Apple's iPad a Print Savior? Three Reasons Why It's Not Even Close

Last Updated Jan 28, 2010 2:33 PM EST

I don't get it. I don't get why the media community thinks that Apple's new iPad, unveiled yesterday, will suddenly turn around the fortunes of print. Not, as I've said before, when free, Internet versions of the same content are readily available, including, as Henry Blodget points out, from the Internet-enabled iPad itself. But I'm getting ahead of my post. Here are three reasons why the iPad isn't print's savior in its current configuration:

1. People buy content for different reasons than many think. They buy it when they can't get it easily elsewhere in digital form, or when it's not available at all. Instead of being device-specific purchases, in the main, they are content-specific purchases, even in the case of the oft-trotted out fact that people buy apps for the iPhone.

Let's look at the fine print. People buy e-books for their Kindles because the book publishing community never unleashed its content onto the Internet. The only way to get an e-book is to pay for it. People buy music on iTunes because they can't get it anywhere else easily and legally. They pay for media apps for their iPhones largely because they make it easier to view content on a device that fits in the palm of your hand, a problem that the iPad most definitely won't have. As I've said before, while the tablet prototypes are lovely looking, unless the content is radically different and better, it's hard to justify buying it, especially when the Internet, is right at your fingertips.

2. Too many makers of media apps don't currently charge for them, and that's gotta change. This is another gaping hole in the iPad-as-savior argument: even as people point to the iPhone as evidence that people will pay for content, the media companies which are looking at rich rewards from the iPad aren't necessarily charging for their iPhone apps, most of which will work with the iPad.

Um, maybe they'd better start charging? Even The New York Times, which participated in yesterday's iPad launch, doesn't charge for its iPhone app. Ditto USA Today, MSNBC, ABC News and the Associated Press. In fact, of the top ten paid media apps, only two mainstream media brands -- CNN and the BBC -- make the cut.

3. The fact that the iPad doesn't support Flash could be hugely problematic for advertisers and therefore, for publishers. Even if paid media apps for the iPad are a runaway success, they will need to be supported by advertising. As Ian Schafer, CEO of digital ad agency Deep Focus, points out, this creates a huge problem for advertisers, which use Flash in much of what they do. Most publishers and advertisers don't have the time or the resources to reinvent the wheel just because a new device has entered the scene. It's doubtful that publishers can charge subscribers enough to make this problem immaterial.

In short, the iPad, while promising, isn't even close to being a savior for the print industry. Much more than a new device is needed to change old habits, which will continue to die hard.

Previous coverage of media apps at BNET Media: