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.