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.


  1. Your misgivings are understandable, but I suspect your and Mark's attachment to ink is not unlike the attachment of all of us over-40s to vinyl. It'll always be around, yes, but it's not what's going to move the market or build (or break) fortunes any more.

    The Sports Illustrated demo (which I assume you've seen; if not, it's on YouTube) just is a more attractive way to spend the your on-bog time than flicking through a paper magazine. And for publications like The Word the possibilities are surely enormous, not just for editorial bangs and whistles but also - especially, even - for advertisers.

    I agree it's some way off yet, but give it two or three years years until the iPad 2.0 comes out - with multitasking, built-in webcam for Skypey stuff and what not - and I suspect that by mid-decade decade publishing a strictly print magazine will be about as commercial a proposition as producing only black and white films in the 1970s was.

  2. I can't stress enough that this is nothing to do with my attachment to ink. It's driven instead by everything I've learned about the hard practicalities of how different media work and why and how people consume magazines. Advertisers (as represented by their agencies) are interested in getting away large sums of money very quickly (which is how they earn their money) and they are interested in bangs and whistles more in theory than in practice. As for the more congenial experience offered by a screen, the majority of magazines are bought by women (fact) and are mainly consumed on public transport or while waiting for a kettle to boil. I have yet to hear an argument for the superior qualities of the digital magazine put forward by one of these consumers. I'm not saying it won't happen but it's not going to happen *inevitably*.

  3. Could the pitch be, "The Web, on the bog"

  4. most of the multimedia on newspaper sites is very poor, the guardian has loads and most of it is just bad tv. I think the bundling thing is the key as DH say's most of the elements of a paper I wouldn't pay a meaningful amount of money for on their own but I do for the totality (i now only buy a paper when i travel).
    I do read the paper on my phone often after getting a link to an article via twitter.

    As for the word e version as a subscriber I've usually read the hard copy by the time the e version shows up. I have sent it to a mate who's skint and needed cheering up and sent the David essex article to a female relative (and a DE fan, she liked it you may want to do the osmonds next!) but most of the people I would talk to the word about already buy it.

    I think one minor advantage of a digital version is being able to find old reviews of lps you've bought, to do that spoddy thing of finding out what you favourite writers thought about it. But may be this sort of ocd trainspottery behaviour isn't to be encouraged.

  5. On a more serious note, I quite like the idea of owning an iPad, but I'll probably wait for the second version to come out (unless I'm feeling particularly flush in the summer).

    I use the iPhone a lot around the house as a portable internet point. It would be nice to have something bigger to use for email, web and apps without having to shut myself away from the rest of the family in the study.

    However I'm skeptical about this being a great leap forward in the manner that we consume magazines, books and newspapers.

    While the iBook interface looks pretty, it's really just another another version of the "flickable" magazines that have been around for a couple of years. Those do a good job of putting a magazine on a screen, but you wouldn't actually want to read one of them.

    Mags, newspapers and books are the ultimate real life browsing experience; your eyes do all of the selecting, double tapping, zooming and clicking that a screen requires, and you can take them with you into the lav without the fear of dropping them on the tiles.

    The way that we consume content will undoubtedly change though, just as it always has.

  6. Let's face it, I think we're all seduced simply because everyone's talking about it.

    When you spend most of your time wrapped up in the media, it's easy to get carried away.

    Then I stop and think and look at people like my mum, my sister and her family and some of my friends locally in Brighton.

    My mum has only just got the hang of Facbook, my under-30 sister and brother-in-law doesn't own any sort of digital music player, owns around 40 CDs and still buys Bella/Best every week, while we have friends who are very hip and cool in every way, other than not having broadband, despite having a 4-year-old daughter.

    So while sections of the media get carried away with the latest Apple release (and I must admit I'm mildly curious), there are millions out there who will read about it and say something like, 'whatever'.

    These things will succeed eventually, because the march of technology has shown that resistance to the evolution is futile, but I agree that the iPad isn't exactly mindblowing original.

  7. '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.'

    Not sure I agree that there was much demand for what the i-pod offered until it was created. I don't think it had occured to anyone that they might want to walk round with their complete record collection on tap until it became a possibility. Revolutionary products don't just answer 'needs'; they also create 'needs' that hadn't existed before. How many people who walk round listening to i-pods used to walk round listening to walkmans? Very few.

    I think for people who create editorial packages currently conveyed on paper it's an exciting opportunity, with far more advantages than disadvantages. Not least ease of distribution. They need to make those packages attractive enough for people to pay for it. And the first step is to stop giving it away.

  8. As I said to a friend earlier today, Apple used to specialise in manufacturing gadgets that were seemingly essential. Now they do a nice line in highly desirable ones, like the iPad and the iTouch. But they don't get their hooks in you like, say, the iPod. Unless you have money to burn.

  9. Richard's "ease of distribution" point is perhaps the most important one of all. We don't all live in London (or even the UK or US), and the cost-benefit equation of tracking down the latest Word or Vanity Fair or Esquire - or even Hello! and co. - is so often a clincher: "No, I wouldn't mind reading it, but not to the extent that I'm about to phone a mate in Madrid and ask him to pick it up for me if he happens to nip into FNAC this weekend."

    I'm still waiting not only for my current Word but for the Christmas one too - and I'm a subscriber! (Relax, Dave! Just local postal delivery problems I'm trying to get sorted.)

    In this post-Borders, post-Zavvi world in which we live in - where, Amazon notwithstanding, getting hold of hard copies of magazines and music is getting harder rather than easier - anybody, anywhere with a 3G connection can read or listen to anything they fancy as an mp3 or an app. And each of those anybodies' downloads (well, provided they're legit) can be logged and ear-tagged for the mad men to take to their clients and say, "Sir! Sir! We reached someone in Arbroath last Wednesday, sir!" They're interested in that too, not just nebulous big numbers.

    The great philosopher Newton-John got it wrong. Every day, in every way, we're getting less physical.

  10. To me the question is not what is the iPad for, it's what will it become? There is no way I would have predicted that I would want a phone that allows me to monitor my sleep patterns, and allegedly wakes me when I'm in a light sleep. But someone has developed an app that claims to do that and thousands of people love it. The iPhone is simply the best device I've ever owned, and if I were feeling flush, I'd buy an iPad as soon as they become available here in Switzerland. I need a new laptop anyway, so why not go for an iPad and wait for some useful apps to come along? They surely will.

    If I were a developer with a fantastic idea, I can't imagine not choosing to implement it on the Apple architecture. It might not even need to be a great idea...

    I love your "Something for the weekend" mails, and they are free. If I didn't get them, and there was an iPhone/iPad app that allowed me to follow the YouTube links, read the articles etc, would I buy it for £1 (or whatever the minimum UK price is)? Oh yes. Without a thought. Would Archie? I'm guessing yes. The App might not make the best seller lists, but it might. You produce great content in your magazine, and give us links to some really interesting stuff that is targetted precisely for your readership. Pushing that out to the iPad massive, might just be a way to go. Why not run it past Fraser?

    See also: