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NYTimes: Who gets the iPad — print or web?

February 17, 2010 Leave a comment
New York Times on the iPad

Can NYTimes replicate iTunes?

There’s nothing media-rumor sites hate more than blatantly generalizing people who read the New York Times (read: sarcasm). But that said, it’s long been a foregone conclusion that NYTimes readers overlap considerably with the iPad market. Thus, the Times became a major proponent of the new platform — and the potential for new subscription revenue.

However, according to reports coming out of Gawker and various other Apple-rumor sites, the print and digital newsrooms over at the Times disagree over who gets to claim this new territory. The print division calls dibs on the ground that the iPad will do nothing more than distribute the same paper format offered through physical media. It argues subscriptions should cost $20 to $30 a month — presumably equal to a print subscription — to avoid a massive exodus from the paper to the pad. (I guess we’re just ignoring that the paper is available free online until 2011 and that the iPad eliminates all printing and distribution costs?)

The digital operation has proposed a more-reasonable $10-per month subscription, and is promising interactive post-paper features regardless of the final pricing outcome.

Obvious questions aside, what seems like a prima-facie “turf war” could actually be a deep philosophical question for the future of news media on e-readers. What is the product? Is it simply another way to distribute the paper, similar enough with traditional print to justify higher pricing? Or is it something new, requiring a new pricing model and marketing focus?

My inclination — and what I suspect will be others’ as well — is to view subscription apps as something new. Fancy new distribution models for the same product won’t justify use, in my opinion.

However, as is Apple’s legacy, premium distribution and software might make a difference, e.g. iTunes. The music industry was struggling to combat illegal downloads before Apple’s music infrastructure completely reversed the trends, proving that people will pay for music downloads if it is wisely priced and convenient. Could the New York Times pull off the same thing on Apple’s new platform? I think it’s possible, but it will take precision marketing, content design, and a leap of faith.