How the iPad and other tablets can help save the media

Today, I turn my blog over to a friend and former colleague, Amber Smith. Amber and I worked for years together at The Post-Standard in Syracuse, NY. Now, after 25 years in newspaper business, Amber has
joined the marketing and communications department as a senior editor at Upstate Medical University in Syracuse. She recently bought an iPad, and these are her reflections on how tablets can change — and may help save — the media.

If the Web is the death knell for newspapers, the iPad is their savior.

I say that not as a hopeful journalist — because I recently left 25 years
in newspapers for a new career in health care marketing — but as a faithful
reader.

I’m not the typical techie early adopter. I got my iPad as a gift. Until
recently, I didn’t own a smart phone, so I wasn’t even familiar with “apps.”
I wasn’t prepared to be blown away by some of the newspaper apps. The New
York Times
app looks like the venerable New York Times. The USA Today app
looks like the color-splashed USA Today. The Washington Post app looks even
better than The Washington Post with its big, beautiful Washington landmark
photos on it’s launch page.

It’s no wonder almost 32 percent of people who use an iPad or other tablet
device read printed newspapers, books and magazines less than they used to,
as found in a recent Forrester Research study. The apps on the tablets
feature the same great journalism as the corresponding print editions — but
without the expense of printing and distribution. From a reader standpoint,
they are even better than their print editions.

Consider:

  • I can read my iPad on the sidelines of a soccer game without wind ruffling my pages.
  • I can read my iPad while soaking in a bubble bath without water drops smudging the pages.
  • I can read my iPad in a dim or dark room because it is back lit.
  • I can read my iPad at the breakfast table, and there is ample room for my bowl of cereal.
  • I can read an article on my iPad, and rather than physically cutting and mailing, I can email its link to a friend. Better yet, I can post interesting articles to my Facebook wall to share with all my friends at once.
  • No more trudging down the driveway to dig a plastic-bagged paper out of the snow. No more fishing for quarters to feed a newspaper box. My iPad doesn’t even require me to climb out of bed to retrieve the most current issue of my favorite newspapers.
  • I can easily fit my iPad in a purse or notebook to carry with me anywhere, no worries about double folding or ink stains.
  • The iPad, like the Internet, gives my newspapers a 24-hour news cycle. I can update my newspaper apps first thing in the morning or last thing in the evening, and see a potentially entirely different newspaper each time. I can update whenever I am on line, and then read at my leisure.

I find the newspaper apps easier to navigate than newspaper websites. The designs are unique to each publication and seemingly tailored to readers, more like traditional newspapers.

Of course, many readers have embraced their newspaper’s website as they have canceled their print subscriptions, sounding the aforementioned death knell. We have developed new habits as we are tethered to desktop computers during our workday. We pay nothing to subscribe to RSS feeds or Google alerts or scroll Twitter to find out what’s happening. The venues and formats have changed, but our appetite for news remains.

Some readers will say they miss the actual newspaper, its smell and its texture and the ink it leaves on fingertips. But I believe most readers are more practical than nostalgic. We will use (and, I believe, pay for) newspaper apps that can tell them what’s playing at the local movie theater, what happened at last night’s city council meeting, why the police cars were at the neighbor’s house down the street. And, we will appreciate depth, independent investigation and perspective that is the domain of newspaper journalists.

Newspapers did a good job over the decades of establishing themselves as primary and trustworthy sources of news, the Fourth Estate, a crucial element of democracy. They will survive if they follow us readers and satisfy our appetite for news.

8 thoughts on “How the iPad and other tablets can help save the media

  1. I agree with all of this but it’s not just the iPad that will save newspapers. From an early Kindle adopter, I say it’s eReaders in general.

  2. Dear Amber,

    With respect: Some of us cannot afford an iPad, whereas we have Web virtually “for free” and newspapers are often left for anyone to read at local coffee shops.

    Kea

  3. Kerri,

    Absolutely. I agree that Kindle and Nook are part of this, too. I suspect Amber would agree, as well.

  4. @Kea Giles

    Kea,

    Good point. IPad owners are a small proportion of the total population right now, although I suspect that will change in time as the technology gets less expensive. I think Amber would say she’s not arguing you must read news on a tablet, just that once you have one, it really helps you consume news.

    Thanks for commenting.

    Gina

  5. With all due respect, the problem with the media is not the content production side; it’s that the advertising side is not generating the kind of revenues that it once did.

    Your typical newspaper ad sales room is the last place that I would go to get my message onto a reader’s iPad, if that is what I was trying to do.

  6. I agree with you to a point. The media’s problem is that it cannot make the money from the web that it used to make from print. But if we focus on that as the only problem, there is no solution except a time machine that sends us back to 1980. I would submit that news content at many traditional newspapers is not geared to the web, doesn’t take advantage of the benefits of the web, and does not utilize today’s technology as well as it could. In short, it’s not content that people are willing to pay for (either through subscriptions or ads.)

    Making money is a simple equation. Give people something they cannot live without and they will pay for it. Other web-based businesses have figured this out, but newspaper haven’t. Why? Because they think there’s nothing wrong with the content side. Well, to me, that’s a bit naive. If you’re not making money, something is wrong.

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