The impending arrival of both the iPad and News Corporation's Great Paywall has prompted a number of interesting posts about the past and future of print media.
The reception the iPad is getting reminds Scott Rosenberg of the CD-ROM years:
[These…] flashbacks I'm getting as I read about the media business's iPad excitement – man, they're intense. Stories like this and this, about the magazine industry's excitement over the iPad, or videos like these Wired iPad demos, take me back to the early '90s – when media companies saw their future on a shiny aluminum disc.
I thought that CD-ROMs were a pain: you had to have the disk to hand to access the content, it was a hopeless format for frequently-updated content, and you might have to add a CD-ROM drive to your PC before you could even get started. A web-based publication is a very different proposition: all you need is a deceny web browser and an internet connection. That said, Rosenberg's thoughts elsewhere in his post about the propensity for media companies to imagine that all that's required to succeed is to distribute existing content via a new medium are entirely valid.
John Naughton is just glad someone is finally going to put newspaper paywalls to a proper test:
This is the kind of large-scale controlled experiment that weâ€™ve needed for ages to determine whether there is, in fact, a real market for online news – in the sense of a market in which readers will pay real money for access. Whether the Digger's experiment succeeds or fails we will all have learned something useful.
Rafe Colburn reckons that the price of an iPad newspaper subscription is a bit steep:
Gadget afficionados are licking their chops, but what shocks me is the degree to which media businesses are head over heels over the iPad, thinking that somehow a new form factor is going to reinvigorate their business. News Corp is going to charge more for an iPad subscription to the Wall Street Journal than they charge for a Web-only subscription, more than they charge to deliver the paper to your house, and even more than a subscription that includes both.
It's the debacle that was the music industry's pricing policy for downloads all over again. The WSJ iPad app is going to have to be something special to make that look like a good deal.
Ian Mansfield sees a flaw in the notion of subscribing to a single news source:
[…] I don't methodically visit a news website and work my way through each story in turn. I don't have time for that. I gather the news I want to read, largely via RSS feeds, then I read the stories that capture my attention – regardless of the supplier.
In such a situation, am I going to pay Â£2 a week to The Times in order to read 2-4 stories per week? Not a hope!
I would however tolerate paying Â£2 a week to have the ability to read, for example 100 stories per week from a range of newspapers. The news needs to be quality writing though – and there is surprisingly little of that out there.
I'm the same: I follow individual journalists and get my news from a mix of newspapers and specialist sites. There's absolutely no chance I'd subscribe to umpteen different publications for the sake of following the odd columnist or specialist correspondent here or there.
It'll be interesting to see whether journalists take the approach of the likes of Ben Goldacre and Johann Hari and publish their work on their own site as well as that of the article's parent publication. It'd be one way to enhance their visibility to those of us who have yet to pay up.
If we must live in a future where most newspaper content sits behind a paywall – for what it's worth, I'm not convinced that the paywall experiment will work out well for readers or publishers, but let's assume for the sake of argument that it does turn out to be the way forward – then I'd much prefer that the various media companies pool their resources and enable me to pay a single subscription that allows me to access a reasonable number of articles across various publications.
As with online music, I'm quite willing to pay for convenient access to a decent range of content: I just want the industry to hurry up and understand the need to change their business model to reflect the strengths of a new medium and the demands of an audience that has grown up consuming their print media online, as opposed to adopting the music industry model of frittering away a decade wishing the future would go away.