OK, I may be slow in responding, but I felt I needed some time to really digest whether Apple’s new creation would really save the newspaper industry. But now that the hype and hoopla over the iPad is making way to Super Bowl fever, it might be a good time to reflect on just what that all could mean.
And in the calm, it becomes clear: The iPad is not the savior of the industry. But it can be a help, if publishers are willing to accept it and utilize its potentials.
The device itself is not the must-have replacement for everything you already own. But, in reality, it has raised the standards of the e-reader to a point where publishers — if they are wise enough to recognize it — can create a revenue stream by providing a news product that offers readers an experience they cannot get from the web or print.
The iPad could be a Kindle-killer if Amazon doesn’t upgrade the product to meet the new capabilities (i.e. full-color touchscreen, ability to play videos, etc.). Same with Sony, who is also trying to carve a niche in the e-reader market as well.
What the iPad offers to e-readers is a multisensory reading experience. For example, instead of just reading “Where the Wild Things Are” to your kids at bedtime, the iPad can also offer the color illustrations and, if taken a step further, animation or video as well.
This multisensory experience is something publishers need to tap into. I expect that, in the rush to be a part of the iPad bandwagon, most newspapers will simply offer a slightly larger version of its iPhone app, or at minimum set up a PDF version of its print edition (or maybe a version of the print that uses the “page turning” technology of e-books). Unfortunately, this offers nothing new to the readers, and I expect that most will not use it. Those who do will probably not be willing to pay a premium for it.
Publishers need to take a serious look at developing products that offer iPad readers an ‘experience’ beyond what they are currently used to getting from other platforms. This will mean some R&D investment in developing products that integrate words, audio, video, animation and graphics to tell and analyze the news. This experience can set up two-way dialogs without going to third-party sites like Facebook or Twitter, and can also be used to enhance ads that can directly connect your advertiser to his target audience.
Two great examples of the potential of this reader experience are flyp, a multimedia e-magazine which does an excellent job in merging different storytelling forms into a unique reading experience, and the Sports Illustrated demo for tablet media I highlighted in a previous posting.
The reading experience can create a renewed value of your content. The iPad and subsequent readers could bring back the “wow” factor for readers, and that could translate into a product readers will be willing to pay for.
Bottom line, I fear if current conditions continue, publishers will be faced with the reality that keeping a press will become too expensive. If publisher are proactive with the this emerging technology instead of being reactive, they may be able to transfer the newspaper reading experience from one medium to another without giving away the goose.
The iPad isn’t the answer, but the new standard its set for e-readers is. It’s now up to our industry to meet that standard.