But let's be honest; how enjoyable is it to read an entire book, or even just a newspaper or magazine, on a device with a 4-inch screen? Or trying to hold a laptop like a newspaper?

Admittedly, smartphones have contributed to the decline of print news. But they are not the technological ideal. Tablets are slightly smaller than a standard magazine. They're the perfect size for that print medium in addition to books. The real difficulty in selling tablets has always been finding that one hook that will bring in the average consumer after the early adopters and tech heads have had their fill.

Older, less tech-savvy generations may very well find tablets like the Apple iPad and the Samsung Galaxy Tab and the HP TouchPad to be extremely useful for their needs. Lots of folks need a simple computing device for browsing and email. All they really need is that mental trigger that shows them how to do what they've been doing for years, on a device that's easier to use, cheaper and more portable than the computers that have frustrated them for decades.

The capabilities that attracted those of us to tablets simply aren't enough for the people that are not yet interested. Maybe it requires practically giving away the tablets subsidized by another service--like newspapers--to shift their viewpoint of tablets from "meh" to "Where can I get one?"

Topics: Laptops, Hardware, Mobility, Tablets

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  • RE: Print is dead, but lives on in tablets

    I can read it on my PC, my netbook and my phone. I see no need to carry a brick around just to read newspapers. Perhaps when Win 8 arrives and I can get a real tablet, but until then it's an expensive toy.
    • RE: Print is dead, but lives on in tablets

      @tonymcs@: You're already carrying two bricks; it's no wonder you don't want to carry another.

      You're so-called "real tablet" already exists and has for the last ten years. Why don't you have one?
      • RE: Print is dead, but lives on in tablets

        Great question. It seems that many more people like WinTabs(and Android) tabs that are willing(or able) to pay.
  • RE: Print is dead, but lives on in tablets

    For the average person, print has been dead for nearly two generations, no matter what the medium.

    For the average person, the ability to read and comprehend has been dead for a like interval.
    • RE: Print is dead, but lives on in tablets

      @nikacat Print is way down but not dead in the New York. Print Newspapers are still convenient to read on the subway or bus. There is still are newstands on most corners and many subway stations in Manhatten.
      • RE: Print is dead, but lives on in tablets

        Thats true, but a very unique scenario. NYC is is a world unto it self in some ways. Only place in America where less that half the household have a car. Public transportation is whats keeping it going. If NY ever got cell phone coverage in its subways like DC it make shake things up but that's not happening any time soon.
      • RE: Print is dead, but lives on in tablets

        @nikacat: Agreed
    • RE: Print is dead, but lives on in tablets

      @nikacat I mostly agree, particularly on the reading comprehension portion. I've seen statistics on the reading comprehension levels of our High School graduates and it blows my mind that they were given diplomas. Personally, I see print media on tablet computers as a ray of hope in the fight to increase reading comprehension levels for those folks who never achieved it in our school system.

      Can the print media survive the transition to digital? Only if they change the way they do things. Some in the print media are, unfortunately, trying to apply the same business models to infinite goods as they use for their hard copy products. It won't work. In order to raise readership levels in selling what simplistically amounts to infinite copies of a text file, they cannot rely on the subscription/point of sale model. They will need to follow the leadership of blogs like ZDNet. Ads based on page views is the best way to make money on electronic print publications. Pay walls will truly kill print media for companies that just can't adapt to the 21st century.
      • Newspaper subscription models

        @BillDem: Look again. The statement about ads on page views may be partially effective, but quite honestly many readers ignore or actively block those ads, which limits the effectiveness. A subscription-only platform has also obviously failed. However, if you look at News Corp's <i>The Daily</i> you'll see that they use both methods, just as newspapers have done for well over 100 years.

        A subscription platform guarantees a certain number of readers no matter how many click-throughs you get on ads and the ads can guarantee a certain amount of income no matter how many people choose not to actively view them. Essentially, the buyers/subscribers paid for the actual printing process while the ads paid the salaries of the reporters. Your "ads pay for everything" is exactly why newspapers are closing their printing shops all over the country.

        On the other hand, with a subscription method for your electronic device, you could guarantee a copy of the newspaper in your hand every morning, rain or shine, without risk of a waterlogged wad of wood pulp making you go to the store to waste money on something you've already paid for. You still need reporters, you still need editors, but now the need for typesetters, photo-etched printing plates, etc. is eliminated as well as the other costs of physically printing the paper. However, unlike the hard-copy newspaper, the drive-by eye-catching headlines aren't enough to encourage an impulse buy the way it did at the old-fashioned news stands.

        Having worked in the camera room of a local newspaper, I have some idea of what's happening, perhaps better than you. However, not working in that industry any more, I have no more influence over my local papers than you--mail a letter to the editor/publisher. At some point the paywall will become the standard, but that paywall needs to have a certain amount of leeway that gives the casual viewer a reasonable example of the contents while limiting how many articles can be read on a given day without a subscription. <i>Automotive News</i> seems to have a good grasp of the concept, better than most other conventional news outlets.
  • RE: Print is dead, but lives on in tablets

    That video is astonishing. I remember seeing some early views of what technology would be in our current timeframe, but looking back at the predictions is fascinating.

    Amazing and ironic. They have a mention of a 1994 Atlantis launch, and they show a number of print newspapers that are now either online only or gone.

    They also miss the whole 3G, WiFi, Web thing, but they're amazingly prescient in other places.

    Awesome find, Scott.
    David Gewirtz
    • Apple's tablet video from 1987 does not miss connectivity

      @David Gewirtz: This was the year when John Scully from Apple decided to invest into creation of actual tablet. In six years, Newton MessagePad was released -- the "smallest" (it weighted 800 grams) of three developed sizes.

      Along the way, Apple decided it needs mobile RISC processor, and this is how ARM was created: they chose Acorn desktop CPU to be downscaled and optimized for mobile use.

      (Later Apple did similar trick with scaling down IBM's workstation/server class CPU Power -- and since then we have PowerPC, which is used in hundreds of million devices.)

      So whether Jobs was with Apple or not, the company always did historic decisions, meaningful for the entire industry. When Jobs will leave Apple, people whom he recruited will still do significant forward-looking advancements in technology for many years to come (though, it could be less effective, less focused than under Jobs' rule).
      • Edited out.

        Edited out.
      • RE: Print is dead, but lives on in tablets

        @DeRSSS Yep, I remember the Newton well, I did the original MessagePad 2000 review:

        That was a LONG time ago. A lot's changed, but you can see the spirit of many of those innovators in what we have today. I may complain about tech all the time, especially when fixing things, but THIS is why I love tech.
        David Gewirtz
      • Thanks for the link; interesting historic writing

        @David Gewirtz
  • RE: Print is dead, but lives on in tablets

    Were those Macs running O.S. 6?!!! However, my real observation is a new source of "Social-Noise". I will not only have to listen to discourteous Cell-Phone Users but, now, a plethora of Talking Tablets when I go out to a restaurant, commute on a train, or visit some local Cafe for coffee and/or breakfast.<br><br>And notice the lack of communication between the Husband and Wife eating outdoors. He reads, she eats in quiet. He eats, she reads in quiet except to point out a baseball play. (They are married, you can see his ring at one point)<br><br>My Wife and I go out to be with each other not to be Anti-Social. When the Newspaper dies so does my subscription. There is nothing like the smell of a fresh News Paper. Oh Wait! Smell-O-Vision is just around the corner too! Maybe the tablet will deploy that too.<br><br>I'm truly amazed at how creatures who are created as Social Beings are content to find more ways to be Anti-Social!
    The Rifleman
    • RE: Print is dead, but lives on in tablets

      @The Rifleman - my wife and I went to a Shakespeare play in the park here in Vancouver and during the break watched a couple enjoying a glass of wine -both staring into their iphones. Print is not dead btw- Magazines are actually doing better than ever. Also consider the online retailer Zappos. They printed a hardcopy catalogue which they sent to regular customers and DOUBLED their sales.
      Also while the tablets will be more common - will people pay for news subscriptions? when they can find it elsewhere for free. I know Murdoch is counting on it with WSJ but I doubt it. Myspace did'nt pan out that well either.
  • Message has been deleted.

  • RE: Print is dead, but lives on in tablets

    not for books; can't replace the aesthetics of paper with plastic
    • RE: Print is dead, but lives on in tablets oh yes you can. I LOVE books. I love my books. I refuse to buy "ONLY" digital books.

      but I don't READ paper books unless I have no other choice.

      when I find a new book I BUY the book to add to my book case and then I go find the digital version of it (torrent whatever) and stick it on my DX.

      You just can't TOUCH the convenience of an ebook reader (especially the DX) I read voraciously. I finished the Saga of the Seven suns series in 2 weeks. I just could not stop. Found them on some site grabbed them did not stop till I was done.

      I found used copies of all 7 books they are on the way to me through the mail so i can add them to my book shelf. (I don't know why but the digital copy is good for consumption but I WANT THE PAPER to put on my shelf)

      its about ownership. you never truly "OWN" a digital copy. even the "illegal" copy I downloaded is not really "mine" its just 1's and 0's in a memory chip. Convenient yes but not real "ownership"

      this is why people with digital camera's (like me) still PRINT their pictures.

      when its physical property the level of ownership changes. I want that level of ownership.

      but I also want the digital to consume more conveniently.
      • RE: Print is dead, but lives on in tablets

        @nerys I like owning books, too. But, I also like having the books on my portable devices. It's a sad shame that we don't automatically get a digital copy of a book when we buy the hard copy. Even the movie studios are starting to include digital copies to view on portable devices when you buy a movie. There are books that I have put off buying because I want the book and a digital copy, but I don't want to have to buy the book twice. (I'm not comfortable pulling down a torrent copy until it is legitimized.) I would seriously buy even more books if they included a digital copy.