January 27, 2010

The iPad and the Publishing Industry

The Thing iPad will save the publishing industry as much as the iPod has saved the music industry. Meaning: There are a couple of things in publishing that it will change. What things? What’s going to happen to the news industry? The book industry? Will it allow us to sell content? What impact does it have on news design? This is iA’s five cents on the matter before the keynote.

Post-keynote: Luckily, we only had to apply strikethrough to a couple of words.

Author of the picture: Apple

1. What’s Going to Happen to the News Industry?

First of all, to have an impact the tablet iPad needs to be gigantically successful, or come with a content distribution that is not tied to its hardware. As long as only a small percentage of readers read their news on a tablet, it’s obviously not going to change too much, no matter how awesome it is going to be.

More importantly, daily newspapers don’t have and never had a hardware problem. On the contrary. An average paper is easier to use than most news sites, which are overloaded with rubbish and hard to scan. Actually, in many countries it’s not the internet but free papers that make life hard for paid papers. Free newspapers might feel some heat from the tablet iPad, but it’s crazy to believe that everybody who reads free newspapers will now suddenly buy a tablet and spend money on subscription fees.

The main problem for daily news is that advertisers don’t spend as much money per reader online as offline. There the tablet iPad might indeed help — if it becomes gigantically successful and advertisers accept display advertisement as a viable way of digital ads. Which I don’t see coming this year.

So still no solution to selling content? Well, high-end news products with astonishing picture and text material like The New Yorker, Die Zeit, and WIRED might get a chance to sell premium content — at a very very very low price. Very very very? Don’t try to fool the reader by asking for print prices. Here is the calculation:

  Old price
- Printing
- Distribution
- Sponsorships/Advertisements
—————————————————————————————
= $0.00
=============================

The good news is not that you can charge whatever you want for access to content (remember there is also really tough free competition like Reddit, Techmeme, or Swissmiss on a tablet), but that you might be able to find advertisers that are ready to buy top notch ad space at a top notch price. The condition though is that both content and presentation also need to be… top notch.

2. What About the Book Industry

Hard to say. For cheap novels, silly bestsellers, sloppy programming books and the like, I can see the appeal of The Thing iBooks. We all agree that we shouldn’t kill any more trees than necessary.

Of course, we will always like a solid handbook in printed format, a novel that’s nicely set, art books with light-reflecting colors, children’s books that kids can be kids with, philosophical software on patient hardware, and the smell of paper. Just like we would always like to risk to break our arm when starting a car… — Fact is, if it is even easier to read on a tablet than on paper, I don’t see any reason why I should continue to buy books. Since the chances are high that reading on a tablet the iPad provides a better experience than reading on an iPhone, the book might soon not provide the very best reading experience anymore. So, yes, the tablet iPad is big news for book publishers, if they sell really good books at a fairly low price. (At least, it is if iBooks becomes a big success).

The party spoiler here is that fewer and fewer people like long-form text. But, again, that’s another story…

3. What’s the New User Interface all About?
The Thing literally screams “ZUUUI! I want a ZUI, please use the pinch gesture to navigate. Get rid of that silly folder system.” Introducing a Zooming User Interface would not just complete Steve Jobs’ oevre, it would also honor the work of the great Jef Raskin, who was strongly advocating a switch from folders to ZUI. I doubt that Apple will take that huge step though.

4. What’s the Economic Innovation?

There are thousands of great Apps buried in that piece of shit section of iTunes called the App Store (which most of the time is not a store but a collection of crappy and pretty random lists). Apple is great at making things easy. Why do they make it so hard to find and buy apps? Giving iTunes a website and copying a couple of smart things that Amazon does would be a great start. Apple really needs to do something about that App Store. And I am pretty sure that it will. Someday.

5. One more Thing…
Imagine that, instead of another hard drive to take care for, our iPhone just gets a bigger touch screen and a faster processor in form of a docking station. It would bring the story of the hard drive that broke out of the computer to become a Walkman, and grow into an mobile phone, to a happy end. Unfortunately, the chances of such a modular docking system are fairly low.

Noteworthy reactions:

Luke Hayman, designer of Time, New York, and Travel + Leisure at Pentagram:

“The new iPad from Apple, presented in typical Steve Jobs fashion as game-changing, will, in fact, revolutionize the way we read magazines.”

John Gruber, author of Daring Fireball:

This is Apple’s way of asserting that they’re taking over the penthouse suite as the strongest and best company in the whole ones-and-zeroes racket.

Derek Powazek, designer and publisher:

There is still an opportunity for publishers here. But instead of relying on Apple to save them, publishers will have to step up and create their own apps, for their own content.

Dr. Mario García, grandmaster of newspaper design:

Right now, the iPad 1.0 is just that, a baby a few hours into a world that certainly needs it. I can only imagine how this baby will grow, and the potential it presents and the opportunities for all of us in the storytelling business.

Dave Winer, father blogger, RSS, former editor of WIRED, etc etc:

Because huff and puff all you want, this baby is going to have to look good compared to the netbooks, and now it looks like testimony to hubris. Finally, Apple went too far, and the emperor is totally naked for all of us to see. Ridiculous product. Absolutely completely ridiculous.

Walt Mossberg, senior technology columnist for The Wall Street Journal

It’s about the software, stupid. While all sorts of commentators were focusing on how much Apple’s new $499 iPad tablet computer looks like an oversized iPhone, the key [...] [is] the software and services that flow through its handsome little body.

The Guardian, newspaper and strong advocate for free content

Combining a new visual approach with the iTunes payment system, which reaches 100m credit-card accounts, Apple could help create a way for media companies to change the consumer attitudes of the up till now free digital era.

Now, why should you care about what I think? You shouldn’t care. For the last ten years I’ve been working as an interface designer mainly for the publishing industry. So, of course, I feel like I have to add my five cents to the giddy night-before-Christmas debate about The Thing as well. That’s all.

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