Why the iPad Really is Poised to Transform Print Media

10 11 2010

A good article in MediaWeek yesterday on the rise of the iPad as a platform for digital publishing–and one that has the media world very excited. As post-article commentor Steve Davies observes, this may be because the media world is currently “up sh*t creek without a paddle”, it’s certainly a factor that print pubs are desperately looking for a way to maintain revenue and viability in the age of socio-digital media, but I also think it has a lot to do with a couple of key factors unique to the iPad itself:

  1. Form factor: The iPad is large enough to provide a credible simulation of reading a print magazine or newspaper–therefore scratching many people’s itch for a comfortingly familiar experience–while still allowing a much richer overall experience than print can provide (linking articles, allowing social feedback, embedding video and rich graphics, etc.). This is where I think many of the recent or upcoming iPad rivals like the Samsung Galaxy Tab and RIM’s Playbook get it wrong. Somehow, the 7″ size of both these units doesn’t seem a whole lot larger than some of the high-end smartphones out there, while the iPad’s 9.8″ feels a lot more roomy in comparison. I suspect that folks wanting a compact unit will get a smartphone, but those wanting to read, watch and interact in a more meaningful way will appreciate the extra size of the iPad.
  2. Simplicity of distribution: This applies to both publishers and consumers. Apple’s iTunes provides a centralized marketplace, and as Ken Doctor (@kendoctor) observes in a great piece in Newsonomics, one that is extremely well-poised to succeed. Will publsihers want to give up 30% of their revenues to Apple? No, but Apple distribution also allows them to take significant hard-copy printing and distribution costs out of the equation, and can greatly simplify customer acquisition for them. To me, Apple is bringing something pretty useful, then, to the value chain other than just hardware. Correspondingly, Apple also then provides users a simple way of finding and receiving this content, and for iTunes subscribed content, a centralized way of paying for it. This also has a lot of appeal to consumers, and is why I don’t think iTunes should be underestimated yet as a potential player in the e-commerce of digital journalism.
  3. Simplicity of use: I think this is the iPad’s biggest strength. It’s the unit I would recommend to my Mother-in-law instead of a new laptop, because it’s simple simple simple. Press a button, and it’s on. Acquiring apps is simple, downloading news is simple, doing email, watching videos, even syncing w/ iTunes is simple. In the big consumer play, simplicity with a threshold level of funcationality wins the game, and Apple is very good at designing that kind of machine.

All that said, I don’t think this means only Apple can or will succeed. The iPad has enough drawbacks to be annoying in its own right (e.g., lack of Flash support, the requirement to sync with another computer, inability to accept USB or SD storage, etc), and so I think there’s room for more than one tablet. But Apple gets enough of the right things right on, that I believe media firms are right to be excited about this as a platform that will help transform print publishing as we’ve known it.