This will be redundant for long-term readers here, but I’ve just read a James Rainey LATimes piece (his last regular column, BTW) about newspapers and tablets that cries out for a reality check, so I’m going to repeat a central theme of The Pomoblog:
The media industries will not find a solution to their problems — no matter how much we “digital first” — without accepting that our infrastructure is what’s being disrupted, not our content.
This concept doesn’t “sell a lot of tapes,” as we used to say in the church business, but it’s the truth, and it’s why I cringe whenever I read articles like Rainey’s. It’s about newspapers getting into the tablet business — as in selling their OWN tablet devices, preloaded with news applications — and especially the experiment in Philadelphia by the publisher of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News. The tablet, the Arnova 10 G2 (huh?), runs for $285 for one year and $339 for two years. The price includes subscriptions to the two papers. Here’s a key paragraph:
The two digitized papers can be downloaded each morning in a couple of minutes via Wi-Fi. What the company calls the “digital” edition looks just like the newspaper, rendered in miniature on the Arnova’s 10-inch screen. Readers turn pages with a swipe of the finger. They open pictures and articles with a tap.
The downloads take time. Another version of The Inquirer ” looks more like a standard news website in compact form.” Access to “live” requires a click to Philly.com and a WiFi connection. Rainey also reports that the Chicago Tribune is about to launch its own tablet, too. Where will this end?
Honestly, folks, Hollywood writers (comic or tragedy) couldn’t create a strategy this off-the-wall. It is so far from reality that I’d really like some of what they must be smoking in Philadelphia.
You see, many if not most newspaper people think the disruption is all about distribution channels, that consumers want their newspaper in electronic form. There’s powerful motivation for believing that (can you say “millions?”), but that doesn’t make it true. What consumers really want is to escape the relentless bombardment of advertising that surrounds and interrupts the content for which they believe they are paying, and technology is enabling that. Time is the new currency, and people want à la carte choices. The bundle is history. Unbundled content is the thing. Unbundled content can be passed around to friends, and you can’t do that with a “digitized paper.” What you can do with it is convince (some) advertisers that their display ads are still being placed in front of large groups of eyeballs. The problem with the news industry isn’t that people have lost their interest in news content. Recent studies show it’s just the opposite. What they have lost interest in is the bundled infrastructure that robs them of choices and wastes their time.
And as I’ve said a million times, the biggest mistake with these kinds of strategies and tactics is that they divert energy and resources that could be better used fighting the real problem (playing offense) instead of protecting the status quo (playing defense).
The bundle is the problem. Fix the problem!
For more information, see these old essays from December of 2005: