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Thursday, January 28, 2010

I know you're dying to hear what I think about the iPad

I Twittered asking for one reason why I would want an iPad. The answer returned most often, apart from the fact that it would be cool and I am clearly the kind of bloke who goes in for new gadgets, seemed to be that this was inevitably the way that newspapers and magazines would be delivered in the future.
This may be true. I repeat, this may be true. Once again, for the avoidance of doubt and in case anyone thinks I am a future denier, this may be true. However, it is not necessarily true even though it is a truth which the unholy trinity of Apple, panic-stricken media owners and the punditry seem to have decided is self-evident.
Through the thicket of self-generated hype of the last 24 hours I haven't yet picked out the one-sentence reason why anyone would feel they *had* to have one. Would you like to watch football in high definition? Would you like to make phone calls wherever you are? Would you like to have thousands of tunes in your pocket? Yes, yes and yes again. Revolutionary devices succeed when they answer what people feel to be their needs. I don't see what the need is here. I can see the supplier push but I don't see the equivalent consumer pull.
I don't think the readership of newspapers is ebbing away because people are waiting for them to be delivered via a device. They're ebbing away because people can get what they used to get in a paper for free via the web and they have lots of other things to occupy their time with. And I don't think they're waiting for enhancements like embedded video. These things are nice to have but they're not so compelling that people will pay for them.
The newspaper and magazine businesses were built, like the record business, on their control of manufacture and distribution. They could leverage their strength in these areas to set a cover price and sell advertising at a price that created, if everything went well, a profitable business. Every decision they made about production values, editorial policy and frequency was made in the light of how they would affect a particular package. The problem, as the record business has found, is that once there is no longer any need to manufacture and iTunes owns the distribution and sets the price, the package is quickly unbundled and it's very difficult to make any money.
The huge challenge of the web for media and entertainment is that it un-bundles everything and in so doing reduces rather than increases its perceived value.