By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

The resurrection will be (slightly) delayed

The idea that Apple’s iPad would save newspapers and magazines, always dubious, is so far not even getting a decent tryout. Evangelists for the iPad put forth a vision of users switching from free websites to paid apps.

Since a very good Web browser is built in to the iPad, it was never clear why any more than a handful would pay. And, so far, there are few apps. Among the better-known is the New York Times’ “Editor’s Choice,” a free, experimental app that doesn’t include the full content of the paper. (The Globe is reportedly working on an iPad app, but I have no details.)

PressReader offers some 1,500 papers around the world (neither the Times nor the Boston Globe is available, though the Boston Herald is). But it’s based on a PDF-like representation of the actual pages in the paper, which is no way to read online.

Meanwhile, because Apple has been slow in implementing subscriptions, we have absurdities like Time magazine’s paid app, which costs approximately 650 percent more than a print subscription.

If I had an iPad, here’s what I would want: a simple way to subscribe to the papers I read every day at a much-lower-than-print price. Since I wouldn’t pay $30 a month for an always-on 3G connection, I’d want to download the entire paper via WiFi, and then be able to read it whether I was in a hot spot or not.

It’s not as though what I’m looking for is particularly exotic. In fact, two very good alternatives already exist — yet neither one of them will work with the iPad.

First, the Times and the Globe are both available in low-cost “Reader” editions, built on top of the Adobe Air platform. The Reader, based on flipping pages, is seemingly made for the iPad. But because of Apple’s ongoing battle with Adobe, you can’t run Air on an iPad. (The forthcoming Google tablet, running Air, would be a great way to access Reader content.)

Second, many papers are available on the Amazon Kindle. But though Kindle software runs on a variety of devices, including the iPad, Amazon has restricted newspapers and magazines to its proprietary Kindle devices. If you’re running Kindle software on your laptop or smartphone, you can only use it to download and read books.

So far, it seems, the iPad has been very good for Apple, but not so good for newspaper and magazine publishers. That’s not surprising. What is surprising is that there are no good options even for people who are willing to pay.

Photo (cc) by Steve Garfield and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

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  1. Dan –

    I agree with your critique of PDF replicas – but interested that you would welcome Kindle versions of publications on the iPad or other tablets. I find the Kindle-newspaper experience pretty mediocre – certainly not better than the typical newspaper app. Is your preference there usability or simply the availability option?


    • Dan Kennedy

      @Damon: With regard to the Kindle, it’s strictly a matter of availability. The iPad is a much cooler toy than the single-purpose Kindle. But since the Kindle hardware offers something the iPad doesn’t — downloadable newspapers by subscription at an affordable price — it just seems a shame that the Kindle software for other devices doesn’t support that. Really, though, I think a Reader edition for the iPad would be damn close to perfect.

      • Dan Kennedy

        This just in: The Globe says that its iPad app will let you download the entire paper in 30 seconds and take it with you. It will also include updates throughout the day, which you can access when you’re connected. Implementation is everything, but this sounds like a huge step in the right direction.

  2. Ian Bouchard

    I enjoy reading newspapers and consuming other news media with my iPad but there are surely room for improvements. I’m really looking forward to a Globe app, and they are on the right track with the pre loading feature. I’m hoping more app creators will build in pre load features to their apps, especially for video apps. Since AT&T did away with unlimited 3G plans, streaming sports highlights and news casts eat precious bandwidth, and tv shows and movies are totally out of the question. I’m hoping that pre loading is the response to limited 3G bandwidth.

    That said, 250mb for 15 bucks a month is worth it to me. 250mb goes farther than you’d think for Facebook, Twitter, email, and all the newspaper and magazine apps I can stand.

  3. Bud Clark

    Dan, thanks for the look at the iPad platform. Here’s how as an avid reader, I use the iPad and how it’s affected me, in the real world …

    I subscribe to both the Times and Globe Readers, and would faithfully download each very a.m. I’m not as faithful anymore …

    Instead, I now use a site (and app) called Instapaper. With a free account, you “click and save” stories you’re interested in, from whatever site, and after a quick sync with the iPad and/or iPhone, you have your custom paper ready wherever you have browser access to your account, or from your sync’ed device. I typically download 20 or so stories of interest every day (news, politics, media, sports, and tech mostly, from about 10 newspaper sites). This saves me from printing also.

    I have asked the Times in a random survey they sent me to move the Times Reader content to the iPad ASAP. I like the free Editor’s Choice more and more, but I’m willing to pay and I do want all the content, and I don’t want to click and zoom around the site in a browser to get it. I asked them to move the GlobeReader content, also.

    Books: I have about 50 books from the Apple iBookstore, and from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Borders. For a reader, this may be the greatest innovation of my lifetime. Essentially carrying as many books with you as you want, in a little leather-bound tablet the size of one of those books, is nirvana.

    Magazines: Another sweet spot. I’ve used Zinio for years and love it. The only think I hate about it is that I have less reason to go to the real newsstand. I have about 100 Zinio magazines on my iPad (all the car magazines, Bloomberg Businessweek, Sound & Vision, ESPN…. they have a huge selection). The best part is the price. For many of these magazines, the one-year subscription is similar to or less than what you’d pay to get them through the mail. Without looking, I think it was $9.99 for a year of Car and Driver. A single issue is $5 or $6, so the subscription’s a no-brainer. Again, ALL THESE MAGAZINES, in my hands all the time!

    More magazines: Some not available through Zinio are the Time Warner titles like Sports Illustrated, and as you mentioned, Time. Yes, they are way too expensive. I don’t see a technical reason for this. Currently, you buy each issue “in-app.” They could easily sell an app version with a subscription range of however many issues you’d like, at a discount. Having said that, I have been buying both of those titles, because I enjoy reading them on the iPad. I intend to pick and choose more diligently going forward, however.

    Even more magazines: Vanity Fair and GQ (and Wired) are purchased in-app, like the Time Warner titles, but I think they’re a dollar or so less than the print versions. That’s trending in the right direction. Also, I pick and choose two UK Apple-related titles, iCreate and MacUser, at a huge discount over their print versions, which can go from $9.99-$16.99 over here. The UK titles are purchased inside an app, like the Time Warner and Conde Nast titles. Overall, I like the Zinio model, where one icon brings you to your whole library (as opposed to a separate icon for each magazine).

    I’ve been playing with the (over-) hyped Flipboard app, and I like it more and more. It’s better than the stand-alone Twitter apps, and great for Facebook. One downside that they’re correcting is you need to be online currently to use it. It needs the download-and-go option of the other media apps, above.

    Newspapers: The WSJ app is outstanding. A model for all others. The NYT Editor’s Choice is growing on me, as I said, but needs to be replaced with the Reader app. USA Today is currently free so I download and go (why not?).  I also pack and load the Reuters and NPR apps, and the Financial Times (which has too many clicks to accomplish simple tasks, but presents itself great and is handy).

    As a baseball fan, you’d love the MLB app — worth the price of the iPad by itself.

    The bottom line for me is, I’ve cut down lugging laptops, newspapers, books and magazines. In that way, the iPad has been a lifestyle changer.

  4. BP Myers

    @Dan said: If I had an iPad

    Ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum.

    Thanks for that.

  5. I’m on an ex-pat assignment in Asia-Pac for four months from Boston, and I’ve noticed is… I keep buying content on the road that I’ve already paid for, but that shows up only at my house in Boston.

    At the airport I’ll buy a New Yorker or an Economist. In the hotel, I download cable shows from iTunes, and when I can I use the New York Times and Globe Adobe/Air Readers.

    What I really wish… is that I could take my subscriptions with me easily. Sure I can cobble it all together on my laptop or buying extra copies a news stand, but I wish we could get to true mobility on these things.

  6. You say: But it’s based on a PDF-like representation of the actual pages in the paper, which is no way to read online.

    I’ve been saying that for 10 years, but it doesn’t matter what I think or want. All that matters is what readers actually do. Here’s why replica editions and/or dedicated APPs are better at least for potential business models:

    Sunday: July 25, 2010
    Average time on site for web site: 2:24
    Average time on site for Olive Software replica: 18:55

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