iNewspapers: Did iPad Change the Newspaper Business?

In a February 2010 blog entry, before the release of Apple’s original iPad, I posed the question, “Can iPad Save the Newspaper Business?” I then explored how newspapers were approaching their digital subscription strategies and how they might approach development for the iPad.

Nineteen months later, the answer is quite literally, “The jury is still out.”

There is no doubt iPad has made an impact on our society and there is no doubt the newspaper publishing industry has taken a very close look at the platform and has further evolved its digital strategy. To say iPad has saved the newspaper business is a stretch, but it is clear newspapers must have an iPad or digital plan if they want to survive.

Not long ago, Apple kicked the Financial Times app out of the Apple App Store after FT developed its own HTML5 web version of the highly successful international business newspaper. HTML5 allows newspapers to develop web versions that automatically change size and format for any device. Key to the strategy; it allows readers access to the newspaper from any Internet browser based device without using an app—saving the newspaper the 30 percent fee Apple charges for apps and reoccurring subscription fees sold through the App Store.

Boston Globe and New York Times are exploring similar HTML5 strategies as well. The move gives readers an ‘app’ like experience, but saves publishers the Apple fee.

On the other side of the spectrum, the now controversial Rupert Murdoch, founder, CEO and Chairman of News Corporation, released in February the first tablet only news outlet—The Daily. Only available (for now) on Apple’s iPad, The Daily is a media outlet with a full and reputable editorial staff developing original news content.

Regarding subscriptions. The tide is definitely changing. Both publishers and readers are getting used to the fact that news content will not be free. Most large newspapers have already or are currently in the process of developing subscription based news content. The Daily charges 99 cents per week or $39.99 per year. And through the industry transition, digital revenues from subscription fees are up overall.

Many newspapers including Financial Times and New York Times are currently moving to a metered subscription format that may be either a permanent or transition move to full subscriptions.

With metered subscriptions, the newspaper allows readers to access or read a few articles and then asks them to register. After more visits they are asked to subscribe.

You can still get free content from plenty of news sources on iPad and other smart mobile devices. But the tide is definitely changing to subscription based. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me to see a large influx of subscription based newspapers and publications when Apple releases its iOS 5—the newest iteration of the mobile operating system that will include an app called Newsstand to organize all magazine and newspaper app subscriptions in one location on iPad.

So, what does this all mean? iPad is the only successful tablet. I’ve read several articles indicating people don’t consider getting a tablet, they consider getting an iPad. HP in fact discontinued its tablet after only a few months of availability. Other reports indicate that all other tablets combined don’t match the sales of iPad.

Most of the newspaper apps available for iPad and even those only available via website still have a long way to go before they truly match the experience of holding and reading an actual newspaper. Equally, it is very clear newspapers will continue to evolve to digital only formats and will rely increasingly on digitally produced revenues from subscription fees and advertising.

Bottom line: Chances are if I walk into a lobby carrying my Wall Street Journal app equipped iPad, sit down next to a coffee table with a Wall Street Journal newspaper sitting on it, I’ll pick up the newspaper over reading it on my iPad. Anywhere else, I’m reading it on my iPad. I’ll bet I’m like most people.
Author: A. Cory Maloy |